A Heroine of France
By Evelyn Everett-Green
Public Domain Books
Chapter VII. How the Maid Was Hindered; Yet Made Preparation.
I have no patience to write of the things which followed. I blush for the King, for his Council, yea, even for the Church itself! Here was a messenger sent from God, sent to France in the hour of her direst need. This messenger had been tried and tested by a score of different methods already, and had in every case come forth from the trial like gold submitted to the fire. Priests had examined and found nothing evil in her. Again and again had she spoken of that which must follow–and so it had been. If her voices were not from God, then must they be from the devil; yet it had been proved again, and yet again, that this was impossible, since she feared nought that was holy or good, but clave unto such, and was never so joyful and glad at heart as when she was able to receive the Holy Sacrament, or kneel before the Altar of God whilst Mass was being said.
She had proved her claim to be called God’s messenger. She had justified herself as such in the eyes of the King and in the judgment of the two Queens and of half the Court. And yet, forsooth, he must waver and doubt, and let himself be led by the counsels of those who had ever set themselves against the Maid and her mission; and to the shame of the Church be it spoken, the Archbishop of Rheims was one of those who most zealously sought to persuade him of the folly of entrusting great matters to the hands of a simple peasant girl, and warned the whole Court of the perils of witchcraft and sorcery which were like to be the undoing of all who meddled therein.
I could have wrung the neck of the wily old fox, whom I did more blame than I did his friend and advocate, De la Tremouille; for the latter only professed carnal wisdom and prudence, but the Archbishop spoke as one who has a mandate from God, and he at least should have known better.
And so they must needs send her to Poictiers, to a gathering of ecclesiastics, assembled by her enemy, the Archbishop himself, to examine into her claims to be that which she professed, and also into her past life, and what it had been.
I scarce have patience to write of all the wearisome weeks which were wasted thus, whilst this assembly sat; and the Maid–all alone in her innocence, her purity, her sweetness, and gentle reverence–stood before them, day after day, to answer subtle questions, face a casuistry which sought to entrap her into contradiction or confusion, or to wring from her a confession that she was no heaven-sent messenger, but was led away by her own imaginations and ambitions.
It was an ordeal which made even her devoutest adherents tremble; for we knew the astuteness of the churchmen, and how that they would seek to win admissions which they would pervert to their own uses afterwards. Yet we need not have feared; for the Maid’s simplicity and perfectly fearless faith in her mission carried her triumphant through all; or perhaps, indeed, her voices whispered to her what answers she should make, for some of them were remembered long, and evoked great wonder in the hearts of those who heard them.
One Dominican monk sought to perplex her by asking why, since God had willed that France should be delivered through her, she had need of armed men?
Full fearlessly and sweetly she looked at him as she made answer:
“It is my Lord’s will that I ask for soldiers, and that the Dauphin shall give me them. The men shall fight; it is God who gives the victory.”
Another rough questioner amongst her judges sought to confuse her by asking what language her voices spoke. They say that a flash flew from her eyes, though her sweet voice was as gentle as ever as she made answer:
“A better language than yours, my father.”
And again, when the same man sought to know more of her faith and her love of God, having shown himself very sceptical of her voices and visions, she answered him, with grave dignity and an earnest, steadfast gaze:
“I trow I have a better faith than yours, my father.”
And so, through all, her courage never failed, her faith never faltered, her hope shone undimmed.
“They must give me that which I ask; they cannot withstand God. They cannot hurt me. For this work was I born, and until it be accomplished I am safe. I have no fear.”
Only once did she show anger, and then it was with a quiet dignity of displeasure, far removed from petulance or impatience. They asked of her a sign that she was what she professed to be.
“I have not come to Poictiers to give a sign,” she answered, holding her head high, and looking fearlessly into the faces of those who sat to judge her. “Send me to Orleans, with as small a band as you will. But send me there, and you shall see signs and to spare that I come in the power of the King of Heaven.”
And so in the end her faith and courage triumphed. The verdict ran somewhat thus:
“We have found in her nothing but what is good. To deny or hinder her intentions to serve the King would be to show ourselves unworthy of the assistance of God.”
Yes, they had to come to it; and I trust that there were many sitting there whose hearts smote them for ever having doubted, or sought to baffle or entrap her. I cannot tell how far the judges were moved by the growing feeling in the town and throughout the district. But the people crowded to see the Maid pass by, and all were ready to fall at her feet and worship her. In the evenings they visited her at the house of Jean Ratabeau, the Advocate General, whose wife formed for her (as did every good and true woman with whom she came into contact during her life) an ardent admiration and affection.
And to their earnest questions she gave ready answer, sitting in the midst of an eager crowd, and telling them in her sweet and simple way the story of her life in Domremy, and how she had first heard these voices from Heaven, or seen wondrous visions of unspeakable glories; and how she had learnt, by slow degrees, that which her Lord had for her to do, and had lost, by little and little, the fear which first possessed her, till now she knew not of the name of the word. She had but to follow where her voices guided.
And the people believed in her, heart and soul. Her fame spread far and wide, and had she lifted but a finger, she might have been at the head of an armed band of citizens and soldiers, yea, and many gentlemen and knights as well, all vowed to live and die in her service. But this was not what was her destiny.
“I thank you, my friends,” she would say, if such a step were proposed by any ardent soul, impatient of this long delay; “but thus it may not be. My Lord has decreed that the Dauphin shall send me forth at the head of his armies, and with a troop of his soldiers; and he will do this ere long. Be not afraid. We must needs have patience, as did our Lord Himself, and be obedient, as He was. For only as we look to Him for grace and guidance can we hope to do His perfect will.”
Thus spoke the Maid, who, being without letters, and knowing, as she said, no prayers save the Pater Noster, Ave Maria, and Credo, yet could speak in such fashion to those who sought her. Was it wonder that the people believed in her? that they would have been ready to tear in pieces any who durst contemn her mission, or declare her possessed of evil spirits?
Yet I will not say that it was fear which possessed the hearts of her judges, and decided their ruling in this matter. I trow they could not look upon her, or hear her, without conviction of heart. Nevertheless it is possible that the respect for popular enthusiasm led them to speak in such high praise of the Maid, and to add that she was in the right in assuming the dress which she wore. For she had been sent to do man’s work, and for this a man’s garb was the only fitting one to wear. And this ruling was heard with great acclamation of satisfaction; for her dress had been almost more commented upon than any other matter by some, and that the Church had set its sanction upon that which common sense deemed most right and fitting, robbed the most doubtful of all scruple, and gave to the Maid herself no small pleasure.
“I do in this, as in all other things, that which I have been bidden,” she said. “But I would not willingly act unseemly in the eyes of good men and virtuous women; wherefore I am glad that my judges have spoken thus, and I thank them from my heart for their gentle treatment of me.”
It was ever thus with the Maid. No anger or impatience overset her sweet serenity and humility. She would not let herself take offence, or resent these ordeals to which, time after time, she was subjected. Nay, it was she who defended the proceedings when we attacked them, saying that it behoved men to act with care and caution in these great matters, and that her only trouble in the delay was the sufferings and sorrows of the poor beleaguered garrison and citizens in Orleans, to whose help and relief she longed to fly.
So certain was she that before long she would be upon her way, that at Poictiers she composed that letter to the English King, his Regent, and his Generals which has been so much talked of since. It was a truly wonderful document to be penned by a village maiden; for in it she adjured them to cease from warring with the rightful King of France, whom God would have to rule the realm for Him, to go back to their own country, leaving peace behind them instead of war, and imploring them then to join with the King of France in a crusade against the Saracens. She speaks of herself as one who has power to drive them from the kingdom if they will not go in peace as adjured. Calling herself throughout “The Maid,” she tells them plainly that they will not be able to stand against her; that she will come against them in the power of the King of Heaven, Who will give to her more strength than ever can be brought against her; and in particular she begs of them to retire from the city of Orleans; else, if they do not, they shall come to great misfortune there.
This letter took some time in the composition, and was written for her by Sir Guy de Laval, though we were all in her counsel as she dictated it.
By this I do not mean that we advised her. On the contrary, we gazed at her amazed, knowing how fruitless such an injunction must be to the haughty victorious nation, who had us, so to speak, in the dust at her feet. But the Maid saw with other eyes than ours.
“It may be that there will be some holy man of God in their camp to whom my Lord will reveal His will, as He hath done to me, and will show the things which must come to pass. I would so willingly spare all the bloodshed and misery which war will bring. It is so terrible a thing for Christian men to war one with another!”
So this letter, with its superscription “JHESUS MARIA,” was written and dispatched to the English, and the Maid turned her attention to other matters near her heart, such as the design and execution of those banners which were to be carried before her armies in battle, and lead them on to victory. And these same words, “Jhesus Maria," she decreed should appear upon each of the three standards, in token that she went not forth in her own strength, nor even in that of the King of France; but in the power which was from above, and in the strength given by those who sent her.
Now there came to Poictiers to see the Maid at this time many persons from other places, and amongst these was a Scotchman called Hauves Polnoir, who brought with him his daughter, a fair girl, between whom and the Maid a great love speedily sprang up. These Polnoirs were the most skilful workers in embroideries and such like of all the country round, and to them was entrusted the making of the three banners, according to the instructions of the Maid.
There was first the great white silken standard, with the golden fleur-de-lys of France, and a representation on the reverse of the Almighty God between two adoring angels; then a smaller banner, with a device representing the Annunciation, which she always gave to one of her immediate attendants or squires to carry into battle; and for herself she had a little triangular banneret of white, with an image of the Crucified Christ upon it, and this she carried herself, and it was destined to be the rallying point of innumerable engagements, for the sight of that little fluttering pennon showed the soldiers where the Maid was leading them, and though this was in the thickest and sorest of the strife, they would press towards it with shouts of joy and triumph, knowing that, where the Maid led, there victory was won.
All these matters were arranged whilst we were kept in waiting at Poictiers; and the Polnoirs returned to Tours to execute the orders there in their own workshop. The Maid promised to visit them on her way from Chinon to Orleans, and so bid them a kindly farewell. Perhaps I may here add that when the Dauphin, upon his coronation, insisted upon presenting the Maid with a sum of money, the use she made of it, after offering at various shrines, was to provide a marriage dowry for Janet Polnoir. Never did she think of herself; never did she desire this world’s goods.
This was shown very plainly upon her triumphant return to Chinon, with the blessing and sanction of the Church upon her mission, with the enthusiasm of the people growing and increasing every day, and her fame flying throughout the length and breadth of the realm. By this time the King and all his Court knew that a deliverer had been raised up in our midst, and instead of lowly lodgings being allotted to the Maid and her train, the whole Tower of Coudray was set apart for the use of herself and her suite. The custodian De Belier and his wife had charge of her, and to her were now appointed a staff, of which the brave Jean d’Aulon was the chief, and to which Bertrand and Sir Guy de Laval and myself belonged, together with many more knights and gentlemen, all anxious to do service under her banner. Also she had in her train some persons of lowlier degree, such as her brothers, for whom she always had tender care, and who believed devoutly in her mission, although they saw of necessity less and less of one another as the Maid’s mission progressed, and took her into a different world.
But all this grandeur was no delight to her, save inasmuch as it showed that at last her mission was recognised and honoured. When asked what she would have for herself in the matter of dress and armour, her answer was that she had already all she required, although she only possessed at this time one suit more than she had started forth with from Vaucouleurs. Although she saw the courtiers fluttering about like butterflies, and noted how men, as well as women, decked themselves in choice stuffs and flashing jewels, she asked none of these things for herself; and when the Queen of Sicily, always her best and kindest friend, sent to her some clothing of her own designing–all white, and beautifully worked, some with silver, and some with gold thread and cord, and a mantle of white velvet, lined with cloth of silver–she looked at the beautiful garments with something between a smile and a sigh; then turning towards the great lady who stood by to watch her, she first kissed her hand, and then, with a sudden impulse of affection, put her arms about her neck, and was drawn into a close embrace.
“Are you not pleased with them, my child?” spoke Queen Yolande gently; “they would have decked you in all the colours of the rainbow, and made you to blaze with jewels; but I would not have it The Virgin Maid, I told them, should be clad all in white, and my word prevailed, and thus you see your snowy raiment. I had thought you would be pleased with it, ma mie.”
“Madame, it is beautiful; I have never dreamed of such. It is too fine, too costly for such as I. I am but a peasant maid–”
“You are the chosen of the King of Heaven, my child. You must think also of that. You are now the leader of the King’s armies. You have to do honour alike to a Heavenly and an earthly Monarch; and shall we let our champion go forth without such raiment as is fitting to her mission?”
Then the Maid bent her head, and answered with sweet gladness:
“If it is thus that the world regards me, I will wear these trappings with a glad and thankful heart; for in sooth I would seek to do honour to His Majesty. As for my Lord in the Heavens, I trow that He doth look beneath such matters of gay adornment; yet even so, I would have His mission honoured in the sight of all men, and His messenger fitly arrayed.”
So the Maid put on her spotless apparel, and looked more than ever like a youthful warrior, going forth with stainless shield, in the quest of chivalrous adventure. The whole Court was entranced by her beauty, her lofty dignity, her strange air of aloofness from the world, which made her move amongst them as a thing apart, and seemed to set a seal upon her every word and act.
When she spoke of the coming strife, and her plans for the relief of the beleaguered city, her eyes would shine, a ringing note of authority would be heard in her voice, she would fearlessly enter into debate with the King and his Ministers, and tell them that which she was resolved to do, whether they counselled it or no. At such moments she appeared gifted with a power impossible rightly to describe. Without setting herself up in haughtiness, she yet overbore all opposition by her serene composure and calm serenity in the result. Men of war said that she spoke like a soldier and a strategist; they listened to her in amaze, and wondered what the great La Hire would say when he should arrive, to find that a country maiden had been set over his head.
In other matters, too, the Maid knew her mind, and spoke it with calm decision. The Queen of Sicily had not been content with ordering the Maid’s dress alone, she had also given orders to the first armourer in Tours to fashion her a suit of light armour for the coming strife. This armour was of white metal, and richly inlaid with silver, so that when the sun glinted upon it, it shone with a dazzling white radiance, almost blinding to behold. The King, also, resolved to do his share, had ordered for her a light sword, with a blade of Toledo steel; but though the Maid gratefully accepted the gift of the white armour, and appeared before all the Court attired therein, and with her headpiece, with its floating white plumes crowning it all, yet, as she made her reverence before the King, she gently put aside his gift of the sword.
“Gentle Dauphin,” she said, “I thank you from my heart; but for me there is another sword which I must needs carry with me into battle; and I pray you give me leave to send and fetch it from where it lies unknown and forgotten.”
“Why, Maiden, of what speak you?” he answered; “is not this jewelled weapon good enough? You will find its temper of the best. I know not where you will find a better!”
“No better a sword, Sire,” she answered; “and yet the one which I must use; for so it hath been told me of my Lord. In the church of Fierbois, six leagues from hence, beneath the high altar, there lies a sword, and this sword must I use. Suffer me, I pray you, to send and fetch it thence. Then shall I be ready and equipped to sally forth against the foes of my country.”
“But who has told you of this sword, my maiden?”
“My Lord did tell me of it, as I knelt before the altar, ere I came to Chinon. It is in the church of St. Catherine; and suffer only my good knight, Jean de Metz, to go and make search for it, and he will surely bring it hither to me.”
Now I did well remember how, as we knelt in the church at Fierbois in the dimness of the early morn, the Maid had received some message, unheard by those beside her; and gladly did I set forth upon mine errand to seek and bring to her this sword.
When I reached Fierbois, which was in the forenoon of the day following, the good priests of the church knew nothing of any such sword; but the fame of the Maid having reached their ears, they were proud and glad that their church of St. Catherine should be honoured thus, and calling together some workmen, they made careful search, and sure enough, before we had dug deep, the spade struck and clinked against metal, and forth from beneath the altar we drew a sword, once a strong and well-tempered weapon, doubtless, but now covered with rust, so that the good priests looked askance at it, and begged to have it to cleanse and polish.
It was then too late for my return the same day, so I left it to them, and lodged me in the town, where all the people flocked to hear news of the Maid and of the coming campaign.
Then in the morning, with the first of the light, the sword was brought to me; and surely many persons in Fierbois must have sat up all the night, for every speck of rust had been cleansed away, and a velvet scabbard made or found for the weapon, which the priests begged of me to take with it to the Maid as their gift, and with their benediction upon it and her.
My return was awaited with some stir of interest, and before I had well dismounted I was hurried, all travel stained as I was, into the presence of the King. There was the Maid waiting also, calm and serene, and when she saw the thing which I carried in my hands, her face lighted; she took several steps forward, and bent her knee as she reverently took the sword, as though she received it from some Higher Power.
“It was even as she said?” questioned the King, quickly.
“Even so, Sire; the sword of which no man knew aught, was lying buried beneath the high altar of St. Catherine’s Church, in Fierbois.”
A murmur of surprise and gratification ran through the assembly. But there was no surprise upon the Maid’s face.
“Did you doubt, Sire?” she asked, and he could not meet the glance of her clear eyes.