The Maid of France
PROPHECIES ATTRIBUTED TO BEDE AND MERLIN
Being The Story Of The Life And Death of Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc)
THE successes of the Maid have been freely attributed to the
influence of alleged prophecies by Bede and Merlin, invented or
contaminated by priests of her party.
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Concerning the Merlin prophecies we have said enough.
We have shown that obscure sayings attributed to Merlin
and reported by Geoffrey of Monmouth (circ. 1 145), about a healing
Virgin from the Nemus Canutum, were connected, in public
opinion, with the Bois Chesnu of Domremy. The said Virgin was
expected to come from the Bois Chesnu^ therefore "from the
marches of Loraine.'' This Virgin, in the prophecy of Marie
d' Avignon, under Charles VI, was to restore France by arms (after
it had been ruined by a woman, the wife of the insane King,
people said). 1 We have shown that this saying was current in the
valley of the Meuse, and was known to the peasantry before Jeanne
announced her mission ; so it was not composed in her interest by
a cunning clerk. It may or may not have encouraged her; she
certainly used it to persuade Katherine Royer.
Of all these facts the proofs have been given. But the prophecy
attributed to Bede is another affair. We must not, like M. Anatole
France, identify the Bede with the Merlin prediction.2 "Bede"
says not a word of the Bois Chesnu.
1 Prods, vol. iii. pp. 83, 84.
2 France, vol. i. p. 204, note 1, in which the Bede prophecy in Morosini, vol. iv.
p. 324, is identified with the Merlin prediction.
The saying of Merlin (which, of course, really applied to
Britain, not to France) had won its way into folklore. The Bede
prediction was in Latin, and it was composed after Jeanne raised
The so-called Bede prophecy is not in Bede's works. It is
a chronogram, "a commemorative phrase, or saying, in prose or
verse.'' By selecting such letters in a chronogram as are Roman
numerals, such as i, I, v, V, 1, L, etc., and adding them up, their
total gives the year-date of the event commemorated. The
chronogram is a memoria technica of a date.
The chronogram of the date of the murder of Jean sans Peur is
Tolle, tolle, crucifige eum si vis. "Away with him, crucify him if
you will!" To get the date the chronogram is written thus :
ToLLe, toLLe, CrVCIflge eVM si Vis.
Adding together the Roman numerals, M (a thousand) and so
on, we get 1419. The four L's give 200, the two C's give 200, + M
that is 1400; the three V's make 15, the four l's make 4, result
1419. There are several such chronograms, each a memoria
technica of a date, in the Chronique de St. Michel1
These chronograms do not pretend to be prophetic. But the
alleged Bede prophecy of the Maid was given out as prophetic.
Only the first line of the three lines is a chronogram.
We first hear of it in an Italian letter of July 9, 1429, written
from Bruges to Venice.2 The writer says3 that at Paris . . .
many prophecies have been found which make mention of this
young lady" (the Maid), "among which is one of Bede in
Alex(andro)." The chronogram is given, it sums up to 1429.4
1 Prods, vol. iv. pp. 313, 314.
2 Morosini, vol. iii. p. 89.
3 Ibid., vol. iii. p. 127.
4 Ibid., vol. iii. p. 127. " People interpret it in various ways."
On any remarkable occurrence the learned looked up their
collections of oracles, such rubbish as Onomacritus is said to have
preserved and interpolated in ancient Athens.
There is no work of Bede "In Alexandre)? But Bede, as
M. Lefevre-Pontalis shows, was confused with Merlin ; the
Christian historian (672-735) with the heathen Celtic seer of
Arthur's Court. Now Geoffrey of Monmouth dedicated his popular
tract on the prophecies of Merlin to Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln
(i 1 23-1 148), in the words "Ad Alexandrum" The dedication
" Ad Alexandrum" was mistaken for the title " In Alexandro" in
a book called " Alexander." Bede and Merlin were rolled into one,
and prophecies of Merlin were attributed to Bede in a non-existent
book of Bede "In Alexandra?
Christine de Pisan, an ancient religious lady, quotes Bede with
Merlin in a poem on the Maid, written on July 31, 1429, when
Charles VII was expected at the gates of Paris.1
Much earlier, Creton, the French chronicler of the death of our
Richard II, shows that the confusion of Merlin with Bede was
already made in England.2
The so-called Bede's prophecy is given, variously, by the
Italian letter-writer of July 9, 1429; by Jean Brehal, Grand
Inquisitor;3 by Bower, the Scottish chronicler,4 and by others.
The first line of the three yields the date 1429. The two other
lines read, "The young French cocks will make preparations for
new wars, in Taurus ; behold wars break out, a Maid carries flags."
In his opinion given at the Trial of Rehabilitation of Jeanne,
Brehal remarks that "some say" (on dit) that Bede foretold the
Maid in this chronogram. Brehal does not think much of this, and
is more impressed by the Merlin prophecy, which, he says, is good
folklore.5 He interprets a form of the version given in Geoffrey
of Monmouth ; he leaves out the words about London, for which
he had no use.6
1 Prods ', vol. v. p. 12.
2 Creton (Webb), pp. 168, 169, 371. Buchon, p. 412.
3 Prods, vol. iii. pp. 334-349 ; cf. 338-339.
4 Ibid., vol. iv. p. 481.
5 Ibid,, vol. iii. pp. 338, 340.
6 Ibid., vol. iii. pp. 341, 342.
He also gives, and comments on, a long prophecy attributed to
"Engelida, daughter of the King of Hungary." This was certainly
composed after July 17, 1429, and before the failure at Paris. The
Maid, we learn, has a soft voice, a little red birth-mark behind the
ear, and collum modicum, which Brehal understands as "a short
He says that many may think this prophecy rather less than
authentic ! Still, we should try to take prophecies in a favourable
The conclusion seems to be (1) that Jeanne and the people of
her district knew a folklore prophecy,--Merlin filtered through
Marie dAvignon, and localised at the Bois Chesnu y--and that the
learned knew the saying in a literary shape in Geoffrey of
(2) A mere chronogram, a new jeu d'esprit on the events of
1429, was in Paris by July in that year attributed to Bede
(through the old confusion of Bede with Merlin), and was circu-
lated to encourage the French party by the evidence of a statement
of facts,--which does not predict victory. Paris was the source
of this sham prophecy, which may be due to the ingenuity of a
Carmelite attached to his rightful King.
(3) The prophecy of Engelida is a fabrication of between July
17 and September 8, 1429. But Jeanne had relieved Orleans in
May 1-8, and I fail to see that " without these pious frauds " (the
chronogram and Engelida) " the marvels of the Maid would not
have been accomplished." x
In May 1-8, Engelida had not vaticinated ; and if any one
thinks that Saint Loup, Les Augustins, the Tourelles, and Jargeau
were stormed on the strength of a chronogram (saying that " a girl
carries flags "), a chronogram certainly written after the Maid
raised her victorious standard, I envy his gift of faith, though
I wish it were devoted to doctrines more plausible.
(I have rested on the learning of M. Lefevre-Pontalis, in
Morosini, vol. iv. annexe xvi., drawing my own conclusions.)
1 Anatole France, vol. i. p. 207.
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