Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Joan to the Rescue

by H.A. Guerber

Chapters about Joan of Arc contained in the book The Story of Old France book by H.A. Guerber that serve as a good short biography of Joan of Arc

The new reigns of Charles VII. (the heir of the demented Charles VI.) and of Henry VI. (the infant successor of bluff "King Hal") began unhappily for poor France, hesitating which of these monarchs to obey. On the one hand, Frenchmen naturally preferred a French king; but, on the other, they were told that if Queen Isabella was ready to deprive the Dauphin of the crown, it could only be because she knew that this youth was not really a son of the late king, and that he therefore had no right to the throne.

The English, being already masters of northern France, now proposed to complete their conquest, and for that purpose laid siege to Orleans. But Orleans was strongly fortified by great walls all around it, and the inhabitants, loyal to the French crown, were grimly determined to hold out as long as they could. Still, their position was one of great danger, and they soon realized that unless they received help, the English would become masters of the city in spite of all its brave resistance.

The French king, whose scanty troops had been routed by the English whenever they came into contact, had neither the men nor the money so sorely needed to relieve Orleans. It was just then, when the skies seemed darkest, that a heroine arose to save the country and drive away the English.

This heroine is Joan of Arc (Jeanne d'Arc), one of the most unselfish and picturesque persons that adorn the pages of history. Her short life is so romantic, and has been so often a theme of inspiration for painters and writers of all kinds, that you must have a clear idea of her, of her deeds, and of her surroundings.

Joan of Arc was born in 1412, in a peasant cottage—which is still standing—at Domremy on the boundary of the provinces of Champagne and Lorraine. Like most country children in France, this little girl ran about barefoot, tending the cows and sheep, while twirling her distaff, for her mother taught her to spin, and later on showed her also how to weave and embroider. While teaching these useful arts to her children, the good mother often related Bible stories, and tales of saints and martyrs, until it seemed to Joan as if she knew all these good people very well. The village folk, also, often told their children fairy tales, and there was one big oak tree, near Joan's home, known for miles around as the 'fairies' tree, because the elves were supposed to dance beneath its shade on Midsummer's Eve.

Joan's village, like many other places in France, was a bone of contention between the Burgundians and Armagnacs. Once, at least, the little girl had to flee with her parents, finding on her return home that the enemy had done great damage to their humble possessions. When Joan was about thirteen years of age, she was favored by a first vision: as she was working in the garden, she suddenly saw a bright light and heard a sweet voice bidding her be good and go often to church. Joan did not tell of this vision till long afterwards, but she obeyed the voice, and was so good and pious that visions came to her more and more frequently. In time, she became sufficiently accustomed to them to glance in the direction of the light, where she saw or imagined she saw—radiant forms. These, she perceived, were angels, and St. Michael, St. Margaret, and St. Catherine, in particular, often came thereafter and spoke gently to her.

The "voices," as Joan herself always called her visions, told her of the sufferings of the poor people in France, and informed her that she was chosen by God to deliver Orleans, and to lead the Dauphin to Rheims to be crowned. But Joan could not believe that she—a poor peasant girl—would ever be able to accomplish what all the king's soldiers had failed to do, so she hesitated a long time, and it was not till she was about eighteen that she finally obeyed the directions she had received, and prepared to fulfill her mission.

Her parents and the village priest thought Joan crazy when she first spoke of her voices, and of the work she was called upon to perform. Her father roughly declared he would rather drown her than allow her to associate with soldiers. Joan, however, insisted she had no choice but to obey her heavenly guides. Seeing that she could expect no help from her own immediate family, she finally persuaded an uncle to take her to the neighboring castle of Vaucouleurs, where, as the voices had stated, she would find an escort to lead her to the king.

The lord of Vaucouleurs at first grimly remarked that Joan ought to be slapped and sent home, but after a time, seeing that the villagers near him believed in her mission, he too began to think that God might  have sent her. Besides, a prediction had been made that "France would be lost by a Woman and saved by a Maid," and as it was well known that Isabella was a wicked woman, and that the ruin of France was mainly due to her sins, people everywhere longed for the coming of the promised Maid. A message was therefore dispatched to the king, and having obtained his permission to send Joan on to him, the lord of Vaucouleurs gladly supplied an escort to take her to court.

As this little troop had to pass through a wide stretch of country occupied by the enemy, Joan cut off her long hair, donned men's clothes and armor, and, bestriding the horse which the poor people had purchased for her use, she rode off with eight men. Traveling by night, camping in forests by day, avoiding towns and villages, and fording five rivers, Joan and her escort, after eleven days' journey, reached the castle on the Loire (Chinon) where the king was then staying.

The little troop rested at one of the inns in the small town, until the king sent for Joan. Part of the room where they first met still stands, and a monument has been erected in the town in Joan's honor.


Charles—the Dauphin, as he was still called, for, as yet, he had not been consecrated was just then very much depressed, because an army which he had sent to capture some supplies from the English had recently been defeated in the "Battle of the Herrings." Besides, the king had so little money, that even his shoemaker refused to give him credit for a pair of new boots! He was also doubtful whether the rumors which he had heard might not be true, and thought that if he were not the late king's son, he really had no right to the throne; still, he did not dare express this doubt to any one, but brooded over it constantly in secret.

The reports concerning Joan had awakened the curiosity of the whole court, so Charles made up his mind to subject the girl to a test which would immediately reveal whether she were a fraud or not. He therefore placed one of his courtiers, magnificently attired, in a conspicuous position, and hid himself among the throng of spectators, whence he watched to see what Joan would do. To the amazement of all present, the peasant girl, instead of doing homage to the gorgeously clad courtier seated on the throne, glanced eagerly around her, and singling out the king,—whom she had never seen,—bent the knee before him! Then she informed him gravely that she had been sent to relieve Orleans, and to lead him to Rheims, then still in the hands of the foe.

This first test did not, however, entirely satisfy the king, but when Joan informed him privately that her voices declared he was rightful heir to the throne, and when a council of priests, after examining the Maid, decided that she was a good girl and a true Christian, and could not therefore have been sent by Satan, he made up his mind to accept the services she offered.

By her orders, a white satin standard was made, a sword with five crosses was discovered buried in a neighboring church, and an army was prepared to march on to Orleans. But Joan was so good and pious that she insisted that the men should pray night and morning, confess their sins, hear mass, and receive the sacrament before going into battle.

Some of the soldiers greatly objected to this, among others General La Hire, who, the story runs, when asked to say an original prayer, since he did not know any by heart, roughly expressed his sentiments as follows: "Lord God,—Do unto La Hire to-day as La Hire would do unto you, if he were Lord God and you were La Hire. Amen." Joan also forbade all swearing among the troops, but La Hire, who could not entirely refrain from strong language, was allowed to swear "by my stick"(of command) when he felt that he must enforce his words by some strong expression.

At last all the preparations were completed, and the army set out to relieve Orleans. Joan had decreed that it should march right through the enemy's lines, but the generals, fearing such an undertaking, and taking a mean advantage of her lack of geographical knowledge, led the force along the southern shore of the Loire River.

When they came opposite Orleans, therefore, the river lay between them and the city, and there were not boats enough to convey the troops across the water! So Joan sent the army back, with orders to cross at the nearest bridge and return along the other shore, while she and a small troop entered the city. She promised to make a sally to escort the army safely through the enemy's lines, whenever it appeared.

Orleans, then on the verge of famine and despair, joyfully welcomed the Maid with her convoy of provision boats, and hailed with rapture her promise of further aid. It was through a crowd almost delirious with joy that Joan made her way to the house where she was to lodge. A few days later she sallied forth and marched unharmed through the enemy's lines to escort the relieving forces back to the city.

This first success was soon followed by others. In spite of all opposition, Joan led out her troops, took one fort after another, and finally drove the English away, thus raising the siege of Orleans, as she had promised.

The Maid next joined the king and urged him to march on to Rheims, promising that the cities on the way thither would open their gates at his approach. Thus encouraged, Charles VII. began what turned out to be a triumphal march, through a land which gladly threw off the English yoke, and without striking a blow arrived at Rheims, where he was duly crowned and anointed.

Joan was present at the coronation, in full armor, and bearing her banner. When the ceremony was over, the king bade her ask any reward she wished for her services; and she unselfishly requested that her native village of Domremy should henceforth be freed from taxes, and that she might be allowed to return to her humble home.

The first part of her request was readily granted, and Domremy was free from taxation until the Revolution (1792). Thus for nearly four hundred years "the Maid of Orleans"—as Joan was now almost exclusively called—appeared on the tax lists opposite the name of her native village, instead of the sum which it would otherwise have been obliged to pay.

But when it came to the second item, the king, in spite of her entreaties and tears, insisted that her mission was not yet finished, and that she must help him drive the English entirely out of the country. Although reluctantly, Joan consented at last to remain; but she urged Charles repeatedly to be up and doing, as the right moment had come to act. You see, now that for the first time all loyal Frenchmen believed Charles VII. divinely appointed to rule France, plenty of men and money were placed at his disposal. But instead of fighting, the dilatory king signed a truce with the new Duke of Burgundy (Philip the Good)—an ally of the English—and continued to pass the greater part of his time in idleness, lavishing much money on his favorite, Agnes Sorel.


Joan, who was meantime busy drilling and disciplining her army, finally prevailed upon the king to allow her to seize certain cities, and even to march on to Paris. There, had she been loyally seconded, the Maid would have taken the city by assault; but as she was wounded in the first engagement, the generals, taking advantage of her helplessness, sounded a retreat and withdrew, just when victory was within their grasp!

In obedience to a vow, Joan now hung her armor above the altar at St. Denis, and reluctantly followed the king to Bourges, where another period of idleness was imposed upon her restive spirit. Still, as soon as she was allowed to fight again, she did so with her usual bravery and success, gaining more cities, taking prisoners, and winning battles. But all this time she was sorely depressed, for her voices kept warning her that she would fall into the hands of the enemy "before midsummer."

In spite of this premonition of evil, Joan continued her work bravely, spending all her leisure time in prayer and in works of charity. Then, hearing that a small city (Compiegne), which had surrendered to the king, was sorely beset by Burgundians, she hastened thither to succor the inhabitants (1430). While here, she was separated from the bulk of her troops one day, during a sortie, and the soldiers, intent only upon their own safety, actually closed the city gates almost in her face. Although Joan vainly tried to cut her way through the foe, so as to reach another gate or town, she was soon torn down from her horse by the long coat which she wore over her armor, and thus was made captive.

The soldier who took her sold her immediately to the Burgundians, from whose custody she once made a mad attempt to escape. In doing this Joan fell to the bottom of a sixty-foot tower, where she was picked up stunned, but otherwise unharmed. But she was thrust back into prison and closely guarded, until her captors, in sore need of money, arranged to sell her to the English, into whose keeping she passed after six months of close detention.

The English, having secured Joan at last, were determined to destroy her influence in France, by proving that she was inspired by Satan and not by God, as she always claimed. To compass this base purpose they collected at Rouen a large jury of men, all pledged to find her guilty, and began one of the most iniquitous trials in history.

Although she was pitted against no less than sixty-three learned and unscrupulous judges, each and all of whom brought their knowledge and skill to bear so as to convict Joan of impiety, immorality, and witchcraft, this trial, which lasted many weeks, resulted in proving Joan absolutely innocent of all the serious charges brought against her. Besides, her replies to the questions make the purity and unselfishness of her character, her trust in God, and her charity toward all men,—virtuous traits which she showed during the whole of her short life.

The worst charge proved against her was that she had worn men's garments, and had persistently refused to lay them aside! Still, she now consented to do so, provided she were put in another prison and guarded by women only. The judges, thereupon, read a brief paper, stating that she would submit to the Church, and bade her—since she could neither read nor write—sign it with a cross.

Joan complied, little suspecting that instead of the paper read aloud in her presence, these wicked judges had substituted another, in which she acknowledged that she was false and bad in every way. This document duly signed, Joan put on women's garments, only to be led back to the self-same prison, where she was constantly guarded by brutal men!

One day, when she was in bed, these rough keepers took away her woman's clothes, and laid the old male apparel within her reach. Having no choice save to don these garments, or to appear unclothed before her jailers, Joan naturally put on men's clothes. She had no sooner done so, however, than the cruel Bishop of Beauvais, who had been her main persecutor appeared in her prison, telling her that, as she had failed to keep her promise, she would now be tried again. But the second trial proved even more of a mockery than the first, and poor Joan was condemned to be burned at the stake, as a heretic and witch.

The courage which the Maid of Orleans had shown all through her career now forsook her for a brief space of time, and she loudly wailed: "Ah! I had rather be beheaded seven times than burned. I appeal to God against all these great wrongs they do me!"

But, condemned to immediate death, Joan, clad in a long white garment, was chained to a stake erected on the public square of Rouen, where all the people eagerly assembled to see "the witch" burned and to taunt and torment her to the very end. One priest, however, taking pity on her, brought a cross from a neighboring church, mounted the pyre with her, and left her only when the flames began to rise and she unselfishly bade him think of his own safety. Her last words were full of faith in God and of pity for France, and never once did she utter one word of blame against the king whom she had served so loyally, but who throughout her long captivity and trial made no attempt either to ransom or to rescue her.

Even when the flames rose around her, Joan still insisted that her "voices" came from God, and called upon her favorite saints, Michael, Catherine, and Margaret, to help her. An English soldier, who had vowed to help burn "the witch," threw a fagot of wood on the flames, just as Joan loudly cried, "Jesus! Mary!" before her spirit fled. This soldier, startled and awestruck, declared ever after that he had seen a dove rise up from the pyre and wing its way to heaven, adding that he knew this dove was the pure spirit of the martyred maid!

Most of the spectators left the scene of torture with the conviction that Joan was a martyr, and even the English governor exclaimed in awestruck tones: "We are all lost, for we have burned a saint!"

By order of the judges, Joan's ashes were immediately cast into the Seine, but the spot where she was burned is now marked by a monument in her honor, as are many other noted places in France. The English soon found that Joan the martyr could do them even more harm than Joan at the head of an army, for, as she had predicted at the stake, they were finally driven out of France. At the end of the war they retained nothing but the city of Calais, after having been masters of most of the kingdom.

More than twenty years after Joan's death, Charles VII., seeing it would be to his advantage to have Joan's memory cleared, had her tried over again, and freed from all former disgrace. Ever since then the Maid of Orleans has been honored in France as a heroine and saint, although, strange to relate, her name did not figure as such on the calendar until 1909.

Above the door of the humble house where Joan was born can still be seen a small statue of the Maid in armor, and whenever troops file past, every soldier gravely salutes the brave girl who rescued France from the enemy, and who died a martyr at nineteen years of age!

The story of Joan is a favorite theme for playwrights, historians, poets, painters, and sculptors; and many literary and artistic masterpieces commemorate her life and death. In the Pantheon in Paris, for instance, there are a series of beautiful frescoes, which give a wonderful idea of the achievements of the untutored peasant girl of Domremy, who, by singleness of purpose and implicit obedience to her mysterious voices, accomplished what all the French generals and armies could not compass,—the ejection of the English from France, thus really ending the terrible Hundred Years' War.

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