Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Joan of Arc Chapter 10

Joan of Arc in armor praying with sword by Annie Louisa Swynnerton

ON the same evening, or on the next morning, Joan and Alençon went back to Orleans, whence news of the victory was sent to the king. He had moved to Sully, a town between Jargeau and Gien, belonging to La Trémoille, which had become quite safe from attack and, fortunately, was on the road to Rheims. The news spread northward, also, reaching Paris on Tuesday, and filling the English with dismay.

After Jargeau had been taken, the Loire for about fifty miles above Orleans was controlled by the French, but below the city Talbot held Beaugency with a moderate force, while Scales, his lieutenant, was posted at Meung. The English army of relief, organized by Bedford as soon as possible after Talbot's retreat from Orleans, had left Paris early in June under the command of Sir John Fastolf, and on the day that Jargeau was taken it had reached Janville, only twenty-five miles distant. The wisdom of Joan's vigorous attack upon Jargeau was now apparent. Fastolf had been pushing forward as rapidly as possible, but when he heard of the French success he halted, awaiting further reinforcements from Normandy.

Joan was desirous of following up at once the success she had won at Jargeau. Tuesday was spent in Orleans, where the two Lavals were at length allowed to join the army. On Wednesday, at Joan's instance, all left the city, and with a great force of horsemen and footmen, a large siege train, and many well-loaded wagons, marched down the Loire to Meung. The fortified bridge which there crossed the river was attacked at once and carried by storm after short resistance. The rest of the town was abandoned, and the soldiers of the garrison who escaped fled five miles farther down the river to Beaugency.

On Wednesday afternoon a part of the French troops pushed on after the fugitives. As at Jargeau, the pursuers fell into some disorder, and Alençon, who with a few men passed the night in a church near Meung, thought himself in danger. On Thursday morning the army was united before Beaugency.

When Talbot heard of the French advance, having no force sufficient to meet them in the field, he left Beaugency and rode to Janville to hasten the march of Fastolf. Before his departure, he withdrew the garrisons from one or two smaller places, and concentrated in Beaugency nearly the whole of his available force under Matthew Gough, a Welsh captain of bravery and discretion. As Gough had less than a thousand men, he did not try to defend the town of Beaugency, but retired into the castle, which covered the bridge. The French, accordingly, entered the town, and at once posted themselves so as to prevent Gough's escape northward through the Beauce; it was still possible for him to cross the river into the Sologne, but the country south of the Loire was entirely hostile to him. The French planted their cannon and began the bombardment, which was interrupted by a sortie of the English. This cost both sides some men, but was at length repulsed.

That very evening news was brought to Joan and to Alençon that the constable of France, Arthur of Richemont, was close at hand, with a considerable body of men. The situation was embarrassing. At the instigation of La Trémoille, Charles had forbidden the constable's approach, and Alençon, who was in command of the army, had been expressly ordered not to receive him. The duke was Richemont's nephew and not his personal enemy, yet he was ready to raise the siege and to withdraw, though some of the other captains were so favorable to the constable, or so hostile to La Trémoille, that they were willing to disregard the king's orders. The night passed without a decision, and on Friday morning came a rumor of the advance of the English army under Talbot and Fastolf. The soldiers cried to arms, and Joan told the duke, who, as he says, still wished to retire, that he ought to be glad of Richemont's coming.

They both mounted and rode out to meet him as he came up the river from Blois; with them went the Bastard, the two Lavals, and others. Richemont had already reached the outskirts of the town. The story of the interview is told quite differently by his biographer and by the so-called Chronicler of the Maid. According to the former, Joan threw herself at the constable's feet and after some parley was received into his favor; according to the latter, Richemont humbly begged Joan to pardon his offenses in the king's name, which she did at last, being entreated by Alençon and the other captains. Both these accounts are fantastical. Richemont was a proud nobleman, the victim of unjust accusation, as he believed, while Joan certainly never knelt to any man save to her lawful king. What happened was probably much less theatrical. The English were at hand, the constable was greeted hastily, perhaps suspiciously, and all got ready for battle.

We must now follow Talbot, who had left Beaugency before the arrival of the French.

Riding quickly with a small escort, he reached Janville about noon on Thursday, and found that Fastolf had assembled there a council of war. The troops were glad of Talbot's coming, for "he was then accounted to be the wisest and bravest knight in the realm of England." After dinner the council sat again. Fastolf was for delay, urging that the result of the campaign had greatly disheartened the English and encouraged the French, and that it was best to stand on the defensive in the strongholds which the English still possessed, and to leave the garrison of Beaugency to make the best terms possible with its besiegers. Talbot would not hear of this plan. To the day of his death he was an impetuous man, unable to bear the imputation of cowardice, and, without a battle, he would not give way before a girl. Though he had only his escort and those who would follow him, he said, yet he would fight the French with the help of God and St. George. Fastolf yielded, and very early on Friday morning the army marched out of Janville.

Even after the troops were drawn up with banners flying, Fastolf continued to remonstrate against the movement, saying that the English were greatly outnumbered, and that defeat meant the loss of their dominion in France. Again his advice was disregarded, and the army marched rapidly on Meung and Beaugency, so rapidly, indeed, that in the afternoon it reached a place distant about a league from each town. Posted on a small hill in front of Beaugency was the body of the French army, covering the siege of the castle and bridge.

Talbot expected an immediate attack, and drew up his archers and men at arms to resist it; then, finding that the French did not stir, he sent them heralds to announce that three English knights were ready to fight with any comers who would descend the hill. Doubtless he intended by this means to bring on a battle, but the heralds were answered that it was too late, and that the English had better encamp for the night. "In the morning," said the Frenchmen, "we will look you in the face."

The English, however, had no intention of wasting time. Fearing to attack the French in their strong position, they left the field and fell suddenly upon Meung, occupying the town without a struggle, though the bridge was still held by its French garrison. It was night, but Talbot at once brought up his artillery, and the firing went on through the darkness. With the bridge of Meung in his possession, he could pass the Loire, and, marching through the Sologne, could enter Beaugency by its bridge. This was still held by Gough and his men, the body of the French army being in the Beauce, and able to cross the river only with difficulty. When Saturday morning came, however, the French still held the bridge of Meung.

Meantime, the English garrison of Beaugency was in sore straits. Hard pressed, with battered walls, the soldiers had seen Alençon's army reinforced by the constable, while the English army was gone they did not know where, though they were told by the French that it had fallen back on Paris. At about midnight on Friday Gough capitulated. His men, with their horses and arms, were to depart into the English possessions, not to bear arms against Charles VII. for a certain time. Gough himself was kept as a hostage. At sunrise on Saturday these terms were carried out, and the French were ready to take the field.

The news of the surrender of Beaugency reached Talbot about nine o'clock on Saturday morning, after he had heard mass and just as he had ordered an assault on the bridge of Meung. The object of his expedition, the relief of Beaugency, having altogether failed, his prudence got the better of his zeal, and he at once ordered a retreat to Janville. This was begun in good order, the artillery and wagons preceding the main body of the army, and the rear protected by a force of picked Englishmen.

At first the French were uncertain what to do. When Talbot issued from Meung, they supposed that he would again offer battle, and some of the captains seem to have suggested a retreat. Alençon asked Joan what was to be done. "Let all have good spurs," she answered. "What are you saying? shall we turn our backs upon them?" cried one of the captains, surprised at such advice from her. "No. It is the English who shall not be able to defend themselves and shall be overthrown, and you will need good spurs to ride after them." Very soon the captains saw that Talbot was in full retreat, and all started in pursuit. Their advance was somewhat disorderly, so greatly had constant success encouraged them, and so much did they fear lest the English should escape.

The main body of the French was led by Joan, Alençon, and the constable; while the Bastard and La Hire with a force of cavalry hung upon the English rear, harassing their retreat, and delaying them until the rest of the French should come up. Joan herself wished much to join this force, and was angry that La Hire went in her place. Constantly she encouraged the pursuit. "In God's name we must fight them; if they were hung to the clouds, we should have them, for God sent them to us that we might punish them." "The gentle king shall have to-day the greatest victory he has ever won; my council has told me that they all are ours."

Throughout the morning the English retreated as quickly as possible, and they made such good speed that early in the afternoon they drew near to Patay, twelve miles or more from Meung, and about as far from Janville, their objective point. The French had gained on them, however, and were within sight of their rear guard. Seeing that he could not escape without some fighting, Talbot ordered his advance guard, with the wagons and artillery, to take position near Patay, behind some stout hedges which would cover their front from the French cavalry. He himself dismounted, and with five hundred archers halted in a place where the road, through which the French must pass, was bordered on both sides by a hedge. Here he stood his ground while his main body hastened to join the train.

Either the hedges or the woods at first concealed his position, but the French cavalry started a stag, which rushed among the English soldiers, and the shout these raised discovered them to the French. At once the Bastard charged upon Talbot, and routed his command after stout resistance, Talbot himself being taken prisoner. His defense, however, might have saved the rest of the troops, had they stood to their arms, but they were demoralized by their hasty retreat and by the fear of Joan. The soldiers posted to protect the train saw Fastolf hastening toward them; he was trying to get his command into position before it should be attacked by the French, but they supposed that he had been defeated, and they took to flight. Fastolf himself turned back to the field, hoping to die there or be captured, but he was dragged away by his escort and at last rode off to Paris. It was bloody work; even at the Tourelles Joan had never seen such slaughter, -- for the most part slaughter of unresisting fugitives. After the English broke, the French cavalry had but to ride down the common soldiers, and receive the captains to ransom. A Frenchman was dragging along several English prisoners; for some reason, he became angry with one of them, and struck him over the head, beating him senseless to the ground. This was then a common practice in war if the prisoner was not too valuable. But Joan at once dismounted and raised the prisoner's head, laying it in her lap; then she sent for a priest, and had him confessed, meanwhile comforting him as best she could.

The French victory was complete. When at last some of the English fugitives reached Janville the inhabitants rose and barred the gates, and forced the commandant of the citadel to swear allegiance to Charles. The English at once evacuated all the places they still held in the Beauce, and the country was clear of them almost as far as Paris. As Alençon, the constable, and Joan entered Patay after the fight, Talbot was brought before them. The duke said to his prisoner, perhaps in courteous excuse for so great a victory, that even on that very morning he did not suppose the like success to be possible, which Talbot answered with true English taciturnity by saying that it was the fortune of war. He was ransomed almost immediately, and complained bitterly, though unjustly, as it seems, that he had lost the battle through Fastolf's cowardice.

In the campaign of the Loire, as it is usually called, the French had thus obtained complete success. Within a week they had taken three fortified places, had destroyed an English army in the field, and had freed several hundred square miles of country from the enemy. So much is clear, but we have yet to consider what share of this great success was due to Joan. That she was responsible for the tactics of the French army is not likely, for it was commanded by experienced officers, who directed the details of all movements. She was hardly responsible for the strategy of the campaign, for of strategy there seems to have been little. Indeed, as Talbot commanded the largest English force on the Loire, and as he was instantly expecting reinforcements, it seems that the French should first have attacked him at Meung and Beaugency, and should have left Suffolk at Jargeau until afterwards. To treat the successes of Joan like those of Alexander or Napoleon is gravely to mistake her power.

After all this has been said, however, it remains true that the success of the campaign was chiefly due to her. The two causes which gave victory to the French were the different morale of the two armies and the quickness of the French movements. That the excellent morale of the French and the doubtful morale of the English troops were both due to Joan is plain to any one reading the history of the siege of Orleans. "Before she came," writes a French chronicler of the time, "two hundred English used to chase five hundred Frenchmen; after her coming two hundred Frenchmen used to chase four hundred English.""The courage of the English," said a soldier serving under Fastolf, "was much changed and weakened; they saw their men enfeebled, and found them less firm in their judgment than they were wont to be."

Again, the remarkable quickness and vigor of the French movements were largely the result of Joan's incessant exhortations. She urged the march on Jargeau, and a speedy assault. Had the place been suffered to hold out a day or two longer, Fastolf would have relieved it, or would have joined Talbot at Beaugency, for it was thenews of the fall of Jargeau that halted his relieving army at Janville. It was Joan who advised the expedition against Meung and Beaugency, and it was she who pressed on the pursuit of Talbot, and thus secured the great victory of Patay. Alençon, the Bastard, the constable, and La Hire, all served creditably, yet it is altogether probable that without Joan's vigorous counsels the French success would have been incomplete. It should be said, besides, that she showed good judgment in dealing with the constable, and considerable self-restraint in declining Talbot's challenge on Friday, when a hostile fortress and an almost impassable river were in the rear of the French army. Considering all these things, it is no wonder that a captain who served with her in this campaign, and testified about her twenty-five years afterwards, looking back over a life of almost incessant warfare, should have said that in all her deeds he believed there was more of the divine than of the human. The lasting glamour which her enthusiasm cast over him made him add that, in the leading of soldiers and in the art of war, in the setting of battle and in the encouragement of troops, she bore herself like the most skillful captain in the world.


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