T he Hundred Years' War was renewed when Henry V. came to the throne, and by his great victory at Agincourt in 1415 France was quite at his mercy. At length the French became so discouraged that they agreed that when their king should die they would accept an English ruler. The daughter of the French king was married to Henry, who died shortly afterwards. At the death of Henry V. the new king of England was a little boy. His guardians tried to enforce his claims, and they invaded France. They succeeded in getting possession of Northern France, but they could not press farther into the country without capturing Orleans. This they made strong efforts to do; they laid siege to the city; it grew weaker and weaker, and all saw that it must soon fall into their hands.
The French were good soldiers, but they needed a leader. They were fighting for the rights of the young king Charles, but it did not seem to enter his mind that he should do aught except wear the crown after they had captured it for him. At length word came that a young peasant girl named Joan, from Domrémy insisted upon seeing him. She declared that she had seen visions of angels and had heard voices bidding her raise the siege of Orleans and conduct the king to Rheims to be crowned.
Joan of Arc
She was brought before the king; but he had dressed himself more plainly than his courtiers to see if she would recognize him. She looked about her a moment, then knelt before him. "I am not the king," said Charles. "Noble prince, you and no one else, are the king," Joan responded; and she told him of the voices that she had heard. Now, there was an old saying in France that some day the country would be saved by a maiden, and both king and courtiers became interested. They gave her some light armour, all white and shining, and set her upon a great white charger with a sword in her hand. Her banner was a standard of pure white, and on it was a picture of two angels bearing lilies and one of God holding up the world. The French were wild with enthusiasm. They fell down before her, and those who could come near enough to touch her armour or even her horse's hoofs thought themselves fortunate. Joan of Arc, as she is known in history, was only seventeen, and she had seen nothing of war, but she succeeded in leading the French troops into Orleans. When once she had made her way within the walls, the French shut up in the city began to believe that she was sent by Heaven to save them. She bade them follow her to do battle with the English, and they obeyed joyfully. The English had heard of this. Some thought she was, indeed, sent by Heaven; others said she was a witch; and they were all half afraid to resist her. It was not long before they withdrew. The city was free; and the French were almost ready to worship the "Maid of Orleans," as they called her. They were eager to follow wherever she led; and with every battle the English were driven a little farther to the northward.
Joan now urged Charles to go to Rheims to be crowned; but he held back. So did his brave old generals. "It is folly," they said, "to try to make our way through a country where the English are still in power. Let us first drive them from Normandy and from Paris. Let the coronation wait until we have possession of our capital." Still Joan begged Charles to go, and at length he yielded. There was much fighting on the way, but the French were victorious, and Joan led her king to Rheims. He was crowned in the cathedral, and she stood near him, the white war banner in her hand.
Then Joan prayed to be allowed to go home; but Charles would not think of giving her up. His people had come to believe that they would win a victory wherever she led; they even fancied that they saw fire flashing around her standard. "I work no miracles," she declared. "Do not kiss my clothes or armour. I am nothing but the instrument that God uses." She continued to lead the army, but at length she was captured and fell into the hands of the English. Those were hard and cruel days, and the English fired cannon and sang the Te Deum in the churches and rejoiced as if they had conquered the whole kingdom of France.
Joan was kept in prison for a year, loaded with irons and chained to a pillar. She was tried for witchcraft and was condemned and sentenced to be burned. Charles, to whom she had given a kingdom, made no effort to save her. A stake was set up in the market-place of Rouen. To this she was bound, and fagots were heaped up around it. "Let me die with the cross in my hands," she pleaded; but no one paid any attention to her request, until at length an English soldier tied two sticks together in the form of a cross and gave it to her. She kissed it and laid it upon her heart. Then a brave and kindly monk ventured to bring her the altar cross from a church near at hand. The flames rose around her. Those who stood near heard her say, "Jesus! Jesus!" and soon her sufferings were ended. Her ashes were thrown into the Seine, but to-day on the spot where she died a noble statue stands in her honour.