JOAN’S EARLY YEARS
Section I.—Her Birthplace
"Iwas born at Domremy," said Joan to her judges at Rouen, "which forms one village with Greux; the principal church is at Greux." The little village of three hundred souls, running along the highway and the placid Meuse, is still as small and poor as it was in the days of the Maid. The church beside which she lived is there yet, though changed; and portions of her cottage are built into the present house. The stream still flows beside it into the river but the cemetery, then by the cottage and church, has been transferred beyond the village. The fountain at which Joan and her childish companions used to drink has been identified. Near it stood the "fair May-tree;" and above still spreads the thick wood of oaks and other trees, the famous Bois Chenu.
The Meuse was the boundary between the Duchy of Lorraine to the east, and of Champagne to the west. Champagne, like Lorraine, followed the cause of Burgundy, which was on its southern border; hence Archbishop Gelu wrote to Charles VII, as if in warning, that Joan came from the country of Lorraine and Burgundy.
In fact the Lorraine country was considered to extend far beyond the limits of the actual duchy. For, in this broad sense, Barrois, Neufchateau, Vaucouleurs, and other territories, including even a part of Champagne, were in Lorraine land. Strictly speaking, however, and, especially, speaking politically and geographically, neither border of the Meuse belonged either to Lorraine or Champagne. The eastern side belonged to the principality of the Bishop of Toul, whose diocesan Joan was; and the western side, up to Domremy, belonged to the duchy of Bar. The little stream which separated the house of Joan, on the north, from the rest of the village, to the south, was the boundary between the Barrois ground and that of the castle of Vaucouleurs. This castellany (area-VF) was the immediate property of the crown of France. This is clear from the document by which Charles VII, at the request of Joan, exempted from taxation Domremy and Greux. A few.years ago there was found in the archive Vaucouleurs an authentic copy of the act by which, at the instance of the Bishop of Toul, the castle and its dependencies were ceded to the king of France.
Greux, which formed one parish with Domremy, is about a third of a mile to the north. It was built in from the river up the rising ground. Destroyed in the Swedish invasion in the seventeenth century, it was rebuilt on the level land; but the site of the church and cemetery were preserved.
Joan often passed through here to visit her beloved shrine of Our Lady of Bermond, two miles away, solitary in the midst of the wood on the upland which looked down on the Meuse. In front of Domremy, and connected by a bridge, stood the Castle of the Island, as it was called, the possession of the Bourlemont family, the lords of Domremy. This was rented by the inhabitants in the time of Joan; and served, at times, as a refuge for their cattle. Seven miles south of Domremy, and almost encircled by the Meuse, was Neufchateau, dominated by the fortress of the Duke of Lorraine. And eleven miles to the north was the strong town of Vaucouleurs, crowned by its castle, which overhung it, and commanded the route to Germany. From here Joan of Arc started to visit the Dauphin, and relieve Orleans.
The valley of the Meuse is about a mile across at Domremy. Many streams make the river overflow in the rainy season; and thus the level land produced excellent hay, and could scarcely produce anything else. "The straggling river," writes Andrew Lang, "broken by little isles, and fringed with reeds, flows clear in summer.... The long green tresses of the water weeds wave and float, the banks are gardens of water flowers, the meadows are fragrant with meadow-sweet. After the autumn rains the river spreads in shallow lagoons across the valley, reflecting the purple and scarlet of the vineyards."
The sides of the valley, rising gradually, are covered with cultivated fields and gardens, with vineyards and fruit trees, and farther up, where they become steep, support the level oak woods. The scene is peaceful, and in season perfumed. The church of St. Remi, apostle of the Franks, was very small, with a priest who depended upon Greux. Although situated almost in the center of the vast, rich diocese of Toul, it was one of the poorest of the parishes. Here for five years continued weekly, at times daily, the heavenly education of Joan of Arc. For seventeen years she embalmed with the virtues of heaven her native village. We have the testimony of more than thirty witnesses—nobles, priests, officials, soldiers, men and women, as to her pure and pious childhood.
Section 2.—Joan's Family and Its Condition.
Her House and Name
"My surname," she said, "is d'Arc or Romee. In my country the daughters keep the surnames of their mothers." Of her father, Jacques or James d'Arc, we know nothing before our acquaintance with him in Domremy. Her mother was known as Isabelle de Vouthon; that is, from the town of Vouthon, seven kilometers west of Domremy. A brother or uncle of her mother was parish-priest of Sermaize, thirty leagues away; and her mother's brother, Jean de Vouthon, had a son a religious at Notre Dame de Cheminon.
He was probably assistant to his uncle or grand-uncle. This cousin became a military chaplain to Joan at the request of Charles VII. Peter and John, two of her brothers, fought with her. The husband of her cousin Mengotte, sister of her chaplain, was killed at the siege of Sermaize in 1423. Joan was then eleven years old. The widow married soon after. M. Luce fancifully sees in this death, a cause of Joan's inspiration. The simple-hearted and upright Durand Laxart married Jeanne de Vausseuil, a cousin of Joan's; and for this reason as well as for that of his age, he was called, according to popular usage, the uncle of Joan. He must have had much of the enthusiast and the hero in him. He was Joan's first friend and helper, loyal and brave, so that he was ready himself almost alone to take her to the Dauphin at Chinon to begin her military career. He went to see Joan at Reims after the coronation. In the king's letters conferring the state and title of nobility on the family of Joan, her three brothers are mentioned, but no sister. Yet Joan had one or several sisters. The witnesses at the second trial speak of them; and she herself speaks of a yet surviving sister to Dunois after the crowning at Reims. The one sister of whom we are certain, Catherine, had died before Joan left home. She was married it seems, to Colin de Greux, who appears as a witness to Joan's life in the Rehabilitation. Jacquemin, her eldest
brother, was already married in 1419, for he appears then as having a house of his own; hence he could not follow Joan to the war, for he had to provide for his father and mother. We find his grandson, Claude du Lys in 1502. Du Lys, of the lily, i.e. of the royal lily, or emblem, of France, was the name of nobility given to Joan's family by the king. Jean, Joan's. youngest brother, was made after the war provost of Vermandois and captain of Chartres—a post apparently too high for his simple birth and education; hence he was transferred to the provostship of Vaucouleurs. Pierre, the other brother who accompanied Joan, was taken prisoner; and when released, received from the duke of Orleans, the Ile aux Boeufs, an island in the Loire near Orleans.
All the witnesses who speak of Joan, especially the most intimate, such as her godparents, refer to her family as being poor. The word employed is laboureurs, poorer tillers of the soil, earning their living by constant labor in their little fields. There is nothing to disprove this. Joan's father was one of the two who leased the abandoned Castle of the Island from its owner as a place of safety for the cattle; but each of the two had to find five securities. It may be remarked en passant that there is never mention of the people rushing to the Castle for protection from armed raiders. Again Joan's father is called doyen of Domremy; but the word, in the time and circumstances,
was equivalent to sergeant, serviens, i.e. one who served notices, summoned jurors, etc. Such public servants were often of quite lowly station.
The existence of the little home of Joan d'Arc, even though somewhat changed, enables us to reconstruct the domestic scene in which she moved. Montaigne visited the house, he says, in 1580; and was shown the escutcheon of nobility given by the king—a straight sword pointing upwards on an azure field, bearing a crown on its point, and having the golden fleur-de-lis at the sides. The house already enlarged, was bought in 1586 by the lady Louise de Stainville. The little garden, scene of her first vision, seems to have disappeared. But the cemetery remained on one side; and still, on the other, the modest home of the widow Musnier. The little neighbor, Simonin Mushier, was visited and consoled by Joan—as he said, "she raised his heart." Before being repaired in 1818, 'Joan's home was in a neglected and ruinous condition; yet it attracted illustrious visitors, especially from over the Rhine. As the house now stands, an upper portion has been added, and, probably enough, a room on the ground, called the Room of the Brothers. The more authentic portions are the larger room in front of the entrance, apparently the living, and perhaps, the sleeping, room of the family; and the little chamber opening from this at the end opposite the entrance. This seems
to have been the little sanctuary of Joan herself. It is in irregular rectangle, lighted imperfectly by a small window, which looks toward the church. In 1818 it still retained traces of the chimney and fireplace; and here Joan would often pass the night while she gave her bed to the poor.
Kneeling in the actual church of Domremy, we are sure, notwithstanding the restorations, to be on the sacred ground bedewed with Joan's tears in her long and frequent supplications. The small edifice has been enlarged by a choir and gallery; and its original easterly liturgical direction has been changed. The present door is where the sanctuary was, and the altar is near where stood the door through which Joan so often entered. It is no longer possible to trace the resting place of her relatives and friends; the cemetery has disappeared. In 1550 we find Claude du Lys, a grand nephew of Joan, parish priest of her native church. He leaves a legacy for the chapel of Our Lady of La Pucelle, where he wishes to be buried amidst his relatives. It appears that before him there were other priests of his family in charge of Domremy.
The holy water and baptismal fonts are very likely the same as in Joan's day. Here she was baptized by the parish-priest M. Jean Minet, as she believed, she said; but if so, M. Minet must have died in her infancy; for the Abbe Front is given as the pastor during her childhood and early youth.
The "beautiful May tree," or fairy beech, so fatal to Joan in the murderous council of her calumniators at Rouen, stood at about two thousand yards south of Domremy, and near the road and the fountain from which the little children drank on their holiday rambles. The tree stood about half-way between Domremy, where some of the Bourlemonts, lords of the place, lived, and the family castle farther south; it thus served as a family rendezvous.
Joan was singularly endowed with common sense. She believed in no fairies, even in earliest childhood; and, as she became famous, was extraordinarily shrewd in discovering fraud in persons and things deemed preternatural. All the historic documents agree that she was never seen alone before the May tree, nor did any idle rumor accuse her of lonely visits. Only when she left for the war, some word was reported to her by her brothers, to the effect that her inspiration came from the fairies. This she strenuously denied. She said at Rouen that after she had begun to hear her Voices she took the least possible part in childish amusements. If she sang, she seldom or never danced; her godmother said she did not dance at all. She wreathed at the May tree garlands for Our Lady of Domremy; but, while she sometimes hung garlands on the tree as other children did, she never hung them there in honor of any saint. Only once did she hear her Voices near the fountain; nevertheless she
heard them day and night, at least four or five times a week for five years. As to the famous Oak wood, standing far above the tree and fountain, she never heard that it was the haunt of fairies; and never heard of any prophecy while at Domremy, that a wonderful maiden would come from that woodland border. It was only afterwards in France that she was told of such a prophecy; nor did she then believe it. It may be explained that the expression "to go into France" was an ordinary one at the time, and had reference to what was really the heart of France, the peculiarly royal domain of the Ile de France, the country, namely, around Paris. "To go into France," was said in places always and entirely French, and directly under the crown or royal family. Joan never heard her Voices, as far as we can know, in the oak wood; nor does any document state that she passed through it. We may be sure, however, that she did, when visiting almost ever Saturday her beloved shrine of Our Lady of Bermont. Some of her imaginative historians, slow to admit angelic visitation, find the awakening of her military spirit and genius in the mystic solitude of the oak woods, so awesome to the Celtic soul (which Joan had not); and in the insinuating rustle of forest leaves, and the hollowed ringing of evening bells, the source, and sole reality, of all Joan’s visions.
It is as impressive as remarkable that Joan invariably gives her name as La Pucelle, the ‘Little Maiden.’
Only once, as far as we have any document to show, does she give the name of d'Arc: that is, in the first session of her trial at Rouen. Even then she says she was called d 'Arc or Romee. La Pucelle was the name she gave when she first saw the Dauphin. So in her letters always, and conversation, sometimes putting the name of Jeanne before La Pucelle. Her Voices called her Jeanne La Pucelle, Daughter of God. All documents attest that she was universally known by the name of La Pucelle. Even Cauchon, in his charge at Rouen, said she was "commonly called La Pucelle ;" and the name or title continues to be used in all the Process and documents of the trial. Moreover, before leaving Domremy, she was known and called by this delightful and heavenly name. As to the title, "Maid of Orleans," it is never found in any contemporary document.
Section 3.—Her Birth and the Chronology of Her Life
Joan was born on the night of the Epiphany, wrote Perceval de Boulainvilliers, counselor and chamberlain of Charles VII, to the Duke of Milan, brother of the ill-starred Valentine; who died of grief because of the murder of her husband, the Duke of Orleans, by the Duke of Burgundy, John the Fearless. The year of her birth, 1412, may be considered sufficiently certain from the most trustworthy documents.
"I am about nineteen years old, "said Joan, at her trial, February 21, 1431—exactly nineteen years and forty-five days from January 6, 1412. The seventh of the twelve Articles of Rouen says that she left home at the age of seventeen; and the Promoter at the Rehabilitation said she died at the age of about nineteen.
The first apparition seems to have been in the summer of 1424—Joan says "in the summer." In her journey from Vaucouleurs to Chinon, February 23rd to March 6th, 1429, she said her heavenly visitors had been coming for four or five years. Four years as a minimum would bring us to 1425—February or March; therefore to the preceding summer, of 1424. Other words of hers confirm this year. At Rouen she constantly keeps to the statement that the visions began when. she was "about thirteen years"—in her thirteenth year. Thus she agrees with Alain Chartier, secretary to Charles VII. Thus, too, Boulainvilliers, who says Joan had been visited by her Voices for nearly five years when they became more urgent as Salisbury pressed on his campaign in France; he laid siege to Orleans in October, 1428. Towards the Ascension, 1428, Joan goes to Baudricourt at Vaucouleurs. On the 4th or 5th of May, eve of the Ascension, she strikes her first blow at Orleans by the seizure of the bastille of St. Loup. On the eve of the Ascension, May 14th, 1430, she is made prisoner at Compiegne.
Now in 1424, the Ascension fell on the 1st of June. Joan was fasting, she said, on the eve, May 31st. And so we may conclude with probability that the Prince of the Heavenly Host descended to see the little child, who had already, so long before the prescribed age, begun to fast.
It may be convenient to refer her to the flight of the people of Domremy with their cattle to Neufchateau, nine miles to the south. It is the only flight we read of; and so we conclude that Joan's vocation did not come from fierce and frequent razzias, which she witnessed, and from the lurid fires of flaming villages. Once, indeed, the church was injured by fire, and some houses of the village were burned, at least, in part. But the people, if they fled, must have promptly returned, for they continued to go to Mass at the neighboring church of Greux. We cannot even say that the church and houses were burned by the armed band, the rumor of whose approach caused the fear and flight of the people. In 1425 one such band drove off the cattle of Domremy; but seven or eight men sufficed to bring back the cattle, even from the strong castle, or retreat, of the raiders. Witnesses speak of only one such fear and flight; and it squares well with the driving off of the cattle in 1425. Joan was then fourteen years of age. We have the testimony of Boulainvillie'rs that the family of Joan suffered no misfortune during her years with them; and all
that we know of life at Domremy—the uninterrupted cultivation of the fields, the happy family reunions of the Bourlemonts, the childish play at fountain and May tree—confirm his words.
We are told by all that testified at Joan's Rehabilitation that she remained only four or five days at Neufchateau, and always with her parents; and that she was longing to get back to her home. There is, indeed, a statement in the Process of her trial that she spent fifteen days at Neufchateau. She may have returned thither later, to visit, let us suppose, one of her godmothers, who resided there. Or, perhaps a better explanation is that the scribe at Rouen made a mistake in his Roman numerals when copying them—a thing not at all inevitable. In any case there is no foundation for the silly story that Joan's ecclesiastical trial at Toul for alleged breach of promise, as the villainous D'Estivet charged, occurred at this date. There was clearly no time for such. The real time of this plot of her parents to keep her at home appears to have been when she had left Domremy, and was staying some weeks at Vaucouleurs, after her first visit to Baudricourt, May 13th, 1429.