Behold Jeanne d'Arc at the head of the army marching to the relief of Orleans. The history of that battle-scarred age presents no more interesting spectacle, and we may well dwell upon it at some length. It was the beginning and, in a sense, the end of Jeanne's triumph; about her were all the elements of victory and defeat.
A great effort had been made to bring together this army of some eight thousand men, and to whip it into military shape. It was composed mainly of rough material, the only sort available in those law- less times: filibusters, marauders, ecorcheurs, sons of the camp, loyal only to their paymaster, upon occasion formidable to friend and foe alike. Hastily mobilized at Tours and Blois following the endorsement of Jeanne's mission by the Poitiers tribunal, the best discipline which they received was from La Pucelle herself. This was wholly of a moral and religious order. The Maid demanded a spiritual "cleanup" on the part of those swashbucklers, addicted to all the grosser sins fostered by the license of the time. They grinned sourly but came to it with rough bonhomie; the confessionals were set up in the camp
and the priests were hearing the penitents and giving the communion. At the same time Jeanne took measures to banish the loose women who followed in the soldiers' train and to suppress other kindred vices and debaucheries which we need not more particularly glance at. Against blasphemy and profane speech she set herself with special severity, and was thus the first promoter of what we now call the Holy Name Society. It was a hard task, for cursing and swearing were as dear and necessary to those gaillards as their daily rations of pinard (wine). In the case of La Hire, a bold captain of lancers, famous for his oaths, Jeanne graciously made an exception—permitting him to swear by his baton!
We dare not make this history exceptional to the point of leaving out La Hire's prayer, and here it is, in his Gascon speech:
Sire Dieu, je to prie de faire pour La Hire ce que La Hire ferait pour toi, si to etais La Hire et si La Hire etait Dieu. ("Lord God, I beg you to do for La Hire what La Hire would do for you, if you were La Hire and if La Hire were God.")
This brave soldier loyally accepted Jeanne as his commander and gave an example to some others who demurred at being led by a woman. "I swear to follow you, Jeanne, I and my company, wherever it may please you to lead us." The murmuring ceased.
Jeanne's efforts, noted above, seconded by her attractive personality and the mystical prestige of her mission, aided too by the utmost zeal of the priests, availed no doubt to make a great change in
the moral temper of the army. Roused to a simple but sincere faith, with which the worst of them had some early associations, some memories that had survived years of evil-doing, those rough soldiers quickly passed to a state of fanatical zeal, of religious exaltation—that mood which has so often achieved the impossible. They were, besides, animated by a fighting spirit, a hostility against the English, long unknown to them, and they burned to wipe out the shame of recent defeats. It is perhaps doubtful whether Jeanne was ever nominally chef de guerre (commander-in-chief), though being so in effect whenever she took part in an action. She gives herself the title in writing to the English from Poitiers, even before the priestly tribunal in that city had concluded its examination. Some say that she bore the title at Orleans, others that Charles withheld it until she should have freed the city and proved her mission. The matter is of small importance—it was the Maid herself, and not the prestige of military rank or title, that broke the ranks of the English and scattered their bravest in flight.
On setting out with the army Jeanne had been raised to the rank of Comte (count) by the king. With a view, no doubt, to placating the military leaders, the title of chef-de-guerre seems to have been dropped, while obedience to the Maid was strictly enjoined upon the former. The result proved that Jeanne got from them such obedience ass she compelled.
At the moment she was surrounded with all the
tokens of respect, of the royal regard and confidence. Popular belief in her rose to ecstasy; Orleans held out to her imploring hands, sent to the court messenger after messenger. Perhaps in this interval between doubt and triumph Jeanne tasted the purest joy she was to know as the result of her mission—one of the rarest moments even with high, elect souls, when the ideal appears in all its beauty, unmarred by the human alloy which threatens to degrade it, superior to the realization at which it aims. It is sweet to regard Jeanne in this so brief and happy interval when, sure of herself, of her king, of her heavenly support, she saw the same joyous faith reflected in the many faces around her.
Her friend Queen Yolande had seen to it that a proper escort and company were provided for her in the campaign at hand; their charge was to watch over her with all vigilance and honor, and to defend her with their lives. Among the members of Jeanne's "military house" or staff were Jean d'Aulon, (His loyalty to the Maid was long questioned, and it is certain that he took money from La Tremoille; but his bravery in defending her in several actions, including Compiegne when both were taken prisoner, has availed to sponge the record for him. Twenty-five years later he was a notable witness at the Rehabilitation.) her equerry, formerly attached to the royal council; Jean de Nouvelempont, treasurer of the company; her two brothers Jean and Pierre; her cousin Nicholas de Vouthon; her almoner and chaplain, Brother Pasquerel of the Augustines; besides pages, heralds, and guards.
All the prominent political and military chiefs were with the army, including the absentee Archbishop of Reims, Regnault de Chartres; Gaucourt, mayor of Orleans; the Marshal de Boussac, the Duc d'Alengon, the Sire de Rais (or Retz), the Admiral de Culant, Ambroise de Loiret, La Hire, Poton de Xaintrailles, etc. It cannot be said that all were animated with equal zeal for the great business in hand. The heartiest partisans of the Maid were the citizens of Orleans, who had suffered much from the long continuance of the siege; by the interruption of their commerce rather than by any real privation, since the leaguer was only effective on three sides of the town and the Loire remained practically free.
But the English went on investing foot by foot, raising formidable works, towers, and bastions that plainly evinced their purpose to take Orleans at whatever cost of time, men, or money. They were ably captained by the Earl of Salisbury, Earl of Suffolk, Sir William Glansdale, John Talbot , (One is glad to point out here that Talbot's name has never been coupled in any unworthy connection with that of Jeanne d'Arc, save by the egregious Shakespeare! ("Henry VI," Part 1).) son of the Earl of Shrewsbury, and bravest of the English leaders. In the judgment of the French leaders, the English position was impregnable, both from the strength of their siege-works and the sufficiency of the force defending these. Voila! there is room for a miracle, and only through a miracle did the shrewdest of the French captains hope for success.
"I bring you," said Jeanne on her first meeting with
Dunois outside the city, "the best help that any city has ever received—the help of Heaven!"
Again she repeated to the wondering chiefs, on her arrival within the gates of the leaguered city: "I am sent by God to deliver the good city of Orleans." The word was instantly caught up by the people and disseminated in a frenzy of wild emotion and enthusiasm. Already they hailed, they knew their liberator!—and it was a marvel that they did not put her in peril as they struggled frantically to see, to hear, to touch her.
And the first thing Jeanne did when she had gained a breathing space was to dictate her famous ALLEZ-VOUS-EN! message to the English lords and captains before Orleans; one of the briefest and most pointed letters on record, signifying, GET OUT!
It would be useless to pretend to myself that the reader does not know the story of the siege of Orleans, anticipated, besides, in earlier pages of this book; but I deem it profitable to signalize certain phases and incidents of that great piece of history which are not perhaps duly appreciated by the casual reader. And to this end we shall devote the following chapter.