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Patriots and Tyrants by  Marion Florence Lansing


 

 

JOAN OF ARC

[141] THE story of Joan of Arc is the most wonderful story in the history of any nation of Europe. In the hour of France's need, when she was being conquered by English armies, when her forces were so divided by civil war that it seemed as if there were no true Frenchmen, but that every lord and district were for themselves, when she had no recognized king, but only an uncrowned Dauphin,—in this hour of her need there was raised up for France a Maiden for a deliverer. History has no story more beautiful or more mysterious.

It was ninety years since the opening of the war with England. Before the war began, France had been split up into many small districts and towns and estates, which were managed by different lords and counts. These petty rulers spent most of their time quarreling with each other in just such fashion as the kings of England and France were now fighting over their crowns; and neither lords nor kings paid much heed to the good of the land or of the people. This was the weakness of France, which had given England the chance to begin the Hundred [142] Years' War. Ninety years of warfare under weak kings, who could not command the respect of their lords, had made matters worse.

The land was in a terrible state. Peasants had no courage to plant their crops, for armies would shortly trample them down. Merchants could not ply their trade for fear of bands of soldiers, which robbed them on the roads. All France was broken up into districts under tyrant lords, and the young Dauphin, whom half the nobles did not recognize as their lawful king, was as helpless as the rest. He held his court at the little village of Chinon in southern France, and tried to forget his misery and weakness in music and entertainment, while the English occupied Paris and the north of France and at last moved on Orleans, the strong city of central France, the "key to the south."

The English began the siege of Orleans in October, 1428. They took the neighboring towns and built a chain of forts inclosing the city, planning, by shutting off supplies and storming the city from their defenses, to force it to surrender. Two thousand brave men were defending the city, but they could not drive off the great English army. They had been defeated in their sallies, and no strong French force came to their help from without. The Dauphin could not rally [143] men to so hopeless a cause, even if he had the ambition, and he was a weak lad without strength of purpose or experience. So he and his courtiers were entertaining themselves from day to day at the castle of Chinon, knowing too well that if Orleans was lost, all France was lost.

To this court in early March came news that a marvelous Maiden was coming to the rescue of France. Next came a letter to the Dauphin from this Joan of Arc, saying that she was on her way to his court. She arrived at Chinon, and for two days his advisers refused her audience with the Dauphin. Then they yielded and let the peasant girl be brought before him.

From the knights who accompanied the Maiden and were convinced of her mission, the Dauphin and his courtiers had heard tales of Joan as one who had visions and knew more than ordinary people could divine. When they led her into the palace room, to test her powers the Dauphin stepped down from his chair of state and stood with the nobles as if he were one of them. It was evening. The light of fifty torches illumined the hall, and a brilliant array of nobles and knights stood about. She entered, a simple Maiden of eighteen, in peasant dress, with a clear, pure face and steady blue eyes with which she [144] searched the faces of the smiling courtiers. Without a moment's hesitation she went forward and knelt before Charles.

"Gentle Dauphin," she said, "God give you good life."

"But it is not I that am the king; there is the king," said Charles, pointing to a richly dressed noble.

"Gentle Prince, it is you and no other," she said. Then rising, "Gentle Dauphin, I am Joan the Maid. I am sent to you by the King of Heaven to tell you that you shall be consecrated and crowned at Rheims."

Such was the coming of the Maid of France to the court of her king. They questioned her. She gave to the king a private sign which convinced him that she was inspired of God. To the council of judges to whom they sent her to see whether she was a witch,—for witches were much feared in those days,—she told her simple story.

"I come from the village of Domremy," she said, "and am the daughter of Jacques d'Arc. In my home I was employed during my childhood with the ordinary cares of the house. I was taught to sew and spin. I went often to the church to pray. When I was thirteen years old a Voice came to me from God for my help and guidance. The first time that I heard this Voice I was very much frightened. It [145] was midday in summer in my father's garden. This first time the Voice told me to be a good girl and go to church."

Since then, she continued, the Voice had come to her many times, and it had told her more and more often "of the great pity that there was in France," and that she must go and help her country. The years had gone on, soldiers had appeared in the country side, and more often she had heard the Voice. She had pleaded that she was only a poor girl and that she could not ride and lead armed men. But visions had come to her, and the Voice had returned, until finally it said, "Go, raise the siege which is being made before the City of Orleans." This time it told her just what she should do and how she should come to the Dauphin, and she had come.

That was Joan's story, and the learned men who questioned her could not shake her out of it. They sent to Domremy and found it was even as she said. But they questioned her the more, and no one gave her any help to her mission. At last she grew weary. She went to Charles and said: "Gentle Dauphin, why do you delay to believe me? Already a battle has been lost at Orleans since my coming. I tell you that God has taken pity on you and your people. Take me to Orleans."

[146] Still, he did nothing, and weeks passed. Always her cry was, "Take me to Orleans. There I will show you the signs that I am sent to do, and God will give the victory."

At last the king made up his mind to take the chance. Joan was promised that she should go with an army to Orleans. She was offered armor and horses. She chose white armor, and had a white banner made with the lilies of France upon a white field, and selected a beautiful coal-black horse. So she came to Orleans with the army, and as she passed into the city, riding on her black horse and carrying her banner, she was hailed by the people with joy indescribable. They had lost all hope, but now, by the strength that was in the Maid, were comforted as if the siege were over. "Verily," says the record, "they gazed at her as if they were beholding God."

Before she had been with the army many days, Joan found that the generals intended to carry out their plans instead of hers. How should she, a peasant girl who had never seen an army, know how to manage a campaign and raise a siege? But she did know, and the generals found it out. When they obeyed her, all went well. When they deceived her, she saw through their schemes, or, if they carried them out in her absence, they were defeated.


[Illustration]

[148] The English had surrounded the city with forts. These Joan prepared to attack. They had heard of her coming and had laughed with scorn at the idea of a Maiden conquering them. But when she had led charges against them and had been always victorious, the soldiers began to be filled with a superstitious fear and to declare that she was a witch.

At last the English concentrated their forces in two forts, Augustin's and Tournelles. The latter commanded the bridge across the river Loire to Orleans. The former Joan and her soldiers took. Then the French generals held a council without Joan. They wanted now to wait, since the English were reduced to such desperate straits, till reŽnforcements came. Then they could surely take the fort of Tournelles with safety. They sent this word to Joan.

"You have been at your council," she said. "I also have been at mine. The wisdom of God is greater than yours. Rise early to-morrow, do better than your best, quit me not, for to-morrow I have much to do, more than ever I have done, and to-morrow my blood shall flow from a wound."

Next morning her host prepared a fish for her breakfast.

"Stay, Joan," he said, "let us partake together of this fish which is just fresh caught."

[149] "Keep it till evening, "said the Maid. "Then I shall come back across the bridge of the Tournelles, and I will bring you an Englishman to eat it with us."

She hurried away, and the sun was just rising above the Loire when the French began the attack on the fort of Tournelles, which was to last all that long day.

It was a terrible battle. Joan was wounded even as she had predicted she would be, by an arrow which struck between the neck and the shoulder. For a few moments she withdrew from the combat, but soon she was back again, bringing, by the very sight of her waving banner, new cheer to the hearts of the French and dismay to the English. Finally she stood on the edge of the moat, and then, with a last bold sally, the fort was stormed and Joan's banner was flying from the battlements of the last English fort. Night fell, and the French returned victorious over the bridge of the Loire, even as Joan had prophesied that morning that they would.

The next morning the French saw the English drawing up their men in line. They desired to go out once more and attack them, but Joan forbade.

"No! there has been enough fighting," she said. "If the English attack, we shall defeat them. We are to let them go in peace if they will."

[150] From the walls of the city the Frenchmen looked out at the English.

"Do they face us," asked Joan, "or have they turned their backs?"

"Their backs are towards us; they are marching away."

"Then let them go," said Joan; and that night there was not an Englishman left south of the Loire.

The taking of Orleans roused France. From it and the events that followed may be dated a new France,—a France united for the first time in its history into one nation. The victory roused hope. It stirred the lords to work together. It united the people, also, in loyalty to Charles, for Joan was faithful to her first word to the Dauphin. He was to be crowned at Rheims. She returned after the victory to the court of Charles and desired him to come at once to Rheims; but the country between his court and Rheims was held by the English, and he would not start. Even yet he was not quite sure of her, and he and his timid advisers held frequent councils.

"Noble Dauphin," she said, "do not hold so many and so weary councils, but come to Rheims and receive the crown."

[151] At last he consented to go, if the way was clear. She went ahead with her forces, and in one week of marvelous victories prepared his way. Then finally he ceased his questioning and started for Rheims.

On the evening of the sixteenth of July, 1429, Charles and the Maid entered the city. The next day, in the beautiful cathedral of Rheims, he was crowned King of France. It was a grand spectacle. Four nobles, in full armor, had ridden through the streets that morning to the old abbey where the monks kept under strict guard the sacred vial of oil for the king's consecration, which was said to have been used by Clovis. They had brought it with all honor, carrying it, under a splendid canopy of cloth of gold, to the cathedral, where a great company of lords and nobles in glittering array were waiting. Thither Joan had come in her white armor, bearing her banner, and the ceremony of consecration and coronation had been performed. Charles was anointed with the holy oil by the archbishop, and then, as the crown was put on his head, a peal of trumpets rang out, announcing to the waiting throng that France had once more a king. All the people cried "Noel!" and "Long live King Charles!" and as the multitude both within and without the cathedral shouted, Joan knelt at the king's feet, weeping, and said: [152] "Gentle king, now is fulfilled the will of God, who willed it that you should come to Rheims and receive your crown."

There were tears in the eyes of the king and all his knights as the fair Maid who had done these wonders knelt, weeping for joy, at his feet.

The story of united France begins with the coronation scene in the cathedral at Rheims. Would that the story of Joan of Arc ended there, and that she could have been allowed to slip away, as she longed to, with her father and mother, back to her simple home in Domremy! But the king would not allow it. The English had not yet been fully driven out of the land, and the Maid must stay and help the armies. She did help, but the generals once more distrusted her and would not follow her advice; her king did not support her; and Joan knew and prophesied to those who were with her that her end was near. At last, even as she had foretold, she was taken by the English.

The rest of the sad story is quickly told; yet none may read it without deep sorrow. The English took the Maid and put her in prison, and when she had lain in captivity for many weary months, they brought her out and tried her as a "witch." That was the [153] name her accusers, both French and English, had given her from the first. To us it is a strange mystery. People in those days had great dread of any person who seemed to have more than ordinary powers, for they thought these a sign that evil spirits possessed that person. Such people the church decreed should be put to death, because they would be dangerous to the world.

For many days the judges questioned Joan, and her answers were simple and pure as was the story which she had told to the Dauphin at her coming. But there were many things about her Voices which she could not tell them, and the judges wanted her to promise some things which she believed her Voices forbade her to say. So they condemned her, deciding that she was a witch and a heretic, and must therefore be burned. And the saddest thing of all is that the French did not lift a hand to save from death this Maid who had been their deliverer.

So Joan died a cruel death, but the work which she had begun in France did not die with her. She had united the French, and they did not fall apart again into quarrelsome factions. King Charles showed a new spirit as he began his reign. Even amid the dangers of war he took time to unite his nobles and keep them in order under him. The [154] English were driven out by this newly roused French nation. The Hundred Years' War was ended, and a peace was concluded by which France was left free within her own provinces, untroubled by foreigners.

Happy days had come to the nation, and in the universal joy Joan was not forgotten. Twenty years after her death King Charles asked the church to allow a new trial of Joan. She could not be brought to life, but her name could be cleared. She could be declared innocent of the charges for which she had suffered death. The case was re-tried. Every one who had known Joan from her childhood came and told about her, and learned men wrote it down. That is why we know so much about her, though all this happened five hundred years ago; and when you are older you will read this full story of her life, as they wrote it down during this trial, by which it was proved that she was even as we have pictured her, innocent and pure and good and kind and wise. The learned men could not bring her back by their judgment, but it is good to remember that they did agree, though twenty years too late, to honor their deliverer, the Maid of Orleans, who had given to them a new and united France.


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