"The stroke of God "—Beginning of the end of the hundred years of English occupation.
"The stroke of God," the English Duke of Bedford called the demolition of the English fortresses that guarded the bridge over the river into Orleans on that brave Saturday evening, May 8, when the news of it was brought him a few days later to Paris, where he was ensconced securely, as he thought for all time.
"All things prospered for you till the time of the siege of Orleans," he wrote to 'the young king of England.
But those four days' work around and outside the walls of Orleans decided the fate of the English in France. They had to go and as the sequel proved they did not stand on the order of their going, but went quickly.
There was quite a dramatic finale to the siege of Orleans not often found, if ever, in books of battles and sieges.
The four days fighting had been on the east side and in front of the city. The fortresses of St Loup, St. Jean le Blanc, the Augustine, the Tourelles, formed the English stronghold
on two main sides of the city. On the west, on the way to Blois and Tours and Chinon, outside the Regnart Gate were encamped in greater number but not so fortified, the main English army under Lord Talbot.
They could not get to the aid of the Tourelles even if they had had time 'to collect their thoughts and get themselves together for such a reinforcement. The descent of Joan and the army on the bridge fortresses had been swift and too overwhelming in its result.
The French returned "by the bridge" that Saturday night and after the fervent thanksgivings in the churches, and the inevitable shouting and exultation over the victory, they had dropped from sheer exhaustion into a few hours of as deep and peaceful sleep as few Frenchmen had known in 'that neighborhood for nearly a year.
Not many hours of sleep though, for at the first streak of dawn the watchers on the towers after feasting their eyes on the still smoking remains of the English forts across the river, turning their eyes westward, where the enemy's camp whitened the plain, saw unusual signs of activity for so early an hour. The English had left their tents and were drawn up in line of battle. Quickly the Maid and the French captains and garrison and tired soldiers
were up and marshaled. Out of the Regnant Gate, Joan led them and soon they were in shape for work, facing the English troops and between them and the city walls.
Thus the two armies stood a brief space. Both apparently ready, neither anxious to begin.
For once Joan was not calling "Forward French hearts!" She surveyed the field quietly for a few moments and then saying: "This is Sunday morning," gave orders for a table to be brought, and a temporary altar erected right there on the field, between the two armies.
Her confessor then offered up the Holy Sacrifice, and immediately after him another priest did so, both armies attending as reverently as circumstances permitted. When the second Mass was finished, Joan, who had dismounted and knelt near the altar, asked those near her how were the English facing.
"Their backs are towards us. They are facing Meung," was the answer.
"They are going. In God's name we will let them go. We shall catch them another time," she said. A detachment of the French army followed them some distance to be sure they were not planning some detour.
As it proved later the English retired to Meung, a town about ten miles down the Loire from Orleans, which had been a long time in possession of the English.
After following them a few leagues, the French army turned back to Orleans and the day was given up to processions to the churches in thanksgiving; and later in the day to civic and military parades and music and illuminations.
In the evening the populace spread itself freely and happily outside the gates over the open fields from which they had been so long shut off, and enjoyed the spring freshness of meadow and forest to the full.
‘Twas a happy day to Orleans and to this day it is sacred to religious processions in the morning and military parades and maneuvers in the afternoon—it is Joan of Arc Day—May 8th.
Now that the siege of Orleans really was raised did Joan rest on her oars and nurse her still painful wound ? No ! There was no peace for Joan till France was free. Now for Reims and the Coronation of Charles and then to Paris to take his Capital from the English. That was her plan and she was eager to put it through at once.
To the east and west were towns on the Loire occupied by the English. These must be recovered. But her first duty now was to go to the Dauphin, have him crowned and then
with his authority—maybe his help—clear Paris and then these Loire towns and every town in France, of the invaders. Leaving La Hire in charge of the army and garrison in Orleans, she took a small escort and proceeded towards Blois and Chinon to meet the Dauphin.
Charles came as far as Tours to meet her. Less than a week before he had sent her hopefully over this same route and he welcomed her now joyously and with a feeling of awe that she could be responsible for such a change in his fortunes in one short week. The journals of those days tell of the glad picture they made riding side by side with bands playing and banners flying and the wondering people on the streets striving to see and to touch if possible the angel of deliverance sent so directly from heaven to them.
The whole country was full of her praises as couriers rode here and there to all the towns still in the King's fealty with the news of the end of the siege of Orleans.
But Joan took little comfort in the praises of the people. She repeatedly asserted that if the Dauphin were but crowned the power of his enemies would quickly dwindle.
She begged Charles to accompany her at once to Reims. But Charles was surrounded by
unworthy councilors who advised him to hesitate going to Reims through a country still infested with English.
The Archbishop of Reims' opinion was: "We piously believe her to be the angel of the armies of the Lord," and he advised that while human wisdom must exercise itself in matters of military finance, artillery, bridges, and so forth, in extraordinary enterprises the Maid should be first and chiefly consulted.
But the self-seeking and truculent La Tremoille, the king's chief councilor, counter-weighed the Archbishop's advice and kept Charles idle on the plea that it would not be safe to go to Reims while the towns on the way were inimical to him.
"Noble Dauphin," Joan said at length, after nearly two weeks of waiting to move him; "hold not such long councils but come at once to Reims and be worthily crowned."
One of the king's pusillanimous council, d'Harcourt, asked her if the march on Reims was part of the monitions of her saintly advisers.
"Yes, they chiefly insist on it."
"Will you not tell us in the presence of the King what is the nature of 'this council of yours?"
The King was ashamed at the bold question and told her she need not answer it unless she wished to do so.
"I will tell you willingly," she said. "When I am somewhat hurt because I am not readily believed in the things which I speak from God, I am wont to go apart and pray God, complaining that they are hard of belief; and after that prayer I hear a Voice saying to me: I Daughter of God, go on! go on! go on! I will be your aid, go on! When I hear that voice I am glad and desire always to be in that state."
And her countenance was raised to heaven while she spoke with a joyous earnestness that affected all beholders 'towards her to believe her.
But a whole month was wasted trying to get the King to go to Reims. The most he would do was to authorize an army to invade, and if possible, win back, from the English the good towns of the Loire valley so that he might travel without fear of attack.
He made Joan the Commander-in-Chief of this expedition and warned all the great captains of France to do nothing without consulting her and to follow her lead implicitly. Joan was obliged to content herself though she knew that her plan was quicker and safer. The obedience to the King was a holy trait in Joan's character and goes far to prove the sanctity of her brave soul.
Not hers to sit in judgment on her sovereign. He represented France, he represented lawful authority, he was her civil superior. It was hers to obey him. She might urge or coax him, she might even represent to him the dangers and the wrong of the delay; but he was her rightful sovereign and if he insisted she must yield. And so she did, generously and gracefully. She led her army back to Orleans to start from there against Jargeau and Meung and Beaugency and other towns still full of the English.
From the letter to his mother of a nobleman who was of her company at this time we get this picture of Joan: "I saw her mount all in white armor but unhelmeted, a small steel sperth (a little battle-axe) in her hand. She had a great black horse, which plunged at the door of her house and would not permit her to mount. 'Lead him to the Cross,' she cried, meaning the cross that stands in the road in front of the church. There he stood as if cords held him and she mounted, and turning towards 'the church gate, she said in a sweet womanly voice, ‘Ye priests and churchmen, go in procession and pray to God for us.'
Then, 'Forward! Forward! I she cried aloud, a gracious page bearing her white standard displayed, and she with the little sperth in her hand. D'Alencon, Dunois, de Gaucourt, are all following the Maid. The King wants to keep Grey with him till the Maid has cleared 'the line of the Loire, and then to ride with him to Reims."
Joan went back to Orleans, the base of the Loire campaign, on June 9, to the great joy of the people - just exactly a month after raising the siege.
She, or rather the big men who were the chiefs of the national forces, mustered an army of about ten thousand men which the people of Orleans generously robbed themselves to equip. Jargeau, a strongly fortified town, about twelve miles to the east of Orleans, was their first point of attack.
The people of Orleans filled five sloops, manned by forty boat men, with heavy guns and field pieces, ropes and scaling ladders, and everything needed to attack fortified walls. Joan lost not one hour, for she heard that to Jargeau's garrison of about eight hundred, Bedford was sending Fastolf from Paris with five thousand men and supplies to the help of Jargeau.
Joan harangued the army before starting out:
"Success is certain. If I were not assured of this from God, I would rather head sheep than put myself in so great jeopardy."
June 11th, Joan planted her standard in front of Jargeau and called on the garrison to yield themselves peacefully to the Dauphin.
But they heeded not her message.
Next day, June 12, the artillery duel began, and a great gun sent from Orleans ruined one of the towers in the wall. Suffolk, the English commander, begged a truce for a fortnight, hoping that Fastolf with the reinforcements would arrive by that time. Joan refused. She would consent to let them all go unarmed and peaceably out of the town at once. Suffolk refused this and Joan gave the word to sound the bugles for the assault.
The Duke d’Alencon testifies on oath of this engagement:
" 'Forward, gentle Duke, to the assault,' cried Jeanne to me. And when I told her it was premature to attack so quickly: ‘Have no fear,' she said, ‘it is the right time when it pleases God; we must work when it is His will; Act and God will act!' Later she said to me: ‘Ah! Gentle Duke art thou afraid? Did I not promise thy wife to bring thee back safe and sound?' And, indeed when I left my wife to come with Jeanne to the headquarters of the army, my wife had feared much for me, for that I had but just left prison and much had been spent on my ransom.
To which Jeanne replied 'Lady have no fear; I will give him back to you whole, or even in better case than he is now!' During the assault on Jargeau, Jeanne said to me: 'Go back from this place, or that engine will kill you,' pointing to an engine of war in the city. I retired and shortly after that very engine killed the Sir de Lude who had taken my place. I had great fear and wondered much at Jeanne's words and how true they came. Afterwards Jeanne made the attack and I followed her. As our men were invading the place, Suffolk made proclamation that he wished to speak with us, but it was too late; we did not listen to him. Jeanne was on a scaling ladder, her standard in her hand, when her standard was struck and she herself hit on the head by a stone which was partly spent, and which struck her calotte. She was -thrown to the ground, but raising herself she cried, 'Friend, friends, come on. Come on! Our Lord hath doomed the English. They are ours! Keep a good heart!’
"At that moment the town was carried and the English retired to the bridges where the French pursued them and killed more than eleven hundred men."
Jargeau was taken. Suffolk, himself was captured. The Maid and d'Alencon returned to Orleans that night in triumph.
The next day Joan ordered the troops a complete rest. "To-morrow after dinner I wish to pay the English at Meung a visit."
Meung was about as far down the river from Orleans as Jargeau was above. Beaugency was some miles still further down and occupied also by the English.
Promptly at noon they marched to Meung and took it by assault in a few hours, left a garrison to hold it and marched on to Beaugency where the terrible Talbot was.
Here news of Falstof's coming to Talbot's rescue paled the faces of many of the French captains. Undaunted Joan placed her batteries. More news came. This time it was Richmonte, the Constable of France, who was coming to her aid. But the Constable had lost the King's favor through the trickery of La Tremoille and the other captains would not accept his aid. Joan proved her statesmanship as well as her military skill by welcoming Richmonte's aid and just in time. Falstof's reinforcement put great courage in Talbot and a stubborn resistance put the French on their mettle. So much so that they wanted to fight that evening whereas the here-to-fore impetuous Joan counseled waiting till morning—for a fair light, for the battle must be decisive. So they waited and lo the English got away on the road to Paris that night!
"In God's name, we must fight them at once," she said early next day. "Even if they were
hanging from the clouds we should have them, because God has sent us to chastise 'them. The gentle King shall have to-day the greatest victory he has ever had."
And off Joan and the French troops were after the fleeing English.
At Patay, Falstof and Talbot were overtaken and after three hours hard fighting the two were taken prisoner and their command lay dead in heaps among the bushes.
"The praise is to God," said Joan, surveying the field. "Ina a thousand years—a thousand years—the English power in France will not rise up from this blow."
And this merciful note is added in the depositions of an eye-witness:
"Towards the end of the day I came upon her where the dead and dying lay stretched all about in heaps and winrows; our men had mortally wounded an English prisoner who was too poor to pay a ransom, and from a distance she had seen that cruel thing done; and had galloped to the place and sent for a priest and now she was holding the head of her dying enemy in her lap and easing him to his death with comforting soft words, just as his sister might have done; and the womanly tears running down her face all the time."