A GIRL IN WHITE ARMOR
Joan makes rules of war
ONE morning—it was the beginning of the last week of April, 1429—Joan and her staff crossed the bridge at Tours and turned to the eastward, toward Blois. It was a handsome sight: Joan in glistening armor, with Jean d'Aulon; her two knights, Jean de Metz and Bertrand de Poulengy; her two brothers, Jean and Pierre d'Arc; her two pages, Louis de Contes, and Raymond; finally as a sort of rear guard, Father Pasquerel and Regnault de Chartres, Archbishop of Reims. Riding two by two across the long bridge in the spring morning they made a goodly show, and the streets and waterfront of Tours were thronged. There may have followed a body of troops; belated arrivals were always going.
It is thirty-six miles to Blois, a good day's ride. Joan saw little of her army that night—no more than a few of the leaders. From them she learned that there were plenty of soldiers and supplies and did not much concern herself with the problem as to how they had been obtained. What troubled her was the army's morals and behavior. Her captains were
an assembly of hard-fighting, hard-drinking, profane, war-worn leaders of Armagnac bands and free companies, La Hire, at once the terror and admiration of France; Marshal de Rais, later called "Bluebeard," Ambrose de Lore, and others like them—men whose business it was to fight and pillage, leaving morals to the priests. As for the soldiers, probably a more dissolute lot of sinners was never assembled to fight the battles of a fallen nation. A hundred years of war and crime had yielded this human harvest.
The stray glimpses of her army that Joan got on the evening of her arrival gave her a good deal of a shock. Everywhere there was wild drinking, gambling, ribaldry, and worse. The streets and wine shops of Blois were filled with reeling, rioting men and women.
The Maid did not hesitate as to what she must do. That night or next morning she assembled her captains and told them that this nightmare of wickedness must end—not gradually, but at once. The drinking orgies and profanity must cease; the dissolute camp followers must go; the men, also the captains, must say their prayers and go to mass and confessions, if they wished to march under the banner of Heaven.
Those battered chiefs were, at first, in despair, but looking into Joan's earnest face they finally agreed to go to confession and to pray. Even La Hire, whose every other word
had been an oath, promised to swear only by his staff. He composed for himself a prayer. It ran:
"Oh, God, do with me as I would do by you, if you were La Hire and I were God."
The news of Joan's proposed reforms reached the soldiers, and the effect may be imagined. Few could have seen her on her arrival the night before, and now when the report of her orders flew there was at first astonishment, then roars of laughter. Those crime-soaked children of war could not believe their ears. They had learned to swear as soon as they could talk, debauchery was their only diversion. As for going to confession, why in a month they could not even begin the story of their misdeeds.
But then their captains appeared, La Hire and the others, and, riding among them, banner in hand, a figure in white
armor, straight from a church window, or from the gates of paradise. Ribaldry ceased, and did not begin again when she had passed. That day, and the next, she rode among them. Joan had a natural instinct for dramatic effect and consciously or otherwise often followed it. To those awe-stricken soldiers that face of light and that suit of shining armor could belong only to an angel.
Meantime she had told Father Pasquerel to have painted a banner around which to assemble the priests. Upon it was painted the Crucifixion, and each day the priests gathered about it, chanting anthems and hymns. Joan was with them, but she gave orders that no soldier who had not confessed that day would be allowed to assemble there, and she notified all to confess and come, that they might be purified to march under the banner of God. Father Pasquerel's corps of priests became busy with confessions. The morning and evening assemblies swelled into vast chanting congregations. Such general and immediate reform was never before known.
On the morning of the third day after the Maid's arrival, the army made ready to set out for Orleans. Pasquerel assembled the priests; the banner at their head, they opened the march; captains and soldiers followed, and the wagon trains. The great procession crossed the bridge to the south bank of the Loire, and, chanting hymns, turned eastward, priests and soldiers singing as they marched. Apart from the Crusades, no similar spectacle had been known to history.
The way to Orleans
The Maid kept to no one place in her army, but was everywhere among the soldiers, urging them to have faith, and to confess and pray—to them strange counsel from a commander. That night for the first time she slept in her armor, and was much bruised as a result. It was the end of April when nights in that part of France are none too warm. To lie down on the ground in a casing of metal was a sore trial, after the luxurious beds of Eleanore de Paul at Tours. Whether she repeated the experiment on the second night we do not know. Later, in the field, it became her custom to sleep in that way.
Joan's army made an imposing spectacle as it wound its way through the springtime along the banks of the Loire: the chanting priests and armored knights; the gleaming lances and ranks of bowmen; the wagon loads of provisions—sixty of them; the herd of more than four hundred cattle. The Maid's soldiers probably numbered not more than four thousand, but with that gleaming object riding among them, assuring them of certain victory, they were enough. At evening and at morning an altar was raised in the fields, priests with their pictured standards assembled to intone the service, while all about knelt soldiers who heretofore had known war only as rapine, barbarity, and evil living. By the time they reached
Orleans the "terrible English hurrah," which alone had been enough to frighten them, had lost most of its terrors.
Orleans is thirty-five miles, from Blois. The army spent two nights on the way and on the third afternoon arrived opposite the besieged city. Here Joan found herself in a quandary. Either she had believed Orleans to be on the south side of the river, or that she would be able to cross before arriving there, for she had expected to march straight into the city past the English forts. There were also some English strongholds on the side of the river where she now found herself--one of them, the fort of St. Jean le Blanc, so near that the English and French could see each other plainly. Disappointed at finding herself across the river from Orleans, Joan was of a mind to march at once on this fort. Persuaded otherwise, she led the army to a point beyond it where some barges were waiting, sent by the people of Orleans to transport the provisions across the river. The siege of Orleans, it should be explained, was not a complete one—the city being not entirely surrounded. French soldiers could, and did, pass in and out, and provisions were sometimes brought in, though always at the risk of capture by the English, who kept watch from their towers and forts.
"Most joyous at her coming"
Joan by this time was angry enough. Her whole plan to march into Orleans, disregarding the English forts, was upset. If her army crossed in the boats, it would be by an almost endless ferrying process to a kind of back-way entrance, humiliating to Joan and heartening to the enemy. Moreover, it would be dangerous, for when a part of the army should still be left on the south bank the English from the forts there might easily make a sortie and capture it. Furthermore, the wind was downstream and the barges, even those used to transport the provisions, could by no means get to the point five miles above, where it was safe for them to cross.
It was just at this point that Dunois, military commander of Orleans, half brother to Duke Charles of that city, appeared on the scene. Dunois had been greatly interested in the Maid, ever since he had heard the first rumor of her arrival, two months before. He now approached to bid her welcome. Joan was not in a gracious humor and did not waste words. She abruptly demanded if he was Dunois of Orleans. On being told that he was, she said:
"Was it you who gave counsel that I come here on this side of the river, and that I am not to go directly where are Talbot and the English?"
"I, and those wiser than I, have given this counsel, believing it to be better and safer."
"In God's name," replied Joan, "the counsel of our Lord is safer and wiser than yours. You have thought to deceive me, and you deceive yourself more; for I bring you better help than ever came to any knight or city whatever, seeing that it is from the King of Heaven."
At that moment the wind, which had been contrary and had kept the boats from ascending the river, veered and changed. The sails were spread and they made their way upstream to where the convoy of provisions now waited to be carried over. All regarded this as a miracle; Dunois, who told of it, said:
"From this moment I had great confidence in Joan, more than I had until that time."
It is hard today to understand why Joan's captains had let the army come up on the lower side of the river, unless they expected Orleans to send boats enough to take it across in a prompt and safe manner. The army could not hope to cross by the bridge, which was in the hands of the English, stoutly fortified and defended. As for the forts on the Orleans side, Joan somehow knew, as her captains seem not to have known, that Talbot and his men there, poorly provisioned and already half discouraged as to the outcome of the siege, were not in a fighting mood—that to appear among them suddenly and without fear, with her chanting priests, her white armor,
and banner of Heaven, her long array of knights and spear-men, her bowmen and wagon trains and herds—her army of God, in a word—would paralyze their energies, render them helpless. She now declared to Dunois that she would march back with her whole army to Blois, cross there, and come up on the other side, as first intended.
Dunois pleaded with her not to do this. The people of Orleans, he said, were filled with a great desire to see her. Her appearance among them would inspire them with renewed hope and courage, which they much needed.
"I must stay with my soldiers," said Joan, "now confessed and penitent, and of good will. I cannot tell what may happen if they go back without me." Her fear was that having once marched up the river on a fool's errand they would drift away, especially as she knew that some in Blois were unfavorable to the expedition.
But Dunois could not permit Joan to go back. He went hastily to the captains who had marched with her—La Hire and the others—and begged them in the name of the King to prevail upon the Maid to enter Orleans. They must themselves go back with the army, to hold it together; also, the priests with their banner, to keep it from falling again into evil ways. To this the captains agreed and joined Dunois in pleading with Joan to remain. Consenting, she ordered the army's return to Blois, and with a small body of her soldiers crossed the river to Ch6cy, five miles above Orleans. Here
she spent the night and most of the next day, while the provisions were being conveyed into the city where they were much needed. During the day a party of knights and squires came from Orleans to receive her, "most joyous at her coming, all of whom made great reverence and welcome, and so she made to them."
This was on the twenty-ninth of April, and it was on that evening that Joan of Arc entered Orleans. The ancient chronicler above quoted—probably himself present—quaintly and beautifully tells the story of her entry:
"Thus at eight o'clock of the evening, notwithstanding all the English, who in no wise prevented it, she entered fully armed mounted on a white horse; and borne before her standard, which was likewise white and had on it two angels holding each a lily flower in her hand. . . .
"She thus entering into Orleans had on her left side Dunois, armed and mounted most richly. And after them came several other nobles and valiant lords, squires, captains, and soldiers. And was received by other soldiers and burghers and burgesses of Orleans, carrying torches in great number and making such joy as if they saw God descend among them; and not without cause, for they had many wearinesses, hardships, and trials; and what was worse, great doubt of succor, and fear to lose body and goods. But they felt wholly recomforted, and as if freed from siege, by the divine virtue which they had been
told was in the simple Maid, whom they regarded most affectionately, men, women, and little children.
"And there was a most marvelous press to touch her or the horse on which she was. So great was it that one of those who carried the torches approached so near her standard that fire caught the pennon. Whereupon she touched her horse with the spurs and turned him as gracefully to the pennon, of which she extinguished the fire, as if she had long followed the wars. And this the soldiers held in great wonder, and the burghers of Orleans also; and accompanied her the length of their town and city, making most great welcome, and in very great honor conducting her almost to the Regnart gate, to the home of Jacques Boucher, then treasurer of the Duke of Orleans, where she was received with great joy, with her two brothers, and the two gentlemen and their varlets, who had come with her from their country of Barroys."
Meaning, of course, Jean de Metz and de Poulengy Vaucouleurs and Domremy being in the old province of Barroys. Another there said that such was the joy of the inhabitants that it seemed as if the young girl was an angel of God. "By means of the Maid," they said, "we are at last going to escape our enemies."
In the home of Jacques Boucher Joan occupied a room and a bed with little Charlotte Boucher, the treasurer's nine-year-old daughter. Her chief of staff, Jean d'Aulon, and her page, Louis de Contes, were also lodged there. Joan's other page
Raymond, is not again mentioned, and seems to have been left at Blois. Long afterward, when little Charlotte Boucher was a woman, she spoke of the Maid's visit, of her simple, religious habits—how before an attack she took communion and heard mass.
"Many times she said to my mother: 'Trust in God. God will aid the city of Orleans and expel the enemy."'