Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

The Maid of France
Being The Story Of The Life And Death of Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc)


THE name and fame of Jeanne d'Arc are "in the catalogue of common things," like the rainbow; of things so familiar that an effort of imagination is needed before we can appreciate the unique position of the Maid in history. The story of her career, as one of her learned French historians has said, "is the most marvellous episode in our history, and in all histories."1

She was the consummation and ideal of two noble human efforts towards perfection. The peasant's daughter was the Flower of Chivalry, brave, gentle, merciful, courteous, kind, and loyal. Later poets and romance-writers delighted to draw the figure of the Lady Knight ; but Spenser and Ariosto could not create, Shakespeare could not imagine, such a being as Jeanne d'Arc.

She was the most perfect daughter of her Church; to her its sacraments were the very Bread of Life; her conscience, by frequent confession, was kept fair and pure as the lilies of Paradise. In a tragedy without parallel or precedent the Flower of Chivalry died for France and the chivalry of France, which had deserted her; she died by the chivalry of England, which shamefully entreated and destroyed her; while the most faithful of Christians perished through the "celestial science," and dull political hatred of priests who impudently called themselves "the Church."

1 Luce, Jeanne d'Arc d Domremy, p. iii.

Waning Chivalry, bewildered "celestial science," were confronted by the living ideal of Chivalry and Faith; and they crushed it. Jeanne came to them a maiden, and in years almost a child; beautiful, gay, "with a glad countenance." The priests and Doctors of her enemies offered her bread of tears and water of affliction, so merciful, they said, were they; they tricked her, and they gave her the death of fire.

She came, with powers and with genius which should be the marvel of the world while the world stands. She redeemed a nation; she wrought such works as seemed to her people, and well might seem, miraculous. Yet even among her own people, even now, her glory is not uncontested.

She came to her own, and her own received her not.

Let us understand the nature of the task which Jeanne set before herself, as an ignorant peasant child of thirteen ; the victory which, as an ignorant peasant girl of seventeen, she initiated. She was to relieve "the great pity that there is in France," a pity caused, externally, by the pressure of a foreign master in the capital, of foreign power in the country north of the Loire; internally, by the blood-feud between the Duke of Burgundy and the disinherited Dauphin, Charles VII; by a generation of ruthless treacheries and butcheries; by wars which were organised commercial speculations in ransoms and in plunder; by alien bands of mercenaries who had deliberately stifled pity; by great nobles who robbed the country which they should have defended, and passed their time in murder and private war.

In the opinion of most contemporary observers, French and foreign, in 1428, the rightful King, Charles VII, must go into exile or beg his bread, and France must be erased from the list of nations. We must not be deceived by the idea that, in the fifteenth century, there was no national patriotism, and that France was not yet a name to conjure with. Ever since the Paladins of Charlemagne, in the Chanson de Roland he wept in a foreign land at the thought of "sweet France," that word had its enchantment. That name was ever on the lips and in the letters of the Maid ; she used it as a spell to cast out the nickname, "Armagnacs," which the English had given to the national party. The word patrie was not yet in common use (though she is made to say patria in the Latin translation of her Trial), but the old "doulx pays de France" served the turn.

To unite France, to restore France, to redeem France, and to rescue Orleans, was the task of Jeanne; but, even before Orleans was besieged, she had her own conception of the method to be employed. She promised, in May 1428, to lead her "gentle Dauphin," through hostile Anglo-Burgundian territory, to be crowned at Reims. Even disinterested foreigners then spoke of her prince, not as king, but as Dauphin. He would become king only when anointed with the holy oil from the mystic ampoule brought by an angel to the patron saint of Jeanne's native village, Domremy.

To the modern mind the importance thus attached to a few drops of oil seems very absurd. But in studying history we must accept the past as it existed: when occupied with the characters and events of the Middle Ages, we must learn to think medievally. To the faithful in the Middle Ages the earth was but a plain, to which the angels of heaven descended, going and coming on errands of the Divine Will, as in the Vision of Jacob. The political importance of anointing the King with the holy oil of Reims was recognised as fully by the practical Duke of Bedford, brother of Henry V, and Governor of France, as by the peasant girl of Domremy. Between the daughter of Jacques d'Arc, in her remote village on the Meuse, and the great Lancastrian statesman and warrior in Paris, it was indeed a race for Reims and for the Coronation of the Dauphin, or of the child King of England, Henry VI.

The political results of success in this race, the increase of loyalty and of prestige to her Dauphin, were only one part of the plan conceived by the peasant child. She came to help the poor and the oppressed. She would crown the Dauphin, but first she would bid him give her his promise to rule in righteousness. She caused him, in fact, to make to her, before she set forth to rescue Orleans, a promise in the nature of his Coronation Oath; he was to govern justly, mercifully, without rancour or revenge, as the loyal vassal of Christ. The sacred oil was much, the golden Crown was much, but to Jeanne, from first to last, free or in prison, the Crown was that ideal Crown, not of this world, but imperishable in the world of ideas. "This Crown," she told her judges, "no goldsmith on earth could fashion." Only by virtue of this Crown could France be restored to her place among Christian nations.

Such were the conceptions, as will be proved in detail, of this rustic girl, who determined, alone, to fulfil her dream. But she undertook her mission, not only with the clearest conviction of her own personal impotence,--" I am but an untaught lass, who cannot ride and direct the wars," she said,--but also with the certain foreknowledge, from the first, that she "would last but a year or little more." Such was her presentiment, such, as she held, was the knowledge conveyed to her by the lips that cannot lie, of the Blessed Dead.

Knowing all this,--her own lack of power, her own poverty, simplicity, and inexperience, and the briefness of her own span,-- the Maid applied herself to her task. Through the last ten of her allotted thirteen months, she was ill-supported by the King whom she had crowned: for the last six weeks her inspirations only foretold her capture. But she had turned the tide of English conquest; thenceforth the waves retired, and within the time predicted by the captive Maid, England had "lost a dearer gage than Orleans," had lost Paris.

Such were the marvels, marvellously accomplished, of Jeanne d'Arc. A girl understood, and a girl employed (so professional students of strategy and tactics declare), the essential ideas of the military art; namely, to concentrate quickly, to strike swiftly, to strike hard, to strike at vital points, and, despising vain noisy skirmishes and "valiances," to fight with invincible tenacity of purpose.

It may be said that to conceive these tactics was, with Jeanne, an affair rather of the heart than of the head; rather of courage than of science. Be it so: but we shall see that Jeanne could decline as well as offer battle, at a crisis when the professional French captains might probably have thrown away the fruits of victory, by accepting the challenge of the enemy.

Moreover, if it be granted that the military successes of the Maid were due less to her head than to her heart, it was precisely heart, courage, confidence that France needed. A series of English victories, culminating in the mournful and laughable defeat of an indirect attempt (February 12, 1429) to relieve Orleans, had deprived the French of the heart and confidence which the Maid restored.

She possessed what, in a Napoleon, a Marlborough, a Kellermann at Alba de Tormes (1809), would be reckoned the insight of genius. Unlike the generals with whom she rode, she divined the temper of the enemy; she foresaw how they would behave. At Alba de Tormes "the French general resolved to risk a most dangerous experiment, an attack with unsupported cavalry upon a force of all arms, in the hope of detaining it till his infantry should come up." 2 In a few moments part of the Spanish army was a wreck : the rest was detained till it was shattered by the arrival of the French infantry and guns. Jeanne never took so great a risk, but she, like Kellermann, gauged correctly the temper of the enemy. She knew that they would not take the offensive, and her estimate of their "morale " was correct. The expert French captains ought to have known as much, for the English were permitting bands of from two to four hundred French combatants to go in and out of Orleans with little opposition. Therefore they were unlikely to sally forth against a body of three or four thousand men. But Dunois did not draw the inference which the Maid drew, and lacked, by his own honest confession, the heart and confidence of the Maid.

2 Oman, History of the Peninsular War, vol. iii. p. 99.

She derived her confidence from her perfect faith in the monitions of her Voices (a source not open to most generals); but, enfin, in military conduct, in strategy and tactics, by the confession of her opponents she was in the right. So it was in all things.

"Simple" she seemed, and ignorant, "save in matters of war," to many who knew her. But whatsoever thing confronted her, whatsoever problem encountered her, whatsoever manners became her in novel situations, she understood in a moment. She solved the problem; she assumed the manners; she faced the rain of arrows and bullets; she faced Doctors and Clerks; she animated the soldiery in Napoleon's way; she spoke and acted like a captain, like a clerk, like a grande dame de par le monde, as the need of the moment required.

To think less than this of Jeanne is to fail to understand the unimpeachable facts of her history. It is, moreover, never to be forgotten that, during her military career, her age was of from seventeen to eighteen years. At seventeen, Napoleon had not won a decisive battle, had not led forlorn hopes to victory, had not "taught the doubtful battle where to rage." But that Jeanne had done all this no sceptic can deny; and the doing of it was but the beginning of her career of wonders.

In a crisis of the national fortunes of France, the hour had come, and the girl. In other crises the hour has come, and the man, Cromwell or Napoleon. We recognise their genius and their opportunity. But in the case of Jeanne d'Arc, as she was an ignorant girl of seventeen, human wisdom is apt to decline to recognise the happy wedding of opportunity and genius, and to look about for any explanations that may minimise the marvel.

Jeanne, we are sometimes told, had no military knowledge, no military intuitions, no political intuitions of value. Of course, if this be so, the marvel becomes a miracle, and the miracle has to be explained away." The task of which France had despaired was not really difficult."Perhaps not,--till "thinking made it so." Jeanne was no more than a visionary, we are told, like any other Crazy Moll, but braver, better, and luckier.

This idea, though enthusiastically welcomed of late as the dernier cri of psychological and historical science, is anything but new. In 1730 M. Antoine de la Barre de Beaumarchais wrote, "Jeanne was an enthusiast. She and three other women had been seduced by the famous preacher, Brother Richard. He had filled their minds with visions and revelations, and overheated their feeble brains. On the strength of his word they believed that they were Saints, and henceforth they had never a foolish fancy but they took it for an inspiration. Jeanne was preferred above her companions: the King made his profit out of her pious lunacy, and pretended to hold her in profound respect. His object was to encourage his party by deluding them into the belief that God had sent him a new Deborah to drive out the foreign invaders."3

3 Beaumarchais, Lettres Se'rietises et Badines, 1730, vol. iii. p. 26.

Of these edifying remarks (not, of course, by the famous author of Le Mariage de Figaro)--remarks based on ignorance of history, we read an echo in 1908. "Several saintly women led, like Jeanne, a singular life, and communicated with the Church Triumphant. It was, so to say, un be'guinage volant" (a flying squadron of beguines, or fantastic devotees) "which followed the army.4

4 Anatole France, Vie de Jeanne d'Arc, vol. ii. p. 96.

This is the statement of M. Anatole France in his Life of the Maid.

A considerable and industrious student, M. Vallet de Viriville, in 1863, reintroduced the way of thinking about Jeanne d'Arc which had been adopted by Beaumarchais. Admitting that she had genius, and defining genius rather oddly as "the quintessence of common sense," he placed her as "one of a group" ; her precursors and imitators. Most of these were, or pretended to be, visionaries, dreamers of dreams; some were more or less, usually less, accredited and listened to by princes and even by popes. Many were charlatans; one was a lovely lady of pleasure, Madame d'Or; and several were married women who can scarcely be called, as M. de Viriville does call them, Pucelles! 5

The common point of all was that they saw and heard, or affected to see and hear, Visions and Voices. But surely this point is rather more of an accident than of a differentia. Shelley, Socrates, Mohammed, Luther, Pascal, and Cromwell were of the visionary habit; but, essentially, they were men of genius in poetry, philosophy, war, religion, and so forth. In the same way Jeanne essentially and pre-eminently belongs to the group of genius, while all the sham Pucelles and vapid dreamers do not.

It is fair to M. de Viriville to add that though he included Jeanne in his motley group of married Pucelles, Saints, charlatans, light o' loves, and crazy wenches, he added that "in her, good sense shone with extraordinary brilliance. . . . She was profoundly religious, remarkably pious, but neither a mystic nor a miracle-worker." He declines to confuse her with the other women of "the flying squadron of be'guines.' She was a practical person. 6

Dr. Dumas, a distinguished authority on nervous diseases and aberrant constitutions, also writes, " the will and the intellect of Jeanne were sane and straight " {par son intelligence, par sa volonte' Jeanne reste saine et droite). At the same time he assures us that "no mortal could be more destitute than Jeanne of clear and practical ideas," and that there can be no "literary hypothesis" more blinding than that which credits her with good sense!7 Dr. Dumas is a too headlong disciple of the one historian on whom he relies. That author sometimes deviates into crediting Jeanne with " all the good sense of the people," and with 8 "very correct ideas " ; in great matters both of war and peace.

5 Vallet de Viriville, Charles VII, 1 863, vol. ii. pp. viii-x.
6Ibid. vol. ii. pp. 129, 130.
7 Dumas in Anatole France, Vie de Jeanne d'Arc, vol. ii. p. 465. Dumas in Revue du Mois, May 10, 1908.
8 France, Vie de Jeanne d'Atr, vol. i. p. 73, vol. ii. p. 7.

I am unable to reconcile the conflicting statements which the great historian and the great "scientist" manage to combine in their verdicts on the Maid. If "her intelligence and will were sane and straight," how did she manage to be "devoid of clear and practical ideas"? If she were "conspicuous for good sense' in that essential respect she was remote indeed from the crew of crazy Molls. Historian and savant both seem to have ideas far from the clear and the consistent.

Next, we are told that even Jeanne's martial mission was not of her own invention, conscious or sub-conscious, but was imagined and imposed on her by fraudulent priests, who, apparently, understood the military situation and the needs of France better than Dunois and de Gaucourt! This also is no new theory.

In 1435, four years after her martyrdom, Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini, later Pope Pius II, was present at the negotiations for the Treaty of Arras, which reconciled France and Burgundy, and dealt a death blow at the English domination over France. He found, as he writes in his Memoirs, that there were many opinions about Jeanne d'Arc, many explanations of her career.9

The simple people deemed that she had a mission from Heaven, and was inspired by veritable saints and angels. Others, the scholars of Paris University, believed that her inspiration came from evil spirits. Others, yet more scientific, held that she was the innocent victim of natural subjective hallucinations. Finally (here the Pope's evidence comes in), there was a party which maintained that some French statesman, seeing the jealousies of the nobles of Charles VII,--none would accept another's lead,--found in the Maid a professedly divine leader, whom all might follow. This view is set forth by two French historians in 1548 and 1570.10

9 Prods, vol. iv. p. 518.
10 Du Haillan, De VEstat et Success des Affaires de France, Paris, 1570. Guillaume du Bellay, Instructions sur le faid de la Guerre, 1548.

Jeanne had been, it was believed, the mistress of Robert de Baudricourt, or of Poton de Saintrailles, or of the Bastard of Orleans, and she was instructed in her part by one statesman or another. The cunning statesman invented the mission, and pulled the strings of the clever puppet.

Our knowledge of history makes this last opinion untenable. It is now held by none; but as we see, it has recently been revived in a modified form. The old explanation of that serious historian, Beaumarchais (1730), was that Jeanne was but one of a group of female visionaries, all inspired and directed by the foolish popular preacher, Brother Richard. The similar opinion, that she was known by the clergy of her native place to be a visionary, and that they invented her military mission and imposed it on her through her Voices, while Brother Richard took her in hand later, has been put forward by M. Anatole France.11

Dr. Dumas of the Sorbonne has hailed M. France's revival of the old system of "indoctrination" as the last word of Science on the subject.12

If I stated the scientific theory in my own words, I might readily be suspected of maliciously distorting it. I translate, therefore, the scientific formula as given by Dr. Dumas. "It is outside of the Maid that M. Anatole France resolutely seeks the source of her political inspirations and Messianic ideas. Thus, behind her first visions, he already detects the influence of some unknown clerical person who wished to turn these visions to the good of the kingdom, and to the conclusion of peace. Jeannette brought, for her part, her piety, her horror of war, her love of the unhappy and afflicted, her memories of her nights of anguish, and of her frightful dreams. The clerical person contributed the Mission ; and out of the Voices which at first only said, "Jeannette, be a good girl," he made the Voices which said, "Daughter of God, leave thy village and go into France to let consecrate the Dauphin."

11 Vie de Jeanne d' Arc, 1908. Vol. i. p. 54, and passim.
12 Revue du Mois, May 10, 1908. 8 Ibid., May 10, 1908.

How the priest came to know that Jeanne (who confided the facts to no churchman) saw Angels and Saints, Dr. Dumas does not tell us. How, when the priest did know, he " made the Voices urge Jeanne to go to France, despite her remonstrances--'I cannot ride and fight,'"13 Dr. Dumas does not inform us. He even drops the fact that the mission was military; probably because he sees that no priest could be so mad as to advise a peasant girl to ride in the van of armies. The mission, however, was "holy and warlike" says M. France himself, with truth.14 His neuropathological disciple, in the interests of the scientific theory, is obliged to ignore that essential circumstance.

It cannot be ignored by the historian! Again, Jeanne had no "horror of war" in a just cause. She did not want to fight, and as soon as her Voices bade her go into France, and lead her King to Reims through a country full of hostile garrisons, she perceived that her mission must be military, and replied that she could not fight and lead men-at-arms. But, yielding to the monitions of her Voices, she took up a mission professedly warlike. When she left Vaucouleurs on February 23, 1429, to rescue France, she was girt with a sword: she carried sword, lance, steel sperth, and dagger --or such of these weapons as she found appropriate--till the hour of her capture." Her nights of terror and fearful dreams" are as destitute of evidence as her clerical tutors. She was not timid!

13 Proces, vol. i. p. 53.
14 France, vol. i. p. 51.

When we refuse to ignore, with Dr. Dumas, the fact that the mission of the Maid, from the first, was military; when we agree, with M. France, and all the evidence, that the mission was warlike, the scientific theory ceases to exist.

No priest could possibly have taught her, through her Voices, that only an ignorant peaceful peasant girl, herself, in male costume, could drive the English out of France. Much less could a supposed series of clerical impostors have, through all her career, unanimously insisted on a course which, to human common sense, seemed the quintessence of crazy folly.

This theory is unthinkable. First, it cannot be thought that even if one mad cure bade the girl to make peace by restoring France with the sword in her own hand, Jeanne's other clerical tutors would all follow him. If they thought that they had got hold of a useful saintly visionary,--to such a person, princes, popes, the English Government, and the Duke of Burgundy were, in that age, apt to listen,--they would employ her as a messenger of peace, not of war. Popes and princes and cities had listened to St. Catherine of Siena: the English Government and the Duke of Bedford listened to the devout Dame Eleanor Raughton, All Hallows, North Street, York.15

But the priests of the theory sent their visionary to ride in man's dress, armed, and to bid the English depart at the point of the lance! The only named director whom Jeanne's enemies accused of "indoctrinating" her, Brother Richard, found that she spurned his peaceful methods of negotiating through a visionary.

The scientific hypothesis, then, cannot be accepted by the historian. Moreover, the hypothesis is self-contradictory, if that be any objection in modern logic. It is distinctly and frequently, and correctly maintained, by the advocate of the theory of clerical "indoctrination," that no priest knew anything from Jeanne of her psychical experiences, that Jeanne never told about her "revelations" to her cure or any churchman.16 That she did not do so is very extraordinary; and the fact, to this day, afflicts her clerical defenders, Father Ayroles, S.J., and the Chanoine Dunand. But that Jeanne was thus secretive, that she never took a priest into her confidence as concerning her visions and Voices, was a point urged against her claims to canonisation in 1903. The Advocatus Diaboli, Monsignor Caprara {Promoteur de la Foi), dwelt severely on the conduct of Jeanne in not consulting her spiritual director about her revelations.17

15Pageants of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, p. iii. Roxburghe Club, 1908.
16 France, vol. i. p. 50, ii. p. 307.
17Langogne, Jeanne a" Arc devant la Congregation des Rites, 1894, p. 174.

That she confided the facts of her visions and Voices to no churchman is thus maintained by the friends of the theory that, apparently because she did confide them, the churchmen knew about them, and "indoctrinated" her; taught her the nature of her warlike mission; and used her as their mouth-piece and puppet. The theory of "indoctrination" rests on a contradiction in terms.

Thus the logic of the case proves that there was no less of truth than of loyalty in the dying declaration of the Maid; that what she had done, be it good or bad, was entirely of her own doing without counsel from any man.

The theory that she was "indoctrinated" has no historical basis, and less than no logical basis. She was not--save in accepting the contemporary ideas, expressed even on the coinage, about kings being the lieutenants of God, and about the need of consecration and coronation--the pupil of priests or politicians.

As a proof that her mission was suggested by fraudulent priests, we are told that it was initiated and advertised by means of forged prophecies, chiefly by a special version of a prophecy of Merlin, fraudulently constructed to these ends. But we shall demonstrate, by unimpeachable evidence, that this prediction was a thing already current in folklore on the marches of Lorraine.

The author who presents us with these ideas adds that, in her lifetime, Jeanne was only known to men in a radiant mist of childish and incredible legends, reported by the press, so to speak, of the period, the news letters sent to foreign countries. If this were true, it is not easy to guess where the critic obtained the materials for his portrait of the Maid. Of course, in her lifetime Jeanne was well known to hundreds of persons.

It should be superfluous to remark that the materials for an historical portrait cannot be disengaged out of the ephemeral legends which, in all ages, gather round every important personage. Lord Morley's Life of William Ewart Gladstone would have been much more lively, but much less edifying, had he made use of the contemporary legends concerning the famous politician. We do not take our ideas of Montrose, Claverhouse, or Mary of Guise from the contemporary legends of the Covenanters or the myths of John Knox.

In the same way the tattle of contemporary writers of news letters, who in 1429-1431 sent to Germany and Italy, "under all reserves," the fables about Jeanne d'Arc which reached them, does not make her a legendary personage. The romances of victories and defeats that never occurred, in the South African war, did not outlive three days life of the British and foreign newspapers which circulated them; and scarcely one of the fables about Jeanne, published in the news letters of 1429-1430, found its way into the Chronicles of 1430-1470. A few of the myths were made the subjects of questions put to Jeanne by her judges in 1431. Of some she had never so much as heard; the truth of others she denied.

To say that "the history of Jeanne d Arc is a religious history just like that of Colette de Corbie," is an error in criticism.18In the case of Jeanne we have, in the case of St. Colette we have not, an enormous body of historical materials,--almost destitute of "hagiography," wholly destitute of imputed miracles,--unless a few cases of premonition and clairvoyance are to be held "miraculous." In Jeanne we see the warrior and the politician , not the ecstatic and the, thaumaturge. Miracle-working she again and again, in freedom and in prison, disclaimed. If she occasionally exhibited such faculties as "second sight" and telepathy, Thackeray, Nelson, and Catherine de Medici have been credited with similar powers.

18 France, vol. i. p. lxxx.

To reject abundance of sworn evidence because it conflicts with a critic's personal idea of what is probable or possible is not the method of History, and will not be adopted in this book. Much less will I reject, for instance, the evidence of Jeanne herself on any point, and give a fanciful theory of my own as to what really occurred. If there are incidents in her career which Science, so far, cannot explain, I shall not therefore regard them as false. Science may be able to explain them on some future day; at present she is not omniscient.

The mournful truth is that the historian has a much better chance of being read if he gives free play to his fancy than if he is strictly accurate. But to add the figments of fancy to the facts on record, to cite documents as if they were warrants for the statements which they do not support, is to wander from history into the enchanted forest of romance.

In the Notes will be found many specimens of the method, arising, of course, from unconscious misreadings and misquotations.


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