CHARLES THE DELUDED
Hypocrisy and treachery were on every hand
To many readers it may seem that Joan might now have returned, if not to the peace of Domremy, at least to Orleans or Tours, where she would be held in love and honor, while brave and capable captains concluded the work of driving the invader from France. More than once she declared that she had little taste for battle, that she longed to be spinning by her mother's side. Even historians have held that her mission was fulfilled—that there was no longer a reason for her remaining in the field.
Joan's work, however, was in nowise ended. Only her first three labors had been completed. She had raised the siege of Orleans, she had conquered the English, she had crowned the King. But Paris, the French capital, was still in English hands; the English were still in France, the Duke of Orleans remained a prisoner in England. We know that she regarded the restoration of Duke Charles as a part of her purpose; also, that she proposed to take Paris and drive the English
from French soil. The brief year allowed her would prove all too short.
It was the Maid's plan to march immediately upon Paris, and in the beginning Charles must have agreed to do this. Such a move could not fail of success. Paris, poorly garrisoned, overawed by Joan's triumphs, and with its defenses in bad repair, was still ready to open its gates. A three days' march and the King would have been in his capital. Everybody expected that move, everybody except La Tremoille, the Archbishop of Reims, and the Duke of Burgundy. These three were hatching treachery, the one thing Joan had learned to fear. They were preparing for the stupid Charles a treaty which would delay the march on Paris until English troops could reach there, and the fortifications could be repaired. Complete victory over the English did not suit La Tremoille and the archbishop—it would put an end to their trading industry. Their dealings through Burgundy, who held what might be called the balance of power, must have been highly profitable, both for themselves and the wily Burgundy.
Joan herself wished for peace with the Duke of Burgundy if he would separate himself from the English. Her letter written in June begging him to render fealty to Charles at Reims had brought no answer. On the morning of the coronation, however, she wrote again, urging him to "war no more on the holy kingdom of France," and to withdraw immediately
from all the fortresses of the King. The letter was long and earnest. In one place she said:
"I pray and beseech you with clasped hands no longer to battle or make war against us, neither you nor your people nor your subjects. And believe surely that whatever number of people you may lead against us, they will gain nothing, and there will be great sorrow from the blood that will be shed by those who will come against us."
Burgundy paid no attention to this letter. He would have no dealings with Joan, whom he may have regarded as a witch. Furthermore, his alliance with England still offered the best profit. He preferred to deal with Charles through La Tremoille. On the very day of the coronation his embassy arrived at Reims, with secret proposals for a treaty, one that meant no more than the cessation of hostilities, under the promise— a promise he never meant to keep—that Paris would be yielded at some specified time. Such treaties were not uncommon in that day, but they generally came to nothing in the end, being mere excuses to enable one side or the other, or both, to prepare more leisurely for battle. In this case it was Burgundy and the English who needed the delay, and the weak Charles, brought by La Tremoille and the archbishop to think that if given time Paris would be his without battle, was persuaded to sign.
It is almost beyond belief, but Charles, crowned and no longer in fear of capture or exile, gave little heed to Joan,
allowing those two malign counselors to sway him as they chose. He did not leave Reims the day following his coronation, nor the next day, nor the next. It was on Sunday that he was crowned, and it was not until Thursday that he finally left with the army, not for Paris, but for Corbeny, which lies seventeen miles in quite another direction. Here was performed the ceremony supposed to give the King power to cure scrofula, by touching the patient. At another time there might have been some excuse for this; but with the English hurrying reinforcements to Paris and madly strengthening the walls to withstand attack, this particular rite could have waited. Joan and her captains urged and implored the King to turn a deaf ear to his poisonous advisers and Burgundy's silly promises, and march on Paris while there was yet time. Charles marched to Soissons instead, a step, it is true, in the right direction, but dazzled there by the surging throng and banners of welcome, with ears only for the shouts of "Noel!" and the sinister counsel of La Tremoille, he lingered on in that city a full five days, during which an English army of five thousand marched into Paris! The time for easy capture had passed.
Leaving Soissons, Charles and his army marched south. It was no longer Joan's army or Alencon's, for they no longer controlled it. Its movements were directed by Charles himself; that is to say, by La Tremoille. At Reims the Maid's star had reached its zenith: from the moment the crown was
on the King's head her power had begun to decline. The change became noticeable: the next town, Chateau-Thierry, showed resistance, though at evening it surrendered. Three days later the King was again on the march and in another day was at Provins, heading, it seemed, toward the Loire.
There is, however, good reason for believing that he was only keeping his dwindling army fed while he waited for the time named in the treaty with Burgundy, fondly believing that Paris would be yielded as agreed. At all events, he did not continue his course to the south. One chronicler of the time says that an English detachment at Bray on the Seine compelled him to turn back. This does not sound true. The English were only too eager to get Charles and the Maid out of the region near Paris, into the Loire country where the army would presently break up; moreover, no mere English detachment could have turned the army back had it wished to go on. Bedford was scouting around with his troops, and wrote Charles a fiercely abusive letter, but he showed no disposition to fight, and presently marched back to Paris.
Charles lingered at Provins a few days, then also turned in the direction of Paris, in the hope that somewhere about the fifteenth of August Burgundy would let him march in. The date of their treaty is unknown, but being made toward the end of July it was probably drawn as of August 1, its terms being that Paris would be surrendered at the end of fifteen days. All that we know of it is from a letter written by Joan
to the loyal French at Reims, who had become alarmed at the continued retirement of the King's army. In this letter Joan urges those of Reims to have faith in her, promising not to desert them as long as she lives. Of the treaty she writes:
"It is true that the King has made a truce with the Duke of Burgundy . . .. by which he must render the city of Paris at the end of fifteen days. Nevertheless, do not marvel if I do not enter so soon."
Joan knew the treaty for what it was, a mere excuse by which Burgundy and the English could gain time to prepare for defense. Not a soul but Charles himself had any faith in it. That La Tremoille and the archbishop had been paid for persuading the gullible King to sign it is as certain as anything can be without positive proof.
Joan's letter has in it a note of sadness. The great opportunity had gone by. She had been betrayed, and she knew it. She was never the same after Reims. "As long as I shall live"—the words are significant. Her precious, limited weeks were racing by.
A few days later, when the army had moved still farther northward, and the people were running before the King and Joan, "transported with joy [it is Dunois speaking], crying ‘Noel!’ the Maid, riding between the Archbishop of Reims and myself, said:
'These are good people. I have seen none elsewhere who have shown so much joy at the coming of our noble
King. Would God I might be happy enough, when I shall finish my days, to be buried in this soil!" I
"At these words the archbishop said to her: 'Oh, Joan, in what place do you hope to die?'
"'Wherever it may please God,' she replied. 'I am sure neither of the time nor the place. I know no more of it than yourself. But I would that it were pleasing to God, my Creator, that I might now retire, laying arms aside, and that I might serve my father and my mother, guarding their sheep with my sister and my brothers, who would be greatly rejoiced to see me!'"
Dunois may not have remembered Joan's exact words, but the feeling in them he must have preserved. She was tired. Lurking forces opposed her. Hypocrisy and treachery were on every hand. She yearned to leave it all, to rest again in the shade of the Fairy Tree, to hear once more the trickle of the cooling fountain. But because her work was still unfinished, because it could not be finished so long as knaves and traitors controlled the feeble King, because it was only just begun, she could not go.
Bedford in his violent letter to Charles had dared the King to meet him in the field, which may have opened Charles's eyes to the fact that Paris would not be surrendered.
At all events he was now marching here and there, expecting to meet Bedford somewhere in the country just above Paris. The fifteen-day truce was about to expire. Did he imagine that Burgundy would find some way to keep faith, or had he, for the moment at least, like Joan concluded that peace with Burgundy could be made "only at the point of a lance?"
At last, on Sunday the fourteenth of August, the two armies, each in number about six thousand, found themselves facing each other, a little to the eastward of the town of Semis, near the plains of Montepilloy. The French were camped along a hedge, while the English had their backs to a little stream. With Bedford were several hundred Burgundians, enough to claim that Charles had broken the truce if he attacked them. During the afternoon there was skirmishing in the open field between the armies, with loss on both sides. Next day came the battle, such as it was. Alencon's squire, de Cagny, wrote in his memoirs:
"On Monday, fifteenth day of the said month of August, 1429, the Maid, the Duke of Alencon and the company, believing, this day to have battle, each and all at whatever place made such peace as he could with his conscience, and heard Mass at the earliest hour possible, after which they took to horse. They formed their line of battle near that of the English, who had not moved from the place where they had camped, and all night long had fortified themselves with paulx (sharpened poles, planted point forward) and trenches, their wagons in front of them and having the river behind them."
Bedford-had no intention of meeting Charles in the open. His army was entrenched behind a defense as strong as he could make it. He displayed the banner of France along with that of England, thus giving Charles notice that he was an outlaw.
Seeing that the English would not come out into the open, the Maid placed herself at the head of the advance guard and led a charge even to their formidable defenses. This seems to have brought out a certain number of the English, for there was a skirmish, during which men were killed on both sides. Joan had hoped to provoke a general battle. Failing in this, she withdrew her men, and with Alencon sent a herald to the English, asking that they come forth and fight in the open, offering to give them time to range themselves in order of battle. This they would not do, though from time to time a venturesome party sallied forth, to be met by a party equally venturesome from the other side. These minor combats in the open made a gallant spectacle for the watching armies, and in the course of them men were killed and wounded. Stirred by the sight, even La Tremoille was moved to join one these brisk encounters and nearly came to grief. He was a very fat man, and, mounted on a beautiful courser, lance in hand, made an impressive figure. He may have been too heavy for his mount, for at a critical moment his charger stumbled, pitching the fat knight into the midst of his enemies,
where he barely escaped being killed or taken. Unhappily he was rescued, and did not venture again.
The King from a safe place enjoyed this petty warfare which led to nothing, and as night drew on retired to Crepy, eight miles behind the lines. Joan and Alencon camped with the army, on the field. Nothing further happened, and next morning it was found that the English had quietly taken the road back to Paris. There was no attempt to follow them; the Maid with the army joined the King at Crepy, where next day the keys of the important city of Compiegne were delivered to him.
One can hardly fail to note the change in Joan's warfare. Brave, as ever, she was not the same. Distrust and treachery were taking the heart out of the Maid. She was no longer the shining white figure that at nightfall before the enemies' camp shouted fearsome warnings, and next day swept the field with whirling charges, led as by Saint Michael himself. The King was no longer with her; not only her soldiers felt this, but the enemy. She would still have great moments in the field, but the Joan who had rallied her fleeting men at St. Loup; who with La Hire had charged the Augustines; the Joan who, wounded, had led the last victorious charge against the Tourelles, who at Jargeau had been struck down, only to spring to her feet shouting "Friends, up! Up! Our Lord has condemned the English!"—that Joan led only in semblance on the field of Montepilloy.