LA PUCELLE IN BATTLE
Strolling along the banks of the Loire, which passes through the city of Orleans, one tries to visualize something of that great struggle which both defenders and besiegers maintained so long ago. But there is little to go upon, naught remaining of the ancient fortifications, not a stone upon a stone of the English leaguering works. One cannot but regret their destruction: a section of the Tourelles, or the bastile of Saint-Loup merely, would be an important source of revenue to the Orleanais (people of Orleans) in this day of awakened historical curiosity and especially of devotion to the legend of Jeanne d'Arc. Orleans complains that it is neglected even by the ubiquitous American tourist; it has only to blame the lack of foresight evinced by its ancient bourgeoisie. The example of Carcassonne, dating from a more remote time, stands as a poignant reminder of what Orleans has lost.
But if no monuments of the siege remain, the scrutiny of modern writers has left few dark places in the chronicle. In truth, we know the particulars as well as those of any battle in recent times. Our chief care, then, is to see them in their right relation and importance.
First of all, it is demonstrated that the credit of this action, which checked the conquering progress of the English, belongs mainly to Jeanne d'Arc. Even more, it is clear that without her, success would have been problematic, nay, impossible. The Burgundians were as unwilling as their English allies that Charles VII should have the glory and material advantage of such a victory. As we have seen, Philip had trusty friends in the secret council of the king, who looked askance at this enterprise originating with a peasant girl. For the moment they were forced to acquiesce by the unlooked-for activity and enthusiasm of Charles; but they bided their time, watching their opportunity to check or hamstring the movement. Even in Orleans there were men of this color, and notably Gaucourt, the bailli or governor of the city; but they were constrained to great caution, as the people in general were inflamed by the threat of English domination. They had made the most formidable preparations to defend their city; fortifying their walls and constructing advanced works; accumulating an immense store of food and munitions; sending abroad for military aid and destroying their suburbs, the most beautiful in the kingdom; in short, clearing away everything that might afford shelter to the enemy. Bedford appears to have been justified in looking upon the siege as a desperate enterprise, but he despaired of it only after the interposition of La Pucelle. (At the Rehabilitation a citizen of Orleans was asked if he believed that the great effort made by the armies of Charles VII would not have been sufficient to deliver the city; or if it was freed by the intervention of La Pucelle rather than by force of arms. He replied for himself, and others of Orleans present, that she came from God to relieve them, and without her help they would still be under the English power. Neither the people o Orleans nor the soldiers could resist the enemy, who then held the upper hand.)
From the moment of Jeanne's entrance into Orleans the policy of the high traitors and obstructors became manifest: they were to give her as little play as possible, to reduce her leadership to a mere fiction and shadow. Thus, she was not informed, in advance, of the first attack made upon the bastile Saint-Loup, in which fifteen hundred French engaged. They were repulsed by the stubborn valor of the English, many of them killed, and more put to disorder and flight, when Jeanne, warned by her Voices, took horse and sped to the scene. Followed by her escort and a few chevaliers, she arrived in time to check the rout. At her appearance the fugitives returned and the French body re-formed itself; as Jeanne advanced to the assault, banner in hand, a great ardor seized upon the French soldiers, and, seemingly indifferent to the weapons of the foe, they renewed the battle. After three hours of desperate fighting the strong place was carried. A large number of prisoners were taken, whom Jeanne sought to protect, but in her momentary absence they were sacrificed to the rage of the Orleanais, embittered by the long siege. She succeeded in saving some others who had put on priestly vestments in the Church of Saint-Loup, thereby hoping to escape the slaughter.
In this fierce combat Jeanne exposed herself fully, in the very teeth of danger, never behind but always in the van. Animated by such a spectacle, which seemed nothing short of miraculous, the French soldiers fought with invincible courage, as they had not done in many years. Also, from this battle of Saint-Loup dates the great fear, which possessed the English soldiers at sight of Jeanne d'Arc—a fear amounting to panic, as later appeared at Jargeau and Patay. Well might Dunois testify: "While before, the English with two hundred men put to flight eight hundred or a thousand of ours, now with four or five hundred soldiers we were able to struggle against the entire power of the enemy."
During Jeanne's attack upon Saint-Loup, Talbot attempted to make a diversion in favor of the threatened garrison, but was driven back by a force of six hundred chevaliers and men-at-arms, under command of the Marshal de Boussac.
We have referred in our last chapter to Jeanne's succinct message to the English besiegers, inviting them to depart while their skins were whole. Nothing could surpass the prescience and humanity of this letter; the English had only themselves to blame for the issue. But the kind-hearted Maid went further in her wish to save bloodshed: riding round the hostile enceinte, she hailed some of the leaders on the walls and repeated the same counsel in firm but gentle words. They answered her with base insults, reviling her with that vileness and copiousness of which we have no faint echo in the diatribes of Shakespeare
("Henry VI"; Part I) (See Last Records: Shakespeare and the Maid.) Prominent among these scurvy fellows was a Sir William Glansdale, who indeed excelled the rest in his filthy objurgations. Jeanne prophesied to him the defeat of the English and his own death, which latter event occurred before her eyes a few days afterward.
But in spite of this unmanly reception Jeanne continued her efforts to save these enemies from the doom she saw inevitably awaiting them. I stress the point, in view of the clemency she was herself to experience at the hands of her English foes.
Dunois's record in relation to Jeanne is fairly straight, but he had begun by underrating her ability for military command (of which indeed he could know nothing), and he had joined with the other chiefs in withholding from her the planned attack upon Saint-Loup. In regard to the expected coming of Sir John Fastolfe with reinforcements for the besiegers, she had said to him in playful earnest: "Batard, Baitard," (The reader will excuse this use of the French word, which has an unfamiliar charm denied to the English equivalent.) I command you, as soon as you have word of this Fastolfe's arrival, to inform me of it, for if he passes without my knowledge I will have your head taken off!"
After which there was a better understanding between the pair; as also following Saint-Loup, Dunois took a juster measure of the inspired prowess of the Maid.