Henry VI. of Windsor—The Story of the Maid of Orleans
WHEN Henry V. died in 1422 A.D., his son, who was also called Henry, was only a tiny baby nine months old. Yet the people had loved Henry V. so much that they chose that this tiny baby should be called their King. Of course a baby nine months old, who could not even speak, could not rule, so his uncle, the Duke of Gloucester, ruled instead. Queen Catherine, the baby's mother, married a Welsh gentleman called Owen Tudor, and took no part in ruling the kingdom.
For a little time things seemed to go well, but soon troubles began. Charles, the mad King of France, died about two months after the death of Henry V., and the baby Henry VI. was proclaimed King of France in his place. "May God grant long life to Henry, by the grace of God, King of France and England," cried the heralds. But the Dauphin, Charles, felt that he was the rightful heir, and he, too, called himself King of France.
The baby king of course did not know anything about what was happening, but his uncle John, Duke of Bedford, who ruled France for him, was very angry with the Dauphin and began to fight with him.
The English were so strong that at first they defeated the French armies, and the Dauphin was in despair.
The Scots had been helping the French. To stop them doing so, the English said that they would set their King free if they would promise not to help the French any more. You remember that King James, when he was a little boy, had been taken prisoner by Henry IV., and he had now been in prison for nineteen years.
While in prison James had seen a beautiful lady, from his window, as she walked in the garden of the palace. He loved her, although he had never spoken to her, nor heard her speak. James was a poet as well as a king, and he wrote some beautiful poetry about her.
As soon as James was free, he married this beautiful lady and went back to Scotland with her. But before he went the English made him pay a large sum of money in return for all that had been spent on him while he was in prison. He also promised not to help the French in their battles with the English.
So this is why the Scots could no longer fight for the French. But other help came to them. They found a great leader who brought them victory. This great leader was a woman.
In a peaceful little village, far away from the sounds of war, lived a peasant girl called Jeanne d'Arc or as we call her in English, Joan of Arc. She had never been to school. She could neither read nor write. Ever since she had been quite a little girl she had had to work hard all day long in the fields and in the house. But although she was ignorant, Joan was gentle and good, and her heart was full of love for her country.
From time to time stories of battle and loss and death, were brought to the little village by sick and wounded soldiers from the battle-fields. As Joan listened to these stories, tears filled her eyes, and a great longing grew in her heart to do something for her dear country.
She spent long days alone in the fields taking care of her master's sheep. While she watched the sheep, she kept thinking and longing. "What can I do?" she said to herself. "I am only a poor, ignorant girl; what can I do for my country?"
At last it seemed to her as if the empty air around her was full of voices, which answered her question. It seemed to her that saints and angels came to her and whispered that she was chosen to free France.
"Put on the courage and the armour of a man," said the voices, "and lead the armies to victory."
When Joan told people that God had chosen her as captain, they thought at first that she was mad. But she was so earnest and so sure that at last they took her to the Dauphin.
Dressed like a man in shining white armour, riding upon a beautiful white horse, and carrying a white banner sewed with the gold lilies of France, she looked so beautiful and so good that the Dauphin and the soldiers could not but believe in her.
So this peasant girl, who knew nothing of war, who had never before worn armour, nor carried a sword, nor ridden upon a horse, took command of the army. The rough soldiers honoured, obeyed and almost worshipped her. New hope sprang up in their hearts, new strength to fight.
So full of courage were they now, that in less than a week fortune changed, the English began to lose and the French to win. Joan's first fighting was at Orleans, which had been besieged by the English for some months. Joan beat the English and drove them away, and because of that she was afterwards often called the Maid of Orleans. Battle after battle was fought, town after town was taken from the English, until about two months from the time Joan began to fight, the French were so completely victorious that the Dauphin was crowned at Rheims.
It was a very splendid sight. The church was crowded with knights and nobles and rejoicing people, but no one rejoiced more than the Maid of Orleans. Dressed still in her beautiful white armour, holding her white banner in her hand, she stood beside the Dauphin as the crown was placed upon his head and he was proclaimed King of France instead of the little English King Henry VI.
Then when all was over Joan begged to be allowed to go home again to tend sheep once more and to be with her brothers and her sisters. "They would be so glad to see me," she said, "my work here is done."
But the King would not let her go. The English still remained in the country and fighting still went on. So Joan, as she was not allowed to go home, went on fighting too. But one sad day, during a battle, she was wounded and taken prisoner by the English.
The English were very glad of this, because they thought that she was a witch. In those days people still believed in witches and were very much afraid of them. The English thought that no one who was not a witch could have done the wonderful things Joan had done. After being kept in prison for nearly a year, Joan, young, beautiful, and good though she was, was burned as a witch because she had freed her country. The English did not do this wicked deed but, what was almost as bad, they allowed their friends, the Burgundians, who were French, but who had been fighting on the English side, to do it.
After this the English proclaimed Henry VI. King of France at Paris. But it was only an empty show, for he was not really King of France. Fighting still went on, but the English lost more and more till at last they had lost all the lands they had ever held in France. In 1451 A.D., only the town of Calais remained to them, and the Hundred Years' War, begun by Edward III. in 1340 A.D., came to an end.
While these things were happening in France, the baby King of England was growing up to be a man. And a very weak man he grew to be. He was pulled this way and that among his many advisers who ruled the country and quarrelled among themselves.
The lords made the King marry a French lady called Margaret of Anjou. She was very strong-willed and it was really she, more than King Henry, who ruled.
The country was in a very unhappy state. The long wars with France had cost a great deal of money and a great many lives. The people were heavily taxed in order to pay for the wars. The men who were taken away for soldiers very often never came home again. There were not enough people in the country to do the work, and famine, disease, and all kinds of misery followed.
At last the people rebelled, just as they had rebelled in the time of Richard II. under Wat Tyler. This time their leader was called Jack Cade.
It all happened very much as before. The rebels marched to London and camped upon Blackheath. A battle was fought in which the King's men were defeated. Then Jack Cade and his followers were promised what they asked. Many of them afterwards went home quietly, but Jack Cade himself was killed.
This rising lasted only a few weeks, but another struggle which lasted thirty years soon began. This struggle was called the Wars of the Roses.