St Jeanne D'arc
And then, after a long, long time, they honoured her, and called her Saint, whom in her lifetime they despised and rejected. Strange fate shared by the holiest and noblest ones, the wisest and best since time began, that the world will have none of them, but must crucify or stone, burn, starve, torture, poison, or in some way destroy and be rid of them!
On the 5th of January in 1412 was born Jeanne, daughter of Jacques and Isabeau d'Arc, in the little village of Domremy, on the borders of Champagne and Lorraine. The father was a well-to-do farmer. Three sons and one other daughter he had, who all took their share of the labour of the house and the land. To Jeanne, within doors, fell duties under her mother's teaching. She learned to spin her wool, and to embroider beautiful things to make lovely the little village church. For early she learned to love her church. She took pleasure in saying her prayers, kneeling in its dark nave, and there was nothing that so delighted her as the music of its bells, chiming at dawn, and noon, and nightfall. Devout she was, and gentle and helpful. She nursed the sick and fed the poor, and none had any but good words and kind thoughts of her.
One day, when she was twelve years old, she sat at her needlework under the whispering summer trees of the garden. It was late afternoon. The air was still thrilling with the peal of the angelus. Jeanne had raised her eyes from her work, and was looking toward the church, when she became aware of a brilliant and unearthly light at her right hand, a little behind her, and shining over her shoulder. Out of the radiance issued a voice saying: "Jeanne, be good and obedient. Go often to church."
This was the beginning of her hearing what she ever after called her 'voices.'
Only a brief period had elapsed before the radiance appeared to her again, forming itself into shapes and faces, and she could see as well as hear the Saints, Michael and Catherine and Margaret, who addressed her.
St Michael with flaming wings and sword and crown was at first chief in giving her counsel. He told her of the piteous condition into which the kingdom of France had fallen. Of this she knew something already, and her heart was torn with sorrow for her motherland, made desolate and laid waste by the enemy English, distraught with internal warfare and dissension, and with never a champion to rescue or defend her.
"Be good," St Michael bade her, "and God will help you. You must go to aid the King of France, for it is you who shall give him back his kingdom."
The Dauphin, afterward Charles VII, had four years before, in 1420, lost all hope of coming to the rule of his realm, when his mother, Queen Isabeau, had by the treaty of Troyes delivered over her daughter in marriage, and the kingdom with her, to King Henry V of England.
What now was the confusion of Jeanne at hearing this definite command to her from the celestial warrior to restore the crown to the rightful heir!
"Messire," she cried, dismayed, "I am only a poor girl. I cannot ride, or lead armed men!"
"Go to Robert de Baudricourt, Captain of Vaucouleurs," continued Michael, ignoring her reluctance, "he will take you to the King. St Catherine and St Margaret will come and help you."
The frightened child fell to weeping. Who was she, small and weak and ignorant, that she should attempt a labour so great, she who had never seen anything but the life of her peaceful village, and who knew not even how to read or write; who knew, in fact, nothing but her prayers and the daily, homely tasks set her by her mother?
But true to the promise of St Michael, who thereafter appeared to her only on rare and high occasions, St Catherine and St Margaret with their heavenly countenances and gentle, soft voices came to give her direction and comfort.
For four years Jeanne pondered these things in her heart, and the message which had at first caused her to shed timid and helpless tears sank into her soul, and there took root and grew, and filled it with the conviction that she was indeed destined by God to fulfil His command to help the Dauphin back to his realm and cause him to be crowned its king.
Then came to visit in Domremy from Burey-le-Petit an uncle, Durant Laxart, whom at the end of his stay Jeanne begged to take her home with him to visit in her turn. He gladly complied, for Jeanne was a welcome guest in his house, but what was the good man's amazement when, on the road home, she revealed to him that she wisher) him to take her to Vaucouleurs to the Sire de Baudricourt, for he was to help her to go to the Dauphin, whom she must conduct to be crowned King of France?
Had the child lost her senses? Was she quite mad? By some inexplicable means, however, perhaps by the force of her dedicated earnestness, she convinced him that her errand was commanded by none other than the Archangel Michael, and Laxart accordingly took her to Vaucouleurs.
In an interview with Robert de Baudricourt he revealed the purpose of his coming, while Jeanne waited without, in the courtyard.
The answer given by the Captain was a terse: "The little fool! She deliver France and crown the King? Box her ears, and send her home to her mother!"
He consented, however, to see the child, and, as it has been said that the privilege of truth is to make itself believed, Jeanne in her interview convinced Robert de Baudricourt that she had come to him on the part of her Lord, the King of Heaven, and that he must send her to bring succour to the Dauphin before the middle of Lent, for she must lead him to be consecrated in spite of all his enemies.
She returned home after this, but only to meet with the stern and bitter opposition of her father, who declared that he would rather see her drowned than riding away with men-at-arms.
But what could Jacques d'Arc hope to accomplish against commands which Jeanne knew to have come to her from the King of Heaven?
In the beginning of Lent she again started out for Vaucouleurs, and this time the much mystified Captain sent a messenger to the Dauphin at Chinon, asking for instructions as to what he should do with this determined maid. His decision was hastened by the fact that Jeanne told him that she must now all the more promptly go to the Dauphin, for he was suffering defeat at Orleans.
Word returned from the Court at Chinon that such indeed was the case, that the Dauphin's forces had been defeated at the Battle of Herrings, and since help of any sort, whether real and material, or imaginary, was desirable and not to be scorned or refused, let the maid by all means be conducted to the Dauphin's presence.
So, on a day in February, escorted by the King's messenger, Colet de Vienne, and two young men with their servants—young nobles, Jean de Metz and Bertrand de Poulangy, chivalrous and high-hearted youths, fired by her enthusiasm and determined to follow her fortunes—Jeanne, arrayed in man's apparel, set out upon her perilous journey, followed by the prayers and good wishes of the people, of Baudricourt himself, of every one but her own father, who bade her angrily return home, and threatened her with his malediction should she disobey him.
As the party was about to start, "How," cried an affrighted voice rising from among the crowd gathered to witness the departure, "oh, how have you the courage to set forth upon a road so dangerous?"
"God clears the way before me. For this was I born," answered Jeanne, untroubled.
The journey lasted for eleven days, during which the little group travelled mostly by night, to avoid encounters with chance bands of English or Burgundians, until they arrived at the village of Fierbois, near Chinon. Surrounded as it was with every danger, the Court was none the less given over to revelry and feasting and laughter and intrigue. A levity pervaded it, difficult to reconcile with the threat of annihilation compassing it round.
Then was sent to the Dauphin a messenger, who in two days returned, reporting that an audience was granted.
When Jeanne was admitted to the royal presence, all thought to see her confounded, for, by way of a jest, the Dauphin had adopted the simple costume of a common gentleman, while one of the courtiers wore the royal attire and occupied the throne. Not misled by these superficial symbols, Jeanne walked unhesitatingly toward the true Dauphin, and kneeling before him spoke: "Gentle Dauphin, God give you long life."
"But I am not the King," answered Charles. "Yonder sits the King."
"Gentle Dauphin," she insisted, "I am Jeanne the Maid. The King of Heaven sends me to tell you that you shall be consecrated and crowned at Rheims."
Then Charles, growing grave, drew her aside, with the intention of speaking to her privately. Had he indeed the legitimate right to be crowned King? Without a word from him the question was answered by Jeanne. "My Lord has sent me," she said, "to tell you that you are the son of the King, and true heir of France."
The Dauphin, profoundly impressed by this answer to the most secret question lying close to his heart (for he had himself had reason to doubt his legitimacy), would willingly have let Jeanne have her way, allowed her to go forth to meet the enemy and cleave her way and his to Rheims and the coronation, but from the first the captains and generals of his army sneered and scoffed at the thought of a woman, nay, an untaught and ignorant child, being entrusted with the conduct of war, and the representatives of the Church determined that she should be sent to Poitiers, and there examined by a tribunal composed of all the wisest and most learned men of the law and the clergy, who should determine whether she were indeed a true messenger of God.
She passed successfully through a long trial. No harm was found in her after much wearisome questioning and debate; how wearisome may be judged by the note of impatient protest which finally crept into her ever ready answers:
"You say that God will deliver France; if He has so determined He has no need of men-at-arms."
"Ah, the men must fight; it is God who gives the victory!" cried Jeanne, discomfitingly.
"Words are all very well, but God would not have us believe you unless you give us some sign."
"I have not come to Poitiers to give signs," she answered, "but take me to Orleans. I will there show the signs I am sent to show. Give me as small a band as you will, but let me go!"
Orleans was, indeed, in great danger from the besieging English troops, whose positions outside the city were so strong, and whose prestige from long continued victory was so great, as to make it seem that no hope of deliverance could exist for the doomed city. The raising of its siege, and the defeating of the English there, were the first steps that Jeanne declared herself commanded by her Saints to take. So, after her return from Poitiers, Charles determined to make such use of her as he might in his war, if indeed it was for this that she was sent him from Heaven.
When he offered to give her a sword, she replied that the weapon destined for her would be found behind the altar of the little church of Fierbois where she had stopped to pray. A sword was, indeed, found there, which after being polished and sharpened was sent her encased in a crimson and gold scabbard. Even dearer than her sword, though this also was precious to her, was her standard of white linen, with its silken fringes, and its embroidery of the figure of Christ holding in His hand the world. The words "Jhesus-Maria" were also embroidered upon it. It was made according to the description which Jeanne had from the Saints, Catherine and Margaret, who bade her bear it boldly, since it came to her from God.
In battle thereafter she always carried it. Her gentle heart had no wish to shed blood, and when by rare chance she drew her sword, it was not to thrust and kill, but to lay on as one might use a stick or rod; never was she known to take a life. She would always rather have spared the lives of her enemies; she exhorted them to surrender before she made an attack, giving them the opportunity to save themselves.
On one occasion, during the victorious battle of Patey she came upon a Frenchman cruelly maltreating an English captive. Ablaze with indignation she sprang from her horse, and seating herself on the ground, held the bleeding head of her dying enemy in her lap. She eased his wounds, and comforted him with her tender pity, while she sent for a priest to give him the solace of the Church during his last moments.
At the end of April, when all preparations had been made, Jeanne at the head of a small army set out for Orleans, accompanied by many generals and captains. She was clad in a suit of white armour inlaid with silver, dazzling as the apparel of St Michael himself. With her was the trusty Chevalier Jean d'Aulon, chief of her staff, who never left her until the end of her days of freedom. With her also were the friendly Jean de Metz and de Poulangy, and her brother Pierre, who had left home to join her.
They were a strangely converted army whom Jeanne led: priests and choristers accompanied them; Mass was celebrated at every turn, confession given to all at any time it was desired, even though the march should have to be suspended to perform it. Not an oath or blasphemy would she permit, so that her rough, powerful, and most devoted Gascon general, La Hire, was tamed to swearing by his baton. The crew of loathsome and prowling camp followers she banished and dispersed.
When they had arrived at Blois, Jeanne sent a letter to the English generals, bidding them all, from the King down, listen to the command of God, and leave France. Needless to say, their one answer, now as always after, was a shower of curses and abusive epithets, for then as later the English considered her an impostor, a witch, and an agent of the devil. Sad to say, also, there were all too many among the French who never recognized her as the envoy of God, but looked upon her askance, with distrust or with derision, or envy and malice. During all her brief career, chief among her powerful enemies were the King's counsellor, La Tremouille, and the Archbishop of Rheims, so that through these two men of influence many both in the Court and the Church were hostile to her.
As she drew near to Orleans, and when she had reached Chery, Dunois, known as the Bastard of Orleans, one of France's bravest and most skilful generals, came out to escort her into the besieged city. With a convoy of food for the nearly starving inhabitants, Jeanne entered the town at nightfall, the English in no wise impeding her. All the citizens crowded on her path as she made her way to the church, to see her whom they looked upon as a miraculous deliverer. Men, women, and children tried to get near her and touch her, or the white horse she rode, or her standard. And as she advanced among them she gave them words of encouragement, and bade them be of good cheer, for they would, if they had faith, come out of all their troubles.
It would have been her wish to advance immediately on the following day against the besiegers, while the enthusiasm of the citizens at her arrival ran high, but this her captains discouraged.
While, however, Jeanne lay asleep, exhausted, in the afternoon, she suddenly awoke, and leaping to her feet declared that she had been roused by her 'voices,' and must immediately go against the English.
As she was hurriedly donning her armour, she exclaimed in anguish: "French blood is flowing! Why did they not tell me!" Then, flinging herself into the saddle and grasping her standard, she darted away, her horse's feet striking sparks from the pavement in her haste. Her followers had meanwhile roused themselves to follow, and were soon hot in her wake.
Jeanne's 'voices' had indeed warned her aright. The malcontent captains had attempted a sortie on their own responsibility, and resenting the sudden prestige of this obscure maid had sought to win a victory without her agency.
When Jeanne reached the spot where the fighting was occurring, however, it was only to find the French in defeated flight.
Without a word she flew past them, leaving her followers to turn the retreat into an advance, and never paused until she had reached the foot of the fort of St Loup, where for the rest of the day the battle raged bitter and furious.
Everywhere Jeanne was to be seen, urging and encouraging her men, though herself not fighting, but leading them under her standard and at all times exposing herself in the most dangerous places in the very front of the fray. Finally, toward dusk, the bastion was taken, and Jeanne returned in triumph to Orleans.
Two days later the fort of Les Augustins was stormed, and the only important point remaining untaken was Les Tourelles.
Early in the morning of the following day, against the combined efforts of the generals and all in authority, Jeanne dashed out of the town, again followed by a flood of enthusiasts who would have let themselves be called to any place soever by her stirring voice, her radiant armour, and the white standard. When she had reached the foot of the fort's wall, she was placing a ladder against it, bidding her men mount, and' promising that all would be theirs, when an arrow struck her above the right breast, and she fell, the arrow standing out a hand's breadth beyond her shoulder. She had the strength and courage to pull out the arrow herself, and then—she wept with the hurt of it, the girl child of seventeen, even though she was general-in-chief of the army of France!
She was carried to a vineyard close by, where her wound was tended, and she made confession to her chaplain, whom on the day before she had bidden keep close to her side during the battle, "for," she had prophesied, "I shall be wounded to-morrow."
In the vineyard she rested, and presently realized that the attack of her men (for the battle had continued to rage) had begun to flag and waver. She rose to her feet, and mounting her horse went to find Dunois and the generals. "Rest for a while, and eat, and when you see my standard floating against the wall, forward, for the place is yours."
Then she again withdrew to the vineyard, and kneeling prayed for a long time.
Returning to the scene of battle, her standard in hand, she stood at the edge of the moat surrounding Les Tourelles.
"Tell me," she said to her squire, "when the pennon touches the wall." So saying she stretched forth the banner, whose white folds unfurled and fluttered out toward the fortress.
"It touches," shouted the squire.
"Then on—on—on—! All is yours!" cried Jeanne. "Enter, de la part de Dieu."
Her followers rose as one man, and advanced like an irresistible tidal wave, while she, standing untouched amid a shower of arrows, continued to shout encouraging words to them. The mere sight of her white armour blazing and flashing in the sun struck terror into the hearts of her enemies, those English who had been looked upon, and who had, indeed, come to look upon themselves, as invincible.
Before night the last fort had been taken, and no Englishman was left to threaten the so lately beleaguered city, the city which had for seven months suffered siege, and which Jeanne had in as many days set free.
On her return into Orleans she was swept along by a crowd delirious with joy, all pressing about her in the attempt to touch her mailed feet or kiss her hand. She rode in the midst of the happy din and clamour almost like one in a dream, content, to be sure, with the sense of a great task accomplished, but wounded, weary, and, above all, filled with sorrow for the souls of those who, whether friends or foes, had died that day unconfessed, and without the sweet comfort of the Church.
Jeanne would now have wished, after her return to the Court of Charles, to lead him immediately to Rheims. But delay followed upon delay, until one day she cried in dismayed protest: "I shall only last a year! Take the good of me, gentle Prince, as long as it is possible." So did she prophesy the brevity of her career, as she had prophesied her wound.
At length the Dauphin consented to go to Rheims as soon as the way thither should have been cleared. Jeanne, therefore, set out to perform the task.
First to fall was Jargeau, whither the Duke of Suffolk had returned with his troops after the raising of the siege of Orleans.
Again her associate generals would have hesitated to attack, but with her usual impetuosity Jeanne took her stand, banner in hand, at the foot of the wall of the resisting town, and summoning her followers bade them enter, "for the Lord has condemned the English," and after a bitter struggle Suffolk yielded.
Next fell Meung, then Beaugency. text came the battle or the chase of Patey, in which the English were beaten and driven shamefully routed from the field. Everywhere Jeanne exhibited an incredible ability in the arrangement and use of her forces, especially the artillery, and an aptness in the art of war nothing short of genius.
Returning to Court, aided by public opinion which was all in her favour, and in spite of the King's counsellors, she induced the Dauphin to make a beginning of his journey in the direction of Rheims.
On the way lay cities, still hostile to be sure, but these one by one surrendered to Jeanne's spirited attacks—Troyes, Chalons, and many other towns of less importance—until after six weeks of what almost constituted a triumphal procession, Charles found himself in mid-July at the gates of Rheims, at the head of a greatly increased army, for Jeanne had from all quarters attracted adherents to his cause.
The Maid had fulfilled her promises, and had now come to the brink of the realization of her highest hope.
Even now the King would have hesitated and delayed, had not the citizens of Rheims sent him the keys to the city in token of welcome, which welcome he could not well refuse.
In triumph the royal cortege and army marched in, Jeanne riding by the King's side, a strange sight to be witnessed by her father and uncle Durant, who had come from home to Rheims to convince themselves that hearsay was indeed correct and that their Jeanne was the heroine of the war and the companion on equal footing with the highest and proudest in France. With wonder and open-eyed amazement they must have seen her surrounded by the adoring populace, which ever sought to approach and honour her.
On the following day the great event took place, the climax of the Maid's career. With great ceremony the Sainte Ampoule, the vessel containing the holy oil sent from Heaven at the crowning of Clovis, was brought from the Abbey of Saint-Remi and taken to the Cathedral.
At the hour of the coronation the Cathedral, not to say the town, was filled to overflowing with the nobility of France, all arrayed in the most gorgeous apparel. The night had been spent by the townsfolk in decorating the Cathedral and the streets.
Jeanne was among the dazzling group occupying the raised platform upon which the ceremony took place. In her radiant armour she stood, bearing the standard which had played so great a part in bringing about and making possible this very occasion. She stood like one lost in an ecstasy, witnessing the fulfilment of her prayers and labours, and when the ceremony was completed and Charles VII stood up the crowned and anointed ruler of France, unable longer to control the emotion of her brimming heart, Jeanne threw herself at the feet of her sovereign, clasping his knees:
"Gentle King," she cried, in a voice broken with tears, "now is God's pleasure fulfilled, who willed that I should raise the siege of Orleans and lead you to Rheims to receive your consecration. Now has He shown that you are true King, and that France belongs to you alone."
She then begged to be allowed to withdraw. Her mission was accomplished, the duty laid upon her fulfilled. She wished to return home, to her people and to her peaceful existence.
But this, alas, was not permitted. The Maid, crossed and badgered and hampered as she had been at every step by those who had the power and the will to do so, was still too useful to be allowed to depart. Was not her voice, was not her very name, sufficient tip strike a superstitious terror to the hearts of the enemy, and to fill those of her followers with a fiery courage? Moreover, the people, whose idol she was, would not have permitted it. But from that hour dated her decline. She had prophetically said that she should last but a year, and from this time onward she seems to have fought like a marvellously able and gifted general, to be sure, but no longer with her former divine invincible inspiration. And she was aware of the change. Her voices still gave her counsel, but with an intimation that disaster was about to befall her. They always, however, assured her that God would be with her and give her eventual victory.
One great boon she at this moment secured for the dear village to which she was no more to return. When offered any reward she might care to name, she asked nothing for herself. But Domremy was granted perpetual exemption from taxation "because of the Maid," a privilege which it retained up to the time of the French Revolution.
The next step after the coronation was patently the taking of Paris, which was not only held by the English and the Burgundians, but was, unlike Orleans, positively hostile to the King's party, and whose inhabitants looked upon Jeanne as a sorceress.
Here began again a period of delays and discouragement, during which Charles made repeated truces with Philip of Burgundy, who promised to hand over Paris to him, but who, acting in utter bad faith, merely toyed with the situation. Furthermore, from the day of the coronation, Jeanne, knowing her mission over and herself no longer the envoy of God, could not act with the spirited decision which had heretofore overcome all obstacles.
Finally, however, after standing the restraint put upon her as long as she could endure it, she one day sent for the Duc d'Alenšon, one of her most friendly officers and aids, and cried out to him:
"Fair Duke, make ready your troops and those of the other captains, for in the name of God, and by my staff, I will see Paris nearer than I yet have done!"
With that the eager troops under her command and the Duke's were made ready and promptly pushed on to Saint-Denis, under the very shadow of Paris. Here a pause was made, while the King was with difficulty induced to leave Compiegne, where he had established himself, and where he was taking his ease and pleasure.
This delay gave the Parisians time to strongly entrench and fortify themselves, whereas at the moment of Jeanne's first approach they had been comparatively defenceless and without a leader, the Duke of Bedford, Regent of France for Henry VI, being absent in Normandy.
On the 8th of September, the Nativity of the Virgin, Jeanne's forces, led by her old and dear friends and supporters, d'Alenšon, La Hire, Guy de Laval, and others, made their attack upon the fortifications of Paris and quickly carried the gate of Saint-Honore. From the height of this it was discovered that the city was surrounded by a double ditch, the inner of which was filled with water, the outer one dry. On the ridge between these two Jeanne stood during the entire afternoon, exposed to the arrows showered upon her from the wall, probing the water of the ditch with her lance, to find places where best her men might cross, and ceaselessly encouraging them with the shouts of her marvellous ringing voice.
There she was standing, all unprotected, when she was wounded in the thigh and her standard-bearer killed. She crept down and lay upon the slope of the dry ditch, continuing to urge on her men, assuring them that Paris was theirs if only they would persevere. But darkness came, and d'Alenšon took her, bitterly grieving, back to camp. Unwillingly she went, weeping and moaning: "Oh, the pity of it! the pity! Had we but persevered until morning, the city was ours!"
On the next day, rested and refreshed, for the wound was not serious, she again led forth the troops, determined not to leave the spot until the city was taken, but before the attack had fairly begun messengers arrived from the King with peremptory orders to her to lead the army back to Saint-Denis.
Poor Jeanne, in utter despair, forced to obey, returned rather as a prisoner than a leader.
And here the campaign ended.
At Ghien the King held his Court for the winter, and Jeanne, housed like a noble warrior and dressed like a prince (for she never relinquished her manly costume), had to pass months in weary inactivity. To be sure the King, and more particularly the Queen, were kind. They would have given her anything she craved, rich clothing, gems, a castle, and a great title, any of those things for which she cared nothing, but not the one thing she wished—liberty to drive the English to the last man out of France, give Charles a loyal and united kingdom, or else immediately return in peace to Domremy.
It may here be said that just as the populace was always friendly to Jeanne, so also, at every point of her career, women from the noblest down to the poorest believed in her, loved her, were devoted to her and glad to serve her.
Before the end of the winter, smitten perhaps with pity for Jeanne's evident pining over her enforced inactivity, the King consented to let her go forth to take some of the hitherto unsubdued towns.
She went to Bourges to collect an army, for the forces had during the winter been utterly dispersed. Now no longer aided by her friends, d'Alenšon, Dunois, and La Hire, she had as captain a stranger, one d'Albert, son-in-law of La Tremouille, the King's counsellor and her arch enemy. It may be imagined that little help or encouragement were to be looked for in the circumstance, yet none of Jeanne's achievements were more remarkable than one at this time, the taking of Saint-Pierre-les-Moutier, a town strongly entrenched, well defended, armed, and provisioned.
The first attack upon the stronghold had been unsuccessful, the retreat had been sounded, and the forces were hastening back to camp, when Jean d'Aulon, himself wounded, beheld Jeanne, almost alone, still at work before the point of attack, directing the four or five adherents who had remained with her, in constructing a bridge across the ditch.
In spite of his wound, d'Aulon leaped to horse and hastened forward, calling to her, asking why she remained there, unsupported and unprotected.
"I shall not leave," she cried, taking off her helmet, the better to reply, "until the town is taken!"
"Jeanne, withdraw, I conjure you—you are alone!"
"I have still with me fifty thousand men!" she shouted, her face shining in vision-seeing ecstasy, and she continued her labour, calling to her men: "To work, to work, to work! All to the bridge!"
The sound of that silver-clear and fearless voice, aided by the efforts of the desperate d'Aulon, had the effect of rallying the scattering troops and bringing them again to the charge, and little less than miraculously the town was taken before nightfall.
But before the spring the campaign was perforce abandoned. The King not only gave no assistance but either left her in the cold of winter without provisions and arms, or hampered and defeated her purposes by sending peremptory and incomprehensible orders for delay or retreat.
While Jeanne had been occupied in these operations near the Loire, a great part of the territory before taken for the King had been reconquered by the English, who now put the towns and villages to fire and sword. And when Jeanne was finally recalled to the Court, which was now at Sully, she bore the weariness and sickness of anxious inactivity only for a few weeks, and then suddenly, upon an April day, followed by a small band of devoted followers, left the castle and took her way to Melun, where she aided in repulsing the English.
It was here, while she was standing on the edge of the moat, that her 'voices' gave her a message all unexpected and differing from any she had heretofore received.
"Before the feast of St John," they said, "you will be taken prisoner. But," they added, "have no fear, be strong and of good courage."
In spite of the encouragement and assurance contained in the latter part of the message, Jeanne's prophetic soul must have warned her of the fate that awaited her, for not long after, as she stood in the church of Saint-Jacques at Compiegne, after she had had communion and a crowd of children and people had drawn round her, she allowed to escape her, in a cry from the heart, the knowledge which made her spirit heavy.
"Dear children and friends," she said to them, "I have been sold and betrayed, and shall soon be given up to death. Pray for me, I beg you, for soon I shall be powerless to serve the King and the kingdom."
And it was indeed at Compiegne itself that her fate overtook her.
In May she was at Crespy en Valois, when news reached her that Compiegne was in grave danger of seizure by the combined forces of the English and Burgundians. Immediately she set out to go to its aid.
Toward nightfall, after a day spent in overseeing the defences and preparations, she made a sortie upon the enemy. At first all went well, but soon a panic seized a part of the French forces, who made a hasty withdrawal toward the town, so hotly pursued by the English that the city's gates were closed lest the enemy should enter it.
So it was that Jeanne's party was cut off from retreat. It is said that Flavy, the governor of Compiegne, deliberately and traitorously shut the town's gates whither she was seeking refuge, and Jeanne, her armour covered with a tunic heavily embroidered with gold, her white standard in hand, visible even in the twilight, was surrounded, dragged from her horse, and captured.
Undaunted, she held her sword above her head, refusing to surrender it to anyone: "I have it from One higher than any who can claim it!" she cried, as without unseemly struggle or tears she was taken prisoner by a Burgundian archer, who that same night sold her to John of Luxemburg.
Meanwhile, although the bells of Compiegne rang out the wild alarm and grief of its inhabitants over the loss of its defender, no sally was made to deliver her. Charles neither then nor later lifted a finger to recapture or ransom her. All France remained inactive in her cause, lethargic, uttering no protest, striking no blow. In Paris bonfires were burned in token of rejoicing over her downfall, and a Te Deum of thanksgiving was sung in Notre-Dame. Orleans, it is true, and Blois, made public prayers for her safety. In Tours the populace walked barefoot in sorrowful procession, singing the Miserere, and Rheims had to be quieted by a letter from the Archbishop, who explained that Jeanne, by disobeying the counsels of God and following only her own pleasure, had incurred His punishment. Otherwise the Maid was left to her tragic fate, uncomforted, unbefriended, unaided by the France she had served and saved, not only by her victories, but by awakening in it a national consciousness.
In John of Luxemburg's castles of Beaulieu, and afterward of Beaurevoir, Jeanne was kindly treated.
She was allowed comparative freedom to roam about at will. The wife and the aunt of the Count were friendly and gentle. But how could Jeanne rest under the knowledge that victory might now be with the enemy, and she powerless to aid her country? In desperation she one night attempted to escape, throwing herself from the battlements (a height of sixty feet). She was stunned by the shock of the fall, but escaped without other harm.
She was eventually sent to the fortress of Crotoy, where again kind women gave her solace and comfort, for, as has before been said, no woman was ever known to be anything but friendly to her.
But from Crotoy she was sold into the hands of the English for the sum of six thousand francs, in that day the price of a prince's ransom. They carried her away to Rouen, in the depths of Normandy, their own undisputed territory, farthest away from any hope of rescue, had any been attempted.
Here, in January of 1431, began Jeanne's martyrdom, to be endured to the last of her days, May 31st. She was for six weeks, until the beginning of her trial, imprisoned in an iron cage, chained by the hands, feet, waist, and throat to a pillar, under the incessant watch of low and brutal guards. After the trial had begun she was taken from her cage and only chained by one foot to a beam by day, and to her bed-post by night, but of the intolerable presence of the bestial watchers she was never relieved.
Meanwhile, from all sides, scholars, men of law and of the Church, were gathering to form a tribunal to judge the Maid. That her doom was predetermined was unquestionable, but the forms of a trial, even though it were only a mockery, must be adhered to before she could be condemned for sorcery, heresy, or blasphemy.
The Burgundian Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais, was at the head of the convocation chosen to examine Jeanne. He was assisted by distinguished members of the University of Paris, in the name of the Inquisition.
The trial lasted for many days. Jeanne was cross-examined for long, weary hours by the sharpest and most artful wits of France, bent, not upon discovering the truth and dealing justly with her, but upon finding her guilty. Yet she, untaught girl of nineteen, who could neither write nor read, not only by her truthful directness avoided the traps set by their subtlety, but so carried on her own defence, with the adroitness of perfect honesty and clear intelligence, that they found it difficult to gather sufficient evidence to condemn her. Abandoned by her friends, lonely, treated with every form of cruelty and contempt, she stood steadfast, simple, valorous, dauntless, amazing, miraculous—even more marvellous, perhaps, in the character of witness than she had been in that of warrior.
The voices of her Saints alone gave her comfort and strength, and promises of aid and deliverance—aid and deliverance which proved so different from those which she expected.
Useless to follow the intricacies of that interminable investigation, its endless and purposeless repetitions, so wearisome, so trying to Jeanne's patience, and irritating to her keen mind. Enough to say that her answers, always swift and pointed, were at times of such breath-catching brilliancy as to leave her questioners confused and speechless. On one occasion an English knight among the auditors could not restrain the cry: "Well said! Why was she not English, this brave girl!"
Why dwell upon the detail of the trial, heart-breaking as much for its exhibition of ruthless human cruelty and duplicity as for its martyrizing of a Saint? It has been good to linger over her victories, her short day of glory; it also seems well to touch lightly the days of her agony.
Let it be remembered that from no point was the trial legitimate. Jeanne was a prisoner of war, which should have ensured her personal safety and protected her against trial as a criminal. It was against the laws of France that she should be judged by her enemies, and also against the law both of France and of the Inquisition that she should have no counsel to plead her cause. Legal aid she had none, nor witnesses for or against. She made her own defence, and although it may well be that no other could have done it more effectively, still it was against odds bound to overwhelm her. Had she but known that she had full right to appeal to the Pope, she might perhaps have escaped, but of this she was unaware, and although in the course of the trial she made the request, she did not insist upon it.
Whenever anything in the examination brought out some point in marked favour of Jeanne, Cauchon forbade its being reported, until she sadly exclaimed from the depths of a heart grown heavy with the uselessness of struggle: "You write what is against me, but you do not write what is for me!"
When the trial had come to an end, a condensed and garbled version of it was sent to the University of Paris. This was in due form passed upon, and Jeanne was accused of blasphemy, superstition, impiety, cruelty, lying.
The horror of the sentence of death by fire over-coming her, Jeanne had her hour of darkness, of blindness, of despair, in which she recanted, and to save her life denied the divinity of her sacred mission, her spirit being overwhelmed by the fear that the promises of deliverance held out by her 'voices' were false. If she was to be condemned, if she was after all not to be delivered, must it not be that her 'voices' had deceived her?
But soon, recovering courage and faith, she reasserted her conviction that all that she had done was in obedience to God's commands.
She was then sentenced to be burned, and on the 31st of May was led to the Old Market Place of Rouen. A huge pyre had been raised, surmounted by the stake. In unconcealed distress she went, weeping, a sight so heart-breaking that at one moment the entire multitude burst into a wail of lamentation; no eye could witness without tears the sacrifice of a victim so appealing in her innocence and purity. The English guards themselves shed grudging tears (was this suffering child the witch they had sworn to burn?), and, most amazing of all, tears flowed from the eyes of the pitiless Cauchon.
When she had reached the pyre she asked for a cross. None being there, one of the English soldiers, breaking a stick into two uneven lengths, bound them together in the form of a cross and gave it to her. She clasped it to her breast while she mounted to the stake. Then, having been bound to it, she asked that a cross be placed where she might see it. One was hastily fetched from a neighbouring church and held before her dying eyes.
When the smoke had risen and hidden her from sight, from its midst arose once more the voice, clarion clear as of old, of Jeanne, crying: "My voices were of God! They did not deceive me!"
At last she understood the message of the Saints; the promise of deliverance was being fulfilled, her victory was now complete and everlasting.
Repeating the name of Jesus until her lips were stopped by the suffocating smoke, the Maid of France died, more wonderful, more beautiful than any other being who ever trod this earth—save only one. .