Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

The Maid of France
Being The Story Of The Life And Death of Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc)

Cover for Andrew Lang's The Maid of France Cover Page for Andrew Lang's The Maid of France

Domremy, in which Jeanne was born (January 6, 1412?), is one of many villages that nestle by the banks of the Upper Meuse. The straggling river, broken by little isles, and fringed with reeds, flows clear in summer; the chub and dace may be seen through its pellucid water, unbroken as it is by dimples of the rising trout. As in a Hampshire chalk-stream the long green tresses of the water-weeds wave and float, the banks are gardens of water-flowers, the meadows are fragrant with meadow-sweet. After the autumn rains the river spreads in shallow lagoons across the valley, reflecting the purple and scarlet of the vineyards.

The scene, on a larger scale, much resembles the valley of the Test at Longparish, with its old red-roofed villages, mills, and mill-leads--but the surrounding hills are higher, and in places are covered with dark forests. The climate is temperate, the people are grave,--"Seldom die, never lie," is a local proverb attesting their longevity and truthfulness.

Though the house of Jeanne d'Arc, and the village church where she prayed, still exist, terribly "restored," they contain little that is old, except the ancient receptacle of holy water, shaped like a stone cannon. Little is here that to the Maid was familiar; but the aspect of her country, the river wherein her father threatened to drown her; the oakwood, even the clear fountain where once she saw her Saints, are almost unchanged.

The Meuse flowing north past the legendary oak forest, "le Bois Chesnu," separates, on the left, Jeanne's linked villages of Domremy and Greux from the villages of Maxey and the two Bureys, before it reaches the walled town of the region, Vaucouleurs, then held for the Dauphin by a stout, rough, humorous captain, Robert de Baudricourt. The villenie of Vaucouleurs, including Domremy and Greux, was a kind of island of loyalty in a region either Anglo-Burgundian, or alien, in a territorial sense, to France. From the Duchy of Loraine the house of the father of Jeanne was separated only by a little burn, or it was even on the Loraine side of the march, for the inconstant stream is said to have changed its course once or more than once. Whatever the truth may be, a point on which much learning has been expended, Jeanne and Charles VII agreed in regarding the sites of Domremy and Greux as French soil, though the habit by which Domremy people spoke of "going into France" suggests that their village may once have been regarded as on the Loraine side of the march. To the west, Champagne, with Troyes and Reims, was Anglo-Burgundian; on more sides than one the local seigneurs were "false Frenchmen," like the de Vergy family; or changed sides at will, like Robert de Saarbruck, the blackmail-levying Damoiseau of Commercy. None the less Robert de Baudricourt held high the flag of France in the castle of Vaucouleurs, which, while Jeanne dwelt at Domremy, was seriously threatened, as far as we know, only on one occasion (1428).

In Domremy, about 1410, dwelt Jacques d'Arc, a native of Ceffonds in Champagne, with his wife, from Vouthon, named Isabelle (de Vouthon), and called Romee, whether by reason of a pilgrimage achieved by her, to Rome or to some famous distant shrine, or because she inherited the surname. The mother of the Maid was certainly devout, and, even in middle age, not destitute of energy and a taste for pious adventure. The parents of the Maid were good Catholics, of good repute, and honourable position as "labourers." Jacques owned horses and cattle, in 1421 was doyen of his village, and in 1427 represented it in some litigation. He was a relatively rich and a prominent member of his little community.

In front of the village of Domremy, at the foot of a line of low hills which command, on the west, the valley of the Meuse, was a place of strength generally named "the castle of the island." This castle had a large court, walled and fortified, and a great garden, enclosed by a moat; there was also a chapel dedicated to Our Lady. The island itself was formed by the stream of the Meuse, which it divided. The hold belonged to the family of Bourlemont, seigneurs of the village; but the Bourlemonts had, before 1420, ended in an heiress, whose daughter and successor in the estates had married and lived at Nancy, with her lord Henri d'Ogiviller.

The castle, court, gardens, and adjoining pasture land were let to a little syndicate of the villagers, on a lease running from April 2, 1420, to June 24, 1429, about a week after the time when Jeanne was at the great French victory of Pathay. The village syndicate paid rent for the deserted fortress in money and in services. They were seven in number, with two chief and leading tenants, Jean Biget, of whom no more is known, and Jacques d'Arc, the father of the Maid. Jacques d'Arc was manifestly a person of substance for his station in life, and in the fortress of the isle he had a place of strength, where his little children could play at sieges, and act scenes of the chivalrous life; while, in times of danger, they helped to drive the cattle and pigs of the villagers within the fortified castle court.

Fancy (which plays too great a part in biographies of the Maid) may legitimately paint her as she walks alone, beneath the poplar trees, in the deserted alleys of the feudal garden, under the blank windows of the silent untenanted castle. May she not, as a child, have conceived of herself as the chatelaine of a fairy fortress, and practised, in day dreams, the courtly manners which she brought to the Court?

Of Jacques d'Arc we know little more except that he was naturally averse, later, to the strange adventure of his daughter, and two years before she declared her mission, dreamed, to his horror, that he saw Jeanne going away with men-at-arms. "In that case," he said to his sons, "you must drown her or I will." The death by water, the death by fire, were threats with which Jeanne was familiar. "My father and mother held me in great subjection," said the Maid. She disobeyed them but once, namely, in going whither her Voices called her.

The Maid had two elder brothers, Jacques or Jacquemin, who lived at Vouthon, Jean, and a sister, Catherine, who died young; she had also a brother Pierre. The only known educated persons among her near kin were her maternal uncle, a cure, and a cousin- german, Nicolas Romee, called de Vouthon, a religious of the Abbey of Cheminon, who later served as her almoner and chaplain. (Concerning him there are some doubts.) Jeanne herself could not read or write, and learned her Ave Maria, Pater Noster, and Creed from her mother. The birth-year of the Maid is not known with certainty: all evidence proves that it was in 1410-1412, and we shall provisionally accept, with M. Simeon Luce, the date of 1412.

As to the birthday of Jeanne, we have only one indication. After her triumphs at Orleans, Perceval de Boulainvilliers, in a letter to a foreign prince, told the following tale. On the night of the Epiphany (January 6, Twelfth Night), when men are wont to commemorate with jollity the acts of Christ, the Maid was born. "All the peasants of her village were moved with a great joy, and, knowing nothing about the birth of the Maid, they ran up and down, trying to find out what novelty had occurred. The cocks, like heralds of the new mirth, broke out beyond their wont, crowing and flapping their wings, and, for some two hours seemed to prognosticate the occurrence."

There is no reason why all this should not have occurred. The facts are not miraculous, but highly probable; the interpretation of the facts as miraculous was made apres coup; after Jeanne became renowned as the girl who promised to save France. We know that Twelfth Night was a merry, noisy night, with its feast of the King and Queen of the Bean. Mary Stuart always kept the festival in great splendour at Holyrood, decking one of her Maries with all the Royal jewels as Queen of the Bean. Villagers, in their own way, were as merry and more noisy, and would run about in high spirits, and awaken the poultry. As for the crowing of the cocks, thus rudely aroused,

"Some say, that ever 'gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long."
{Hamlet, Act I. Scene I.)

Thus the story recorded by Boulainvilliers comes to no more than this: Jeanne dArc was born on Twelfth Night, January 6. The festivity and the cock-crowings were the usual accompaniments of the festival.

A new myth, however, has been evolved about the birth of the Maid. Her latest historian says, "From the first, people wanted to make out that the marvels which had signalised the nativity of Jesus were repeated on the advent of Jeanne d'Arc. It was imagined that she was born on the night of Christmas (Noel). The shepherds of the village, moved by an unspeakable joy of which they knew not the cause, ran about in the dark to seek for the unknown marvel. The cocks" (behaved as they do in the letter of Boulainvilliers). "Thus the child had in her cradle her Adoration of the Shepherds."

Christmas is not Twelfth Night, though the critic identifies the two festivals. There were no shepherds in the case,--swine-herds there may have been,--but the villagers "knew nothing of the birth of the Maid," says Boulainvilliers, and therefore did not adore and disturb the cradle of the newborn child of Jacques d'Arc. Learning hath its bubbles as legend has, "and these are of them." {Macbeth, Act I. Scene 3.) We may take it, without undue credulity, that Jeanne d'Arc was born on January 6, 1412. Of her earliest years, till she was twelve or thirteen, nothing is recorded except her participation in the pastimes of the village children.

An intelligent girl of twelve or thirteen, even in a remote and relatively quiet corner, would hear abundant talk concerning the great wars, and the havoc wrought by the English, and the routieis or armed bands, who fought now for England and Burgundy, now for the Armagnacs, the French party; or plundered for their own hands, taking advantage of the prevalent anarchy. It were a strange mistake to think that when there were no newspapers there was no news, and no interest in public affairs. In countries such as France then was, as in the Highlands in the eighteenth century, or in Africa now, it was the duty of every wayfarer to tell what news he had, and to gather more. On the roads, pedlars, merchants, and pilgrims were always passing to and fro, all eager to hear or to tell any new thing. As in the Douglas wars of King's men and Queen's men, in the minority of James VI, everybody took sides. The boys in Scotland fought for King or Queen, James or Mary; and when Jeanne told her judges that her brothers and the other boys of Domremy, French in sympathy, came bleeding home from fights with the boys of Maxey, on the other side of the river, who were Burgundians, we may be certain that, though they would have thrown stones in any case, those stones were thrown in honour of the cause which they heard their fathers profess. The elders of Domremy and Maxey did not fight, but argued on the Armagnac or the Burgundian side. They heard of Bauge Bridge and of Verneuil fight, and rejoiced or regretted the results, little as these affected their daily lives. Born on the right side of the Meuse, Jeanne might have been Burgundian in sympathy. Born on the left side, the sorrows of France were her inspiration.

She scarcely regarded herself, we saw, as a native of France. Voices bade her "go into France," as if Domremy were outside of France. (She also, later, spoke of the Ilee de France as "France.") But her pitying loyalty to the Dauphin--while he remained uncrowned she never spoke of him as "king" --was a matter of personal as much as of patriotic sentiment.

The intellectual influences that reached her were those of the Church, of common talk, and of local tradition,--in fact, of folklore. A girl who constantly frequented the village church, which was only severed by the graveyard from her father's garden close, would hear sermons that touched on politics, and on the sorrows of her uncrowned king. Wandering Cordeliers, mendicant Franciscan brethren, as a rule French in sympathy, might be entertained by her father, and would talk politics of their own sort by her father's fireside. Jeanne's first conception of her mission was that she must lead her prince to be consecrated at Reims with the holy oil, brought by an angel to St. Remy. She could not discover by the light of nature the mystic efficacy of the consecration of the monarch, and of the holy oil from the Sainte Ampoule {ampulla) of St. Remy, the patron of her village church and of Reims. The cure, Minet, who baptized her, and other clerics, were likely to preach much on the famous legend of the village patron saint. Concerning other saints, the preachers, and ecclesiastical folklore and mystery plays, would inevitably give copious information. Relics were abundant, and were carried about for exhibition; women loved to touch them with their rings. Jeanne and other children bore garlands of flowers to saintly shrines, to St. Bermont, for example, and heard the chapel legends. To her Charlemagne was as much a saint as St. Louis; but her favourites were St. Catherine of Alexandria, and St. Margaret; her sister was named after St. Catherine, to whom a church in Maxey was dedicated.

Neither lady has any sufficient historical credentials. Though the dialectical skill with which St. Catherine vanquished the heathen doctors cannot have been, to the ignorant Jeanne, the most attractive portion of her legend, Jeanne was to stand up like Catherine against contentious doctors, first at Poitiers, in the dawn of her great adventure; last, at its close, in Rouen. St. Catherine could not have shown more acuteness, loyalty, and untaught sagacity than Jeanne. St. Margaret was of almost equal renown. Relics of St. Margaret, her head, belt, and one arm, were farmed out for forty-six francs eight gros to two Macon men, who probably carried them about and exhibited them for money. But as this was done in January-August 1441, ten years after the death of the Maid, she was unaffected by the exhibition of the relics. Both Saints were beautiful, and were sought by many wooers. Jeanne, according to several knights who had been much in her company, did not arouse their passions, "because of the goodness which is in her," propter bonitatem suam, says one of them, Bertrand de Poulengy. Few, if any, fair Saints were like Jeanne in this respect, they were always pursued by enterprising admirers.

The third of Jeanne's spiritual guides, St. Michael, was very popular in France at the time. He guarded the castle of St. Michael in Normandy against the English, was an armed and militant archangel, and figured in the standard of Charles VII.

Every child in France had many opportunities of seeing images and relics of the Saints, and their effigies on the windows of the churches. Each pious child was, and still is, apt to have a special devotion to some Saint or Saints. In these ways Jeanne did not differ from devout boys and maids, such as St. Theresa was when she set forth, as a little girl, to seek martyrdom among the Moors.

But Jeanne's desire was to do rather than to suffer. Meanwhile she played and danced with the other boys and girls, till, when she was about thirteen, came the sudden change in her life, came the visions and the Voices. After that, she says, she seldom danced and sang.

The sports of the children were associated with ideas on the borders of folklore and religion. The fairy folklore influenced Jeanne not at all, though it was to have for her the most perilous consequences. The place of the oak, and of other trees, in ancient religions of tree-worship, has been illustrated by the learning of Mr. Frazer, for classical beliefs; and, thanks to the stories of Druids in Celtic Britain, is popularly known. Old religions die hard, melting into peasant superstitions; and these clung about the oaks of Domremy as much as about Eildon Hill.

Within half a league of Domremy, and visible, Jeanne said, from the door of her father's house, was a forest called Oakwood, le Bois Chesnu, nemus quercosum. Now, according to Jean Brehal, Inquisitor, and one of the clerical legists who were judges in the Trial for the Rehabilitation of the Maid (1450-1456), the old name of the forest was Nemus Canutum (Bois Chenu),"whence grew," says Brehal, "an ancient popular rumour, that a Maid should be born in this place, who should do great deeds." Brehal then quotes a prophecy of Merlin to the effect that "a marvellous Maid will come from the Nemus Canutum for the healing of nations." In the prophecies attributed to Merlin by Geoffrey of Monmouth (1 140) there is talk of a Maid from the Nemus Canutum which had come, says Brehal, to be understood as referring to the Bois Chenu. The vulgaris et antiqua precrebuit fama,--the echo of the supposed prophecies of Merlin won its way, like the predictions of Thomas the Rhymer, into folklore. The Nemus Canutum once identified with the Bois Chesnu on the marches of Loraine (really it was in Britain), a wonderful virgin was expected to come from the marches of Loraine to rescue France. The evolution of the idea is clearly traceable, thus: A generation before the time of Jeanne, a visionary from the south, named Marie d'Avignon, visited Charles VI, then suffering under his ruinous wife, Isabelle of Bavaria. Marie had dreamed a dream in which she beheld arms and armour. She said that she could not use these, and was told that they were for a Maid who should restore France. This dream, known far and wide, was suggested by the Merlin prediction about a Maid from the Nemus Canutum; that grove was recognised in the Bois Chesnu on the marches of Lorraine, and in that region, folklore averred that "a Maid who is to restore France, ruined by a woman, shall come from the marches of Loraine." Prophecies from all sorts of sources were always current in the Middle Ages. This folklore fable was to have a great effect on Jeanne's career.

The alleged prophecies of Bede and Merlin were widely circulated in manuscripts. They were apt to be quoted in sermons; they became matters of popular information; they were constantly consulted and applied to any new notable events. There is no reason to suppose that "forged prophecies" of Merlin were "the means by which the young inspired girl was put in motion"--by some unknown churchmen, or that "without these pious frauds the miracles of the Maid would never have been wrought." The inspiration of the Maid arose in her visions and Voices, in 1424 or 1425. We have no evidence that she had heard of the Merlin prophecy of the Victorious Virgin till after she announced her mission,--till 1428-1429,--and no fraudulent priest was needed to convey to her ears the "ancient popular rumour."

The oak wood, in which swine, the chief exportable commodity of the region, fed on the acorns, also sheltered wolves-- and the story ran that they never harmed the sheep shepherded by Jeanne. The enemy never touched the cattle of any of her familiars. This tale clearly comes from Domremy, with the story of the crowing cocks, and suggests that the villagers suffered little, if at all, from plunderers. As the flocks of the villagers were pastured on the common near the village, and watched by the children of various parents in their turn, it is probable that all the little shepherdesses were as fortunate as Jeanne. According to a hostile contem- porary, the birds fed from her lap, which has nothing to surprise us, if the child sat quietly alone. Thoreau was not unique in possessing the intimacy of birds; and a chaffinch has sat on my leg and looked friendly even at me, in a little wood; while the shy kingfisher has perched on my fishing-rod; and a "heather linty," on the Naver, has flown to seek my protection from a hawk. The robin, a daring bird, easily learns to feed from any kind hand.

The forest had other tenants than birds and wolves. There was, as Jeanne told her judges, a beech near Domremy called "the Ladies' tree" or "the Fairies' tree," and hard by there was a fountain. The water was thought medicinable, and Jeanne had seen people come thither to be healed of fevers-- whether they were any the better or not she did not know. There was a great tree called "the fair May," where she used to dance with other little girls, and weave garlands for our Lady of Domremy, and make a " man of the May," a Jack in the Green. She often heard from her elders that the lady fairies {Domince Fatales, fatal they proved to her) were conversant there. One of her own god- mothers, wife of Maire Aubery, or Aubrit, said that she had seen the fairies. Jeanne knew not whether this were true or not. Probably the godmother spoke but godmotherly. Jeanne said she had never seen fairies at that tree, as far as she knew. She and the other little girls hung garlands on the boughs-- sometimes they left them there, sometimes took them away. She danced there little after she knew of her mission, and sang more than she danced. Her grave days began when she " learned that she must go into France." She never heard that there were fairies in the oak wood. But one of her brothers told her that, according to the clash of the countryside, she " had got her case " {ceperat factum suunt) in the wood. She told her brother that this was untrue.

When she went to the Dauphin at Chinon, some asked her if the Bois Chesnu was in her country, because there were prophecies that thence should come a Maid to do wonders. She herself had no belief in this prediction. If so she was wiser than her learned seniors. We shall find later that she spoke of the prophecy, or of a similar saying, in 1429, before she went to Chinon.

The judges at Rouen had made inquiries at Domremy, and put the questions in folklore (or, as they thought, daemonology), to which Jeanne replied. They asked what she knew of " those who travel in the air with the fairies." She had heard the talk oi them, "but does not believe in it." We have more folklore in the evidence of Morel, a peasant of Greux. Since the Gospel of St. John was read aloud in the fairy haunts, the fays go there no more. The Sunday in Lent called Lcetare was styled " the day of Fountains," and then boys and girls used to dance at the Fairy tree, and picnic there, having little cakes made for them, and would drink the water and sing at the Fontaine des Groseillers. The tree, according to Jeanne Thesselin, was said, in a romance which she had heard read aloud, to have been the trysting-place where Pierre, Lord of Bourlemont, met his fairy love, as Thomas of Ercildoune met his Fairy Queen at the Eildon tree. The feasts below the tree were perfectly recognised gatherings. Pierre de Bourlemont, Lord of the Manor, and his wife, Beatrix, used to take part in these rural revels, usually held on the Sunday in Lent called Lcetare, or des Fontaines. They drank of the fountain-- the Church patronised what may have been a survival of paganism, or may have been a mere traditional holiday. There was no evidence that Jeanne went to that tree alone: she did what all the young people did and continued to do.

The judges made their own bad use of the information. To us it only proves that the children were gay and merry in Domremy; that they were not subdued by the black cloud of war. The ancient Celtic tree-worship, perhaps, lent grace to the romance of the life of the children, then as now. " In spring," said Gerardin, a peasant sixty years of age, " that tree is as fair as lily flowers, the leaves and branches sweep the ground." These people were not brutalised. The same witness said that he had known the Maid. " She was modest, simple, devout-- went gladly to church and to sacred places-- worked, sewed, hoed in the fields, and did what was needful about the house."

This is a summary of all that the surviving neighbours of Jeanne had to say, in 1450-1456, about the pensive dark-haired girl with the happy face. The questions to which answers were demanded of the neighbours, at the Trial of Rehabilitation, conducted by the Inquisitor in 1450-1456, were (after pre- liminaries as to her near kinsfolk and godparents) :

1. Was she early and duly instructed in faith and morals, considering her age and social position ?

2. How did she behave in youth, from her seventh year till she left her father's house?

3. Did she often, and willingly, frequent church and holy places ?

4. How did she occupy herself in this period of her youth ?

5. Did she confess herself often and willingly?

6. What do you know about her in connection with the fairy tree and fountain ?

7. How did she leave home, and what do you know of her journey (to Chinon).

8. Was information taken in her native place, by authority of her judges, when she was held captive by the English ?

9. When she once left home for Neufchateau, by reason of the men-at-arms, was she always in the company of her parents ?

These were the questions put to survivors who had known Jeanne at Domremy. This part of the examination began in January 1455-1456. Of no village folk in that remote age is so much known as is known about the folk of Domremy. By reason of the Maid their obscure names and their ways will never be forgotten while civilisation endures. "She was such that, in a way of speaking, all the people of Domremy were fond of her." She ploughed, watched the cattle, sewed, and did other woman's work. She was sometimes in church when her parents thought that she was in the fields. When she heard the bell for Mass, she came to church. She went often to confession. "There was not a better in the two villages" (Domremy and Greux). "For the love of God she gave alms-- and if she had money would have given it to the curate, Guillaume Fronte, for Masses to be said." " She often went to church when other girls went to dance." She used to urge the beadle to ring the church bells punctually, giving him little presents. Her little friend Hauviette wept sorely when the Maid left Domremy, M she loved her so much for her goodness." Often she withdrew from the games of the children to pray, and they used to laugh at her. She was wont to nurse sick people-- she took care of Simon Musnier when he was ill, as he well remembered. She would lie by the hearth all night, and let poor people sleep in her bed.

Nicolas Bailly, who had examined twelve or fifteen Domremy witnesses for the English judges of 1431, said that they gave much the same testimony as the twenty-eight witnesses gave in 1456. He sent in his reports, and was told by his employer that he and his assistants were " false Armagnacs."

Indeed the prosecution, in 1431, had to make the most of the wickedness of the Fairy tree at Domremy, and to assert that a godmother who told the Maid that she had seen fairies was a bad old woman; Domremy being noted for its witches. Jeanne was a witch, and did witchcraft under the Fairy tree, and had a mandrake, a forbidden root of magic.

This is one of the most nefarious parts of the accusation. Nothing bad could be found in the evidence given at Domremy in 1431, nothing more than folklore gossip, so the harmless Fairy tree, frequented by all the young people, was dwelt upon; and reports of the blameless, charitable, industrious, and devout life of the Maid were suppressed.

As far as the evidence from Domremy goes, till she asserted her mission, in May 1428, Jeanne was an ordinary example of the good, amiable, kind, religious peasant girl, liked by all, but laughed at a little, by the other young people, for her earnest piety. When she announced her mission, she said that God had called her "to go into France" and help the Dauphin. If she then told anything about the manner of her calling, the Voices and visions, the fact is nowhere reported. Of her conseil, as she called it, of " her brothers the Saints," she only spoke in general terms. She did not speak out till her trial at Rouen, and then could not be induced or compelled to offer details. Her soldiers had no idea that St. Michael was their General. Her trusted equerry and her very confessor knew not that she was visited by St. Catherine, St. Margaret, and St. Michael.


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