The march to Reims—Joan and the King ride in triumph to the Coronation.
The news of the great slaughter of the English at Patay, and the capture of Talbot and Suffolk, spread like magic through all the towns of France; giving new life to the loyal French in many towns of the English garrison so that they lost fear of their English masters. To the English it sounded like a page from the Doomsday Book.
Once more the white-mailed figure of the Maid of Orleans on the great black horse, rode into Orleans, her banner flying and seeming to tell in its joyous fluttering of this latest and greatest yet of many victories led by this hardly four months' old standard.
Many a glorious old battle flag, scarred and rent and bloodstained, might be jealous of this fair young pennant, whose glories might count almost one for every day of its young life.
Orleans fairly went wild when Joan and the army returned after Meung, Beaugency and Patay in three short days.
It sounded like Caesar's: "I came! I saw! I conquered!" all over again—only in this case there was no self-glorification on the part of the conqueror. She was "the handmaid of the Lord," the "Sword of God," and to Him alone gave the praise and the glory. And the grim English Talbot rode beside Joan through the streets of Orleans a prisoner of war.
Joan sent to the king to beg him to come straight on to Orleans. The people wanted to see him. It was on the way to Reims. It would expedite his crowning by saving so much time. She was most anxious to see him crowned: "The power of his enemies would dwindle away to nothing then," she said. But the King's advisers, chief of whom was La Tremoille, of hated memory, would not let him go. He must take no risks, they said. There were English fortresses at intervals all along the two hundred miles from Gien to Reims. He came to Sully on the Loire, where was La Tremoile's home, and would go no further. Joan must needs come to him there.
At Sully and Gien he held councils, without Joan, and La Tremoille and d'Harcourt and others advised going to Normandy to recruit and then clear the country of the English and Burgundians, ahead of the Dauphin. For ten days the one who saw the way so clear to the freedom of France,
and who had the commission to act on it, had to chafe and wait while blind men sat daily considering whether this road or that was the least dangerous; whether it was not better to go to Normandy until the English got tired out.
The Maid knew as well as any man of them the strength of the hostile cities on the road. She had passed through some of them before. On her way from Domremy she passed safely through Auxerre with a handful of men, and if she had wished it, she could have had half the population to join her. But she had not the authority and she was not a freebooter. Only with the authority of her sovereign would she lead any army anywhere.
But with that authority and even a few men she felt herself a match for any force. " There are so many fortified English towns on the councilors.
"I know all that, and make no account of it," she said. In her impatience to be on 'the road to the coronation she left the king and the council and waited for them outside the gates of Gien for two days, with the army.
At length, on the 29th of June, they joined her and the march to Reims was begun.
With her prophetic eye on Reims afar off and knowing that between her and Reims were many English or Burgundian garrisoned towns, yet she took no artillery with her.
She received the Body of her Lord that morning, shedding tears of thankfulness 'that so much of her great task was accomplished; and she made no complaint that king or councilor still doubted and delayed her. She was too joyous to remember aught but that they were on their way to the coronation. Every one who looked at her caught the reflection of her bright face, and so it was a happy army set out for the open country early on that June 29, 1429, the King and Joan riding side by side, and behind them all the big men of France, and behind them again the rank and file of France's National Guard, twelve thousand strong.
The second day's march across the open country brought them to the Burgundian-English town of Auxerre. The Maid would have at once requested its gates opened to the sovereign and the army of France and followed up 'the request by force, but she was overruled.
The town sent out a deputation and La Tremoille took it upon himself to meet it and agree to pass by the town without entering. The Maid's opinion was not asked nor given.
For three days the army rested outside the gates and were supplied with food by the people from within.
July 4 they marched away, leaving Auxerre, half friendly, half hostile, behind them, and after a steady advance over another thirty, or nearly forty, miles of sparsely settled country arrived at Troyes and camped before its gates.
The inspired Joan took the initiative here at once and summoned Troyes to surrender. Its commandant, seeing there was no artillery behind the summons, sent an insulting refusal. That was Tuesday, the 5th of July. That day and three days more were lost in Joan's endeavoring to persuade the king's councilors not to turn back.
They were afraid, they said, to go on leaving so strong an enemy in their rear. Finally, the King left it to Joan.
"In three days' time the place is ours," she said in a tone of which no man that heard it could fail to catch the enthusiasm.
"Oh!" said the council, " we can wait six days if you are so sure."
"Three days, did I say? In the name of God, we will enter the gates to-morrow! " cried Joan.
Then she mounted her black steed and rode along the lines giving the order: " Make preparation; we assault at dawn."
All that night she had every man working, and herself worked the hardest, bringing faggots, branches, small trees, everything that could be lifted and carried and thrown into the fosse that ran around the walls, to fill it up so the storming party might stand their ladders on it. At dawn the people of the town saw 'the preparations for storming. They rushed to the churches and besieged the Bishop to save them. As the bugles outside the walls blew the assault, the frightened burghers had prevailed with the garrison and a flag of truce was hoisted. Without striking one blow the town surrendered. Early on Sunday morning, July 10, the King and Joan, side by side, and with banners flying, entered with the army and received the submission of all within its gates and heard Mass in the Cathedral.
They were now halfway to Reims and the march had been a pleasant one. They might have rested as long as they liked at Troyes, but Joan was for the road without delay. Inside the year must her work be done, she asserted. So 'the very next day the Grand March to Reims, the army grown more joyful and enthusiastic than ever, was resumed. Chalons was the next big town to be encountered.
Chalons, another fifty miles off to the north and near Reims. The French army grew in numbers greatly by voluntary accession to its ranks at every stopping place. The news of Troyes' surrender went ahead of the army, so when Joan and the Dauphin reached the main gate of Chalons they were met by the Bishop and the city council with the keys. And the word was passed on to Reims quickly that Chalons was happy in its restored allegiance to its rightful sovereign and requested a place for honorable representation at the coming coronation.
"Joy, joy! Freedom to-day!" was everybody's song, and every countenance was radiant all around Joan.
Only she, herself, was gravely serene. She was not surprised at this bloodless march—only glad. She met at Chalons a friend from Domremy. He congratulated her on her series of triumphant marches. From Vaucouleurs to Chinon but a few months before. From Chinon to Orleans. From Orleans to Patay, and now to Reims. Evidently she had nothing to fear. "Only treachery and betrayal," she answered. From all the signs she gave of her mission being Heaven-sent, she could not awaken any generous cooperation in men like Tremoille.
At La Ferte, the people came to meet the army, offering fruits and cakes, and escorted it in a body several miles on the road. The Maid was riding with the Archbishop of Reims who had joined the party at Chalons, and was in a happy mood. "This is a good people," she said, "I have seen none elsewhere who rejoiced as much at the coming of so noble a king. How happy should I be if, when my days are done, I might be buried here!"
"Jeanne," said the Archbishop to her, " in what place do you hope to die? "
"Where it shall please God," was her saintly answer. "I am not certain of either the time or the place, any more than you are yourself. Would it might please God, my Creator, that I might retire now, abandon arms and return to serve my father and mother, and to take care of their sheep with my sister and my brothers, who would be so happy to see me again."
On July 16 the army was halted by a deputation sent from Reims to meet and conduct the Dauphin into the city. Joan had told him long before to "have no fear for Reims, the burghers of the city will come out to meet you."
The Cathedral towers were in view and as the word passed from rank to rank that they were at Reims and that its burghers had come out to welcome them, the whole army
broke out into cheers upon cheers, and Joan's name went up with a mighty shout that was caught up and carried even into Reims.
At the Archbishop's Palace the Dauphin and Joan were lodged and preparations for the solemn coronation, on the morrow were continued all through the night.
Reims had never known so grand a day. Every one was in holiday costume and holiday mood, and nothing was spared from public or private purse to give 'the town a joyous, gorgeous face.
Sunday, July 17, offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass began at dawn. Every church was filled. But the Cathedral was the center of attraction. At the abbey church of St. Remi, was kept the "Sainte Ampoule" or flask of holy oil with which King Clovis, nearly a thousand years before, and every king of France after him, had been anointed.
A stately procession of ecclesiastics escorted by military guards brought the holy oil from St. Remi to the Cathedral, through streets lined with the people on their knees who could not get into the already thronged Cathedral.
The coronation ceremony began at nine o'clock of the morning of July 17. We have descriptions of it from letters to the Queen of France and her mother, the Queen of Sicily,
by Pierre de Beauvais and two other gentlemen of their suite whom they had sent on to be present and to send them accounts of the coronation.
"A right fair thing it was to see that fair mystery, for it was as solemn and as well adorned with all things thereto pertaining, as if it had been ordered a year before." And 'then they describe and name the five great men of France who, on prancing war steeds, accompanied the Archbishops bearing the holy oil into the Cathedral, riding right down the four hundred feet of its broad nave right down to the chancel, backing their steeds out all the way again to the main door.
Then a mighty flood of music from four hundred silver trumpets announced the entrance of the Dauphin. The roll of the organ, and the chanting of the choir, timed his march down the long aisle formed by his happy people. Joan was by his side. Behind him the chivalry of France in its gayest plumes, and the dignitaries of the Church from all the surrounding cities, and all the great generals and governors in the rich dresses of those days.
At last the King knelt in front of the altar. He took the oath and was solemnly anointed with the magnificent ritual of the Church for the occasion.
The Crown of France was brought to him on a cushion, and kneeling he took it and placed it on his head, amidst the breathless silence of the twenty thousand hearts that almost stopped for awe of the wonder of it. Only a moment's awestruck silence--then the crash of the organ, the blare of the trumpets, the ringing of the bells broke out all at once and together.
The Te Deum was raised and the cannon outside added its deep boom until the overwrought people wept for very ecstasy of grateful joy.
Joan wept too—though her face was raised and she noted not the tears as she embraced the King's knees and said:
"Gentle King, now is accomplished the Will of God, Who decreed that I should raise the siege of Orleans and bring you to this city of Reims to receive your solemn sacring, thereby showing that you are the 'true king and that France should be yours. My work which was given me to do is finished; give me your peace and let me go back to my mother, who is poor and old, and has need of me."
The King raised her up and before all that host of people acknowledged his immense debt
to her and begged her to name what should be her recompense. He had previously confirmed titles of nobility on her and her family.
"You have saved France. Speak! Whatever grace you ask shall be granted you, though it make the kingdom poor to meet it."
And that wonder of the world, that conqueror of whole armies and leader of other armies, into whose hands at a word, fell fortresses and cities, whose march across France had been like a tornado to her foes, like a summer's sun and rain to her famishing friends, the noblest woman ever born save one, thought of her humble childhood's home and asked simply that its yearly 'taxes be remitted. Only this would she accept.
"She has won a kingdom and crowned its king," said Charles, after a pause; "and all she asks is this poor grace, and this not for herself, but for others. Her act is in proportion to the dignity of one who carries in her heart and head riches which outvalue any that any king could add, though he gave his all. She shall have her way. It is decreed from this day forth Domremy, natal village of Joan of Arc, Deliverer of France, called the Maid of Orleans, is freed from taxation forever."
At two o'clock the coronation services were over, and Joan and the King of France solemnly marched down the long nave together.
Joan's work was ended. The siege of Orleans had been raised (May 8); the power of the English in France had been broken forever at Patay (June 18), and now the king was crowned with the authority and ceremonies and crown of Clovis, Pepin, Charlemagne and St. Louis.
She sat up that night and talked of home and mother with her father and the brother of her mother, the old uncle Laxart, who had been the one to first listen to the story of her mission and lend his countenance and help to its first step. Now he would escort her home again to her mother and her spinning.