The Ascent to Rheims


ABOUT the twentieth of April, Joan, now accepted by the Dauphin, was sent to Tours. Here she was equipped with armor, including the sword which a was found, as her voices told her it would be, buried near the altar of the Church of St. Catherine at Fierbois. The famous standard, representing our Lord enthroned between angels, with the inscription Jesus Maria, was prepared for her. Her military household was formed. It included her brothers John and Peter, John de Metz, and Bertrand de Poulengy (the two soldiers who had accompanied her from Vaucouleurs); and Brother John Pasquerel, an Augustinian friar who had met her mother at Le Puy, as her chaplain and confessor.

In a few days Joan moved on to Blois, where an army gathered, variously estimated at from 3000 to 12,000 men. They marched on Orleans, led by the clergy singing the Veni Creator, and arrived on April 28 opposite the city, on the southern bank of the Loire. Here Joan was joined by a man who was to be closely associated with her military career, Dunois, the Bastard of Orleans, commander of the garrison. For the "siege" of Orleans, begun in the Previous October, was not such as to prevent frequent French excursions, or the entrance of provisions in considerable quantities. It consisted rather in sporadic at-tacks by the English, made from the numerous forts, which they had built for the purpose, mostly west of the city, and southwards, across the Loire. Joan was able to cross the river with a force of two hundred lances, and, on the evening of April 29, to enter Orleans by the eastern gate, amid great popular acclaim. Next day she sent the first of several similar letters (it seems to have been dictated at Poitiers) summoning the English to surrender to the envoy of God.

After a pause in hostilities, there followed a complicated series of attacks on the forts, culminating in that against the Tourelles, stone towers built on an arch of the broken bridge over the Loire. Here, on May 7, when an all-day battle had failed to bring victory to the French, Joan, though wounded in the shoulder by an arrow, rallied her troops after the recall had actually been sounded, Their furious assault from the south, aided by troops from the city who had succeeded in temporarily spanning the broken arches of the bridge, carried the Tourelles and decided the struggle for Orleans. Next day the English retired, after the two armies had for a time confronted each other without fighting. Rapturous celebrations followed in the city, and the religious ceremonies accompanying them have been annually observed until our own times, except for an interruption of some years during the French Revolution.

Joan lost no time in rejoining the Dauphin at Tours, News of her victory was officially sent to the still loyal cities, and spread rapidly beyond the confines of France. The blow to British prestige, and the corresponding rise of French morale, especially in territory held by the Eng. Fish and Burgundians, was considerable. The legend of a conqueror's invincibility had been shattered.

At this time Joan received encouragement from two important churchmen: James Gelu, Archbishop of Embrun, and the aged John Gerson, one time Chancellor of the University of Paris, both of whom wrote treatises warmly supporting the Maid. The former came to her defense once more during the time of her captivity, by rebuking the king for his failure to ransom her. The latter's treatise was incorporated, some twenty-five years later, into the dossier of her rehabilitation, thus receiving the sanction of the tribunal which, under papal authority, conducted that affair.

Joan was now eager for action. She longed to see the Dauphin crowned at Rheims with the least possible delay, but Charles procrastinated as usual, preferring to spend precious hours in endless discussions, which included a plan for the invasion of Normandy. One day, at Loches, Joan entered the room where the Dauphin was in council, clasped his knees as a suppliant, and exclaimed: "Noble Dauphin, hold no more wordy councils, but come with all speed to Rheims and be worthily crowned!"

After a wasted month it was decided that she should accompany an expedition to deliver the cities of the Loire valley before attempting the march to Rheims. The force was commanded by a prince of the blood royal, John, Duke of Alençon, who had been Joan's friend since her first arrival at Chinon.

The question of Joan's military rank may be briefly treated here. In one of her letters to the English she had spoken of herself as "chef de guerre," but unless she was referring to her divine commission, the term seems to be roughly equivalent to "captain." So far, at any rate, she had official command only over the handful of men who formed her "military household," though others could and did rally to her standard in battle. By November 1429, however, she was referred to in official documents, together with d'Albret, Lieutenant General for Berri, as one of the two commanders of the French forces.

Passing through Orleans on June 9, the army marched on to Jargeau, a few miles eastward, just as Sir John Fastolf was leaving Paris with English reinforcements. Largely owing to Joan's insistence on an immediate assault, after the English had refused terms of surrender, the town yielded in a few days, and the Earl of Suffolk was taken prisoner, After a return to Orleans, the bridge-head at Meun, to the west, was taken, and Beaugency, further down the Loire, surrendered soon after. Large English reinforcements arrived, under Fastolf and Talbot, and fell back on Meun, whence they began a retreat toward Paris.

The French, now numerically superior, followed through woods which concealed the enemy troops; but when English shouts at a fleeing stag revealed their whereabouts near Patay, the French attacked unexpectedly, and a great victory was won. Several thousand men were killed or captured. Joan, greatly to her displeasure, was in the rear. Her page told afterwards of her comforting a dying Englishman.

She returned once more to Orleans after this "week of victories." The Dauphin was away visiting his favorite La Tremoille at Sully, but joined Joan near by on June 22. There were further exasperating councils and delays, till Joan was allowed to begin the march northeastwards. She set out from Gien, on the Loire, June 27, followed next day by the Dauphin.

Several important towns lay in their path. Auxerre, Burgundian in sympathy, seems to have escaped attack by bribing La Tremoille. When the army reached Troyes, ' the party bent on appeasing Burgundy, led by La Tremoille and the Archbishop of Rheims, were all for re-treating; but the town, where an eccentric popular preacher had come over to Joan's side, surrendered after seeing the energetic preparations for an attack on which she had insisted. Chalons was also entered without a struggle. On July 16, the Dauphin was willingly received at Rheims.

Next day he was crowned in the Cathedral, with a crown of no special value from the treasury, since he had apparently neglected to bring his own. The Duke of Burgundy was conspicuous by his absence from his ceremonial functions, but all else was carried out according to the ancient ritual. Archbishop Reginald administered the oath, oil from the "holy phial" of St. Remigius was poured on Charles's head, and the people shouted "Noel!" Joan stood near by with her banner. As she said at her trial: "It had been in the struggle, and it was most fitting that it should be in the glory." After the ceremony, she exclaimed amid her tears: "Gentle King, now is accomplished the will of God, who decreed that I should raise the siege of Orleans and bring you to this city of Rheims to receive your solemn sacring, thereby showing that you are the true King, and that France should be yours."

"And right great pity came upon all who saw her," we are told, "and many wept."