THE MAID'S LAST CAMPAIGN
Bad news arrived. The country to the north that had submitted to the King was again beset by English and Burgundian raiders; towns were captured and sacked; fields were deserted. Charles sent promises of aid, and a small force under de Boussac. La Hire was already fighting in Normandy, also Alencon and the Constable; the devastated country and endangered cities were farther to the eastward; Troyes and Chalons were threatened, even Reims. The Maid's work was going to wreck, while .she herself was being trailed about after an idle and dissolute court.
It was near the middle of March when a letter came to her from Reims, telling of their situation, their fear of attack and siege. From Sully Joan replied that she would be with them soon, and if the enemy were there would "make them put on their spurs so quick that they would not know where to find them." She spoke of having good news. This was on March 16, 1430.
The Maid was now steadily urging the King to give her men and let her hasten to the rescue of the northern towns.
Charles may have been holding her off until Easter (April 23) when the new truce with Burgundy would expire. In any case she was still in Sully twelve days later, for she wrote from there a second letter to Reims, assuring the city that the King knew of their troubles (reported plots to admit the Burgundians) and would send help "the very soonest" that he could. She asked them to keep close watch and guard, and again spoke of good news.
What then happened at Sully we shall never know, but a few days later, with or without the King's knowledge and sanction, Joan with a little band of followers left the Loire behind her forever. Charles may have known of her going and given her a few soldiers and a little money. She had become to him as a prodding conscience; he would be glad enough to be rid of her, so that he could take his pleasure more peacefully. If he did not wish to violate his empty treaty with Burgundy, she could seem to go secretly, "making semblance of going on some other diversion." According to one chronicler, she did this; for which reason her departure has been called the "flight from Sully."
Of those who started with Joan we can only be sure of d'Aulon, her two brothers, and Father Pasquerel. Did she
have her two knights, gallant Jean de Metz and Bertrand de Poulengy, who on a winter evening a little more than a year before had ridden with her through the Porte de France? One likes to think of them being with her in this new adventure. Dunois, La Hire, Alencon—all these were gone. She may have had as many as fifty, or as few as five. She rode northward, toward Lagny on the Marne, "because those of that place made good war on the English of Paris and elsewhere."
The Maid found welcome and plenty of soldiers at Lagny. Then a little more and she was in the field, facing English and Burgundians, ranged against a hedge. In the fight that followed she was victorious, the English and Burgundians being killed or captured.
For a time the Maid's headquarters remained at Lagny and a curious incident happened there. An infant who had died without baptism was brought to the church for prayer. A number of young girls had assembled, and Joan was asked to pray with them that God and the Virgin would give the infant life. She went and prayed with the others. Finally, it was said, the child showed signs of life, upon which it was baptized, but presently died and was buried in holy ground. Joan herself told of this miracle, but added that she was with the others on her knees at the time, saying her prayers. Being on her knees in prayer, surrounded by a throng, she could hardly have seen the miracle herself. What really happened we cannot know; but the excited young girls crowding about,
their imaginations quickened by the fervor of their faith, may honestly enough have believed what they were eager to believe, and to see.
Joan's movements here become uncertain. De Cagny was no longer with her to keep his faithful report. From herself we know that during Easter week (April 17-23) she was at Melun, twenty miles south of Lagny, and that she received there her first definite warning of her closing period of usefulness. Melun had been long in English hands, but yielded to the Maid without much resistance. It was before the surrender that the warning came. Joan, telling of it, said:
"During the week of last Easter, on the moats of Melun, I was told by my Voices, that is to say, Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret, that I would be captured before Saint John's Day, and that it was necessary that this should happen, and that I must not be astonished, and must accept it willingly, and that God would aid me."
She had never known what the end would be, doubtless hoping to die gloriously in battle. Now at last, in a moment of action and success, had come the warning. The year, the brief year allotted for her task, was at its close. She was not to be killed; she was to be captured!
A hundred times the English had promised her death by fire—no idle threat, as she well knew. Her Voices did not name the day nor the hour, though she asked them to do this, begging that when she should be taken she might die soon,
without long suffering in prison. She confessed that if she had known the time she would not have gone into battle—at least, not willingly.
"Nevertheless, I would have obeyed the command in the end, whatever the outcome."
We know something of Joan's movements during the month that now followed, but the details are meager enough. She was once at Senlis with a thousand mounted men, and during the second week in May was at Compiegne where she found the Archbishop of Reims, certainly there for no good purpose. Very likely he was trying to get the town to surrender to Burgundy, a thing he had done his best to accomplish the previous autumn. Burgundy's forces were now getting ready to lay siege; the archbishop's presence there has a suspicious look.
All about there was fighting again. Joan's old comrade, Poton Saintrailles, was attacking the besiegers at near-by Choisy, a hopeless task. Joan arriving at Compiegne, joined forces with Poton, and together they rode fifteen miles north, to cut off Noyon at Pont l'Eveque. There was a sharp engagement, then the enemy received help from Noyon, and the Maid and Poton were obliged to retreat. Choisy surrendered to
the Anglo-Burgundians, who now took up strong positions across the Oise, facing Compiegne itself.
Prospects for that city were not bright. It was poorly provisioned, and while it had access to the country behind it, it was to a land picked clean by war. Hoping to attack the enemy in the rear, Joan led her force twenty-five miles east to Soissons, to find a crossing. But Soissons was commanded by a Picard traitor, who at that moment was plotting with Burgundy to deliver him the town. On the arrival of the Maid's army he ordered the gates closed, giving the excuse that he had no food for it, that the citizens would not permit its entry. Joan and her soldiers slept that night in the fields. Recalling the Soissons of ten months earlier, when the town had opened its gates to the Maid and her King and swarmed about them with glad cries of "Noël!" we realize the change that had come over this friendly people through the dallying of the incredible Charles. It was at Soissons that he had missed the last great opportunity to take Paris. Later neglect had estranged the town itself.
The country was too poor to support the Maid's army. They were without supplies, without plans. Captains with their companies drifted away. Joan with a small force, a few hundred at most, went to Crept'-en-Valois, hardly knowing what to do next. Whether by command of her Voices, or of her own will, a few days later she decided to render such aid as she could to Compiegne.
Just after midnight, on the morning of the twenty-third of May, 1430, with a company of three or four hundred, among them d'Aulon, her brothers, and Pasquerel, the Maid rode out of the gates of Crept'. It was the dawn of the last day of her year—her year and a little more--of usefulness. She had no warning of it. When some of her people said that she had but few soldiers to go among the English and Burgundians she answered:
"By my staff, we are enough! I will go to my good friends of Compiegne."
"Have no other thought than to strike"
At Compiegne Joan found that the enemy had established three camps across the river. One of these was the Burgundian camp of John of Luxemburg, two miles above Compiegne at the village of Clairoix. Another, an English camp, was less than a mile down the river, at Venette. The third camp was just opposite Compiegne, at Margny, a village at the end of the bridge over the Oise.
Joan, with Guillaume de Flavy, governor of the city, agreed that this third camp should be destroyed. The Maid would lead a swift charge across the bridge, do as much damage as was possible in a brief time, her return to be protected by de Flavy with archers and culverins ranged along the city walls and the banks below. It was believed that the attacking
party could break up the Margny camp and get back across the bridge before the enemy at Clairoix and Venette could be alarmed. It really seemed easy enough, and about five o'clock, all being ready, the Maid with her banner, at the head of five hundred men rode from the city gates. Over her armor she wore a crimson, gold-embroidered huque, doubtless the one given her by the Duke of Orleans, and so in fine attire entered her last battle for France.
Led by this brilliant figure, the steel-clad company swept upon the drawbridge, crossed the river, and a moment later struck the Burgundian camp. The attack was a surprise, and in the beginning successful. It would have been all over in a few minutes, had it not been that John of Luxemburg and some gentlemen of his company were just then riding from Clairoix to Margny, and had reached a point at the overhanging cliff where they could see what was going on. In hot haste word was sent back to Clairoix, and in a very brief time groups of Burgundians were hurrying to the rescue of the attacked camp, while another cry of "To arms!" had somehow reached the English camp at Venette.
Joan and her company could easily have retreated by the bridge, but their fighting blood was up. They met the arriving troops from Clairoix and drove them back in a succession of charges, only to find their own retreat cut off from behind by the English—five hundred strong, according to a Burgundian historian who was present.
"The French," he wrote, "seeing their enemies multiplying in great number, retreated toward their city, always the Maid with them, behind the others, making a great effort to support her men and withdraw them without loss."
Thus does an enemy picture Joan in her last battle. "Remaining behind, as chief and the most valiant of her band," wrote another, also a Burgundian. D'Aulon and Joan's brothers urged her toward the bridge.
"Make haste back to the town, or we are lost!" they shouted, but she answered fiercely:
"Be silent! it rests with you to defeat them! Have no other thought than to strike!"
This is the Joan of St. Pierre-le-Moutier. Perhaps again she expected reinforcements from the sky. Those about her only pressed toward the bridge, dragging her with them.
Then all around them swarmed the enemy, in a frenzy to capture the French witch. There was a crush at the bridge entrance, soldiers crowding and slashing their way across it in a mass, the enemy pushing in from every side. De Flavy from the wall seeing this and fearing, as he claimed later, that the enemy would force through the gates ordered the drawbridge raised. Those left without were doomed.
On that side of the river the ground was low and wet. A causeway, called a boulevard, ran out into the meadows and another along the riverbank. On this raised ground Joan and those about her made their last stand, fierce, brief, and
hopeless. They were forced from the embankment into the wet meadows. From every side hands clutched at the Maid. One of John of Luxemburg's men, an archer, caught the crimson and gold huque and dragged her from her horse. The others were obliged to yield. Some words were exchanged, but it is uncertain what they were. Joan, her two brothers with d'Aulon, faithful to the last, also a brother of d'Aulon's, were borne off prisoners, the "good friends of Compiegne" looking on. (It has been said that de Flavy deliberately betrayed Joan into English and Burgundian hands. De Flavy was a brave soldier, but his personal record shows that he was capable of any crime. Moreover, he was a relative of the Archbishop of Reims and a deputy of La Tremoille, facts certainly not in his favor. For details concerning de Flavy see "Joan of Arc—Maid of France," by the same author, Vol. II, pp. 52-55•)