Patay was the last of Jeanne's great feats of arms. She had crushed and confounded the enemies of her country; she had made possible her king's triumphal progress to Reims. Now she was to feel the malice, long hoarded, of her foes in the king's household, an unequal contest in which she was bound to fall. Signs and tokens of the evil change will henceforth mark every hour until the final abandonment. Slight at first, the process of "letting down" will continue until it is palpable even to the common soldiers and camp-followers. A painful history to trace, and I will spare myself no less than the reader in passing quickly over the details.
Jeanne was paying the price foredoomed to all heroic, disinterested souls. She had scorned money, greatest of the unspiritual powers of this world, and craft, its most powerful fellow and abettor. Both were soon to have their revenge.
These malefic powers were concentrated in the persons of La Tremoille and de Chartres, leaders of the royal council, who joined to their unavowed political aims a keen personal animosity toward the Maid. As we have seen heretofore, no other word than hatred
will explain the archbishop's malignant disposition, and one is constrained further to qualify it as a rare specimen of the odium ecclesiasticum or priestly rancor. We can do the holy man no wrong in thus accounting for the grounds of that evil sentiment of which he has left indisputable proofs in the record.
The mind and purpose of Charles offer a more difficult problem, but there remains no doubt that he sanctioned the policy of his councilors, while desiring that Jeanne be let down as gently as possible. No doubt his royal vanity was hurt by the English taunt —it was always in the mouth of Bedford—that he was obliged to keep a woman, and one of bad character, to command his army. He had faith in Jeanne, he believed implicitly in her mission, as we know from his letters and proclamations; but he did not understand that her mission was to be without limits. She was plainly a thorn and a hindrance to his councilors, whom he himself did not trust or esteem overmuch. But, tortuous and uncandid himself, he doubtless preferred advisers of his own stamp and reckoned that they served him well enough. La Tremoille, the coarse exploiter, with his brutal self-assertion and the odor of crime clinging to him, was perhaps difficult to swallow. But Charles was in the position of every poor debtor: he needed ever more of La Tremoille's money, and it was ever more necessary to postpone the reckoning. At a future day he was to prove his real mind toward La Tremoille, when something like retribution overtook that worthy.
We have said it: Charles was not averse to demoting Jeanne, believing as he did that she had about fulfilled the divine will toward himself; but he was for treating her with consideration. Young and of strong erotic proclivities, he had found himself, in a degree, magnetized by her charming, wholesome personality, even as his soul was subdued by the sense of her supernatural power. Beyond this his feelings toward her never had gone, whatever the imagination of ancient or modern romantics might imply. (A French writer of the present day has, among other liberties, imagined Jeanne as running away from fear of the king's passion. The assumption is unworthy of his talent and, besides, purely gratuitous. ("Jeanne d'Arc," par Joseph Delteil.)) Yes, in spite of the immense distance between them – not to be measured by our eyes – Charles inclined toward her and wished to keep her near him, in the royal entourage. About this time occurred the en-noblement of Jeanne and her family, which the Maid did not solicit; and a little later the perpetual exemption of her native village from tax—the one reward which she seems to have claimed for all glorious service.
Shortly after Patay, positions as between the council and Jeanne were clearly defined, the first token appearing in the affair of Richemont. We have told how this nobleman, estranged from Charles, had returned to the aid of his country in the engagements at Beaugency and Patay; how he had been received in spite of the king's prohibition; and how Jeanne had offered to plead for him. She kept her word, going
for that end to Sully, the rich manor of La Tremoille, where he was at the time entertaining Charles and his chancellor.
It was a most unfortunate intervention. La Tremoille, enemy and rival of Richemont, felt himself threatened by the Maid's action, and put forth all his strength. Thereupon Charles agreed to pardon the constable at Jeanne's prayer, in view of his recent honorable course; but he positively refused to receive him or to permit his attending the consecration at Reims. Nay, he declared with passion, "I would rather never be crowned at Reims than to have Richemont there!"
Jeanne, with keen regret, informed the constable of her partial failure. The latter made a further trial of the king's disposition, and again failing, retired to serve his country elsewhere. Some years later, following the disgrace of La Tremoille, he returned triumphantly into favor and took a chief hand in driving the English out of France—all in the spirit and according to the literal prediction of his former chief, Jeanne d'Arc.
The royal army, augmented to 12,000 men, now proceeded on its march toward Reims, Charles accompanying it, to the great joy of the Maid. At different points they stopped and issued invitations to the sacre, or consecration, Jeanne as well as the king; also they were busy receiving the submission of certain towns by the way or bringing others into loyalty by force.
It was La Tremoille's policy to make profit of these capitulations by certain loathes or squinting agreements not at all to the liking of Jeanne, nor to the advantage of Charles, who, however, acquiesced in them. Thus at Auxerre, La Pucelle and the army chiefs had prepared to attack the town, thinking it an easy conquest. But La Tremoille interfered, securing a booty of two million crowns from the city as the price of a pact which he made with it. By the terms of this bargain Auxerre held its gates closed, but agreed to furnish certain supplies needful to the army; also engaging to follow the example of Troyes, Chalons, and Reims, toward which towns the army was then advancing.
At this point Charles wrote to Reims, informing the people of his recent victories, secured, he said, "more by divine grace than by human effort"— a plain reference to Jeanne's part therein. Jeanne also wrote to Troyes inviting that city to return to its true loyalty, on pain of severe consequences in the event of refusal.
On July 5 the army stood under the walls of Troyes and repulsed a sortie of the garrison. Charles sent a herald with a sealed message, demanding the surrender of the town. The Troyenais would not permit the heralds to enter, but they received the message. To the king's mandate they replied that they were under solemn engagement to the Duke of Burgundy not to admit an armed force within their walls greater in number than their garrison. As to Jeanne's letter, they made mirth over it, and finally threw it into the
fire, calling her a boaster and a lunatic. So far the gallant Trojans, emulating their namesakes of old.
At this point an erratic preaching friar, one Brother Richard, injects himself into the history. He had made something of a noise at Paris and other places with his sermons and predictions; a questionable fellow—breeding agitation wherever he went and leaving a dubious record behind him—who was looked upon askance by the lay authorities and sometimes tasted the rigors of conventual durance. Brother Richard nosed his way into the besiegers' camp before Troyes, with a view to making acquaintance with the Maid. Seeing her at some little distance, the shave-poll began to cross himself frantically and to fling holy water upon her. Jeanne laughed at his antics and said to him merrily, "Come on boldly, good brother, I shall not fly away." She seemed to have won Brother Richard, and for a time he professed himself her follower; but we shall hear more of him later on.
During several days the army had lingered before Troyes without result and it was beginning to feel the pinch of hunger; many soldiers were eating the green things of the field. Something must be done. Accordingly Charles summoned his council, the majority of whom favored a motion of de Chartres—to make an instant retreat. The chancellor asked Robert le Masson to state his opinion.
"I think," said the latter, "that we should send for Jeanne la Pucelle, since she brought us into this affair."
The councilors looked at one another in some doubt and confusion; in the same moment came a bold knock on the door. It was Jeanne herself, warned by her mystic counselors. Explaining the situation, the chancellor invited Jeanne to state her views before the sovereign. Addressing herself, then, directly to the king, Jeanne asked:
"Will you believe in my words, Sire?"
"I do not know," he answered. "If you tell me something reasonable and profitable I shall believe you."
"Shall I be believed?" she repeated.
"Yes, according to what you shall say."
Then Jeanne with great earnestness: "Noble Dauphin, order your people to besiege Troyes and do not hold more long councils. For in the name of God, within three days, I shall lead you into the city, by love or by force, and false Burgundy shall be astounded."
Here de Chartres rejoined: "Jeanne, if we were sure of getting Troyes within six days, we would gladly wait; but I don't know if what you say is true."
Jeanne fixed upon the king her burning glance: "Cease to doubt," she cried. "To-morrow you shall be master of the city!" (For this remarkable passage I am indebted to Mgr. Henri Debout's valuable work on Jeanne d'Arc, written from a Catholic standpoint, but of eminent fairness and liberality.)
On leaving the council Jeanne instantly set herself to the work of preparing the siege. Artillery, scaling-ladders, battering-rams, all the cruel machines used
by leaguerers, were put in readiness under her directing eye. She had never been obeyed with heartier will; during the whole night the hostile preparations continued, and in the morning all was in readiness. The warlike Trojans, those who had slept, awoke to look upon no comforting spectacle.
Jeanne, arisen among the earliest, orders her men to bring fascines to fill up the ditch before the town. She then gives the command in her clear tones: "Forward to the assault!"
When lo! to the general astonishment the gates of Troyes are opened and a deputation appears, headed by the bishop, asking leave to surrender. This unexpected volte-face was doubtless due to Jeanne's energetic measures; the wily Trojans were now grinning on the wrong side of the mouth.
Charles made them easy terms, delighted as he was with the unlooked-for result and the justification of the Maid. Some Anglo-Burgundians were allowed to retire with arms and baggage. But these latter proposing to take away with them many French prisoners under terms of the treaty, as they claimed, Jeanne halted the procession, exclaiming, "By God, they shall not pass!"—and released the captives. She then notified Charles, who, in deference to his royal word, paid their ransoms out of his privy purse.
And I wonder what hand La Tremoille, secret Burgundian, had in drawing up that pact with the Trojans which seemed to permit the sacrifice of those poor French prisoners. Or rather I do not wonder the least bit!