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The Story of France by  Mary Macgregor


 

 

THE DEATH OF THE MAID

[221] THE English, having bought Joan, handed her over to the French priests, who hated the maid, and to satisfy their hatred, as also that of the English, they brought her to trial as a witch and a heretic. Among these priests her most cruel enemy was Pierre Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais.

Joan would never give her word of honour not to try to escape from prison. Once jumping from a high window she fell to the ground, and there she was found faint, but uninjured, by her enemies.

It was in May that Joan was taken prisoner, and slowly the days and weeks passed until November, when she was taken to Rouen. And because more than once Joan had tried to escape, she was now taken to a castle, and there in the dungeon the brave maid was placed in a cage, with heavy chains upon her feet.

In January 1431 she was brought before Cauchon, who, as he hated her, should never have been made one of her judges, or president of the court.

Week after week the trial lasted. Joan's judges trying m vain to make her deny that she had really heard her voices; trying, too, to make her confess to crimes of which she had never dreamed.

When she had told Cauchon her simple story, and refused to say aught beside, the cruel bishop ordered Joan to be carried into the torture chamber.

"Confess," he cried, "or you shall be bound and tortured."

Yet not for a moment did the maid flinch, but proudly [222] she answered, "Though you should tear me limb from limb I should tell you nothing more."

Even the Bishop of Beauvais was ashamed as he listened to her unfaltering words, and Joan was taken back to prison unharmed.

Once indeed, worn out by sickness and solitude, Joan denied that she had heard her voices, yet almost at once she was sorry, and said that only weakness had wrung the falsehood from her lips.

But nothing could save the maid. Her judges, with the English to support them, were determined that Joan should die.

And so at length they had their way, and when the maid was but nineteen years old they condemned her to death as a witch and a heretic.

The boy's costume which Joan had worn by the command of her voices was laid aside; and the maid, dressed once again as a girl, was led to the old market-place of Rouen on May 24, 1431.

Lest at the last moment Charles should rouse himself from his base ingratitude, lest La Hire, Dunois, or her friend the Duke of Alenšon should swoop down upon the marketplace with the soldiers who had followed Joan so often to victory, and carry away their erstwhile comrade from her doom, Joan was surrounded by eight hundred soldiers.

"Rouen, Rouen," cried the maid, as they tied her to the stake, "is it here that I must die? I fear greatly that thou wilt have to suffer for my death."

Then the soldiers placed a paper cap upon her brow, on which was written, "Heretic, relapsed apostate, idolatress."

The maid asked for a cross, and an Englishman handed her one, made roughly of a staff he had broken in twain. She kissed it, and as the cruel flames leaped up around her she called in a clear voice, "Jesus," then, bowing her head, she died. The ashes of the maid were flung into the river Seine, for her enemies feared lest even in death her body should have power to work miracles.

[223] "We are lost, we have killed a saint," said one of the English as he turned away from the terrible scene. And in that he spoke truly, for from the time of the maid's death the power of the English in France grew ever less secure.

Twenty-four years after Joan's death, Charles VII. repented that he had not tried to save the maid.

A new trial took place, and Joan's name was cleared of all the cruel charges that had been brought against it.

In Orleans and in many other towns in France to-day you may see monuments raised to do honour to the maid who delivered France.

There, too, each year on the 8th of May a festival is held, in praise of her who is known as the Maid of Orleans. And now, in the Roman Catholic Church, she is worshipped as a saint.

As I told you, nothing prospered with the English after Joan Darc's death.

In 1485 the Duke of Burgundy signed the Treaty of Arras, by which he forsook the cause of the English and went over to the side of Charles VII.

Paris, too, threw open its gates to Charles VII., who at length, in April 1486, entered his capital as king.

And now Charles roused himself from his indolent, selfish ways, and began to live, as the maid had longed to see him live, for the good of his kingdom. He formed a regular army, so that France in her wars would no longer be forced to depend on her nobles and their vassals for help, or on the bold bands of Free Lances of which I have told you.

As this regular army had to be paid, Charles VII. assembled the States-General, just as our king in such a case would summon his parliament, and asked them to vote sums of money with which the army might be paid.

The nobles did not like the king's new ways. They were no longer allowed to have soldiers of their own, and this made them less able to use the power that was still theirs.

Against the English who were left in the country the [224] king carried on an active war, until his subjects almost forgot that Charles had ever been indolent.

Towards the end of his reign Charles VII. was saddened by the conduct of his eldest son Louis, for when the nobles tried to resist the king's reforms, Louis took their side against his father.

Charles sent his son into Dauphiny, thinking that he would be too busy there to have time for further plots.

A few years later, however, Louis left Dauphiny and went to the court of the Duke of Burgundy, and then the king grew ever more suspicious of his son. For Louis had gone to a prince who was powerful and at the same time a rival to the King of France.

In July 1453 Charles, with an army which had already won many triumphs under Dunois, besieged Castillon, the last stronghold of the English.

Talbot, the English commander, with a large force came to raise the siege.

A rumour spread that the French were preparing to leave their camp, and Talbot hurried to the town only to find the French awaiting him beneath its walls.

After a fierce struggle Talbot was slain, and his men perished on the spot where their commander's body had fallen.

With Castillon in the hands of the king, the south also was his, and thus by October 1453 the Hundred Years' War was at an end, Calais and Guines being all that was still held by the English.

Save that he was suspicious of his son and the Duke of Burgundy, Charles VII. might now have been content. But he was so fearful of their designs, that he was afraid either to eat or drink, lest they had found means to poison his food or drug his wine.

At length, sad and miserable, after a few days' illness, Charles VII. died in 1461.


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