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The Reign of Henry VI page 7

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Meantime she was too indispensable to the completion of the conquest of France. Charles resolutely refused to listen to her tears and prayers to be permitted to withdraw. But from that hour the maid was no longer the same. The spirit had departed from her. The voices ceased, and the clear, bold, and unerring judgment which had borne her on was gone. She was dejected, and full of distress. When importuned to direct what should next be done, she was uncertain and confused, which she never had been before. Acting now on her own suggestions, she ordered, doubted her orders, and retracted them. Again and again she declared, with tears and violent emotion, that she had nothing more to do, her work was finished, and she prayed for her dismissal. The officers did not neglect to make their advantage out of this. They treated her with harshness and undisguised insult. They encouraged the soldiers to call her foul names, and they did not hesitate to make the most infamous attempts on her honour, in order to ruin her influence for ever. These attempts Joan repelled with the fury of a woman who felt that she had deserved far different treatment. In all her camp life she had invariably kept female companions of the strictest character about her. She always had a female friend to share her bed; if during assaults that was impossible, she lay down in her complete armour. So jealous was she of her reputation, so inviolable in her adherence to her vow of chastity.

Sad and woeful was now the condition of the maid who had done such wonders for France. Bedford was exerting himself to the utmost to check this unexampled progress of the French. Cardinal Beaufort came over with 2,000 archers and 250 men-at-arms. Every means was used to fix the alliance of the wavering Burgundy, who, however, gave no essential assistance. He had withdrawn his garrisons from Normandy, and the constable had seized them. Bedford was compelled to march himself from Paris to recover them; and the maid, who had hung up her arms in the Church of St. Denis, at Rheims, as the sign that her mission was over, was induced by the king to assume them again. Once in her old panoply, her courage, if not her confidence, seemed to revive. She advised the monarch to march on Paris while Bedford was absent. She led the way, and Soissons, Senlis, Beauvais, and St. Denis opened their gates. At the assault on the Faubourg St. Honore, Joan was again wounded, and left in the ditch for hours. Charles, mortified at the repulse, retired in dudgeon to Bourges; and Joan, again hanging up her armour, implored her dismissal. Charles refused, and endeavoured to fix her in his interest by granting her a patent of nobility, with an income equal to that of an earl, and freed her native parish of Domremy from all taxation for ever. The unhappy maid went on; but her voices were gone, and she was no longer a safe oracle. During the winter, indeed, Friar Richard had brought forward his rival prophetess - one Catherine of Rochelle - who undertook, not to fight, but to raise money for the king, by preaching to the populace and revealing hidden treasures. Joan refused any connection with her, declaring that success lay at the point of the lance.

In May, 1430, Joan was sent to raise the siege of Compeigne, which was invested by the Duke of Burgundy. She fought her way into the city with her accustomed valour, but, in making a sortie, was deserted by her followers, and bravely fighting her way back to the city, just as she approached the gates, she was dragged from her horse by an archer, and, as she lay on the ground, she surrendered to the Bastard of Vendome.

The news of the capture of the terrible maid flow like lightning through the Burgundian camp. All the officers of the army ran to gaze at her, the duke himself amongst them. Monstrelet, the historian, who recounts these transactions, was present on the occasion.

And now came the dark termination to this brilliant and wonderful episode in the history of these wars of France - even that which Joan herself had foretold. The base King of France, for whom she had wrought such incredible advantages, abandoned her to the tender mercies of her enemies without an effort. When the news reached the English quarters, they sang Te Deum in their exultation. Their joy we can conceive, but it is difficult in these times to comprehend the savage and ungenerous vengeance of all parties, which simultaneously displayed itself against the noble heroine. It might have been supposed that the admiration of a brave foe would have been felt in the bosoms of brave warriors; and, above all, that a young and pure woman, who had achieved such unexampled deeds, would, at least, have met with respect. But to comprehend the feelings with which the captive damsel was regarded on all hands, we must descend into the gloom of a dark and bitter age - an age when the moral standard was sunk to the lowest degree by a long course of unparalleled vices, atrocities, and meannesses. England had been cut short at the very moment of her apparent attainment of her long-cherished views in France. Her proudest nobles and generals had been defeated by a simple shepherdess; the Church had been equally shorn of its proud assumptions; for Joan had avowedly not gone to bishops, but to God. Army, Church, and State were all, therefore, on flame to wreak their vengeance on this poor, unfortunate little maiden.

The Pope Martin demanded her that he might consign her to the benign offices of the Holy Inquisition. But the Bastard of Vendome had sold his captive to John of Luxembourg, and he sold her to the English for 10,000 francs. During the winter she lay in prison, her friends seeming wholly to have forgotten her, and her enemies on every side ravening for her destruction. It might have been thought that she had been guilty of some enormous crime, instead of the salvation of her country. There was one general cry for her being burnt as a witch; and so fierce was the popular feeling in Paris against her, that a poor woman was actually burnt for merely saying that she believed Joan had been sent by Heaven. She was carried from one dungeon to another, to Beaurevoir, to Arras, to Crotoy, and, finally, to Rouen. There the Bishop of Beauvais, a man devoted to the English interests, claimed to conduct her trial. He was a servile tool of Bedford, through him hoping for preferment; and Bedford had long declared that Joan was "a disciple and limb of the fiend;" and, therefore, the result was quite certain. Her trial was opened on the 13th of February, 1431.

On sixteen different days Joan was brought before the court, and interrogated with all the subtlety of the most celebrated priests, doctors, and lawyers that could be found. There were upwards of a hundred of these grave learned men arrayed against this simple girl. They tried every means of entrapping her into admissions of the evil agency of her spiritual prompters; but the noble damsel remained calm, clear, and undaunted in her demeanour. It was in vain that they sought to induce her to confess that she had been misled or mistaken: she adhered throughout to her one simple story; maintained her firm opinion that it was God, and God only, who had directed her; and often puzzled and confounded her judges. When they interrogated her as to her attachment to the Church, she reminded them of her constant resort to its altars and services; but she made the fatal confession that when her voices gave different advice she followed them, as of higher authority than the Church.

The court condemned her as an impious heretic and impostor; and the Parliament of Paris and the university, resides various eminent prelates who were consulted, confirmed the justice of the sentence.

The treatment of poor Joan in prison was still more infamous than in open court. When condemned as a heretic to be burned, her cell was haunted by monks and confessors, who described her death to her in the most terrible language, and wearied her with entreaties to confess and escape so frightful a death. A woman's fears at length got the better of her: she consented, and was brought out publicly in the cemetery of St. Ouen, where a friar addressed her before the assembled English and Burgundians, and the crowded citizens of Rouen, describing the enormity of her crimes, and the infamy of her conduct as a woman. Joan bore all this in patience; but when he proceeded to defame the king, her loyalty broke out, and she warmly defended him. Her punishment was commuted to perpetual imprisonment, and to be fed "on the bread of sorrow and the water of affliction."

But this did not satisfy the vengeful longings of he* enemies. To her mitigated sentence was attached an oath which she swore, never, on penalty of death, again to assume male attire. This was made a snare for her. During sleep her own garments were taken away, and those of a man put in their place. On awaking, she put on a portion of the only attire left her, and no sooner was that the case, than her guards, who were on the watch, rushed in, and conducted her, thus arrayed, to the officers. On this forced breach of her oath, judgment of death by fire, as a relapsed heretic, was at once pronounced; and on the 30th of May she was brought to the stake in the little market-place, since called the Place de la Pucelle, in memory of her.

When she had been conducted back to her cell, after her second condemnation, she confessed her guilt to God in that she had been weak enough to deny the power by which he had led her to do his will for France. Her "voices" came back to her; she was filled with new courage, and with beautiful visions. When she was brought out, and saw the horrible apparatus of death, her fortitude failed her, and she was led, struggling and sobbing, to the stake. When she saw the fire kindled, she grasped a crucifix, with which she was furnished, convulsively, and called loudly on the Almighty for support, and she was thus seen, when the dense smoke enveloped her, praying fervently to Christ for mercy. Even the austere Cardinal Beaufort, who was present, seated in a gallery opposite, could not bear the scene, but rose hastily and rushed away, with his attendant bishops, in tears.

Thus perished the most pure, noble, and remarkable heroine in history, for the crime of saving her country, when little more than twenty years of age. Numbers of her companions, of all ranks, were living when her history was written, who all united in testimony to the purity of her life and the wonder of her deeds. Her ashes were scattered on the Seine; but twenty-five years later, the infamous judgment which had been passed upon her was reversed by the Archbishop of Rheims and the Bishop of Paris. Montaigne saw the house where she was born in 1580, the whole of its front emblazoned with paintings of her history. After the Revolution it was converted into a stable. The infamy of her death rests with imperishable blackness upon all parties who permitted or perpetrated it - French, English, and Burgundians. The very historians who deny her mission are so impressed by her greatness, that they declare that antiquity would have erected altars and statues to her.

To the English the death of Joan of Arc brought no remission of the Divine fiat gone out against them. Their fortunes continued to decline, their friends to fall away. The great work which at that period was required in France, and which the mission of Joan was no doubt intended to effect, was to renew the spirit of the nation; to break the crushing spell of inferiority to the enemy, which acted like a nightmare on the people; and, above all, to inspire a respect for purity of morals and probity of principle. The condition of society for the last century had been corrupt and demoralised beyond example. The beautiful example of the steadfast faith and moral purity, the undaunted courage and prompt action of this extraordinary young woman, was a great lesson to the nation of what it needed, and what it might attain. The moral tuition was the most difficult, but the revelation made by her bravery was not lost. The French saw that the English were vulnerable; that, however wise and able was the regent, he had not the authority, even if he had the genius, of the late king. At home were the impetuous Gloucester and the ambitious Beaufort, paralysing his proceedings and disuniting the nation. The new soul which Joan of Arc had awakened in France was soon visible enough in its effects, and, aided by the growing embarrassments in England, never ceased till it had done what Joan predicted - driven the English entirely out of France.

The ceremony of the coronation of Charles VII. at Rheims appearing to give him a more confirmed title to the crown of France in the eyes of the people, Bedford resolved to crown Henry of England also there. Henry tvas now in his tenth year, a boy amiable but weakly, both in body and mind. He had received the royal unction in "Westminster; and from that moment the title of protector was dropped, and that of prime counsellor only given to Gloucester. Both France and England had at this period so completely exhausted themselves by their wars, that it was six months before money could be raised sufficient to defray the expenses of Henry's coronation journey. It was then procured by loan. Gloucester was appointed the king's lieutenant during his absence; and Beaufort, Cardinal of Winchester, accompanied him. Henry proceeded to Rouen; but the boast of Bedford that he would crown him in Rheims appeared every day farther from any prospect of accomplishment; and, after eighteen months' abode of the king at Rouen, it was resolved to crown him in Paris. From Pontoise to Paris the youthful king, accompanied by the principal English nobles and 3,000 horse, advanced in state; and great processions of the clergy, the members of Parliament, the magistrates, and citizens came out to meet him. Triumphal arches were erected, and various devices were exhibited, mysteries enacted, and a show of festivity presented; but the whole was hollow. There was no real joy on such a ceremony, which, to the Parisians, was but a mark of subjugation to a foreign yoke. The whole aspect of the affair was English, not French. The Cardinal of "Winchester, an English prelate, performed the ceremony; the great officers of state surrounding the throne were English. Not a single prince or peer of France condescended to attend on the occasion - not even Burgundy, the ally of the young monarch. When crowned, there was no loyal desire to retain the monarch amongst them. Henry was evidently not at home there, and, in a few days, went back to Rouen, where he resided a year, and, after a visit to Calais, returned to London.

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