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)


"Ah listen, 'tis the nightingale,
And in the wood he makes his wail
Within the apple tree !

He sings for sorrow and distress
Of many a maiden loverless,

Thank God, no song for me ! "

So one may paraphrase the sweet old French folk-song of the girl who has made up her mind not to be a nun,
Serais je nonet te ? Crois que non !

The songs that have been on the lips of singing girls through so many generations, lilts that were chanted in Jeanne's own time, usually begin

Derriere chez mon pire,

and speak of " My father's garden close."

" Within her father's garden-stead There are three white lilies,
With the maiden to the lily-bed, With her soul to Paradise,"

says a ballad preserved by Gerard de Nerval. These ancient ditties tell us, like the feasts and dances below "the fair May, lovelier than lilies," of the mirth that was in old France despite the cruel wars. Perhaps folk were not less happy then, or less innocent, than the peasants of our time, as described in La Terre y by Monsieur Emile Zola. They slaved in no factories. They knew no conscription. They had a consoling and poetic creed.

We have seen that Jeanne had her share in the songs and the dances. But it was where the birds, in the French ballads, sing " Marry, maidens, marry ! " it was " in her father's garden close " that the Voices came to Jeanne, the Voices which were to make her, like Montrose,

"At once her country's glory and its shame."

We have two accounts of how the Voices came to the Maid. They are not irreconcilable. The earlier is found in a letter of June 21, 1429, already quoted, written by Perceval de Boulain- villiers to John (or Philip?), Duke of Milan,--" my most honoured Lord." The writer was "counsellor-chamberlain" of the King, Charles vil, and Seneschal of Berry. He had been employed in collecting recruits for French service in Scotland and Lombardy. Probably he wrote his letter of June 21, on the evidence of stories brought from Domremy by envoys of the learned Commis- sion which examined the Maid at Poitiers in March-April 1429; or he may even have had a second-hand knowledge of what she herself said to these doctors. He says that, in her thirteenth year, she, with some other girls, who were watching the sheep in the common meadow, ran a foot race for a bunch of flowers, or some such prize. She won so easily, and ran so fleetly, that in the eyes of lookers on her feet did not seem to touch the ground. One of the girls cried, " Jeanne, I see you flying close to the earth ! " " When the race was over, and Jeanne, at the limit of the meadow, was, as it were, rapt and distraught " (rapta et a sensibus alienatd), " resting and recovering herself, there was near her a youth who said, ' Jeanne, go home, for your mother says she needs you.' " Believing that it was her brother, or some other boy of the neighbourhood, she went home in a hurry. Her mother met and scolded her, asking why she had come home and left her sheep.

" Did you not send for me?" asked the innocent Maid.
" No ! " said her mother.

Supposing that the boy had played a trick on her, she intended to return to her playmates, when suddenly a brilliant cloud passed before her eyes, and from the cloud came a voice saying " that she must change her course of life, and do marvellous deeds, for the King of Heaven had chosen her to aid the King of France. She must wear man's dress, take up arms, be a captain in the war, and all would be ordered by her advice." The Maid was stupefied by such a portent, and incredulous ; but the appear- ances continued by day and night ! She told of them to none but the curt, and, in 1429, these experiences had lasted for almost five years.

On the evidence of Boulainvilliers, the date of the first experience must apparently have been 1424-1425, when Jeanne, as she said at her trial, was, as she believed, about thirteen. The command, mentioned by Boulainvilliers, about wearing man's dress (if such a command she received), was not earlier than February 1429. By the statement of Boulainvilliers, as by her own account, Jeanne never dreamed of aiding the Dauphin before the abnormal suggestions of the Voices came. By her own version she did not even speak of them to her curt or any other priest. Boulainvilliers said she spoke to her curt only. As for Jeanne's own account of her Voices, when examined at Rouen in 143 1, she frankly told her judges that "you may ask me about such or such a thing, concerning which I might answer truly, and about another thing I would not answer."

She persisted in this attitude. She would swear to tell truth " as far as the questions were pertinent to the trial " {tangentes ad processuni), or to faith {ad fideni), but she must be the judge of what was pertinent. About certain matters, especially those visions concerning her king, she could not answer without perjuring herself--without breaking an oath of silence. On other matters she could not speak without permission from her Voices. About them, and about her visions of Saints, she could not be brought to enter into detail. As concerns her report of her visions and Voices, when she felt free to speak out, we may accept her evidence as absolutely veracious. Her experiences, astonishing as they seem, were real to her j she was

"as true as truth's simplicity,
And simple as the infancy of truth."

Not even the threat of torture and the sight of the rack broke her determination to conceal certain revelations.

Before giving the account of her visions and auditions which Jeanne presented to her judges, it is necessary to say that no critic, however sceptical, consistently doubts her veracity. To the last day of her life, though her faith in the heavenly origin of her experiences was shaken for an hour, she declared that the phenomena, whatever else they might be, were objective, as we say; that they had an external cause, were not illusions, but manifestations of beings other than herself. As M. Anatole France declares, " she had visions ; these were neither feigned nor produced by trickery {contrefaites). She really believed that she heard voices which spoke to her, and came from no human lips. ... I have raised no doubts as to the sincerity of Jeanne. No man can suspect her of falsehood."

Her own account of their origin, as given to her judges, ran thus : " When I was thirteen years old (or about thirteen) I had a Voice from God, to help me in my conduct. And, the first time, I was in great fear. It came, that Voice, about midday, in summer time, in my father's garden. I had not" (clearly in answer to a question) " fasted on the previous day. I heard the Voice from the right side towards the church, and I rarely hear it without seeing a light. The light is on the side from which the Voice comes."

It has been supposed that the light always came from the side, and from the same side ; whence Jeanne, it is argued, was perhaps hysterical, being subject to unilateral hallucinations. But she told her judges, in answer to a question about an appearance, that " there was much light from every side " {ab omni parte), " as was fitting " {et quod hoc bene decet). She was asked how she could see a light that on one occasion was not in front of her ; a foolish question to which she did not reply. Her first emotions were those of fear, and of doubt as to what these things should signify. She conceived, however, that they marked her as one set apart : " The first time that I heard the Voice, I vowed to keep my maidenhood so long as God pleased." Her judges, had they known the superstition of the Scottish witches,--" in our covines " (assemblies) " we could do nothing without our maiden"--might have twisted even this pro- visional vow of virginity into a proof of her witchcraft.

She believed that the Voice was of God, and, after hearing it thrice, knew it for the voice of an angel. The Voice was for her soul's health. " How did she know that ? " " Because it told her to be good and go often to church, and said that she must go into France." It is not apparent here that this command to go into France was not given from the first, there is no proof that it came later, after a period of mere religious and moral counsel. There is no warrant for the literary hypothesis that the Voices long confined themselves to pious advice, till some priest, hearing from her of the visions, induced the Voices to urge her to ride in the van of the army. On the other hand, when she set out for France in 1429, she told Jean de Novelonpont that, during four or five years (since 1424 or 1425) the Voices had pressed her mission upon her. The Voices had uttered their monitions since she was twelve or thirteen years old.

The phenomena occurred twice or thrice a week. She would not say, yet, in what form the Voice came. She then told how she could not stay where she was, after the Voice bade her raise the siege of Or- leans (begun in October 1428), and was interrogated on other points.

One examiner, Beaupere, was anxious to connect her experi- ences, causally, with her fasting in Lent, and with the sound of church bells. She certainly appears to have been apt to hear them during the ringing of church bells, whose music, says Coleridge, fell on his ears (as on Dick Whittington's), "Most like articulate sounds of things to come." The sounds of bells were not essential to her hearing of the Voices ; that, we shall see, is certain. She said that the Voices, on certain occasions, were those of St. Catherine and St. Margaret. " Their heads were crowned with fair crowns, richly and preciously. To speak of this I have leave from the Lord. If you doubt, send to Poitiers, where I was examined before" (March-April 1429).

This is puzzling. She certainly appears to have described her visions, so far, to the Commission at Poitiers. If so, the Doctors kept their own counsel, for there is not a hint of the appearances, or even of the names of the Saints, in any known evidence before her trial in 1431. The "Book of Poitiers," to which she often referred, as we show later, was not produced. Nothing is known about it, and it was not referred to in the Trial of 1450-1456. Clearly some person was interested in causing the concealment or destruction of this record, and that some one was not the Maid. The President of the Board of Examiners was the Archbishop of Reims, who later disparaged the Maid.

Jeanne distinguished the Saints by their naming each other and by their method of salutation. They had been with her for seven years (in 143 1, therefore since 1424). She would give no details. She had forgotten which of the lady Saints appeared first, but it was recorded in the Book of Poitiers. Before the two Saints came, the Archangel Michael had appeared, and promised their arrival. Angels were in his company. " I saw them with my bodily eyes, as clearly as I see you ; and when they departed I used to weep, and wish that they would take me with them." She would not, she never would, describe the dress and aspect of St. Michael. That she " knew him by his arms," is a statement never made by her ; and though a passage from her evidence is quoted to that effect, it does not contain a word on the subject. , The voices of the Saints were beautiful, gentle and sweet. She " does not know " if they have arms. She had embraced the Saints, and had touched St. Catherine with her ring, and had placed chaplets by their images in churches. The judges could could get no more from her.

The Saints appealed to all her senses, they were fragrant ; she saw, heard, and touched them. Probably they appeared to her in the guise which they bore in paintings and works of sculpture ; probably she saw St. Michael armed, and bearing the balances. She would not tell. We do not know why she should not have replied on these points ; but she " had not permission." If she had answered that she beheld the Saints as they appear in Catholic art, one does not see how such an answer could add to her peril. What trap did she consciously or sub-consciously suspect in these questions? Did she foresee that, if she described the Saints as they were rendered in art, the judges would say, u But the costume of the fourth century, when your Saints lived on earth, was not that of the fifteenth ! You have invented your story, or been deceived by fiends ! " They cunningly asked her if she had her angels painted ? " Yes, as they are painted in churches " ; so she parried the thrust. " Do you see them so ? " "I refuse to answer further."

One thing is clear ; Jeanne made no conscious choice of Saints. She did not know who these shining figures were till they informed her. It is curious that while she, like St. Catherine, was to contend for her life with hostile learned clerks and Doctors, and while (in the words of an English biography of St. Catherine, written when Jeanne was in bondage) "the Arch- angel Michael came to comfort " the captive Saint ; while in prison at Rouen Jeanne never did see St. Michael. Her visions were not modelled on the lines of the contemporary legends of St. Michael and St. Catherine.

It was, apparently, after the arrival of her visions that Jeanne became sedulously devout ; for which one witness, who was some twelve years older than she, confessed that he and other young men laughed at her. Since St. Remy was, as we saw, the patron of Domremy, and since the legend of the sacred oil brought for him, and used in consecrating the kings of France at Reims, was well known everywhere, it was natural that Jeanne should conceive the coronation of the Dauphin to be part of the duty laid on her Dy her Saints.

For her part, Jeanne resisted, during three or four years, the commands of her Voices,--from 1424 to the spring of 1428. When they bade her go to Robert de Baudricourt, who would give her an armed escort into France, to raise the siege of Orleans, (begun in October 1428), she replied, "I am a poor girl, who cannot ride, or be a leader in war."

The evidence is that Jeanne was not more staid than other little girls till 1424 or 1425, when her visions began ; that she then became more devout than other young people; and that she resisted, on the score of her sex, youth, poverty, and ignorance, the summons of her Voices, for three or four years, namely, till the spring of 1428.

An attempt at suggesting a more or less plausible way of envisaging the practical experiences of Jeanne will be given later (Appendix D). Meanwhile it is to be remembered that, for years, the monitions which reached her from the Voices appeared to herself, even during the visions, as wild as they would have appeared to her most sceptical neighbours. She retained (she says) her normal common sense even when in the presence of her Saints, in what we might reckon an abnormal condition. This fact differentiates her from the genuine subjects of trance, who are wholly wrapped up in their visions. Jeanne can only be called une extatique by critics ignorant of the technical meaning of " ecstasy." " In ecstasy, thought and self-consciousness cease ... in ecstasy the seer no longer distinguishes himself from what he sees."

On the other hand, hypnotised subjects often retain the normal elements of their character, resisting or trying to resist suggestions from the operator that they should do things contrary to their normal nature. But nobody has yet advanced the hypothesis that Jeanne was frequently hypnotised by her cure', and by a succession of other piously fraudulent priests !

We have, perhaps, only one description, by an eye-witness, of Jeanne at the moment of receiving a saintly message. The witness is her confessor, Pasquerel, who stood by her when, in answer to her letter to Glasdale, tied to an arrow, and shot across the gap in the bridge at Orleans, she was insulted and called " the harlot of the Armagnacs." She wept, she prayed, she was consoled, " because she had news from her Lord." Thus it is clear that her Voices came to her on occasions when she was not alone in a wood, or alone listening to church bells, and interpreting into audible words the rustling of the leaves or the music of the chimes. A lonely wood, or the sound of bells, offered propitious conditions for hearing the Voices ; the clamour of a crowd of churchmen in Court was unpropitious ; and in these circumstances the utterances of the Voices were but indistinctly audible. These are the facts, and nothing indicates that Jeanne, when she heard the Voices, was noticeably " dissociated," or in any manifestly abnormal condition. Nor is it true that she was "perpetually hallucinated," and, " as a rule " (Je plus souveni), " in no condition to discern between truth and falsehood," as has been alleged.

There is no evidence for these statements. We always find Jeanne keenly alive to her surroundings, very vigilant and observant.

In battle she watched for every sign of failure in the enemy's strength and resolution, and kept a keen eye on the hostile guns ; "that gun will be your death, if you stay where you are," she said, opportunely, to d'Alencon at the siege of Jargeau. D'Alencon changed his position, and the gun slew the man who later occupied the spot.

We never hear of Jeanne absorbed and immobile in trance, like Socrates at the siege of Potidaea. The peculiarity of her visions, is that they never interfered with her alert consciousness of her, surroundings, as far as the evidence goes. She heard them on the scaffold where men preached at her, with the cart waiting to carry her to the fire; and she heard them as distinctly as she heard the preacher whose insolence she interrupted.


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