Note: If you purchase anything from links on this site, I may make a commission.
Join our Facebook page.
Over five hundred years ago, the children of Domremy, a little village on the border of France, used to dance and sing beneath a beautiful beech tree. They called it "The Fairy Tree." Among these children was one named Jeanne, the daughter of an honest farmer, Jacques d'Arc. Jeanne sang more than she danced, and though she carried garlands like the other boys and girls, and hung them on the boughs of the Fairies' Tree, she liked better to take the flowers into the parish church and lay them on the altars of St. Margaret and St. Catherine.
Joan Of Arc was brought up by her parents (as she told the judges at her trial) to be industrious, to sew and spin. She did not fear to match herself at spinning and sewing, she said, against any woman in Rouen. When very young, she sometimes went to the fields to watch the cattle. As she grew older, she worked in the house; she did not any longer watch sheep and cattle. But the times were dangerous, and when there was an alarm of soldiers or robbers in the neighborhood, she sometimes helped to drive the flock into a fortified island or peninsula, for which her father was responsible, in the river near her home. She learned her creed, she said, from her mother. Twenty years after her death, her neighbors, who remembered her, described her as she was when a child. Jean Morin said that she was a good industrious girl, but that she would often be praying in church when her father and mother did not know it. Jean Waterin, when he was a boy, had seen Joan in the fields, "and when they were all playing together, she would go apart and pray to God, as he thought, and he and the others used to laugh at her. When she heard the church bell ring, she would kneel down in the fields." All those who had seen Joan told the same tale: she was always kind, simple, industrious, pious and yet merry and fond of playing with the others.
In Joan of Arc's childhood France was under a mad king, Charles VI, and was torn to pieces by two factions, the party of Burgundy and the party of Armagnac. The English took advantage of these disputes, and overran the land. The two parties of Burgundy and Armagnac divided town from town and village from village. It was as in the days of the Douglas Wars in Scotland, when the very children took sides for Queen Mary and King James, and fought each other in the streets. Domremy was for the Armagnacs--that is, against the English and for the Dauphin, the son of the mad Charles VI. But at Maxey, a village near Domremy, the people were all for Burgundy and the English. The boys of Domremy would go out and fight the Maxey boys with fists and sticks and stones. Joan did not remember having taken part in those battles, but she had often seen her brothers and the Domremy boys come home all bruised and bleeding.
When Joan of Arc was between twelve and thirteen (1424), so she swore, a Voice came to her from God for her guidance, but when first it came, she was in great fear. And it came, that Voice, about noonday, in the summer season, she being in her father's garden. Joan had not fasted the day before that, but was fasting when the Voice came. The Voices at first only told her to be a good girl, and go to church. The Voice later told her of the great sorrow there was in France, and that one day she must go into France and help the country.
She had visions with the Voices; visions first of St. Michael, and then of St. Catherine and St. Margaret. "I saw them with my bodily eyes, as I see you," she said to her judges," and when they departed from me I wept, and well I wished that they had taken me with them."
What are we to think about these visions and these Voices which were with Joan to her death?
In 1428 only a very few small towns in the east still held out for the Dauphin, and these were surrounded on every side by enemies. Meanwhile the Voices came more frequently, urging Joan to go into France and help her country. She asked how she, a girl, who could not ride or use sword and lance, could be of any help? At the same time she was encouraged by one of the vague old prophecies which were common in France. A legend ran that France was to be saved by a Maiden from the Oak Wood, and there was an Oak Wood near Domremy. Some such prophecy had an influence on Joan, and probably helped people to believe in her. The Voices often commanded her to go to Vaucouleurs, a neighboring town which was loyal, and there meet Robert de Baudricourt, who was captain of the French garrison. Now, Robert de Baudricourt was a gallant soldier, but a plain practical man, very careful of his own interest, and cunning enough to hold his own among his many enemies, English, Burgundian, and Lorrainers.
Joan of Arc had a cousin who was married to one Durand Lassois, at Burey en Vaux, a village near Vaucouleurs. This cousin invited Joan to visit her for a week. At the end of that time she spoke to her cousin's husband. There was an old saying, as we saw, that France would be rescued by a Maid, and she, as she told Lassois, was that Maid. Lassois listened, and, whatever he may have thought of her chances, he led her to Robert de Baudricourt.
Joan came, in her simple red dress, and walked straight up to the captain. She told him that the Dauphin must keep quiet, and risk no battle, for, before the middle of Lent next year (1423), God would send him help. She added that the kingdom belonged, not to the Dauphin, but to her Master, who willed that the Dauphin should be crowned, and she herself would lead him to Reims, to be anointed with the holy oil.
"And who is your Master?" said Robert.
"The King of Heaven!"
Robert, very naturally, thought that Joan was crazed, and shrugged his shoulders. He bluntly told Lassois to box her ears and take her back to her father. So she had to go home; but here new troubles awaited her. The enemy came down on Domremy and burned it; Joan and her family fled to Neufchateau, where they stayed for a few days. When Joan looked from her father's garden to the church, she saw nothing but a heap of smoking ruins. These things only made her feel more deeply the sorrows of her country. The time was drawing near when she had prophesied that the Dauphin was to receive help from heaven--namely, in the Lent of 1429. On that year the season was held more than commonly sacred, for Good Friday and the Annunciation fell on the same day. So, early in January, 1429, Joan turned her back on Domremy, which she was never to see again. Her cousin Lassois came and asked leave for Joan to visit him again; so she said good-by to her father and mother, and to her friends. She went to her cousin's house at Burey, and there she stayed for six weeks, hearing bad news of the siege of Orleans by the English. A squire named Jean de Nouillompont met Joan one day.
"Well, my lass," said he, "is our king to be driven from France, and are we all to become English?"
"I have come here," said Joan, "to bid Robert de Baudricourt lead me to the king, but he will not listen to me. And yet to the king I must go, even if I walk my legs down to the knees; for none in all the world--king, nor duke, nor the King of Scotland's daughter--can save France, but myself only. Certainly, I would rather stay and spin with my poor mother, for to fight is not my calling; but I must go and I must fight, for so my Lord will have it."
"And who is your Lord?" said Jean de Nouillompont.
"He is God," said the Maiden.
On February 12, the story goes, Joan of Arc went to Robert de Baudricourt. "You delay too long," she said. "On this very day, at Orleans, the gentle Dauphin has lost a battle."
Now the people of Vaucouleurs brought clothes for Joan to wear on her journey to the Dauphin. They were such clothes as men wear--doublet, hose, surcoat, boots, and spurs--and Robert de Baudricourt gave Joan a sword. Her reason was that she would have to be living alone among men-at-arms for a ten days' journey and she thought it was more modest to wear armor like the rest. Also, her favorite saint, St. Margaret, had done this once when in danger. Besides, in all the romances of chivalry, we find fair maidens fighting in arms like men, or travelling dressed as pages.
On February 23, 1429, the gate of the little castle of Vaucouleurs, "the Gate of France," which is still standing, was thrown open. Seven travellers rode out, among them two squires, Jean de Nouillompont and Bertrand de Poulengy, with their attendants, and Joan the Maid.
"Go, and let what will come of it come!" said Robert de Baudricourt.
He did not expect much to come of it. It was a long journey--they were eleven days on the road--and a dangerous. But Joan laughed at danger. "God will clear my path to the king, for to this end I was born."
Often they rode by night, stopping at monasteries when they could, Sometimes they slept out under the sky. Though she was young and beautiful, these two gentlemen never dreamed of paying their court to her, as they do in romances, for they regarded her "as if she had been an angel." They were in awe of her, they said long afterward, and all the knights who had seen her said the same.
From Fierbois, Joan of Arc made some clerk write to the king that she was coming to help him, and that she would know him among all his men. Probably it was here that she wrote to beg her parents pardon, and they forgave her, she says. Meanwhile, news reached the people then besieged in Orleans that a marvellous Maiden was riding to their rescue. On March 6, Joan arrived in Chinon where for two or three days the king's advisers would not let him see her. At last they yielded, and she went straight up to him, and when he denied that he was the king, she told him that she knew well who he was.
"There is the king," said Charles, pointing to a richly dressed noble.
"No, fair sire. You are he!"
Still, it was not easy to believe. Joan stayed at Chinon in the house of a noble lady. The young Duc d'Alencon was on her side from the first.
Great people came to see her and question her, but when she was alone, she wept and prayed.
Joan of Arc was weary of being asked questions. One day she went to Charles and said, "Gentle Dauphin, why do you delay to believe me? I tell you that God has taken pity on you and your people, at the prayer of St. Louis and St. Charlemagne. And I will tell you by your leave, something which will show you that you should believe me." Then she told him secretly something which, as he said, none could know but God and himself.
But the king to whom Joan brought this wonderful message, the king whom she loved so loyally, and for whom she died, spoiled all her plans. He, with his political advisers, prevented her from driving the English quite out of France. These favorites were lazy, comfortable, cowardly, disbelieving; in their hearts they hated the Maid, who put them to so much trouble. Charles, to tell the truth, never really believed in her; he never quite trusted her; he never led a charge by her side; and in the end, he shamefully deserted her, and left the Maid to her doom.
Weeks had passed, and Joan had never yet seen a blow struck in war. She used to exercise herself in horsemanship, and knightly sports of tilting, and it is wonderful that a peasant-girl became, at once, one of the best riders among the chivalry of France. The young Duc d'Alencon and his wife were her friends from the first, when the politicians and advisers were against her. It was now determined that Joan should be taken to Poitiers, and examined before all the learned men, bishops, doctors, and higher clergy who still were on the side of France. There was good reason for this delay. It was plain to all, friends and foes, that the wonderful Maid was not like other men and women, with her Voices, her visions, her prophecies, and her powers. All agreed that she had some strange help given to her; but who gave it? This aid must come, people thought then, either from heaven or hell--either from God and his saints, or from the devil and his angels. Now, if any doubt could be thrown on the source whence Joan's aid came, the English might argue (as of course they did) that she was a witch and a heretic. If she was a heretic and a witch, then her king was involved in her wickedness, and so he might be legally shut out from his kingdom. It was necessary, therefore, that Joan should be examined by learned men. They must find out whether she had always been good, and a true believer, and whether her Voices always agreed in everything with the teachings of the Church. Otherwise her angels must be devils in disguise. During three long weeks the learned men asked her questions. They said it was wonderful how wisely this girl, who "did not know A from B," replied to their puzzling inquiries. She told the story of her visions, of the command laid upon her to rescue Orleans.
At last, after examining witnesses from Domremy, and the Queen of Sicily and other great ladies to whom Joan was intrusted, the clergy found nothing in her but "goodness, humility, frank maidenhood, piety, honesty and simplicity." As for her wearing a man's dress, the Archbishop of Embrim said to the king, "It is more becoming to do these things in man's clothes, since they have to be done amongst men."
The king therefore made up his mind at last. Jean and Pierre, Joan of Arc's brothers, were to ride with her to Orleans; her old friends, her first friends, Jean de Nouillompont and Bertrand de Poulengy, had never left her. She was given a squire, a page, and a chaplain. The king gave Joan armor and horses, and offered her a sword. But her Voices told her that, behind the altar of St. Catherine de Fierbois, where she heard mass on her way to Chinori, there was an old sword, with five crosses on the blade, buried in the earth. That sword she was to wear. A man whom Joan did not know, and had never seen, was sent from Tours, and found the sword in the place which she described. The sword was cleaned of rust, and the king gave her two sheaths, one of velvet, one of cloth of gold, but Joan had a leather sheath made for use in war. She also commanded a banner to be made, with the Lilies of France on a white field.
When once it was settled that she was to lead an army to relieve Orleans, she showed her faith by writing a letter addressed to the King of England, Bedford, the Regent, and the English generals at Orleans. If they did not yield to the Maid and the king, she will come on them to their sorrow. "Duke of Bedford, the Maid prays and entreats you not to work your own destruction!"
We may imagine how the English laughed and swore when they received this letter. They threw the heralds of the Maid into prison, and threatened to burn them as heretics. From the very first, the English promised to burn Joan as a witch and a heretic.
At last the men-at-arms who were to accompany Joan were ready. She was armed in white armor, but unhelmeted, a little axe in her hand, riding a great black charger. She turned to the church, and said, in her girlish voice, "You priests and churchmen, make prayers and processions to God." Then she cried, "Forward, Forward!" and on she rode at their head, a page carrying her banner. And so Joan went to war.
Joan of Arc led, she says, ten or twelve thousand soldiers. This army was to defend a great convoy of provisions of which the people of Orleans stood in sore need. The people were not starving, but food came in slowly, and in small quantities. The French general-in-chief was the famous Dunois. On the English side was the brave Talbot, who fought under arms for sixty years, and died fighting when he was over eighty.
Looking down the river Loire, Orleans lies on your right hand. It had strong walls, towers on the wall, and a bridge of many arches crossing to the left side of the river. At the further end of this bridge were a fort and rampart called Les Tourelles, and this fort had already been taken by the English, so that no French army could cross the bridge to help Orleans. The rampart and the fort of Les Tourelles were guarded by another strong work called Les Augustins. All round the outside of the town, on the right bank, the English had built strong redoubts, which they called bastilles, but on the east, above the town, and on the Orleans bank of the Loire, the English had only one bastille, St. Loup. Now, as Joan's army mustered at Blois, south of Orleans, further down the river, she might march on the left side of the river, cross it by boats above Orleans, and enter the town where the English were weakest and had only one fort, St. Loup. Or she might march up the right bank, and attack the English where they were strongest and had many bastilles. The Voices bade the Maid act on the boldest plan, and enter Orleans, where the English were strongest, on the right bank of the river. The English would not move, said the Voices. She was certain that they would not even sally out against her. But Dunois in Orleans, and the generals with the Maid, thought this plan very perilous. They, therefore, deceived her, caused her to think that Orleans was on the left bank of the Loire, and led her thither. When she arrived, she saw that they had not played her fair, that the river lay between her and the town, and the strongest force of the enemy.
This girl of seventeen saw that, if a large convoy of provisions was to be thrown into a besieged town, the worst way was to try to ferry the supplies across a river under the enemy's fire. But Dunois and the other generals had brought her to this pass, and the Maid was sore ill-pleased. The wind was blowing in her teeth; boats could not cross with the troops and provisions. There she sat her horse and chafed till Dunois came out and crossed the Loire to meet her. This is what he says about Joan and her conduct:
"I did not think, and the other generals did not think, that the men-at-arms with the Maid were a strong enough force to bring the provisions into the town. Above all, it was difficult to get boats and ferry over the supplies, for both wind and stream were dead against us. Then Joan spoke to me thus:
"'Are you the general?'
"'That am I, and glad of your coming.'
"'Is it you who gave counsel that I should come hither by that bank of the stream, and not go straight where Talbot and the English are?'
"'I myself, and others wiser than I, gave that advice, and we think it the better way and the surer.'
"'In God's name, the counsel of our God is wiser and surer than yours. You thought to deceive me, and you have deceived yourselves, for I bring you a better rescue than ever shall come to soldier or city--that is, the help of the King of Heaven,'
"Then instantly, and as it were in one moment, the wind changed that had been dead against us, and had hindered the boats from carrying the provisions into Orleans, and the sails filled."
Dunois now wished Joan to cross by boat and enter the town, but her army could not cross, so the army returned to Blois, to cross by the bridge there, and come upon the Orleans bank, as Joan had intended from the first. Then Joan crossed in the boat, holding in her hand the lily standard. She and La Hire and Dunois rode into Orleans, where the people crowded round her, blessing her, and trying to kiss her hand. So they led her with great joy to the Regnart Gate, and the house of Jacques Boucher, treasurer of the Duke of Orleans, and there was she gladly received.
Next day, without leave from Joan of Arc, La Hire led a sally against the English, fought bravely, but failed, and Joan wished once more to bid the English go in peace. The English, of course, did not obey her summons, and it is said that they answered with wicked words which made her weep. For she wept readily, and blushed when she was moved. In her anger she went to a rampart, and, crying aloud, bade the English begone; but they repeated their insults, and threatened yet again to burn her. Next day, Dunois went off to bring the troops from Blois, and Joan rode round and inspected the English position. They made no attempt to take her. On May 4 the army returned from Blois. Joan rode out to meet them, priests marched in procession, singing hymns, but the English never stirred. They were expecting fresh troops under Fastolf. For some reason, probably because they did not wish her to run risk, they did not tell Joan when the next fight began. She had just lain down to sleep when she leaped up with the noise, wakening her squire. "My Voices tell me," she said, "that I must go against the English, but whether to their forts or against Fastolf I know not."
In a moment Joan of Arc was in the street, the page handed to her the lily flag from the upper window. Followed by her squire, D'Aulon, she galloped to the Burgundy Gate. They met wounded men. "Never do I see French blood but my hair stands up on my head," said Joan. She rode out of the gate to the English fort of St. Loup, which the Orleans men were attacking. Joan leaped into the fosse, under fire, holding her banner, and cheering on her men. St. Loup was taken by the French, in spite of a gallant defence.
The French generals now conceived a plan to make a feint, or a sham attack, on the English forts where they were strongest, on the Orleans side of the river. The English on the left side would cross to help their countrymen, and then the French would take the forts beyond the bridge. Thus they would have a free path across the river, and would easily get supplies, and tire out the English. They only told Joan of the first part of their plan, but she saw that they were deceiving her. When the plan was explained, she agreed to it; her one wish was to strike swiftly and strongly.
The French attacked the English fort of Les Augustins, beyond the river, but suddenly they fled to their bridge of boats, while the English sallied out, yelling their insults at Joan. She turned, gathered a few men, and charged. The English ran before her like sheep; she planted her banner again in the ditch. The French hurried back to her; a great Englishman, who guarded the breach, was shot; two French knights leaped in, the others followed, and the English took refuge in the redoubt of Les Tourelles, their strong fort at the bridge-head.
Joan of Arc returned to Orleans, and, though it was a Friday, and she always fasted on Fridays, she was so weary that she ate some supper. A bit of bread, her page reports, was all that she usually ate. Now the generals sent to Joan and said that enough had been done. They had food, and could wait for another army from the king.
"You have been with your council," she said, "I have been with mine. The wisdom of God is greater than yours. Rise early to-morrow, do better than your best, keep close by me; for to-morrow have I much to do, and more than ever yet I did, and to-morrow shall my blood flow from a wound above my breast." Joan had already said at Chinon that she would be wounded at Orleans.
The generals did not wish to attack the bridge-tower, but Joan paid them no attention. They were glad enough to follow, lest she took the fort without them. About half-past six in the morning the fight began. The French and Scottish leaped into the fosse, they set ladders against the walls, they reached the battlements, and were struck down by English swords and axes. Cannon-balls and great stones and arrows rained on them. "Fight on!" cried the Maid; "the place is ours." At one o'clock she set a ladder against the wall with her own hands, but was deeply wounded by an arrow, which pierced clean through between neck and shoulder. Joan wept, but seizing the arrow with her own hands she dragged it out. "Yet," says Dunois, "she did not withdraw from the battle, nor took any medicine for the wound; and the onslaught lasted from morning till eight at night, so that there was no hope of victory. I desired that the army should go back to the town, but the Maid came to me and bade me wait a little longer. Next she mounted her horse and rode into a vineyard, and there prayed for the space of seven minutes or eight. Then she returned, took her banner, and stood on the brink of the fosse. The English trembled when they saw her, but our men returned to the charge and met with no resistance. The English fled or were slain, and we returned gladly into Orleans." The people of Orleans had a great share in this victory. Seeing the English hard pressed, they laid long beams across the broken arches of the bridge, and charged by this perilous way. The triumph was even more that of the citizens than of the army.
Next day the English drew up their men in line of battle. The French went out to meet them, and would have begun the attack. Joan of Arc said that God would not have them fight.
"If the English attack, we shall defeat them; we are to let them go in peace if they will."
Mass was then said before the French army.
When the rite was done, Joan asked: "Do they face us, or have they turned their backs?"
It was the English backs that the French saw, that day: Talbot's men were in full retreat on Meun.
From that hour, May 8 is kept a holiday at Orleans in honor of Joan the Maiden. Never was there such a deliverance. In a week the Maid had driven a strong army, full of courage and well led, out of forts like Les Tourelles. The Due d'Alencon visited it, and said that with a few men-at-arms he would have felt certain of holding it for a week against any strength, however great. But Joan not only gave the French her spirit: her extraordinary courage in leading a new charge after so terrible a wound, "six inches deep," says D'Alencon, made the English think that they were fighting a force not of this world.
Go To Joan Of Arc Part Two.