Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

JOAN OF ARC The Warrior Maid


Chapter 19
The Hour and the Girl

By Esther, Judith and Deborah, women of high
esteem, He delivered His oppressed people. And well I
know there have been women of great worship. But
Jeanne is above all. Through her God hath worked many miracles.

Christine de Pisan. Poem in honour of the Maid.
July 31st, 1429.

Jeanne was eager to engage the enemy the next day, and the citizens would gladly have followed her, but Dunois and the captains of the garrison did not wish it. Their argument was that they ought to await the return of the army from Blois. Jeanne’s influence in war had not yet begun to be felt, and so great was the fear of the French for the English that it was said that two hundred Englishmen could put eight hundred or a thousand Frenchmen to flight.

Forced into inactivity the Maid sent a herald with a summons to the English, a procedure common at the time. There had been no reply to the letter that she had sent from Blois, and neither had the herald been returned. In this later epistle she summoned the surrender of the enemy before the attack, demanding the return of her messenger. At the same time Dunois wrote, warning them that any harm that came to the herald should be retaliated upon the persons of the English prisoners held by him. In compliance with Dunois’ request the last herald was sent back, but the English threatened to burn the other. While the person of a herald was regarded as sacred by all the usages of war this man from the Armagnac witch could have no rights, they declared, and should be burned for his mistress. They laughed at the letter, and gave fierce defiances to the Maid, calling her a dairy maid, bidding her go back to her cows, and threatening to burn her if they caught her.

But in spite of these high words there was an undercurrent of fear in the defiance. The English as well as the French believed that the latter had supernatural aid, though the English held that the Witch of the Armagnacs was emissary of evil rather than of good.

In the afternoon La Hire and Florent d’Illiers, two of the captains who had entered the city with Jeanne, with a force of men-at-arms and some citizens sallied forth from the city and attacked an English outpost between their fortress of Paris and the city wall, and drove the men into the main work. They thought to have burned this, but before they could do so the English rallied and drove them back without much firing.

Jeanne was not present at this fray, but in the evening she rode forth, the townspeople crowding about her, and placing herself on the town end of the broken bridge––called out to the enemy, addressing them courteously, summoning them once more to withdraw while there was time. Sweetly and clearly her voice rang across the water, so that the English who were in the fortress called Les Tourelles on the other side of the bridge could not fail to hear her. Sir William Glasdale,––whom the French called Classidas,––the knight in charge, came out on the bridge and answered by hurling a volume of abuse upon her. Jeanne was not prepared for the foul epithets that he called her, and for a brief time could not speak, so overwhelmed was she. Then drawing her mystic sword she waved it above her head, crying:

“Dost thou so speak, Classidas? Thou who art to die in so short a time without stroke of sword!”

But Glasdale and his captains, who by this time had hurried to the walls to catch sight of the witch, retorted with such vile words that Jeanne could not restrain her tears, and wept bitterly. And so weeping she returned to the city.

There being no sign of the return of the army Dunois, fearing that without the presence of the Maid the favorite and the Royal Council might so work upon the captains that they would fail to bring the army back, determined to go to Blois and bring it himself. On Sunday, therefore, with Jeanne’s squire D’Aulon, he set forth. The Maid, with La Hire and other captains, accompanied him to cover the departure, taking a position at the special point of danger between the expedition and the enemy. But in the towers not a man budged, not a shot was fired. So Dunois went on his way unmolested, while Jeanne returned to the town. The citizens had watched for her coming, and now walked by the side of her charger to the cathedral, where every progress ended. The press to see her was at all times great, and Jacques Boucher’s door was almost broken in by the eagerness of the people. She could hardly move through the crowded streets when she went abroad, and it seemed that “they could not have enough of the sight of her.”

As an attack could not be made until the return of Count Dunois with the army Jeanne rode out on Monday to reconnoitre the position of the English, followed by the captains and soldiers and a great crowd of townsfolk who seemed to feel no fear in her company.

On all sides of Orléans the country was very flat. The city was built close to the northern bank of the Loire in a parallelogram, slightly irregular on its western side, which curved outward and joined the northern line at an acute angle. It was protected by a strong wall from twenty to thirty feet high, having a parapet and machicolations, with twenty-four towers. Outside the wall, except where it faced the river, was a ditch forty feet wide and twenty feet deep.

There were four great gates in the walls that gave upon roads leading from Orléans. On the north side were two, the Bannier Gate and the Paris Gate leading to the Paris road; on the east was the Burgundy Gate and the old Roman road leading to Jargeau; and on the west, the Regnart Gate upon the road to Blois. It was through this last named gate that Jeanne went to make her reconnoissance.

She found that the principal camp of the English was on this western side. From the river northward, guarding the road to Blois, there were five great bastilles, joined by ditches and covered trenches whereby the enemy could easily prevent the going in of men and convoys of food. The massing of the greatest number here was necessary, as this road led to the royal provinces.

To the northeast the great forest of Orléans crept nearly to the city walls. About a mile and a half beyond the Burgundy Gate on the east side was the bastille of St. Loup, which commanded the road to Checy and on to Jargeau, from which the English drew many of their supplies. This was one of their strongest fortresses, and was the only one on this side, for the reason that this road led to the possessions of the Duke of Burgundy, who was with the English, and therefore no enemy was expected from this direction.

On the south, the walls of the city rose directly from the river. A great stone bridge with arches, buildings and fortifications spanned the water here, but three of the arches had been broken, for the English now held the bridge and its fortifications, having taken it from Orléans early in the siege. On the last pier was built a strong fortress called Les Tourelles, connected with the shore of the south bank by a drawbridge, which in its turn was covered by a strong earthwork or boulevard.

As they held Les Tourelles the English had but three posts on the left side of the river. One, Champ St. Privé, that guarded the road by the left bank from Blois; Les Augustins, that was a short distance inland from the boulevard of Les Tourelles; and St. Jean le Blanc, that was higher up the river, and was a hold of no great strength.

There had been faubourgs, or suburbs, “the finest in the kingdom,” about the city, but their citizens destroyed them so that no Englishmen could be sheltered among them. Fifteen thousand people were thus rendered homeless, and crowded into Orléans, nearly doubling its population, and threatening all with famine.

As Jeanne rode round the city at leisurely pace necks were craned over the breastworks of the enemy to catch a glimpse of the witch, but not a shot was fired from the forts. Like a shining vision she seemed, clad in white armour, riding her white horse, her head covered by a little velvet cap ornamented with nodding plumes, her dark hair flying about her face, and though the English hurled words of abuse at her the lips that spoke them were pale with superstitious terror. Unmolested Jeanne completed her survey, then led her people back through the gate into the city, then to the cathedral to vespers. Here Doctor Jean de Mascon, a “very wise man,” said to her:

“My child, are you come to raise the siege?”

“In God’s name, yes.”

“My child, they are strong and well intrenched, and it will be a great feat to drive them out.” The wise man spoke despondently.

“There is nothing impossible to the power of God,” Jeanne made answer.

The garrisons of Montargis, Gien, and Château Regnard came marching into the city the next day, bringing word that the army and convoy from Blois had started on the march for Orléans.

At dawn of Wednesday, therefore, Jeanne with La Hire and five hundred of the garrison rode out to meet them. Dunois was coming by the route that Jeanne had wished to take on her entry, and it was found to be no difficult matter to make a wide detour around the forts, skirt the forest at the back of the city where the English had no bastille, and enter by the Paris Gate. So, led by the priests, chanting the Veni Creator, as at Blois, headed by Father Pasquerel bearing the great standard, Jeanne entered the city as she had planned to do. Right beneath the forts of the English they rode and marched, but not a shot was fired, not a sally was made from the forts. John, Lord of Talbot, was a brave man, but not even a brave general can control demoralized and terrified men; men to whom the slender figure in shining armour seemed like nothing mortal. By noon Jeanne had her army safely housed in Orléans.

D’Aulon dined with Jeanne, and while they were seated at table, the Count of Dunois entered and told the maiden that there was news that Sir John Fastolf, he who had defeated the French at Rourvay in the Battle of the Herrings, was coming from Paris with reinforcements and supplies for the English, and that it was said that he was but a day’s march distant. Jeanne heard the tidings joyfully.

“Dunois, Dunois,” she cried, elated that at last action must come, “I command you, in God’s name, to let me know as soon as he arrives. If you do not, I––will have your head.”

“For that I do not fear, Jeanne,” replied the Count courteously. “I shall let you have the news as soon as it comes.” Then he took his leave.

Now there were some of the captains of the city who resented the enthusiasm with which the maiden had been received. This was quite natural among men who had been fighting unsuccessfully for months in defence of the beleaguered city. Dunois, La Hire, Poton Zaintrailles and a few others were exceptions to the men who felt jealousy of the Maid, but the others were sore and wounded by her appearance and claims. A certain Guillaume de Gamache felt himself insulted above all by the suggestion that Jeanne should arrange the plan of procedure against the enemy.

“What,” he cried, “is the advice of this girl of the fields to be taken against that of a knight and captain! I will fold up my banner, and become again a simple soldier. I would rather have a nobleman for my master than a woman whom nobody knows.”

Dunois had tried to placate these men, but vainly. Jeanne, of course, knew nothing about it. Later she was to be greatly harassed by these jealousies. Those captains who had not shared in the expeditions of the morning to meet Dunois and the army took advantage of the enthusiasm aroused by the entrance of the men-at-arms under the very guns of the enemy to make a sortie, unknown to the new leaders. They wished to show how well they could do without the presence of the Holy Maid of Vaucouleurs.

Jeanne was wearied by the early morning expedition, and so laid down in the afternoon by the side of her hostess, Madame Boucher, and was asleep. D’Aulon too felt fatigued, and also stretched himself on a couch for rest. All at once Jeanne awoke with a wild cry of agitation and alarm.

“My Council tell me to go against the English,” she cried, springing out of bed. “But if to assail their towers, or to meet this Fastolf I cannot tell.”

And then her trouble grew, and her eyes had the rapt look left in them by her visions.

“My arms, D’Aulon! My arms!” she cried. “Quick! The blood of our soldiers is flowing. Why did they not tell me?”

All was quiet in the streets, and there came no sign of conflict on the tranquil air of the May afternoon. But D’Aulon leaped to his feet at her cry, and without a word began to buckle on her armour, assisted by Madame Boucher and her little daughter. Meantime Jeanne was calling loudly to her page for her horse. Hurriedly the youth saddled the charger and brought it to the door. As Jeanne swung herself into the saddle she perceived that her standard was wanting.

“My banner,” she cried, and Louis the page handed it to her from the upper chamber window. Then with the heavy flag staff in hand she set spurs to her horse and dashed away at speed so that the fire flashed from the stones that paved the thoroughfare. One by one her attendants armed themselves and clattered after her.

And now came shouts and cries, and all at once the streets were filled with people who cried loudly that the English were slaughtering the French.

Straight through the town Jeanne galloped, riding toward the loudest noise, which proved to be at the Burgundian Gate on the east side of the city. The gate was open to let in a rabble of retreating French who were bringing some wounded men with them. Overwhelmed with pity at the sight Jeanne paled, and half drew rein.

“I can never see French blood but my hair rises with horror,” she said to D’Aulon, who had now overtaken her.

Through the gate they passed, and met a disorganized band of men-at-arms, archers, and burghers flying before the English. For the coup which had been planned by the captains was a sortie against the strong bastille of St. Loup, and it had proven disastrous to those who had undertaken it.

There went up a great shout from the French as they caught sight of Jeanne as she galloped through the gate. They rallied, turned, and swept onward after her. Clear and sweet above the din of battle sounded her bell-like voice:

“Friends, friends, have good courage. On! On! They are ours.”

There never was anything like the response that followed. The French surged forward upon the English, who had sallied confidently out of the bastille to meet the first assault, and swept their foes before them, driving them back into their fortress. Gallantly the English fought, but they were no match for men imbued with divine ardour by the Maid. Everywhere in the thick of battle the shining figure appeared, encouraging and urging the men to greater efforts. Against the formidable walls of the bastille the French hurled themselves with irresistible fury. Back and forth the tide of battle surged; back and forth, for the English made a desperate resistance. Back and forth until the vesper hour when, with a mighty rush, the French carried the place by storm. St. Loup was taken. Before the English camp on the west side could hurry reinforcements around the walls the bastille was sacked, riddled, burned. The English were cut off from Jargeau.

Dizzy with the first victory that had been theirs in years the soldiers and burghers re-entered the city with banners flying, proudly displaying the prisoners and captured munitions. And the city went wild over the Maid who had wrought the miracle. La Hire, Dunois, Poton Zaintrailles, Rais and Boussac were ready to follow wherever she might lead. The citizens pressed upon her as she rode, adoring and worshipping. All the bells in the city rang joyfully, and in the churches soldiers and citizens alike “gave thanks to God by hymns and devout orisons.” It was Jeanne’s first battle, and she wept as she prayed for those who had died unshriven. As she rose from her confession she said to Father Pasquerel:

“In five days the city shall be delivered; but I shall be wounded on Saturday, here.” And she placed her hand upon a spot between her neck and shoulder.

Thursday being the Feast of Ascension and a holy day there was no fighting. To Jeanne, whose mission was a holy one, it seemed right that the success of the day before should be followed up by an attack upon one of the English fortresses, but the captains pleaded the sanctity of the day, so none was made. But, while Jeanne confessed and took the Sacrament, exhorting the soldiers to do likewise, the captains held a Council at the house of the Chancellor of Orléans, Cousinot, taking care that news of it should not come to Jeanne.

They decided that a feigned attack should be made upon the strong bastille of St. Laurent, which stood just beyond the Regnart Gate on the west side, which should draw off men from the forts beyond the river. When this was done the main body of the French would attack the weakened bastilles on the south bank and overcome them. The Maid, at the head of the burghers, was to make the feint while the nobles and their levies were to make the real assault across the Loire. But Jeanne was to be told no word of their design lest she should reveal the intention to the enemy.

When they had come to this conclusion Ambroise de Loré was sent to bring the Maid to the Council, and when she came in answer to the summons, Chancellor Cousinot himself told her they were to attack the great fortress of St. Laurent, and that she was to lead the attack. But of their real purpose he said no word. Jeanne’s acuteness told her that something was being withheld, but she said nothing until he had made an end of the telling. Then she spoke quietly.

“What is it that you have really decided? Why do you fear to tell me what it is? I can keep a greater secret than that.”

“Jeanne, do not be angry,” spoke Dunois. “We cannot tell you everything at once. What the Chancellor has told you is true, but if the men in the bastilles go to the aid of those in the great fort we intend to cross the river, and fall upon them.”

Jeanne professed herself satisfied, and so the matter rested. But no part of the plan was carried out. That evening she made her last summons to the English. Going to the end of the intact part of the bridge, where the people of Orléans had erected a fort, she called across the water to the English in the Tourelles, telling them that it was God’s will that they should withdraw from France.

“I shall write no more,” she said as she fastened a letter to an arrow and directed an archer to shoot it into the fortress. “I would have sent this in more honourable fashion, but you keep my herald, Guienne. Return him and I will return my prisoners taken at St. Loup.”

“News from the Armagnac wench,” shouted a soldier as he ran forward to pick up the missive. “Cowgirl! Witch! Only let us catch you, and you shall burn.”

Jeanne could not keep back her tears as she heard these insults, but calling the King of Heaven to her aid, she was soon comforted, and smiled through her tears.

“I have tidings from Messire,” she called back. “The English shall depart, but you, Classidas, will not see it, for you will be dead. Without stroke of sword shall you die.”

The English hooted and jeered at these words, and hurled taunts and foul epithets upon her, and having given her last summons Jeanne returned to the city.

She rose early the next morning and confessed to Father Pasquerel, who said mass for all the Household; then she set forth followed by her personal attendants and a multitude of citizens who were in armed readiness.

The secret that the true attack was to be made on the forts across the river had somehow leaked out, but not through Jeanne. A number of burghers had been present at the Council, and they had not approved of the plan. When Jeanne appeared there was no word said about attacking the great fort of St. Laurent, but with one accord all took a line of march toward the eastern side of the city to the Burgundy Gate, which the troops must pass through in order to cross to the south bank of the river.

That the captains intended to carry out the design and make their assault without Jeanne and the townspeople was evidenced when they reached the gate. It was closed and guarded by De Gaucourt with some men-at-arms. Angry murmurs arose as the people saw their former governor with his men drawn up in formidable array, and Jeanne cried quickly:

“Gentle sir, in God’s name, open the gate, and let us pass.”

“I cannot, Jeanne,” he said. “I have orders from the Council to keep it closed, and closed it shall remain.”

At this a shout went up from the citizens, and they moved toward him threateningly. They were in no mood for interference.

“You are an evil man to prevent these people from going,” cried Jeanne. “But whether you will or no, the men shall go, and they shall prevail as before.”

Gaucourt hesitated. As he glanced at the stern faces of the citizens, who were determined to fight their way through, if necessary, he saw that he stood in peril of his life. With the ready wit of a soldier he threw wide the gate, crying:

“Come on, I will be your captain!” And the people rushed through.

Just above the bridge of Orléans there was a broad island, called St. Aignan, lying quite close to the south bank of the river, with a narrow swift passage of water between it and the shore. A little higher up the Loire, on the left side, stood the small fort of St. Jean le Blanc, which the English had built to guard the road. The plan of the captains was to cross by boat to the island, and thence by a bridge of planks laid on boats to the southern shore, and so make an assault on St. Jean le Blanc. It would be a task of some hours to bring troops, horses, and artillery, so the townsfolk being lightly encumbered crossed first. When the English captain of the bastille saw the boats put out he abandoned the post, and retired to the Bastille of St. Augustins, opposite the Tourelles. When the townspeople found the post undefended they were wild with enthusiasm, and, without waiting for Jeanne, marched on at once to Les Augustins, and attacked it. They were no match for the disciplined English, who rushed out to fall on them. Instantly the old dread fell upon the citizens, and they became panic-stricken, fleeing in a disorganized rabble before the enemy, while De Gaucourt, their old governor, covered their retreat gallantly. Slashing, slaying, and hurling taunts and gibes at the routed French the English came on a run.

At this moment Jeanne and La Hire, who had been having difficulty with the horses in getting them across the improvised bridge, reached the shore. Seeing the rout of the French they mounted hastily, and then these two, the Maid with her banner, La Hire with lance at rest, charged the English. The English turned and fled incontinently at sight of the white figure on the white horse. The fleeing townsfolk rallied, turned, and following the men-at-arms, who had succeeded in crossing by this time, went after the Maid and the valiant La Hire, and chased the English back into their works.

Swiftly following Jeanne planted her standard under the fort of the Augustins, in the moat, and the assault begun. The English fought bravely, and again the French were repulsed. And Jeanne was everywhere, inciting the men to greater deeds by her inspiriting cry. At length the rest of the main body of troops came up with the artillery, and the assault redoubled in vigour.

The enthusiasm was with the French. Onset after onset was made. Knights vied with each other in feats of valour. A giant Englishman who gallantly defended the open gate was presently shot down by Jean the Lorraine gunner, and instantly Jeanne’s clear, girlish voice rang out:

“Enter! Enter boldly! They are ours.”

In a terrible onslaught the French rushed in upon the defenders. A few of the English escaped to the boulevard of Les Tourelles, an earthwork connected by a drawbridge with the pier upon which the Tourelles stood; the rest were slain or taken. Great deeds at arms had been performed on both sides, and the victory was hard bought, but the Bastille of St. Augustins was taken. The sun was setting, and setting also was the glory of England in France. Verily God was speaking through His Maid.

RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS                          CONTINUE to CHAPTER 20 Warrior Maid

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