THE peaceful little French village of Domrémy lies in the valley of the river Meuse, at the south of the duchy of Bar, and there five hundred years ago was born the wonderful "Maid of France," as she was called; she who at an age when other girls were entirely occupied with simple diversions or matters of household importance was dreaming great dreams, planning that vast military campaign which was to enroll her among the idols of the French nation as well as among heroes of history. On the parish register of an old chapel in the village of her birth can still be seen the record of the baptism of Jeanette or Jeanne d'Arc, on the sixth of January, 1412, and although her father, Jacques d'Arc, was a man of considerable wealth and importance in the small community of Domrémy, yet even so neither he nor any of the nine god-parents of the child—a number befitting her father's social position—could forecast that the child, then being christened, was so to serve her country, her king, and her God, that through her heroic deeds alone the name of Jacques d'Arc and of little Domrémy were to attain a world-wide fame.
At the time of Jeanne's birth the Hundred Years' War between England and France was nearing its end. Victorious England was in possession of practically all of France north of the river Loire, while France, defeated and broken in spirit, had completely lost confidence in her own power of conquest and Charles, the Dauphin, rightful heir to the throne of France, had been obliged to flee for his life to the provinces south of the Loire. This was the result of opposition to his claim on the part of his mother, Isabeau, who had always hated the Dauphin, and who, in her Treaty of Troyes, set aside her son's rights to the throne, and married his sister Catherine to the King of England, thus securing to their children that succession to the throne which was the lawful right of the Dauphin.
France was indeed in the throes of a great crisis, and every remote duchy or tiny village heard rumours of the vast struggle going on in their well loved land, but still the party who were loyal to the Dauphin looked confidently for the day when he should be crowned at Rheims, where French kings for a thousand years had taken oath, although still the opposing party was growing in power and possessions.
Quiet little Domrémy lying folded in the embrace of its peaceful valley was thrilled by the tales of chance pilgrims passing through the village, who, stopping for a drink of water or a bite of food, would recount to eager listeners the current saying that, "France, lost by a woman,—and that woman, Isabeau, mother of the Dauphin,—should be saved by a maid who would come with arms and armour from an ancient wood."
Now, towering high above little Domrémy stretches a great forest called the Ancient Wood, and to the village folk there was in all France no other Ancient Wood than this, and so when they heard the travellers' tales they whispered to one another in hushed voices and with awe-stricken faces that the Wonderful Maid of Prophecy was to come from their own midst, but who was she, where was she, and to whom would she reveal herself?
Many of these queries came to the ears of children busy near their elders, while they spun and talked, and as Jeanne d'Arc, now grown into a bright intelligent young girl, listened to the prophecy and the questions, all else became of no importance except the plight of France and the restoring of the Dauphin to his rightful inheritance. But to her elders or companions she gave no evidence of this absorption, seeming entirely occupied with her out of door tasks such as tending her father's sheep, helping to harvest grain, or to plough the fields, or at other times with her mother indoors, weaving and spinning,—for there was plenty of work in both house and field to keep all the children busy.
In leisure hours Jeanne played and danced and sang as merrily as the other children, who gathered often around the big oak tree in the Ancient Wood, called the "Fairies' Tree," which was the subject of many a song and legend. But although she was as merry and light-hearted as her other friends, yet she was more truly pious, for she loved to go to mass and to hear the church bells echo through the quiet valley, and often when her comrades were frolicking around the "Fairies' Tree" she would steal off to place an offering on the altar of Our Lady of Domrémy. And too, her piety took a practical form as well, and when in later years every act of hers was treasured up and repeated, those who had known her in her early girlhood had many tales to tell of her sweet help in times of sickness. It is said she was so gentle that birds ate from her hand, and so brave that not the smallest animal was lost when she guarded the flock.
"Her mother taught her all her store of learning; the Creed and Ave and Pater Noster, spinning and sewing and household craft, while wood and meadow, forest flowers and rushes by the river, bells summoning the soul to think of God and the beloved saints from their altars, all had a message for that responsive heart."
She herself has said, "I learned well to believe, and have been brought up well and duly to do what a good child ought to do."
And too, her spirit responded throbbingly to the beauty and the mystery and the wonder of that life which is unseen, as well as to all tales of heroic deeds, and as she brooded on the sorrows of the Dauphin and of her beloved France, her nature became more and more quick to receive impressions which had no place in her routine of life, even though at that time with great practical bravery she was helping the villagers resist the invasions of bands of marauders. Then came a day when her life was for ever set apart from her companions. With them she had been running races in the meadow on this side of the Ancient Wood. Fleet-footed and victorious, she flung herself down to rest a moment when a boy's voice whispered in her ear, "Go home. Your mother wants you."
True to her habit of obedience, Jeanne rose at once, and leaving the merry company walked back through the valley to her home. But it was no command from her mother which had come to her, and no boy's voice that had spoken. In these simple words she tells the story: She says, "I was thirteen at that time. It was mid-day in the Summer, when I heard the Voice first. It was a Voice from God for my help and guidance and that first time I heard it I was much afraid. I heard it to the right toward the Church. It seemed to come from lips I should reverence."
Then with solemn awe she told of the great Vision which suddenly shone before her while an unearthly light flamed all around her, and in its dazzling radiance she saw St. Michael, Captain of the Hosts of Heaven and many lesser angels. So overwhelming was the Vision and the radiance, that she stood transfixed, lifting adoring eyes. Having been taught that the true office of St. Michael was to bring holy counsel and revelations to men, she listened submissively to his words. She was to be good and obedient, to go often to Church, and to be guided in all her future acts by the advice of St. Margaret and St. Catherine who had been chosen to be her counsellors. Then before the Vision faded, came a message so tremendous in its command, of such vast responsibility that it is small wonder if the little peasant maid lifted imploring hands, crying out for deliverance from this duty, until at last, white and spent, she sank on her knees with clasped hands, praying that this might not come to be true—that it might not be she who had been chosen by God to go to the help of the Dauphin—to lead the armies of France to victory.
And yet even as she prayed she knew that it was true,—that God had chosen her for a great work, that it was she, the peasant of Domrémy, who alone could restore her country and her king to their former greatness—and that she would carry out the divine command.
For nearly four long years after Jeanne first saw her Vision, she remained at home, and was as lovable, helpful and more truly pious than ever. Often St. Margaret and St. Catherine appeared to her, and ever they commanded her to fulfil her great destiny as the Maid who was to save France, and ever her conviction that she was to carry out their commands grew within her, as she heard the voice more and more clearly, crying, "You must go, Jeanne the Maid; daughter of God, you must go!"
At that time the enemy was closing in on all the French strongholds; even the inhabitants of little Domrémy, began to tremble at the repeated invasions of marauding soldiers, and the time had come to declare war against a foe which threatened to so completely wipe out France's heritage of honour.
Jeanne had heard the Voice. She was now aflame with desire to obey its summons to duty, and to achieve this she knew that three things must be accomplished. First of all she must go to Robert de Baudricourt, a Captain of the King at Vaucouleurs, and ask him for an escort to take her to the Dauphin, then she must lead the Dauphin to his crowning at Rheims. A strange idea to be conceived by a young peasant girl, still in her early teens, and it is not to be wondered that in the fulfilment of such a destiny, Jeanne's sincerity of purpose was both sneered at and discredited by unbelievers in her heavenly vision.
By the help of a cousin, Durand Laxart, she was able to obtain audience with Robert Baudricourt; in the presence of one of his knights, Bertrand de Poulengy, who was completely won by this girl, so tall and beautiful and stately in her youthful beauty, as, pale with emotion, she went swiftly up to Baudricourt, saying:
"I have come to you in behalf of my Lord, in order that you shall bid the Dauphin stand firm and not risk battle with his enemies, for my Lord himself shall give him succour before Mid-Lent," and she added, "The Kingdom does not belong to the Dauphin, but to my Lord who wishes him to be made King. In spite of his enemies he must reign, and I shall lead him to his consecration."
Strange words these, to fall from the lips of a young girl. For a moment Baudricourt sat staring at her, wide-eyed, then he asked:
"Who is your Lord?"
"He is the King of Heaven."
This was too much for the rough, practical minded Captain. The walls of the castle rang with his shouts of laughter, and turning to Durand Laxart, who by this time was crimson with shame for his kinswoman, Baudricourt with a gesture of dismissal said, "The girl is foolish. Box her ears and take her home to her father," and there was nothing left for Jeanne to do but to go back to Domrémy until occasion should favour her destiny.
In July the valley was again menaced by the Burgundians, and the people of Domrémy fled for a refuge to a neighbouring city, while in their own little town there was a veritable reign of terror, and news came that the English were also besieging the strong old town of Orléans, which had always been called the "key to the Loire." If this city should fall, only by a miracle could France be saved, and Jeanne's Voices became more and more insistent. She must go at once. She must raise the siege of Orléans, but how?
Again through the aid of Durand Laxart she obtained a second interview with the rough Captain of Vaucouleurs.
Her assertion was as preposterous as before, but this time Baudricourt did not laugh, there was something haunting, powerful, in the girl's mystical manner, and in her dignity of bearing, which puzzled the gruff Captain, and made him listen, but as he offered her no help, the interview was fruitless, and she was obliged to return again to the Laxarts' home, near Vaucouleurs, where while she waited she gave what help she could in the household, but also went often to church, and often partook of the Sacrament, praying for help in her mission. Whoever knew her loved her, and her popularity was so widespread that the people of Vaucouleurs, with a growing belief in her ability to accomplish what no one else could for their beloved country, decided to themselves fit her out for her expedition to the Dauphin, and two knights, De Metz and Poulengy, who had become deeply attached to Jeanne, vowed to go wherever she might lead them.
It was not safe for her to travel in a woman's clothes, so she was provided by the people's gifts, with a close-fitting vest, trunk and hose of black, a short dark grey cloak and a black cap, and her hair was cut after the fashion of men's wearing. Sixteen francs bought a horse for her, and the only bit of her old life she carried with her was a gold ring which her mother and father had given her.
Before starting, Baudricourt's permission had to be obtained, and again Jeanne went to him; this time crying out:
"In God's name, you are too slow for me, for this day the gentle Dauphin has had near Orléans a great loss, and he will suffer greater if you do not send me soon!"
As before, Baudricourt listened to her, and enjoyed watching the play of emotions on her changeful face, but he said nothing either to encourage or to hinder her, and Jeanne knew that without further consent from him she must now go on her journey.
At once she wrote a letter of farewell to her parents asking their forgiveness for doing what she knew would be against their wishes, and telling of the reality of her divine mission as it was revealed to her. She received no answer to this, but there was no attempt made to hinder her, and all preparations having been made, on the evening of the twenty-third of February, before a great crowd of spectators who had gathered to see her leave Vaucouleurs, the slender, calm figure in the page's suit stood ready to leave behind all a young girl should have of loving protection, for the sake of what she conceived to be a sacred mission.
With her men around her, she mounted her horse, and as she halted for a moment before starting,—seeing her dignity and graceful bearing, her men were filled with pride in her,—even Baudricourt himself came down from the castle, and made the men take an oath to guard her with their own lives, then gave her a sword and a letter to the Dauphin.
While they stood there ready to start, a man asked Jeanne:
"How can you hope to make such a journey, and escape the enemy?"
Quick and clear Jeanne's answer rang out, "If the enemy are on my road, I have God with me, who knows how to prepare the way to the Lord Dauphin. I was born to do this."
Then with a swift signal, the solemn little cavalcade rode out into the night, while eyes were strained to see the last of the brave Maid, who conceived it her consecrated duty to go to the aid of the Dauphin, and her well loved land.
On their way towards Chinon where the weak little Dauphin was holding his court, rode Jeanne and her six men, and a dangerous way it was, lying through a country over-run with marauding English and Burgundian warriors, and Jeanne's men were uneasy at escorting so young and fair a maid under such dangerous conditions, but Jeanne herself was unconcerned and fearless as they rode on into the valley of the Loire, noting on every side the devastation done by war and pillage. For greater safety they rode mostly by night, often travelling thirty miles in twenty-four hours,—a pretty severe test of the endurance of a girl of seventeen, unaccustomed to riding or of leading men-at-arms, but her courage and enthusiasm never flagged. With their horses' feet wrapped in cloths to deaden the clatter of hoofs, they went on their way as swiftly as was possible, and day by day the men's devotion to this Maid who was their leader grew deeper, as they saw the purity of her character and the nobility of her purpose.
When they drew near Chinon, Jeanne's men spoke to one another doubtfully of what kind of a reception they would have. Reaching Auxerre they rested for a while, then travelled on to Gien, and as they journeyed, a report went ahead of them, that a young peasant girl called "The Maid" was on her way, so she said, to raise the siege of Orléans and to lead the Dauphin to his crowning at Rheims. Even to Orléans the report spread, and the inhabitants of that besieged city, now despairing of deliverance, felt a thrill of hope on hearing the report.
Meanwhile Jeanne and her escort of six valiant men had halted near Chinon, while Jeanne wrote and despatched a letter to the Dauphin, in which she said that they had ridden one hundred and fifty leagues to bring him good news, and begged permission to enter his province. Then the next morning they rode into "the little town of great renown," as Chinon was called, and Jeanne remained at the Inn until the Dauphin should decide to receive her.
Now Yolande, the King's mother-in-law, was much interested in what she had heard of Jeanne, the Maid, and she so influenced the Dauphin, that De Metz and Poulengy were allowed to have audience with him, and told what a fine and noble character Jeanne was, and what a beautiful spirit animated her slender frame, and begged him to see and trust her, saying that she was surely sent to save France. Their plea made a great impression on the Dauphin, as was evident two hours later when he sent a number of clergymen to cross-question her on her so-called divine mission, and through all the tiresome examination Jeanne bore herself with proud dignity and answered so clearly and so well that they could only entertain a profound respect for the girl whom they had expected to scorn. The result of this examination was that by order of the King, Jeanne was moved from the Inn to a wing of the Castle, and there the girl-soldier was treated with every respect by the courtiers, who were all charmed by her frank simplicity and sweetness of manner. But the King had not yet consented to give her an audience, and two weary weeks dragged away in the most tedious of all things,—awaiting the Dauphin's pleasure,—and Jeanne chafed at the delay.
At last one happy day she was led into the great vaulted audience chamber of the Castle, where torches flared, and the deep murmur of voices together with the sea of eager upturned faces, might have made a less self-contained person than the Maid confused and timid. But not so with Jeanne, for her thoughts were solely on that mission which she had travelled so far to accomplish. Her page's suit was in sharp contrast to the brilliant court costumes worn by the ladies of the Court, but of that she was unconscious, and advanced calmly through the long line of torch bearers to within a few feet of the throne,—gave a bewildered glance at the figure seated before her, in the velvet robes of royalty—then turned away, and with a cry of joy threw herself at the feet of a very quietly dressed young man who stood among the ranks of courtiers, exclaiming, "God of his grace give you long life, O dear and gentle Dauphin."
Quickly the courtier answered, "You mistake, my child. I am not the King. There he is," pointing to the throne.
There was a stir and murmur in the crowd, but the Maid did not rise. She simply looked into his face again, saying:
"No, gracious liege, you are he, and no other," adding with a simple earnestness, "I am Jeanne, the Maid, sent to you from God to give succour to the kingdom, and to you. The King of Heaven sends you word by me that you shall be anointed and crowned in the town of Rheims, and you shall be lieutenant of the King of Heaven, who is the King of France."
Charles the Dauphin, who in the disguise of a courtier, had attempted to outwit the peasant girl by placing another on his throne, stood dumb with wonder at this revelation of her clear vision, and with a touch of awe, he raised her, and drew her away from the crowd that he might confer with her alone, while all tendency to jest at the expense of the Maid and her mission died away, and the crowd were silent with wonder at the bearing of this peasant girl who said she had come to save France.
No one ever knew what passed between Jeanne and the Dauphin during that interview, but it is said that he demanded a further proof of her inspired mission, and in reply she told him the substance of a prayer he had offered one morning—a prayer known to God alone—and so impressed by this proof of a more than mortal vision was he, that he at once led her again down the long audience hall, through the lines of torch bearers and courtiers, then bending low, kissed her hand, and with gracious words sent her away under a strong escort of his own guard of honour, having given his promise to further the cause to which Jeanne had dedicated her life. And just here let us glance for a moment at the character of Charles the Dauphin, for whom the girl of Domrémy was sacrificing so much.
At best he was the poor imitation of a King. Being the son of a mad father and a weak mother he inherited such tendencies as made him utterly unfit to cope with the perils of the time, or to give to the Maid who had come to his relief such assistance as he should have given.
"Never did a King lose his kingdom so gaily," said one of his soldiers, and although he was momentarily roused by the Maid's noble courage and purpose, yet he still found it far easier to loiter through days of ease in his château, than with prompt resolution to turn to the task in hand.
Had Charles the Dauphin been the man that Jeanne d'Arc would have had him be, the history of the Maid of France would have been a different one. But even his thrill at being aided to claim his throne, was not strong enough to fire him with the proper spirit, and he continued to waste long days in idle ease, while Jeanne was fretting her heart out waiting for him to decide to let her start to raise the siege of Orléans. But delay she must, and she whiled away the tedious days by practising with crossbow and sword in the meadows near Chinon, and although she refused to wear a woman's dress until she had accomplished her mission, yet she was both graceful and beautiful in her knight's costume, which she now wore in place of the simple page's suit in which she had ridden to Chinon, and many admiring eyes watched her as she rode up and down in the green meadows, alert and graceful in every movement. And although he was wasting precious moments in deciding whether to allow her to raise the siege of Orléans or not, the Dauphin spoke often and intimately with her, as with a friend to whom he was deeply attached, and Jeanne was treated with all possible deference both by those of high and low degree. The young Duc d'Alençon, a noble and loyal courtier, was so deeply won by her sweetness and charm that his wife invited her to spend a few days at their home, the Abbey of St. Florent les-Saumur, while waiting for the decision of the Dauphin. That little visit was a bright spot in the long dark story of the Maid's fulfilment of her mission, for there, with those whose every word and act spoke of kindred ideals and lofty aims, the Maid unbent to the level of care-free normal girlhood, and ever after that there was a close comradeship between the Duc and Jeanne.
At last the Dauphin came to a decision. To Poitiers, Jeanne must go, and there be examined by the French Parliament, and by the most learned men in the kingdom, to prove that she was capable of achieving that which she wished to attempt. When Jeanne heard this she cried out impatiently, "To Poitiers? In God's name I know I shall have my hands full, but the saints will aid me. Let us be off!" which showed that the Maid, for all her saintliness had also a very normal human degree of impatience to do as she had planned, and who can blame her?
To Poitiers she went, and there as everywhere the people loved her for her goodness, her enthusiasm for the rescue of France, and for her unassuming piety. For long weary weeks, she was cross-examined by the cleverest men who could be found for the task, but ever her keen wit was able to bring her safely through the quagmires and pitfalls they laid for her to fall into; then at last it was announced that "in consideration of the great necessity and peril of Orléans, the King would make use of her help, and she should go in honourable fashion to the aid of Orléans."
So back again to Chinon went Jeanne, overflowing with eagerness and hope, looking, it is said, like a handsome, enthusiastic boy in her page's suit, full of the joy of living, happy in the thought of hard work ahead, then on at last she went, with her escort of both soldiers and cavalry officers, to the accomplishing of her second duty. By the King's orders she was dressed this time in a suit of fine steel armour which was well suited to the lithe grace of her slim young figure, and over her armour she wore a "hûque" as the slashed coats worn by knights were called. She had her pick of a horse from the royal stables, and even he was decked with a steel headpiece and a high peaked saddle. Jeanne, de Metz and Bertrand de Poulengy, her faithful followers, were also fitted with special armour, which was very costly and handsome.
The sword Jeanne carried was one which had been found under the altar of the church of St. Catherine of Fierbois, around which many legends of miracles clustered, but to Jeanne it was at best only a weapon, and she said she should never make use of it. Her great white standard was the thing she loved, and even when she was in the thick of the battle, she always carried it, with its painted figure of God throned on clouds holding the world in his hands, while kneeling angels on either side presented lilies, and above were the words, "Jhesus, Maria." On the other side of the banner was a shield with the arms of France, supported by two angels. She had also a smaller banner with a white dove on azure ground, holding in his beak a scroll with the words, "In the name of the King of Heaven."
With her great white banner floating high in the carrying wind, her sword scabbard of cloth-of-gold, glittering in the sunlight, and the armour of her men-at-arms gleaming in its new splendour, the Maid set out for Orléans, preceded by a company of priests singing the Veni Creator as they marched.
Jeanne's plan of entry into Orléans was a very simple one. She desired to march right in under the great forts defending the besieged city, to flout the enemy, and cheer the desperate citizens by her daring. But the captains of her army, although they had sworn to obey her every command, were seasoned veterans in the art of war, and had no intention of carrying out any plan of campaign laid out by a girl of seventeen, so they wilfully disregarded her plan, and by so doing delayed their entry into the city for weary hours, and in the end were obliged to enter in the very way planned by their young Commander. When at last, at night, attended by troops of torch bearers, Jeanne went into Orléans sitting proudly erect on her great white horse, and the people of the city saw first the Maid who had come to their relief, they could but wonder at sight of her girlish figure, in its shining armour, and the radiant young face carried inspiration and comfort to their wearied hearts. So eager were they to touch her or her horse that in crowding near, a torch touched her banner, and set it on fire, but wheeling around lightly, she crushed out the flame, as though she had long been an expert in such deeds. Then she and her company went to the Cathedral of St. Croix to return thanks for having entered the city, and afterwards were lodged for the night at the house of the Duc's treasurer, where Jeanne shared the room of her host's nine-year-old daughter and slept as sweetly and soundly as the child herself.
Then followed fifteen days of hard fighting, for the enemy manfully resisted the onslaught of Jeanne's army, but at last, the English, vanquished, were obliged to retreat, telling marvellous tales of the Maid who was less than an angel, more than a soldier, and only a girl who had done this thing.
The attack on the city had begun at six in the morning and lasted for thirteen hours, and was indeed a marvellous assault on both sides. A hundred times the English mounted the walls, and a hundred times were thrown back into the moat, and the Maid with her floating banner, was everywhere at once, encouraging her men with the ringing cry, "Fear not. The place is yours!" Then she received a wound in her shoulder above the breast, and at the first flash of severe pain, like any other girl, she shivered with fear, and hot tears came, while they carried her off the field and dressed the wound. After that she was obliged to entrust her standard to a faithful man, but she still inspired and comforted her army from the position to which she had been carried, and as the sounds of battle deepened, above the tumult rang out her clear voice of ringing command,—then came victory and the retreat of the enemy. Orléans was delivered from the hands of the English. France still held "the key to the Loire," and the Maid of France had gained one of the fifteen battles of the world.
The bells of Orléans rang out victoriously, while all the citizens in all the churches chanted Te Deums and sang praises of the wonderful Maid who had saved France.
In all the records of history no other girl ever reached such a height of glory as did Jeanne that day, and yet instead of revelling in the praise showered on her, and in her popularity, when the battle was over, she went to bed and to sleep like a tired child, and when the people saw how exhausted she was, they stood guard over the house where she slept, and would allow no traffic to disturb her rest. And from that day to this, the eighth of May has ever been "Jeanne d'Arc's Day" in Orléans.
Jeanne had now fulfilled her second task. She had raised the siege of Orléans. Now for the third. Forward to the Dauphin's crowning at Rheims,—forward to the anointing of the rightful Sovereign of France!—that was her one thought and cry. But the Dauphin himself was in no such hurry to save his kingdom, now that the distress of the moment had been allayed. However, he met the Maid at Tours soon afterwards, and not only sang her praises for what she had done, but also acting on an impulse, his eyes lit with sudden fire, suddenly rose, and raising his sword aloft, brought it down slowly on Jeanne's shoulder, saying, that in so doing he joined her, her family, her kin and her descendants to the nobility of France, adding "Rise, Jeanne d'Arc, now and henceforth surnamed du lis, in grateful acknowledgment of the good blow you have struck for the lilies of France, and they and the royal crown and your own victorious sword shall be grouped in your escutcheon, and be and remain the symbol of your high nobility for ever."
Great indeed was this honour, with all that it meant to the family of Jeanne, and she received it with fitting appreciation, but it was not what she craved; yet still the King loitered and lingered in his château, giving heed to the arguments of his counsellors,—who for reasons of their own, desired to thwart the plans of the Maid—rather than to her whose Voices told her that the Dauphin should set out at once for Rheims, while the French army was still hot with the enthusiasm of victory. At last seeing it was useless to wait any longer, Jeanne and her men were obliged to press on without any definite news of when or where they would be joined by the Dauphin, and three days later, after raising the siege of Orléans, her army took Jargeau, a town twelve miles from Orléans, and then marched back to Orléans to be received as conquering heroes.
D'Alençon was given six casks of wine, the Maid four, and the town council ordered a robe and hûque for Jeanne of green and crimson, the Orléans colours. Her hûque was of green satin, and embroidered with the Orléans emblem,—the nettle,—and doubtless this offering was acceptable to the girl who with all her qualities of generalship never lost her feminine liking for pretty clothes.
By the taking of Jargeau the southern sweep of the Loire for fifty miles was wiped clear of English fortresses, but the enemy still held Beaugency and Meung, a few miles downstream, and to their capture Jeanne and her forces now set out. Then with a still greater prize in view, they marched on towards Pâtay, a town between Meung and Rouvray, where they found the forces of the English massed, in consequence of which Jeanne called together her men for a council of war.
"What is to be done now?" asked d'Alençon, with deep concern.
"Have all of you good spurs?" she cried.
"How is that? Shall we run away?"
"Nay, in the name of God—after them! It is the English who will not defend themselves and shall be beaten. You must have good spurs to follow them. Our victory is certain," she exclaimed and added with that quick vision which was always the inspiration of her forces, "The gentle King shall have to-day the greatest victory he has ever had!"
And true indeed was her prediction, for the battle of Pâtay was a great victory, and set the seal of assurance on the work commenced at Orléans. The English rout was complete. Their leaders fled and four thousand men were either killed or captured, and as in every battle, Jeanne's flaming courage and enthusiasm spurred her men on to victory, even though because of a wound in her foot she was not able to lead her forces, with her great white banner floating before them as usual. But she was none the less the inspiration of the day, and was also able to show a woman's tender pity and care for those of the enemy who were wounded and in their need of loving ministration turned to the gentle girl as to an angel sent from heaven.
News of the French victories flew like wildfire over all the country. Three fortified towns taken, a great army of the enemy disorganised and put to flight, the whole country almost to the gates of Paris cleared of the enemy in a single brilliant week's campaign, and all through the commands, the inspiration, the invincible courage, the Vision of a slender slip of a girl! It seemed incredible except to those who had been with her through so many crucial tests, who had proved the fibre of her mental, physical and spiritual force, and reverenced her as one truly inspired by God's own voice.
After the capture of Pâtay back again to Orléans went the victorious army, and there were no bounds now to the enthusiasm expressed for the Maid who had done such marvellous things. It was supposed that the Dauphin would surely meet the victors at Orléans, but he was enjoying himself elsewhere, and Jeanne, cruelly impatient, set off to meet him at St. Bênoit, on the Loire, where again she begged him to help in the great work on hand, and again was met with cold inaction, but notwithstanding this, the Maid with her dauntless purpose left the Court, still repeating, "By my staff, I will lead the gentle King Charles and his company safely, and he shall be consecrated at Rheims!" showing that all the human weakness, which she could not have failed to see in the Dauphin, did not deter her in the accomplishing of a purpose which she felt she owed to France.
Across the Loire went the Maid and her men, and then as if impelled by some impulse, on the twenty-ninth of June, the Dauphin suddenly followed her on to Champagne. To Trôyes went the army now, headed by no less formidable personage than the King-to-be and the Maid, and to one homage was paid because of his royal lineage, and to the other honour because of her marvellous achievements and gracious personality. Never once did Jeanne's martial spirit fail, or her belief in her vision weaken: even the Dauphin was a better and stronger man while under the spell of her wonder-working personality, and ever his reverence for her grew, seeing her exquisite personal purity, although surrounded by men and under circumstances which made purity difficult; and her great piety, her more than human achievement and her flaming spirit, gave him food for as much serious thought as he ever devoted to anything.
"Work, and God will work," was Jeanne's motto, and faithfully did she live it out, working for the King as he never would have done either for himself or for anyone else, and on the morning of Saturday, July sixteenth, the Maid and the Dauphin together rode into the city of Jeanne's vision.
At nine o'clock in the morning, on Sunday, July seventeenth, the great cathedral of Rheims was filled to its doors for the crowning of the King. The deep-toned organ and a great choir filled the Cathedral with music as the Abbot entered, carrying a vial of sacred oil for the anointing; then came the Archbishop and his canons, followed by five great lords, stately figures indeed, each carrying his banner, and each riding a richly caparisoned horse. Down the length of the aisle made for them, to the choir they rode, then as the Archbishop dismissed them, each made a deep bow till the plumes of his hat touched his horse's neck, and then each wheeling his steed around, they passed out as they had come.
There was a deep hush through all the vast Cathedral, one could have heard a dropped pin in all that surging mass of people, then came the peals of four silver trumpets. Jeanne, the Maid of France, and Charles the Dauphin, stood framed in the pointed archway of the great west door. Slowly they advanced up the long aisle, the organ pealing its welcome, the people shouting their applause, and behind the two figures came a stately array of royal personages and church dignitaries, and then, standing before the altar, the solemn Coronation ceremony began, while beside the King, during the long prayers and anthems and sermons, stood Jeanne, with her beloved standard in her hand. The King took the oath, was anointed with the sacred oil, then came the bearer of the crown, and kneeling, offered it. For one moment the King hesitated,—was it because of a thought of his unworthiness, or because of the great responsibilities wearing it would impose? At all events, hesitate he did, then he caught Jeanne's eyes, beaming with all the pride and joy of her inspired nature, and Charles took up the crown and placed it on his head, while choir and organ and people made the vast building resound and echo with music and with shouts. Jeanne alone stood as though transfixed, then sinking on her knees she said:
"Now, oh, gentle King, now, is accomplished the will of God, who decreed that I should raise the siege of Orléans, and bring you to the city of Rheims for your consecration, thereby showing that you are the true King, and that to you the realm of France should belong."
And at sight of her, so young and human in her beauty, so inspired in that which she had done, many wept for very enthusiasm, and all hearts honoured her.
With gracious words the King lifted her up, and there before that vast assemblage of nobles he made her the equal of a count in rank, appointed a household and officers for her according to her dignity, and begged her to name some wish which he could fulfil.
Jeanne was on her knees again in a moment at his words, "You have saved the throne, ask what you will."
With sweet simplicity she pleaded, "Oh, gentle King, I ask only that the taxes of Domrémy, now so impoverished by war, be remitted."
On hearing her request, the King seemed momentarily bewildered by so great unselfishness, then he exclaimed:
"She has won a kingdom, and crowned a King, and all she asks and all she will take, is this poor grace, and even this is for others. And it is well. Her act being proportioned to the dignity of one who carries in her head and heart riches which outvalue any King could give and though he gave his all. She shall have her way. Now therefore it is decreed that from this day, Domrémy, natal village of Jeanne d'Arc, Deliverer of France, called the Maid of Orléans, is freed from all taxation for ever."
At this the silver horns blew a long blast, and from that day, for three hundred and sixty years was the little village of Jeanne's birth without taxation, because of her deeds of valour.
On went the ceremony to an imposing finish, when the procession with Jeanne and the King at its head marched out of the Cathedral with all possible pomp and solemnity, and the great day on which Jeanne had fulfilled the third and greatest of those achievements to which her voices had called her, was over. She had led the King to his crowning,—and as the people of Rheims gazed on her in her silver mail, glittering as if in a more than earthly light, carrying the white standard embellished with the emblems of her belief, it seemed as though the Maid in her purity, and her consecration to France was set apart from all other human beings, not less for what she was, than for what she had done—and never was warrior or woman more fitly reverenced.
Jeanne, the peasant maid of Domrémy, led by her vision, had marshalled her forces like a seasoned veteran, and with them had raised the siege of Orléans,—had led the King to his crowning, and yet instead of longing for more conquests, still further glory, in a later conversation with a faithful friend, she only exclaimed:
"Ah, if it might but please God to let me put off this steel raiment, and go back to my father and my mother, and tend my sheep again with my sisters and brothers who would be so glad to see me!"
Only that, poor child, but it could not be. Never again was she to go back to her simple life, but it is said that old Jacques d'Arc and Durand Laxart came to Rheims to gladden the Maid's heart with a sight of their familiar faces, and to see for themselves this child of Jacques's who had won so great renown.
And at that time also, two of her brothers are known to have been in the army, of which she must needs be still the head, as the King gave a shameful example of never commanding it in person. Seeing that she must still be Commander-in-chief; immediately after the Coronation, Jeanne called a council of war, and made a stirring appeal for an immediate march on Paris. This was resisted with most strenuous and wily arguments for delay, to all of which the Maid cried impatiently, "We have but to march—on the instant—and the English strongholds, as you call them, along the way are ours. Paris is ours. France is ours. Give the word, Oh, my King, command your servant!"
Even in the face of her ringing appeal there was more arguing and more resisting, but finally, thrilled by Jeanne's final plea the King rose and drawing his sword, took it by the blade and strode up to Jeanne, delivering the hilt into her hand, saying:
"There, the King surrenders. Carry it to Paris!" And to Paris Jeanne might go, but the tide of success had turned, and although on the fourteenth day of August the French army marched into Compiègne and hauled down the English flag, and on the twenty-sixth camped under the very walls of Paris, yet now the King hung back and was afraid to give his consent to storming the city. Seven long days were wasted, giving the enemy time to make ready to defend their strongholds, and to plan their campaign. Then the French army was allowed to attack, and Jeanne and her men worked and fought like heroes, and Jeanne was everywhere at once, in the lead, as usual with her standard floating high, even while smoke enveloped the army in dense clouds, and missiles fell like rain. She was hurt, but refused to retire, and the battle-light flamed in her eyes as her warrior-spirit thrilled to the deeds of the moment.
"I will take Paris now or never!" she cried, and at last she had to be carried away by force, still insisting that the city would be theirs in the morning, which would have been so, but for the treachery of him for whom Jeanne had given her young strength in such consecrated service. The Maid was defeated by her own King, who because of political reasons declared the campaign ended, and made a truce with the English in which he agreed to leave Paris unmolested and go back again to the Loire.
History offers no more pathetic and yet inspiring sight than Jeanne, broken by the terrible news, still sure that victory would be hers if but allowed to follow her voices—yet checkmated by the royal pawn whose pleasure it was to disband the noble army of heroes who had fought so nobly for the cause of France.
When Jeanne saw the strength of the Dauphin's purpose, she hung up her armour and begged the King to now dismiss her from the army, and allow her to go home, but this he refused to do. The truce he had made did not embrace all France, and he would have need of her inspiring presence and her valuable counsel—in truth it seemed that he and his chief counsellors were afraid of allowing her out of their sight, for fear of what she might achieve without their knowledge.
For some eight months longer, in accord with his desire, Jeanne, still sure of her divine mission to work for France, loyally drifted from place to place with the King and his counsellors, heart-sick and homesick, occupying her many leisure hours with planning vast imaginary sieges and campaigns.
At last, on the twenty-fourth of May, 1430, with a handful of men, she was allowed to throw herself into Compiègne, which was being besieged by the Burgundians, and there after bravely fighting and rallying her men for a third attack, the English came up behind and fell upon their rear, and the fleeing men streamed into the boulevard, while last of all came the Maid, doing deeds of valour beyond the nature of woman, so it is said, and for the last time, as never again should Jeanne bear arms. Her men had fled. She was separated from her people; and surrounded, but still defiant, was seized by her cape, dragged from her horse, and borne away a prisoner, while after her followed the victors, roaring their mad joy over the capture of such a prize.
Like wildfire the awful tidings spread. The Maid of Orléans taken by the English? Jeanne a prisoner? Could such things be?
Alas, yes. The Maid who had delivered France was in the hands of the enemy, because, at the climax of her victory, when all France was in her grip, the chance had been lost by the folly of that King whom she had led to his crowning.
After six months of captivity she was sold, yes sold, for ten thousand crowns, that royal Maid—sold to John of Luxembourg, the only bidder for her noble self. Truth which is sometimes stranger than fiction, offers no parallel to this. Not a single effort was put forth by the King, or his counsellors, or by any loyal Frenchman to rescue or to ransom Jeanne. No trouble was taken to redeem the girl who, foe and friend alike agreed, had saved the day for France, and who was the greatest soldier of them all, when she was allowed to have her way.
Ten thousand crowns was the price of Jeanne's brave spirit, and her purchaser doubtless meant to hold on to her until he could make money on his prisoner, but, oh the shame, the infamy of it, Charles, the King of France,—led to his crowning day by a Maid's own hand,—offered not one sou for her ransoming!
To linger on this part of Jeanne's life is torture to others, as it was to her. In December she was carried to Rouen, the headquarters of the English army, heavily fettered; was flung into a gloomy prison, from which she attempted escape, but vainly, and finally was tried as a sorceress and a heretic, and never a sound of help or deliverance from the King or the nation.
Her trial was long, and she was exposed to every form of brutality, thinly veiled under the guise of justice. Day after day her simple heart was tortured by the questions of learned men, whose aim was to make her condemn herself, but this they could never do, for every probing resulted in the same calm statements. Finally one was sent to draw from her under the seal of the confessional, her sacred confidences, which were then rudely desecrated. She was found guilty of sacrilege, profanation, disobedience to the church, pride and idolatry, and her heavenly visions were said to be illusions of the devil. She was then tortured by a series of ignominies, insults, threats, and promises until, bewildered and half crazed by confinement, in agony of mind and body, she blindly assented to everything they asked her, was sentenced to perpetual imprisonment, and forced to put on a woman's dress which she had repeatedly declared she would never do so long as she was thrown entirely in the company of men. But she was forced to obey the bidding of her persecutors, and then followed such degradation and insults as are almost beyond belief, and then, oh the shame of it, she was condemned to die by burning, on the tenth of May, 1431! Though worn with suffering and sorrow, she faced this crowning injustice with the dauntless courage which had ever been hers on the field of battle, and died with the Cross held high before her eyes and the name of Jesus on her lips.
The peasant girl of Domrémy, the warrior of Orléans, the King's saviour at Rheims, the martyr whose death left a great ineffaceable stain on the honour both of France and of England, twenty-five years later was cleared of all the charges under which she was put to death, and in our own time has been canonised by a tardy act of the church of Rome, and to-day Jeanne d'Arc, Maid of France, nay, Maid of the World stands out on the pages of history as one inspired by God, and God alone. To her remains, as Kossuth has said, "the unique distinction of having been the only person of either sex who ever held supreme command of the military forces of a nation at the age of seventeen."
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