A dark hour for France

The long-dreaded raid of the Burgundians came to Domremy that year. In July, 1428, the enemy swept in from the westward with fire and sword. What happened to the other villages is not told, but one morning the alarm ran through the streets of Domremy, the bells rang, the villagers wildly bundled their possessions into carts, and with their Rocks went helter-skelter down the road toward Neufchateau, a fortified town. The warning had been in time, and they got safely away with their chief possessions. A good many of the fugitives put up at an inn kept by a worthy woman called "La Rousse," from her ruddy hair. In that day when surnames were few, such nicknames were much the fashion.

Joan, strong and willing, assisted La Rousse with her household labors, heavier than usual with a whole village as guests. Within a week, however, word came that the raiders were gone, after burning or partly burning the village in revenge for its lack of spoil. The villagers returned to find their homes in a state of havoc, their little church so damaged by


fire that the people of Domremy for a time attended the church of the adjoining village of Greux.

But now came news of greater and graver events. The English having conquered northern France were rapidly moving southward, occupying towns, plundering right and left. Jargeau, Meung, Beaugency, on the river Loire, were taken. Worse than this, the great city of Orleans was besieged. It was the twelfth of October that the siege had begun; it may have been a fortnight later when the report reached Domremy.

It was a dark hour for France. Orleans was the key to the country below the Loire; if the English captured it, France would be no longer France, but a chattel of England—it was little more than that already. As for Charles VII, he would end his days in exile, probably in Scotland or Spain.

Joan's Voices now became very urgent. We have her own statement that two or three times a week they exhorted her to go to France.

"The Voice kept urging me—I could no longer endure it. It told me that I would raise the siege of Orleans, it told me to go to Robert de Baudricourt, captain, and that he would give me men; for I was a poor girl, knowing neither how to ride nor to conduct war."

Joan was face to face with the work she had to do. Until now it had seemed hazy and far off—something for the future, never quite to be met as a reality. Now she must act. The thought dazed her.


Her parents must not know. Jacques d'Arc would promptly deprive her of her liberty; he might even make good his threat of two years before, and so put an end to her mission before it had begun. Yet it was necessary to speak to somebody—one who could make even a beginning possible. The young girl was torn with emotions; she had never disobeyed her parents, now she was planning to mislead them.

Of this she said: "Since God had commanded it, it was right to do it." She added that if she had been a daughter of a king, still would she have gone. She said that her Voice had been willing that she should tell her parents, except for the sorrow they would have caused her. Her Voice had left it to her to tell her father and her mother, or to keep silent. We feel something of the struggle behind these words.

She finally turned to one as humble as herself, a peasant, Durand Laxart, of Buret', a village near Vaucouleurs. Laxart had married her mother's cousin, and as he was much older than herself, Joan called him "uncle." She somehow got word to the Laxart home that she wished to see him. When Laxart arrived, she begged of him to ask her parents that she might be allowed to go home with him to care for his wife, then in delicate health. Knowing nothing of her real purpose, this good soul agreed. The consent of her parents obtained, Joan with her uncle set out on her great mission.

There is a question as to the time of their going, but it must have been somewhat after the news of the siege of Orleans.


There are good reasons for believing that it was near the end of December, 1428, within a week or two of Joan's seventeenth birthday. As to their mode of travel, it is likely that they walked; also, that they set out early, for the distance to Buret' was considerable. Of those who testified later, only three recalled having seen them go: little Mengette, to whom Joan had said: "Adieu, Mengette, I commend thee to God"; and Jean Waterin and Gerard Guillemette, who saw them pass through Greux and heard Joan say adieu to the people there.

But to little Hauviette, la preferee, she had sent no word of her going; perhaps she could not.

"I did not know that she had gone," Hauviette said, telling of it long after; "and I wept bitterly. She was so good, and I loved her so much. She was my friend."

France owes a debt of gratitude to Durand Laxart

Leaving Greux behind them, Joan and Uncle Laxart took the road that follows the Meuse—a road frozen and rough at that season. It is a strange picture when we think of it—those two peasants, as humble as any to be found in France, the man in a wool cap and jerkin; the girl wearing a hood, come sort of cape, a worn and patched red skirt, both of them in sabots, setting out on a winter's day to lift up a fallen kingdom.


Durand Laxart was ignorant of his part in the mission until they got well beyond the village. Then Joan said:

"I must tell you something. I wish to go to France—to the Dauphin, to have him crowned."

The people of Domremy always spoke of "going to France" as if it were a separate country. Honest Durand Laxart would seem to have been too startled to reply. He knew Joan's earnest and devout nature, and that she spoke seriously. Then immediately she added:

"Has it not already been said that France would be desolated by a woman and must be restored by a maid? I want you to go and tell Sire Robert de Baudricourt to have me conducted to where my lord the Dauphin is."

Very likely Durand Laxart had never in his life spoken a word to Robert de Baudricourt. He had watched that burly captain ride by, at the head of his bristling guard, and he may now have dimly wondered how long a peasant like himself would last after entering the grim presence on such an errand. Yet he seems not to have hesitated. Whether or not he believed in the prophecy, he believed in Joan. His reply to her is lost, but he took her at once to Vaucouleurs. The nation of France owes a debt of gratitude to Durand Laxart.



Joan faces de Baudricourt

That afternoon, or next morning, Joan and Uncle Laxart toiled up the steep hill to the governor's castle. Unusual visitors in that forbidding place of stone bastions and armed men, they seem to have had little difficulty in obtaining admission to the governor's presence. If Laxart himself made any statement there it has been forgotten. None was needed. Joan from the beginning of her mission never lacked for words, never was awed or embarrassed before any earthly dignity. She said later that she recognized de Baudricourt on seeing him. "My Voices told me it was he." When he brusquely demanded what she wanted, she answered:

"I have come to you on the part of my Lord, in order that you may send word to the Dauphin to hold fast and not to cease the war against his enemies. Before mid-Lent the Lord will give him help. In truth, the kingdom belongs not to the Dauphin, but to my Lord. But my Lord wills that the Dauphin be made King, and have the kingdom in command. Notwithstanding his enemies, the Dauphin will be made King, and it is I who will conduct him to the coronation."

De Baudricourt listened to this long speech, half annoyed, half amused. He thought her irresponsible, flighty.

"Who is your Lord?" he demanded.

"The King of Heaven."


The burly governor turned to the anxious Laxart. The girl must be brought to her senses.

"Take her to her father's home and box her ears," he said, and as the couple turned away he more than once repeated: "Take her to her father's home and box her ears."

Some of those who listened, rough guards and men at arms, laughed loudly at the governor's verdict. But among them a young squire, Bertrand de Poulengy, was moved by this peasant girl that, unafraid, delivered her message. One might well pledge his sword to such as she. It is from Bertrand de Poulengy that we know today of that first meeting of Joan and de Baudricourt. Only, the gallant squire forgot the governor's order as to Joan's ears. That detail was supplied by Durand Laxart, the only thing he could remember of the meeting.


"To thee, Joan, I pledge my knightly faith"

De Poulengy thought Joan now returned to Domremy, but it is more likely that she went with her uncle to Buret'. She would hardly leave her aunt so soon; also, the news of her visit to de Baudricourt would at once travel to Domremy, making it unwise for her to meet the fury of Jacques d'Arc. She may never have returned to Domremy at all, though she must have seen her parents again, for she once said that they


"nearly lost their minds" when she left for Vaucouleurs. This scene could have occurred at the Laxart home in Buret', to which place they would certainly follow her as soon as they heard of her visit to the governor.

They made at least one effort to put an end to her mission. Apparently they did not wish to use force, not in the face of public opinion, that almost from the first moment saw in Joan "something divine." They chose a milder and, as they perhaps believed, a surer method. Among the young men of Domremy willing to marry a handsome, industrious girl like Joan, there was one who made himself believe, or at least made her parents believe, that he had a promise from her. Joan's parents now arranged to have her summoned before the Bishop of Toul, in the hope that he would compel fulfillment. The devout Joan would obey a summons from a bishop, and there was a fair chance that she would lose the case. Besides, Toul was a good way off, in a hostile country. This would mean delay, and in the meantime ---.

In the meantime Joan had met with another refusal from de Baudricourt and becoming exasperated had declared she would go to Chinon alone, on foot. She would dress as a man, she said, and borrowed a suit of clothes from her uncle. But Laxart would not let her go alone, and with a friend of the family, Jacques Alain, set out in her company. They did not go far, only to the little village of St. Nicolas, a few miles to the southwestward.


"It is not honest," she said, "to go like this," and they returned to Vaucouleurs. Here she found the summons from the Bishop of Toul; also one from the Duke of Lorraine, who had heard of her and, believing her to be a healer and a fortune teller, requested that she come to Nancy. With the duke's message was a safe-conduct, a document, which would protect her from Burgundian attack.

Joan was quite willing to go to Nancy. Toul was on the way there; she could stop and defend herself against the charge of having broken her promise. Also, the Duke of Lorraine was rich and powerful, and was connected by marriage with the Dauphin of France. There was a chance that she might win him to her cause.

It was just at this moment that another important event occurred—her first meeting with the knight, Jean de Novelompont, called Jean de Metz. Wherever Joan went, now, she was followed by those who believed in her, or were curious, and one day there stepped forward a young cavalier who said to her:

"My child, what are you doing here? Must the King be driven from his kingdom and we become English?"

De Metz said afterward that Joan's dress was "poor and worn, and of a red color." Perhaps he spoke to her only out of sympathy, or it may be that the "something divine" which so many saw in her had stirred his faith. Joan, he said, answered him:


"I have come to this loyal city to speak to Sire de Baudricourt in order that he may conduct me, or have me conducted, to the King. But he cares neither for me nor my words. Nevertheless before the coming of mid-Lent, I must be with the King, even if I must wear my legs down to my knees; for nobody in the world can recover the kingdom of France—save only myself, though I would like better to spin by the side of my poor mother, seeing that this is not my station. Yet I needs must go, and I will do this because my Lord wills it so."

Like de Baudricourt, de Metz asked: "Who is your Lord?"

"It is God."

Taking her hands the young cavalier looked into her eyes, saying:

"To thee, Joan, I, Jean de Novelompont, called Jean de Metz, pledge my knightly faith, and promise thee, God aiding, that I will conduct thee to the King!"

Gallant Jean de Metz! In all knightly romance there is no finer picture.

"And when do you wish to start?" he asked her.

"Rather today than tomorrow, and tomorrow than afterward."

"And you will take the road in woman's garments!"

"I will willingly take the dress of a man."

She told him, however, that she must first go to Toul and Nancy. It was thirty miles to Nancy, and Joan and her uncle


somehow obtained horses for the journey. Jean de Metz rode with them as far as Toul, where Joan appeared before the bishop, and swore to tell the truth. Being, as she was, a reputed messenger of God, with a worthy relative and a knight of degree, on her way to hold converse with the Duke of Lorrain, gave Joan a standing in the eyes of the bishop. Looking into her clear countenance, and hearing her bravely spoken words, he released her from the charge against her, and gave her his blessing.

Arriving at Nancy, Joan appeared in the presence of the duke, who told her he wished to consult her about his health. Joan told him that she knew nothing of such things, and asked him to give her his son (meaning his son-in-law, Rene of Anjou, brother of the Queen of France) with men, to accompany her to Chinon. "I will pray God to give you health," she said.

The duke's sympathies were Burgundian, and he would make her no promises, but he gave her a present of four francs, then not so small a sum, equal to forty or fifty dollars, today. (In 2008 dollars this is = to about $1,000. VF)

"It is for this that I was born!"


Returning to Vaucouleurs, Joan was now for the most part at the home of Henry and Catherine Royer, where she would be near the castle if summoned. The governor, as she believed,


had sent word of her to the King, and at any time a messenger might arrive. Meantime, she busied herself with spinning and other duties to offset her keep. With Madame Royer she went to church and to confession. In a vault below the castle was a chapel where she sometimes retired to pray.

It was now the middle of February. The Battle of Rouvray, another French disaster, know also as the "Battle of the Herrings," was fought on the twelfth of that month, but news of it would take a good ten days to get to Vaucouleurs. There is a legend that Joan told de Baudricourt of this defeat on the day of its occurrence, and that when reported of it come he believed in her; but as no mention of such an incident was ever made by those nearest Joan, nor by any one until thirty-eight years later, this is probably an invention.

De Baudricourt, in fact, seems never to have fully been convinced of Joan’s mission. That Jean de Metz and Bertrand de Poulengy believed in her was much in her favor. De Metz had openly pledged himself to take her to the King, and de Poulengy, as well. These two were going, with or without de Baudricourt’s sanction. The governor was worried. A time had come when he wished neither to delay Joan, nor to become her champion. He had written to the King of her, and he may have received an answer. Certain it is that a messenger arrived from Chinon, and whether or not hr brought word concerning Joan, he did bring world of the disaster of


the Herrings at Rouvray. Matters were going from bad to worse. It was a time to grasp at straws.

Madame Royer and Joan, spinning most likely, were one day astonished to see approaching the warlike de Baudricourt, with the priest whom they knew. The callers entered and took Joan aside. The priest had brought his holy vestments, and, putting them on, said solemnly to Joan:

"If thou art evil, depart from us; if thou art good, approach."

Joan knelt, dragged herself to his knees, and remained there; after which governor and priest went away, apparently satisfied. But Joan said to Madame Royer:

"It was not well of the priest to do that. He knows me, and has heard me in confession."

If this incident happened on the arrival of the news of Rouvray it would be about February 22. Whether Joan had already told of that battle would make little difference. The governor in any case would wish to satisfy himself that she was not a witch. Joan later said that the third time she asked de Baudricourt for help she received it. She probably asked the morning following his visit, and set out the same evening. Permission once granted, there must be no delay in starting; the Anglo-Burgundians could get the news and be lying in wait a stone's throw beyond the castle walls.

De Baudricourt was willing enough to be rid of Joan, and he really gave her very little besides a sword and his blessing.


Those two high-hearted soldiers of fortune, Jean de Metz and Bertrand de Poulengy, belonged to nobody, were under no orders but their own. Colet de Vienne, King's messenger, and his comrade, Richard the Archer, were due to go back to Chinon, anyway. De Metz and Poulengy provided funds for the expedition, the citizens of Vaucouleurs presented Joan with suitable clothing, a page's costume, and it was Uncle Laxart and his friend Jacques Alain who furnished her with a horse. Said Laxart:

"At the same time Alain of Vaucouleurs and I bought her a horse costing twelve francs, for which we assumed the debt." They bought it on credit, these two good souls, for twelve francs, two dollars and forty cents, in that time and place an average price, about equal to one hundred and fifty dollars today. They pledged themselves in that amount, which is more than can be said for de Baudricourt, who in all ways seems to have been a prudent person. He made Joan's companions swear to "well and safely conduct her," which cost him nothing, and he gave her a sword from those about the castle. It was as if he had said:

"You have made two converts, and Colet and Richard are going your way. Here is a sword, and my permission to use it."

Perhaps it is fair to allow that he did give her Colet and Richard, who, for the time at least, were under his orders; and to add that later, when the expedition had turned out well, he paid the two dollars and forty cents for Joan's horse,


probably out of the King's funds. That there are certain amusing aspects to this splendid adventure must be confessed, and nobody would appreciate them more than Joan, who was by no means lacking in humor.

It was on the evening of February 23, 1429, that the Maid, as people now called her, with her little army of six—her two knights, their two servants, and the King's messengers—assembled, mounted, in the castle courtyard, at the gate opening to the westward, the "Port of France." They must travel by night if they would avoid capture. A group had assembled to see them go, and when the portcullis was raised, and Joan between her knights was about to pass, a woman called to her:

"How can you make such a journey, when on all sides are soldiers?"

Joan answered:

"I do not fear the soldiers, for my road is made open to me; and if the soldiers come I have God, my Lord, who will know how to clear the route that leads to messire the Dauphin. It is for this that I was born."

And as they rode through the stone archway, Robert de Baudricourt called out:

"Go, and let come what may!"

After which they passed into the mist and winter gloaming and were lost among the trees, taking the direction of Chinon.