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European Hero Stories by  Eva March Tappan


 

 

JOAN OF ARC

THE Hundred Years' War dragged on, and at length the French became so discouraged that they agreed that when their king should die they would accept an English ruler. At the death of their sovereign, the king of England was a little boy. His guar- [200] dians tried to enforce his claims, and they invaded France. They succeeded in getting possession of northern France, but they could not press any farther into the country unless they could capture the city of Orleans. They besieged it; it grew weaker and weaker, and all saw that it must soon fall into their hands.

The French were good soldiers, but they needed a leader. They were fighting for the rights of the young prince Charles, but it did not seem to enter his mind that there was anything for him to do except to wear the crown after they had captured it for him. At length word came to him that a young peasant girl named Jo-an' of Arc insisted upon seeing him. She declared that she had seen angels and had heard voices bidding her raise the siege of Orleans and conduct him to Rheims to be crowned.

She was brought before the prince; but he had dressed himself more plainly than his courtiers to see if she would recognize him. She looked about her a moment, then knelt before him. "I am not the king," said Charles. "Noble prince, you and no one else, are the king," Joan responded; and she told him of the voices that she had heard. Now, there was an old saying in France that some day the country would be saved by a maiden, and both king and courtiers became interested. They gave her some light armor, all white and shining, and set her upon a great white charger with a sword in her hand. Her banner was a standard of pure white, and on it was a picture of two angels bearing lilies and one of God holding up the world. The French were wild with enthusiasm. They fell down before her, and those who could come near enough to touch her armor or even her horse's hoofs thought themselves fortunate. Joan was only seventeen, and she had seen nothing of war, but she succeeded in leading the French troops [202] into Orleans. When once she had made her way within the walls, the French shut up in the city began to believe that she was sent by Heaven to save them. She bade them follow her out to do battle with the English, and they obeyed joyfully. The English had heard of this. Some thought she was, indeed, sent by Heaven; others said she was a witch; and they were all half afraid to resist her. It was not long before they withdrew. The city was free; and the French were almost ready to worship the "Maid of Orleans," as they called her. They were eager to follow wherever she led; and with every battle the English were driven a little farther to the northward.


[Illustration]

JOAN OF ARC ENTERING ORLEANS IN TRIUMPH.

Joan now urged Charles to go to Rheims to be crowned; but he held back. So did his brave old generals."It is folly," they said, "to try to make our way through a country where the English are still in power. Let us first drive them from Normandy and from Paris. Let the coronation wait until we have possession of our capital." Still Joan begged Charles to go, and at length he yielded. There was much fighting on the way, but the French were victorious, and Joan led her king to Rheims. He was crowned in the cathedral, and she stood near him, the white war banner in her hand.

Then Joan prayed to be allowed to go home; but Charles would not think of giving her up. His people had come to believe that [203] they would win a victory wherever she led; they even fancied that they saw fire flashing around her standard. "I work no miracles," she declared. "Do not kiss my clothes or armor. I am nothing but the instrument that God uses." She continued to lead the army, but at length she was captured and fell into the hands of the English. They fired cannon and sang the Te Deum in the churches and rejoiced as if they had conquered the whole kingdom of France.


[Illustration]

STATUE OF JOAN OF ARC.

Joan was kept in prison for a year, loaded with irons and chained to a pillar. She was tried for witchcraft and was condemned and sentenced to be burned. Charles, to whom she had given a kingdom, made no effort to save her. A stake was set up in the market-place of Ro-uen. To this she was bound, and fagots were heaped up around it. "Let me die with the cross in my hands," she pleaded; but no one paid any attention to her request, until at length an English soldier tied two sticks together in the form of a cross and gave it to her. She kissed it and laid it upon her heart. Then a brave and kindly monk ventured to bring her the altar cross from a church near at hand. The flames rose around her. Those who stood near heard her say, "Jesus! Jesus!" and soon her sufferings were ended. Her ashes were thrown into the Seine, but to-day on the spot where she died a noble statue stands in her honor.

SUMMARY

The importance of Orleans to the English. — The folly of King Charles. — Joan is brought before the king. — She is made ready for battle. — The confidence of the French in her. — The English [204] fear her. — The "Maid of Orleans."—The coronation of Charles at Rheims. — Joan is forced to continue leading the army. — Her capture and death.


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