Charles Dickens.

A child's history of England online

. (page 19 of 38)
Online LibraryCharles DickensA child's history of England → online text (page 19 of 38)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

most unfortunately for the poor girl too, that a party of the



dauphin's enemies found their way into the village, while Joan's
disorder was at this point, and burnt the chapel, and drove out
the inhabitants. The cruelties she saw committed, touched
Joan's heart, and made her worse. She said that the voices
and the figures were now continually with her , that they told
her she was the girl who, accordmg to an old prophecy, was to
deliver France, and she must go and help the dauphin, and
must remain with him until he should be crowned at Rheims ;
and that she must travel a long way lo a certain lord, named
Baudricourt, who could, and would, bring her into the dauphin's

As her father still said, " I tell thee, Joan, it is thy fancy,"
she set off lo find out this lord, accompanied by an uncle, a
poor village wheelwright and cart-maker, who believed in the
reality of her visions. They travelled a long v.ay, and went on
and on, over a rough country, lull of the Duke ol Burgundy's
men, and of all kinds of robbers and marauders, until they came
to where this lord was.

When his servants told him that there was a poor peasant-
girl named Joan ol Arc, accompanied by nobody but an old
village wheelwught and cart-maker, who wished to see him, be-
cause she was commanded to help the dauphin and save
France, Baudricourt, burst out a laughing, and bade them send
the girl away. But he soon heard so much about her lingering
in the town, and praying in the churches, and seeing visions,
and doing harm to no one, that he sent for her and questioned
her. As she said the same things after she had been well
sprinkled with holy water as she had said before the sprinkling,
Baudricourt began to think there might be something in it.
At all events, he thought it worth while to send her on to the
town of Chinon, where the dauphin was. So he bought her a
horse, and a sword, and gave her two squires to conduct her.
As the voices had told Joan that she was to wear a man's dress,
now she put one on, and girded her sword to her side, and
bound spurs to her heels, and mounted her horse, and rode
away with her two squires. As to her uncle, the wheelwright,
he stood staring at his niece in wonder until she was out of
sight, — as well he might, — and then went home again. The
best place too.

Joan and her two squires rode on and on, until they came
to Chinon, where she was, after some doubt, admitted into the
dauphin's presence. Picking him out immediately from all his
court, she told him that she came commanded by Heaven to
subdue his enemies, and conduct him to his coronation at


Rheims. She also told him (or he pretended so afterwards, to
make the greater impression upon lus soldiers) a number of his
secrets known only to himself, and furthermore, she said there
was an old, old sword in the Cathedral of St. Catherine at
Fierbois, marked with five old crosses on the blade, which St.
Catherine had ordered her to wear.

Now nobody knew anything about this old, old sword ; but
when the cathedral came to be examined, which was im-
mediately done, there, sure enough, the sword was found !
The dauphin then required a number of grave priests and
bishops to give him their opinion whether the girl derived her
power from good spirits or from evil spirits , which they held
prodigiously long debates about, in the course of which several
learned men fell fast asleep, and snored loudly. At last, when
one gruff old gentleman had said to Joan, "What language do
your voices speak ! ' and when Joan had replied to the gruff
old gentleman, " A pleasanter language than yours," they agreed
that it was all correct, and that Joan of Arc was inspired from
Heaven This wonderiul circumstance put new heart into the
dauphin's soldiers when they heard ol it, and dispirited the
English army, who took Joan for a witch.

So Joan mounted horse again, and again rode on and on,
until she came to Orleans. But she rode now as never peasant-
girl had ridden yet. She rode upon a white war-horse, in a
suit of glittering armor, with the old, old sword from the
cathedral, newly burnished, in her belt , with a white flag
carried before her upon which were a picture of God, and the
words Jesus Maria. In this splendid state, at the head of a
great body of troops escorting provisions of all kinds for the
starving inhabitants of Orleans, she appeared before that be-
leaguered city.

When the people on the walls beheld her, they cried out,
" The Maid is come ! the Maid of the prophecy is come to de-
liver us ! " And this, and the sight of the Maid fighting at the
head of their men, made the French so bold, and made the
English so tearful, that the English line of forts was soon
broken, the troops and provisions were got into the town, and
Orleans was saved.

Joan, henceforth called the Maid of Orleans, remained
within the walls for a few days, and caused letters to be thrown
over, ordering Lord Suffolk and his Englishmen to depart from
before the town according to the will of Heaven As the Eng-
lish general very positively declined to believe that Joan knew
anything about the will of Heaven (which did not mend the


matter with his soldiers ; for they stupidly said if she were not
inspired she was a witch, and it was of no use to fight against a
witch), she mounted her white war-horse again, and ordered
her white banner to advance.

The besiegers held the bridge, and some strong towers upon
the bridge ; and here the Maid of Orleans attacked them
The fight was fourteen hours long. She planted a scaling
ladder with her own hands, and mounted a tower-wall, but was
struck by an English arrow in the neck, and fell into the trench
She was carried away, and the arrow was taken out, during which
operation she screamed and cried with the pain, as any ocher
girl might have done ; but presently she said that the voices
were speaking to her, and soothing her to rest. After a while
she got up, and was again foremost in the fight When the
English, who had seen her fall and supposed her dead, saw
this, thev were tioubled w'th the strangest fears , and some of
them cried out that they beheld St. Michael on a whir.e horse
(probably Joan herself) fighting for the French They lost the
bridge, and lost the towers, and next day set their chain of forts
on fiie, and left the place

But as Lord Suffolk himself retired no farther than the
town of Jargeau, which was only a few miles off, the Maid of
Orleans "besieged him there, and he was taken prisoner. As
the white banner scaled the wall, she was struck upon the head
with a stone, and was again tumbled down into the ditch ; but
she only cried all the more, as she lay there, " On, on, my
countrymen! and fear nothing; for the Lord hath delivered
them into our hands ! " After this new success of the Maid's,
several other fortresses and places which had previously held
out against the dauphin were delivered up without a battle ;
and at Patay she defeated the remainder of the English army,
and set up her victorious white banner on a field where twelve
hundred Englishmen lay dead.

She now urged the dauphin (who always kept out of the
way when there was any lighting) to proceed to Rheims, as the
first part of her mission was accomplished ; and to complete
the whole by being crowned there. The dauphin was in no
particular hurry to do this, as Rheims was a long way off", and
the English and the Duke of Burgundy were still strong in the
country through which the road lay. However, they set forth,
with ten thousand men, and again the Maid of Orleans rode
on and on, upon her white war-horse, and in her shining armor.
Whenever they came to a town which yielded readily, the sol-
diers believed in her; but whenever they came to a town which


gave them any trouble, ihey began to murmur that she was an
impostor. The latter was particularly the case at I'royes, which
finally yielded, however, through the persuasion of one Richard,
a friar of the place. Friar Richard was in the old doubt about
the Maid of Orleans, until he had sprinkled her well with the holy
water, and had also well sprinkled the threshold of the gate by
which she came into the city. Finding that it made no change
in her or the gate, he said, as the other grave old gentlemen
had said, that it was all right, and became her great ally.

So at last, by dint of riding on and on, the Maid of Orleans,
and the dauphin, and the ten thousand sometimes believing
and sometimes unbelieving men, came to Rheims. And in the
great Cathedral of Rheims the dauphin actually was crowned
Charles the Seventh in a great assembly of the people. Then
the Maid, who, with her white banner, stood beside the king in
that hour of his triumph, kneeled down upon the pavement at
his feet, and said, with tears, that what she had been inspired
to do was done, and that the only recompense she asked for was,
that she should now have leave to go back to her distant home,
and her sturdily incredulous father, and her first simple escort,
the village wheelwright and cart-maker. But the king said,
" No ! " and made her and her family as noble as a king could,
and settled upon her the income of a count.

Ah ! happy had it been for the Maid of Orleans, if she had
resumed her rustic dress that day, and had gone home to the
little chapel and the wild hills, and had forgotten all these
things, and had been a good man's wife, and had heard no
stranger voices than the voices of little children \

It was not to be ; and she continued helping the king (she
did a world for him, in alliance with Friar Richard), and trying
to improve the lives of the coarse soldiers, and leading a relig-
ious, an unselfish, and a modest life herself, beyond any doubt.
Still, many times she prayed the king to let her go home ; and
once she even took off her bright armor, and hung it up in a
church, meaning never to wear it more. But the king always
•won her back again, — while she was of any use to him ; and so
she went on, and on, and on to her doom.

When the Duke of Bedford, who was a very able man, be-
gan to be active for England, and by bringing the war back into
France, and by holding the Duke of Burgundy to his faith, to
distress and disturb Charles very much, Charles sometimes
asked the Maid of Orleans what the voices said about it ?
But the voices had become (very like ordinary voices in per-
plexed times) contradictory and confused, so that now they said



one thing, and now said another, and the Maid lost credit every
day. Charles marched on Paris, which was opposed to him,
and attacked the suburb of St. Honore. In this fight, being
again struck down into the ditch, she was abandoned by the
whole army. She lay unaided among a heap of dead, and
crawled out how she could. Then some of her believers went
over to an opposition maid, Catherine of La Rochelle, who
said she was inspired to tell where there were treasures of
buried money, — though she never did ; and then Joan acci-
dentally broke the old, old sword, and others said that her
power was broken with it. Finally, at the siege of Compiegne,
held by the Duke of Burgundy, where she did valiant service,
she was basely left alone in a retreat, though facmg about and
fighting to the last ; and an archer pulled her off her horse.

O the uproar that was made, and the thanksgivings that were
sung, about the capture of this one poor country girl ! the way
in which she was demanded to be tried for sorcery and heresy,
and anything else you like, by the Inquisitor-General of France,
and by this great man, and by that great man, until it is weari-
some to think of ! She was bought at last by the Bishop of
Beauvais for ten thousand francs, and was shut up in her narrow
prison, — plain Joan of Arc again, and Maid of Orleans no more.

t should never have done if I were to tell you how they had
Joan out to examine her, and cross-examine her, and re-
examine her, and worry her into saying anything and every-
thing ; and how all sorts of scholars and doctors bestowed
their utmost tediousness upon her. Sixteen times she was
brought out and shut up again, and worried and entrapped
and argued with, until she was heart-sick of the dreary business.
On the last occasion of this kind she was brought into a burial-
place at Rouen, dismally decorated wdth a scaffold and a stake
and fagots, and the executioner, and a pulpit with a friar therein,
and an awful sermon ready. It is very affecting to know that
even at that pass the poor girl honored the mean vermin of a
king, who had so used her for his purposes and so abandoned
her ; and that, while she had been regardless of reproaches
heaped upon herself, she spoke out courageously for him.

It was natural in one so young to hold to life. To save her
life, she signed a declaration prepared for her, — signed it with
a cross, for she couldn't write, — that all her visions and voices
had come from the Devil. Upon her recanting the past, and
protesting that she would never wear a man's dress in future,
she was condemned to imprisonment for life, " on the bread of
sorrow and the water of affliction."


But on the bread of sorrow and the water of affliction, the
visions and the voices soon returned It was quite natural that
they should do so ; for that kind of disease is much aggravated
by fasting, loneliness, and anxiety of mind. It was not only
got out of Joan that she considered herself inspired again, but
she was taken in a man's dress, which had been left — to entrap
her — in her prison, and which she put on, in her solitude ; per-
haps in remembrance of her past glories, perhaps because the
imaginary voices told her. For this relapse into the sorcery
and heresy and anything else you like, she was sentenced to be
burnt to death. And in the market-place of Rouen, in the
hideous dress which the monks had invented for such specta-
cles, with priests and bishops sitting in a gallery looking on, —
though some had the Christian grace to go away, unable to en-
dure the infamous scene, — the shrieking girl, last seen amidst
the smoke and fire holding a crucifix between her hands, last
heard calling upon Christy was burnt to ashes. They threw her
ashes in the river Seine ; but they will rise against her mur-
derers on the last day.

From the moment of her capture, neither the French king
nor one single man in all his court raised a finger to save her.
It is no defence of them that they may have never really be-
lieved in her, or that they may have won her victories by their
skill and bravery. The more they pretended to believe in her,
the more they had caused her to believe in herself ; and she
had ever been true to them, ever brave, ever nobly devoted.
But it is no wonder that they who v/ere in all things false to
themselves, false to one another, false to their country, false to
Heaven, false to earth, should be monsters of ingratitude and
treachery to a helpless peasant-girl.

In the picturesque old town of Rouen, where weeds and
grass grow high on the cathedral towers, and the venerable
Norman streets are still warm in the blessed sunlight, though
the monkish fires that once gleamed horribly upon them have
long grown cold, there is a statue of Joan of Arc, in the scene
of her last agony, the square to which she has given its present
name. I know some statues of modern times — even in the
world's metropolis, I think — which commemorate less con-
stancy, less earnestness, smaller claims upon the world's atten-
tion, and much greater impostors.

Part the Third.

Bad deeds seldom prosper, happily for mankind ; and tho


English cause gained no advantage from the cruel death of
Joan of Arc. For a long time the war went heavily on. The
Duke of Bedford died, the alliance with the Duke of Burgundy
was broken, and Lord Talbot became a great general on the
English side in France. But two of the consequences of wars
are, famine, because the people cannot peacefully cultivate the
ground, and pestilence, which comes of want, misery and suf-
fering. Both these horrors broke out in both countries, and lasted
for two wretched years. Tiien the war went on again, and came
by slow degrees to be so badly conducted by the English gov-
ernment, that, within twenty years from the execution of the
Maid of Orleans, of all the great French conquests, the town
of Calais alone remained in English hands.

While these victories and defeats were taking place in the
course of time, many strange things happened at home. The
young king, as he grew up, proved to be very unlike his great
rather, and showed himself a miserable, puny creature. There
was no harm in him. He had a great aversion to shedding blood,
which was something ; but he was a weak, silly, helpless young
man, and a mere shuttlecock to the great lordly battledores
about the court.

Of these battledores, Cardinal Beaufort, a relation of the king,
and the Duke of Gloucester, were at first the most powerful.
The Duke of Gloucester had a wife who was nonsensically ac-
cused of practising witchcraft to cause the king's death and
lead to her husband's coming to the throne, he being the next
heir. She was charged with having, by the help of a ridiculous
woman named Margery (who was called a witch), made a little
waxen doll in the king's likeness, and put it before a slow fire
that it might gradually melt away. It was supposed, in such
cases, that the death of the person whom the doll was made to
represent was sure to happen. Whether the duchess was as
ignorant as the rest of them, and really did make such a doll
with such an intention, I don't know ; but you and I know very
well that she might have made a thousand dolls, if she had been
stupid enough, and might have melted them all without hurting
the king or anybody else. However, she was tried for it, and so
was old Margery, and so was one of the duke's chaplains, who
was charged with having assisted them. Both he and Margery
were put to death ; and the duchess, after being taken on foot,
and bearing a lighted candle three times round the city, as a
penance, was imprisoned for life. The duke himself took all
this pretty quietly, and made as little stir about the matter as
if he were rather glad to be rid of the duchess.


But he was not destined to keep himself out of trouble long.
The royal shuttlecock being three-and-twenty, the battledores
were very anxious to get him married. The Duke of Gloucester
wanted him to marry a daughter of the Count of Armagnac ;
but the cardinal and the Earl of Suffolk were all for Margaret,
the daughter of the King of Sicily, who they knew was a res-
olute, ambitious woman, and would govern the king as she
chose. To make friends with this lady, the Earl of Suffolk,
who went over to arrange the match, consented to accept her
for the kmg's wife without any fortune, and even to give up the
two most valuable possessions England then had in France.
So the marriage was arranged, on terms very advantageous to
the lady ; and Lord Suffolk brought her to England, and she
was married at Westminster. On what pretence this queen and
her party charged the Duke of Gloucester with high treason
within a couple of years, it is impossible to make out, the matter
IS so confused ; but they pretended that the kmg's life was in
danger, and they took the duke prisoner. A fortnight after-
wards, he was found dead In bed (they said) ; and his body
was shown to the people, and Lord Suffolk came in for the best
part ot his estates. You know by this time how strangely liable
state prisoners were to sudden death.

If Cardinal Beaufort had any hand in this matter, it did him
no good 3 tor he died within six weeks, thinking it very hard
and curious — at eighty years old ! — that he could not live to
be pope.

This was the time when England had completed her loss of
all her great French conquests. The people charged the loss
principally upon the Earl of Suffolk, now a duke, who had made
those easy terms about the royal marriage, and who, they be-
liev^ed, had even been bought by France, So he w^as impeached
as a traitor, on a great number of charges, but chiefly on ac-
cusations of having aided the French king, and of designing to
make his own son king of England. The commons and the
people being violent against him, the king was made (by his
friends) to interpose to save him. by banishing him for five
years, and proroguing the parliament. The duke had much
ado to escape from a London mob, two thousand strong, who
lay in wait for him in St. Giles's Fields ; but he got down to
his own estates in Suffolk, and sailed away from Ipswich.
Sailing across the Channel, he sent into Calais to know if he
might land there ; but they kept his boat and men in the harbor,
until an English ship, carrying a hundred and fifty men, and
called " Nicholas of the Tower," came alongside his little vesself


and ordered him on board. " Welcome, traitor, as men say," was
the captam's grim and not very respectful salutation. He was
kept on board, a prisoner, for eight-and-forty hours, and then
a small boat appeared rowing toward the ship. As this boat
came nearer, it was seen to have in it a block, a rusty sword, and
an executioner m a black mask. The duke was handed down into
it, and there his head was cut off with six strokes of the rusty
sword. Then the little boat rowed away to Dover Beach, where
the body was cast out and left until the duchess claimed it. By
whom, high in authority, this murder was committed, has never
appeared No one was ever punished for it.

There now arose in Kent an Irishman who gave himself the
name of Mortimer, but whose real name was Jack Cade Jack,
in imitation of Wat Tyler, though he was a very different and
inferior sort of man, addressed the Kentish men upon their
wrongs, occasioned by the bad government of England, among
so many battledores and such a poor shuttlecock ; and the
Kentish men rose up to the number of twenty thousand Their
place of assembly was Blackheath, where, headed by Jack, they
put forth two papers, which they called " The Complaint of
the Commons of Kent," and " The Requests of the Captain
of the Great Assembly in Kent." They then retired to Seven
oaks. The Royal army coming up with them here, they beat
it, and killed their general. Then Jack dressed himself in the
dead general's armor and led his men to London.

Jack passed into the city from Southwark, over the bridge,
and entered it in triumph, giving the strictest orders to his men
not to plunder. Having made a show of his forces there while
the citizens looked on quietly, he went back into Southwark in
good order, and passed the night. Next day he came again,
having got hold in the mean time of Lord Say, an unpopular
nobleman. Says Jack to the lord mayor and judges, " Will you
be so good as to make a tribunal in Guildhall, and try me this
nobleman ? " The court being hastily made, he was found
guilty ; and Jack and his men cut his head off on Cornhill.
They also cut off the head of his son-in-law, and then went back
in good order to Southwark again.

But although the citizens could bear the beheading of an
unpopular lord, they could not bear to have their houses pil-
laged. And it did so happen, that Jack, after dinner, — per-
haps he had drunk a little too much, — began to plunder the
house where he lodged ; upon which, of course, his men began
to imitate him. Wherefore the Londoners took counsel with
Lord Scales, who had a thousand soldiers in the Tower, and


defended London Bridge, and kept Jack and his people out
This advantage gained, it was resolved by divers great men to
divide Jack's army in the old way by making a great many
promises, on behalf of the state, that were never intended to be
performed. This did divide them ; some of Jack's men saying
that they ought to take the conditions which were offered, and
others saying that they ought not, for they were only a snare ,
some going home at once ; others staying where they were ;
and all doubting and quarrelling among themselves.

Jack, who was in two minds about fighting or accepting a
pardon, and who indeed did both, saw at last that there was
nothing to expect from his men, and that it was very likely
some of them would deliver him up, and get a reward of a
thousand marks, which was offered for his apprehension. So

Online LibraryCharles DickensA child's history of England → online text (page 19 of 38)