Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Joan of Arc Chapter 12

MONTÉPILLOY

THROUGHOUT Saturday night and Sunday morning the royal officers labored in preparing for Charles's consecration, and they were so diligent that everything was made ready "as if it had been ordered a year beforehand." The ampulla, or vessel holding the sacred oil, carried by a dove to St. Remy at the baptism of Clovis, was brought from St. Remy's abbey according to custom. Escorted by four of the king's captains armed and mounted, the abbot rode his hackney through the great west door of the cathedral up to the entrance of the choir, where he dismounted and gave the precious relic to the archbishop. The elaborate ceremony of consecration was duly performed. Of the six spiritual peers of France, two, the archbishop of Rheims and the bishop of Chblons, were actually present; the places of the rest were taken by the Scotch bishop of Orleans, John Kirkmichael, and by other bishops of the king's suite. The duke of Burgundy was the only temporal peer of France in existence; he was duly called by the king at arms standing before the high altar, and when he did not answer, his place was taken by the duke of Alençon, who knighted the king. The other temporal peers, the imaginary dukes of Aquitaine and Normandy, and counts of Flanders, Toulouse, and Champagne, were represented by La Trémoille, young Guy of Laval, and other noblemen.

René of Bar, Charles's brother-in-law, attended the ceremony, though only four months earlier he had been forced to acknowledge Henry VI. He was accompanied by Robert of Commercy, the freebooting lord to whom the men of Domremy used to pay blackmail. The king's wonderful success had already gained him a host of supporters.

Close to Charles throughout the ceremony stood Joan, holding her banner in her hand; "and it was a fine thing to see her fair bearing," wrote one of the spectators. When the ceremony was over, according to one story, she burst into tears, and, kneeling at Charles's feet, said to him, "Gentle king, now is accomplished the will of God, who desired me to raise the siege of Orleans and to lead you to this city of Rheims for your consecration, showing that you are the true king, and the man to whom the kingdom of France belongs."

Whether Joan said precisely this or not cannot be known, but something of the kind she undoubtedly thought, and probably said, being usually outspoken. From such a speech as this, from the natural tendency of popular opinion after she had been taken and killed, perhaps from some later saying of hers in a time of defeat and discouragement, grew the legend that she believed her mission to have ended at Rheims. According to this legend, she asked Charles's leave to go back to Domremy, and remained with him only against her better judgment and against the command of her voices. This legend is quite unhistorical. After the consecration, she was as eager as ever she had been to press forward against the English and to drive them from France. Her letters, one written that very day, another written two or three weeks later, show this plainly, and are full of her old confidence in God's help and in herself as his messenger. Moreover, it would have been utterly impossible for Joan to disobey her voices in the manner supposed. Hers was not a vision which appeared only to bid her do this or that, and then left her when she had set out to do as she was bid. She communed with her voices daily, and in all matters of doubt she appealed to them. Twice only, so far as is known, did she ever disobey them, and, as we shall see hereafter, the reasons and the manner of that disobedience make plain how completely in all other matters she followed their commands.

There is, indeed, an historical basis for the legend just mentioned. Though Joan appealed to her voices in time of doubt, she did not always get from them concrete advice, but often only comfort and encouragement. They had bidden her go to Vaucouleurs and to Chinon, they had bidden her raise the siege of Orleans and conduct Charles to Rheims. Thereafter their commands became more general; she was called to drive the English from France, but seldom, if ever, was any city marked for her attack, or any expedition particularly directed. The failure of her later attempts naturally made the people about her notice the difference between the earlier and the later commands which she professed to receive. This difference she may have noticed herself, but the change in the temper of her mind was chiefly caused by her discovery that the will of God, though clearly expressed, may sometimes be set at naught by the will of man. Her companions, on the other hand, naturally unwilling to apply this truth, began to say that though she often joked about one exploit or another, she never spoke seriously of any particular mission after the relief of Orleans and the expedition to Rheims. This change of feeling, however, came about long afterwards. In Rheims she was at the very height of her reputation, and, if that were possible, surer than ever that the English would be driven from France.

There seemed good reason for her belief. Not only did great noblemen like René of Bar, and plundering swash-bucklers like Robert of Commercy, hasten to join. Charles, but the cities throughout northern France were eager to acknowledge him. Four days after his consecration, messengers brought to him the keys of Laon, a city of great strength and importance, close to the territory of the duke of Burgundy; and many other places were ready to follow the example thus set them. To the French no exploit seemed too difficult; men talked of marching to the English Channel and to Calais, as if it were a day's excursion.

To success like this the duke of Burgundy seemed the only obstacle, and what the duke of Burgundy would do, no man could tell. While Charles was before Troyes, he had entered Paris. Standing in a great assembly of the people, with the regent Bedford at his side, he caused to be rehearsed the story of his father's murder, of which he made another solemn complaint, afterwards compelling all the citizens to swear fealty to himself and to Bed- ford. As the French entered Rheims, he left Paris and sent an embassy to Charles almost before the oaths of his Parisian adherents had been registered. This embassy had not returned when, in consequence of another interview with the English, and urged by his sister, Bedford's wife, he sent a considerable force to Bedford's assistance, at the same time making a truce with Charles. Many of his councilors, perhaps most of them, really wished for peace, but there was an active minority opposed to it, and the duke himself seems to have played a part as weak and contemptible as that of his royal cousin. We shall see how the skillful diplomacy of Bedford made Philip's vacillation constantly serve the English purpose, and how the regent triumphed over the feeble councilors of Charles at every turn.

Joan's common sense showed her the need of Philip's assistance, and her patriotism made her wish that every Frenchman should help in saving France. On the very day of the coronation she wrote this letter:--

"High and mighty prince, duke of Burgundy, I, Joan the Maid, in the name of the King of Heaven, my rightful and sovereign Lord, bid you and the king of France make a good, firm peace, which shall endure. Do each of you pardon the other, heartily and wholly, as loyal Christians should, and, if you like to fight, go against the Saracens. Prince of Burgundy, I pray and beseech and beg you as humbly as I may, that you war no more on the holy kingdom of France, but at once cause your people who are in any places and fortresses of this holy kingdom to withdraw; and as for the gentle king of France, he is ready to make peace with you if you are willing, saving his honor; and I bid you know, in the name of the King of Heaven, my rightful and sovereign Lord, for your well-being and your honor and on your life, that you will never gain a battle against loyal Frenchmen; and that all who war in the holy kingdom of France war against King Jesus, King of Heaven and all the earth, my rightful and sovereign Lord. With folded hands I pray and beg you to fight no battle and wage no war against us, neither you, your soldiers, nor your people, for whatever number of soldiers you bring against us, know of a surety that they shall gain nothing, but it will be a great pity to see the great battle and the blood which will flow from those who come there against us. Three weeks ago I wrote and sent you good letters by a herald, bidding you to the king's consecration, which takes place to-day, Sunday, the seventeenth of this present month of July, in the city of Rheims, but I have had no answer, and have heard no news of the herald. To God I commend you, and may He keep you, if it please Him, and I pray God to bring about a good peace."

No letter is more characteristic of Joan than this. Her belief in her mission, her wish to persuade every one of it by reason rather than by arms, her broad patriotism and want of party feeling, her perfect assurance of success, all clearly appear. So far as is known, Philip made no answer, but the story went that he was very desirous of seeing Joan, and this was probably true.

The consecration was hardly over when his ambassadors reached Rheims. Just what terms they proposed is uncertain; it is probable that they suggested immediate but partial and temporary truces, with a general peace in the indefinite future, and that they tried to delay and to check the royal advance. For the moment the enthusiasm was too great for them. On Thursday, July 21, Charles rode to the abbey of St. Marcoul, where, according to custom, he touched for the King's Evil. On Friday he went on to Vailly, and having received the keys of Soissons, he entered that city on Saturday, July 23. Everywhere he was welcomed with great joy.

He was now only about sixty miles from Paris, which should have been the object of his operations. Bedford had left the city for a few days; it had but a small garrison, and many of its citizens sympathized with Charles. A vigorous advance might have ended the war, but the royal council was hopelessly divided and the ambassadors of Burgundy were active. Charles halted at Soissons four or five days, and received the submission of many neighboring towns, but he did nothing else. When at length, about July 28, the army set out again on its march, it did not take the direct road to Paris, but went almost due south to Chbteau Thierry, keeping about the same distance from the capital. After two days spent at Chbteau Thierry, it proceeded to Provins, which was reached on August 2. This town is about sixty miles south of Soissons, and about fifty miles southeast of Paris. In ten days Charles had made but three marches and was only ten miles nearer his objective. Practically nothing had been accomplished.

It is impossible to discover the precise cause of each of these extraordinary manœuvres, but what was the general condition of affairs is quite evident. A truce had been made with Burgundy, the exact terms of which are unknown, but which was to last for a fortnight. It may have covered some of the places between Soissons and Paris, one of which at this time was intrusted by Bedford to a devoted follower of Philip. Again, many of Charles's counselors were tired of the expedition and anxious to get back to a place of safety; some of these may have believed that the best policy was to humor Philip, some may have been bought, some may have been moved by personal dislike of Joan or of Alençon. With this division of opinion, it is no wonder that the march of the royal army was slow and erratic.

In her simplicity, Joan herself but half understood how things were going. Perhaps she was deceived about the position of Paris, as she had been deceived about that of Orleans three months before. Apparently she was told that the truce with Burgundy would bring to pass the surrender of Paris within a fortnight, though she hardly believed the story. "With truces so made I am not content," she wrote to the men of Rheims, "and I do not know if I will keep them; if I do, it will be only to save the king's honor." She did not realize how little the council regarded either her wishes or the good of France.

At length, by the utmost effort, the duke of Bedford had gathered an army. On July 25 he entered Paris with a force brought from England by his uncle, the cardinal of Winchester, and raised, it was said, to fight the Hussite heretics of Bohemia. After passing a few days in the capital, and thus assuring himself of the fidelity of its magistrates, he marched against Charles. He did not wish especially for battle, but felt the need of showing a bold front to his enemies, lest his French subjects should believe he had lost heart altogether.

Meantime, at Provins, there was quarreling and confusion in the royal council. After a short stay in the place, the party of peace got the upper hand, and orders were issued to cross the Seine at Bray and retreat to the Loire. Some arrangement had been reached for a conference with Philip. Bedford was ad- vancing, and it was thought best to trust to diplomacy rather than to risk a battle. During the night, however, an AngloBurgundian force seized Bray and held it so strongly that a battle was needed to force the passage of the Seine. Thereupon Alençon, Laval, and the party of war took heart, and on that very day the army turned again and marched on Paris.

Though the disgraceful cowardice and folly of La Trémoille and his followers were thus defeated by the superserviceable zeal of some AngloBurgundian captain, all these marchings and countermarchings and the hopeless indecision of the royal council were ruining the spirit of the army. The country people were still wild with delight at the coming of the king, and crowded to meet him as he passed by. Joan was riding between the Bastard and the archbishop of Rheims. "What good people they are," she said. "I never saw any other people who rejoiced so much over the coming of so noble a king.

I would that when I die I were so happy as to be buried in this place."" Joan, when do you expect to die?" asked the archbishop, who had no great belief in her mission, but was curious to hear what she would say. "When it shall please God," she answered, "for I know no more of the time and the place than you do. Would that it pleased God my creator to let me depart at this time and lay down my arms, and go to serve my father and mother in keeping their sheep with my brothers, for they would be very glad to see me." Even on Joan herself the in- decision and the delay was beginning to tell, though she kept as brave a face as she could.

The wanderings of Charles seem to have puzzled Bedford, who on August 7 found himself at Montereau, rather farther from Paris than was the king. On that day he published a manifesto in the form of a letter to Charles. It was constructed with some skill: Charles was charged with receiving the help of a loose and disorderly woman wearing men's clothes, and of an apostate and seditious friar, "both, according to Holy Scripture, things abominable to God." The letter begged the king to have pity on the poor people, and suggested a meeting at some place near by, to which Charles might come, with the disorderly woman and the apostate friar aforesaid, and all the perjured rascals of his train. There Bedford would discuss terms of peace, an unfeigned peace, not like that which Charles once made at this very Montereau, just before he foully murdered the duke of Burgundy. The letter closed by challenging Charles to single combat, and with an appeal to the Almighty. Having dispatched this missive, Bedford hastened to interpose himself between the French army and Paris, taking care that the city's gates should be closed and guarded.

On August 11 Bedford's letter was received by Charles at Crépy-en-Valois, about thirty-five miles northeast of Paris. An embassy, made up from the party of peace, had just been sent to Philip at Arras, and so the party of action was in control of the expedition. On August 12 and 13 the army marched slowly on Paris, coming within twenty miles of the capital. Bedford was nearer still, and was manœvring to get into a strong position, not intending to attack the French. On Sunday, August 14, the two armies came face to face at Montépilloy, not far from Senlis. It was near evening, and after a skirmish they both encamped for the night. The next morning the French reconnoitred Bedford's position, and found it very strong. A lake an a stream were in his rear, which might have proved his ruin had he been defeated, but which prevented an attack from that direction. During the night he had carefully covered his flanks and his front with earthworks and with stout stakes, which the English archers used to carry, and which were thrust deep into the ground to break the charge of cavalry. His main body was English, his right wing composed of Picards sent to him by Philip of Burgundy. Above his host floated the banners of England and France.

The French army was formed in four divisions, the advance-guard, commanded by Alençon; the centre, commanded by René of Bar; the rear, with which were La Trémoille and Charles himself; and a large body of skirmishers under Joan, the Bastard, and La Hire. Although the French were more numerous than the English, Bedford's position was so strongly covered that a direct attack seemed too dangerous, and the French attempted to draw the English out into the open country. Their army advanced until it was but two bowshots from Bedford's front, and then he was solemnly defied. He had nointention of leaving his position, however, and stood firm. Both on foot and on horseback, the French knights came right up to the English works, and so taunted and harassed their defenders that some of these rushed out. Thereupon the French fell back, and being pursued, returned to the attack in such force that more of the English were drawn out to the rescue of their outnumbered countrymen. Through the long, hot, and dusty day these skirmishes went on with varying fortune and considerable loss to both sides, for men's passions were roused, and no quarter was given. The English discipline was good enough to prevent a general sortie, and the French accomplished nothing.

In the afternoon they brought up two field-pieces, weapons hardly yet in common use, and placed them so as to enfilade the English line. These caused some loss to the English, and there was considerable danger that their army would be thrown into disorder, but Bedford's word and example held his troops steady, until a party of his Picard horsemen fell suddenly upon the feebly supported battery and captured it. Later still, the French skirmishers retreated upon the main body, and Bedford was notified that he might come out and set his army in battle order without being disturbed, an invitation which he declined. As it grew dusk, the French retired to their quarters, and the king, who seemed easily satisfied in the matter of fighting, went to Crépy.

Early Tuesday morning the French retreated farther, hoping that Bedford would follow them. Some of his captains were for doing so, but the regent had accomplished his object. As soon as he was clear of the French he retreated to Senlis, and from there to Paris, having faced without disaster a superior French force, having encouraged his own troops, and shaken the popular faith in Joan. About noon the French captains learned what he had done. It is quite plain that they should have followed him up with vigor, and that his retreating army, shut in between Paris and a superior force of the enemy, would have been in peril; but the spirit which had triumphed at Patay was pretty much gone. A detachment was sent to occupy Senlis, the rest of the army joined Charles at Crépy, and on Thursday, August 18, proceeded to Compiègne, fifty miles from Paris. Its inhabitants had sent its keys to the king, and the place was nearer Arras, where Philip of Burgundy held his court.

Several days were spent in Compiègne, greatly to the distress of Joan, who knew the importance of rapid movements, and saw the troops becoming further perplexed and dispirited. On August 23, with Alençon and a considerable force, she left Compiègne for Senlis. On the 25th they took St. Denis, and thus established themselves at the very gates of Paris, but they could not persuade the king to follow them, and they left the party of peace in full control of the council. Shortly after his return from Montépilloy, Bedford had gone back with most of his soldiers to Normandy, where his power was threatened by revolt within and by attack from without. His agents in Paris were active in strengthening the fortifications, and in taking fresh oaths of the people, but it is probable that his chief reliance was on the duke of Burgundy and the duke's negotiations.

This reliance was not in vain. At Arras there had been much talk among Charles's ambassadors, the duke of Burgundy and his council, and the ambassadors of the duke of Savoy, who was honestly trying to play the peacemaker. Not much was accomplished, but Philip agreed to send envoys to Charles at Compiègne, in the mean time accepting from Bedford the office of governor of Paris. The negotiations were resumed at Compiègne, accordingly, just as Joan left the place, and after some dicker- ing the party of peace triumphed decisively by securing a general truce, which was signed on August 28. It covered all the country north of the Seine from Nogent, sixty miles above Paris, to the sea, except the cities and fortresses on the river at which it could be crossed. Why the exception was made does not clearly appear; perhaps because Charles, in returning to the Loire, must cross the Seine at some one of these places; perhaps because the party of peace did not dare openly to give up all hope of taking Paris, which city the treaty expressly permitted Philip to relieve. Between the duke and Charles the truce was to begin at once, and was to last until Christmas. The English, if they wished, might have the benefit of it at any time. During its continu- ance Charles might not receive the submission of a city, however much it should wish to acknowledge him. The delusive hope of a peace with Burgundy seems to have taken possession of some of the king's advisers who were not mere creatures of La Trémoille, and it is probable that a real majority of the council favored the truce, though Alençon and others were bitterly opposed to it.

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