The Story of Joan of Arc, The Maid Who Saved France

detail of the World War I War Stamps lithograph featuring Joan of Arc; by Haskell Coffin, 1918; restored by the Library of Congress; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsOver five hundred years ago, the children of Domremy, a little village on the border of France, used to dance and sing beneath a beautiful beech tree. They called it “The Fairy Tree.” Among these children was one named Jeanne, the daughter of an honest farmer, Jacques d’Arc. Jeanne sang more than she danced, and though she carried garlands like the other boys and girls, and hung them on the boughs of the Fairies’ Tree, she liked better to take the flowers into the parish church and lay them on the altars of Saint Margaret and Saint Catherine.

She was brought up by her parents (as she told the judges at her trial) to be industrious, to sew and spin. She did not fear to match herself at spinning and sewing, she said, against any woman in Rouen. When very young, she sometimes went to the fields to watch the cattle. As she grew older, she worked in the house; she did not any longer watch sheep and cattle. But the times were dangerous, and when there was an alarm of soldiers or robbers in the neighborhood, she sometimes helped to drive the flock into a fortified island or peninsula, for which her father was responsible, in the river near her home. She learned her creed, she said, from her mother. Twenty years after her death, her neighbors, who remembered her, described her as she was when a child. Jean Morin said that she was a good industrious girl, but that she would often be praying in church when her father and mother did not know it. Jean Waterin, when he was a boy, had seen Joan in the fields, “and when they were all playing together, she would go apart and pray to God, as he thought, and he and the others used to laugh at her. When she heard the church bell ring, she would kneel down in the fields.” All those who had seen Joan told the same tale: she was always kind, simple, industrious, pious and yet merry and fond of playing with the others.

In Joan’s childhood France was under a mad king, Charles VI, and was torn to pieces by two factions, the party of Burgundy and the party of Armagnac. The English took advantage of these disputes, and overran the land. The two parties of Burgundy and Armagnac divided town from town and village from village. It was as in the days of the Douglas Wars in Scotland, when the very children took sides for Queen Mary and King James, and fought each other in the streets. Domremy was for the Armagnacs—that is, against the English and for the Dauphin, the son of the mad Charles VI. But at Maxey, a village near Domremy, the people were all for Burgundy and the English. The boys of Domremy would go out and fight the Maxey boys with fists and sticks and stones. Joan did not remember having taken part in those battles, but she had often seen her brothers and the Domremy boys come home all bruised and bleeding.

When Joan was between twelve and thirteen (1424), so she swore, a Voice came to her from God for her guidance, but when first it came, she was in great fear. And it came, that Voice, about noonday, in the summer season, she being in her father’s garden. Joan had not fasted the day before that, but was fasting when the Voice came. The Voices at first only told her to be a good girl, and go to church. The Voice later told her of the great sorrow there was in France, and that one day she must go into France and help the country. She had visions with the Voices; visions first of Saint Michael, and then of Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret. “I saw them with my bodily eyes, as I see you,” she said to her judges,” and when they departed from me I wept, and well I wished that they had taken me with them.”

What are we to think about these visions and these Voices which were with Joan to her death?

In 1428 only a very few small towns in the east still held out for the Dauphin, and these were surrounded on every side by enemies. Meanwhile the Voices came more frequently, urging Joan to go into France and help her country. She asked how she, a girl, who could not ride or use sword and lance, could be of any help? At the same time she was encouraged by one of the vague old prophecies which were common in France. A legend ran that France was to be saved by a Maiden from the Oak Wood, and there was an Oak Wood (le bois chenu) near Domremy. Some such prophecy had an influence on Joan, and probably helped people to believe in her. The Voices often commanded her to go to Vaucouleurs, a neighboring town which was loyal, and there meet Robert de Baudricourt, who was captain of the French garrison. Now, Robert de Baudricourt was a gallant soldier, but a plain practical man, very careful of his own interest, and cunning enough to hold his own among his many enemies, English, Burgundian, and Lorrainers.

Joan had a cousin who was married to one Durand Lassois, at Burey en Vaux, a village near Vaucouleurs. This cousin invited Joan to visit her for a week. At the end of that time she spoke to her cousin’s husband. There was an old saying, as we saw, that France would be rescued by a Maid, and she, as she told Lassois, was that Maid. Lassois listened, and, whatever he may have thought of her chances, he led her to Robert de Baudricourt.

Joan came, in her simple red dress, and walked straight up to the captain. She told him that the Dauphin must keep quiet, and risk no battle, for, before the middle of Lent next year (1423), God would send him help. She added that the kingdom belonged, not to the Dauphin, but to her Master, who willed that the Dauphin should be crowned, and she herself would lead him to Reims, to be anointed with the holy oil.

“And who is your Master?” said Robert.

“The King of Heaven!”

Robert, very naturally, thought that Joan was crazed, and shrugged his shoulders. He bluntly told Lassois to box her ears and take her back to her father. So she had to go home; but here new troubles awaited her. The enemy came down on Domremy and burned it; Joan and her family fled to Neufchateau, where they stayed for a few days. When Joan looked from her father’s garden to the church, she saw nothing but a heap of smoking ruins. These things only made her feel more deeply the sorrows of her country. The time was drawing near when she had prophesied that the Dauphin was to receive help from heaven—namely, in the Lent of 1429. On that year the season was held more than commonly sacred, for Good Friday and the Annunciation fell on the same day. So, early in January, 1429, Joan turned her back on Domremy, which she was never to see again. Her cousin Lassois came and asked leave for Joan to visit him again; so she said good-by to her father and mother, and to her friends. She went to her cousin’s house at Burey, and there she stayed for six weeks, hearing bad news of the siege of Orleans by the English. A squire named Jean de Nouillompont met Joan one day.

“Well, my lass,” said he, “is our king to be driven from France, and are we all to become English?”

“I have come here,” said Joan, “to bid Robert de Baudricourt lead me to the king, but he will not listen to me. And yet to the king I must go, even if I walk my legs down to the knees; for none in all the world—king, nor duke, nor the King of Scotland’s daughter—can save France, but myself only. Certainly, I would rather stay and spin with my poor mother, for to fight is not my calling; but I must go and I must fight, for so my Lord will have it.”

“And who is your Lord?” said Jean de Nouillompont.

“He is God,” said the Maiden.

On February 12, the story goes, she went to Robert de Baudricourt. “You delay too long,” she said. “On this very day, at Orleans, the gentle Dauphin has lost a battle.”

Now the people of Vaucouleurs brought clothes for Joan to wear on her journey to the Dauphin. They were such clothes as men wear—doublet, hose, surcoat, boots, and spurs—and Robert de Baudricourt gave Joan a sword. Her reason was that she would have to be living alone among men-at-arms for a ten days’ journey and she thought it was more modest to wear armor like the rest. Also, her favorite saint, Saint Margaret, had done this once when in danger. Besides, in all the romances of chivalry, we find fair maidens fighting in arms like men, or travelling dressed as pages.

On February 23, 1429, the gate of the little castle of Vaucouleurs, “the Gate of France,” which is still standing, was thrown open. Seven travellers rode out, among them two squires, Jean de Nouillompont and Bertrand de Poulengy, with their attendants, and Joan the Maid. “Go, and let what will come of it come!” said Robert de Baudricourt. He did not expect much to come of it. It was a long journey—they were eleven days on the road—and a dangerous. But Joan laughed at danger. “God will clear my path to the king, for to this end I was born.” Often they rode by night, stopping at monasteries when they could, Sometimes they slept out under the sky. Though she was young and beautiful, these two gentlemen never dreamed of paying their court to her and making love, as they do in romances, for they regarded her “as if she had been an angel.” They were in awe of her, they said long afterward, and all the knights who had seen her said the same.

From Fierbois, Joan made some clerk write to the king that she was coming to help him, and that she would know him among all his men. Probably it was here that she wrote to beg her parents pardon, and they forgave her, she says. Meanwhile, news reached the people then besieged in Orleans that a marvellous Maiden was riding to their rescue. On March 6, Joan arrived in Chinon where for two or three days the king’s advisers would not let him see her. At last they yielded, and she went straight up to him, and when he denied that he was the king, she told him that she knew well who he was.

“There is the king,” said Charles, pointing to a richly dressed noble.

“No, fair sire. You are he!”

Still, it was not easy to believe. Joan stayed at Chinon in the house of a noble lady. The young Duc d’Alençon was on her side from the first.

Great people came to see her and question her, but when she was alone, she wept and prayed.

Joan was weary of being asked questions. One day she went to Charles and said, “Gentle Dauphin, why do you delay to believe me? I tell you that God has taken pity on you and your people, at the prayer of Saint Louis and Saint Charlemagne. And I will tell you by your leave, something which will show you that you should believe me.” Then she told him secretly something which, as he said, none could know but God and himself.

But the king to whom Joan brought this wonderful message, the king whom she loved so loyally, and for whom she died, spoiled all her plans. He, with his political advisers, prevented her from driving the English quite out of France. These favorites were lazy, comfortable, cowardly, disbelieving; in their hearts they hated the Maid, who put them to so much trouble. Charles, to tell the truth, never really believed in her; he never quite trusted her; he never led a charge by her side; and in the end, he shamefully deserted her, and left the Maid to her doom.

Weeks had passed, and Joan had never yet seen a blow struck in war. She used to exercise herself in horsemanship, and knightly sports of tilting, and it is wonderful that a peasant-girl became, at once, one of the best riders among the chivalry of France. The young Duc d’Alençon and his wife were her friends from the first, when the politicians and advisers were against her. It was now determined that Joan should be taken to Poitiers, and examined before all the learned men, bishops, doctors, and higher clergy who still were on the side of France. There was good reason for this delay. It was plain to all, friends and foes, that the wonderful Maid was not like other men and women, with her Voices, her visions, her prophecies, and her powers. All agreed that she had some strange help given to her; but who gave it? This aid must come, people thought then, either from heaven or hell—either from God and his saints, or from the devil and his angels. Now, if any doubt could be thrown on the source whence Joan’s aid came, the English might argue (as of course they did) that she was a witch and a heretic. If she was a heretic and a witch, then her king was involved in her wickedness, and so he might be legally shut out from his kingdom. It was necessary, therefore, that Joan should be examined by learned men. They must find out whether she had always been good, and a true believer, and whether her Voices always agreed in everything with the teachings of the Church. Otherwise her angels must be devils in disguise. During three long weeks the learned men asked her questions. They said it was wonderful how wisely this girl, who “did not know A from B,” replied to their puzzling inquiries. She told the story of her visions, of the command laid upon her to rescue Orleans.

At last, after examining witnesses from Domremy, and the Queen of Sicily and other great ladies to whom Joan was intrusted, the clergy found nothing in her but “goodness, humility, frank maidenhood, piety, honesty and simplicity.” As for her wearing a man’s dress, the Archbishop of Embrim said to the king, “It is more becoming to do these things in man’s clothes, since they have to be done amongst men.”

The king therefore made up his mind at last. Jean and Pierre, Joan’s brothers, were to ride with her to Orleans; her old friends, her first friends, Jean de Nouillompont and Bertrand de Poulengy, had never left her. She was given a squire, a page, and a chaplain. The king gave Joan armor and horses, and offered her a sword. But her Voices told her that, behind the altar of Saint Catherine de Fierbois, where she heard mass on her way to Chinori, there was an old sword, with five crosses on the blade, buried in the earth. That sword she was to wear. A man whom Joan did not know, and had never seen, was sent from Tours, and found the sword in the place which she described. The sword was cleaned of rust, and the king gave her two sheaths, one of velvet, one of cloth of gold, but Joan had a leather sheath made for use in war. She also commanded a banner to be made, with the Lilies of France on a white field.

When once it was settled that she was to lead an army to relieve Orleans, she showed her faith by writing a letter addressed to the King of England, Bedford, the Regent, and the English generals at Orleans. If they did not yield to the Maid and the king, she will come on them to their sorrow. “Duke of Bedford, the Maid prays and entreats you not to work your own destruction!”

We may imagine how the English laughed and swore when they received this letter. They threw the heralds of the Maid into prison, and threatened to burn them as heretics. From the very first, the English promised to burn Joan as a witch and a heretic.

At last the men-at-arms who were to accompany Joan were ready. She was armed in white armor, but unhelmeted, a little axe in her hand, riding a great black charger. She turned to the church, and said, in her girlish voice, “You priests and churchmen, make prayers and processions to God.” Then she cried, “Forward, Forward!” and on she rode at their head, a page carrying her banner. And so Joan went to war.

She led, she says, ten or twelve thousand soldiers. This army was to defend a great convoy of provisions of which the people of Orleans stood in sore need. The people were not starving, but food came in slowly, and in small quantities. The French general-in-chief was the famous Dunois. On the English side was the brave Talbot, who fought under arms for sixty years, and died fighting when he was over eighty.

Looking down the river Loire, Orleans lies on your right hand. It had strong walls, towers on the wall, and a bridge of many arches crossing to the left side of the river. At the further end of this bridge were a fort and rampart called Les Tourelles, and this fort had already been taken by the English, so that no French army could cross the bridge to help Orleans. The rampart and the fort of Les Tourelles were guarded by another strong work called Les Augustins. All round the outside of the town, on the right bank, the English had built strong redoubts, which they called bastilles, but on the east, above the town, and on the Orleans bank of the Loire, the English had only one bastille, Saint Loup. Now, as Joan’s army mustered at Blois, south of Orleans, further down the river, she might march on the left side of the river, cross it by boats above Orleans, and enter the town where the English were weakest and had only one fort, Saint Loup. Or she might march up the right bank, and attack the English where they were strongest and had many bastilles. The Voices bade the Maid act on the boldest plan, and enter Orleans, where the English were strongest, on the right bank of the river. The English would not move, said the Voices. She was certain that they would not even sally out against her. But Dunois in Orleans, and the generals with the Maid, thought this plan very perilous. They, therefore, deceived her, caused her to think that Orleans was on the left bank of the Loire, and led her thither. When she arrived, she saw that they had not played her fair, that the river lay between her and the town, and the strongest force of the enemy.

This girl of seventeen saw that, if a large convoy of provisions was to be thrown into a besieged town, the worst way was to try to ferry the supplies across a river under the enemy’s fire. But Dunois and the other generals had brought her to this pass, and the Maid was sore ill-pleased. The wind was blowing in her teeth; boats could not cross with the troops and provisions. There she sat her horse and chafed till Dunois came out and crossed the Loire to meet her. This is what he says about Joan and her conduct:

“I did not think, and the other generals did not think, that the men-at-arms with the Maid were a strong enough force to bring the provisions into the town. Above all, it was difficult to get boats and ferry over the supplies, for both wind and stream were dead against us. Then Joan spoke to me thus:

“‘Are you the general?’

“‘That am I, and glad of your coming.’

“‘Is it you who gave counsel that I should come hither by that bank of the stream, and not go straight where Talbot and the English are?’

“‘I myself, and others wiser than I, gave that advice, and we think it the better way and the surer.’

“‘In God’s name, the counsel of our God is wiser and surer than yours. You thought to deceive me, and you have deceived yourselves, for I bring you a better rescue than ever shall come to soldier or city – that is, the help of the King of Heaven.’

“Then instantly, and as it were in one moment, the wind changed that had been dead against us, and had hindered the boats from carrying the provisions into Orleans, and the sails filled.”

Dunois now wished Joan to cross by boat and enter the town, but her army could not cross, so the army returned to Blois, to cross by the bridge there, and come upon the Orleans bank, as Joan had intended from the first. Then Joan crossed in the boat, holding in her hand the lily standard. She and La Hire and Dunois rode into Orleans, where the people crowded round her, blessing her, and trying to kiss her hand. So they led her with great joy to the Regnart Gate, and the house of Jacques Boucher, treasurer of the Duke of Orleans, and there was she gladly received.

Next day, without leave from Joan, La Hire led a sally against the English, fought bravely, but failed, and Joan wished once more to bid the English go in peace. The English, of course, did not obey her summons, and it is said that they answered with wicked words which made her weep. For she wept readily, and blushed when she was moved. In her anger she went to a rampart, and, crying aloud, bade the English begone; but they repeated their insults, and threatened yet again to burn her. Next day, Dunois went off to bring the troops from Blois, and Joan rode round and inspected the English position. They made no attempt to take her. On May 4 the army returned from Blois. Joan rode out to meet them, priests marched in procession, singing hymns, but the English never stirred. They were expecting fresh troops under Fastolf. For some reason, probably because they did not wish her to run risk, they did not tell Joan when the next fight began. She had just lain down to sleep when she leaped up with the noise, wakening her squire. “My Voices tell me,” she said, “that I must go against the English, but whether to their forts or against Fastolf I know not.”

In a moment she was in the street, the page handed to her the lily flag from the upper window. Followed by her squire, D’Aulon, she galloped to the Burgundy Gate. They met wounded men. “Never do I see French blood but my hair stands up on my head,” said Joan. She rode out of the gate to the English fort of Saint Loup, which the Orleans men were attacking. Joan leaped into the fosse, under fire, holding her banner, and cheering on her men. Saint Loup was taken by the French, in spite of a gallant defence.

The French generals now conceived a plan to make a feint, or a sham attack, on the English forts where they were strongest, on the Orleans side of the river. The English on the left side would cross to help their countrymen, and then the French would take the forts beyond the bridge. Thus they would have a free path across the river, and would easily get supplies, and tire out the English. They only told Joan of the first part of their plan, but she saw that they were deceiving her. When the plan was explained, she agreed to it; her one wish was to strike swiftly and strongly.

The French attacked the English fort of Les Augustins, beyond the river, but suddenly they fled to their bridge of boats, while the English sallied out, yelling their insults at Joan. She turned, gathered a few men, and charged. The English ran before her like sheep; she planted her banner again in the ditch. The French hurried back to her; a great Englishman, who guarded the breach, was shot; two French knights leaped in, the others followed, and the English took refuge in the redoubt of Les Tourelles, their strong fort at the bridge-head.

The Maid returned to Orleans, and, though it was a Friday, and she always fasted on Fridays, she was so weary that she ate some supper. A bit of bread, her page reports, was all that she usually ate. Now the generals sent to Joan and said that enough had been done. They had food, and could wait for another army from the king. “You have been with your council,” she said, “I have been with mine. The wisdom of God is greater than yours. Rise early to-morrow, do better than your best, keep close by me; for to-morrow have I much to do, and more than ever yet I did, and to-morrow shall my blood flow from a wound above my breast.” Joan had already said at Chinon that she would be wounded at Orleans.

The generals did not wish to attack the bridge-tower, but Joan paid them no attention. They were glad enough to follow, lest she took the fort without them. About half-past six in the morning the fight began. The French and Scottish leaped into the fosse, they set ladders against the walls, they reached the battlements, and were struck down by English swords and axes. Cannon-balls and great stones and arrows rained on them. “Fight on!” cried the Maid; “the place is ours.” At one o’clock she set a ladder against the wall with her own hands, but was deeply wounded by an arrow, which pierced clean through between neck and shoulder. Joan wept, but seizing the arrow with her own hands she dragged it out. “Yet,” says Dunois, “she did not withdraw from the battle, nor took any medicine for the wound; and the onslaught lasted from morning till eight at night, so that there was no hope of victory. I desired that the army should go back to the town, but the Maid came to me and bade me wait a little longer. Next she mounted her horse and rode into a vineyard, and there prayed for the space of seven minutes or eight. Then she returned, took her banner, and stood on the brink of the fosse. The English trembled when they saw her, but our men returned to the charge and met with no resistance. The English fled or were slain, and we returned gladly into Orleans.” The people of Orleans had a great share in this victory. Seeing the English hard pressed, they laid long beams across the broken arches of the bridge, and charged by this perilous way. The triumph was even more that of the citizens than of the army.

Next day the English drew up their men in line of battle. The French went out to meet them, and would have begun the attack. Joan said that God would not have them fight.

“If the English attack, we shall defeat them; we are to let them go in peace if they will.”

Mass was then said before the French army.

When the rite was done, Joan asked: “Do they face us, or have they turned their backs?”

It was the English backs that the French saw, that day: Talbot’s men were in full retreat on Meun.

From that hour, May 8 is kept a holiday at Orleans in honor of Joan the Maiden. Never was there such a deliverance. In a week the Maid had driven a strong army, full of courage and well led, out of forts like Les Tourelles. The Due d’Alencon visited it, and said that with a few men-at-arms he would have felt certain of holding it for a week against any strength, however great. But Joan not only gave the French her spirit: her extraordinary courage in leading a new charge after so terrible a wound, “six inches deep,” says D’Alencon, made the English think that they were fighting a force not of this world.

How Joan the Maid Took Largess from the English

The Maid had shown her sign, as she promised; she had rescued Orleans. Her next desire was to lead Charles to Reims, through a country occupied by the English, and to have him anointed there with the holy oil. Till this was done she could only regard him as Dauphin—king, indeed, by blood, but not by consecration.

After all that Joan had accomplished, the king and his advisers might have believed in her. She went to the castle of Loches, where Charles was; he received her kindly, but still he did not seem eager to go to Reims. It was a dangerous adventure, for which he and his favorites had no taste. It seems that more learned men were asked to give their opinion. Was it safe and wise to obey the Maid? Councils were now held at Tours, and time was wasted as usual. As usual, Joan was impatient. With Dunois, she went to see Charles at the castle of Loches. Some nobles and clergy were with him; Joan entered, knelt, and embraced his knees. “Noble Dauphin,” she said, “do not hold so many councils, and such weary ones, but come to Reims and receive the crown.”

Harcourt asked her if her Voices, or “counsel” (as she called it), gave this advice. She blushed and said: “I know what you mean, and will tell you gladly.” The king asked her if she wished to speak before so many people. Yes, she would speak. When they doubted her, she prayed, “and then she heard a Voice saying to her:

“‘Fille de Dieu, va, va, je serai a ton aide, val!'” [Footnote: “Daughter of God, go on, go on, I will help thee; go!]

“And when she heard this Voice she was glad indeed, and wished that she could always be as she was then; and as she spoke,” says Dunois, “she rejoiced strangely, lifting her eyes to heaven.” And she repeated: “I will last for only one year, or little more; use me while you may.”

Joan stirred the favorites and courtiers at last. They would go to Reims, but could they leave behind them English garrisons in Jargeau, where Suffolk commanded; in Meun, where Talbot was, and in other strong places? Already, without Joan, the French had attacked Jargeau, after the rescue of Orleans, and had failed. Joan agreed to assail Jargeau. Her army was led by the “fair duke,” D’Alençon.

Let us tell what followed in the words of the Duc d’Alençon:

“We were about six hundred lances, who wished to go against the town of Jargeau, then held by the English. That night we slept in a wood, and next day came Dunois and some other captains. When we were all met we were about twelve hundred lances; and now arose a dispute among the captains, some thinking that we should attack the city, others not so, for they said that the English were very strong, and had many men. Seeing this difference, Jeanne bade us have no fear of any numbers, nor doubt about attacking the English, because God was guiding us. She herself would rather be herding sheep than fighting, if she were not certain that God was with us. Thereon we rode to Jargeau, meaning to occupy the outlying houses, and there pass the night; but the English knew of our approach, and drove in our skirmishers. Seeing this, Jeanne took her banner and went to the front, bidding our men be of good heart. And they did so much that they held the suburbs of Jargeau that night. * * * Next morning we got ready our artillery, and brought guns up against the town. After some days a council was held, and I, with others, was ill content with La Hire, who was said to have parleyed with Lord Suffolk. La Hire was sent for, and came. Then it was decided to storm the town, and the heralds cried, ‘To the attack!’ and Jeanne said to me, ‘Forward, gentle duke.’ I thought it was too early, but she said, ‘Doubt not; the hour is come when God pleases.’ As the onslaught was given, Jeanne bade me leave the place where I stood, ‘or yonder gun’ pointing to one on the walls, ‘will slay you.’ Then I withdrew, and a little later De Lude was slain in that very place. And I feared greatly, considering the prophecy of the Maid. Then we both went together to the onslaught; and Suffolk cried for a parley, but no man marked him, and we pressed on. Jeanne was climbing a ladder, banner in hand, when her flag was struck by a stone, and she also was struck on her head, but her light helmet saved her. She leaped up again, crying, ‘Friends, friends; on, on! Our Lord has condemned the English. They are ours; be of good heart.’ In that moment Jargeau was taken, and the English fled to the bridges, we following, and more than eleven hundred of them were slain.”

Once Joan saw a man-at-arms strike down a prisoner. She leaped from her horse, and laid the wounded Englishman’s head on her breast, consoling him, and bade a priest come and hear his confession. From Jargeau the Maid rode back to Orleans, where the people could not look on her enough, and made great festival.

The garrison of the English in Beaugency did not know whether to hold out or to yield. Fastolf said that the English had lost heart, and that Beaugency should be left to its fate, while the rest held out in strong places and waited for re-enforcements, but Talbot was for fighting. The English then rode to Meun, and cannonaded the bridge-fort, which was held by the French. They hoped to take the bridge, cross it, march to Beaugency, and relieve the besieged there. But that very night Beaugency surrendered to the Maid! She then bade her army march on the English, who were retreating to Paris. But how was the Maid to find the English? “Ride forward,” she cried, “and you shall have a sure guide.” They had a guide, and a strange one.

The English were marching toward Paris, near Pathay, when their skirmishers came in with the news that the French were following. Talbot lined the hedges with five hundred archers of his best, and sent a galloper to bring thither the rest of his army. On came the French, not seeing the English in ambush. In a few minutes they would have been shot down and choked the pass with dying men and horses. But now was the moment for the strange guide.

A stag was driven from cover by the French, and ran blindly among the ambushed English bowmen. Not knowing that the French were so near, and being archers from Robin Hood’s country, who loved a deer, they raised a shout, and probably many an arrow flew at the stag. The French scouts heard the cry, saw the English and hurried back with the news. “Forward!” cried the Maid; “if they were hung to the clouds, we have them. Today the gentle king will gain such a victory as never yet did he win.”

The French dashed into the pass before Talbot had secured it. Fastolf galloped up, but the English thought that he was in flight; the captain of the advanced guard turned his horse about and made off. Talbot was taken, Fastolf fled, “making more sorrow than ever yet did man.” The French won a great victory. They needed their spurs, as the Maid had told them that they would, to follow their flying foes. The English lost some 3,000 men. In the evening, Talbot, as a prisoner, was presented to the Duc d’Alençon.

At last, with difficulty, Charles was brought to visit Reims and consent to be crowned like his ancestors.

Seeing that he was never likely to move, Joan left the town where he was and went off into the country. This retreat brought Charles to his senses. The towns which he passed by yielded to him; Joan went and summoned each. “Now she was with the king in the centre, now with the rear guard, now with the van.” The town of Troyes, where there was an English garrison, did not wish to yield. There was a council in the king’s army; they said they could not take the place.

“In two days it shall be yours, by force or by good-will,” said the Maid. “Six days will do,” said the chancellor, “if you are sure you speak truth.”

Joan made ready for an attack. She was calling “Forward!” when the town surrendered. Reims, after some doubts, yielded also, on July 16, and all the people welcomed the king. On July 17 the king was crowned and anointed with the holy oil by that very Archbishop of Reims who always opposed Joan. The Twelve Peers of France were not all present—some were on the English side—but Joan stood by Charles, her banner in her hand.

When the ceremony was ended, and the Dauphin Charles was a crowned and anointed king, the Maid knelt weeping at his feet. “Gentle king,” she said, “now is accomplished the will of God, who desired that you should come to Reims to be consecrated, and to prove that you are the true king and the kingdom is yours.” Then all the knights wept for joy.

The king bade Joan choose her reward. Already horses, rich armor, jewelled daggers, had been given to her. These, adding to the beauty and glory of her aspect, had made men follow her more gladly, and for that she valued them. She made gifts to noble ladies, and gave much to the poor. She only wanted money to wage the war with, not for herself. Her family was made noble; on their shield, between two lilies, a sword upholds the crown. Her father was at Reims, and saw her in her glory. What reward, then, was Joan to choose? She chose nothing for herself, but that her native village of Domremy should be free from taxes. This news her father carried home from the splendid scene at Reims.

As they went from Reims after the coronation, Dunois and the archbishop were riding by her rein. The people cheered and shouted with joy.

“They are a good people,” said Joan. “Never saw I any more joyous at the coming of their king. Ah, would that I might be so happy when I end my days as to be buried here!” Said the archbishop: “Jeanne, in what place do you hope to die?” Then she said: “Where it pleases God; for I know not that hour, nor that place, more than ye do. But would to God, my Maker, that now I might depart, and lay down my arms, and help my father and mother, and keep their sheep with my brothers and my sisters, who would rejoice to see me!”

What was to be done after the crowning of the king? Bedford, the regent for the child Henry VI, expected to see Joan under the walls of Paris. He was waiting for the troops which the Cardinal of Winchester had collected in England. Bedford induced Winchester to bring his men to France, but they had not arrived. The Duke of Burgundy, the head of the great French party which opposed Charles, had been invited by the Maid to Reims. Again she wrote to him: “Make a firm, good peace with the King of France,” she said; “forgive each other with kind hearts”; “I pray and implore you, with joined hands, fight not against France.”

The Duke of Burgundy, far from listening to Joan’s prayer, left Paris and went to raise men for the English. Meanwhile, Charles was going from town to town, and all received him gladly. But Joan soon began to see that instead of marching west from Reims to Paris, the army was being led southwest toward the Loire. There the king would be safe among his dear castles, where he could live indoors, and take his ease. Thus Bedford was able to throw 5,000 men of Winchester’s into Paris, and even dared to come out and hunt for the French king. The French should have struck at Paris at once, as Joan desired. The delays were excused because the Duke of Burgundy had promised to surrender Paris in a fortnight. But this he did merely to gain time. Joan knew this, and said there would be no peace but at the lance-point.

The French and English armies kept watching each other, and there were skirmishes near Senlis. On August 15, the Maid and d’Alençon hoped for a battle. But the English had fortified their position in the night. Come out they would not, so Joan rode up to their fortification, standard in hand, struck the palisade and challenged them to sally forth. She even offered to let them march out and draw themselves up in line of battle. The Maid stayed on the field all night and next day made a retreat, hoping to draw the English out of their fort. But they were too wary and went back to Paris.

Now the fortnight was over, after which the Duke of Burgundy was to surrender Paris, but he did nothing of the kind. The Maid was weary of words. She called the Duc d’Alençon and said: “My fair duke, array your men, for, by my staff, I would fain see Paris more closely than I have seen it yet.” On August 23, the Maid and d’Alençon left the king at Compicgne and rode to Saint Denis, where were the tombs of the kings of France. “And when the king heard that they were at Saint Denis, he came, very sore against his will, as far as Senlis, and it seems that his advisers were contrary to the will of the Maid, of the Duc d’Alencon, and of their company.” The king was afraid to go near Paris, but Bedford was afraid to stay in the town. He went to Rouen, the strongest English hold in Normandy, leaving the Burgundian army and 2,000 English in Paris.

Every day, the Maid and d’Alençon rode from Saint Denis to the gates of Paris, to observe the best places for an attack. And still Charles dallied and delayed, still the main army did not come up. Thus the delay of the king gave the English time to make Paris almost impregnable and to frighten the people who, had Charles marched straight from Reims, would have yielded as Reims did. D’Alençon kept going to Senlis urging Charles to come up with the main army. He went on September 1—the king promised to start next day. D’Alençon returned to the Maid, the king still loitered. At last d’Alençon brought him to Saint Denis on September 7, and there was a skirmish that day.

In the book of Perceval de Cagny, who was with his lord, the Duc d’Alençon, he says: “The assault was long and fierce, and it was marvel to hear the noise of the cannons and culverins from the walls, and to see the clouds of arrows. Few of those in the fosse with the Maid were struck, though many others on horse and foot were wounded with arrows and stone cannon-balls, but by God’s grace and the Maid’s good fortune, there was none of them but could return to camp unhelped. The assault lasted from noon till dusk—say eight in the evening. After sunset, the Maid was struck by a crossbow bolt in the thigh; and, after she was hurt, she cried but the louder that all should attack, and that the place was taken. But as night had now fallen and she was wounded, and the men-at-arms were weary with the long attack, De Gaucourt and others came and found her, and, against her will, brought her forth from the fosse. And so ended that onslaught. But right sad she was to leave and said, ‘By my bâton, the place would have been taken.’ They put her on horseback, and led her to her quarters, and all the rest of the king’s company who that day had come from Saint Denis.”

“Next day,” says Cagny, “in spite of her wound, she was first in the field. She went to d’Alençon and bade him sound the trumpet for the charge. D’Alençon and the other captains were of the same mind as the Maid, and Montmorency with sixty gentlemen and many lances came in, though he had been on the English side before. So they began to march on Paris, but the king sent messengers, and compelled the Maid and the captains to return to Saint Denis. Right sorry were they, yet they must obey the king. When she saw that they would go, she dedicated her armor, and hung it up before the statue of Our Lady at Saint Denis, and so right sadly went away in company with the king. And thus were broken the will of the Maid and the army of the king.”

The courtiers had triumphed. They had thwarted the Maid, they had made her promise to take Paris of no avail. They had destroyed the confidence of men in the banner that had never gone back.

The king now went from one pleasant tower on the Loire to another, taking the Maid with him. Meanwhile, the English took and plundered some of the cities which had yielded to Charles, and they carried off the Maid’s armor from the chapel in Saint Denis. Her Voices had bidden her stay at Saint Denis, but this she was not permitted to do, and now she must hear daily how the loyal towns that she had won were plundered by the English, and all her work seemed wasted. The Duc d’Alençon offered to lead an army against the English in Normandy, if the Maid might march with him, for the people had not wholly lost faith, but the courtiers and the Archbishop of Reims, who managed the king and the war, would not consent, nor would they allow the Maid and the duke to even see each other.

Joan wanted to return to Paris, but the council sent her to take La Charité and Saint-Pierre-le-Moustier from the English. This town she attacked first. Her squire, a gentleman named d’Aulon, was with her, and described what he saw. “When they had besieged the place for some time, an assault was commanded, but for the great strength of the forts and the numbers of the enemy the French were forced to give way. At that hour I who speak was wounded by an arrow in the heel, and could not stand or walk without crutches. But I saw the Maid holding her ground with a handful of men, and, fearing ill might come of it, I mounted a horse and rode to her, asking what she was doing there alone, and why she did not retreat like the others. She took the salade from her head, and answered that she was not alone, but had in her company fifty thousand of her people; and that go she would not till she had taken that town,

“But, whatever she said, I saw that she had with her but four men or five, as others also saw, wherefore I bade her retreat. Then she commanded me to have fagots brought, and planks to bridge fosses. And as she spoke to me, she cried in a loud voice, ‘All of you, bring fagots to fill the fosse.’ And this was done, whereat I greatly marvelled, and instantly that town was taken by assault with no great resistance. And all that the Maid did seemed to me rather deeds divine than natural, and it was impossible that so young a maid should do such deeds without the will and guidance of Our Lord.”

Death of Joan the Maid

From there the Maid rode to attack La Charité. But, though the towns helped her as well as they might with money and food, her force was too small and was too ill provided with everything, for the king did not send supplies. She abandoned the siege and departed in great displeasure. The court now moved from place to place, with Joan following in its train; for three weeks she stayed with a lady who describes her as very devout and constantly in church. Thinking her already a saint, people brought her things to touch.

“Touch them yourselves,” she said; “your touch is as good as mine.”

Winter was over and spring came on, but still the king did nothing. The Maid could be idle no longer. Without a word to the king, she rode to Lagny, “for there they had fought bravely against the English.” These men were Scots, under Sir Hugh Kennedy. In mid-April she was at Melun. There “she heard her Voices almost every day, and many a time they told her that she would presently be taken prisoner.” Her year was over. She prayed that she might die as soon as she was taken, without the long sorrow of imprisonment. Then her Voices told her to bear graciously whatever befell her, for so it must be. But they told her not the hour of her captivity. “If she had known the hour she would not then have gone to war. And often she prayed them to tell her of that hour, but they did not answer.” These words are Joan’s. She spoke them to her judges at Rouen.

The name of Joan was now such a terror to the English that men deserted rather than face her in arms. At this time the truce with Burgundy ended, and the duke openly set out to besiege the strong town of Compicgne, held by De Flavy for France. Burgundy had invested Compicgne, when Joan, with four hundred men, rode into the town secretly at dawn. That day Joan led a sally against the Burgundians. Her Voices told her nothing, good or bad, she says. The Burgundians were encamped at Margny and at Clairoix, the English at Venette, villages on a plain near the walls. Joan crossed the bridge on a gray charger, in a surcoat of crimson silk, rode through the redoubt beyond the bridge, and attacked the Burgundians. De Flavy in the town was to prevent the English from attacking her in the rear. He had boats on the river to secure Joan’s retreat, if necessary.

Joan swept through Margny driving the Burgundians before her; the garrison of Clairoix came to their help; the battle was doubtful. Meanwhile the English came up; they could not have reached the Burgundians, to aid them, but some of the Maid’s men, seeing the English standards, fled. The English followed them under the walls of Compicgne; the gate of the redoubt was closed to prevent the English from entering with the runaways. Like Hector under Troy, the Maid was shut out from the town which she came to save.

Joan was with her own foremost line when the rear fled. They told her of her danger; she heeded not. Her men seized her bridle and turned her horse’s head about. The English held the entrance from the causeway; Joan and a few men were driven into a corner of the outer wall. A rush was made at Joan. “Yield! yield to me!” each man cried.

“I have given my faith to Another,” she said, “and I will keep my oath.”

Her enemies confess that on this day Joan did great feats of arms, covering the rear of her force when they had to fly. Some French historians hold that the gates were closed, by treason, that the Maid might be taken.

The Maid, as a prisoner, was led to Margny, where the Burgundian and English captains rejoiced over her. They had her at last, the girl who had driven them from fort and field. Not a French lance was raised to rescue her; not a sou did the king send to ransom her.

Within two days of her capture, the Vicar-General of the Inquisition in France claimed her as a heretic and a witch. The English knights let the doctors of the University of Paris judge and burn the girl whom they seldom dared to face in war. She was the enemy of the English, and the English believed in witchcraft. Joan was now kept in a high tower and was allowed to walk on the leads. She knew she was sold to England, she had heard that the people of Compicgne were to be massacred. She would rather die than fall into English hands, but she hoped to escape and relieve Compicgne. She therefore prayed for counsel to her Saints; might she leap from the top of the tower? Would they not bear her up in their hands? Saint Catherine bade her not to leap; God would help her and the people of Compicgne.

Then, for the first time, as far as we know, the Maid wilfully disobeyed her Voices. She leaped from the tower. They found her, not wounded, not a limb broken, but stunned. She knew not what had happened; they told her she had leaped down For three days she could not eat, “yet was she comforted by Saint Catherine, who bade her confess and seek pardon of God, and told her that, without fail, they of Compicgne should be relieved before Martinmas.” This prophecy was fulfilled. Joan was more troubled about Compicgne than about her own coming doom.

She was now locked up in an iron cage at Rouen. The person who conducted the trial was her deadly enemy, the Bishop of Beauvais, Cauchon, whom she and her men had turned out of his bishopric. Next, Joan was kept in strong irons day and night, always guarded by five English soldiers. Weakened by long captivity and ill usage, she, an untaught girl, was questioned repeatedly for three months by the most cunning and learned doctors of law of the Paris University. Often many spoke at once, to perplex her mind. But Joan always showed a wisdom which confounded them, and which is at least as extraordinary as her skill in war. She would never swear an oath to answer all their questions. About herself, and all matters bearing on her own conduct, she would answer. About the king, and the secrets of the king, she would not answer. If they forced her to reply about these things, she frankly said, she would not tell them the truth. The whole object of the trial was to prove that she dealt with powers of evil, and that her king had been crowned and aided by the devil. Her examiners, therefore, attacked her day by day, in public and in her dungeon, with questions about these visions which she held sacred and could only speak of with a blush among her friends. She maintained that she certainly did see and hear her Saints, and that they came to her by the will of God. This was called blasphemy and witchcraft.

Most was made of her refusal to wear woman’s dress. For this she seems to have had two reasons: first, that to give up her old dress would have been to acknowledge that her mission was ended; next, for reasons of modesty, she being alone in prison among ruffianly men. She would wear woman’s dress if they would let her take the Holy Communion, but this they refused. To these points she was constant: she would not deny her visions; she would not say one word against her king, “the noblest Christian in the world” she called him, who had deserted her. She would not wear woman’s dress in prison. They took her to the torture-chamber, and threatened her with torture. Finally, they put her up in public, opposite a pile of wood ready for burning, where she was solemnly preached to for the last time. All through her trial, her Voices bade her answer boldly, in three months she would give her last answer, in three months “she would be free with great victory, and come into the Kingdom of Paradise.”

At last, in fear of the fire and the stake before her, and on promise of being taken to a kindlier prison among women, and released from chains, she promised to renounce her visions, and submit to Cauchon and her other enemies. Some little note on paper she now signed with a cross, and repeated a short form of words. By some trick this signature was changed for a long document, in which she was made to confess all her visions false.

Cauchon had triumphed. The blame of heresy and witchcraft was cast on Joan, and on her king as an accomplice. But the English were not satisfied; they made an uproar, they threatened Cauchon, for Joan’s life was to be spared. She was to be in prison all her days, on bread and water, but while she lived they dared scarcely stir against the French. They were soon satisfied.

Joan’s prison was not changed. There soon came news that she had put on man’s dress again. The judges went to her. She told them (they say) that she put on this dress of her own free will. In confession, later, she told her priest that she had been refused any other dress, and had been brutally treated both by the soldiers and by an English lord.

In any case, the promises made to her had been broken. The judge asked her if her Voices had been with her again.

“Yes.”

“What did they say?”

“God told me by the Voices of the great sorrow of my treason, when I abjured to save my life.”

“Do you believe the Voices came from Saint Margaret and Saint Catherine?”

“Yes, and that they are from God.”

She added that she had never meant to deny this, had not understood that she had denied it.

All was over now; she was a “relapsed heretic.”

Enough. They burned Joan the Maid. She did not suffer long. Her eyes were fixed on a cross which a priest, Martin l’Advenu, held up before her. She maintained, he says, to her dying moment, the truth of her Voices. With a great cry of JESUS! she gave up her life. Even the English wept, even a secretary of the English king said that they had burned a Saint.

Twenty years after her death Charles VII, in his own interest, induced the Pope to try the case of Joan over again. They collected the evidence of most of the living people who had known her, the Domremy peasants, from Dunois, d’Alençon, d’Aulon, from Isambart and l’Advenu, they learned how nobly she died, and how she never made one complaint, but forgave all her enemies freely. All these old Latin documents were collected, edited, and printed, in 1849, by Monsieur Jules Quicherat, a long and noble labor.

– text taken from Stories of Courage and Heroism