Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Joan of Arc Chapter 6

POITIERS

FOR eighteen years, from 1418 to 1436, loyal France had no capital. Paris was in the hands of the English, and among the cities faithful to Charles VII. there was none important enough to take its place. The king lived much at Bourges,--which still shows traces of the royal residence,--sometimes at Tours, oftener in his castellated palaces of Chinon and Mehun sur Yêvre. To maintain the judicial system, however, it was necessary that the court of appeal should have a safe place for its sittings, and in September, 1418, some four months after the fall of Paris, the Armagnacs established at Poitiers a parliament or court, to take the place of that which still sat in Paris, but now served the interests of the Anglo-Burgundian party. To this court were summoned several excellent officials, learned in the law, who had followed the Dauphin in his flight. The sittings of the court and the presence of these men drew to Poitiers not only the lawyers of the kingdom, both ecclesiastical and lay, but so many learned men besides that in 1431, only two years after Joan's visit, a university was founded there, with faculties of theology, law, medicine, and arts. In this city, if anywhere in Charles's dominions, it seemed probable that men might be found able to discern between good spirits and bad.

To Poitiers Joan went, accordingly, the king with her, and some of his councilors. The distance is about fifty miles, and the ride probably took two days. On her arrival in the city, she was lodged at the house of the attorney-general, John Rabateau, a man of wealth and distinction, married to a discreet wife. In the house was a little chapel, where Joan went to pray, both after her meals and sometimes in the night.

A meeting of the royal council was soon held, over which presided the archbishop of Rheims, then chancellor of France. The council appointed a committee of investigation, which included several professors of theology, an abbot, a canon of Poitiers, and one or two friars. Escorted by a squire, this committee went to visit Joan at Rabateau's house. When they entered, she came to meet them; but the sight of the priests irritated her, as she recollected the prolonged examinations to which the clergy had subjected her at Chinon, and so she went up to the squire, whose military dress pleased her, clapped him on the shoulder, and told him that she wished she had more men of his way of thinking. The abbot gravely informed her that the committee had been sent to her from the king. "I am quite ready to believe that you the university, also, was intended to rival that in Paris. When the English lost Paris in 1436, they in turn established a university at Caen.

Naturally, Joan's impatience did not deter the committee from proceeding to the investigation, and they began to ply her with questions. Some one, apparently the abbot, asked her why she had come to court. "I am come from the King of Heaven," Joan answered, "to raise the siege of Orleans, and to lead the Dauphin to Rheims, for his coronation and consecration.""But what made you think of coming?" asked a professor of theology. Joan disliked to talk of her visions, as has been said, but she saw the need of some explanation, and she told them how her voices had bidden her go to France, nothing doubting, since God had great pity on its people. "You tell us," said William Aymery, another professor, "that God wishes to free the people of France from their distress. If He wishes to free them, there is no need of the soldiers you ask for.""In God's name," said Joan, "the men-at-arms will fight, and God will give the victory." With which reply Master William himself was content, as one of his colleagues testified.

This colleague, Seguin, a Carmelite friar of learning and repute, next took his turn. He was a native of Limoges, speaking the dialect of his province. Out of curiosity, or merely for the sake of cross-examination, he asked Joan in what language her voices spoke to her. "In a better than yours," said the girl, exasperated by what she thought a frivolous question. "Do you believe in God?" asked the undaunted friar. "Better than you do," Joan answered, this time in all seriousness. Seguin then told her that God did not wish them to trust her without receiving some sign or credential, and he added that they could not advise the king to risk his soldiers on the strength of her simple word. "In God's name, I have not come to show signs in Poitiers; but lead me to Orleans and I will show you the signs for which I am sent." The severe Carmelite friar was frank enough to tell this tale of his own discomfiture.

The sober churchmen listened as Joan went on to tell them what was to happen in France. The English should be overthrown and Orleans should be relieved; the Dauphin should be crowned at Rheims; Paris should return to its rightful lord; and the captive duke of Orleans should be brought back from England. First of all, the English must be summoned to withdraw, and, turning to a professor who stood by, she bade him write in the name of the King of Heaven to Suffolk and the other English captains before Orleans. The committee had heard enough, and went back to the council; it is likely that Joan went into Rabateau's chapel to pray.

She had no great reason to complain of the delay of her examiners at Poitiers, though some further inquiry was made into her character. There were men at court disgusted with the cowardice and treachery of La Trémoille, and not unwilling to fight for France; the energy of these men was roused by Joan's enthusiasm. Charles's motherin-law, Yolande, was come to Poitiers. She examined Joan herself, and made her report to the council, which had met again to consider what advice should be given to the king. There was some discussion; the members of the committee told the story of their interview with Joan, saying that she had answered as if she were a clerk, and asserting their own belief that she was sent from God.

John Erault reminded the council of a certain Mary of Avignon, who had come to Charles VI. and had foretold the sufferings of the kingdom. She had had visions touching the desolation of France, and in them had seen armor coming to her, whereat she wept, fearing that she was intended to serve as a soldier. It had been told her, however, that the arms were for a virgin who should come after her, and should save France from its enemies. This virgin Erault believed Joan to be.

How much weight the council gave to the prophecies of Mary of Avignon cannot be determined. Joan's own words and bearing and the shame these had roused in some of the councilors were probably more efficient causes of action. Within a few days of her arrival at Poitiers, the council advised the king to grant her request, and to send her with men and provisions to Orleans. The case of the kingdom was desperate, they said, and no chance should be neglected. That they really put much confidence in Joan is unlikely; that a girl should inspire them with any confidence at all doubtless seemed marvelous to all but Joan herself.

Some weeks must pass before an army could be assembled, but one thing Joan insisted upon doing at once. She had been sent by God to save France, but she was singularly free from an hatred of the English, and so great was her faith in her mission, so complete seemed her triumph over the incredulity of courtiers and churchmen, that she hoped that even the English would heed her, and at her bidding would leave the country. On March 22 she caused the following letter to be written and sent to them:--

JESUS MARIA

King of England, and you, duke of Bedford, who style yourself regent of France, you William de la Pole, earl of Suffolk, John, Lord Talbot, and Thomas, Lord Scales, who style yourself lieutenants of the said duke of Bedford, give heed to the King of Heaven, and yield up to the Maid, sent for that purpose by God, the King of Heaven, the keys of all the good cities which you have taken and outraged in France. She is come from God to rescue the blood royal. She is ready to make peace if you will heed her and depart from France and yield up what you hold in it. And do you, archers, soldiers, gentlemen, and others who are before Orleans, go into your own country, at God's command; but if you do not, look to hear news of the Maid, who will shortly go to see you to your great hurt. King of England, if you will not do this, I am the head of the army, and wherever I meet your people in France I will make them flee, whether they will or no, and, if they will not obey, I will kill them all. I am sent from God, the King of Heaven, body for body, to drive you out of all France; but if the soldiers obey, I will have mercy on them. Be not obstinate, therefore, for you shall not hold the kingdom of France from God, the King of Heaven, son of St. Mary; from him shall Charles hold it, the true heir, for God, the King of Heaven, wills it so, and so has it been revealed by the Maid, who will enter Paris with a good company. If you do not heed the word of God and the Maid, in whatever place we find you, we will put you to a greater rout than has been known in France for a hundred years, if you will not believe. And be sure that the King of Heaven will send greater strength to the Maid and to her good soldiers than you can bring with all your might, and by heavy buffets you shall discover who has the best right from the God of Heaven. The Maid begs you and bids you, duke of Bedford, not to bring ruin on yourself. If you will heed her, you may come in her company to a place where the French will do the bravest deed ever done for Christendom. Answer, then, if you will give peace to the city of Orleans, and, if you do not, expect shortly grievous damage. Written this Tuesday in Holy Week.

Joan was utterly illiterate, of course; it is doubtful if she could sign her name unaided; the letter was written for her by some clerk, and may have been somewhat revised by the council. That the substance of it is hers, however, there can be no doubt; it is full of her characteristic expressions, and of the repetitions used by illiterate people when most in earnest. Even the reference made in the last sentence but one to a crusade against the Saracens may have been her own, for such a crusade was then the final wish of all Christendom. If the phraseology seems unduly boastful and self-confident, such phraseology, also, is characteristic, though her boasting was really in God, and her self-confidence in God's messenger. When she spoke of the peasant girl, Joan of Arc, it was with reticence and modesty. The answer which the English made to her summons will appear in due time.

This letter of Joan makes plain another matter. Lest she should seem to have failed in any part of her mission, it has sometimes been urged that this mission was confined to the relief of Orleans and the consecration of Charles, and that at his coronation her divine mission was concluded. The letter shows, on the contrary, that the real end of her mission, as she always conceived it, was the rescue of France, to compass which end Orleans and Rheims were but the means. Her expeditions thither differed from her other acts only in this, that the former were means divinely appointed, commanded by her voices, while the latter were means humanly chosen to accomplish a divinely appointed end. We shall consider later how she regarded her mission after Charles's consecration, but the distinction above mentioned should always be borne clearly in mind.

Although the council had decided to send Joan to Orleans, a full month must pass before men and provisions could be gathered for the expedition. She knew the need of both, and was no longer impatient; a few days were passed in Poitiers, and then she returned with the court to Chinon. Sixty-five years afterwards, there lived in Poitiers a very old man, who still liked to tell how she rode from the city in full armor, and who pointed out the stone from which she had mounted her horse.

While waiting for the troops to gather, Joan went from Chinon to St. Florent near Saumur, the seat of her friend, the duke of Alençon. There his mother and his wife received the young girl; and "God knows," wrote the chronicler of the family, "the cheer they made her during the three or four days she spent in the place." His wife, indeed, Joan of Orleans, had a peculiar interest in the purposes of Joan of Arc, for she was the daughter of Charles, duke of Orleans, then nearly fifteen years a prisoner in England, whose city the English were besieging. The duchess was but a girl herself, and as her husband prepared again to take up arms, she feared for his safety, remembering that for several years of her young married life he, too, had been a prisoner of the English. She told her fears to Joan of Arc, accordingly; how long his captivity had lasted, how hard it had been to raise the money for his ransom, and how she had begged him to stay at home. The frank confession was made just as Joan and the duke were starting for the army. "Do not be afraid, my lady," said Joan. "I will bring him safe back to you, as well as he now is, or even better."

About the middle of April, Joan left the abbey and went to Tours, the most important city in that part of France. According to the custom of the time, she was here provided with a military household befitting the position she was about to take. Louis of Coutes, the boy who had lived with her in the tower at Chinon, was made her page, together with another boy named Raymond. John of Aulon, a discreet young man, became her squire. John Pasquerel, an Austin friar and an acquaintance of Metz or of Poulengy, was by one of them brought to her and acted as her confessor. He was a gossipy, amiable man, with a good opinion of himself, who became sincerely attached to Joan, but had no influence over her.

At this time, also, two of her brothers joined her. During the preceding months, official inquiry had been made at Domremy concerning Joan and her family, and probably the young men were not sorry of a chance to follow their sister to court, where she had suddenly made so great a commotion. The like opportunity of advancement had never before come to boys in Domremy, and thereafter John and Peter accompanied Joan in most of her campaigns. They were commonplace fellows, glad to avail themselves of their sister's reputation, which brought them patents of nobility, lucrative offices and lands, and off which they lived for the rest of their lives. Their conduct was not meaner than that of many other persons in like case; but it is clear that they wholly lacked the spirit of their sister, and that, from the time she left Domremy, neither they nor the rest of her family in any way guided her.

Her armor, her pages, and her squire, even her confessor, Joan received as a matter of course, without any choice on her part; for two things she gave precise directions. At St. Catherine of Fierbois she had heard three masses on her journey to court. The church was a resort for pilgrims, and many votive offerings had been made to the saint; near the altar, perhaps beneath it, was an old chest, holding fetters offered by prisoners, rusty swords, and other bits of iron. Joan's voices bade her send to this place and ask for a sword; an armorer of Tours went thither and brought it to her, cleaned by the care of the priests of the church, and cased in a scabbard which they caused to be made.

The biographers of Joan have generally asserted that she knew of the existence of the sword in the church by revelation of her voices. At that time, without doubt, this was the belief of most people, but their belief proves little. The growth of legends concerning Joan was very rapid, and it was commonly reported not only that she had never seen the sword, but that she had never been inside the church, and this, though she had spoken of hearing masses there. While in the church, she probably saw or at least heard of the old chest with its rusty contents, and later received the divine command to take this well-tried weapon of some pious pilgrim for her own.

Much more important than her sword was the banner which at this time she caused to be made. She had no love of arms and, like most women, felt a horror of blood; she therefore wished to use her sword as little as she might. She was the King of Heaven's messenger to save the kingdom of France, and she gladly obeyed her voices when they told her to carry the banner of the King of Heaven. The field of the banner was sown with lilies. In the midst of it God was painted, holding the world and sitting upon the clouds; on either side an angel knelt; the motto was JESUS MARIA. When asked at her trial which she loved better, her sword or her banner, she answered that she loved the banner better by far, yes, forty times as much as the sword. It told, indeed, the story of her mission, as she conceived it: the lilies of France, the country she was sent to save; God, who had sent her; and Jesus, son of Mary, her watchword, which she prefixed to her more solemn letters, the last word she uttered at the instant of death.

After staying about ten days at Tours, Joan went up the Loire to Blois, where the troops had their rendezvous, as it was the nearest city to Orleans which remained in Charles's hands. It had been hard to find money to pay soldiers or to buy provisions, but by the efforts of Yolande, the queen's mother, of Alençon and other lords, and of some patriotic cities, like La Rochelle, the money was obtained at last. Not long before Joan's departure, the learned men chosen to investigate her case made their official report. The real decision to employ her had been reached at Poitiers some weeks earlier; but now that she was to be the duly commissioned agent of the king of France, it was thought best that those skilled in such matters should formally certify to Charles their opinion that he might safely use the help she offered him. If she failed, and his orthodoxy was attacked for employing a witch, such certificates would be useful as showing that he had acted in good faith.

The language of the report was very guarded. Considering the need of the realm and the prayers to God of his poor subjects, the king ought neither lightly to reject nor lightly to accept the help of the Maid, but, following Holy Scripture, ought to prove her, both by inquiry into her past life, and also by asking of her a sign, as did Ahaz, Gideon, and other persons in like case. The report then went on to set forth that for six weeks the king had closely examined the Maid, and had found in her no evil, but, on the contrary, many virtues. As to the sign, she had declared that she would show it before Orleans, and nowhere else, this being God's will. Wherefore, all things considered, the king ought not to prevent her from going to Orleans, but should send her there in honorable fashion, hoping in God, inasmuch as to doubt her without cause would be to despise the Holy Spirit, and to render himself unworthy of God's help, as said Gamaliel to the Jews concerning the Apostles. Thus formally approved, about nine weeks after leaving Vaucouleurs in the company of two lawless adventurers, Joan entered Blois with the captain of Chinon and the chancellor of France.

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