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The Reign of Henry VI page 6

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The famishing people of Orleans received Joan of Arc with enthusiastic acclamations and blazing torches. They believed that deliverance was come to them from Heaven, and they were right. A splendid banquet was offered to Joan, but she declined it, retiring to the house of Bouchier, the treasurer to the Duke of Orleans, where she supped, simply on bread dipped in wine; and there she. remained during her stay in Orleans, keeping the wife and daughter of Bouchier constantly about her, to prevent any aspersions on her fair fame.

The strangest terror fell over the English soldiers. They had heard of nothing for two months but the coming of this maid, who had written to their commanders, telling them she was ordained by God to drive them out of France. The French had proclaimed her as sent by Heaven; the English officers, with curses, had sworn that she came from the devil. This, which they thought would completely destroy her with the soldiers, was the very thing which fixed her power over them. They would probably have cared nothing for her professed divine mission; but they at once gave credit to her alliance with Satan, and declared that flesh and blood they did not fear, but they were no match for the arch-fiend. In vain the commanders, who saw their error, endeavoured to remove this impression by representing Joan as a low-born, ignorant wench, and no better than she should be, who was got up by the French to frighten them: the mischief was done; in their eyes Joan was a witch of the first order, and wherever she appeared the soldiers fled. The subjects of Burgundy, who was himself no longer cordial in the cause, stole away from the camp on all sides; and the numbers necessary for the blockade of the town became deficient. The French now went in and out with impunity. A large store of provisions had arrived at Blois, which Charles constituted a depot for the supply of Orleans. Joan marched out at the head of a very strong body, attended by the Bastard of Orleans, the Sieur Daulon, La Hire, and other generals. Her banner of white silk, bordered with fleur-de-lis of silver, and on one side bearing an image of the Almighty, on the other the words "Jhesus Maria," was borne before her. After came a body of priests bearing another banner, and chanting their anthems; and in this manner, glittering in her bright armour, and mounted on her milk-white steed, the maid rode forth in the very face of the English, who lay still, as if stricken into stone. Thus she went to Blois, and returned with fresh troops and means of defence.

Joan now mounted a tower opposite to the Tournelles, and called to the English, bidding them begone from France, or worse would befall them. Sir William Gladisdale replied from the Tournelles, abusing her for a witch and an abandoned woman, bidding her go back to her cows. "Base knight!" said Joan, "thou thyself shalt never pass hence, but shalt surely be slain." She now commanded a general assault on the bastiles; but the generals, who were becoming jealous of Joan's fame, resolved to try their fortune without her. They told her they would commence the attack the next day, and Joan retired to lie down and take some repose. Soon she started up, and called for her arms, saying the voices summoned her to fight, and rushing forth she met the soldiers returning from a sortie, which had been made without her knowledge, and in which the French were repulsed with slaughter.

Joan was greatly enraged, and now led on the forces herself. Successively the bastiles of St. Loup, St. Jean le Blanc, and Augustus fell before her. The attack was then led against the main fortress, the Tournelles. Joan led the way, severely reprimanding Gaucourt, the governor of the city, for his disobedience to her orders, and threatening to put him or any one to death who opposed her. The people and soldiers, who worshipped her, and whom she would not allow to follow her unless they had confessed and observed due decorum, stood to a man in her support, and she led the way to the Tournelles, sword in hand. Three times the French attacked the tower with all their force and engines, but the English this time defended themselves manfully, and with their artillery and arrows mowed down the French, clearing the bridge and river bank of them. Nothing daunted by the terrible carnage, and declaring that the English were given by God into the hands of the French, Joan seized a scaling-ladder, and, amid a hail of shot and flying shafts, advanced to the foot of the tower, planted her ladder, and began to ascend. An arrow struck her, piercing her armour between the chest and shoulder, and she fell into the ditch. The English gave a great shout at the sight, and Joan, supposed to be dead, was borne away into the rear. Finding that the maid was alive, the arrow was extracted, and, feeling all the weakness of the woman during the operation, Joan cried in agony; but, once over, she fell on her knees in prayer, and rose up as if wholly refreshed, declaring it was not blood but glory that flowed from her wound, and that the voices called her to finish her victory. The combat re-commenced with augmented fury; the English, confounded at the reappearance of the maid, gave way, and Gladisdale and all his knights were put to the sword, as Joan had predicted.

That night Suffolk held a council of war, and such appeared the discouragement of his troops, that it was resolved to abandon the siege and man all the fortresses along the river. Accordingly, the next day he drew out all his forces, and placed them in battle array. Determining to make a show of resistance while in the very act of drawing off, he sent a challenge into the city, bidding the French, now so much superior in numbers as they were, to come "with their Joan, and, were she harlot, witch, or prophetess, they would fight her in a fair field. It was Sunday; Joan forbade the French to quit the city, but to spend the day in worshipping God, who had given them the victory. Suffolk waited for some hours in vain, when he gave the concerted signal, and all the long line of forts, the creation of such months of labour, burst into flames, and the soldiers, dejected and crestfallen, marched away. Joan forbade any pursuit that day.

Thus the first of the two great things which Joan had promised was accomplished - the siege of Orleans was raised; and the maid, now honoured with the title of the Maid of Orleans, rode forth to meet the king at Blois. As she advanced through the country, the peasantry flocked on all sides to behold her, and crowded forward to touch her feet, her very garments, and, if unable to do that, were happy to touch her horse. By the court she was received with great honour, and the king proposed to entertain her with a magnificent banquet. But Joan told him that it was no time for feasting and dancing; she had much yet to do for France, and but little time to do it in, for her voices told her that she should die within two years. She called on Charles now to advance with her to Rheims, where she must crown him, and leave the English and Burgundians, who were safe in the hand of God.

Charles put himself at the head of his forces, and collected all his power on the banks of the Loire. He proposed, however, first to clear the enemy from their strongholds, and afterwards to march to Rheims. His army, led on by the maid, invested the town of Jargeau, where Suffolk, the commander-in-chief, lay, and within ten days the place was carried by storm, and Suffolk himself taken prisoner. In this triumphant action Joan, as usual, led the way. She was the first to scale the wall of the city; but on her head appearing above it she received a blow which precipitated her into the ditch. She was severely bruised, but not killed; and as she lay on the ground, unable to raise herself, she cried, "Forward, countrymen! fear nothing; the Lord has delivered them into our hands." The soldiers, fired to enthusiasm by her heroism and her confident words, rushed on and took the place. Three hundred of the garrison lay dead. Six thousand of the English had fallen at Orleans, and a panic seized them everywhere. The Lord Talbot, who was now left in command, hastily evacuated the different ports and towns, and retreated towards Paris.

At Patay he was met by a reinforcement of 4,000 men, and made a stand. Sir John Fastolfe, who had brought these troops, advised further retreat, but Talbot refused. While the commanders debated the point, the French were upon them; and Talbot, who saw himself on a flat, open country, endeavoured, but too late, to secure his rear by a village and fenced enclosures. On the other side, the French commanders, dreading an attack of the English in the open field, remembering Azincourt and Verneuil, advised waiting for additional cavalry, but Joan indignantly exclaimed, "Have you not good spears? Ride on, in the name of the Lord; the English are delivered into my hands - you have only to smite them!" So saying, she led the way in charge, and the men clamoured to follow. La Hire and Saintrailles dashed on with the maid, and broke into the very midst of the English before they had time to form. Never, for many a day, had the French beheld such a sight. The archers, those terrible men, who on all occasions had mowed them down like corn before the scythe, had not time now to fix their stakes. They were driven pell-mell amongst the horse; all was confusion. Sir John Fastolfe, without striking a blow, led off his division; and the brave Talbot, fighting amid heaps of his slain soldiers, was taken, with the Lords Scales and Hungerford, and the bulk of the officers. Twelve hundred of the English lay dead on the field. The French were in ecstasies at their wonderful success, and Bedford, enraged at the conduct of Fastolfe, stripped him of the honour of the garter, and pronounced him disgraced and degraded. But Fastolfe, who had shown on too many occasions his valour, and who was probably influenced by his prudent counsel having been rejected by Suffolk, declared that to have led men so thoroughly bewitched as his were, by their fears of the maid, into action, was just to submit them to infamy and butchery; and Bedford, growing cooler, forgave him.

In this moment of victory Joan again urged on Charles to march to Rheims, and be crowned. At this the contemptible king, who on all occasions of danger kept aloof, shrank back. The distance was great, the whole way was full of strong towns in the hands of the English and Burgundians. All his officers supported him in this view, but the undaunted maid upbraided them with their want of faith, after so many wondrous proofs of the truth of her promises. They had never dared to think of relieving Orleans till she recommended it, but they had now done it; they had feared to fight at Patay, but they had followed her and won the battle; and now they had only to advance, for the powers of Heaven went before them, and unmanned their enemies.

She strove wisely to reconcile Charles to the Constable, the Count of Richemont, whom Tremoille, the king's favourite, hated and feared; but in vain. Not only Richemont with his troops, but many other knights, were refused attendance in the court, and with these diminished forces Charles set forward on the road to Rheims. But everywhere the fortified towns fell before them. Auxerre made a treaty of submission, but Troyes for a time held out. As the soldiers suffered greatly in the siege for want of provisions, they began to lose faith in Joan, and openly to insult her as a foul witch. The murmurs of the base soldiery were quickly seized upon by the Archbishop of Rheims, who had always expressed his disbelief in Joan's inspiration, and the poor maid was summoned before the council, and interrogated like a criminal. But with a simple and undaunted eloquence she made the leaders feel ashamed of their doubts. She challenged them to follow her to the walls, and see them surmounted, and she prevailed. With bags of earth and fagots the soldiers filled up the ditch, and were preparing with scaling-ladders to pour over the walls in a frenzy of enthusiasm, when a parley was demanded by the besieged, and the notorious Friar Richard, who figured so much in the camp from this time, made terms of surrender. As Joan was in the act of passing the city gate at the head of the troops, the friar, still believing that he had to do with an imp of Satan, crossed himself in great agitation with many crosses, and sprinkled holy water on the threshold of the gate. Instead of seeing the maid resolve herself into a hideous demon and vanish away, or find herself unable to cross the threshold, he beheld her march on calm and unmoved; and at once he pronounced her an angel, and all the people flocked round with admiring wonder. From that hour Friar Richard became a zealous ally of the king, though often relapsing into doubt of the maid and into bigoted opposition to her. He now, however, went on preaching to the people of the neighbouring towns to rise in defence of the king, and drive out the Burgundians. Chalons sent Charles the keys of the town, and on arriving at Rheims, he found that the people had risen at the approach of the celestial maid, had driven out the adherents of Bedford and Burgundy, and received him with open arms. A grand procession of priests waited to accompany the king and the maid into the city, and on the 15th of July, 1429, Charles and Joan, attended by all the chief officers, marched into the city, preceded by the banners of the Church, and amid the sound of its hymns. Two days after this, Charles VII. was crowned in the cathedral, as the maid had promised him.,,

Not one of the peers of France was present, for the pusillanimous conduct of the king, and the shameless reign of the favourite Tremoille, had disgusted them; but the people flocked round in joy, and anticipation of better days. They had unbounded faith in the maid, and wherever she appeared, it was said, they saw hosts of beautiful white butterflies hovering around her standard, and they knelt in devout awe of the sacred words and devices painted upon it. With that banner in her hand, Joan stood beside the king, while the archbishop placed the crown upon his head. When that was done she prostrated herself at his feet, embraced them with tears, and reminded him that there and then her mission was terminated. All that she had promised in the name of God, God had performed; her work, she declared, was done, and she implored permission to retire at once to her father's house, and her old way of life.

But in entering on so stupendous a mission as the salvation of the nation, an humble village girl like Joan had inevitably entered on the field of martyrdom. No person, however dignified by station or by talents, could, on the ground of a divine ordination, have long - however complete her success - stood safe amid the jealousies of courts and the meaner passions of human nature. From such a career there could be no retreat but through death. The same voices which she invariably avowed had called her to the enterprise, had pronounced her early doom. The enthusiasm of the multitude is short-lived; the envy and the hatred of the military chiefs, scarcely suppressed during the hour of triumph, were eternal in their nature. Before the victorious maid all their honours had been prostrated in the dust. In a few short months she had done what all their united talents and exertions had failed to do in a generation. She had snatched the prestige of invincibility from the English, and raised the spirit of France. That must be inevitably avenged.

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