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)
CHAPTER 20

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THE LAST DAY UNDER ARMS

A MINOR miracle which occurred at this time, proves that good men prayed for the Maid, not knowing, as she knew, that her fate was shapen. She told no man of the prediction of her approaching capture, lest she should discourage her comrades; perhaps lest they should force her to seek safety with the King,--who was always in a safe place. Since the Voices spoke at Melun, she had usually followed the counsel of the captains in war.

Meanwhile, as regards the minor miracle, on the night of April 18 a priest of Angers had such a headache that he expected to die. He prayed, as was his wont, to St. Catherine of Fierbois. Instantly his pain vanished ; in a few days he was able to walk ; he made a pilgrimage to Fierbois, and "said a Mass for the King and the noble Maid."

From Lagny, Jeanne had gone to Senlis with 1000 horse under various leaders. She and the captains were admitted into the city; not so the men-at-arms, the town could not afford to entertain them.

Meanwhile (April 22) the King was still dallying with the idea of a congress of the Powers at Auxerre, to arrange a general peace, and was not without hope that the Duke of Burgundy would meet his envoys on June 1. But the English, as Charles told the Duke of Savoy, seemed to be far from enthusiastic for peace; as was visible enough, Henry VI being on the point of invading France with a large army. The French King pitifully complained that he had been unable to fulfil his promise of handing Compiegne over to Burgundy, but, on the other hand, Burgundy had not restored to him Pont Sainte Maxence. If Charles's men have broken truce, he says, so have Burgundy's men ; they have tried to take Troyes.

It took Charles and his advisers exactly ten months to discover the truth which the Maid had announced by letter to the people of Reims on August 5, 1429, saying, "I am not content with these truces," which she thinks may be merely intended "to deceive the Royal blood." The peasant girl, in August 1429, saw through the diplomacy of Burgundy, and on May 6, 1430, her King announced to the people of Reims that the Duke of Burgundy "has never had, and now has not any intention of coming to terms of peace, but always has favoured and does favour our enemies."

No heavenly Voices were needed in July 1429 to inform the Maid that the Duke of Burgundy was hoaxing her King, his favourite La Tremoille, his de Treves, his de Gaucourt, and the rest of his advisers. Beyond the circle of the politicians and diplomatists of France, the truth of the case was visible to plain men; to the people of Compiegne, Troyes, Reims, to every one. But the politicians chose to be deceived.

Such was the end of the wisdom of the wise, of the King, the Archbishop of Reims, La Tnfmoille, de Gaucourt, and the rest. Five more years of war before the treaty of Arras was all that the King and Council gained by preferring their own wisdom to the wisdom of Jeanne d'Arc, "the beguine" the visionary, the simple, ignorant, hallucinated, puzzle-headed lass.

Burgundy had been concentrating his forces and his copious artillery at Montdidier, some thirty miles north-west of the main object of his desire, Compiegne. Compiegne rivalled or excelled Orleans in its extent and strength, and commanded the passage of the Oise, and that route to Paris. Situated on the southern bank of the river, not like Orleans, on the north of the Loire; like Orleans it had a river frontage, protected by a deeper stream, and unlike Orleans, it had fosses full of water. Behind it, to the south, was a great forest, just as Orleans had a forest to the north. The Anglo-Burgundians first secured their footing on the farther side, the northern side of the river, and, as at Orleans, their earliest task was to attack the strongly fortified bridge-head. Meanwhile the city was not invested on the other bank, and the forest concealed the advance of convoys and relieving forces from that quarter. The enceintes of the two cities are almost identical in extent and formation.

The main object of the Anglo-Burgundian campaign of 1430 was to capture Compiegne, whence they could enter and dominate the He de France, and relieve Paris. Henry VI landed at Calais on April 23; in less than a month an Anglo-Burgundian command was encamped along the Oise, opposite the coveted city. The Duke of Burgundy from Montdidier, marching due west, occupied Noyon, south of which, at a distance of two miles, lay the strong place of Pont l'Eveque, with its invaluable bridge over the Oise, which was held by a stout English garrison. Just above Compiegne, the Aisne, on the southern side, falls almost at right angles into the Oise. Immediately above the junction, on the northern bank of the Aisne, was the strong place of Choisy-le-Bac. If that were in Burgundian hands a French force operating south of the Aisne could find no nearer bridge than that of Soissons, held at the moment by France.

The great first object of the French loyalists was therefore to capture the town of Pont l'Eveque, and cut the Burgundian lines of communication southwards across the Oise, while Burgundy was besieging Choisy-le-Bac, with its bridge across the Aisne. To assist in this manoeuvre the Maid, on May 13, entered Compiegne from the south. Here she met, for the last time, the Archbishop of Reims and the Comte de Vendome. To her, as to these dignitaries, the town presented wine, as was usual.

With a force estimated, probably by exaggeration, at from 2000 to 4000 men, under Poton de Saintrailles and three other captains, the Maid attacked Pont l'Eveque at dawn. The English garrison is also overestimated, probably, at 1200 to 800 men; in either case it was more than adequate to hold a strong place against a sudden camisade. The French, however, were gaining ground when the Burgundian garrison of Noyon, two miles away, came up and fell on their rear. They were obliged to withdraw, though as the killed are stated at only thirty men on each side, the righting must have been the reverse of resolute.

On May 16, Choisy-le-Bac surrendered to Burgundy on terms; the captain,--Louis, brother of Guillaume de Flavy,--with his garrison and great gun, was allowed to retire into Compiegne by terms of the capitulation.

The French and the Maid returned to Compiegne. Their aim was now to fall on the rear of the Burgundians; but to do this they must cross the Aisne, and they had now no nearer bridge than that of Soissons, far away to the east.

On May 18, Jeanne and the whole force rode to Soissons, accompanied by the Archbishop of Reims, who there parted from Jeanne for the last time, and took an early opportunity of blackening her character. Perhaps she knew not this, but, though she had admirable opportunities of speaking her mind about him, the loyal girl never uttered a syllable against any one of her party.

Soissons was held for France by a treacherous Picard, named Guiscard Bournel, who had been placed there by the incapable Charles de Bourbon, the fugitive of Rouvray fight. Bournel, claiming the privilege of the good town, refused to allow the army to enter, and then sold the town to Burgundy for 4000 salus dor. The document attesting his infamy is extant, and has been discovered by M. Pierre Champion. Her judges accused Jeanne of swearing profane, when she heard of the treachery of the Picard (who joined the Burgundian army), and of saying that, if she had him, she would cause him to be quartered, precisely the punishment which he had deserved by the law of the day. She answered that she never swore, and that those who said so must have misheard her.

The French army now broke up, crossing Marne and Seine, as the country could not support them; and the town of Compiegne could not supply so large a garrison, being already sufficiently manned. But Jeanne, knowing that the English and Burgundians had now actually established themselves opposite Compiegne, on the northern bank of Oise, insisted on riding thither with the little band of Barthemy Baretta, which, reckoning four men to each lance, cannot have numbered more than 200. The d'Alencon chronicler, Perceval de Cagny, cannot have been in her company at this moment. But he dictated his Memoirs only six years after the fatal event at Compiegne, and he had doubtless heard the reminiscences of companions of the Maid, probably from d'Aulon. De Cagny always writes of her in a tone of the warmest affection and the highest admiration: he regards her kindness for his chief as one of the glories of his House.

According to de Cagny, then, Jeanne was at Crepy when she heard that the Duke of Burgundy and the Earl of Arundel were encamped in face of Compiegne with a large force. About midnight (May 22-23) she left Crepy, with her company of 300 or 400 combatants (really with about half that number at most, as far as Baretta's band is concerned). They told her that they were but few to pass through the hosts of English and Burgundians; but she said, "Par mon martin-we are enough- I will go to see my good friends at Compiegne."

In fact, by rapid riding through the forest paths on the southern side of the river, not yet occupied by the enemy, she entered Compiegne, unopposed, about sunrise on May 23. There is no record of her reception by the notables of the city in the town's books of accounts. It is hardly worth while to criticise a story of May 23, gleaned in 1498 from the lips of two men over ninety, who were young in 1430. These men must have been older than Jeanne, and so were not among the children to whom she is reported to have said, in church, "Children and dear friends, I tell you that I am sold and betrayed, and will soon be delivered over to death. Pray God for me. Never more shall I have power to serve the King and kingdom of France."

No doubt Alain Bouchart, who collected this story from the lips of the nonagenarians in July 1498, states what he heard. "But, Lord! what liars we old men be!" The Maid herself told her judges that she had no warning from her Voices of the day and hour of her capture. "Had I known, I would not have sallied forth." She also says that she concealed from her men her foreknowledge of her fate. Is it likely, then, that, at any one of her three last visits to Compiegne, she publicly announced her apprehensions to the people and a crowd of children in church ?

We know nothing of what passed in Compiegne on May 23 till five o'clock, the hour of the fatal sortie; but it is most probable that the weary riders took rest, that Jeanne heard Mass, and that she consulted with de Flavy.

We must now describe the positions of the Anglo-Burgundian forces. Opposite the bridge-head on the northern side of the river, at the village of Margny, Baudot de Noyelles commanded a small Burgundian outpost, "the camp of our advanced guard and the nearest to the enemy," says the Duke of Burgundy, writing on the day of the events. Above Margny is a cliff with a wide prospect; below, Baudot's post occupied the head of a long paved causeway, built through marshy and often flooded meadows. Beyond Margny, and a mile and a half from the town, farther up the river bank, is Clairoix, then held in great force by a famous warrior, the veteran Jean de Luxembourg, Comte de Ligny. Farther down the river than Margny, by some two miles, is Venette, the camp of the English under Montgomery. These dispositions are given by Monstrelet, the soldier-chronicler, who was present. At Coudun, concealed by the high land above Margny, and by the valley of the Aronde, lay the Duke of Burgundy, within a league of Margny.

About five o'clock in the evening the Maid, with Poton le Bourguignon, brother of d'Aulon (not Saintrailles), and "some other captains," and with from 400 to 500 men, horse and foot, says Monstrelet, swept out of the town, across the bridge, and beat up the quarters of Baudot de Noyelles. The object of the sortie, says Monstrelet, was simply to clear out the isolated post of Baudot, and render the place untenable.

Burgundian chroniclers aver that the Maid, before sallying out, announced many "foolish phantomries" and "divine revelations," saying that she would capture the Duke of Burgundy, and destroy his force! That she announced revelations is alleged by her accuser in his long paper of charges. She was not asked, however, whether or not she proclaimed that she had received revelations; she was asked whether the Voices gave any advice, and she said, "None!" Had she known that she was to be taken, and had the Voices nevertheless bidden her sally out, she would have obeyed them, she declared.

In fact, the sortie was an ordinary operation of war, a sudden attack on a small outpost, probably but ill-fortified, at an hour when, says Monstrelet, most of the men of Baudot had laid aside their armour. It was a surprise. De Flavy, to secure the retreat, had lined the ramparts of Compiegne with culverin men, archers, and cross-bow men, and filled with bowmen a number of small boats, ranged along the farther bank of the river; so writes a contemporary advocate in the cause of that ill-fated soldier.

Her retreat thus covered and her task easy, Jeanne, on her grey horse, with her scarlet gold-embroidered hucque, must have sallied forth with a heart as light as it was resolute. She scattered the men of the outpost through the village, but the Duke of Burgundy avers that not one of his men was killed or taken! At this hour, Jean de Luxembourg, with the Sieur de Crequi and eight or ten other gentlemen, was riding from Clairoix on a visit to Baudot. They had drawn rein on the cliff of Margny and were reconnoitring the town, which lay far below them. But for this accident, the Maid would have returned safe and successful; Baudot would not have been reinforced from Clairoix. But Jean de Luxembourg, observing the attack on Baudot, sent back riders to his force at Clairoix, who came up at the gallop. Twice, as when with La Hire she drove back the English at Les Augustins, the Maid charged the men of Jean de Luxembourg and forced them back, she told her judges, to Baudot's position at the end of the causeway. A third time, riding in the rear, "as she that was the chief, and the most valiant of her band," says a Burgundian chronicler, "doing deeds beyond the nature of woman, there, as Fortune granted it, for the end of her glory, and for that her last day under arms," she drove the enemy back by half the length of the causeway.

So she charged, caring only for the safety of her band; the Burgundian chroniclers honourably acknowledge the greatness of her conduct. But most of her men had fled to the boats and the bridge. And now, she says, the English from La Venette came up (5000 men, writes Monstrelet!) and cut her off from safety. She seems, by her own account, to have been driven off the causeway "on to the fields," the heavy marshy meadows.

It has been said that the delay in executing the retreat was caused by the booty which the Maid's men stopped to collect and were reluctant to abandon. This is the mere guess of a modern historian. Of course the sortie was not made merely to scatter Baudot's men; it was necessary to render their post untenable: this needed time. The whole adventure, from the first exit to the capture of the Maid, perhaps lasted but one hour. The Burgundians from Clairoix, warned by Jean de Luxembourg, would arrive in small companies, and as their numbers swelled they were able to drive back the party of the Maid, who thrice compelled them, in their turn, to retreat. But every minute the Burgundians were reinforced.

Now all her men had fled; only d'Aulon, his brother, her brothers, and two or three more were with her when she was surrounded by men of all the hostile forces, Burgundians, Picards, Englishmen; nothing then was between her and Compiegne but the river bank and the outwork with its moat. The drawbridge was raised, lest the pursuers should enter with the flying throng; but the Maid never reached the drawbridge. She was forced into the meadows, she was surrounded, she was dragged from her horse by an archer of the Bastard of Wandonne; her friends could not remount her. Chastellain, the late Burgundian writer, says that she asked the archer if he were noble, and that she gave him her faith as a prisoner, when he replied that he was. Historians who accept this picturesque statement give the Maid the lie.

"Never did I give my faith to any man," she answered her judges haughtily, when they desired her to be on her parole not to attempt to escape. De Cagny reports her words thus : When asked to surrender she said, "I have sworn and given my faith to another than you,"--to God and the King,--" and I will keep my oath!"

Many a time she had implored her Saints that, when taken, she might meet instant death. Now, and it was like her, she tried to secure her death by refusing to surrender. Captives were apt to be slain if they declined to yield themselves, or, as after Jargeau, were murdered in a scuffle between the men who took them, and quarrelled over their claims.

But the Maid was too great a prize. She, her brothers, and d'Aulon were carried off in triumph, also Poton le Bourguignon. But Baretta had not given his life or freedom for the protection of the rear, and no man of name and eminence shared the glory and the calamity of Jeanne dArc. When the Duke of Burgundy, in his bulletin of the day, says "many captains, knights, squires, are dead or taken," il ment comme un bulletin, we hear of none of them.

This was the glorious end of her glory in arms. She, with certain foreknowledge of her fate, had accepted her doom, being, like Bayard on a later day, a willing sacrifice for the people whom she had led."She was the Flower of Chivalry; brave as d Argentine at Bannockburn, but brave for a nobler end than the winning of deathless renown.

Guy de Laval, La Hire, Dunois, Poton de Saintrailles, d Alencon, had you been there the Maid would not have been taken! The charge of treachery against de Flavy is quite baseless. He could neither succour the Maid by a sortie, nor leave the drawbridge down in face of a charge of Englishmen whom Monstrelet could number at 5000. His first duty was to the town, which he so manfully and successfully defended.

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