Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Joan of Arc Chapter 3

Joan of Arc bronze relief with Voices

SOME forty miles west of Domremy, the castle of Doulevant was held by Henry of Orly, a soldier of fortune, who had gathered to himself a band of freebooters, and with them lived off the countryside. He cared little for English, Armagnacs, or Burgundians; in the utter confusion of men and parties, he plundered all the poor and weak, while he waged war and made alliances with the greater feudal lords, changing sides with bewildering rapidity. One day, when Joan was about thirteen years old, his men fell upon Domremy so suddenly that the people could not escape to the Castle of the Island. The robbers quickly gathered all the cattle of the village, stripped the houses of everything worth carrying off, and rode away with their booty. Apparently, they did not kill the peasants, or even burn their houses, but the livelihood of the village was gone. The herd was so large that the castle of Doulevant would not hold the cattle, but, as they were driven some fifty miles from Domremy, Henry of Orly feared no pursuit.

In their distress the peaceful peasants called upon Joanna of Joinville, then the representative of the family of Bourlemont, to which Domremy belonged. The lady sent for help to her kinsman, Anthony, count of Vaudemont, one of the most powerful lords in Lorraine. Vaudemont's men retook the cattle without much difficulty; they beat off Orly, when he came riding after them, and drove the herd in safety back to Domremy. There was great joy in the village at its return.

Thus Domremy learned the meaning of war. The English were not directly responsible for the raid, as Orly seems to have been in the service of neither party, while the count of Vaudemont was distinctly on the Anglo-Burgundian side. Nevertheless, as has been said, the common people were coming to feel that peace and quiet were possible only after the English should be driven from France.

Soon after this raid, at about noon in the summertime, Joan was in her father's garden, a small plot of ground between the house and the church. At her left hand, toward the church, she saw a great light and had a vision of the archangel Michael, surrounded by other angels. The little girl, only about thirteen years old, was much frightened, and did not know what was come to her; soon the vision faded away. In the days and weeks which followed, however, it returned again and again. Her fear passed away as she became familiar with the sight, and fear was succeeded by great comfort and peace, when at length she believed that the archangel had verily appeared to her. He bade her be a good girl, and promised that God would help her; he said that Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret would soon visit her, commissioned by God to advise and to guide her, and he ordered her to obey their words. His prophecy came to pass, and she beheld the two saints, their gracious faces richly crowned. They told her their names, and, vaguely at first, they bade her go to the help of the king of France. At once she took their voices as the guide of her life, asking no reward of them, except the salvation of her soul.

These were the subjective impressions on the mind of Joan. Their objective cause and explanation have been widely sought, but if we try to connect the past life and the surroundings of the little girl with the saints whom she saw, we shall find the evidence of such connection very scanty. Six years earlier, Charles VII., when dauphin, had in some sort taken St. Michael for his patron, and a picture of the archangel for his armorial device. The great fortified Norman monastery of Mount St. Michael at the Peril of the Sea had been blockaded by the English, and at about the time of Joan's vision its defenders had won a victory which raised the blockade. It is possible, of course, that a peasant's child, thirteen years old, should attach importance to the heraldic device of her king, and should be deeply moved by a victory of some local note won more than three hundred miles from her home, but it is not likely. Catherine was the name of Joan's sister, and there was a statue of St. Margaret in the church of Domremy. In this way Joan may have come to regard these saints with especial reverence, but the cause of her veneration, if it existed before her vision, is more probably buried with the lost history of her early childhood and of the local traditions and worship of the village.

The occasion and circumstances of her vision were known at the time only to the little girl. The day of the vision was probably a fast day, though this is not certain. Such days are far too common in the Catholic Church, however, to produce any disturbing effect. The life of a child, living with other children in an obscure hamlet, leaves no record from which its history can be written. Just after Joan became famous, a story went that one day she had been running races in the meadows of the Meuse, always beating her companions, and seeming to fly rather than to tread the ground. As she stopped, breathless, a boy told her that her mother needed her help; but when Joan reached the cottage, Isabel answered that she had not been sent for. The girl turned about to rejoin her companions, then suddenly saw a light and heard a voice. This account of the first vision, however, is contained in a letter which is full of pure legend, and cannot be trusted.

Joan herself seldom spoke of her visions; like many of the deepest religious experiences, they were much too sacred for common conversation. For several years she said not a word to any one. Afterwards, when it became absolutely necessary to say something in order to establish her divine mission, she spoke of what she had seen, but always with reluctance and reserve; with still greater reluctance she spoke to her judges at her trial, and yet from her own story all our real knowledge of her visions has come. That she both saw and heard the saints we know, but precisely what she saw, or how she heard them speak, she never told any one. Two things only are certain: first, that she was sincere, both then and afterwards, and, second, that no trick was played upon her by others. It appears, moreover, by very strong evidence, that in all other respects she was quite healthy, both in body and in mind. Further than this, history cannot go, and the choice between insanity and inspiration must be made by another science.

Joan's heavenly visitors caused no great change in her outward life. She busied herself in spinning, in sewing, and in helping her mother about the house; she worked in the fields and gathered the harvest with other girls of her age, and now and then she took her turn in watching the cattle at pasture. She was a good girl, nursed the sick, and occasionally gave her bed to some wayfarer who passed the night in her father's house. She went to confession and to mass, visited the oratories and chapels on the hillsides, liked to hear the church-bells ring out over the valley of the Meuse, and chid the sexton when he was lazy or forgetful. Sometimes the other children of the village, as children will, laughed at her for her piety. She was reserved, and having a great secret which she told to no one, she lived by herself more than most girls of her age; but she had her friends, whom she loved and who loved her. She was strong and brave, very earnest, but having much of the shrewd humor of the peasants of Lorraine. After she had become famous, the villagers strained their memories, and roused their imaginations, to tell marvelous stories of her girlhood, but, as she grew up among them, they thought of her only as a good girl, like other good girls whom they knew.

For three years the saints visited Joan, and their "voices," as she called them, told her more and more distinctly that she must save France, though as yet they gave her no definite commands. Meantime, the fortune of Charles VII. and of the Armagnacs, especially in the neighborhood of Domremy, went from bad to worse. In 1427, and in 1428, the Anglo-Burgundians carried on vigorous campaigns, and before midsummer, 1428, in the whole east of France, only the town of Vaucouleurs held for Charles VII. Several Burgundian leaders advanced to besiege it; its captain, Robert of Baudricourt, prepared to defend himself, but he could not protect the open country. Domremy was only thirteen miles south of Vaucouleurs, and the peasants left their homes while there was time to escape. Moving in a body, they drove their cattle seven miles south to Neufchâteau, a walled town belonging to the duke of Lorraine, who was an ally of the English. In spite of the duke's politics, the men of Neufchâteau very likely sympathized with Baudricourt; at any rate, they received with hospitality the outcasts of Domremy. The family of Arc was lodged for a fortnight in an inn kept by an honest woman named La Rousse, whom Joan helped with the housework, at other times watching the cattle as they fed in their new pastures.

The siege of Vaucouleurs did not last long; Baudricourt was wary and shifty as well as resolute and brave. In some way or other he made peace with the Burgunthan captain, and this without an immediate surrender. Perhaps there was a bribe given; some of the Burgundian partisans were not above selling the interest of their English employers for private gain. Perhaps the duke of Burgundy recalled his followers; more than once Philip the Good was seized with a fit of jealousy lest the English should grow too strong, and Baudricourt may have sought his protection. More likely, the captain of Vaucouleurs agreed to surrender the town unless relief came to him by a day fixed. In the fifteenth century such agreements were common, and they provided that, until the day arrived, the garrison should be left in possession and the besiegers withdrawn. At any rate, the Anglo-Burgundian force withdrew, and Baudricourt kept Vaucouleurs for Charles VII.

As soon as the danger was over, the peasants returned to Domremy, and found that the village had been burned. Their cattle were safe, and some of their household goods had been carried to Neufchâteau; their stone cottages were easily roofed again, but signs of the fire remained everywhere, and their church was so far destroyed that mass could be said in it no longer. Its black ruins stood next the garden of Joan's father, on that side of the garden where the vision had first appeared to her. She now understood more fully the meaning of her voices when they told her of the miseries of France.

At this time Joan was in her seventeenth year, a wellgrown girl, strong and healthy, dark-haired, with a pleasant face and a sweet voice. She might well think of marrying, and a young man sought her hand. Neither then nor at any time was Joan an ascetic; she kept the fasts of the church, as part of her Christian duty, but she practiced no extraordinary self-mortification. God had called her to do a work, impossible of accomplishment if she married, and, therefore, from the first she vowed to remain a virgin so long as He should please. When her errand was done, her vow would expire, and she, if she were living, would be left a peasant girl of Domremy, like her friends about her.

She refused her suitor without hesitation. He was persistent, and seems to have had the support of her parents; pretending a betrothal, he cited her before the ecclesiastical court of Toul. To Toul she went, seventeen miles away, her voices telling her that she should prevail. Before the judge she swore to tell the truth, and she told it so plainly that her suitor's case was dismissed.

After the burning of Domremy and the lawsuit at Toul, the commands given Joan by her voices became more definite. In the autumn of 1428 the eyes of all Frenchmen were turned to Orleans, against which the English had just encamped. If Orleans fell, France was lost. Already Joan had been told that she was to save France; now the voices told her that she must save Orleans. This was not all. Charles VII., though her ruler by divine right, was to her only the Dauphin, the heir to the throne, not her consecrated king. Greatly as she revered him, she would not use the name given him by law and by custom; until his coronation she always called him the Dauphin. This coronation and consecration could be had only at Rheims, and Rheims was in English hands, many miles from the nearest possession of the Armagnacs. As soon as the siege of Orleans was raised, therefore, she must lead the Dauphin to Rheims and see him made a king. What she should do after she had accomplished this, her voices did not direct precisely, but they spoke to her somewhat vaguely of driving the English from France.

These were the commands laid upon this girl by her heavenly visitors. Joan herself nowise coveted the honor of saving France; unless it were done at God's bidding, she would rather be torn in pieces by wild horses than leave Domremy. More precise and more pressing, however, became the divine command: she must go to Robert of Baudricourt, and ask him for an escort to the Dauphin; in vain she answered that she was a poor girl who could neither ride nor lead an army. Two or three times a week the voices bade her go to Vaucouleurs.

She trusted her secret to no one, not even to the priest,--silent not only from natural reserve, but also because she feared hindrance in her work. To a girl living in a small village, however, absolute concealment of her feelings was almost impossible. Once or twice when the Armagnacs in the village became discouraged, or when some stray Burgundian sympathizer began to boast, Joan was tempted to hint darkly that help would come to France. By reason, perhaps, of some such hint, or of her stern refusal to marry, her father became suspicious, and dreamed of her departure. With natural feeling, the rude peasant told his household that he would rather drown his daughter than let her go off with the soldiers. As winter came on, the siege of Orleans was pushed more vigorously, and more urgent became the commands of Joan's voices; for three years they had constantly guided her, and she could not disobey them.


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