HER CAPTURE AND INIQUITOUS
"In Thy sight are all they that afflict me: my heart hash expected reproach and misery. And I looked for one that would grieve together with me, but there was none; and for one that would comfort me, and I found none."—Ps. lxviii, 21-22.
JUDGED by man's day, Joan of Arc's climax of success was reached when she stood in the sanctuary of the cathedral at Reims, and saw the crown of France settle on the brow of Charles, the Dauphin. That was the supreme moment, for which she had lived, had fought, and had bled. In the coronation service she witnessed the fulfillment of her ambition, the realization of her mission. Her work seemed done.
With what heartfelt gratitude would she now have lifted her voice and sung her Nunc dimittis! With what an elastic step and light heart would she have made her way back to the village, where, in exchange for the din- of battle and the glare of palaces, she would have found that peace and seclusion, and that rest of home-life for which her whole soul yearned!
To the blessed Maid there was something distasteful, nay, altogether discordant, in the environment of court life, and a fit of home-sickness seems at this juncture to have seized her, so that she could not refrain from exclaiming to her friends: " Would that it were pleasing to God, my Creator, that I might now leave this scene and this life, and return to my father and mother, whom for the rest of my life I should like to serve, tending their sheep and doing their bidding. How enchanted would they be to have me home again."
As a matter of fact, Jeanne's mission was by no means as yet fulfilled. She was not to return to the village that had given her birth, and where she still hoped one day to lay her bones. No, God had other designs upon His chosen child. Her dear father, indeed, she was to send home, the bearer to his village of a deed of exemption from taxation granted at her request by the king, but she herself was never again to pace beside the meandering stream babbling past her cottage door, was never again to watch the sun setting in glory behind the village green, nor was she ever again to hear the vesper chimes from the tower of that church, which to her was the dearest spot on all God's earth.
The closing scene of Jeanne's life was to be not Domr6my on the Meuse, but Rouen on the Seine.
Truth to tell, this child of grace, this follower of Christ, was to triumph like her Master on the Cross. Her note of victory was to be struck not in the sanctuary of Reims, but on the Calvary of Rouen; the Maid was to die not amid a blaze of glory, but through flames of fire.
And now let us follow her career subsequent to the coronation, and let us note how at every stage of it the holy child is made to drink deeper and deeper of the chalice of bitterness, the nectar of sainted souls. "Can you drink the chalice?" Seems to be the one question that is being put her at every turn of her journey from the city of the coronation and the triumph, to the city of her condemnation and death. Never was there such a terribly striking contrast in any other famous life. As you read of disappointment followed by disaster, and disaster by what, but for the grace of God, must have been despair, the heart almost bleeds in its agonizing sympathy with the blameless girl whose one crime it was, that she had dared to do the work set her by God, and would not acknowledge that to be wrong which she knew to be right. Hers was a character altogether uncompromising when principle was in question.
Let us look a little more closely into those tiresome, tedious months made up of jealousies, intrigues, and iniquitous schemes to baffle and defeat her designs for the complete conquest of France. No doubt a succession of easily won victories marked the progress of the Dauphin's troops from Reims to St. Denis. Yes, all that is true, but true no less is it that much most precious time was wasted in receiving keys, and acknowledging acts of homage and submission, with other tokens of loyalty from the cities through which the king passed on his way North.
Meanwhile Bedford was losing no time. He was stealing a march upon Charles. Literally he was racing the king to Paris, and on August the 10th he dispatched a letter to his Majesty denying his right to the throne of France, and declaring that the Maid who had rendered such miraculous service to her country was nothing better than "an abandoned and ill-famed woman in man's clothes, and leading a corrupt life." The miserable, pleasure-loving king, instead of being stung to action by the plentiful insults of the English duke, and resolving to prove his royal rights at the point of the sword, seems to have been half ashamed of the glorious victories achieved under her flag by the Maid. He made Bedford no answer; he did nothing. Seeing the plight to which they were being brought by the king's unmanly irresolution, Jeanne determined to take matters into her own hands, and to push forward in conjunction with D'Alencon to the French capital. "Fair duke," she said, as she turned to him for aid, "cause your captains and men to arm, for I wish to see Paris nearer than yet I have seen it." Well did the Maid appreciate the situation? She fully understood Bedford's influence in Paris, and how the university and the leading aristocracy of the city would most likely stand by him, and unite to overthrow the Dauphin's forces. But she relied on the people whose sympathies were French, and who, unless they became cowed by the menaces of the English regent, would, she felt sure, be glad to welcome their only legitimate sovereign. Anyhow, Jeanne was persuaded that, no matter what might be the risk, Paris must be stormed, and a desperate attempt made to capture it. Till Paris was taken France was not won. Once the capital was wrested from the enemy the country would be sure to rally to Charles's oriflamme. The Duke D'Alencon, recognizing the force of her arguments, lent all his influence to strengthen an expedition with Paris for its objective.
No time was lost, and on August the 26th St. Denis was entered, and then D'Alencon tried to prevail on the king to come and join them in an attack upon the capital. "Sire, only show yourself before the walls of Paris," wrote the duke, "and we will compel the gates of Paris to open to you." Alas! The dilatory monarch, like so many others before and since his day, had no other answer to make to the urgent appeal but the fatal one, "I will come to-morrow." That morrow of action never dawned. The king never went farther than St. Denis, and it was not till September the 7th that he was dragged that far.
So enthusiastic was the Maid with the news of the king's arrival that she did not hesitate to proclaim that whole forces of troops would unite in making a resolute attack on Paris; she would escort her king before nightfall of the following day into his own capital.
What the Maid had planned to achieve might have been accomplished, had the rank and file under Rais and De Gaucourt been inspired by a loyalty such as actuated her own great soul. But there was treachery in the camp, and the men, like some of their leaders, growing weary of military discipline and service, were relapsing into ways of self-indulgence and carousal.
The warrior-Maid was not slow to note the want of soldier-like bearing among the men, and the general tone of restlessness, and even of insubordination prevailing among them. However, she saw there was nothing to be gained by waiting; better to strike at once. Accordingly, true to her word, on the morrow, September the 8th, the feast of Our Lady's Nativity, the Maid sallied forth with all her forces, and led so determined an attack on the gate St. Honore, that but for a chance shaft from an archer's bow which laid her low, an entrance into the capital city might have been made. Those who lived to tell the story have left on record how the soldier-Maid, with the glow of victory on her brow, led the assault, leaping the first moat which was dry, and plunging through the next which held deep water. Nothing daunted, the fearless girl forged her way through drowning waters till, plunging onward and springing forward, she struggled, agile as an athlete, up the side of the last moat, where she stood her ground amid a rain of arrows, cheering her men to action, and urging them in the name of St. Denis and the king to force the gate, to scale the wall, and take possession of the city. It was while standing beneath the walls of Paris, seeing her men mowed down like grass beside her, that the Maid felt an arrow spring into her flesh and pierce her through. Unable to stand erect, presently, faint with loss of blood and giddy with pain, she reeled and fell into the moat below, where she lay like one dead. But soon she recovered her self-consciousness, and remembering her mission, she dragged herself to the side of the steep parapet. Then from the moat there came forth the accents of her well-known pleading and cheering voice exhorting her men to be brave, to endure, to do their duty, and scale the walls and capture their capital before sundown. Wounded and helpless, there in the moat prone she lay, till at length her friends, unwilling to lose so valued a life, raised her up and bore her away before nightfall to La Chapelle, a village lying between Paris and St. Denis.
As they were lifting her under darkness of evening, the brave girl's only commentary on the situation was Quel dommage!"
Next morning the Maid arose betimes from her bed, undaunted and ready, in spite of weakness and pain, to sally forth and lead her troops once more to the walls of Paris. She felt convinced that, if only she could inspire those under her command with enthusiasm and confidence, the impregnable capital might yet be stormed and taken.
Imagine what must have been La Pucelle's feelings of disappointment and dismay when news was brought her by De Gaucourt, that it was the king's wish the siege of Paris should be abandoned, and the troops withdrawn at once. Scarcely could the warrior-girl bring herself to believe the king could have been so ill-advised, but when she was told it was by his orders that the bridge over the Seine had been broken down, she knew it was all only too true. She raised her eyes to heaven, she lifted her soul to God, but nothing did she say.
In her utter loneliness it was a comfort to Jeanne to wend her way to the cathedral, there to pour forth her soul in resignation to the ruling of Heaven. Before leaving the church she turned to Our Lady's altar, where, unbuckling her armor, she laid it, together with a sword taken in the melee before Paris, at the feet of that blessed Mother who is known to all the world as the Help of Christians, the Comfort of the Afflicted.
I do not propose to follow out in detail the Maid's sad life during the autumn and winter succeeding the failure before Paris. Those long, dreary, and monotonous months were helpful in purifying her great and generous soul, teaching her to realize more fully than before that the words "success" and "failure," which to the world mean so much, before God mean so little.
For any one seeking spiritual perfection, often enough nothing succeeds like failure, and I feel pretty sure, as I read the story of La Pucelle's matchless career, that nothing helped so much to chasten her generous spirit and ennoble her beautiful character as these disappointments, annoyances, and reverses, which taught her that she not only belonged to God inalienably, but depended upon Him entirely.
It cost the Maid no little courage to break away from D'Alencon, who had been so true and so loyal a friend to her. But there was no getting away from the king's command, which was that she should go to the aid of La Tremoille's cousin, D'Albret, who was engaged in an attack upon the English at St. Pierre le Moustier. It fell to the Maid's lot to conduct the operations.
As she sat her war-horse, exposed to the fire of the enemy, her devoted D'Aulon, fearing the worst, cried out to her," Jeanne, leave the spot; you are a mark for the enemy, you are all alone." "Alone I am not," was the Maid's ready reply;" I have fifty thousand by my side, and I will not move till the fortress is taken. Go, each one of you, and fetch faggots, hurdles, and anything you can find to bridge the moat and pass over." Such enthusiasm did her presence and word inspire that the men, becoming reckless of danger, sprang forward, filled the moat, and took the fortress.
Scenes such as these led the people and more especially the enemy, to believe that no weapon could hurt her, and no missile could pierce her. They declared she lived a charmed life. But she smiled at their credulity, and would remind her associates that she had been already twice severely wounded. "My life," she would protest, "is no more secure than of any other which is exposed to the fire of the enemy."
The attack on La Charite, which followed that on St. Pierre, was a dismal failure. Once more the troops were out of hand, and there was treachery in the camp. It is not altogether improbable that this arranged and contrived by La Tremoille himself, who could never rid himself of personal jealousy of the Maid. Anyhow, if he had not detained food, clothing, and munitions of war when they were most needed, the Maid might with far more probability have carried her point and captured the city.
It became daily clearer to La Pucelle that her enemies were of her own household, and that no matter what under ordinary circumstances might be the chances of warfare, there was little likelihood of victory when so-called friends were in league with the king's bitterest enemy.
For a while she retired from active service, and gave herself to prayer, to good works, and to visiting the wounded and dying in the military hospitals. She became the idol of all, but more especially of the poor, who recognized in her sweet, unselfish character one who had what was far better than wealth to bestow upon them—sympathy and love. How quick are the poor to discern the true servant of God! How unfailing in their judgments as to who is their real friend! They believed that the Maid was all-powerful in heaven as on earth. Let me cite one instance: at Lagny, when an unbaptized babe lay dying in its mother's arms, Jeanne was sent for. She came at once, and as she prayed over the ailing child, fading like a flower on its mother's breast, the color was seen returning to the pale, dimpled cheeks, and soon the infant was noticed to stir with a new life.
Later on, at Rouen, the Maid's adversaries tried to make this occurrence tell against her. They charged her with laying claim to supernatural powers of healing. But the Maid smiled at their trumped-up charge; saying: "I care not if people do say I raised the child to life. All I know myself is that I trusted in God's goodness to save the child's soul, and so I joined the other women in prayer that the babe might be baptized."
It was subsequent to this event that Jeanne went to Selles, where the king held court. But she remained there only a short time. She made her headquarters at Bourges, lodging with the good Touroldes, and spending much of her time with the king's young wife, Marie of Anjou, who was to her a dear and intimate friend.
With the return of spring came the Maid's opportunity of signalizing herself once more in the service of king and country. The English and Burgundians were concentrating their forces round Compi6gne, and the warrior-girl, realizing what it all meant, and that no time must be lost if she was successfully to break through this iron ring and bring succor to her countrymen, made up her mind to enter the city forthwith, and thence to sally forth and scatter the forces encompassing it, and so save that loyalist stronghold from being seized by Anglo-Burgundians.
What a plucky, valiant little town it was, scorning all overtures from the enemy, and maintaining allegiance to the crown of France under the utmost difficulty! The Maid herself seems to have had some presentiment of what her devotion to Compi6gne was likely to cost her. For one morning, after receiving Communion in the church of St. Jacques, she said to those who were following her from the church: "I bid you, dear friends, mark well that I have been sold and betrayed, and shall shortly be put to death. Pray, I beseech you, for me without ceasing, for my service to the king and to his kingdom is coming to an end."
It would appear that before her arrival in the city, her Voices had warned her that before the feast of the Baptist's Nativity she would be the captive of her enemies. Her one prayer was that if this were to be so, she might die by their hands at once without a long-drawn-out captivity. The only answer vouchsafed her to this request was that she must prepare herself to accept whatever God was pleased to send her.
It was the afternoon of May the 23rd when the Maid with five hundred men, foot and horse, rode forth from Compiegne, swept over the bridge, and captured the enemy's outposts. It was sundown, and the besieging party were unbuckling their armor, preparing to take a well-earned night's repose, when they saw, riding at the head of an advancing troop, the Maid accoutered in scarlet and gold, with banner held aloft. Quick as lightning the Burgundians, who were far the greater force, drew together and flung themselves with a their weight upon the aggressive foe. Seeing them-selves hopelessly overpowered, the king's troops found it necessary to fall back, but in the meanwhile the English had arrived, and were intercepting the progress of the retiring party. Presently, when the Maid, realizing the gravity of the situation, turned her charger's head towards the city gates, and was about to ride back across the bridge, and to pass under the portcullis for shelter within the city, she saw the drawbridge rise up on high, and the gates closed against her. Almost before she could realize the desperate character of the situation, she, with her devoted followers, was surrounded. In the struggle that followed she was dragged from her horse, bound as a captive, and led away by Wandonne, a retainer of the Burgundian duke. Without delay she was carried off to Beaulieu in Picardy, whence she was moved to Beaurevoir near Cambrai, and in the autumn of 1430 she was sold to Bedford.
At first it looked as if her trial would take place in Paris, but the duke, distrustful of its citizens, conveyed her to Rouen, where he knew he was more likely to achieve his ends in the way he wished. Here, at Rouen, La Pucelle was shut up in a dungeon like room in the tower, where for nearly three months, when her mock trials began, she was chained up in an iron cage, as though she were some wild thing too dangerous to be let loose behind iron bars. Even after her release from this most cruel confinement, the broken girl of eighteen summers was held in irons both day and night, till the morning of her martyrdom itself. It would be impossible to describe what this poor child suffered during those dreary months of misery, of insult, and of petty persecution, which lasted until February the list, 1431, the first day of her so-called trial.
To Jeanne herself it was a positive relief when the trial began. She felt that, unless it was to be an organized miscarriage of justice, the verdict could go one way only. Experience certainly had taught her how easily men might be bribed, might be duped, might be blinded. Prejudice, ignorance, and still more passion, were weapons which she had seen carve their way, triumphing over truth, but she could not bring herself to believe that statesmen, and still less churchmen, could trample on their honor, and wade through innocent blood merely to attain some end, which was the creation of a foul conspiracy against truth. The guileless girl felt sure that in an open court she could clear her name of any charge against it. How could she or any other noble soul have imagined it possible that, in a Christian age, in a Christian city, there could have been found a bench of such infamous churchmen as actually sat in judgment against her? Conceivably, there might be found on the bench of judges one or other perjured creature willing to sell himself for gold or position; but who, before it actually took place, could ever have dreamed it possible that, outside the court of Caiaphas, there was to be found on earth an entire bench of judges vying with one another in perverting justice, in wholesale perjury, and in unparalleled cruelty?
Of the conduct of Pierre Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais, the presiding judge; of Jean Lemaitre, the vice-inquisitor; of Estivet, the promoter, nothing can be said too bad, or rather, nothing bad enough. These three names I mention beyond all others, because in the decree of Calixtus III, authorizing a fresh investigation of her case, these three infamous characters are mentioned as being the persons who most of all stand charged with the guilt of the murder of the Maid.
I will not harrow your feelings by placing before you the iniquitous cross-examination to which La Pucelle was subjected, and in which she proved herself to be more than a match for those who held her fate in the hollow of their hand. Here and now, I will remind you only of some of those articles which were drawn up by the bench of judges describing her as a devil-worshipper, a traitor, a coward on the point of despair, a suicide, an idolater, a blasphemer of God, a schismatic, and a apostate. Terrible to narrate, to all these trumped up charges against her even the university of Paris assented, gratuitously adding that in its judgement she was also a liar and an enchantress. No one can peruse the record of the trial without having it forced upon him that the whole bad business was not unlike the trial of her divine Master before her; a gross miscarriage of justice, conducted by a bunch of churchmen resolved to hand their victim over to the secular arm to be done to death. Nothing could possibly save even so pure, so brave, and so innocent a girl as Jeanne, in a trial presided over by men who were united determined to do all in their power to force her to misstate her case, who failing in this, made out she had said what she had not, and then went on to say she had not said what actually she had.
Failing to get her to sign her own death-warrant, they next tried to unnerve and intimidate her by displaying before her eyes instruments of torture in the hands of the torturer. But the girl, pure and brave and true, if for a moment the sight of fire and iron unnerved her, soon regained her self-possession, declaring to her iniquitous judges that they might tear her limb from limb, but never would they drag from her anything but the truth, that her mission was from God, and His divine Will her only rule of action. At length the long-drawn-out trial came to a close.
On Wednesday, May the 30th, 1431, the day before Corpus Christi, as the clock was striking seven in the morning, the prisoner was told of the verdict of the court. She rose up, dressed in white, and fortifying her soul with Holy Communion, she prayed for strength to endure the ordeal of fire that awaited her.
Mounting a cart she was driven slowly over the cobble-stones to the great marketplace, where ten thousand citizens had come forth to see her burned alive. Calmly she surveyed the scene, slowly she ascended the platform on which was the stake to which they fastened her chaste limbs. Presently the flames began to leap up from below and sway about her, and curl around her, piercing her flesh and devouring her noble form, till soon there was nothing left of her precious body but dust and ashes. We are told that while the fire was consuming her, above the hissing of the flames, and the cries of the women, and the screams of the crowd, there rose up, beyond the cloud of smoke which hung like a pall above the pyre, the music of a sweet and plaintive voice pleadingly exclaiming: " Jesu! Marie!"
So praying on the altar of sacrifice this pure, brave, and lovely soul was caught up into the Everlasting Arms to be clasped in the bosom of God, while her chaste body, which for a while had held the imperishable treasure, now reduced to ashes, was gathered up and tossed into the river, beyond the reach of a world that was not worthy of her.
Beautiful and inspiring is the thought of the Maid, sitting beside her spinning-wheel at Domremy, still more beautiful and inspiring is she as we follow her into the sanctuary of Reims, thanking God for -her victory; but most beautiful and most inspiring of all is this brave and lovely girl, as we look up at her, supreme in strength, sublime in faith, on her cross in the cleansing fires.
La Pucelle de Dieu reminds us that there is no Christian life that can shirk the Cross. We are warned that coming to the service of God we must prepare our souls for temptation; we are further told that in the measure in which we are acceptable and pleasing to God we must share His Cross, that blessed and happy is the servant of God who has found his cross, and is bearing it bravely, like Joan of Arc, after our divine Leader who died upon the Cross.
Suffering is the badge of all the followers of the Crucified. It is our indispensable training for the kingdom of glory. Is it not necessary that we should suffer like the Master and so enter into our glory? Would that we were apt scholars in this school of sanctity! Let us take courage from the example of our sainted heroine who bore her cross so bravely. No matter what may be the ordeal through which we shall be called to pass, it will be light and easy compared with the protracted tortures of the Maid's last months of life; it will be tempered to our power of endurance.
Some cross there is awaiting each one of us, one cross for you and another for me. If we are to bear our trials with patience, endurance, with peaceful resignation, with gladness, rejoicing, like the Maid, to drink from the chalice of Christ's passion, then like her we must prepare for it by close union with God, our Lord, by love of His holy will, by devotion to His sacred person.
0 Christ, if there were no hereafter
It still were best to follow Thee:
Tears are a nobler gift than laughter—
Who bears Thy yoke alone is free."
THE MAID APPEALS TO THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY
Look on this country, look on fertile France
And see the cities, and the towns defaced
By wasting ruin of the cruel foe I
As looks the mother on her lowly babe,
When death doth close his tender dying eyes,
See, see the pining malady of France;
Behold the wounds, the most unnatural wounds,
Which thou thyself hast given her woeful breast!
0, turn thy edged sword another way:
Strike those that hurt, and hurt not those that help!
One drop of blood drawn from thy country's bosom
Should grieve thee more than streams of foreign gore:
Return thee, therefore, with a flood of tears,
And wash away thy country's stained spots.
1 King Henry VI, Act iii, sc.3.