HER RELIEF OF ORLEANS AND CROWNING OF THE KING
"She kept him safe from his enemies, and she defended him from seducers. . . . She forsook not the just when he was sold, but delivered him from sinners; she went down with him into the pit ; and in bands she left him not, till she brought him the sceptre of the kingdom, and power against those that oppressed him."—Wisdom x, 12-14.
AFTER two days in the saddle, and two nights lying in her armor on the ground, the warrior maid saw rising, on the northern side of the river, the fortress city of Orleans in the last extremity of distress. There it stood girt about by an army that had raised up around it a line of fortifications, mounted for the first time in the history of warfare with cannon. As the Maid gazed upon the heart-rending spectacle, recalling to mind all the anguish which such a siege as that had meant to her countrymen, girl-like she wept. The fate of her country depended, as she so fully realized, on Orleans. It was April, and the city had now held out valiantly against Bedford for more than six months. Unless she could raise the siege at once, and so relieve the worn-out garrison, she felt sure that the worst would happen. The city must be starved into capitulating. The Battle of Herrings was fresh in her memory, nor could she free her mind of the tantalizing boast of Suffolk and his troops, that two hundred Englishmen were ready to fight and defeat eight hundred of her own countrymen.
So dispirited had the besieged under Dunois become that terms of surrender had been actually drawn up and offered to the Burgundians. But Bedford, sportsmanlike, intervened, declaring it was not likely that after he had beaten the covers others were to have the birds. If the city was to be handed over at all, it must be given up to none but the English. Such was his contention, but to those conditions the royalist city could not agree, and so the English, exasperated, tightened their forces about her, Gladsdale swearing that before many days he would take the place and put to the sword every man, woman, and child in it.
This, then, was the position of affairs when Joan of Arc appeared upon the scene, and met Dunois, who had come forth from the citadel to greet her What next happened was the unexpected. Dunois made a feint attack on St. Loup with the object of drawing attention from the Maid, who meanwhile with two hundred men passed within a stone's throw of the fortifications, unhurt, nay unattacked, into the city. How this ever came about passes comprehension. Were the besiegers awed by the apparition of a girl leading an army, or were they paralyzed by the sight of the white Maid on her black charger? I do not pretend to know. This only is certain, that whereas Joan might so easily have been kept out of Orleans by the English, she actually crossed their lines and entered the city with a handful of men triumphant.
All this took place on April the 29th.From henceforth Joan of Arc was to be known as the Maid of Orleans. We may well imagine with what mad enthusiasm the beleaguered city received her, their savior-guest. It was with no little difficulty that she managed to make her way on horseback through the throng pressing her on every side, to the great cathedral, where she rendered public thanks to the real Savior of the city, Christ Jesus.
The next few days were spent in examining the fortifications, testing the lines of defense, reconnoitering the ground, in grasping the general state of affairs, and in inspecting the troops. With so keen a soldier's eye did the Maid survey and realize the situation, that skilled tacticians like -Dunois, La Hire, D'Alencon and others marveled not a little to find themselves wholly outwitted by a village girl, who did not know how to write her own name. With such courage and confidence, too, did her presence inspire the rank and file of the army that, to borrow Dunois' words, "five hundred Frenchmen were now ready to face the whole strength of the English."
On May the 4th she astonished not only her friends, but her foes also. On that Wednesday it was that she vaulted suddenly into the saddle, rode round the ramparts, halting at the Burgundy gate ; and then for three hours in the very thick of the fight, holding her banner aloft, fearlessly she sat her charger beside Fort St. Loup, cheering her archers and directing their attack till the killed and wounded lying thick around her told of the heavy loss that had been inflicted on the English, while for the first time, after months of sullen silence, wild shouts within the city proclaimed a glorious victory for the French.
This was Jeanne's first experience of the havoc and the horrors of real warfare. The sickening sights she saw pained her to the heart, and as she dismounted to thank the God of battles for the victory, she forgot not to offer a fervent prayer for the souls of the faithful warriors, who had been sent to their account. She herself had drawn no weapon, had shed no blood, nay, rather she had done what lay in her power to check bloodshed and slaughter. With her own hands she tended the wounded, taking care that they received surgical aid, and the rites of the Church. Nor did she ever forget to urge, with all the vehemence of her soul, her combatants to prepare for battle as for death, by prayer and the sacraments. On these spiritual weapons of warfare she relied for victory far more than on the crossbow and the sword. She forgot nothing, she neglected nothing.
We may well understand how irresistible, under a warrior-maid like Jeanne, became the fighting stuff of France. Her presence, while vitalizing her own troops, paralyzed the forces against her.
Call to mind what happened on the 7th of May. Her prediction that the siege would be raised was verified. On that day, for ten hours, a most determined attack was made on the Tourelles, the great bastille occupying the center of the famous bridge, which, with its twenty-two arches, spanned the Loire. Jeanne herself led the troops, supported by Dunois and De Gaucourt. Again and again were the French driven back, and again and again did she urge them to press forward and capture the place. Seeing her opportunity she herself, quickly seizing hold of a scaling-ladder, was about to plant it against the fortress wall to scale it, when a bowman's shaft pierced her right shoulder. For a moment she staggered and then fell helpless to the ground. At once the rumor began to spread that the Maid was bleeding to death. The French, losing sight of their heroine, began at once to lose heart, while the English, on the contrary, believing " the Demon Witch " was really slain, were beside themselves with the hope of immediate victory. Before an hour had passed, to the unutterable surprise of all, having with her own hand withdrawn from her bleeding shoulder the barbed arrow, the Maid reappeared, crying out to her followers, " When my banner touches the wall the place is yours! " No sooner had she spoken than she bounded forward through the thick of the fight, and lifting her sacred flag high upon the walls once more she cried aloud, "The victory is ours ! " It was so, the iron gates were stormed and were being battered in; the keep was filling with men, and presently the great tower itself began to totter, and finally fell into the river, crushing and drowning the forces under Talbot which were not already slain or taken prisoners. Escape was impossible; the fort with the great bridge was in flames.
With the capture and fall of the Tourelles, Orleans was delivered. France was saved. The Maid had actually accomplished the first part of the work that had been set her. She, a village maiden, who had had no experience of war or even of soldiering, achieved what had baffled and baulked the best trained generals in the Dauphin's army. She did, as a young untutored girl, what even to-day is an insoluble puzzle to the military tactician. Jeanne d'Arc fought and gained under the walls of Orleans what has been described as one of the decisive battles of the world. What a commentary on the words: " The weak things of this world hash God chosen that He may confound the strong!"
When the morning of the 8th of May dawned, some watchmen on the towers of the city noticed there was no stir in the English camp. It was empty. The siege of Orleans was raised. The Maid's prophecy was verified.
The troops under Suffolk and Talbot, feeling it was waste of time fighting against men led by a mad girl who was an arch-fiend, could not be induced to stay and face the enemy. Before the sun was up the English had struck camp; they were gone, they were out of sight.
Dunois, elated by success, was for pursuing them, but the Maid, on the contrary, said: " If they attack us, let us fight valiantly; but if they fly, let them. Seek not their blood. This is Sunday, a day of rest; let us spend it thanking God for the victory."
It was so spent. An altar was erected on the ground where the English camp had stood. There in the midst of the triumphant army and the exultant citizens, beside themselves with joyous gratitude for that most wondrous and glorious termination to a seven months' siege, the Great Sacrifice was offered, while the God of Armies was praised and thanked for the victory.
Mass being ended, and the Te Deum sung, the Maid, instead of taking a well-earned rest, pushed forward without delay, going by Blois to Tours, whither the Dauphin had come from Chinon to meet her. That interview went to show that the listless Charles was yet capable of being occasionally stirred by fine emotions. He met the Maid bareheaded, and expressed his wish that her family should henceforth quarter the lilies of France on their arms. But the king's nature seemed incapable of sustained endeavor, so that the Maid found it a far easier task to storm an English camp than to rouse the sluggard scion of France and his court. Every argument she could think of Jeanne used in order to try and spur on the Dauphin, and to prevail upon him to accompany her to Reims, there to be anointed king with the holy chrism of Clovis. "Noble Dauphin," she pleaded piteously, " hold not such long and so many councils "; but her eloquence was wasted on the indolent princeling, a mere tool in the hands of men like the intriguing La Tremoille, and satisfied with "fullness of bread and idleness."
Taking refuge in the contemptible excuse that he could not think of proceeding to Reims till the valley of the Loire was cleared of the enemy, and the towns en route had offered him their loyal submission, the spiritless and craven prince declined the Maid's offer. He would not go. Jeanne, realizing there was nothing for it but to take matters into her own hands, gathered about her a strong force, and made up her mind to compel the Dauphin to a sense of his duty; she would shame him into going forward to Reims for his coronation. Questioned as to the possibility of her success in clearing a way for her indolent sovereign through the valley so completely in the hands of the enemy, she replied: " What ! Do you think that if I were not sure of victory I should be here? I tell you I would far rather be in my father's meadows tending sheep than facing these ceaseless hardships and perils."
Her march from Tours to Reims was not merely successful, but it may be described as a continued progress from triumph to triumph, from victory to victory. At Jargeau, Suffolk, that fine, strong, and stubborn English soldier, was forced to yield and surrender himself prisoner. Other towns fell in quick succession, and at Patay the unflinching Talbot was also captured. In on single week, between the storming of Jargeau on June the 11th and the victory of Patsy on the 18th of the same month, an open road was cleared for the Dauphin to Reims. The campaign had all been planned, and it was all carried out by the unlettered village girl, whom Guy de Laval has described for us as " a thing divine to look on as well as to hear." Who will deny that her mission was from God?
Referring to this peasant girl's generalship, " everybody," remarked D'Alencon, "was amazed to see that in all things appertaining to warfare the Maid acted with as much knowledge and capacity as if she had been twenty or thirty years trained in the art of war, while in all other things she was as simple as any other young girl." D'Armagnac went even further in his eulogy of the soldier-maiden. " In the manner of the conduct and the ordering of troops," he writes, " and in that of placing them in battle array, and of animating them, Jeanne showed as much capacity as the most accomplished captain in the art of war."
Let the incredulous offer what explanation they will of the Maid's marvelous, matchless skill as tactician and leader of men, there is, after all, one explanation, and one only, of her military genius, and it is this—that having called her to fight for the deliverance of her fatherland, God Himself dowered her with the genius and the skill and the endurance to accomplish it. She was, let us ever bear in mind, " La Pucelle de Dieu." Nor did she ever forget to Whom she belonged, or to Whom she owed her victories. She was a " witness faithful and true."
Unable to discover any further excuse for holding back, Charles felt compelled to start for Reims. He set out on the feast of SS. Peter and Paul, 1429. This march, too, was a triumphal progress. Troyes capitulated without a blow being struck, and Reims opened its gates to welcome its legitimate king, though it had been set down as uncompromisingly in favor of the English. On the 16th of July Charles the Dauphin made his royal entry into the city brave with bunting and garlands, the bells pealing, the trumpets braying, the cannons roaring, while the massed throngs, beside themselves with joy, shout their acclamations of welcome, delight, and homage.
The following day was Sunday, July the17th. It was the day for which the Maid had lived, had fought, had bled, had prayed. The supreme moment of her life's mission seemed to her to have at last arrived. Look up, and in imagination picture before your eyes, if you can, Jeanne d'Arc, La Vierge Lorraine, La Gloire de la France!
See her in the garb of battle, with sacred emblem in hand, standing beside the king, who, kneeling in the sanctuary of the cathedral, is surrounded by bishops and abbots, clergy and serving-men, while the pride and glory of his kingdom, the peers of the realm, fill the nave of the great basilica with a blaze of gold and a tangle of color lit up by the gleam of a thousand tapers.
Presently the stirring, martial music is hushed, and in the impressive silence that follows, while the crown of France is being held above his brow, is heard the king's voice. He is pledging himself to be true to his coronation oath, and to defend his subjects from all wrong. The oath being taken, and the king being crowned, Jeanne the Maid, weeping with emotion, sinks to her knees before him, offers him her homage, and then pleads fervently, now that1her work is done, now that the siege of Orleans has been raised and her liege lord has been crowned, she may be released from further service and may have leave to return home again to pass the rest of her days working for her thrifty parents, whose simple surroundings were far more to her liking than the entourage of a court.
What a beautiful revelation of a beautiful character is here! Had the Maid been what her enemies have so vainly attempted to make out she was—an adventuress, a sorceress, one to be "burned as a heretic or drowned as a witch" should we find her on her knees beseeching the king to be allowed to return as a poor girl to her monotonous housework and spinning-wheel in an obscure village? No, on the contrary, we should find her improving the occasion, crowning her day of success by seeking the hand of some prince of royal blood, with whom to dispute place and, fame in mansions majestic surrounded by society.
But the white Maid's ambitions could be satisfied by no great temporal-honors, by no mere royal gifts or human privilege. Hers was a high, vaulting ambition, leaping beyond the very gates of heaven itself; the prize for which she yearned was in the power of no earthly potentate to bestow. With streaming eyes and outstretched arms her pleadings were for a smile of approval from her King Eternal, from Jesus Christ, in Whose Name and by Whose help she had done the thing she had. Having done it, she asked no thanks, she sought no reward, she became altogether what, off duty, she always was—Jeanne, the peasant child of Domremy; Jeanne, the little client of Mary, God's Mother.
Wonderful was her call to arms, wonderful her gaining over of Baudricourt, wonderful her audience with the Dauphin, more wonderful her relief of Orleans, yet more wonderful still her crowing of the king; but what is most wonderfully wonderful, as well as most beautifully beautiful at all, is the ever-present revelation to us throughout all these achievements of her childlike character – sweet and fair and pure as the bloom of spring. Never on God’s earth has history pointed out to us sublime, so enchanting, so fascinating a personality.
Do not seek to discover the secret of that fascination as you follow her from victory to victory, seated warrior-like upon her sable charger; do not hope to understand it as you accompany her in spirit through the various stages of her matchless campaign. Nor will you came to know anything of the depths of that brave and beautiful soul till you begin to catch a glimpse of her, if I may so express it, off her guard, when alone in communion with God. When not leading her troops, when off duty, when free, whither fly Jeanne's thoughts? Before whom does her soul expand? To whom has she recourse? At whose feet is she pleading with tears upon her cheeks? At the feet of her Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.
It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that during the whole of that extraordinary campaign, from the gates of Orleans to the sanctuary at Reims, when Joan of Arc was not in the saddle she was on her knees. Prayer was the breath of her life, the soul of her soul. She lived in the presence of God, she basked in the sunshine of His smile, she borrowed all her strength, as she received all her genius, from Him. As a child apart from Him and His Will, it is impossible to form a picture of her.
The secret of her success, as of her sanctity, was her childlike clinging to God. In Him she lived, she moved, she had her being. It was this intimate union with God that helped her to despise all flattery of courtiers and to forget even her own self; or if ever she was thrown across the thought of self at all, she thought of herself only as Jeanne, " the handmaiden of the Lord."
In her thirteenth year, as you may recollect, she vowed her virginity to God. In simple words she has told us so. During all her subsequent life so watchful was she over this " pearl beyond all price " that, except on occasions when women were with her, she would not even unbuckle her armor while sleeping at night. We are told by members of her entourage that the mere sight of her inspired a sense of purity, that in her presence all that was unclean seemed to shrink into the background, not daring to reveal itself in presence of the Maid.
Another token of the Maid's sanctity, as well as of her love of purity, was her self-denying life. Take the matter of meat and drink. While her chivalrous friends, feeling nothing was good enough for La Pucelle, would offer her viands rare and costly, she would smile, saying such dainties were not for her. She preferred a simpler diet. A few slices of bread dipped in a cup of wine and water were often support enough for her during a long fighting day. Never could she be persuaded to indulge her appetite.
These may seem small matters, but they point like the weather-vane, they tell a truth. To live in the presence of God, to keep constant guard over virtue, to breathe the atmosphere of prayer, never to indulge the appetites, and always to exercise self-control, are unmistakable marks of " a life hid with Christ in God." They mean complete self-conquest; Jeanne's conquest of self was her most glorious victory of all.
We must not lay aside the picture of the fighting Maid upon which we have been so keenly looking, without drawing from it a lesson, which it ought to teach every one of us. To me, it seems that what we have to learn from her life at Domremy, before Orleans, and in Reims is this, not to be elated by success or depressed by failure. This may seem an easy lesson enough. But is it so? Are not many of us as much spoiled by success as others among us are hardened by failure? What the Maid teaches us is this, bravely and whole-heartedly and perseveringly to pursue our interior life, our close union " hid with Christ in God " under all circumstances, no matter whether those circumstances be flattering and seemingly helpful, or trying and apparently hurtful.
Let us realize with the Maid that we come from God, that we belong to God, and that we have each one of us a mission to carry out for God, and then all will be well with us, whether life shall run over rough ways or over smooth. Like the Maid, be persuaded that although clouds may lower and storms - threaten—nay, thunders roar—yet if only you belong to God, and like her lie placidly in the hollow of His hand, He will close it over you in protection, shielding you in the day of distress even as He guarded the heroine Jeanne. On the other hand, when prosperity like the sun shines over you in noonday glory, and the buoyancy of victory so bears you up, that your feet seem scarcely to touch the earth across which they bound with delight, remember then, as did this warrior-maiden, that without God you are just nothing at all ; that were He for a moment to relax His hold over you, you would at once relapse into that nothing out of which His love drew you; and formed and fashioned you. With Him what is there we may not achieve? Apart from Him what can we avail? "Without Me you can do nothing."
"Servants must not forget their place." We are God's servants, no matter what our position on the social ladder. Let us keep our place as servants of God. We cannot improve on that. It was because Jeanne d'Arc never lost sight of her true position before God, because always and everywhere she was His handmaiden, and a ready instrument in His hands for the doing of His Holy Will, that He was able to make use of her for great ends, sending her unspoiled by success or failure on her great mission to the Dauphin of France. Who will deny that the mission with which she was charged was carried out fully and adequately?
May we not apply the words of my text to her and what she did for the Dauphin of France? "She kept him safe from his enemies, and she defended him from seducers. . . . She forsook not the just when he was sold, but delivered him from sinners: she went down with him into the pit, and in bands she left him not, till she brought him the scepter of the kingdom, and power against those that oppressed him." Under God, Joan of Arc routed her foes, saved her fatherland, crowned her king, she herself remaining to the last what she was at the beginning, a maiden pure as she was brave, simple as she was great—La Vierge Lorraine, La Pucelle de Dieu.
THE CROWNING OF THE KING
The morn was fair
When Reims re-echoed to the busy hum
Of multitudes, for high solemnity
Assembled. To the holy fabric moves
The long procession, through the streets bestrewn
With flowers and laurel boughs. The courtier throng
Were there, and they in Orleans, who endured The siege right bravely; Gaucourt, and
La Hire, The gallant Xaintrailles, Boussac, and Chabannes, La Fayette, name that freedom still shall love, Alencon, and the bravest of the brave,
The Bastard Orleans, now in hope elate,
Soon to release from hard captivity
His dear beloved brother; gallant men,
And worthy of eternal memory,
For they, in the most perilous times of France, Despaired not of their country.
By the King The delegated damsel passed along,
Clad in her battered arms. She bore on high Her hallowed banner to the sacred pile,
And fixed it on the altar, whilst her hand
Poured on the monarch's head the mystic oil,
Wafted of yore by milk-white dove from Heaven
(So legend says) to Clovis when he stood
At Reims for baptism. . . .
The missioned Maid
Then placed on Charles's brow the crown of
And back retiring, gazed upon the King
One moment, quickly scanning all the past,
Till in a tumult of wild wonderment
She wept aloud. The assembled multitude
In awful stillness witnessed ; then at once,
As with a tempest-rushing noise of winds
Lifted their mingled clamors.
SOUTHEY'S Joan of Are.