A PACK OF TRAITORS
If anything is clear in the perplexed and rather puerile diplomacy of Philip, prompted by Bedford, it is that both were intent upon preventing the French army from making any hostile move against Paris. That army was now the largest and most formidable that Charles had ever raised, and its spirit was the highest, due to recent triumphs under the leadership of Jeanne d'Arc. Nothing is more certain among conjectural events than that Paris would have fallen had Charles boldly advanced upon it immediately after his coronation. The great bulk of the Parisians were not unfavorable to the idea of a French king—it was only the powerful and interested ones, priests and politicians mainly, who were really sincere in the support of Bedford. Even these would know how to change front and shift to the winning side—as they did some years later when Charles regained his capital city.
But history advances one step at a time. Charles proved unequal to the present opportunity, whether through weakness, want of will, or mere stupidity, it is impossible to say. Yet that he was no fool his later career signally demonstrated; in the judgment
of his contemporaries he fairly won and worthily bore the proud title of Charles the Victorious. And it is not unusual to see a great career marked in the beginning with just such faults as those of the Valois.
One can only seek an answer to the enigma, which his conduct at this time presents, in his complaisance toward La Tremoille and Regnault de Chartres, both secret Burgundians, both haters of Jeanne d'Arc. It is very probable that the gradual abandonment of the Maid was the work of these evil councilors and, in an implied way, the price of La Tremoille's money. We shall see that money was always to figure potently in the calculations of Jeanne's enemies.
La Tremoille was firmly set against making any-attempt on Paris, while Jeanne urged the plan with as much insistence as she dared show to the king. In his eagerness to outbid her, the false councilor offered to re-conquer Paris by a treaty of peace—viz., a pact offered by Philip of Burgundy at this moment, calling for a truce of fifteen days, at the end of which the said Philip offered to deliver Paris. But how could Philip deliver what he did not possess? This transparently foolish and worthless proposition could mean only one thing: that Jeanne was to be held off at any cost.
Charles yielded to his councilor, the fifteen days' truce was accepted, as well as the vague promise to deliver Paris, and the army, stopped in its triumphal march toward Paris, received orders to return to Bourges. Jeanne was heartbroken at this cowardly retreat, and spent the night in tears.
Next morning she was to lead her soldiers to the bridge of Bray-sur-Seine, free access to which had been offered to the French; but on arriving here the vanguard were surprised by a sudden attack of English soldiers, and all were made prisoners. This incident proves that the English were suspiciously well informed of what was passing in the French camp; also that something had broken the spell of fear in which they had but lately been held by the soldiers of Jeanne d'Arc. Charles dared not cross the Seine and was forced to recall his troops, leading them in a new march across the country, which promised the royal cause no advantage and gave much cheer to the English.
An old chronicle relates that the French captains were "very joyous and content" with this easy and bloodless campaigning, in contrast to the stern work which Jeanne would have cut out for them. It is clear that La Tremoille had begun to tamper with the army chiefs, and much more tangible evidence to the point was to be offered within brief time.
About August 5 the meandering French army reached Provins, from which place Jeanne wrote a letter (by dictation) to the loyal people of Reims. It is remarkable, as are all her letters, for the great sense, vision, and judgment, which it manifests. As one of her last and most characteristic expressions, breathing the very soul of courage and loyalty, it has a very strong and pathetic interest. I subjoin a translation.
She begins by assuring them of her total want of
confidence in the fifteen days' truce concluded with the Duke of Burgundy, and in the latter's promise to deliver Paris to the king at the end of said truce, sans coup ferir—without striking a blow. "Notwithstanding [she continues], you must not be surprised if I do not enter there so soon. I am not satisfied with a truce made under such conditions, and I don't know that I shall observe it. In any case, if I do observe it, it will be only to safeguard the king's honor. Our enemies shall not deceive the king, for I shall maintain the royal army under arms in order that it may be ready at the end of these fifteen days, in case the peace should not be concluded. Therefore, my very dear and excellent friends, I beg you to have no fear so long as I live. But I entreat you to be vigilant and to guard the good city of the king [Reims]. Write to me if there be any oppressors who desire to wrong you; I will look after them promptly. Let me hear from you. I recommend you to God, praying Him to guard you always."
It is evident from this letter of Jeanne's that she hoped within no long time to lead the king to Paris; it is also clear that she had not fathomed the plots with which she was surrounded, nor the full extent of Charles's committal to the same.
Accurately posted as Bedford was in regard to the present difficulties of the French, he judged the moment opportune for a demonstration on his part. Accordingly, he wrote to Charles from Montereau, declaring that he had been vainly seeking the latter in order to offer battle, and holding Charles responsible
for prolonging the evils of the war. Also, he reproached the king for making use of an "irregular and infamous woman;" concluding with a specious offer to treat for peace.
Meantime, the people at large, being entirely ignorant of the altered status of Jeanne and of the imbroglio which was threatening the national cause, continued to testify their boundless admiration for her, almost indeed rising to worship, and to throng upon her progress wherever possible. These loyal demonstrations could not have been especially grateful to Charles, consenting as he was to the base designs of her enemies. But no one ever got a full view of that inscrutable heart; only through the long result of time has the world come to know him for what he really was.
During a few days following August 12 Bedford with a strong force hovered about the French army, but showed no disposition to fight when the latter sought to engage him. Both armies were almost within touch of each other at Montepilloy (August 15) and an action was looked for on the morrow. The English had taken up a strong position on the banks of the Nonotte, fortified with regular defense works, which they had raised during the night, and additionally protected by a fosse and hedges of thorn. In three columns led by Jeanne, Dunois, and La Hire, the French prepared to attack, when it was seen that the enemy could not be reached without a great sacrifice on the French side. In vain the French made several demonstrations in order to draw the enemy
from his impregnable position—Jeanne going right up to the palisades and waving her banner in the enemy's face. No result; the English, knowing themselves to be safe where they were, refused to budge. Then the French fell back, leaving a vast space between the two lines where an equal combat might be engaged; but this gesture was also lost upon the obdurate English.
There were, however, several skirmishes between small parties on either side, in one of which La Tremoille, thinking not to leave Jeanne all the glory, rode with a flourish toward the English line. His horse suddenly fell, almost throwing him upon the enemy, and some spearmen ran forward to finish him, but were repulsed by Jeanne's soldiers. Oh, Jeanne! it was like you, and I can't find heart to blame—but could you not have turned away just for a moment and let that toad get his deserts? No, of course you could not, for this history was to be written! ...
There was no battle, and Bedford, content with his vaillance (I wonder if Sir John Fastolfe was with him?), speedily made good his retreat to Paris.
Compiegne now makes its submission to the king -ah, would that we had not to write the word!