Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Joan of Arc Chapter 4

VAUCOULEURS

IN the hamlet of Little Burey, or Burey en Vaux, on the road between Domremy and Vaucouleurs, lived Durand Laxart, a laborer, the husband of Joan le Vauseul, who was a cousin of Joan of Arc. Joan could not go directly from Domremy to Robert of Baudricourt, for if her father should learn her plan, he would certainly prevent her departure. Burey, ten or eleven miles from Domremy, was only about three miles from Vaucouleurs, and if Laxart could be persuaded to help her, it would be easy to reach Vaucouleurs from his house. In the last days of 1428, or at the beginning of 1429, his wife was to be confined, and Joan offered herself as nurse. Laxart came to Domremy accordingly, and fetched away his young cousin. A girl, leaving her home for a few days' nursing, does not make much stir even in a small village, and the stories of the neighbors who, twentyfive years afterwards, described Joan's departure and her farewells can hardly be trusted. To Joan herself, however, her departure must have ad the intensest interest. She was not unmindful of her duty to her father and mother, and in all other matters she had always obeyed them; but since God had commanded her to go to the Dauphin, go she must. Had she a hundred fathers and a hundred mothers, as she told her judges, God's orders must be obeyed. Afterwards she asked and received her parents' pardon for her disobedience.

Soon after her arrival at Burey, apparently, the child was born. In a week or thereabouts, she told Laxart that she must go to the Dauphin and cause him to be crowned; for which purpose she must visit Vaucouleurs at once, and get an escort from Baudricourt. Laxart's astonishment may be imagined when he heard this proposal from a young girl whom he had probably known from a child; but Joan insisted. Her voices not only had told her to go to the Dauphin, but had assured her that she should reach him, and her faith was as strong as her obedience was ready. She said nothing to Laxart about her visions, though she told him that she was fulfilling the will of God; but she recalled to him a prophecy, well known the country round, that France should be ruined by a woman, and restored by a maid from the borders of Lorraine. The woman, as most people were ready to agree, was Isabeau of Bavaria, the wretched mother of Charles VII. Laxart, a commonplace peasant, could not resist the enthusiasm and the strong will of his cousin; he soon yielded, and they left Burey together on their errand.

At Vaucouleurs (the valley of color), the valley of the Meuse is a little narrower than at Domremy, and the town, beginning on the meadows, extended part way up the steep slopes of the low hills. Being a walled town, it was closely built with narrow streets, its castle in its highest quarter, though even the castle was so commanded by the top of the hill up whose side it was built that its defense must have been difficult. In the town lived about three thousand people; it was held by Baudricourt with a small body of soldiers, wild and brutal, like the men whose deeds have been described.

Of these men Robert of Baudricourt was the fit captain. He seems to have been faithful to Charles VII., though it is impossible to know how far his course was determined by mere self-interest. He was brave, of course,--excepting Charles himself, no man was ever suspected of cowardice in those days; he was shrewd and shifty, or he would have lost Vaucouleurs long before. Greedy and unscrupulous, he lived off the plunder which he gathered from the peasants of the country and from the merchants who traveled through it. He was by one degree more respectable than a roving highwayman, for he was married to a rich and noble widow, and was fixed in Vaucouleurs, the garrison of which he had commanded for twelve years or more.

Once in Baudricourt's presence, she told him earnestly that she must go to help Charles VII. Laxart, who had come to believe in her, also urged her request. Baudricourt, as much amused as astonished, naturally gave little heed to what she said. Sensual, as well as brutal, he looked at her to see if she would satisfy his lust or that of his soldiers, then, changing his mind, he told Laxart to take her back to her father's house and give her a sound whipping. With this sensible advice, he sent them away, and they both went back to Burey.

Nothing more discouraging, nothing more humiliating could have happened, yet Joan's faith in her voices was not shaken. They had told her before, and they told her still, that she must raise the siege of Orleans and crown the Dauphin; she was sure that they spoke the truth. A few days later she went again to Vaucouleurs, determined to stay there until she should find an escort to given in 1456, is the following statement, P. ii. 456: "Joan the Maid came to Vaucouleurs about Ascension, as it seems to him (circa Ascensionem Domini, ut sibi videtur), and then he saw her speak to Robert of Baudricourt," etc. If Poulengy's memory can be relied upon, and if he was correctly reported, Joan's first visit to Vancouleurs was in the spring or early summer of 1428. This visit, however, rests upon the single word "Ascensionem," and can hardly be reconciled with well-established facts. Laxart, Metz, and Joan herself make no mention of a visit in 1428, and the tenor of their testimony makes it highly improbable that seven or eight months elapsed between Joan's first visit to Vancouleurs and her acceptance by Baudricourt. Moreover, if she had made the attempt in 1428, she must have gone back to Domremy afterwards, of which there is no evidence, and her father would not have allowed her to go again to Laxart. Poulengy makes Joan say that "her Lord would give (the Dauphin) help before the middle of Lent,"-- an unlikely remark to make at Ascension, but likely enough at Epiphany. For "Ascensionem" I should read "Circumcisionem," January 1; or perhaps Poulengy, who testified in French, spoke of the Nativity or the Baptism of our Lord, December 25 or January 13.

Charles, for without an escort she knew that the journey could not be made. This time, also, Laxart went with her, and found her lodgings with Catherine le Royer, the young wife of a respectable citizen. There Joan stayed a week or more, telling every one she met that God willed her to go to the noble Dauphin, saying nothing of her visions, but repeating the old proverb which she had quoted to Laxart. Most of the time she sat spinning in the house with her hostess, with whom she also went to church, and there confessed to Fournier, curate of Vaucouleurs. She seemed a good, simple, sweet, and gentle girl, Catherine said.

Near the castle was a royal chapel, where, as one of the little choir boys long afterwards remembered, Joan used often to come in the morning to hear mass. The hill on which the chapel stood was so steep that, on its eastern side, the crypt below the chapel was open to the light; and there also the boy saw Joan, kneeling before a shrine of the Virgin, sometimes with her head bowed down, and again with her face raised to heaven.

Vaucouleurs was a small town, and Joan's story was soon known both to the citizens and the soldiers. At her first coming Baudricourt had given her little thought. He had supposed her to be only a foolish girl; but now he began to wonder if she were not possessed by a spirit of some sort, and he wished to find out if this spirit were good or bad. While Joan and Catherine were at home one day, he walked into the house, accompanied by the curate, John Fournier. The priest was duly robed, and in the appointed form he proceeded to exorcise the girl's familiar spirit, calling upon it to depart, if it were evil; to draw near, if it were good. Joan went up to him at once and reproached him, telling him that he had heard her in confession, and knew what sort of a girl she was. The two men then went away, Baudricourt unsettled in his mind, but still unwilling to authorize so foolish an expedition as that which Joan proposed.

Not long afterwards John of Metz, a hard-swearing and lawless soldier, stopped at Le Royer's house out of curiosity. He had heard of Joan, and thought he would draw her out by mocking her. "My dear," he said, "what are you doing here? Must the king be driven from his kingdom and must we all turn English?""I have come to a royal city," Joan answered, "to tell Robert of Baudricourt to send me to the Dauphin, but he cares not for me or for my words. Nevertheless, before mid-Lent, I must be with the Dauphin, though I have to wear my legs down to my knees. No one in the world, neither kings, nor dukes, nor king of Scotland's daughter, nor any one else can recover the kingdom of France without help from me, though I would rather spin by my mother's side, since this is not my calling. But I must go and do this work, for my Lord wishes me to do it." The answer was not what John of Metz had expected. "Who is your Lord?" he asked in astonishment. "God," said Joan. Coarse, reckless soldier that he was, he grasped her hand and swore on his honor that, with God as their leader, he would take her to the king. He asked her when she wished to start. "Rather now than to-morrow, rather to-morrow than afterwards," she said. It was impossible to start at once. Baudricourt had not given his consent, and the ardor of John of Metz may have cooled a little when he came to think over what he had promised. One after another, however, the people of Vaucouleurs began to believe in Joan. Bertrand of Poulengy, another rude soldier, offered to join John of Metz as her escort, and James Alain, a friend of Laxart, living at Vaucouleurs, was ready to help her as best he could. Yet Joan was impatient of the delay, knowing that Orleans could not hold out forever. The time hung heavy on her hands, said her hostess, as if she had been a woman with child.

When they found that Baudricourt was not willing to help her, Joan and her friends began to look elsewhere, and bethought themselves of the neighboring duke of Lorraine. Joan was somewhat cast down, not through want of faith in her divine mission, but because of the obstacles which unbelieving men like Baudricourt were putting in her way. She was the more ready, therefore, to follow the advice of Laxart and the others, and she set out from Vaucouleurs for Nancy, the capital of Lorraine, to ask the duke's help.

Charles II. of Lorraine was a prince of the Holy Roman Empire, and was a vassal of the king of France for but a small part of his great possessions. For this small part he had sworn allegiance to King Henry, and so was professedly on the Anglo-Burgundian side. His sympathies, however, were doubtful, and his son-in-law and heir presumptive, René of Anjou, was not only a prince of the French blood-royal, but also the brother-in-law of Charles VII. This René, duke of Bar, was Joan's feudal overlord, and was well known to favor the Armagnac party, though at times forced to come to terms with the English. It is probable that Laxart and John of Metz, in taking Joan to Nancy, reckoned on his influence, for he had just joined his father-in-law in that city. Duke Charles was an elderly man, already sick of a mortal disease, but living in such open immorality as to scandalize his people. He seems to have hoped that Joan would work some miracle for his cure, and so he sent her a safe-conduct which not only bound him to allow her to return to Vaucouleurs, but also gave her some protection against the bands of soldiers infesting the country. Now that she was to live among men, Joan perceived that she must change the clothes she wore. If she was to be safe among coarse and sensual soldiers, she must herself dress like a soldier. It needed no voice from heaven to tell her this. Indeed, she always considered her revelations as given to direct her in extraordinary affairs, not as supplying the need in ordinary matters of good common sense. They had told her to go to Charles VII., for instance, to raise the siege of Orleans, and afterwards to crown the Dauphin at Rheims. These things she would never have thought of undertaking except by divine command. Her voices had told her, also, to go to Baudricourt and ask his help; but this only as a means to an end, so that when he would not send her to the Dauphin, she tried to get an escort elsewhere. Never did she suppose that God would work for her any unnecessary miracle, or that his commands would excuse her from exercising her best judgment in carrying them out.

Her cousin Laxart and John of Metz lent her some of their clothes, accordingly; and toward the end of January, they started for Nancy, passing through Toul on their way, where Joan had gone before to get rid of her troublesome suitor. There John of Metz left them, while Joan with Laxart and Alain traveled fifteen miles further to Nancy. When Joan saw the duke of Lorraine, she told him, as she had told Baudricourt, that she wished to go to the Dauphin. The duke, however, was much more interested in his own health than in her mission, and asked her to cure him of his disease. She answered that she knew nothing of such matters, but that he was leading an evil life and never would be cured until he amended it. She begged him to send with her to France his son-in-law René and a body of soldiers, and she promised to pray for his recovery. Very soon she found out that he had no intention of helping her, and therefore she said little to him about her mission. The duke gave her a small sum of money and sent her away. Apparently she did not see René; the poor young man, whose duchy of Bar had been unmercifully harried by both sides, despairing of successful resistance to the English, at that very time was preparing to swear allegiance to Henry.

In going to Nancy or in coming back, Joan visited the famous shrine of St. Nicholas, to pray there; but her journey was little delayed, and she reached Vaucouleurs again early in February. Though she had failed to persuade the duke, yet the belief in her mission was now grown strong in Vaucouleurs, and John of Metz with Bertrand of Poulengy were ready to conduct her to Charles.

Baudricourt's consent was necessary, however; and to him Joan again appealed, urging him to send her forward lest Orleans should fall before she could reach it. As all other means of persuasion had failed, she told him at this time something of her visions and of her voices; just what she said we do not know. He was not convinced, but he decided to try the experiment, and yielded,though with doubt and reluctance.

Meantime, the people of Vaucouleurs, joining together, had bought for Joan men's clothes suited to her journey and to an appearance at court. She put on a close-fitting black vest, to which were fastened trunks and long stockings; over the vest she wore a short, dark gray cloak; her hat was black. Her dark hair was cut short and round, in saucer fashion, as men then wore it. Booted and spurred, with a sword at her side, mounted on a horse which Laxart and Alain had given her, but for which Baudricourt afterwards paid, she rode out of the Rochelle and of M. de Boismarmin, which fixes Joan's departure from Vaucouleurs at or about February 12.

French Gate on the afternoon of Saturday, February 12, 1429. 1 The two soldiers, Metz and Poulengy, and their two servants escorted her; with them rode Colet of Vienne, a royal courier, and his servant, in all six armed men besides Joan herself. The courier seems to have carried a letter from Baudricourt to the king, giving some account of Joan, and especially mentioning something which Joan had said to him, which was afterwards taken as a miraculous announcement of the battle of the Herrings, fought near Orleans at that very hour. Baudricourt, who knew the character of her escort, made the men swear that they would guide her well and safely; then, as the party rode away, the absurdity of the expedition again struck the grim captain. "Away with you," he called after them, "come what may."

February 12, 1429.

During this time, so far as is known, Joan's father gave no sign. Six weeks or thereabouts had passed since she left Domremy, distant from Vaucouleurs only some thirteen miles. He must have known well what his daughter was doing, and the mere suspicion that she wished to do these things had once made him furious. No certain explanation of his silence can be given; the most probable is to be found in his character and that of the rest of his family. Nothing is known of James of Arc, of his wife, or of his sons, which distinguishes them from other peasants of like condition. Naturally, the men of the family would have prevented Joan's departure; but after she had gone, they were either too angry or too indifferent to try to bring her back. When she became famous, two of her brothers were quick to join her, and the family lived off her reputation, both while she was alive and after her death.

As her mother, Isabel may have been a little nearer to Joan than a father or a brother, but, as a woman, she was guided entirely by her husband and her sons. Struggling against a will like Joan's, respectable commonplace people would have been powerless, and this they may have recognized.

Joan herself, setting out from Vaucouleurs, did not forget her home and her people. A high-spirited, brave girl, sure of God's direction, must have been excited by the thought of a journey like that before Joan, and doubtless there was a pleasure in the excitement. But Joan had not the personal vanity and the sense of importance which help sustain many honest and devoted enthusiasts. Often she thought of Domremy, and wished she were spinning at her mother's side; then her voices said to her, "Child of God, go, go."

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