YOUTH IN THE SADDLE
Certain writers pretend to make little enough of this Loire campaign (excepting Patay); to me, on the contrary, it is a thrill with the high pulse of adventure and all of a piece with Jeanne's great achievement—save, indeed, where and when she was crossed and thwarted by her opponents in the king's council.
For the moment let us regard the brighter side, the heroic relief of this dashing campaign—the last she was to make with the fullness of royal support. She is less great perhaps than at Orleans, for the opportunity does not present itself; the risks, the prizes are of less moment. But her genius is the same, there is no falling off in her courage and initiative, and humanly she charms us more, in these later vaillances of the Loire. Something more of the woman comes into play when she finds her burden not too crushing, as at Orleans.
What fascinates me about this tourney of the Loire is its gay spirit and smiling hardihood, the bravery of youth that mocked at death and evil fortune. The chiefs were all young, d'Alencon, Dunois, La Hire, others, and the king himself, not visibly leading, but present in every man's thought, and at
times present in person. For this was the king's cause, this campaign had for object to restore him to his own. And look! Jeanne is in the fore, the herald of God, the virgin warrior, before whom the great bastiles fell, the might of the English turned into weakness, and their armies melted away! Jeanne is there, incarnation of Youth itself, smiling, radiant, fearless—harmless as a lamb, terrible as a host with banners! She rides with the handsome Duke of Alencon, whom she knows for a friend and who is very glad to be near her, glad also to defer to her in the command. Peasant and prince, they are on terms of perfect equality and most loyal understanding—a fact which, in that fifteenth century speaks volumes for the character of Jeanne d'Arc.
Over her bright armor Jeanne wears one of the rich huques presented by the grateful Orleanais as a gift from their sovereign duke, captive in England, (Jeanne held him in high esteem and predicted his release from captivity, fixing the term thereof. He lived long enough thereafter to estimate what she had done for France.) who has heard of the great deliverance. She loved these pretty garnitures with a simplicity that was itself lovable, and in which only a bad heart could find anything to blame. Let us not forget that it was a period of luxury in dress, owing to the fashion of courts and the requirements of chivalry. I have seen a picture representing the Maid and Dunois together, mounted, plumed, armed, and caparisoned with the utmost "bravery." It was, as I have said, a note of the time, a mark of refinement amid so much that
was barbarous or chaotic; and as such it appears not unpleasing to me.
An army of eight thousand men had been formed to clear the Loire country and dislodge the English from their strongholds en route to Reims. In gratitude to Jeanne, Orleans had helped to outfit it, and the recent victory there had produced a spirit among the French soldiers which was worth any amount of military material. Again the cordials of religion were applied to stimulate the soldiers; the victory of Orleans being recognized as due to divine aid and favor, no pains were spared to insure its continuance. Under Jeanne's direction the priests were indefatigable, exhorting, confessing, reproving, encouraging—pressing the sacrament upon those rude and often lawless men but little inclined voluntarily to seek it. Jeanne's hardest cross in this work and the only one, which seems ever to have tried her temper, was on account of the vicious women (les mauvaises femmes) who infested the camp. Most unwillingly, no doubt, the soldiers gave up an indulgence which had become habitual under the lax discipline then prevailing, and something of prejudice was roused against the Maid (Some accounts of the failure against Paris, wholly due to Charles himself, represent captains and soldiers as gibing at the Maid.) which showed itself later on when the king's favor cooled and the councilors had their will of him. Had Circe begun by changing beasts into men, instead of the reverse process, no doubt they would have raged to become swine again!
But at the moment of which we speak all was ardor, loyalty, enthusiasm; an army of crusaders on the march it seemed, with priests chanting the Veni, Creator Spiritus, carrying sacred banners, crucifixes, holy emblems, and La Pucelle in the van with her mystical white standard to which the strong towers of Orleans had yielded. Yes, Jeanne was in apogee, with the triumphal end of her mission before her; and if there were some in that marching host who held her in evil regard, they might well have a care to dissemble their rancorous hearts.
One pauses to reflect how circumscribed was the field of this little war, which has made so great a noise in history. Tours and Orleans, both on the Loire, are a bare score of miles apart; Beaugency, to which the French army was now headed, is but fifteen miles distant from Orleans; Patay about the same. Yet within this narrow circle La Pucelle was to gain, in the course of one year, battles that rank with the most famous in history. In point of results, and without regard to the numbers of men engaged, these victories remain unique, "in a class by themselves."
June 11(1429) the French marched to attack Beaugency, held by the English since the previous August. Here the Earl of Suffolk commanded and the garrison was prepared to make a desperate resistance. A crowd of common men who had followed Jeanne, made a diversion before the walls of the town, without her knowledge or consent, and were driven back by a sortie. This had some effect upon the regular
soldiers, but Jeanne quickly rallied them and they returned to the charge, driving the English back and capturing the faubourgs.
Here it was proposed to hold for the night, but suddenly a rumor spread among the French that the English Sir John Fastolfe, with a fresh army, was coming to the relief of Beaugency. History, by the way, imputes a somewhat comic role to the doughty Fastolfe in those wars; he is always a bugbear to the French, always advancing with reinforcements, but he never arrives in time to do anything; or, if he does, forthwith he goes away again. The present rumor was so menacing that it produced almost a panic among the French; a few companies fled the place, the morale of the rest was seriously affected, and even the chiefs were disturbed. A general sauve qui pent might have resulted but for the intervention of-Jeanne, supported by d'Alencon. These mediaeval soldiers appear like children, easily frightened and as easily reassured. We must remember that the discipline was much more lax than in modern times, that mercenaries made a large figure in these armies, that even dependable soldiers, like the best under Jeanne's command, were not in constant service but were recruited from time to time, as occasion demanded.
Finally, the French allowed themselves to be calmed and they made vigorous preparations for the siege. A warning from Jeanne saved d'Alencon from a cannon shot. Darkness fell while these compliments were being exchanged, and with the French holding
their position, it was resolved to attack on the morrow.
"One must believe," said the Duc d'Alencon at a later time, "that God was in our favor, for the same night our people kept such bad guard that if the English had made a sortie from the city, it might have been all up with our army."
Next morning the dance began again, hotter than ever, and both sides fought with equal fury during several hours. Suffolk, foreseeing the issue, offered to parley, but Jeanne would grant no terms save that he and his soldiers, disarmed but with their horses, should quit the town instanter. The English leader refused; and immediately on the French side the trumpets were sounded for a general assault and everywhere the heralds gave warning. Addressing d'Alencon himself, Jeanne ordered, "Forward, noble Duke, to the assault!" As he seemed to hesitate a little, she added playfully:
"You are not afraid, my handsome Duke? Don't you know that I have promised to bring you back to your wife, safe and sound?"
Again the enemies were locked in fierce grapple, and the struggle long continued without manifest advantage to either side. Seeing this, Jeanne raised a ladder against the wall and, standard in hand, mounted toward the enemy. She had nearly reached the top, when a heavy stone fell upon her helmeted head, throwing her down into the ditch. Stunned for a moment, she rose promptly and urged her men to greater efforts: "Once more, friends, to the attack—at
them! the Lord has condemned these English. Have good courage—forward, they are ours!"
Jeanne's words and her example incite the French to a tremendous effort; they break through in a final assault and possess the city. Suffolk attempts to parley again, but the conquerors have begun the work of pillage. The English retreat to the bridge and make a stand there, the French instantly pursuing and joining the combat hand to hand. At this moment an incident occurs which, thanks to the English pride and incapacity of humor, almost relieves the dreadful scene.
Suffolk, the noble English commander, pressed close by a French soldier, an equerry named Guillaume Renault, addresses him.
"Are you a gentleman?"
"Are you a chevalier?"
On the spot Suffolk makes him a chevalier by the proper accolade and surrenders to him.
God bless the English, how dull this world would be without them! In the language of the great Bard, their humor is "not strain'd, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes." But it is necessary to take English humor in a sense different from that of the dispenser!
Mad with rage and perhaps other stimulants, the French slaughtered their prisoners—a horrible reproach to that time with its universal Christian faith.
Jeanne had much ado to save the lives of Suffolk and a few others.
Crusades, even when led by a Daughter of God, are apt to be very cruel as between Christians and Christians!