Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Joan of Arc Chapter 8

THE RELIEF OF ORLEANS

ON the morning of Thursday, April 28, the army started on its march, three thousand strong, or thereabouts, with a long train of wagons and a considerable drove of cattle. All the priests of Blois went in procession before the troops over the bridge across the Loire, chanting the "Veni Creator" and other anthems. Blois is distant from Orleans about thirty miles, and the army passed one night in the fields; for the first time poor Joan had to sleep in armor, and was considerably bruised and chafed. The march must have been known to the English posts at Meung and Beaugency, but it was quite unhindered, and about Friday noon Joan came upon the heights of Olivet, two miles south of Orleans, from which the city and the position of the besieging army could be plainly seen. She saw how she had been deceived.

As the English made no motion except to abandon one or two outposts on the south bank of the Loire, the French army with its train descended from Olivet and advanced to the river, halting a little above the city and about a mile from the nearest corner of its walls. The current was strong, the wind blew stiffly downstream, and it was impossible to bring up the heavy barges needed to transport men and provisions. Opposite the army, across the river, was the English bastille of St. Loup. The absurdity of the French position was evident.

The march of the expedition had been known in Orleans, and the watchmen stationed in the lofty church towers could mark its every movement after the troops left Olivet. The Bastard took boat and was rowed up-stream. and across the river to the place which the expedition had reached. As he landed he met Joan, who was very angry at the trick which had been played her.

"Are you the Bastard of Orleans?" she asked. (It is the Bastard himself who tells the story.)

"I am," said he, "and I am glad that you have come."

"Was it you who advised that I should come hither on this side of the river, and not march directly against Talbot and the English?"

"Both I and others wiser than I gave that advice, believing it to be the best and safest," answered the Bastard, trying to pacify her.

"In God's name, the advice of our Lord God is safer and wiser than yours. You thought to deceive me, and you rather deceived yourselves, forasmuch as I bring you better help than ever came to any captain or city, the help of the King of Heaven. It is not given for love of me, but comes from God himself, who at the prayer of St. Louis and St. Charlemagne has had pity on the city of Orleans, and will not suffer that enemies shall have the body of the duke of Orleans and his city."

"Immediately," continues the Bastard, "and in a moment, as it were, the wind, which had been contrary, and had greatly hindered the boats from ascending the river, changed and became favorable."

Taking advantage of the seeming miracle, the heavy barges left Orleans, and were brought five miles farther up the river to a place where the supplies were embarked without danger of attack, the army having marched along the river-bank to the same place. During all these operations the English kept quiet, perhaps because they saw that the relieving force could not possibly enter Orleans, and trusted to the discouragement which would be caused by its retreat. As the loaded barges went down-stream to the city, the garrison made a sortie against the English bastille of St. Loup, to prevent its defenders from firing upon the flotilla, and thus secured the safe arrival of the supplies.

By this time it was four or five o'clock, and the French prepared to go back to Blois. Something may have been said of a return to Orleans by way of the Beauce, but if the army should once regain Blois, such a return would be a thing desirable rather than likely. Though the Bastard seems to have approved the march through the Sologne, yet he wished to get out of the expedition something more than a fresh supply of provisions. He had been moved by Joan's words and bearing; he had seen her work a miracle, as he believed; and he begged her to enter Orleans with him, even if she came alone. Joan was much perplexed. She had come to Orleans to fight the English, and yet she was unwilling to lose the hold on her soldiers which she had gained since joining them; they were good men, she said, penitent and confessed. Not until the marshals had solemnly assured her that they would recross the river at Blois, and would return at once through the Beauce to Orleans; not until she had sent with them her confessor and her banner, did she enter the Bastard's boat, and with him cross the river to Chécy, a village about six miles above Orleans. With her, also, went the faithful La Hire.

Joan stayed at Chécy until dusk, so as to elude the English. At about eight o'clock she rode into the city; and the story of her entry, written by a citizen, shows to what excitement of hope the people had already been wrought. She was "in full armor, mounted on a white horse, with her pennon carried before her, which was white, also, and bore two angels, each holding a lily in his hand; on the pennon was painted an Annunciation. At her left side rode the Bastard of Orleans in armor, richly appointed, and behind her came many other noble and valiant lords and squires, captains and soldiers, with the burghers of Orleans who had gone out to escort her. At the gate there came to meet her the rest of the soldiers, with the men and women of Orleans, carrying many torches, and rejoicing as if they had seen God descend among them; not without cause. For they had endured much weariness and labor and pain, and, what is worse, great fear lest they should never be succored, but should lose both life and goods. Now all felt greatly comforted and, as it were, already unbesieged, through the divine virtue of which they had heard in this simple maid; whom they regarded right lovingly, both men and women, and likewise the little children. There was a marvelous press to touch her, and to touch even the horse on which she rode, while a torch-bearer came so near her pennon that it was set afire. Thereupon she struck her horse with her spurs and put out the fire, turning the horse gently toward the pennon, just as if she had long been a warrior, which the soldiers thought a very wonderful thing, and the burghers also. These accompanied her the whole length of the city with right good cheer, and with great honor they all escorted her to the house of James Boucher, treasurer of the duke of Orleans, where she was received with great joy."

During her stay in Orleans Joan lived at the treasurer's house. Her visit made such a lasting impression on the household that when Boucher died, thirteen years afterwards, full of honors, his wife and children put upon his monument an inscription which recorded only his name and rank, and the fact that he had received "the Maid, by God's help the saviour of the city, into his house as a revered guest."

The press to see Joan was so great that Boucher's door was almost broken in, and she could hardly move through the crowded streets when she went abroad. On Tuesday, May 3, she went in solemn procession to pray for the deliverance of the city; 4 she often visited the churches, and every day she heard mass. At the cathedral she was met by a priest, Doctor John of Mascon, "a very wise man." "My child, are you come to raise the siege?" he asked.

"In God's name, yes."

"My child, they are strong and well intrenched, and it will be a great feat to drive them out," said the wise man despondently.

"There is nothing impossible to the power of God," Joan answered. "And throughout the city," the chronicler adds, "she gave honor to none else." It is recorded that the doctor made no doubt she was sent by God.

It was Friday night when Joan entered Orleans, and on Saturday there was an unimportant skirmish in which she took no part. That evening she sent to the English, demanding that the herald who had carried to them her summons from Blois should be returned to her. To this demand the Bastard added threats of retaliation. The herald was released, and by him the English generals warned Joan that if they caught her they would burn her for a witch or a strumpet. Her intense belief in her divine mission made it impossible for her to think that others would willfully disregard it, and so she went out to the barricade on the bridge and called across the narrow opening to Glasdale and the garrison of the Tourelles, promising them their lives if they would obey God and surrender at once. Quite naturally, the English answered with every manner of foul taunt and jest; doubtless they believed what they were saying. The next day Joan made a like attempt at another part of the fortifications with a like result; she also spent much time in reconnoitring the English position.

When the army reached Blois on its return from Orleans, some of its leaders, in spite of their promise, proposed to disband it. Either hearing this, or suspecting it from his knowledge of the men concerned, on May 1 the Bastard also went to Blois and told the marshals and the rest that if they did not march to the relief of Orleans the city would certainly be lost. This argument or threat settled the matter. On the morning of Tuesday, May 3, the expedition set out again, this time by way of the Beauce, and, passing unhindered the English garrisons of Beaugency and Meung, it came before Orleans on Wednesday morning. Its approach was known, and Joan rode out to meet it at the head of a considerable force of the garrison, intending to cover the passage of the expedition past the English forts. Strange to say, Talbot gave no sign of life. He also expected reinforcements, and it may be that he preferred to await them in the supposed security of his intrenchments, rather than try the chances of a pitched battle. Judged by the results, his strategy was unwise, as it undoubtedly encouraged the French soldiers.

About five thousand regular troops were now gathered in Orleans, beside several thousand armed citizens. The besieging force, it is probable, hardly equaled that of the French regulars, but so great was the English prestige that the city was still in great peril. Moreover, the French resources were exhausted, and every man available was concentrated in Orleans; while the regent Bedford was gathering at Paris a considerable force which he proposed to send to Talbot under the command of Fastolf, the hero of the battle of the Herrings.

The French generals had no settled plan of operations, apparently, and, even after their experience of the week just passed, they took no pains to inform Joan of such plans as they had. After she had watched the entrance of the troops from Blois, she went back to Boucher's house. There she dined, had a short interview with the Bastard, and then lay down to get a little rest after the fatigue of the morning. Her squire, himself tired out, was dozing, when he was waked by a sudden noise. The streets were full of people crying out that the English were slaughtering the French. Joan was awake already, calling for her horse and arms. The squire armed her as quickly as possible with the help of Madame Boucher and her little daughter. Before he knew what she was doing, she had rushed into the street, had seized the banner which her page handed her through the window, had mounted the first horse she found, and, riding toward the loudest noise, had galloped the length of the city to the Burgundy gate, on the east side of Orleans. She had thought that Fastolf was at hand with his reinforcements, but she found that the French were trying to storm the fort of St. Loup, already mentioned, situated on the north bank of the Loire, about a mile and a half above the town.

The assault had not been successful, and the English, issuing from one of their other forts, were marching to their comrades' relief. At the arrival of Joan, however, the French returned to the attack with a shout, and shortly carried the place, capturing a large supply of provisions, as well as many prisoners. Seeing that their help would come too late, the advancing English withdrew, while the French, after demolishing St. Loup, reëntered Orleans, well pleased with the day's work. Crowds flocked to the churches to thank God, and the church bells were rung joyfully, so that "the English might hear; who by this affair were greatly weakened in force, and in courage as well." The fall of St. Loup cleared the approaches on the east side of the town.

St. Loup was taken on Wednesday, May 4. Thursday was the feast of the Ascension, a holy day on which it was not usual to fight. After some debate in the council of war, it was agreed to cross the river on Friday, and to attack the Tourelles and the other English works in the neighborhood. If these were taken, and the south bank of the Loire thus cleared of the English, provisions and munitions could be brought freely into Orleans by way of the Sologne, and the remaining English forts north and west of the city in the Beauce would not threaten Orleans more than they were threatened by it.

On Friday morning, accordingly, both troops and citizens passed through the Burgundy gate and were ferried to an island in the river lying near its southern bank. From this place they crossed to the Sologne over an improvised bridge of boats. One small post 1 had been abandoned by the English, but the Tourelles confronted them, protected by its boulevard and the fortified convent of the Augustines. The English advanced in force, and the over-hasty French fell back toward the island, their rear covered by Gaucourt, the old governor of the city. Joan now came up with La Hire. Gaucourt forbade them to advance, but they would not be checked, and together they charged upon the English, lance in hand. All were ashamed to remain behind; the English gave way, and the tide of battle flowed back to the walls of the Augustines. Here the English stood their ground and fought bravely, but the enthusiasm of attack was with the French. Knights who had been enemies vied with each other in feats of valor. A tall Englishman who stoutly defended the gate was at last shot down by the facetious gunner, John of Lorraine, and the French rushed in unchecked, while the English retreated to the boulevard of the Tourelles, an earthwork connected by a drawbridge with the pier upon which the Tourelles itself was built. For fear that the French should fall into disorder while plundering the English quarters, Joan caused the buildings of the Augustines to be set on fire.

That very afternoon an attack was made upon the boulevard, but it failed. The men of Orleans saw plainly that the real struggle would come on the next day, and all through the night they labored to bring bread and wine to the soldiers who slept on the field. Together with most of the captains, Joan returned to Orleans. The citizens had now come to trust her implicitly, and they were afraid lest the captains should rest content with what had been done already. Their fears were well founded. Soon after supper one of the French leaders came to the treasurer's house to tell Joan that a council of war had been held, in which the captains had decided that their forces were much inferior to the English, and that God had greatly favored them in what they had already accomplished. "Considering that the city is now fully supplied with food," he went on, "we can well afford to guard the town closely, and to wait for reinforcements from the king. It does not seem best to the council that we should fight to-morrow."

"You have been in your council," Joan replied, "and I have been in mine, and you may believe that the counsel of my Lord shall hold and shall be accomplished, while councils of your sort shall come to naught. Get up early to-morrow morning, fight your best, and you shall do more than you did to-day."

The captains were staggered by her assurance. Over some of them she had gained great influence, and they had not been unanimous in putting off the final struggle with the English. Moreover, the burghers were furious at the thought of delay. They remonstrated with thegenerals, and, as if their exhortations were needed, begged Joan to lead the attack. For seven weary months the English had lain at their gates, while they had been fed with broken promises by the king and his councilors. To them it seemed madness not to take advantage of the succor sent them by Heaven. Assailed on every side, the council of war at last recalled its decision.

During the operations of Friday, the main body of the English, encamped to the west of Orleans, had been strangely quiet. On Friday night Talbot tried to send a small body of men across the river, apparently without much success, for the boats were upset, and some of the men were drowned, as the French found out years afterward by fishing up their armor from the river-bed.

Probably Talbot believed that the Tourelles could hold out against any attack, but there was another cause for his indecision. By this time the English knew quite as well as did the French that some one had come to Orleans asserting a power to raise the siege. Angel or witch, they stood in awe of her, for they could see that her coming had made the French soldiers new men.

On Saturday morning Joan rose early. Her success of the day before, and the exhilaration of actual encounter with the English after so many weeks of waiting, gave her good spirits: They brought her a shad for breakfast, but she was already on horseback. "Keep it for to-night," she said, "and I will bring back a 'goddam' with me to eat his share; and I shall come back across the bridge."

When she and the captains reached the field, the assault began on the boulevard which covered the Tourelles. Its captains understood that they must make good their defense without help from Talbot; this they were ready to do, boasting that they could hold out a fortnight against the power of France and England combined. The walls of the boulevard were high and strong, the garrison was as large as the place would allow, and amply provided with cannon and small arms. The French planted their scaling-ladders, and climbed them so bravely that, "to judge by their gallant bearing, they thought themselves immortal;" the English hurled them down into the ditch with axes, clubs, and gunshot, sometimes grappling with them hand to hand. At the other side of the Tourelles the French kept up a constant fire across the opening in the bridge. In spite of their gallantry, by midday the assailants had accomplished nothing.

Early in the afternoon Joan, who had been in the thick of the fight, encouraging the soldiers, seized a ladder and set it against the wall of the boulevard. As she was about to climb up, an arrow struck her between the neck and the shoulder. The wound was several inches deep, and she was carried at once to the rear, where her armor was taken off. Though she had expected to be hurt, yet she cried out for a moment at the physical pain, as any brave girl might do. When, however, those who crowded about her tried to put charms on the wound, she would not allow them to do so, saying that the thing was a sin. The wound was dressed with olive oil; she was armed again, and returned to the field.

The Bastard and the other captains were discouraged. From early morning until late in the day they had been fighting, and had not won a foot of ground. The Bastard himself, though brave and unwounded, "had, had enough of it," as he afterwards said, and wished the army to retire into the city. The trumpets sounded retreat. "And then the said Maid came to me," so the Bastard himself testified, "and begged me to wait yet a little longer. She thereupon mounted her horse, and withdrew alone into a vineyard at some distance from the crowd, in which vineyard she remained in prayer for about half a quarter of an hour; then, having come back from that place, at once she took her pennon in her hands, and posted herself at the edge of the ditch."

The battle began again. Beside the attack on the boulevard, some of the garrison and citizens threw beams and gutters from pier to pier across the opening which had been made in the bridge on the town-ward side of the Tourelles, until they reached the Tourelles itself. "It was a hard thing," says a chronicler of Orleans, "to make these temporary bridges, inasmuch as the English had built fortifications strong and well placed; but God was in all the work, and so, when any man began to labor he became a skillful workman, as if he had been brought up to the trade. The citizens loaded a great skiff with firewood and bones, with old leather and sulphur, and the most stinking things that could be found. This boat was brought between the Tourelles and the boulevard, and there was set afire, which much distressed the English; and besides, though they had the best cannon in the world, yet a man could have thrown a shot as hard as their cannons did, which was a fine miracle."

The fortune of the fight turned. The English powder had given out, and the English soldiers, struggling against great odds, and exhausted by the length and ferocity of the battle, were dismayed by the reappearance of Joan, who, as they thought, had been killed or disabled. As the French fought about her, close to the ditch, some of them saw a white cloud float above her pennon, while to others the pennon seemed to change its direction and to reach out toward the wall. At that moment she cried to them, "Into the fort, children; in God's name they are ours." "And never," so says the same chronicler, "was seen flock of birds lighting on a hedge as thick as were the French climbing up the said boulevard."

Though the boulevard was lost, the English kept their discipline and fell back across the drawbridge into the Tourelles, William Glasdale, their captain, covering their whole world was gathered to the attack rear. The fire, however, had spread from the fire-boat to the drawbridge, and this broke under the great weight, carrying down Glasdale and many of his soldiers, who were drowned in their heavy armor. Further resistance was out of the question, and the remnant of the English force which had reached the Tourelles in safety surrendered at once. More planks were hastily thrown across the gaps in the bridge on both sides of the Tourelles, and Joan rode back into the city through the fort and across the bridge, as she had foretold that very morning. "All the bells of the city began to ring out, and the people to praise and thank the Lord."

The capture of the Tourelles made untenable the position of Talbot and his troops in the forts west of Orleans. The English forces which, even before the attack on St. Loup, were on the whole inferior to the French, had suffered much more severely in the battles of Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, though the French losses had been considerable. Instead of a besieger, Talbot might at any moment find himself besieged. The French, moreover, lately discouraged, were now ready to dare anything, while the English soldiers were more than half inclined to believe that supernatural forces, either of heaven or hell, were arrayed against them. Without haste and in good order Talbot prepared to retreat.

On Sunday morning Joan, still weak from her wound, put on a coat of armor lighter than that she had worn, and, with the Bastard and the rest, marched out of the west gate against the English forts. Before them they saw the English army, drawn up by Talbot in order of battle. The confident French soldiers were eager to attack, but Joan restrained them. "If they attack you," she said, "fight bravely like men, and you will get the better of them, but do not begin the battle." She then sent for a priest and bade him celebrate mass in front of the army. When one mass was over, she bade him celebrate another, "both of which she and all the soldiers heard with great devotion.""Now look," she said, "and see if their faces are set toward us." They told her that, on the contrary, the English had turned their backs, and were retreating toward Meung. "In God's name, they are gone," said she. "Let them escape, and let us go and praise God, and follow them no farther, since this is Sunday.""Whereupon," says a chronicler, "the Maid with the other lords and soldiers returned to Orleans with great joy, to the great triumph of all the clergy and people, who with one accord returned to our Lord humble thanks and praises well deserved for the victory he had given them over the English, the ancient enemies of this realm."

Another chronicler of Orleans, writing about thirty years after the siege, gives an account of the foundation of the festival of the eighth of May. "My lord the bishop of Orleans, and my lord of Dunois [the Bastard], brother of my lord the duke of Orleans, with the duke's advice, as well as the burghers and inhabitants of the said Orleans, ordered that on the eighth of May there should be a procession of people carrying candles, which proces- sion should march as far as the Augustines, and, wherever the fight had raged, there a halt should be made and a suitable service should be had in each place with prayer. We cannot give too much praise to God and the Saints, since all that was done was done by God's grace, and so, with great devotion, we ought to take part in the said procession. Even the men of Bourges and of certain other cities celebrate the day, because, if Orleans had fallen into the hands of the English, the rest of the kingdom would have taken great harm. Always remembering, therefore, the great mercy which God has shown to the said city of Orleans, we ought always to maintain and never to abandon this holy procession, lest we fall into ingratitude, whereby much evil may come upon us. Every one is obliged to join the said procession, carrying a lighted candle in his hand. It passes round about the town in front of the church of our Lady of Saint Paul, at which place they sing praises to our Lady; and it goes thence to the cathedral, where the sermon is preached, and thereafter a mass is sung. There are also vigils at Saint Aignan and, on the morrow, a mass for the dead. All men, therefore, should be bidden to praise God and to thank Him; for at the present time there are youths who can hardly believe that the thing came about in this wise; you, however, should believe that this is a true thing, and is verily the great grace of God."

The fears of the pious chronicler have not been realized. Three hundred years ago the ancient walls of Orleans were outgrown, and even the walls which took their place have lately been leveled into modern boulevards; the cathedral fell a prey to the Huguenots, and has since been rebuilt; in the middle of the last century the old bridge was pulled down, and, by a change in the river's course, the southern end of it, where the Tourelles stood, has now become dry land; but almost without interruption the procession has gone on for more than four hundred and fifty years. The priests still march through the streets of the city, halt in the busy square across the river where the boulevard of the Tourelles was stormed, and return to the cathedral for the Te Deum and for a sermon on Joan of Arc.

In 1456, rather more than twenty-five years after the siege, some thirty men and women of Orleans, all eyewitnesses, were examined concerning Joan's conduct during her stay in the city. "And in this they all agreed," so runs the minute of their depositions, "that they had never perceived by any means whatever that the said Joan set to the glory of her own valor the deeds that she had done, but rather ascribed everything to God, and, as far as she was able, prevented the people from honoring her or giving her the glory; for she preferred to be alone and solitary rather than to be in men's company, unless that was necessary for the purpose of war." "Never was seen the like of the deeds that you do," so the people told her; "in no book can such wonders be read." Joan answered, "My Lord has a book in which no clerk ever read, were he never so clerkly."

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