BACK TO THE LOIRE
"And thus was broken the will of the Maid"
The spectacle of Joan laying her armor on the altar of St. Denis meant little to Charles, whose one thought was to go back to the Loire, to ease and security. In his view the Maid had done all the important things; she should be glad now to rest and get over her wounds. "So he was off," wrote de Cagny, "taking with him the Maid, who with very great regret went to company with the King, who left as fast as he could go, pursuing his course in a manner disorderly and without cause."
The army was no longer the brave pageant that had left Gien two months earlier. It was a straggling, dwindling assortment, held together by the Maid, Alencon, Dunois and a few other hardy leaders. Many captains with their soldiers had returned to the towns of their command, and each day saw others ride away.
Whatever may have happened before, nobody this time attempted to turn the army back. Nothing occurred until it reached the river Yonne, which it expected to cross by the
bridge at Sens. But the people of Sens, observing the size and condition of the army, and being of uncertain mind, closed their gates, and it was humbly obliged to ford the river below the town. From there the distance was not great to Gien, where it finally arrived, September 21, 1429.
"And thus," concludes de Cagny, "was broken the will of the Maid, and the army of the King."
At Gien the remains of the army disbanded. Alencon, safe and sound as Joan had promised, returned to his wife and domain at Beaumont, where he soon assembled men to enter Normandy against the English. Realizing what her presence would mean, he sent to the King, asking for the Maid, a request which Charles was not permitted to grant.
Taking Joan himself, the King now went to his old capital, Bourges, where the Queen awaited him. At Bourges Joan lodged in the house of a worthy woman, Margaret la Touroulde, whose husband managed the royal finances, such as they were. During the three weeks that Joan remained with Madame la Touroulde persons of every rank came to see her, many of them with objects which they wished her to touch, to render them fortunate or healing. Joan, amused, said:
"Touch them yourselves. They will be quite as good with your touch as mine."
Madame la Touroulde said to her:
"If you are not afraid to make assaults it is because you well know that you will not be killed."
"I am no more sure of that than are the soldiers."
"Joan was very liberal in alms giving," Madame la Touroulde testified, "and with good will helped the poor and indigent, saying:
"I have been sent for the consolation of the needy." From what I know of her she was simple and innocent except in the matter of arms. She mounted a horse and handled a lance like the best."
Joan could not long remain in idleness. Half of her precious year was gone and so much yet to be done! The English were still in Paris, in Normandy and Picardy—they were even in two places below Orleans: La Charite on the Loire, and St. Pierre-le-Moutier, forty miles to the southeast of Bourges. It was Joan's wish to go into the country near Paris and reduce the capital by cutting off its supplies. The new truce with Burgundy prevented this. It would not expire till Christmas, and was later extended till Easter. La Tremoille and Charles did not find it pleasant to have Joan about, always urging action, so gave her permission to drive the English from these two towns. They were not covered by the truce; if Joan could amuse herself attacking them so much the better. A little warfare going on always afforded a chance for La Tremoille
to pick up profits for himself. He replaced Alencon with his own half brother, d'Albret, the Maid and d'Albret being in command. Their army was too small, and too poorly plied, but they marched on St. Pierre and began the siege. An assault being ordered, the soldiers attacked with good will, but the place was well defended, and they were obliged to fall back. D'Aulon who had been wounded in the heel and was limping about on crutches, noticed that Joan with her brothers and knights did not retire with the others. Hastily mounting a horse, he rode up to them.
"Why are you staying here?" he demanded. "You are alone."
But the Maid, lifting the casque of her helmet, shouted: "We are not alone! I have with me fifty thousand of my people, and will not leave this place until I have taken the town!"
D'Aulon stared. There were no more than four or five in her company, as he said later.
"Come away from here," he entreated, but Joan answered: "Have men bring faggots and brush and make a bridge across the moat," and herself called out loudly:
"Faggots and brush, everybody to make a bridge."
And suddenly the men were there again, building the bridge, and in a twinkling as it seemed, scaling the walls. D'Aulon, who told of this, said he looked on amazed, and immediately the town was taken without much resistance."
Here once again we have the real Joan. With the sanction and support of the King at Paris, "fifty thousand of her people might have rallied there also."
The capture of St. Pierre-le-Moutier occurred the first week in November. A few days later Joan at Moulins wrote to different towns for money and supplies, to aid in the siege of La Charite. She was short of nearly everything, and the King made no effort to replenish her stores. Some of the towns sent help, such as they could afford. One town, Clermont-Ferrand, besides other things, sent a sword, two daggers, and a battleaxe, for Joan herself. Orleans sent clothing for the men, with guns, gunners, and some money. Bourges also sent money, thirteen hundred ecus of silver or gold, but it went by way of La Tremoille, and unaccountably disappeared.
About all we know of the siege of La Charite is that it failed. The place was strongly fortified and the wide river that washed the walls of the town added to the Maid's problem. To attempt the capture of such a place in wintertime, with an army too few in numbers, too poorly armed, ill fed, and ill clothed, was about as hopeless an undertaking as can be imagined. To capture it by assault would have been a miracle greater than that of St. Pierre-le-Moutier. When supplies failed entirely and no help of any sort was coming from the King, the Maid and d'Albret with great reluctance abandoned the siege and returned to Bourges.
The success or failure of La Charite was a matter of small
moment to the King. As long as the English garrison there could work him no personal damage, he cared little for what it might do to near-by villages. In his great castle at Mehunsur-Yevre he made Joan welcome; when she complained of the failure to send her supplies he executed a document which named her "dear and beloved" and conferred nobility not only on Joan, but on her entire family, of whatever kinship or lineage. By a penstroke Joan's parents had acquired nobility; her brothers could ride on equal terms with those of lofty birth. They took the name "du Lys," with the armorial bearings which earlier in the year the King himself had designed for Joan's banner; the device of a sword supporting a crown, a fleur-de-lis on either side. Today we can hardly measure what this meant to Jean and Pierre d'Arc. The difference in the early fifteenth century between a peasant and a noble was about the difference between a barnyard fowl and an eagle. Joan herself cared very little for such honors. She seems never to have made use of her bearings. The King granted them without her request, she said, to give her brothers pleasure.
The Maid was now dragged about with the court, sometimes held at Mehun-sur-Yevre, sometimes at Bourges, often at La Tremoille's great chateau at Sully. As a normal girl she might have enjoyed a reasonable diversion between victories; but with defeat just behind, and no promise of conquest ahead, it was a vain and sickening show, a waste of her flying days.
Word came of the approaching marriage of Heliote Poulvoir, daughter of the artist at Tours who had decorated the Maid's banner. Remembering their happy days together, and how grateful Tours had been for relief from the English menace, Joan wrote asking that the city vote one hundred 9cus with which to buy Heliote's trousseau.
Tours considered this request from the "beloved Maid," and declined to grant it. The city fathers decided, instead, to honor Heliote by attending her wedding, and to furnish some bread and wine for the occasion. The incident is a rather sad one, indicating as it does Joan's waning prestige. Six months earlier a request from the Maid would have been more sacredly honored than an order from the King.
Orleans had not yet forgotten; at this very moment that city was lavishly entertaining the Maid, her household, and several distinguished friends. But then Tours had not been besieged.