AT THE COURT OF CHARLES VII
A committee came down from the castle
JOAN was never one to delay, and a messenger was promptly sent to the castle asking for an audience. The King may, or may not, have been told of this request.
Charles's rule was a mockery, his court a sham. He was the victim of parasites, who were jealous and suspicious of any influence from the outside and made it a point to keep from him anything that might interfere with their pleasure or profit. Chief among them was Georges de Le Tremoille, a greedy traitor that stopped at no crime which would serve his ends, and Regnault de Chartres, Archbishop of Reims, who, though a churchman of high rank, honored religion only as a form and had neither charity nor human pity in his heart. These two dominated Charles, and ruled such of his kingdom as remained to him. The archbishop bore the title of Chancellor, and La Tremoille that of Chief Counselor; Joan's message naturally fell into their hands.
Their first thought was as to how Joan could be used to their own advantage. The King's prestige was waning; La Tremoille
Tremoille, who traded on it with the English and Burgundians, could not afford to see the kingdom of France entirely a ruin, its King in exile. He had read de Baudricourt's letter about Joan, and, if the girl was what she claimed, it seemed worth while to encourage her. On the other hand, she might prove to be a witch, and dangerous. Whatever she was, she could influence the King against his advisers; one must move cautiously.
So the King's counselors deliberated as to whether he should hear this girl, who came as she said with messages from God. Later in the day a sort of committee came down from the castle to question her.
"Why have you come?" they demanded.
"That I will tell only to the King."
But it is in the name of the King that you are asked this question."
Joan then answered: "I have been commanded to do two things on the part of the King of Heaven: one to raise the siege of Orleans; the other, to conduct the King to Reims for sacrament and his coronation."
The committee returned and the Council debated. Some were in favor of letting the King see Joan, others not. The matter had been noised through the castle by this time, arousing the interest and curiosity of the courtiers. Many of the Idlers, wishing to see this strange girl who claimed to be sent from God, were in favor of her coming furthermore,
not all of those about the King were evil. Some, like the King's secretary, Alain de Chartier, a gentle poet, were stirred by sympathy for the maid; likewise the Queen, Marie of Anjou, and her mother, Yolande of Aragon, Queen of Sicily, two good women, were favorable to Joan from the beginning.
The timid King, by this time aware of what was going on, asked that this girl, before he saw her, be questioned by men of the Church. Messengers claiming to be sent by Heaven, with revelations and warnings, were not uncommon. She was probably no more than a fortuneteller. She might even be a witch. Nevertheless, if the priests found her harmless he would see her.
Charles was in the depths of despair. The month following the Battle of Rouvray had been his darkest hour. Poor in spirit and purse, surrounded by his tawdry, time-serving court, he had become childish and querulous. How could he guess that to a little girl dreaming over her spinning he had seemed all that was fine and noble葉hat listening to illumined beings she had come with messages that would lift him up and give him back his kingdom?
"I am come, being sent on the part of God"
The group of priests who called upon Joan must have found her answers satisfactory, for she was told that the King would receive her that same evening葉his being the day of her arrival at Chinon. Yet in the very moment of her coming, the irresolute Charles, prompted by certain of his counselors, would have sent her away. He was reminded用erhaps by Queens Marie and Yolande葉hat this girl, commended to him by de Baudricourt, had been conducted across provinces occupied by the enemy and had miraculously forded rivers, to come to him. On this he consented to see her.
Being early March (the sixth), it was dark "after dinner" when, by Joan's statement, she went to the castle. One may picture her with her two knights, mounted, preceded by torches, climbing the steep, stony way that winds up to the entrance, crossing the drawbridge and passing under the arch of the lofty tour de de l檀orloge, a clock-tower to this day. A space of court to cross, a stair to mount, then a blaze of light, a dazzle of silk and cloth of gold, and facing it all a peasant girl who claimed to have brought messages to the King.
At the farther end of the room a fire was roaring up the great chimney. Also, according to Joan, there were "fifty flambeaux, and three hundred men at arms." At all events
there was a great assembly of both men and women. Any diversion was welcome; a novelty like Joan would bring out every member of the castle.
There was a moment of expectant silence. Those idle, simpering people were curious to see how she looked, what she would do first. What they saw was a lithe, rather slender, fairly tall youth, with cropped hair憂oan in the page's costume she had worn from Vaucouleurs, the suit in which she had forded rivers and slept on the frozen ground; surely a curious figure before that tinsel throng.
If they had expected her to be dazed and awed they were quickly undeceived. Led forward by the Count of Vendome, what she did was to go immediately to Charles, who occupied no special place, but had "retired behind some others," and falling on her knees make him reverence, saying:
"Very illustrious Lord Dauphin, I am come, being sent on the part of God, to give succor to the kingdom, and to you."
Joan never revealed by what sign she knew the King. Her statement: "I recognized him by the counsel and revelation of my Voice," is as far as she ever went on the subject.
The King led her apart用erhaps to the small tower embrasure at the left of the fireplace, where they spoke together. Making reverence, Joan said:
"Noble King, I am called Joan the Maid, and I tell thee on the part of Messire [God] that thou art the true heritor of
France, son of the King, and He sends me to conduct thee to Reims, in order that thou receivest there thy coronation and thy sacrament, if such be thy wish."
Charles asked her:
"How am I to know that you come from God?" Joan's answer to this was another secret that died with her; but long after, the King himself, near death, declared that a little before Joan's coming he had made a secret prayer of which no one else could know. He had prayed, he said, that if he was the true heir to the kingdom, God would defend him, or at the worst grant him the grace to escape without death or prison, allowing him to take refuge in Spain or Scotland, ancient brothers in arms, allies of the kings of France. Joan, the King said, repeated to him this prayer, known only to himself and God, thus gaining his confidence.
Returning now to the others, all saw the joy in the King's face. The poet secretary, Alain Chartier, wrote: "It was most manifest the King was greatly encouraged, as if by the Spirit."
Joan's own story of the royal audience was no more than a few words: "When I entered the presence of the King I recognized him by the revelation and counsel of my Voices. I told him I wanted to make war on the English." That was all; she had arrived "without interference"; the long days and longer nights were behind her. She told the King she wanted to make war on the English. It was as when on the
road to Buret' she had said to Durand Laxart that she wanted him to tell Sire Robert de Baudricourt to have her taken to the King. That was Joan's simple and direct way. She had no use for the roundabout. She traveled in a straight line to the point in view.