"My cousin, the Duke of Alencon"
THE King had accepted Joan, or was about to do so; and that night or very soon after she was given lodging in the tower of Coudray, across a deep ravine but connected by a footbridge with the main castle. The Maid was confided to the care of Madame Bellier, wife of the King's major-domo, with Louis de Contes, a boy of fifteen, named as her page. Her faithful knights remained her special guards.
The tower of Coudray was very ancient, the largest of a group that really constituted a castle, separate from that of the King. Her apartment, a story above the ground, was a large circular room, provided with the comforts customary to that day—a few pieces of furniture, skins or rushes on the stone floor, something in the nature of hangings on the wall. There was at least one window, a narrow opening in masonry many feet thick—so thick that at one side it enclosed the staircase—and there was an ample fireplace. To Joan, after her bitter winter journey, all this was luxury.
The fame of her coming and the impression she had made
on the King went speeding through the night, and the Maid soon found use for her page. Day brought many who wished to see her—nobles from the town and the near-by castles. Among those first to arrive was one who would playa large part in her military fortunes, John, Duke of Alencon. The King's cousin, he was of a race of soldiers. Ancestors of his had died on the fields of Crecy and Agincourt; the young duke himself, made prisoner at the Battle of Verneuil, had spent five years in the fortress of Le Crotoy, rather than accept liberty without ransom, on condition that he would desert the cause of France. Alencon had been shooting quails on the marshes of St. Florent, twenty miles west of Chinon, when one of his courtiers came dashing up.
"Great news, Your Highness!" he said. "There has arrived in the King's presence a young girl who declares herself to be sent from God, to put the English to flight and raise the siege of Orleans. The King has received her, and she is now lodged in the castle of Coudray!"
Alencon waited to hear no more. If the King had received this girl it was with the sanction of his council. The young duke was off next morning for Chinon, where he found Joan and the King together.
"Who is this?" Joan asked as he approached.
"This," replied the King, "is my cousin, the Duke of Alencon."
"You are very welcome," Joan said. "The more we can
get together of the blood of the King of France, the better it will be."
Next day, after the King's mass, Charles, Joan, Alencon, and La Tremoille assembled privately. Addressing the King, Joan made several solemn requests, assuring him that if these were complied with, God would restore him to the estate of his fathers. Later, lance in hand and mounted, she rode in the presence of the King and Alencon. Surprised at her skill, Alencon made her a present of a horse. The duke was a judge of such things. It is easy to believe that riding from Chinon had made Joan a master of horsemanship, but on that swift journey who had taught her the manual of the lance?
If Joan now believed that her troubles were over, that she would presently set out at the head of an army to raise the siege of Orleans in the simple, direct manner she pictured so clearly, she was to be sadly disappointed. The King, or his counselors, decided that the Maid from Lorraine must be further questioned by learned men of the Church. This wonder-working girl might be all that she claimed; then, again, she might very well be a witch, in league with demons. On the whole, such an inquiry was proper enough; we cannot too often remember the ignorance and superstition of that day.
The examination troubled Joan less than the delay. She was eager to be at her work, knowing her time for it was to be brief.
"I will last but a year, not much more," she told Alencon,
"and I must work well during that year. I have four things to do: to raise the siege of Orleans; to put the English to flight; to have the King crowned at Reims, and to deliver the Duke of Orleans from the hands of the English."
Hearing her speak in this way, some thought she prophesied her death. Joan herself did not know what she meant, but only that another year would end her period of usefulness. She did not always speak of the rescue of the Duke of Orleans as a part of her mission, though she always so regarded it. Next to the King, her heart went out to Duke Charles, the poet, held a prisoner in England. It was natural that she would mention this to Alencon, for he had married the duke's daughter.
Joan in her tower
Confronted by the learned doctors, Joan was asked:
"Why have you come, and who sent you to the King?"
And, as always, she replied:
"I came on the part of the King of Heaven. I have Voices and a Council that tell me what to do." Alencon, who was present, could remember no more of the examination than this. There was really no more to remember; whatever the details of the answers, this was their sum and substance. Joan, a peasant girl, before a great array of priests, it was a picture that time would make only too familiar. Her page, Louis de
Contes, who was much with her in the tower of Coudray, often saw her on her knees. She was seeking wisdom and guidance in her answers. He remembered that she wept.
He saw her go to and from "the house of the King," doubtless trying to bestir that dallying monarch, and he announced the persons of great estate who came to confer with her. The Duke of Alencon presently took her for a brief visit to his wife and mother at the Abbey of St. Florent, a happy relief from the doctors; even from the King, with his sinister counselors. The Alencon ladies made much of Joan during the three or four days of her stay, and the latter in good humor and friendship christened Alencon "mon beau duc," afterward calling him only by that name. It is pleasant to remember Joan's visit to St. Florent, for it was one of the few wholly serene incidents of her brief career.
Also, we like to think of Joan in the quiet of her tower, and to picture her sometimes at evening looking out from the battlements on the scene that so long had made the castle of Chinon a favorite residence of kings.
It was one of the fairest views in France: a river that came out of the east and made a path of light across the world; the valley with its level fields and undulating slopes, showing here and there a glimpse of the farther blue; the little city just below, with its ancient bridge (ancient even then), its battlemented walls, its high, sharp roofs, and near and far the feathered poplars and pointed cypresses—in a word,
France; the France she had come to save. From infancy the girl had known a picture world such as this, and at moments she must have remembered that along the Meuse the hills would soon be turning green.
"Take me to Orleans, and I will show you signs why I am sent"
The Chinon examination could have lasted no more than a few days, but to Joan it was long and wearisome. She told Alencon that though much questioned, she had not told all that she knew, and could do. It was over at last, but the end was not yet. After hearing the report of the doctors, the King and his counselors decided that the Maid must go to Poitiers, a seat of learning, for still another examination. Joan was in despair.
"In God's name," she said, "I well know that I shall have much to go through at Poitiers! But God will aid me. Now let us be going."
So for Poitiers Joan set out, accompanied by the King; the two Queens, with many fine lords and ladies; the poet secretary, Alain Chartier; and, of course, the Archbishop of Reims and La Tremoille, who never would let Joan and the King out of their sight together. Joan's two knights also rode with her and her little page, Louis de Contes, altogether a
goodly escort for a peasant girl from the banks of the Meuse. In this fine company she appeared as a handsome youth, for there is no reason to suppose that she had changed the form of her dress, though certainly now it would be of a more seemly cut and of finer material; Marie of Anjou and Yolande of Aragon had looked to that.
It was on the sixth of March that Joan arrived at Chinon, and it was during the third week of that same month that this fine cavalcade set out for the university city of Poitiers, fifty miles to the southward. The Maid's stay at Coudray had been brief, but much had happened and any new experience seems long. Now it was behind her; the hard journey to Chinon, her meeting with the King, the questionings of the priests were a part of the remote past. She was on her way to face still another test. She did not question the outcome— she only chafed at the delay.
She was not downhearted—even in the moments of sorest trial her spirit seldom faltered. In a moment of irritation she was likely to speak out sharply, but she was naturally cheerful, full of hearty good humor. To all appearance she rode along as gayly as any of that careless company.
They stopped one night on the way at one of the great castles, and next day at Poitiers found lodging for the Maid in the home of Jean Rabateau, King's advocate in Parliament. Joan's fame had traveled far her arrival was a great event. Persons of all ranks came flocking to see her; the little street
in front of the Rabateau home was thronged with men and women eager for a glimpse of the girl from Lorraine whom God had sent to restore France. A little way down the street was the great cathedral, in front of it a broad, open space where the crowds collected to watch the Maid pass by to prayer.
Joan's examinations began at once in the Rabateau home. Of those who attended, four lived to tell of them, so we know pretty well what happened. One of these, Brother Seguin of Seguin, a man of sour countenance and sharp speech but kind of heart, told later how Joan became annoyed at what, to her, seemed pointless questions. One of the doctors said:
"According to your statements the Voice told you that God wished to deliver the people of France from their present calamities. But if God wishes to deliver the people of France it is not necessary to have soldiers."
"In God's name," replied Joan, "the soldiers will do battle, and God will give the victory."
Brother Seguin said the questioner was pleased with this answer. It was now his own turn to question the Maid. Being of the province of Limousin, Brother Seguin spoke the French of that region, strange in accent to Joan, whose speech was of the sort spoken along the Meuse. When he asked sharply:
"What dialect do your Voices speak?" Joan answered: "A better than yours," which even Brother Seguin found amusing.
"Do you believe in God?"
"Yes, better than you;" meaning, perhaps, that her faith was founded on surer evidence.
But, after all," pursued Brother Seguin sternly, "God does not wish us to accept you without some sign, showing that you must be believed. We shall not be able to counsel the King, on a simple assertion, to confide in you and put in peril the men at arms. Have you nothing else to say?"
"I did not come to Poitiers to work signs!" exploded Joan. "But take me to Orleans, and I will show you signs why I am sent. Give me men in whatever number shall be judged good, and I will go to Orleans!"
With all his sour manner Brother Seguin liked Joan. None could doubt her honesty or the deep sagacity of her answers some of, which seemed inspired. One of those present said later that Joan replied "as a fine scholar might have done," and that the doctors found in her the "something divine" which so many others saw and felt. The King's poet-secretary, Alain Chartier, wrote:
"Marvelous spectacle! woman among men; unlearned among doctors, she disputed, she so little, on the highest questions." Marvelous indeed it was, and the more so when we reflect that this "woman" was a girl of seventeen.
Joan's impatience with men of words, her eagerness for men of action, came out one day when a vigorous young squire who had ridden with the King's party from Chinon appeared
in the Rabateau home. The Maid had found in him a congenial companion, and now gave him a hearty welcome. Striking him on the shoulder, she said:
"I would like well to have many men of such good will! "
The doctors assembling, one of them began:
"We are sent to you on the part of the King—"
"I can well believe," Joan broke in, "that you are sent to question me. I do not know A from B."
"Why, then, have you come?"
"I have come on the part of the King of Heaven, to raise the siege of Orleans and to conduct the King to Reims, that he may be crowned and anointed. Have you paper and ink, master Jean Erault? Write what I am going to say," and forthwith the eager girl began her first summons to the English: "You, Suffolk, Glasdale, and La Pole, I summon you on the part of the King of the Heaven to return to England!"
No more than this beginning was dictated at the moment, but a letter complete was written very soon after, March 22, when Joan had been in Poitiers no more than three or four days. In its completed form it began:
+ JESUS MARY +
"King of England, and you, Duke of Bedford, who call yourself Regent of the kingdom of France; you, William de la Pole, Count of Suffolk; John, Lord Talbot; and you, Thomas, Lord of Scales, who call yourselves lieutenants of the said
Duke of Bedford, do justly by the King of Heaven; render to the Maid who is sent here by God, the King of Heaven, the keys of all the good cities you have taken and violated in France. She has come here from God to restore the royal blood. She is all ready to make peace, if you will deal rightfully by her, acknowledge the wrong done France, and pay for what you have taken."
Proceeding, her letter warned the soldiers, nobles, and others, to leave Orleans and go back to their own country, thus saving their lives. She had been sent, she said, to put them one and all out of France, which God intended King Charles to rule. And if they did not go, her army would "strike in their midst," making a commotion such as had not been known in France for a thousand years. God would give her strength, she said, to do these things. She ended by inviting the English Regent, Duke of Bedford, to join in doing a great deed for Christianity (meaning a crusade against unbelievers), closing with a final warning that if he did not make peace at Orleans he would shortly have reason to remember it to his great sorrow.
In this letter Joan is named as chef de guerre, war chief. At a later time she said she had not dictated these words; which is not important, for even if the words were supplied by her secretary they show that by March 22, a few days after her arrival, she had won, or was about to win, her case. Joan's letter is that of one unskilled in the art of fine words,
but with something to say, and fiercely moved from within. As always, she scorned the roundabout, going straight to the mark as best she knew how.
The examination ended by the doctors holding a general meeting where it was concluded that, as nothing evil had been found in her, but only evidence of good faith, the King could properly accept her aid and provide her with soldiers with which to go to Orleans against the besiegers. It has been said that the King sent to Domremy to make inquiry there about Joan, but this is unlikely. In her two knights he had good witnesses, and he had received word of her from de Baudricourt. Nor had there been time for a commission to reach Domremy, make inquiries there, and return to Poitiers. The learned doctors accepted Joan on her own statements and the clear-eyed sincerity behind them. They had never seen her like—one so direct, fearless, simple of speech. Asked why she called the King "Dauphin," she answered:
"I will not call him King until he shall have been crowned and anointed at Reims. It is to that city that I intend to lead him."
She had no doubts, no hesitations, no ifs. The completeness of her faith inspired faith in her listeners.
The people of Poitiers rejoiced with the Maid in the happy ending of her examinations. During her brief stay her lodgings had been sought by visitors of the highest rank.
Now she was going to lead soldiers to Orleans and give victory to France.
The examiners joined in a written report to the King in which they declared that in Joan had been found only "humility, purity, devotion, honesty, simplicity. . . . The King must not prevent her from going to Orleans with his soldiers, but must have her conducted honorably, trusting in God." Many copies of this report were sent, not only throughout France, but to distant lands. Joan's fame ran far and wide. She was called a new Saint Catherine and credited with miracles.