THE MAID OF FRANCE
JEANNE DARC was one of those rare children of destiny, held as inspired by the intelligence that rules the world, who appear at certain crises and at wide intervals of time, perform their course in meteoric wise and vanish, leaving an enigma and an astonishment to future ages.
Her life was the shortest, her active career the briefest and most striking in achievement, while her fame remains the greatest and most enduring of any woman signalized in secular history.
Let us summarize this wonderful life of the Maid of France, in order that we may then proceed to examine certain phases of it which, however explained or elucidated, remain of unexhausted interest, calling forth new studies, histories of herself and her epoch, romances, eulogies, poems, dramas in every passing generation.
Jeanne was born, in 1412, of peasant stock, at Domremy, a small village on the border of Lorraine, in the beautiful region of the Vosges Mountains. Close at hand flowed the gentle Meuse; river, hills, and country made the patrie that filled Jeanne's childish
heart with the love that was to bring forth such treasures of sacrifice and devotion. At that time Lorraine was Burgundian territory, but the King of France claimed Domremy and its adjoining district. Among the French people the sentiment of nationality, of a common country, was weak and undefined. The country at large was divided between several powers and allegiances, medieval fiefs and suzerainties. Agincourt, so fatal to the French, had been fought when Jeanne was three years old, playing at her mother's feet; in her seventeenth year the English usurpation overshadowed the land.
From early childhood Jeanne had heard only talk of the wars, and was familiar with the sight of passing soldiers, often in terror of them likewise (at a later time Domremy was threatened with attack and Jacques d'Arc, with his family, was obliged to take temporary refuge at Neufchateau in Lorraine). She was taught neither A nor B, but she learned the catechism from her mother, who seems to have been a woman of strong sense and piety; also, it would appear, of some instruction. The family were of decent station and not of the abject poor. Jacques d'Arc was honest and industrious, of a class between farmer and laborer, apparently less intelligent than his wife Elizabeth Romee. For long he was not in sympathy with Jeanne's "mission"; nay, he threatened to drown her with his own hands if she ever went away soldiering—not really a heinous mark against the worthy man, considering his lights. At her trial Jeanne declared that not a hundred fathers and a
hundred mothers could have prevented her from obeying her Voices.
Jeanne had three brothers and one or two sisters, the point being in doubt, but at least she was the younger of the girls. We hear of two girl friends in the village for whom she had a warm affection, but she does not seem to have been particularly attached to any member of her family, except, doubtless, her mother. None of her three brothers, ennobled by the king in recognition of her services, has challenged the accolade of history; indeed, they figured rather unworthily in certain incidents after her death. (See Last Records: The False Jeanne d'Arc.)
Jeanne's ."Visions" and "Voices" began in her twelfth or thirteenth year and continued during five years thereafter, until she at length obeyed them, "for the great pity there was of the Kingdom of France," and went forth to fulfil her mission
It was high time. France was succumbing to the power of the English, who since Agincourt (1415) had possessed themselves of a great part of the country, including Paris and Normandy. The Duke of Bedford pretended to govern France in the name of Henry VI of England, then a young child. Besides the great struggle with England, France was torn with internecine quarrels, last convulsions of the Middle Ages, and the country at large was ravaged and desolated by every species of brigandage, rapine, and violence. Charles VII, rightful heir to the throne of France, was called in mockery the "King of
Bourges," from the limited extent of his dependable sovereignty. The Duke of Burgundy, Philip the Good (le Bon), was far more powerful, and he was at this time hand and glove with the English—yet always having his creatures about the faineant Charles.
Early in the spring (1429) Jeanne d'Arc, dressed in male attire and with a small escort of armed men, arrived at the chateau of Chinon, recognized and hailed the king (though he attempted to disguise himself and deny his identity), furthermore told him secrets known only to himself, which overcame all his doubts, and moved him fully to accept her mission. After an ecclesiastical tribunal at Poitiers had pronounced in her favor, Jeanne was appointed chef de guerre and placed at the head of an army, hastily mobilized for the relief of Orleans, then besieged by the English.
Her success was dazzling, almost instantaneous, causing the besiegers to raise the cry of "witchcraft!" —thus early seizing upon the only effective weapon they could use against her (except the bribe of gold to French avarice). Within seven days she freed the city, environed as it was by several formidable towers, bastions, and other leaguering constructions. The taking of the strong "Tourelles," after a first repulse, in a single assault, has been pronounced by an English writer one of the fifteen decisive battles of history.
The deliverance of Orleans, mainly through the in-Tired leadership of a seventeen-year-old peasant girl,
awoke the dormant courage and resinewed the failing patriotism of the French; heretofore their soldiers could not stand the sight of an English army; now, all hope and courage, they were prepared to drive their enemies from the field.
This remains the capital achievement of Jeanne d'Arc: she regenerated the national spirit of France, as in good time she was to regenerate the national religion. On these two heads we shall have much to say as the work proceeds, the latter one being that in which her influence is least known and appreciated outside of France.
After her triumph Jeanne rested two or three days at Orleans, and then attacked the strongly fortified town of Jargeau, held by a powerful English garrison with the Earl of Suffolk and other notable leaders. Result, an easier victory than Orleans, and one terribly humiliating to English pride. The "god-dons" (French name for the English by reason of their ordinary swear-word "God-damn.") actually threw away their arms and fled before this young girl. Suffolk's brother was killed, one of the few honorable incidents on the English side. In the assault, which she had led herself, Jeanne was struck by a stone, but paid no heed to it. This battle was entirely her own.
Following Jargeau, and in despite of no small opposition from the councilors of Charles—opposition motived by treachery to the national cause and sharpened by envy of the Maid herself, of her feats-at-arms, and of her favor with the king, at this
moment in the ascendant—she led the army unchallenged through a hostile country and safely brought her sovereign to Reims for his crowning and consecration.
This second great act of her mission was fraught with even deeper and more potential consequences than the first, and it appealed even more strongly to the medieval conscience. The advantage which it gave Charles was not to be overcome by his English rival. Anointed with the sacred oil of Clovis, crowned and consecrated in the ancient royal city, affirmed as the rightful, legitimate heir of St. Louis, he was no longer to be despised as the poor kinglet of Bourges. All this the English perceived with extreme mortification and derived from it a prescience of their ultimate defeat.
Following the coronation at Reims, which was the term of Jeanne's mission as she then understood it, the Maid would have gladly returned to her humble home and friends at Domremy, but the king retained her. He retained her with much show of honor and kindness, plain as it is that he himself was not wholly free from the envious, malign spirit of his councilors. In truth, her glory was become too great for the small-eyed, narrow-hearted Charles. The incense of popular praise, nay, adoration, was for her, this peasant girl, and not for -him, the king!—at least it was for her in far greater measure. Be sure this was secretly and sourly relished by the quondam "King of Bourges."
Jeanne perceived the change of the wind; among
the fawning, insincere councilors, most of them in the pay or the interest of Burgundy, she had not a single friend either for counsel or support. She was a hindrance to them, their furtive plottings, all their devious and sinister ways, and they burned to be rid of her. Well might she say to a friend of Domremy who had seen her glorious and almost worshiped at Reims, that she "feared nothing except the treason!"
Presently the title of chef de guerre was taken from her, but she continued to be the effective leader of the army, in so far as it did anything of importance. Thus she captained and won the brilliant engagement of Patay, in which the doughty Talbot and other English notables were made prisoners of war, two thousand of their army being slain. Patay was fought in the open field, the armies were fairly matched, the conditions not unequal, and so it was a more crushing blow to English pride than the defeat of Orleans. This battle led to the clearing of the Loire country, several important towns held by the Anglo-French and the Burgundians capitulating promptly and returning to the national allegiance. Among these was Compiegne, a place of strategical value in the Burgundian view, and forever memorable from the last scene in the Maid's fighting career.
In spite of these brilliant results, impossible and undreamed of a few months before, the dropping of Jeanne at the hands of kin and council was still in gradual process. Finally, it was disclosed to the whole army in her so-called "failure" against Paris.
Jeanne was determined to make this attempt upon the capital city of the nation, which the English had almost made over in their own political image and likeness—Paris, the apostate city, in which the servile priests of the university were already crying for her blood. The king seemed to yield, though with unfeigned reluctance, and meanwhile his councilors framed up a truce with the Duke of Burgundy, ally of the English, by virtue of which Paris was to be held free of any attempt by the French during several months to ensue. Completely deceived on this point, Jeanne with some leaders of the army still faithful to her, and a considerable attacking force, appeared under the walls of Paris early in September, 1429. The assault failed, having been ill prepared for and ill seconded by some of the army chiefs, who had doubtless been primed by the councilors of the king. Jeanne was wounded and, still wishing to continue the fight, was carried away by her own soldiers. The attempt was given over for the day. Next morning Jeanne was up early, apparently healed of her wound, and declared that she would take the city before nightfall. But orders came from Charles directing the withdrawal of the army from Paris, and commanding the destruction of a bridge, which the besiegers had planned to use against the city. Jeanne was ordered to return to the king, who was near-by with his councilors, at St. Denis. Bitterly disappointed and heart-heavy with forebodings of worse to come, Jeanne obeyed. The army abandoned a great part of its munitions before Paris; on being dismissed
presently, no small number of the soldiers returned to their old marauding ways. At St. Denis, in the ancient shrine of the kings of France, Jeanne dedicated her famous suit of white armor. Did she believe that her mission was now ended, whether for good or ill, and that she was to battle no more for France? Were her Voices silent in this dark hour when treason seemed to prevail against the will of Heaven? There is no answer, for Jeanne has never worded her despair in those first moments of abandonment.
Followed a season of idling and inaction in the royal train at divers chateaux on the Loire, where, to be sure, sundry honors and favors were conferred upon the warrior Maid, as if to bribe her against the stern counsels of her spirit. But she remained always true to herself, to her mission, to her Voices; curbed and fettered in this graceful, ceremonious court life, she made no pretense to hide her sadness and revolt. Breaking away at length, without authorization from the king, she went with a small band of devoted followers, including the Italian free-lance Baretta, to the relief of Compiegne, a town of some military importance. Following the deliverance of Orleans this place had returned to the French interest, and now found itself invested by both English and Burgundians. Throwing herself into the town at early morning, Jeanne made a sally against a position of the besiegers in the afternoon and was gaining the upper hand, when the enemy, reinforced, compelled her to
retreat. Always fighting, with the brave handful about her, she delayed too long and suddenly found the gates of Compiegne shut against her, as is now virtually proved, by an act of premeditated treachery. ('See Last Records: Gilles de Rais.) She was dragged from her horse and became the prisoner of the Bastard of Wandonne—why so titularly distinguished it is not easy to say, since bastards were anything but rare or lonely in those times. By him she was presently handed over to John of Luxembourg, a creature of the Duke of Burgundy, not without a plump sum of money passing as consideration. Pity 'tis 'tis true, but in every machination aiming at the Maid's liberty or life, the venal treachery of her French compatriots appears with ugly conspicuousness. After a longer interval, Jeanne being meantime held prisoner in one chateau or another, she was finally delivered to the English, through the zealous intermediation of Pierre Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais, a man so lonely an anathema in his utter cutting off from Christian sympathy that even Bernard Shaw is moved to insinuate a plea for him! The price paid by the English, and exacted by those thrifty French, was TEN THOUSAND LIVRES in gold—a royal ransom at that time. But in love or hate we don't spare money, and the English, good haters as they are, have never hated anybody as they did Jeanne d'Arc: according to Michelet, their feeling toward her was more bitter than that of the Jews toward Jesus Christ! Even so, the English would
have hated her worse could they have foreseen that she would drive them out of France—the ultimate result of her initiative.
In the transaction just mentioned, the English had the last laugh on the French, since they included this item of blood-money in a huge tax levied upon their Gallic subjects shortly afterward. In faith, one desiring to be impartial must allow that honors were not absurdly unequal between the French and English as regards their treatment of Jeanne d'Arc. Let us add that no language could paint the fierce joy of the English upon gaining possession of their maiden conqueror. Negotiations to that end between the English and the Burgundians had lasted six months, in which sinister bargaining the Bishop of Beauvais—that "damned soul of Philip of Burgundy and the English," as Hanotaux calls him—had taken a principal hand. In the last days of December, 1430, Jeanne was brought to Rouen and lodged in the strong castle of Bouvreuil. A gloomy month in a gloomy city—a city of blood, of terror, and repression, which had been made to feel the full weight of the English domination.
As their prisoner, solitary and unfriended, Jeanne fully experienced the "tender mercies" of the English (to which we shall refer more particularly in a following chapter). In February her trial began before an ecclesiastical court at which the Bishop of Beauvais presided—nominally, for the English Cardinal Winchester was the real director of those detestable proceedings. The solemn farce dragged on
until the last days of May, when Jeanne was convicted and condemned as a sorceress, apostate, blasphemer, schismatic, rebel, and relapsed offender. She had made a heroical, even inspired defense, which increased her glory and confirmed her claim to eternal remembrance, even as it blasted her iniquitous judges. All in vain: she was delivered over to the "secular arm" and burned in the old market-place in Rouen, May 30, 1431
Twenty-one years later (1452), the English being all but driven from France—a result predicted by Jeanne and one strictly due to her initiative—a solemn Rehabilitation of the Maid was staged and effected in this same fatal city of Rouen. The proceeding was inspired by Charles VII, more indeed from regard to his own honor and dignity than from any conscientious scruple as to her who had assured both his kingship and the liberties of France. Priests were now her exculpatory, as they had formerly been her accusers. It is but just to say that the work was fairly and thoroughly done, whatever weight may be allowed to political motives. The religion, the character, the purity, and patriotism of Jeanne d'Arc were explicitly and finally vindicated before the world. This act of justice and reparation started Jeanne in the greater and more exalted career, which was marked out for her spirit in succeeding ages.