The Life of Joan of Arc By Anatole France VOLUME 1 CHAPTER 4
THE JOURNEY TO NANCY—THE ITINERARY OF VAUCOULEURS— TO SAINTE-CATHERINE-DE-FIERBOIS
BY giving his eldest daughter, Isabelle, the heiress of Lorraine, in marriage to René, the second son of Madame Yolande, Queen of Sicily and of Jerusalem, and Duchess of Anjou, Duke Charles II of Lorraine, who was in alliance with the English, had recently done his cousin and friend, the Duke of Burgundy, a bad turn. René of Anjou, now in his twentieth year, was a man of culture as much in love with sound learning as with chivalry, and withal kind, affable, and gracious. When not engaged in some military expedition and in wielding the lance he delighted to illuminate manuscripts. He had a taste for flower-decked gardens and stories in tapestry; and like his fair cousin the Duke of Orléans he wrote poems in French.Invested with the duchy of Bar by the Cardinal Duke[Pg i.92] of Bar, his great-uncle, he would inherit the duchy of Lorraine after the death of Duke Charles which could not be far off. This marriage was rightly regarded as a clever stroke on the part of Madame Yolande. But he who reigns must fight. The Duke of Burgundy, ill content to see a prince of the house of Anjou, the brother-in-law of Charles of Valois, established between Burgundy and Flanders, stirred up against René the Count of Vaudémont, who was a claimant of the inheritance of Lorraine. The Angevin policy rendered a reconciliation between the Duke of Burgundy and the King of France difficult. Thus was René of Anjou involved in the quarrels of his father-in-law of Lorraine. It befell that in this year, 1429, he was waging war against the citizens of Metz, the War of the Basketful of Apples. It was so called because the cause of war was a basketful of apples which had been brought into the town of Metz without paying duty to the officers of the Duke of Lorraine.
Meanwhile René's mother was sending convoys of victuals from Blois to the citizens of Orléans, besieged by the English. Although she was not then on good terms with the counsellors of her son-in-law, King Charles, she was vigilant in opposing the enemies of the kingdom when they threatened her own duchy of Anjou. René, Duke of Bar, had therefore ties of kindred, friendship, and interest binding him at the same time to the English and Burgundian party as well as to the party of France. Such was the situation of most of the French nobles. René's communications with the[Pg i.93] Commander of Vaucouleurs were friendly and constant. It is possible that Sire Robert may have told him that he had a damsel at Vaucouleurs who was prophesying concerning the realm of France. It is possible that the Duke of Bar, curious to see her, may have had her sent to Nancy, where he was to be towards the 20th of February. But it is much more likely that René of Anjou thought less about the Maid of Vaucouleurs, whom he had never seen, than about the little Moor and the jester who enlivened the ducal palace. In this month of February, 1429, he was neither desirous nor able to concern himself greatly with the affairs of France; and although brother-in-law to King Charles, he was preparing not to succour the town of Orléans, but to besiege the town of Metz.
Old and ill, Duke Charles dwelt in his palace with his paramour Alison du Mai, a bastard and a priest's daughter, who had driven out the lawful wife, Dame Marguerite of Bavaria. Dame Marguerite was pious and high-born, but old and ugly, while Madame Alison was pretty. She had borne Duke Charles several children.
The following story appears the most authentic. There were certain worthy persons at Nancy who[Pg i.94]wanted Duke Charles to take back his good wife. To persuade him to do so they had recourse to the exhortations of a saint, who had revelations from Heaven, and who called herself the Daughter of God. By these persons the damsel of Domremy was represented to the enfeebled old Duke as being a saint who worked miracles of healing. By their advice he had her summoned in the hope that she possessed secrets which should alleviate his sufferings and keep him alive.
As soon as he saw her he asked whether she could not restore him to his former health and strength.
She replied that "of such things" she knew nothing. But she warned him that his ways were evil, and that he would not be cured until he had amended them. She enjoined upon him to send away Alison, his concubine, and to take back his good wife.
No doubt she had been told to say something of this kind; but it also came from her own heart, for she loathed bad women.
Jeanne had come to the Duke because it was his due, because a little saint must not refuse when a great lord wishes to consult her, and because in short she had been brought to Nancy. But her mind was elsewhere; of nought could she think but of saving the realm of France.
Reflecting that Madame Yolande's son with a goodly company of men-at-arms would be of great aid to the Dauphin, she asked the Duke of Lorraine, as she took her leave, to send this young knight with her into France.
"Give me your son," she said, "with men-at-arms[Pg i.95] as my escort. In return I will pray to God for your restoration to health."
The Duke did not give her men-at-arms; neither did he give her the Duke of Bar, the heir of Lorraine, the ally of the English, who was nevertheless to join her soon beneath the standard of King Charles. But he gave her four francs and a black horse.
Perhaps it was on her return from Nancy that she wrote to her parents asking their pardon for having left them. The fact that they received a letter and forgave is all that is known. One cannot forbear surprise that Jacques d'Arc, all through the month that his daughter was at Vaucouleurs, should have remained quietly at home, when previously, after having merely dreamed of her being with men-at-arms, he had threatened that if his sons did not drown her he would with his own hands. For he must have been aware that at Vaucouleurs she was living with men-at-arms. Knowing her temperament, he had displayed great simplicity in letting her go. One cannot help supposing that those pious persons who believed in Jeanne's goodness, and desired her to be taken into France for the saving of the kingdom, must have undertaken to reassure her father and mother concerning their daughter's manner of life; perhaps they even gave the simple folk to understand that if Jeanne did go to the King her family would derive therefrom honour and advantage.
Before or after her journey to Nancy (which is not known), certain of the townsfolk of Vaucouleurs who believed in the young prophetess either had made, or purchased for her ready made, a suit of masculine[Pg i.96] clothing, a jerkin, cloth doublet, hose laced on to the coat, gaiters, spurs, a whole equipment of war. Sire Robert gave her a sword.
She had her hair cut round like a boy. Jean de Metz and Bertrand de Poulengy, with their servants Jean de Honecourt and Julien, were to accompany her as well as the King's messenger, Colet de Vienne, and the bowman Richard. There was still some delay and councils were held, for the soldiers of Antoine de Lorraine, Lord of Joinville, infested the country. Throughout the land there was nothing but pillage, robbery, murder, cruel tyranny, the ravishing of women, the burning of churches and abbeys, and the perpetration of horrible crimes. Those were the hardest times ever known to man. But the damsel was not afraid, and said: "In God's name! take me to the gentle Dauphin, and fear not any trouble or hindrance we may meet."
At length, on a day in February, so it is said, the little company issued forth from Vaucouleurs by La Porte de France.
A few friends who had followed her so far watched her go. Among them were her hosts, Henri Leroyer and Catherine, and Messire Jean Colin, canon of Saint-Nicolas, near Vaucouleurs, to whom Jeanne had confessed several times. They trembled for their saint as they thought of the perils of the way and the length of the journey.
"How can you," they asked her, "set forth on such a journey when there are men-at-arms on every hand?" But out of the serene peace of her heart she answered them:
"I do not fear men-at-arms; my way has been made plain before me. If there be men-at-arms my Lord God will make a way for me to go to my Lord Dauphin. For that am I come."
Sire Robert was present at her departure. According to the customary formula he took an oath from each of the men-at-arms that they would surely and safely conduct her whom he confided to them. Then, being a man of little faith, he said to Jeanne in lieu of farewell: "Go! and come what may." And the little company went off into the mist, which at that season envelops the meadows of the Meuse.
They were obliged to avoid frequented roads and[Pg i.98] to beware especially of passing by Joinville, Montiers-en-Saulx and Sailly, where there were soldiers of the hostile party. Sire Bertrand and Jean de Metz were accustomed to such stealthy expeditions; they knew the byways and were acquainted with useful precautions, such as binding up the horses' feet in linen so as to deaden the sound of hoofs on the ground.
At nightfall, having escaped all danger, the company approached the right bank of the Marne and reached the Abbey of Saint-Urbain. From time immemorial it had been a place of refuge, and in those days its abbot was Arnoult of Aulnoy, a kinsman of Robert of Baudricourt. The gate of the plain edifice opened for the travellers who passed beneath the groined vaulting of its roof. The abbey included a building set apart for strangers. There they found the resting-place of the first stage of their journey.
On the right of the outer door was the abbey church wherein were preserved the relics of Pope Saint Urbain. On the 24th of February, in the morning, Jeanne attended conventual mass there. Then she and her companions took horse again. Crossing the Marne by the bridge opposite Saint-Urbain, they pressed on towards France.
They had still one hundred and twenty-five leagues to cover and three rivers to cross, in a country infested with brigands. Through fear of the enemy they journeyed by night. When they lay down on[Pg i.99]the straw the damsel, keeping her hose laced to her coat, slept in her clothes, under a covering, between Jean de Metz and Bertrand de Poulengy in whom she felt confidence. They said afterwards that they never desired the damsel because of the holiness they beheld in her; that may or may not be believed.
Jean de Metz was filled with no such ardent faith in the prophetess, since he inquired of her: "Will you really do what you say?"
To which she replied: "Have no fear. I do what I am commanded to do. My brethren in Paradise tell me what I have to do. It is now four or five years since my brethren in Paradise and Messire told me that I must go forth to war to deliver the realm of France."
These rude comrades did not all preserve an attitude of religious respect in her presence. Certain mocked her and diverted themselves by talking before her as if they belonged to the English party. Sometimes, as a joke, they got up a false alarm and pretended to turn back. Their jests were wasted. She believed them, but she was not afraid, and would say gravely to those who thought to frighten her with the English: "Be sure not to flee. I tell you in God's name, they will not harm you."
Ever at the approach of danger whether real or feigned, there came to her lips the words of encouragement: "Do not be afraid. You will see how graciously the fair Dauphin will look upon us when we come to Chinon."
Her greatest grief was that she could not pray in[Pg i.100] church as often as she would like. Every day she repeated: "If we could, we should do well to hear mass."
As they avoided high roads they were not often in the way of bridges; and they were frequently forced to ford rivers in flood. They crossed the Aube, near Bar-sur-Aube, the Seine near Bar-sur-Seine, the Yonne opposite Auxerre, where Jeanne heard mass in the church of Saint-Etienne; then they reached the town of Gien, on the right bank of the Loire.
At length these Lorrainers beheld a French town loyal to the King of France. They had travelled seventy-five leagues through the enemy's country without being attacked or molested. Afterwards this was considered miraculous. But was it impossible for seven or eight Armagnac horsemen to traverse English and Burgundian lands without misadventure? The Commander of Vaucouleurs frequently sent letters to the Dauphin which reached him, and the Dauphin was in the habit of despatching messengers to the Commander; Colet de Vienne had just borne his message.
In point of fact the followers of the Dauphin ran risks well nigh as great in the provinces under his sway as in lands subject to other masters.
Freebooters in the pay of King Charles, when they pillaged travellers and held them to ransom, did not stay to ask whether they were Armagnacs or Burgundians. Indeed, it was after their passage of the Loire that Bertrand de Poulengy and his companions found themselves exposed to the greatest danger.
Informed of their approach, certain men-at-arms of the French party went before and lay in ambush, waiting to surprise them. They intended to capture the damsel, cast her into a pit, and keep her there beneath a great stone, in the hope that the King who had sent for her would give a large sum for her rescue. It was the custom for freebooters and mercenaries thus to cast travellers into pits delivering them on payment of ransom. Eighteen years before, at Corbeil, five men had been kept in a pit on bread and water by Burgundians. Three of them died, being unable to pay the ransom. Such a fate very nearly befell Jeanne. But the wretches who were lying in wait for her, at the moment when they should have struck did nothing, wherefore is unknown, perhaps because they were afraid of not being the stronger.
From Gien, the little company followed the northern boundary of the duchy of Berry, crossed into Blésois, possibly passed through Selles-sur-Cher and Saint-Aignan, then, having entered Touraine, reached[Pg i.102]the green slopes of Fierbois. There one of the two heavenly ladies, who daily discoursed familiarly with the peasant girl, had her most famous sanctuary; there it was that Saint Catherine received multitudes of pilgrims and worked great miracles. According to popular belief the origin of her worship in this place was warlike and national and dated back to the beginning of French history. It was known that after his victory over the Saracens at Poitiers Charles Martel had placed his sword in the oratory of the Blessed Catherine. But it must be admitted that since then the sanctuary had long suffered from desertion and neglect. Rather more than forty years before the coming of the damsel from Domremy, its walls in the depths of a wood were overrun by briers and brambles.
In those days it was not uncommon for saints of both sexes, if they had suffered from some unjust neglect, to come and complain to some pious person of the wrong being done them on earth. They appeared possibly to a monk, to a peasant or a citizen, denounced the impiety of the faithful in terms urgent and sometimes violent, and commanded him to reinstate their worship and restore their sanctuary. And this is what Madame Saint Catherine did. In the year 1375 she entrusted a knight of the neighbourhood of Fierbois, one Jean Godefroy, who was blind and paralysed, with the restoration of her oratory to its old[Pg i.103] brilliance and fame, promising to cure him if he would pray for nine days in the place where Charles Martel had put his sword. Jean Godefroy had himself carried to the deserted chapel, but beforehand his servants must perforce hew a way through the thicket with their axes. Madame Saint Catherine restored to Jean Godefroy the use of his eyes and his limbs, and it was by this benefit that she recalled to the people of Touraine the glory they had slighted. The oratory was repaired; the faithful again wended their way thither, and miracles abounded. At first the saint healed the sick; then, when the land was ravaged by war, it was her office more especially to deliver from the hands of the English such prisoners as had recourse to her. Sometimes she rendered captives invisible to their guards; sometimes she broke bonds, chains, and locks; to wit, those of a nobleman by name Cazin du Boys, who in 1418 was taken with the garrison of Beaumont-sur-Oise. Locked in an iron cage, bound with a strong rope on which slept a Burgundian, he thought on Madame Saint Catherine, and dedicated himself to this glorious virgin. Immediately the cage was opened. Sometimes she even constrained the English to unchain their prisoners themselves and set them free without ransom. That was a great miracle. One no less great was worked by her on Perrot Chapon, of Saint-Sauveur, near Luzarches. For a month Perrot had been in bonds in an English prison, when he dedicated himself to Saint Catherine and fell asleep. He awoke, still bound, in his own house.
Generally she helped those who helped themselves. Such was the case of Jean Ducoudray, citizen of Saumur, a prisoner in the castle of Bellême in 1429. He commended his soul devoutly to Saint Catherine,[Pg i.104] then leapt forth, throttled the guard, climbed the ramparts, dropped the height of two lances, and went out a free man into the country.
Perhaps these miracles would have been less frequent had the English been in greater force in France; but their men were few: in Normandy they intrenched themselves in towns, abandoning the open country to soldiers of fortune who ranged the district and captured convoys, thus greatly promoting the intervention of Madame Saint Catherine.
The prisoners, who had become her votaries and whom she had delivered, discharged their vows by making the pilgrimage to Fierbois. In her chapel there, they hung the cords and chains with which they had been bound, their armour, and sometimes, in special cases, the armour of the enemy.
This had been done nine months before Jeanne's coming to Fierbois by a certain knight, Jean du Chastel. He had escaped from the hands of a captain, who accused him of having committed treason thereby, alleging that du Chastel had given him his word of honour. Du Chastel on the other hand maintained that he had not sworn, and he challenged the captain to meet him in single combat. The issue of the combat proved right to be on the side of the French knight; for with the aid of Madame Saint Catherine he was victorious. In return he came to Fierbois to offer to his holy protectress the armour of the vanquished Englishman, in the presence of my[Pg i.105] Lord, the Bastard of Orléans, of Captain La Hire and several other nobles.
Jeanne must have delighted to hear tell of such miracles, or others like them, and to see so many weapons hanging from the chapel walls. She must have been well pleased that the saint who visited her at all hours and gave her counsel should so manifestly appear the friend of poor soldiers and peasants cast into bonds, cages and pits, or hanged on trees by the Godons.
She prayed in the chapel and heard two masses.