On the 6th of January, 1412, Jeanne d’Arc, or, as we call her, Joan of Arc, was born at Domremy, a little village on the left bank of the Meuse, on land belonging to the French crown. Her parents, Jacques d’Arc and Isabelle Romée, were simple peasants, “of good life and reputation,” who brought up their children to work hard, fear God and honour the saints. Besides Joan, they had four children, three sons, Jacques, Jean and Pierre, and a daughter, Catherine.
Joan’s native valley was fair and fertile. The low hills that bounded it were covered with thick forests, and the rich meadows along the Meuse were gay with flowers, which gave to the chief town in the district its name of Vaucouleurs, Vallis colorum. Domremy, built on a slope, touched upon those flowery meadows, but over the hill behind it spread an ancient oakwood, the Bois Chesnu of legend and prophecy. Between the forest and the village rose solitary a great beech, “beautiful as a lily,” about which the country people told a thousand tales. They called it the “Fairies’ Tree,” the “Tree of the Ladies,” the “Beautiful May.” In old times the fairies had danced round it, and under its shadow a noble knight had formerly dared to meet and talk with an elfin lady.
But now, in Joan’s time, the presence of the fairies was less certain, for the priest of Domremy came once a year to say mass under the tree, and exorcise it and a spring that bubbled up close by. On festival days the young villagers hung it with garlands, danced and played round it, and rested under its boughs to eat certain cakes which their mothers had made for them. During her childhood, Joan brought her cakes and garlands like the rest, danced with them, and sang more than she danced; but as she grew older, she would steal away and carry her flowers to the neighbouring chapel of Our Lady of Domremy.
Her early years were, considering the times, quiet and peaceful. With the war raging between English and French and their allies, to its west and north, Domremy had comparatively little to do. News of English successes, of French defeats, and the sorrows of the French King, were brought by fugitives from the war, by travelling monks, and other wanderers. Joan helped to receive those wayfarers, waited on them, gave up her own bed to them sometimes; and what they told of the woes of France she heard with intense sympathy, and pondered in her heart.
Her bringing up fitted her for the tender fulfilling of all womanly duties. Unlike most girls of her class, she had few outdoor tasks, but spent most of her time at her mother’s side, doing the work of the house, learning to sew and spin, to repeat the Belief, and the legends of the saints. Her work done, her dearest pleasure was to go to the village church, which was close to her father’s cottage, and there kneel in prayer, gaze on the pictured angels, or listen to the bells calling the faithful to worship: she had always a peculiar delight in the sound of church bells. She fasted regularly, and went often to confession; so often, that her young companions were inclined to jest at her devotion, and even her chosen friends, Haumette and Mengette, half-scolded her for being over-religious. But her faith bore sound fruit. The little money she got she gave in alms. She nursed the sick, she was gentle to the young and weak, obedient to her parents, kind to all. “There was no one like her in the village,” said her priest. “She was a good girl,” testified an old peasant, “such a daughter as I would gladly have had.” A good girl, indeed: they were pure and helpful hands that for a while held the fate of France.
There was a prophecy current during that unhappy time- an old prophecy of Merlin – which the suffering people had taken and applied to their own day and their own need. “The kingdom, lost by a woman, was to be saved by a woman.” The woman who had lost it was Isabeau, of Bavaria, the wicked queen, the false wife of Charles VI, the unnatural mother. Who was she that should save it? In the east of France it was said that the deliverer would be a maid from the marshes of Lorraine.
Joan knew the ancient prophecy, and in her young mind it became blended with legends of the saints, with stories of Bible heroines, with her own ardent faith and high aspirations. She loved more and more to be alone. Night and day the wonderful child brooded on the sorrows of France. She sent out her vague hopes and yearnings in tears and prayers, and passionate thoughts that were prayers, and they all came back to her with form and sound, in the visions and voices that were henceforth to be the rulers of her life.
They came first when she was thirteen years old. On a summer’s day, at noon, she was in her father’s garden, when suddenly by the church there appeared a great light, and out of the light a voice spoke to her, “Joan, be a good child; go often to church.” She was frightened then, but both voice and brightness came again and again, and grew dear and familiar. Noble shapes appeared in the glory. Saint Michael showed himself to her; Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret bent over her their radiant heads, bidding her “be good; trust in God.” They told her of “the sorrow there was in the kingdom of France,” and warned her that one day it would be her mission to go and carry help to the King.
While to outward eyes she lived as usual, she had a life apart, given to God and her saints. She vowed her virginity to Heaven, but of her vow and the visions that had led her to it she told no one, not even the priest. Her meditations, her prayers and unearthly friendships, made of her no sickly dreamer nor hot brained fanatic. She grew up strong, tall and handsome, with a healthy mind in her healthy body.
Meanwhile the dangers of France darkened and thickened. The war was pushing southward; the English leader, Salisbury, was on his way to Orleans; the French King, Charles, poor, indolent, ill-advised, was deliberating whether he should retreat into Dauphiné, or Spain, or Scotland.
Joan’s voices grew more frequent and more urgent. Their word now was always, “Go, go into France!” At last they had told her the way: “Go to Vaucouleurs, to Robert de Baudricourt, the governor; he will give you men-at-arms, and send you to the King.”
It was now that Joan’s trial began. While her beautiful visitors had spoken vaguely of some “deliverance” she was to bring about in the future, she had listened with trembling joy. But now they had plainly shown her the distasteful first step, and for a moment she shrank from taking it. How could a peasant brave the governor of Vaucouleurs? How was a modest girl to venture among rude men-at-arms? How could a dutiful child leave her parents and her home?
“Alas!” she pleaded, “I am a poor girl; I know neither how to ride nor how to fight.” She had a short, hard struggle with her own weakness, but the voices did not alter, and she set herself to do their bidding.
Her uncle, Durant Laxart, with whom she evidently was a favourite, lived at a village near Vaucouleurs, and in May, 1428, she went to his house for a visit. After a few days she confided to him something of her plans, reminding him of the old prophecy of Merlin, but never speaking of her visions. With much difficulty she prevailed on him to help her. He went with her to Vaucouleurs, and before the governor, to whom she made known her errand.
“Send and tell the Dauphin,” she said, “to wait and not offer battle to his enemies, because God will give him help before mid-Lent. The kingdom belongs not to the Dauphin, but to my Lord; but my Lord wills that the Dauphin shall be king, and hold it in trust. In spite of his enemies he shall be king, and I myself shall lead him to be crowned.”
“And who is your Lord?” demanded Baudricourt. She answered, “The King of Heaven.”
The governor, a rough and practical soldier, laughed at the young peasant in her coarse red dress, and bade her uncle chastise her well, and take her home to her father.
She returned to Domremy with her heart more than ever fixed on the work she had before her. Now and again she let fall words that revealed enough to make her parents anxious and fearful. Her father dreamed that she had gone away with the soldiers. “If I thought such a thing could happen,” he said to her brothers, “I would bid you drown her, and if you refused, I would drown her myself.” But she was of a marriageable age; why should she not marry, stay at home, and bring up children, like other women? A lover came forward, a bold one, who, when she rejected him, summoned her before the court at Toul, declaring that she had promised to be his wife. But she went before the judges, spoke out bravely, and defeated her persevering suitor.
As the months passed, her longing increased to be gone and do her voices’ bidding. Once more she obtained her uncle’s help. His wife was ill, and he came to Domremy and got leave for Joan to go back with him and nurse her. She went, keeping secret the real end of her journey. “If I had had a hundred fathers and a hundred mothers,” she said later, “and if I had been a king’s daughter, I should have gone.” She took leave of her companion Mengette, but to Haumette, her dearer friend, she would not trust herself to say farewell. Her uncle took her to Vaucouleurs, and gave her in charge of a wheelwright’s wife, Catherine Royer, with whom she lived for some weeks. She went constantly to church, she helped her hostess in the house, and was gentle and obedient. At the same time, she spoke frankly of her mission to any who chose to hear.
She again went to the governor, who received her no better than before. But she was not cast down.
“I must go to the Dauphin,” she said, “though I should go on my knees.”
Many people went to see her, among others a brave gentleman of Metz, Jean de Novelonpont.
“What are you doing here, my child?” he asked her, jestingly. “Shall the King be driven out of France, and must we all turn English?”
“I am come to this royal city,” she answered, “to bid Robert de Baudricourt take or send me to the King, but he does not heed my words; and yet before mid-Lent I must be before the King, though I should wear away my legs to the knees. For no one else in the world, neither kings, nor dukes, can recover the kingdom of France, and there is no help but in me. And, indeed, I would rather spin with my poor mother, for this is not my calling; but I must go and do it, for it is my Lord’s will.”
Like Baudricourt, the knight asked her:
“Who is your lord?”
And she answered, “He is God.”
But, unlike Baudricourt, he was touched by her words. In the old feudal fashion, he laid his hands within hers and vowed that, by God’s help, he would take her to the King. Another worthy gentleman, Bertrand de Poulengy, gave a like promise.
Baudricourt was now forced to listen to Joan. The people of Vaucouleurs believed in her with the ready faith of that time, and she had at least two of his own class to take her part. But those voices of hers, were they of God or of the Devil? Was she witch or saint? The governor, like many another good soldier, had some weakness of superstition. He went to see her, taking with him a priest, who began to exorcise her, bidding her avaunt if she were of the Evil One. Joan approached the priest and knelt before him, honouring not him, but his office; for, as she said afterwards, he had not done well; he should have known that no evil spirit spoke by her.
While she was waiting Baudricourt’s pleasure, the Duke of Lorraine, who was ill at Nancy, heard of her, and, hoping for the revelation of some cure, desired to see her. He sent her a safe-conduct, and she went to Nancy under care of her uncle. But she knew only what her voices taught, and she had no power to cure any ills but those of France. This she told the Duke, promising him her prayers, and begging him to aid in her enterprise. He sent her back honourably, but did not pledge himself to the royal cause.
The people of Vaucouleurs came forward to help Joan. They gave her a horse, and the dress and equipment of a soldier; for as she was to travel with men, she wisely chose to wear man’s attire. Baudricourt still doubted and delayed. The people she was sojourning with pitied her anxiety. On the day of the battle of Rouvray she went to the governor.
“In God’s name,” she said, “you are too slow about sending me. To-day the Dauphin has suffered great loss near Orleans, and he is in danger of yet greater if you do not send me to him soon.”
At last he yielded to her urgency. He gave her a sword and a letter to the King, and let her prepare to depart. Bertrand de Poulengy, Jean de Novelonpont, and four armed men of lesser rank were to accompany her. She did not see her parents to bid them farewell, but she sent them a letter, entreating them to pardon her. She spoke cheerily to those who were afraid for her safety. God and “her brothers of Paradise” would guard her and her little escort on their dangerous journey.
On February 23, 1429, they set out, Baudricourt bidding her “Go, come of it what may.”
Her most timid well-wisher could hardly have exaggerated the perils of the journey. More than half of it was through the enemy’s country, where there was continual risk of being stopped and questioned. The rivers, swollen by the winter rains, were unfordable; therefore the travellers had to cross over bridges in full sight of fortified towns.
On the eleventh day of their journey the Maid and her party reached Saint Catherine de Fierbois, near Chinon, where they rested, and Joan heard three masses. She sent a letter to Charles requesting an audience, and telling him she had come a hundred and fifty leagues to help him.
An interview with Charles was no such simple affair as she had fancied. Between her and him were doubts, jealousies, intrigues. But her friends prevailed, and after two days’ waiting she was admitted to the castle. As she was passing through the gate, a man-at-arms called out,
“What, is that the Maid?” and added a coarse jest and an oath.
Joan turned and looked gravely at him.
“Alas!” she said, “you blaspheme God, and you are so near your death!” Within an hour the man was drowned by accident, and those words of hers were repeated far and wide as a proof of her prophetic power.
The Count of Vendôme led her into the royal presence. She entered meekly, but undismayed; in her visions she had seen finer company than any earthly court could show her. Charles stood among the crowd of nobles, and when she knelt before him he pointed to a richly-dressed lord, saying:
“That is the King, not I.”
But she knew the King, probably from descriptions she had heard of him, and answered:
“In God’s name, gracious Prince, you are he, and none other.” She then repeated to him the words which, like a charm, had brought her so far and overcome so much; “I am Joan the Maid, sent by God to save France,” and she asked him for troops, that she might go and raise the siege of Orleans.
Presently the Duke of Alençon came in, and the King having told her who he was, she bade him welcome.
“The more there are of the blood-royal of France,” she said, “the better it will be.”
Alençon, who had lately returned from a three years’ captivity in England, and was still paying a ruinous ransom, sympathised with the girl-champion, and was inclined to believe in her.
The King and his advisers went cautiously to work.
They sent two monks to Domremy to inquire into Joan’s character and past life. They called her now and again to Court, where statesmen and churchmen questioned her closely. Meanwhile, she was honourably treated. She was given to the charge of Bellier, the King’s lieutenant, whose wife was a lady of virtue and piety, and many distinguished persons visited her at the castle where she was lodged. One day she rode with the lance before the King, and acquitted herself so well that the Duke of Alençon rewarded her with the gift of a beautiful horse. Could she have at all forgotten her mission, the time would have passed pleasantly; as it was, she wearied for action.
At last she sought the King, and said to him:
“Gracious Dauphin” (until Charles was anointed at Reims with the sacred oil, he was no real king in her eyes) “Gracious Dauphin, why will you not believe me? I tell you, God has pity on you, your kingdom and people.”
To satisfy all doubts about Joan, it was settled that she should be taken to Poitiers, where the Parliament was assembled, and be there questioned by a royal commission.
“In God’s name, let us go,” she said; “I shall have hard work, but my Lord will help me.”
She was lodged in the house of the advocate-general to the Parliament, and committed to his wife’s care. The Archbishop of Reims called together churchmen and learned doctors. The Commissioners met, and, having called Joan, showed her “by good and fair arguments” that she was unworthy of belief. They reasoned with her for more than two hours, and she answered them so well that they were amazed. In spite of their expressed distrust, she spoke to them freely and fully, told how her voices had bidden her go into France, how she had wept at their command and yet obeyed it, how she had come safely, because she was doing the will of God.
“You require an army,” said one, “saying it is God’s will that the English shall quit France. If that be so, there is no need for men-at-arms, because God can drive them away by His pleasure.”
“The men-at-arms shall fight,” she answered, “and God shall give the victory”; and the monk confessed that she had answered well.
When the examination had dragged on for three weeks, two of the doctors came one day to question her, bringing with them the King’s equerry, whom she had known at Chinon. She clapped him, comrade-like, on the shoulder, exclaiming:
“Would that I had many more men of as good will as you!” Then turning to the doctors, she said, “I believe you are come to catechise me. Listen! I know neither A nor B, but there is more in God’s books than in yours. He has sent me to save Orleans and crown the King.”
She demanded paper and ink. “Write what I tell you!” she said, and dictated to the amazed scholars the famous letter which soon after was sent to the English.
The grave and stern commissioners were won by the young peasant. None of them bore her any grudge for the occasional sharpness of her replies. Many of them believed firmly that she was inspired, and quoted the old prophecy of Merlin, who had foretold the coming of a maid who should deliver France. All of them trusted in her good faith, and appreciated more or less the influence she would have over the people. They advised, almost commanded, Charles to employ her. Her life, they said, has been carefully inquired into; for six weeks she has been kept near the King; persons of all ranks, men and women, have seen and talked with her, and have found in her only “goodness, humility, chastity, devotion, seemliness and simplicity.” She has promised to show her sign before Orleans: let the King send her there, for to reject her would be to reject the Holy Spirit.
Besides her learned judges, she had others, whom had she been an impostor, she would have found hard to deceive. Keen women’s eyes had been set to watch her, and had seen no fault in her. The ladies who came to see the warrior-damsel were amazed to find her a mere girl, “very simple, and speaking little.” Her goodness and innocence moved them to tears. She prayed them to pardon her for the man’s attire she wore; but in that lawless day the most modest women must have well understood that such a dress was fittest and safest for her who had to live among men.
Towards the end of April she was sent to Tours, where a military staff was appointed her. Her brothers, Jean and Pierre, who had followed her, were included in her retinue. A suit of beautiful armour was made for her. She was provided with a banner after her own device – white, embroidered with lilies: on one side of it, a picture of God enthroned on clouds and holding a globe in His hand; on the other, the shield of France, supported by two angels. She had also a pennon, whereon was represented the Annunciation. The King would have given her a sword, but her voices, she said, had told her of the only one she might use, an ancient weapon with five crosses on its blade, which was lying buried behind the altar in the church of Saint Catherine de Fierbois. A messenger was sent, and in the place she had told of was found an old rusty sword such as she had described. After being polished, it was brought to her with two rich scabbards, one of crimson velvet, the other of cloth-of-gold; but the practical Maid got herself yet another of strong leather for daily wear.
Joan, being accepted, the National party made rapid preparations for the relief of Orleans.
Her first care was that the army given her by God should be worthy of His favour. For the priests attached to it, she had a banner made with a picture of the Crucifixion, beneath which they said mass and sang hymns to the Virgin morning and evening.
On Thursday, April 28th, the relieving army set out from Blois, the priests going before and singing the Veni Creator round their banner of the Cross. Joan wished to march along the north bank of the Loire, and through the line of English forts; her voices, she said, had told her that the convoy would pass them without hurt. But the captains, who had little faith in her revelations, preferred keeping the river between themselves and the chief bastiles of the enemy. They had orders, however, to obey the Maid, so, to avoid contradicting her, they misled her as to the position of Orleans; crossing the bridge at Blois, they advanced by the south bank of the stream. When night came, the army encamped on the plain, and Joan, who lay down in her armour, arose bruised and weary for the next day’s march. But all her fatigue was forgotten when she saw how she had been deceived.
Dunois, with a following of knights and citizens, came up the river to welcome the convoy. When he approached Joan, she asked him:
“Are you the bastard of Orleans?”
“Yes,” he replied, “and I am glad of your coming.”
“And did you advise that I should be brought by this side of the river, and not straight to the English?”
He answered that it was so, he and the council having judged it safest.
“In God’s name,” she said, “my Lord’s counsel is safer and wiser than yours. You thought to deceive me, but you have deceived yourselves, for I bring you the best help that ever knight or city had; for it is God’s help, not sent for love of me, but by God’s pleasure.”
At eight that evening she entered Orleans, riding a white horse, her standard carried before her. The people thronged to meet her, wild with joy, “as if she had been an angel of God.” “They felt comforted and, as it were, dis-besieged by the divine virtue there was said to be in that simple Maid.” They crowded so upon her, that one of their torches set fire to the border of her standard, and when she bent forward and crushed out the flame, the little brave action seemed a miracle to the excited multitude. After returning thanks to God in the cathedral, she rode to the house of Jacques Boucher, treasurer to the Duke of Orleans, and was hospitably received by his wife and his young daughter Charlotte, whom she took to share her chamber during her stay in the city.
The next Sunday, May 1st, Dunois went to fetch the army from Blois. The Maid rode with him a little way, and he and his following passed unmolested by the English forts. The days of his absence were spent by Joan in making friends with the citizens, in attending mass and riding out to reconnoitre the enemy’s siege-works. The enthusiastic people followed her everywhere, fearing nothing so long as they were near her. On Tuesday some reinforcements arrived, and news came that the army was on its way.
This time they took the northern side of the river, and on May 4th Joan went a league out of the city to meet them. The whole army passed the line of forts and entered Orleans. The besiegers made no sign, and it is not wonderful that the English soldiers, seeing that strange apathy of their leaders, believed Joan to be a witch, whose arts it would be useless to resist.
The same day, towards evening she lay down to rest, but suddenly she started up and called her squire, saying, “My counsel tells me to go against the English.” While he was arming her, she heard voices in the street shouting that the French were suffering loss. She rushed out, and meeting her page on the way:
“Ah, graceless boy!” she exclaimed, “you never told me the blood of France was being spilt.”
Her hostess finished arming her, then she sprang upon her horse, took her standard which the page handed her out of a window, and galloped to the eastern gate, her horse’s hoofs striking sparks as she passed.
For the first time she now saw real war, and her courage did not fail. Standing at the edge of the fosse, she urged her men on to the assault. This first success, moderate in itself, was of immense value to the National party, for it restored to the French that faith in themselves of which the long series of their defeats had almost deprived them. And their reverse had as great an effect upon the English. Their failure appeared to them out of the natural course of events, a wicked miracle, a thing brought about by sorcery. The brave yeomen of Henry V were learning to fear.
On Friday, May 6th, Joan and about 3,000 men crossed to an island, in the Loire, passed from it to the shore by an extempore bridge of two boats, and planted her standard before the rampart of the Augustins. But her troops had not all crossed from Orleans, and those who were with her, seeing that the English were coming to reinforce their fellows, were seized with fear, and hurried back to the boats. The garrison rushed out and pursued the fugitives with jeers and insults. The defeat of the French appeared certain, but Joan, who had been trying to cover the retreat, faced round, and with a small brave company charged the pursuers. The panic was on their side now. They saw the Witch of France riding down upon them, her charmed standard flying, her eyes flashing with terrible wrath, and they turned and fled before her. Once more she planted her flag before the rampart, and this time she was well supported. The bastile was taken after an obstinate defence, and to prevent riot and pillage she ordered it to be set on fire.
She would gladly have stayed with her soldiers who were left that night to be ready for the next day’s assault, but the chiefs, seeing that she was very weary, persuaded her to return with them into Orleans. They had another reason for parting her from the troops. While she was resting they held a council, and agreed not to renew the attack on the morrow, but recall the troops into the city, which was now well victualled, and there await reinforcements. A knight was sent to tell her of their over-cautious decision:
“God had already done much to help them; now they would wait.” Wait! – how Joan must have hated that word! “You have been in your council,” she said, “and I have been in mine. Be sure that God’s counsel will hold good and come to pass, and that all other counsel shall perish.”
Then she turned to Pasquerel, who was standing near.
“Rise early to-morrow,” she said, “and keep near me all day, for I shall have much to do, and blood shall flow above my breast.”
She rose at dawn, and after hearing mass, started for the assault. Her host urged her to take food before going; a shad was being got ready, he told her.
“Keep it till evening,” she said, gaily, “I will come back over the bridge.”
If the French fought for the deliverance of Orleans and the kingdom, the English were defending their ancient glory and their own lives; the fort once taken, there would be small chance of escape for any of its garrison. Under cannon-fire and through flights of arrows, the assailants leaped into the fosse and swarmed up the escarpment, “as if they believed themselves immortal.”
The English met them at the top; again and again they were driven back, again and again the Maid cheered them on, crying:
“Fear not!?the place is yours!”
At last, as if to force victory, she sprang into the fosse, and was setting a scaling-ladder against the wall when an arrow pierced her between the neck and shoulder. She was carried to a place of shelter, weeping for pain and fright; but her strong courage soon reasserted itself; she drew out the arrow with her own hand, and had the wound dressed with oil, forbidding the men-at-arms to “charm” it, as they in their superstitious kindness wanted to do. She then confessed herself, and so, hastened back to the rampart.
There was no success yet for the French, and the captains came to Joan, telling her they intended to retire and suspend the attack until next day. She besought them to persevere. She tried to break their resolve with brave words. She went to Dunois with prayers and promises.
“In God’s name, you shall enter shortly. Doubt not, and the English shall have no more power over you!”
Her entreaties prevailed. Then she ordered the men to rest a while, eat and drink, and when they had done so, bade them renew the attack “in God’s name.”
She mounted her horse again and rode to a vineyard a little way off, where, out of the turmoil of battle, she prayed a few minutes. On her return she stationed herself near the rampart, holding her standard.
“Watch until my banner touches the fort,” she said to a gentleman who stood near. Presently the wind caught it and blew it against the wall.
“It touches, Joan, it touches!” exclaimed the gentleman.
She cried to the troops:
“Go in now, all is yours!”
By evening Joan reëntered Orleans, where she and her men were received with great joy, all the bells of the city ringing out the news of victory. The Maid’s wound was dressed carefully, and after her usual supper of bread with a little wine and water, she lay down to sleep.
Very early next morning, those watching in Orleans saw the English quit their bastiles and set themselves before the walls in order of battle. The alarm was given, and the French, led by Joan, came out of the city and ranged themselves in front of their enemies. While the armies stood face to face, as it were waiting for a signal to begin to fight, Joan had a camp-altar brought, and the priests said mass. Then she asked:
“Are the faces of the English towards us, or their backs?”
She was told that they were retreating, and at that moment flames shot up from some of their forts which they had set on fire.
“In God’s name,” said Joan, “let them go. My Lord does not choose that we shall fight to-day. You shall have them another time.”
Crowds rushed out from Orleans to destroy the unburnt bastiles, and dragged back the stores and cannon the English had been obliged to leave. But soon the excitement of victory gave way to the enthusiasm of thankfulness. A few days ago the city had been surrounded by enemies, threatened with the sword, more than threatened by famine. But in one marvellous week God and the Maid had delivered it. Now let her who had led the people to victory lead them also to give thanks. They thronged after her. They followed her from church to church, praising God and the saints, God and the Maid, before their rescued altars. Night fell on their rejoicings, and early next morning the Maid left them, eager to rejoin the King, and render an account of her success. Her time for rest was not yet. She had as yet only given the sign promised to the doctors of Poitiers – only begun the great work she was sent to do.
Scholars, high in place, great in learning, paid her their tribute of praise. But the common people were her most eager admirers and lovers. During her journey from Orleans to Tours, they crowded about her, trying to touch her hands, her dress, the trappings of her horse – even stooping down to kiss the hoof-prints of her horse on the road.
Charles came to meet her at Tours. When she knelt before him, he took off his cap, as to a queen, raised her, and seemed “as if he gladly would have kissed her, for the joy he had.” He would have ennobled her at once, and he desired her to take for her arms the lilies of France, with a royal crown and a sword drawn to defend it. Empty honours and easy lip-gratitude were at her service, but she, who had only one noble ambition, cared nothing for them. She wanted but one boon from the King – ready action. Now was the time to go to Reims, while the English were weakened and disheartened. Let the King come – she would conduct him there safely and without hindrance – but let him come at once, for she had much to do, and little time wherein to do it.
“Make use of me,” she pleaded, “for I shall last only one year.”
Her bold proposal amazed Charles and his council. Go to Reims, to a city held by the English, through a country guarded by hostile troops!
The King, half-persuaded, agreed to go, but not until the English had been driven from the Loire. The captains declared that it would be unwise to march northward while the southern provinces remained so exposed to the enemy, and Joan, whose good sense equalled her courage, deferred to their judgment. An army was assembled, and put under command of the Duke of Alençon, but the King required him to do nothing without the Maid’s advice. While she was near Charles, and her brave words were in his ears, he almost believed in her.
On the 9th of June, just a month after her departure from Orleans, Joan returned there with her army. During the campaign she made the city her headquarters, to the delight of its people, who “could not have enough of gazing at her.” On the 11th she led the troops against Jargeau, a strong town, bravely defended, but the assailants had the advantage of numbers, and, once their fears were forgotten, went boldly to the attack. Joan and the Duke, commanders though they were, went down into the fosse like the rest, and the Maid was climbing a scaling-ladder, when a stone hurled from the rampart struck her to the earth. But she was up in a moment, shouting:
“Friends, friends, go on! Our Lord has condemned the English! They are ours! Be of good courage!” The men swarmed over the walls, and the place was taken. The more important captives were sent down the Loire to Orleans, where Joan and Alençon returned the day after their victory. Soon after, near Patay they came upon the English, who had been warned of their approach, and were getting ready for battle. The Duke asked Joan what was to be done.
“Have you good spurs?” she inquired.
“What!” exclaimed some who stood by; “should we turn our backs?”
“Not so, in God’s name!” she answered. “The English shall do that. They will be beaten, and you will want your spurs to pursue them.”
Some of the chiefs hung back.
“In God’s name, we must fight them!” she cried. “Though they were hung to the clouds, we should have them. To-day the King shall have the greatest victory he has won for long. My counsel tells me they are ours.”
In slain and prisoners the English lost nearly 3,000 men. Joan was very indignant at the cruelty of the victors. Seeing one of them strike down a wounded prisoner she sprang from her horse, raised the poor soldier in her arms, and held him thus while he confessed to a priest whom she had sent for, tenderly comforting him until he died. It was always so with her. Before and during the fight she was the stern champion of France; but when it was over she became again a pitying woman, weeping for her dead enemies, and praying for their souls.
Now Joan held her rightful place in the army. Every true and honest man believed in her; even those who had doubted her at Orleans confessed now not only her goodness and courage, but also the instinctive military skill she had shown both in sieges and in the field. Soldiers and leaders were alike eager to follow her to Reims. With nothing to consult and combat but their frank likes and dislikes, her task would have been an easy one; but to do her voices’ bidding, she had to hew or wind her way through the intrigues of a court.
Charles demurred at going to Reims at all. He hated trouble, and his life in the south had been pleasant enough. All Joan’s victories had as yet done him no substantial good. He was as poor as ever, and the excited men who flocked to the Maid’s banner were to him objects less of pride than of distrust.
The Maid, foreseeing more delays, sick at heart of his apathy, could not control her tears, and he, bewildered by a grief he could not understand, spoke to her kindly, paid her many compliments, and advised her to take some rest. Still weeping, she besought him to have faith, promising that he should recover his kingdom and be crowned before long.
On Friday, June 24th, she brought the army of the Loire to Gien, whence she sent a letter to the loyal city of Tournay, telling its people of her late successes, and praying them to come to the coronation.
Two days after her arrival at Gien, the justly impatient girl quitted the town with some of her troops and encamped in the fields beyond it. Her persistence carried the day. On the 29th, the King and an army of 12,000 men set out for Reims.
On July 5th it reached Troyes. Joan had written to the citizens, requiring them to receive the King, and Charles also bade them surrender, promising them amnesty and easy terms. But the place was well garrisoned, and they determined to resist.
A council was held, and nearly all who were at it advised returning southward. But among those faint hearts was one man who believed in Joan – the old chancellor – and he spoke boldly for her. “When the King undertook this journey, he did it not because of the great might of the men-at-arms, nor because of the great wealth he had, nor because the journey seemed possible to him, but because Joan told him to go forward and be crowned at Reims, such being the good pleasure of God.” While he was yet speaking, Joan herself knocked at the door. She was let in, and the Archbishop told her the cause of the debate.
She turned to the King.
“Will you believe me?” she asked.
“Speak,” he replied, “and if you speak reasonably and profitably, we will gladly believe you.”
“Will you believe me?” she said again.
“Yes,” repeated Charles, “according to what you say.”
That cold answer might well have checked her, but she spoke on:
“Gracious King of France, if you will remain before your city of Troyes, it shall be yours within three days by force or by love – doubt it not.”
“We would wait six, if we could be sure of having it,” said the Archbishop.
“Doubt not,” she insisted, “you shall have it to-morrow.”
It was then evening, but she at once mounted her horse and began preparations for an assault. Her energy cheered the soldiers, who were weary of inaction. They dragged the cannons into position, and brought bundles of wood, doors, furniture, everything they could lay hands on, to fill up the fosse. They worked far into the night – leaders, pages, men-at-arms alike – Joan directing them “better than two of the best captains could have done.”
Through that night there was great excitement within Troyes. The people had heard of Orleans and Jargeau; they could see and hear Joan’s preparations. At last they asked loudly why they, French by birth, should risk their city and their lives for England. A council was held, and the heads of the garrison and the city agreed to surrender. Early next morning, just as Joan was giving the signal for the assault, the city gates were opened.
The next day, Sunday, the King entered the town in state, attended by Joan and his nobles.
They left Troyes, and approached Châlons on the 15th, and at some distance from the town were met by a number of citizens who had come to offer their submission. At Châlons, Joan had the great joy of meeting friends from Domremy. She asked them many questions about her home, and they looked with wonder at the girl who lived familiarly with princes, and yet spoke and behaved as simply as ever she had done in the days of her obscurity. One of them inquired whether she feared nothing.
“Nothing but treachery,” was her foreboding answer.
When the people of Reims heard that Châlons had submitted, and that Charles was within four leagues, they sent deputies to tender their obedience, and that same day, Saturday, July 16th, Charles entered the city.
Preparations were at once made for his coronation, and early next morning four nobles went to the abbey of Saint Rémi to escort thence the ampulla containing the sacred oil which a dove had brought from heaven to the saint. The abbot, in full canonicals, carried it to the cathedral, where the Archbishop of Reims received it from him, and set it on the high altar. Below the altar stood the Dauphin, attended by the nobles and clergy who acted as proxies for the peers of France who should have been with him. By his side was Joan, holding her sacred banner. The ceremony was performed according to the ancient rites, and when it was over, Joan knelt at the feet of Charles, her King indeed now, crowned and anointed.
“Gracious King,” she said, “now is fulfilled the pleasure of God, whose will it was that you should come to Reims to receive your worthy coronation, showing that you are the true King to whom the kingdom should belong.” As she spoke she wept, and all who were in the church wept for sympathy. Among those who witnessed her triumph was her father, who had come to Reims to see her. The good man was honourably treated; the corporation of the town paid his expenses, and when he returned to Domremy, gave him a horse for the journey.
After his coronation, when Charles was bestowing honours and rewards on his followers, Joan asked him for one favour, which he granted readily – freedom from taxation for her native Domremy and the adjoining village of Greux. For herself she wanted nothing, except what she had already claimed and failed to receive, what the King never gave her – his trust.
She had given a king to France, now she had to give France to her King. She longed to be again at work. Every day of waiting was a day of pain to her. Now that her King was crowned, she would have him press forward to Paris, defy the English, and startle the disloyal French into loyalty; but the evil advice of his courtiers and his own indolence made him catch at every excuse for delay.
During the northward march of the army, people from every place on the road crowded to welcome Joan and the King, crying, Noël, Noël, and singing Te Deums before them. Joan was first. They were glad to have a French King again, but their chief love and enthusiasm were for her, the heroic girl in shining armour, with her calm face and gentle voice. The common folk called her “the angelic”; they sang songs about her; images of her were put up in little country churches; a special collect was said at mass, thanking God for her having saved France; medals were struck in her honour, and worn as amulets. The people pressed about her horse, and kissed her hands and feet. She was often vexed by this excess of homage, which brought upon her the displeasure of many churchmen.
Near Crespy, as she, riding between Dunois and Regnault de Chartres, passed through the welcoming crowd, she said:
“What good people! I have yet seen none so joyful at the coming of their prince. May I be so happy as to die and be buried in this land!”
“Oh, Joan,” said the Archbishop, “in what place do you expect to die?”
“Wherever it shall please God,” she answered, “for I know not the place nor the hour any more than yourself. Would to God that I might return now, and lay down my arms, and go back to serve my parents, and guard their flocks with my sister and brothers, who would be right glad to see me.” She must often have longed for her home, but never except this once did she express her longing. She had a rare reticence for one so young and simple. “She spoke little, and showed a marvellous prudence in her words.”
Joan greatly desired the King’s arrival before Paris, believing that his mere presence would make its gates fly open like those of Reims and Soissons. The King’s folly and the ill-will of his favourites were not Joan’s only troubles. The army before Paris was not like that chosen army she had led to Orleans, a company of men “confessed, penitent,” who for the time seemed purified from evil desires, and followed her as to a holy war. Such a state of things, fair to the eye, but born only of the froth and ecstasy of religion, could not last, as the Maid in her young confidence perhaps expected. She had now to grieve because of her soldiers’ habits of blasphemy and pillage.
On the morning of September 8th, the festival of the Virgin’s nativity, they advanced to attack the city. They were divided into two corps. One, led by Joan, Gaucourt, and Retz, went at once to the assault. The attack began about noon; the bastion of the Saint Honoré gate having been set on fire, its defenders were forced to abandon it, and the assailants, headed by Joan, passed the outer fosse. She climbed the ridge separating it from the inner fosse, which was full of water, and from that place summoned the city to surrender. She was answered with jeers and insults and a shower of missiles, amid which she carefully sounded the fosse with her lance, and found that it was of unusual depth. At her bidding the men brought faggots and hurdles to fill it up and make a resting-place for their ladders, but while she was directing them, an arrow wounded her in the thigh so severely that she was forced to lie down at the edge of the fosse. She suffered, as she afterwards confessed, agonies of pain, but she never ceased to encourage her men, bidding them advance boldly, for the place would be taken. The place would have been taken, but the captains who were with Joan, seeing that the hours went by and the men were struck down without achieving much, ordered a retreat. The trumpets sounded; the men withdrew, Joan, desperate in her sorrow, clung to the ground, declaring she would not go until the place was won. At about ten o’clock Gaucourt had her removed by force and set upon her horse. She was carried back to La Chapelle, suffering in body, suffering more in mind, but still resolute.
“The city would have been taken!” she insisted. “It would have been taken!”
Joan spent four weary months – how weary we conjecture chiefly from what we know of her character and her aspirations. Occasionally she rode with a few followers to visit some town where she was known, but generally she was with the Court, a sad and unwilling spectator of its festivities. Sad only because of her unfulfilled mission: had she been suffered to work it out, to see France delivered, she would doubtless have taken pleasure in show and gaiety. She was at home and happy with knights and ladies, and took a frank delight in rich garments and fine armour. She was no bigot, her sanctity was altogether wholesome: it was an exalted love for God, for France and the King, unsoured by any contempt for the common life of humanity.
Wherever she went she visited the sick, she gave all she could in alms, she was devoted to the services of the church and to prayer. The people, who knew of her greatness and saw her goodness, treated her with a reverence that was akin to superstition. They brought rings and crosses for her to touch, and so turn into amulets. “Touch them yourselves,” she would say, laughing, “they will be just as good.” Some believed that she had a charmed life, and need never fear going into battle.
Joan grew desperate. Sad voices from beyond the Loire were calling her. She was greatly wanted there, and the King – her King whom she had crowned – did not want her, cared nothing for her nor for his people’s trouble. She asked counsel of her other voices, of her saints, and they neither bade her go nor stay; they told her only one certain thing, that before Saint John’s day she would be taken. If so, if indeed, as she herself had said, she was to last only a year – then the more need to hasten with her work. One day at the end of March she left Sully with a small company, as if going for one of her usual rides. She did not bid farewell to the King, and she never saw him again.
It was a time of sad forebodings for her. A story goes, that one morning, after hearing mass in the church of Saint Jacques, she went apart and leaned dejectedly against a pillar. Some grown people and a crowd of children came about her – she was always gentle to children – and she said to them:
“My children and dear friends, I tell you that I am sold and betrayed, and that I shall soon be given up to death. Therefore I entreat you to pray for me, for never again shall I have any power to serve the King or the Kingdom of France.” She was not “sold and betrayed” yet; that was to come.
Depression could not make her inactive. She went to Crespy for reinforcements, but hearing that the siege of Compiagne had begun, she hurried back there on the night of April 23rd, with about four hundred men. She entered the place at sunrise, and spent the chief part of the day in arranging a sortie, to be made before evening. Compiagne, situated on the south bank of the Oise, was connected with the opposite shore by a bridge, from which a raised causeway went over the low river meadows to the hill-slopes of Picardy.
Late in the afternoon, Joan, with five hundred foot and horsemen, made a short charge. Then Joan’s troops feared to be cut off from Compiagne, to be left in a country dotted with the enemy’s camps, and most of them turned, panic-stricken, and fled towards the city.
The English gained the causeway, and the archers stationed there dared not shoot on them for fear of hurting their own people. The guns of Compiagne were useless, for friends and foes were mingled in a confused struggle. Joan tried to rally her men:
“Hold your peace!” she cried to some who spoke of retreating. “It depends on you to discomfit them! Think only of falling upon them!”
But her words were in vain. All she could do was to cover the retreat, and that she did valiantly, riding last, and charging back often. Thanks to her a great part of the fugitives got safely into the city, while others reached the boats; but the English pressed towards the gate to cut off the retreat of the remainder, and Guillaume de Flavy, afraid, as he said, lest in the confusion they might rush into the town itself, ordered the draw-bridge to be raised, and the portcullis lowered. There was no escape for the Maid now. She and a little devoted band that kept with her fought desperately, but they were driven into an angle of the fortifications; many fell in defending her.
Compiagne remained shut. The city to whose help she had come at dawn saw her lost at its very gates before sundown, and made no effort to save her. Five or six men rushed on her at once, each crying:
“Yield to me! Pledge your faith to me!”
“I have sworn and pledged my faith to another than you,” she said, “and I will keep my oath.”
She still struck at those who tried to seize her; but an archer came behind her, and, grasping the gold-embroidered surcoat that she wore, dragged her from her horse. She fell, exhausted and overcome at last, and the man who had pulled her down carried her to his master.
She was taken to Margny, and thither flocked the English and Burgundian captains, “more joyful than if they had taken five hundred fighting men.” In this very month of her capture, it had been found needful to issue proclamations against English soldiers, men of the old conquering race, who had refused to come over to France for fear of the Witch. And now here was the Witch, vanquished, powerless, her armour soiled in the fight, her magic banner fallen away from her. The chiefs could hardly believe their good fortune, but her sad presence was there to assure them of it, and they came and gazed on her.
The weeks went by, and no one stirred to help her. Her captors’ scruples were overcome, and before winter she was bought and sold. John of Luxembourg got ten thousand livres (two thousand dollars).
Hitherto we have seen Joan, a gracious figure always – better always and nobler than her surroundings – but never yet solitary in goodness and nobleness. Other figures have been grouped about her, gracious also in their degree, worthy to divide with her our sympathy, and to have some share in our love. Now they are all gone from her. Father and mother, village friends and kinsfolk, devoted comrades and adoring people, are all shut away from her for ever. The old life is over.
She is desolate, and worse than alone; to the darling of the saints, loneliness would be no such terrible punishment. Wrong and horror crowd upon her. Her honour and her life are in the hands of men evil by nature, or turned to evil by hatred, or greed, or fear. Here and there a judge speaks some word in favour of banished justice, but those feeble flashes leave no light in the gloom. The light shines all on Joan. The pure maiden, the noble heroine, stands out, heaven-illumined, against the darkness. Her sorrow and her endurance of it crown and sanctify her. Piteous though her fate be, we almost forget to pity her, for compassion is well-nigh lost in reverence and wonder.
On her arrival at Rouen, Joan was taken to the castle, and put into an iron cage that had been made to receive her; and, as if its bars were not enough, she was chained in it by her neck, her hands and her feet. After being kept thus for several days, she was transferred to a gloomy chamber in one of the towers, where she was fettered to a great log of wood during the day, and to her bed at night. Both by night and day she was guarded by five English soldiers of the lowest and rudest class, three of whom were always with her, while the other two kept the door outside.
Once given over to the Church, she should have been placed in an ecclesiastical prison, and guarded by women. For this right she pleaded often, and her plea was supported by several of her judges. But the English would not lose their grip of a captive who had cost them and lost them so much, and Pierre Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais, had too great fear of displeasing them to advise such a simple measure of decency and justice.
Joan had visitors in her prison. English nobles whose nobility did not keep them from insulting a woman and a helpless captive, came to stare and jest at her. Warwick and Stafford came one day, and with them a man who might well have shrunk from looking her in the face – the Judas of Luxembourg. He told her he had come to ransom her, on condition that she would not again take up arms against England. She answered him scornfully, as he deserved:
“In God’s name, you but mock me, for I know you have neither the will nor the power to do it;” and she added, “I know that the English will kill me, thinking to have the kingdom of France after my death; but were they a hundred thousand Goddams more than they are, they should not have the kingdom.”
Cauchon refused the Maid’s just request for counsel to advise and defend her during her examination. But he was not merciful enough to leave her to the guidance of her own wise brain and true heart. According to the bad custom of the Inquisition, he sent her a sham confidant, a creature even more abject than himself – his friend and tool, the Canon Loyseleur. This man went to Joan in disguise, and told her that he, too, was a prisoner, a loyal subject of King Charles, and a native of her own province. The guards left them together, and she, poor child! being glad to see a friendly face, talked to him with a trustfulness that might have touched even such a heart as his. The bishop listened in an adjoining room, and stationed two scribes there to report Joan’s words; but the men were too honest for such work, and refused to do it. To gain her fuller confidence, Loyseleur made known to her that he was a priest, and heard her in confession. He also gave her counsel how to answer her judges – bad and crooked counsel, of which she availed herself little, but still enough for us to trace here and there the influence of an evil mind over hers.
On Tuesday, February 20th, she was summoned to appear next day before her judges. Having heard and seen what they were, she demanded that an equal number of assessors of the French party should be associated with them. She also entreated the Bishop of Beauvais to let her hear religious service. The prayer was denied.
Joan appeared before them a youthful, girlish creature in her masculine dress. The dress was all black, relieved only by the pale prison-worn face, from which the dark eyes looked out fearlessly.
The bishop began by briefly stating the crimes she was accused of, and explaining to her how he came to be her judge. He then exhorted her, “with gentleness and charity,” to answer truly all questions put to her. From the first moment of the trial she was on her guard. She felt her judges’ falsehood and malevolence in the very air around her.
The Gospels were brought, and she was ordered to swear upon them that she would speak the truth. She hesitated.
“I do not know what questions you may put to me,” she said. “Perhaps you will ask me things I cannot tell you.”
“Will you swear,” insisted Cauchon, “to speak the truth about whatever you are asked concerning the faith, and whatever you know?” She answered that she would willingly speak of her parents, and of all her own actions since she had left Domremy.
Jean Beaupre took up the examination. His first question was, when she had last eaten and drunk. It was the season of Lent; if she had taken food as usual, she might be accused of contempt for the Church; if she had fasted, she gave colour to a theory of Beaupre’s, that her visions were induced chiefly by physical causes. She told him she had fasted since noon the day before. He inquired at what hour she had last heard the voice.
“I heard it yesterday and to-day,” she said. “I was asleep, and it woke me…. I do not know whether it was in my room, but it was in the castle…. I thanked it, sitting up in my bed, with clasped hands, and implored its counsel…. I had asked God to teach me by its counsel how to answer.”
“And what did the voice say?”
“It told me to answer boldly, and God would help me.” Here she turned to the bishop. “You say that you are my judge. Take heed what you do, for indeed I am sent by God, and you are putting yourself in great peril.”
Beaupre asked her if the voice never varied in its counsel.
“No,” she said; “it has never contradicted itself. Last night again it bade me answer boldly.”
Her dress, her banner and pennon, were inquired about. Had not the Knights, her companions, their pennons made after the pattern of hers? Had she not told them that such pennons would be lucky? To this she answered:
“I said to my men, ‘Go in boldly among the English!’, and I went myself.”
“Did you not tell them to carry their pennons boldly, and they would have good luck?”
“I indeed told them what came to pass, and will come to pass again.”
Had she not ordered pictures or images of herself to be made? No, nor had she ever seen any image in her likeness. She had seen a picture of herself at Arras. She was represented kneeling on one knee, and presenting letters to the King.
Did she know that those of her party had caused masses and prayers to be said in her honour?
“I know nothing of it,” she answered, “and if they did so, it was not by my command. Nevertheless, if they prayed for me, I think they did no wrong.”
“Do those of your party believe firmly that you are sent by God?”
“I do not know. I leave that to their consciences. But if they do not believe it, I am none the less sent by Him.”
“Do you think them right in believing it?”
“If they believe that I am sent by God, they are not deceived.”
“Did you understand the feelings of those who kissed your feet, your hands and your garments?”
“Many were glad to see me. I let them kiss my hands as little as possible; but the poor people came to me gladly, because I did them no unkindness, but helped them as much as I could.”
“Did not the women touch their rings with the ring you wore?”
“Many women touched my hands and my rings, but I do not know why they did so.”
For more than three months her trial went on. But her fate was settled now. The Inquisition had no pardon for her. The judges left her, a few daring to be sorry for the brave creature, but most of them openly and indecently glad. In the courtyard they found a number of English waiting for news, among them the Earl of Warwick.
“Farewell, farewell!” cried the bishop, as he passed him; “be of good cheer – it is done!”
Her guilt was proved; let her be given over to the secular power; but first let her be charitably exhorted for her soul’s welfare, and warned that she had nothing more to hope for in this world.
The bishop ordered a citation to be drawn up, summoning Joan to appear next morning in the Old Market Place of Rouen, to receive her final sentence. She did not hear her doom that night (30 May 1431), but the grave faces and grave words of the monks showed her the dreadful reality, and for a little while youth and womanhood and human weakness had their own way with her. She wept piteously.
“Alas,” she cried, “will they treat me so horribly and cruelly? Must my body be consumed to-day and turned to ashes? Ah! I would sooner seven times be beheaded than be burnt! Oh, I appeal to God, the great Judge, against the wrong and injustice done to me!”
While she was thus lamenting Cauchon came in, with Pierre Maurice, and two or three others. Seeing him, she cried:
“Bishop, I die by you!”
Maurice looked kindly at her as he went, and she said to him:
“Master Pierre, where shall I be to-night?”
“Have you not a good hope in God?” he asked.
“Ah, yes, and by God’s grace, I shall be in Paradise.”
She received the sacrament with tears, and with deep penitence and devotion. Thenceforth her faith was unshaken, and she failed no more.
Next morning at nine o’clock she left the prison, clothed now in a woman’s long gown, and wearing a mitre, inscribed with the words, Heretic, Relapsed, Apostate, Idolatress. A cart was waiting for her, and she got into it, accompanied by Brother Martin and the usher Massieu. A guard of about eight hundred soldiers surrounded her to keep off the crowd, but suddenly there rushed through their ranks a haggard and miserable figure. It was Nicolaus Loyseleur, who, seized by late and vain remorse, had come to ask forgiveness of her whom he had betrayed. But before he could reach her, the soldiers drove him back, and Joan probably neither saw nor heard him, for she was weeping and praying, her head bowed upon her hands.
When she looked up, she saw beyond the soldiers a dense throng of people, most of them grieving for her, many of them lamenting that this thing should be done in their city.
“O Rouen, Rouen!” she cried, “is it here that I must die?”
At last she reached the Old Market Place, a very large space, where had been raised three scaffolds: one for the Bishop of Beauvais and his colleagues, and for all the prelates and nobles who desired to see the show; another for Joan and some priests and officials; the third, also for Joan – a pile of stone and plaster, raised high above the heads of the crowd, and heaped with faggots. In front of it was a tablet bearing this inscription:
Joan, who has called herself The Maid – liar, pernicious, deceiver of the people, sorceress, superstitious, blasphemer of God, presumptuous, disbeliever of the faith of Christ, boaster, idolatress, dissolute, invoker of devils, apostate, schismatic, heretic.
Master Nicolas Midi, a famous doctor from Paris, preached Joan’s last sermon, on the text, “If one member suffer, all the members suffer with it.”
At its close, he addressed her:
“Joan, go in peace! The Church can no longer defend you; it gives you up to the secular power.”
Then the bishop spoke to her. He did not read the form of abjuration, as had been advised, for she would have boldly disavowed it, and would so have spoilt a scheme he had concocted. But he admonished her to think of her salvation, to remember her misdeeds, and repent of them. Finally, after the usual inquisitorial form, he declared her cut off from the Church, and delivered over to secular justice.
She needed no exhortation to prayer and penitence. For a while she seemed to forget the gazing crowd and the cruel judges. She knelt and prayed fervently, prayed aloud with such passionate pathos, that all who heard her were moved to tears. Even Cauchon wept. Even the Cardinal was touched. She forgave her enemies; she remembered the King, who had forgotten her; she asked pardon of all, imploring all to pray for her, and especially entreating the priests to say a mass for her soul. Presently she asked for a cross. An English soldier broke a stick in two and made a rough cross, which he gave her. She kissed it and put it in her bosom, weeping, calling upon God and the saints.
But the men-at-arms were growing impatient. “Come, you priests!” shouted one of them, “are you going to make us dine here?”
The bailiff of Rouen, as representing the secular power, should have now pronounced sentence of death, but he seemed afraid of delaying the soldiers, two of whom came up and seized Joan.
“Take her! take her!” he said, hurriedly, and he bade the executioner “do his duty.” The bishop’s trial had, after all, an illegal and informal ending.
The soldiers dragged Joan to the pile, and as she climbed it, some of her judges left their platform and rushed away, fearing to behold what they had helped to bring about. She was fastened to the stake, high up, that the flames might gain slowly upon her, and that the executioner might not be able to reach her and mercifully shorten her agony.
“Ah, Rouen!” she cried again, as she looked over the city, bright in the May sunshine, “Ah, Rouen, Rouen! I fear thou wilt have to suffer for my death!”
The executioner set fire to the pile. The confessor was by Joan’s side, praying with her, comforting her so earnestly, that he took no notice of the ascending flames. It was she who saw them and bade him leave her.
“But hold up the cross,” she said, “that I may see it.”
Now Cauchon went to the foot of the pile, hoping perhaps that his victim might say some word of recantation. Perceiving him there, she cried aloud:
“Bishop, I die by you!”
And now the flames reached her, and she shrank from them in terror, calling for water – holy water! But as they rose and rose and wrapped her round, she seemed to draw strength from their awful contact. She still spoke. Brother Martin, standing in the heat and glare of the fire, holding the cross aloft for her comfort, heard her dying words:
“Jesus! Jesus! Mary! My voices! My voices!”
Did she hear them, those voices that had said, “Fret not thyself because of thy martyrdom; thou shalt come at last to the Kingdom of Paradise”?
“Yes,” she said, “my voices were from God! My voices have not deceived me!” Then, uttering one great cry, “Jesus!” she drooped her head upon her breast, and died.
The common folk soon added their tale of signs and wonders to the simple and terrible truth. An English soldier, who greatly hated the Maid, had sworn to bring a faggot to her burning, and he threw it on the pile just as she gave that last cry. Suddenly he fell senseless to the earth, and when he recovered, he told how at that moment he had looked up, and had seen a white dove fly heavenward out of the fire. Others declared that they had seen the word Jesus – her dying word – written in the flames. The executioner rushed to a confessor crying that he feared to be damned, for he had burned a holy woman. But her heart would not burn, he told the priest; the rest of her body he had found consumed to ashes, but her heart was left whole and unharmed.
Many, not of the populace, were moved by her death to recognise what she had been in life.
“I would that my soul were where I believe the soul of that woman is!” exclaimed Jean Alespée, one of the judges.
“We are all lost; we have burnt a saint!” cried Tressart, a secretary of the King of England. Winchester – determined that, though she might be called a saint, there should be no relics of her – had her ashes carefully collected and thrown into the Seine.
The tidings of her death went speedily through France. They found Charles in his southern retirement, and nowise disturbed the ease of mind and body that was more to him than honour. They reached Domremy, and broke the heart of Joan’s stern, loving father. Isabelle Romée lived to see her child’s memory righted and her prophecies fulfilled.
In June, 1455, Pope Calixtus, named a commission to inquire into the trial of Joan of Arc.
Joan’s aged mother came before them, supported by her sons, and followed by a great procession of nobles, scholars, and honourable ladies. She presented the petition she had made to the Pope, and the letter whereby he granted it, and the commissioners took her aside, heard her testimony, and promised to do her justice.
And now the dead heroine was confronted with her dead judges, to their shame and her enduring honour. Messengers were sent into her country to hear the story of her innocent childhood and pure, unselfish youth. Through her whole life went the inquiry, gathering testimony from people of all ranks. The peasants whom she had loved and tended in her early girlhood, the men who had fought by her side, the women who had known and honoured her, the officers of the trial, and many who had watched her sufferings and beheld her death – all were called to speak for her now. They testified to her goodness, her purity, her single-hearted love for France, her piety, her boldness in war, and her good sense in counsel. All were for her – not one voice was raised against her. Rouen, the place of her martyrdom, became the place of her triumph.
The judges pronounced the whole trial to be polluted by wrong and calumny, and therefore null and void; finally, they proclaimed that neither Joan nor any of her kindred had incurred any blot of infamy, and freed them from every shadow of disgrace.
By order of the tribunal, this new verdict was read publicly in all the cities of France, and first at Rouen, and in the Old Market Place, where she had been cruelly burnt. This was done with great solemnity; processions were made, sermons were preached, and on the site of her martyrdom a stone cross was soon raised to her memory.
The world has no relic of Joan. Her armour, her banner, the picture of herself that she saw at Arras, have all disappeared. We possess but the record of a fair face framed in plentiful dark hair, of a strong and graceful shape, of a sweet woman’s voice. And it seems – and yet, indeed, hardly is – a wonder that no worthy poem has been made in her honour. She is one of the few for whom poet and romancer can do little; for as there is nothing in her life that needs either to be hidden or adorned, we see her best in the clear and searching light of history.