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 1

THE TASK OF JEANNE D'ARC. POLITICAL CONDITIONS

The historical situation which inspired, and the political conditions which thwarted the mission of Jeanne d'Arc, must be briefly analysed; and we must make acquaintance with the men among whom she found herself, when she arrived, during Lent 1429, in the grey and black attire of a page, at her prince's Court.

Within the geographical limits of France were a number of provinces under independent though nominally feudatory chiefs. The force which was slowly forging the various jealous and practically independent elements of France into a nation was resistance to her conquering adversary of England.

Since 1392 the intermittent madness, and the constant folly of Charles VI, had left authority in the hands of his sensual and unscrupulously avaricious wife, Isabella of Bavaria, and her popular ally, the King's brother, Louis of Orleans, father of the poet Charles d'Orleans, and of the Bastard, the famous Dunois. Louis was "a personification of amiable vice." He was believed to have cast magic spells on his Royal brother, who, at times, was a filthy and ferocious maniac. In a relatively lucid interval, the King appealed to the Duke of Burgundy, Jean sans Peur, a potentate whose territories were almost as great as his own,--huge cantles of Flanders, Picardy, northern and eastern France,--for aid and protection. Appearing as a deliverer from the extrava- gance and exorbitant taxation of Orleans and the Queen, Burgundy became, at intervals, the favourite of the people of Paris, and the opinion of Paris was already dominant at least as far south as the Loire.

Meanwhile Louis of Orleans was acquiring possessions, as at Coucy, Ham, Peronne, and Laon, which bordered on the territories of Burgundy; and he is also said to have insulted, by his enterprising courtship, the young wife of Jean sans Peur. A reconciliation was patched up between the Dukes of Orleans and Burgundy: on Sunday, November 20, 1407, they received together the Holy Communion. On Tuesday they dined together ; on Wednesday Orleans was set on in the dark by the emissaries of Burgundy, and was hacked to death in the street. His right arm was cut at elbow and wrist ; his left hand was severed from his body ; his skull was cleft across and across ; his brains were scattered in the mire. Burgundy acknowledged his guilt, and retired to Lille. The result was a vendetta as ferocious as the blood-feuds of Iceland in the age of the Sagas, a blood-feud that involved a nation, broke it up into two sanguinary parties, and laid it at the feet of English conquerors.

Orleans had never been wholly unpopular. His manners were gay ; he had challenged Henry of Lancaster to single combat; he had been the enemy of England, with all his faults; while Burgundy was England's ally. Henceforth the party of the Orleanists, or "Armagnacs," led by Bernard, Comte d Armagnac, was the party of France south of the Loire, while the men-at-arms of Burgundy, from Flanders, Artois, and Hainault, were in great measure Germans by language.

In 1411, after a war of partisans, Burgundy appealed to England, and Henry IV sent English contingents to his aid. The more daring Henry V, in 1413, revived the pretensions of Edward III, beat France to her knees at Agincourt (1415), and set his ambition on her Crown. No claim could be less legal. Even if the Dauphin, later Charles VII, had not existed, even if the so-called Salic law had not been binding, Catherine, later the bride of Henry V, was not the eldest of the daughters of France. But Charles, eldest surviving son of the mad king and Isabella of Bavaria, soon came to be used as if he had placed himself out of the law. Indolent at this time, and timid, he was wasting his youth in circumstances much like those of James VI of Scotland. He was ruled by successive sets of violent men, who violently got rid of each other as temptation arose and as opportunity suggested. In May to June 1418, the Burgundians and the mob of Paris overthrew the Armagnac soldiery in the place. The Dauphin Charles was, with difficulty, rescued by Robert le Macon and Tanneguy du Chatel; the horrors of the prison massacres of Armagnacs rivalled those of the Bartholomew and of September 1793. The Dauphin, a boy of sixteen, fled to Bourges.

In 1419 occurred the famous reconciliatory meeting of the Dauphin with Jean sans Peur, Duke of Burgundy, in an improvised chamber on the bridge of Montereau. Each prince had his attendants ; angry words passed, the duke laid his hand, accidentally or menacingly, on his sword hilt ; the lie direct was given, and despite the most sacred pledges, the adherents of the Dauphin avenged the murder of Louis d'Orleans, and Jean sans Peur was slain no less cruelly than he had slain the Due d'Orleans. Many and various accounts of the brawl exist. Whether or not the Dauphin had guilty foreknowledge of the design, whether or not he was present at its bloody consummation, are matters of dispute.

The new Duke of Burgundy, Philippe, pursuing the blood-feud, strengthened his alliance with England; and the Queen and King of France, as far as in them lay, by the Treaty of Troyes (1420) disinherited the Dauphin Charles, and publicly branded the boy with the guilt of the murder of Burgundy on the bridge of Montereau. Whatever the measure of his own guilt, he would not, he could not, dismiss his murderous advisers and associates. Meanwhile Henry V married Catherine, the sister of the Dauphin, and on his coins proclaimed himself heir of France.

Such were the sinister beginnings in life of Charles VII, for whom Jeanne d'Arc, with the stake before her, gave her life, defending him in her sweet girlish voice as "the noblest of Christians," when he was denounced in a sermon preached at her in her captivity.

Strange virtue of ideal loyalty, of Montrose applauding on the scaffold the worthless king who had deserted him; of Jeanne raising her lonely voice in defence of the monarch whom she had made, and who had distrusted and abandoned her!

The character of the Dauphin is matter of dispute. To one eminent scholar he seems at this period to have been indolent, a " fugitive and cloistered " prince, shunning the light, profligate in his pleasures, the tool of his ministers. Says another, "he was very ugly, with small grey wandering eyes; his nose was thick and bulbous ; his legs bony and bandy {cagneuses); his thighs emaciated, with enormous knock-knees." His portraits hardly justify these reproaches, and his subjects, as at Chalons, when they saw him, pronounced him une belle per sonne.

The verdict of his latest biographer represents the Dauphin as true to himself and his Cause, while others forsook him ; tenaciously resolute; rich in good sense and knowledge of affairs. "His physical advantages, his kindness of manner, won the favour of his people," and a contemporary styles him "a handsome Prince, well-languaged, and full of pity for the poor." He was very devout, "his piety was sincere." He was devoted to St. Michael, Jeanne's own archangel. He was generous to others,--and to himself; luxurious, fond of horses. But even the apologist of the Dauphin confesses that he was the slave of his favourites, blind to their defects ; ready to suffer anything from them. These Royal qualities of blind subservience to non-military favourites wrecked the enterprise of Jeanne d'Arc. It was for this ambiguous indolent Dauphin, " always wishing to hide from his people in castles and holes and corners," as one of his Council told him in 1434, that the Maid gave her life and death, her action and her passion ; for she saw in him the son of St. Louis, of the holy blood of France. The Dauphin, to her, was but the sacred symbol of the France for which she died.

Henry V and Charles VI passed away within two months of each other (August 31, October 22, 1422). England was left by Henry, during the minority of his infant son, to the care of his brother Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester ; while his other brother, John, Duke of Bedford, was Regent of France. Bedford was an able administrator ; he governed Normandy, Paris, and the north, as Edward I would have governed Scotland, but for the dagger-stroke of Bruce in the church of the Grey Friars at Dumfries. He married Anne, sister of the Duke of Burgundy, while another marriage severed Bretagne from the party of France, or left it wavering till, in 1428, it swore to be loyal to England. A war of partisans devastated and ruined the country north of the Loire ; and if the Scots won for France the great victory of Bauge* Bridge, slaying the Royal Duke of Clarence, the battle of Cravant (July 30, 1423) was equally disastrous to the French and to the Scottish contingent The battle of Verneuil (August 17, 1424) was another Agincourt ; the Scots were nearly exterminated. The Dauphin was reduced to loiter, amuse himself, and pray at intervals, in a kind of listless despair, at Bourges, at Chinon, and Gien on the Loire. In the summer of Verneuil fight, apparently, or in the following year, her Voices and visions awoke in Jeanne d'Arc, a child of thirteen, and told her of " the great pity that was in France."

A political and personal quarrel between Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, brother of the Duke of Bedford, Regent of France, on one side ; and Philippe, Duke of Burgundy, son of the murdered Jean sans Peur, led to negotiations between the Dauphin Charles and the avenger of the deed at Montereau. The Duke of Savoy arranged a conference at Macon (December 1424), and thenceforth, while the Maid lived, perfidious and partial truces between France and Burgundy never quite ceased to exist. Among the repre- sentatives of the Dauphin was Regnault de Chartres, Archbishop of Reims, a name fatal in the history of Jeanne d'Arc. The policy of Regnault de Chartres was not to drive the English out of France by a series of miraculous victories, but to patch up peace and alliance with England's ally, Philippe, Duke of Burgundy. With- out the support of Burgundy, England could not hold France down, and Regnault de Chartres, with La Trdmoille, who had a foot in both camps, and with other politicians, was to interrupt the triumphs of the Maid, and entangle her sword in a coil of diplomatic red tape.

In the negotiations of 1424 between the Dauphin, Burgundy, and Bretagne, Arthur, Comte de Richemont, representing Bretagne, took part, while Am^dee, Duke of Savoy, acted as " the friendly broker." But the Duke of Burgundy, before accepting the advances and excuses of the Dauphin, insisted that he should " discourt," and abjure the advisers guilty of the death of Jean sans Peur. Truces were, meanwhile, arranged.

Among the negotiators the most important personage was Arthur, Comte de Richemont, second son of the wavering Jean v, Due de Bretagne. He was of distinguished courage ; at Agincourt he had been discovered under a heap of the slain, and he had shared the English exile of the Due d'Orleans. He could now bring into the field the lances of the Breton nobles, de Laval, de Rieux, de Rais, de Montauban, de Chateau- briand, and a force of sturdy archers. He was an austere man, no amiable favourite. Through him, if the Dauphin would dismiss from his councils the murderers of Jean sans Peur, the interests of France, Burgundy, and Bretagne might be combined against England. But the favourites, or rather the masters of the Dauphin Charles, were alarmed by the prospect of finding a rival in de Richemont, the new Constable. " The king," as a minister of James VI said, "is like a jackanapes. If I hold him, I can make him bite you ; if you hold him, you can make him bite me." The favourites of the Dauphin, their hands red with the blood of Jean sans Peur, caused Arthur de Richemont to swear that he would not make the Dauphin bite them (February 7, 1425). The Constable then vowed never to allow the men of the bridge of Montereau to be driven from office.

De Richemont next, as Constable of France, began to organise the forces of Bretagne. But the Dauphin had sworn to drive away the assassins in his council, men hateful alike to Bretagne and Burgundy. They, however, during the absence of de Richemont, held the Dauphin. De Richemont, despite his covenant with them (of February 7, 1425), drove them and their tame Dauphin from place to place, until they were compelled to quit the Court.

One of the favourites alone remained, Giac, regarded as most guilty of the murder of Jean sans Peur. He pilfered public moneys, encouraged military and civil anarchy, and had a deadly quarrel with the other favourite, the wealthy and detested La Tremoi'lle, suspected of treachery on all hands, who " financed " the Dauphin to his own profit. Early in 1427 the Constable, de Richemont, had the intolerable Giac seized in bed : the Dauphin rose and armed himself ; there was a palace revolution ; and, by the Constable's orders, Giac, despite his offers of his huge fortune for his life, was drowned. The heroes of the Raid of Ruthven, in Scotland, acted on these methods of changing the administration, but were scarcely so ferocious. The angry Dauphin appeared to acquiesce ; Giac was succeeded by a new favourite who followed in his footsteps, and, by the Constable's desire, was cut down within the Dauphin's sight. The Marechal de Boussac and de Sainte Severe, who fought for France at the Siege of Orleans, gave the orders for this ll execution " a la Riccio.

The Constable, de Richemont, now offered to the Dauphin a new favourite, La Tr^moille (born 1382 and bred at the Court of Burgundy). " You will repent it," said the Dauphin, " I know him better than you do." The Constable, France, and, above all others, Jeanne d' Arc, had reason to deplore the advent of a man " who for six years was the evil genius of king and country," says the most friendly of the biographers of the King.

La Tremoille, born of a noble house, had his part in the murder of Giac, and married the widow of his victim. He had been chamberlain of the Duke of Burgundy ; all his family were of the Burgundian party ; he himself had a foot in both camps, and was regarded as a double traitor. He is said to have inspired the Dauphin with horror and hatred towards de Richemont ; but that seems to have been superfluous. La Tremoi'lle made " bands," as against de Richemont, with several powerful nobles, including the young Due d'Alencon, and associated himself with Regnault de Chartres, Chancellor of the realm and Archbishop of Reims. Private war broke out among these enemies : while England was actually mustering the forces destined to besiege Orleans (July 1428) and during the siege, the men of de Richemont were not aiding France, but attacking the bands of La Tremoille.

It was to the singular Court of this Dauphin, whence de Richemont had been banished, that Jeanne brought her aid in March 1429. She could defeat the English, she could rally and inspire the fighting men ; but she could never inspire, she could never convince, she could never instruct these wretched dupes of Burgundy, the politicians. We are to see her first hampered, then disavowed, by the Archbishop of Reims ; we are to see her eagerly welcoming the sword which de Richemont offered vainly to the Dauphin ; we are to see her failure to win for France the alliance of the Due de Bretagne ; we are to find her detecting, in July 1429, the Burgundian trickeries which deceived her King till May 1430. To her the gallant Talbot, and Glasdale, and Suffolk were to prove more honourable and less dangerous foes than the scepticism of Regnault de Chartres and the worldly wisdom of La Tremoille. Her best allies were to be the men who, with all their reckless vices, were least unlike herself, the active and daring captains of armed companies, the dauntless Poton de Saintrailles ; the brave and intelligent Dunois, then styled the Bastard of Orleans ; the audacious cavalry leader, La Hire, with Florent d'llliers, Ambroise de Lore, and her favourite, her beau Due d'Alencon, who, when taken prisoner at Verneuil, refused to accept liberty without a ransom on the condition of deserting the cause of France. However deeply d'Alencon, in later years, may have fallen from his faith, and failed "to keep the bird in his bosom," he was ever loyal to the standard of the Maid.

Meanwhile, after the catastrophe of Verneuil, France was saved for a while by the desperate personal and political quarrel between Bedford's brother, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, and England's ally, the Duke of Burgundy. Another quarrel between Gloucester and his uncle, son of John of Gaunt, the Bishop of Winchester, Cardinal Beaufort, stained the streets of London with blood. Bedford was compelled for seventeen months to leave Paris and restore order and confidence at home. But, till the " stroke of God," as Bedford called it, at Orleans, he expresses himself well satisfied with the progress of English conquest in France.

In December 1433 he notified to Henry VI, "all things prospered for you till the time of the siege of Orleans" ; though, in fact, there had been one or two checks, as at Montargis.

From England in 1427, Bedford brought a relatively large force, vaguely reckoned at 10,000 men, with artillery of every calibre. He may have had 3000 men of all arms. A new campaign was planned, more men were needed, and recruiting went busily on during the spring of 1428, under the Earl of Salisbury in England. The result of military deliberations, con- trary to Bedford's own desire, was the English move on Orleans, in September-October 1428. The initial activity of Jeanne d'Arc, we shall see, began in May 1428, but was then frustrated.

Such were the military and political conditions. We turn to the local surroundings of the Maid.

Note:
The sketch of La Tremoille is taken from a work by the present head of his House, Les Trfonoille pendant cinq Siecles, vol. i. pp. xiii-xxiii, Nancy, 1890. We must remember that La Tremoille not only received great gifts from his king, but also lent him money. After a study of the accounts, however, I believe that La Tremoille had by far the better in the exchanges.

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