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Chambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) online

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The self-same moment I could pray ;
And from my neck so free

The albatross fell off, and sunk
Like lead into the sea.









Edinburgh :
Printed by W. and R. Chambers.






















- >


JUVE hundred years ago, a considerable part of France
was under the rule of the kings of England. The
manner in which the English gained possession of
territories in that country is perhaps not very generally
known. When William, Duke of Normandy, fixed by
conquest his sway over England, he still retained his Norman
possessions. These, with some other districts, descended as an
heritage to the English crown, so that, in process of time, when the
invasion of the Normans was forgotten, it almost appeared as if the
English had intruded themselves into Normandy, instead of the
Norman dukes having intruded themselves into England. With
Normandy as a stronghold, the English monarchs contrived to
extend their possessions in France by means of wars, for which it
was always easy to find a pretext. Besides this odious practice,
there was another means of extending kingdoms much resorted to
in these times. This consisted in the intermarriage of princes and
princesses. When the son of an English king married the daughter
and heiress of a French duke, and when the duke died, his posses-
sions, including all the people upon them, became, as a matter of
course, the lawful patrimony of his daughter's family. Vast posses-
sions, in what is now included under the name France, were thus
added to the English crown. One of the most sweeping encroach-
ments of this kind arose from the marriage of a daughter of Charles
VI. of France to Henry V. of England. When Charles VI. died
49 '


(1422), the succession was settled on his son-in-law Henry, to the
exclusion of a son, Charles a man of weak dispositions. Henry V.
died before he was installed in this splendid acquisition, but he left
a son, Henry VI., who inherited his claims, and though only a child,
\fafs '.ackndwletfgfedj 'as' king by the greater part of France, and
crowned >iri-' Pan's. : '-This event gave the English a much more
, extended footing in Erante than they ever had before. In point of
f;ict 'vSth '-th jexGejptipn_ .of certain provinces under independent
dukes and counts,' they had a complete mastery in the country, and
the sovereigns were henceforth styled kings of France and England.

What, it may be asked, were the feelings of the French people on
finding themselves so coolly handed over to a foreign power ? At
the time we speak of, the people at large were for the greater part
serfs or bondsmen, under powerful nobles, and to them one king
was generally as good as another. Their occasional oppression
under these feudal chiefs was their principal grievance, and some-
times they arose in immense numbers and slew the nobility and
their families. A dreadful outburst of this nature occurred about
the year 1358, and is known in history as the revolt of the Jacquerie.
Sometimes much blood was also shed by the contentions of rival
dukes, each bringing his vassals into the field to fight against the
other. A fierce civil war of this kind took place a short time
previous to the accession of Henry VI.

This young king being incapable of ruling in his own person, his
government in France was conducted by the Dukes of Bedford and
Gloucester. These noblemen had a difficult part to act ; for Charles,
the Dauphin, or son of the late king of France, had a party in the
state who favoured his preferable claims to the throne ; and, besides,
the civil broils among the noblesse and peasantry kept everything
unsettled. The English power, fortified by the Duke of Burgundy,
was, however, supreme. All the towns and forts were garrisoned
with English soldiers ; and it is not unlikely that, with prudent
management, and with a popular monarch, France would have
irrevocably become a province of England.

Such a misfortune for both countries was prevented in a most

. singular manner by the intrepidity of a peasant-girl ; and it is the

story of this girl that we now propose to tell, and we tell it to the

shame of the English nation the shame of bigotry the shame of

having cruelly maltreated an innocent and patriotic maiden.


Jeanne Dare, or, as we translate the name, Joan of Arc, was born
in the year 1412. Her parents Jacques Dare, and his wife Isabella
were cottagers, who dwelt in Domremy, a village on the borders
of Lorraine, in the north-eastern part of France. Joan had a sister
who died young, and three brothers, who lived to reap advantages


from their sister's heroism. Jacques Dare and his wife were honest
and industrious people, who entertained no other ambition than that
of bringing up their children creditably in their own station. Joan
was not instructed in reading or writing but we must remember
that such accomplishments were rare at the time when printing was
unknown, and when learning was confined almost entirely to the
priests. It is certain, however, that she had many comparative
advantages ; her parents were distinguished for piety and good-
conduct, and there can be no doubt that she was early instructed by
them in the tenets of the Christian religion. Her mother taught
her to spin and to sew ; and from every record of her early years,
we may gather that she was looked upon as a modest, industrious,
kind-hearted girl ; and sufficiently distinguished for the fervour
of her religious impressions, to be sometimes laughed at by her
companions for preferring to attend church to joining with them in
the song or the dance. There are many testimonials of her zeal and
devotion in the exercises of religion, which she appears to have
always performed without show or affectation. And often, when
occupied in the fields weeding or reaping, she was known to separate
from her companions, and afterwards found offering up her prayers
in some secluded nook. When we add that she was also distinguished
by shyness and timidity, thoughtful observers may perhaps discover
a key to her character.

Joan of Arc has never been represented as a person of many
words ; and certainly the simplest clue to her extraordinary history
would be found in considering her of that earnest, thoughtful tem-
perament which broods constantly on the ideas which have once
taken fast hold of the mind, and which, when joined to a vivid ima-
gination and high-toned moral feeling, is sure to produce a warm
but sincere enthusiast. .

In the neighbourhood of the village of Domremy, on the road
which led to Neufchateau, there was a fine old beech-tree, whose
arching boughs, descending to the ground, formed a kind of vault,
and which, time out of mind, had been called ' the Fairies' Tree.'
Near to it there arose a spring called the ' Fairies' Well.' The tree
and spring were the objects of superstitious offerings by the ignorant
villagers ; but not so to Joan of Arc, who would attend no fetes and
dances in honour of the tree or well ; and on all such occasions she
preferred to carry garlands of flowers to hang at the shrine of the
Virgin in the church of Domremy.

If we add that Joan, as she grew up, was not confined to house-
hold duties ; that, on the contrary, she was accustomed to frequent
outdoor employment, and often drove cattle and horses to graze
and to water, mounting the latter with little or no accoutrements,
which might well account for the equestrian skill and fearless riding
she afterwards displayed, we believe we have related all by which
her early girlhood was distinguished. .


But, with her warm enthusiasm and ardent imagination, the
village girl must have been an eager listener to the many tales of
outrage, woe, and suffering inseparable from the condition of her
oppressed country ; and which, from far and near, must have floated
on the breath of rumour even to Domremy. We learn that, with
one single exception, the villagers were all Armagnacs, as the
adherents of Charles were called, from the part which the Count
d'Armagnac took in the struggle ; but that the inhabitants of the
neighbouring village of Masey were of the rival party of Burgundians.
We learn, too, that the children of both places carried out the factious
animosities of their elders into their own childish play ; and that
mock-fights, in which sticks and stones often proved dangerous
weapons, were common between them. Joan had frequently beheld
her young friends and her own brothers covered with blood after
these fierce encounters ; and while such things were proofs of the
strong party-feelings which existed under an apparent calm, they
must themselves have kept alive and kindled the very enthusiasm
from which they sprung. Nay, on one occasion at least, their coun-
try's troubles came more nearly home to the villagers of Domremy
than through mimic fights, or the echoing reports of far-off calami-
ties. A party of Burgundian cavalry drove them, with their families
and flocks, from their peaceful homes, and compelled them to take
refuge elsewhere. On this occasion the family of Dare found shelter
in a hostelry at Neufchateau, a town which, belonging to the Duke
of Lorraine, was safe from aggression. Here they remained fifteen
days, during which time it is highly probable that Joan, as some
return for the hospitality and protection afforded, assisted in many
domestic offices ; at anyrate, this conjecture is the only foundation
for the story of Joan having been servant at an inn, a story first
related by a chronicler of the Burgundian faction, and adopted by
English historians.

Joan was between thirteen and fourteen years of age when,
according to her own account, she began to see visions, and hear
the voices of departed saints calling upon her to re-establish the
throne of France. Now that time has removed the mists of preju-
dice, and reason, with many helps from science and experience, is
allowed to rule our opinions, we see in these supposed preternatural
revelations only the workings of an ardent and imaginative tem-
perament. Swayed by those two powerful emotions, religious and
political enthusiasm, Joan was no impostor. Her mind, feeding
upon itself, had become in some measure deranged, and produced
those impressions which the simplicity of her own nature interpreted
as direct messages from Heaven. This belief is indeed the only
satisfactory key to her conduct : she believed herself a chosen
instrument in the hands of the Deity, and by the strength of this
faith the heroine was supported.

The battles of Crevant and Verneuil had apparently annihilated


the hopes of the Dauphin or, as we will more properly call him,
Charles VII. when Joan believed herself to be first visited by
supernatural agents. Of course her own testimony is the only one
afforded. She said that, when sitting one summer day in her
father's garden, she saw a shining light in the direction of the
church, and heard a voice bidding her continue pious and good,
and assuring her that God would bless her. The second vision took a
far more distinct form. On this occasion, she says, she was tending
her flocks in the fields when she heard the same voice, but she
beheld also the majestic forms of St Catharine and St Margaret,
while the voice announced itself as that of the Archangel Michael,
It now delivered some mysterious words, intimating that France
should be delivered from the English yoke through her means. This
second vision filled her soul with rapture ; and, as a token of grati-
tude to the Most High for choosing her as an instrument of his will,
she took a vow to remain unmarried, and to devote herself entirely
to her mission.

Her own family seem to have treated these rhapsodies very lightly ;
although it is reported that her father, dreading she might be worked
on by some men-at-arms, and induced to follow the army, declared
that ' he would rather drown her with his own hands,' than live to
witness such a thing. Meanwhile she was sought in marriage by an
honest yeoman, whose suit was warmly encouraged by her parents.
Joan, however, positively refused ; and the lover resorted to the
singular expedient of declaring she had promised him marriage,
and citing her before a legal tribunal, believing they would compel
her to fulfil the same. But the maid undertook her own defence ;
and having declared on oath that she had made no such promise,
sentence was given in her favour. From this otherwise unimportant
incident we may gather two facts namely, that Joan was already
possessed of great firmness, and that her character for honour and
veracity stood high.

Public events now began to excite party-feeling to the highest
pitch. The Duke of Bedford had returned to France, and, including
a reinforcement from Burgundy, had sent forth a mighty army
against Charles. He had intrusted its command to the Earl of
Salisbury, who was assisted by the valiant officers, Sir John Talbot,
Sir John Fastolf, and Sir William Gladsdale. Salisbury having
reduced Rambouillet, Pithiviers, Jargeau, Sully, and other small
towns, which had offered but a feeble resistance to his arms,
proceeded to the chief object of the enterprise, the siege of Orleans,
a city which commanded the Loire and the entrance to the southern
provinces, and was the last stronghold of Charles and his party.
Had Orleans been subdued, the troops of Bedford might easily have
penetrated the open country beyond the Loire, and have driven the
court of Charles to seek shelter in the mountains of Auvergne and


It was in the month of October 1428 that Orleans was first
invested by the Earl of Salisbury ; but happily his design had been
foreseen, and every preparation had been made both by the French
king and the inhabitants themselves to prepare for a long and
desperate defence. The Sire de Gaucourt was appointed governor ;
and two of the bravest captains of the age, Pothon de Saintrailles,
and Dunois, threw themselves, with a large body of followers, into
the city, while the citizens on their part shewed the most patriotic
spirit They brought to the common stock even a larger sum than
the heavy taxes they had imposed upon themselves ; they cheerfully
consented that their suburb of Portereau, on the opposite or south
bank of the Loire, should be razed to the ground, lest it should
afford shelter to the English ; and from a similar motive the vine-
yards and gardens within two miles of the city were laid waste.
The men competent to bear arms were enrolled for that purpose,
while the remainder of the inhabitants employed themselves almost
unceasingly in prayer, and in bearing the relics from church to
church with solemn processions.

The first assault of the enemy was directed against the bulwark
which defended the approaches of the bridge on the southern bank ;
and after a vigorous resistance, and considerable loss, they dislodged
the towns-people from the place. The latter now planted themselves
at two towers which had been erected some way forward on the
bridge, and breaking down one of the arches behind them for the
security of the city, kept up their own communication with it only
by planks and beams, which could be in a moment removed. But
the next day Sir William Gladsdale, finding the waters of the Loire
sufficiently shallow, waded with his men to the towers, and succeeded
in storming them. He then connected them with the bulwark
already obtained, and formed a fort, which enabled him to plant a
battery against the apparently devoted city. This success, however,
cost the life of the Earl of Salisbury, who, a few days afterwards,
having ascended one of these towers to view the works, and
examine more nearly the enemy's walls, was killed by a splinter
from a cannon-ball this, by the way, being one of the earliest
sieges at which cannon was found to be of importance. The Earl
of Suffolk succeeded to the command ; and after experiencing in
several attacks the stubborn resolution of the besieged, he resolved
to surround the city with forts, and reduce it by all the horrors of

The winter was occupied in the construction of these forts, though
numerous assaults from the one party, and sallies from the other,
bore witness to the undiminished energy of the besiegers, and the
untiring constancy of the besieged. While the English works
remained incomplete, food and reinforcements occasionally found
their way into Orleans ; and as the French troops beyond ravaged
the country, it sometimes happened that they cut off the necessary



supplies of the English. Yet, on the whole, both the stores and
garrison of Orleans sensibly diminished ; and as the besieged saw
tower after tower arising to complete the circle which was to bind
them, it became evident that, unless some surprising effort was
made for their deliverance, they must be overpowered in the ensuing


The news of the events just related kindled the fervent imagin-
ation of Joan to its highest pitch. For a time, her visions and the
instructions of ' her voices' might have wavered somewhat indis-
tinctly, but now they clearly indicated two objects which she was to
achieve first, the raising of the siege of Orleans ; and secondly,
that Charles should be solemnly crowned at Rheims. In the latter
promise we may clearly trace the influence of that firm religious
faith which had always been so strong an element in Joan's char-
acter ; for to the priests and to the pious among the populace,
Charles was not a lawful king until his claims were thus sanctified
his head encircled with the ancient crown, and anointed with the
holy oil.

But the time for action was at hand ; and Joan determined that
her first step should be to seek an interview with Robert de Baudri-
court, the governor of the neighbouring town of Vaucouleurs, and,
revealing her visions to him, entreat his assistance to reach the
king's presence. She dared not impart her scheme to her parents,
knowing that they would throw additional obstacles in her way ; but
strong in the belief that hers was a divine commission, that was to
supersede even the ties of filial duty, the maid had now recourse to
stratagem. She feigned a strong desire to pay a visit of a few
days to her maternal uncle, Durand Laxart, who resided at the
village of Petit Burey, situated between Domremy and Vaucouleurs.
She contrived to have her wishes intimated to him, and Laxart
himself came to fetch his niece, and to gain her parents' consent to the
visit. It was in this manner that Joan of Arc left that humble home
to which she was never more to return.

It would seem that Joan had a strong affection for this uncle, and
much confidence in him ; for, during the seven or eight days she
remained at his house, she confided all her visions, hopes, and
aspirations to him. Eloquent must have been her words, for it is
quite clear that she persuaded Laxart of the truth of her mission ;
and we can understand with what rapture Joan, now about seventeen
or eighteen years of age, felt that there was one at least who treated
these holy revelations with due respect. Laxart, in fact, decided on
going to the governor himself as a messenger from his niece ; but
when he had succeeded in obtaining an interview with him, Baudri-
court treated these mysterious promises with the utmost ridicule,


and advised him ' to box her ears, and send her back to her parents.'
Yet so far from being disheartened by this failure, Joan resolved to
see him herself, declaring that she would go alone if need be. Her
uncle, however, accompanied her.

It was with great difficulty that the peasant-girl obtained admission
to the governor ; and when in his presence, it was yet more difficult
to win from him a patient hearing. But she opposed the energy of a
determined will to derision and contempt, and determined to remain
at Vaucouleurs, almost literally dividing her time between passionate
appeals to the governor and fervent prayers in the church.

Once for a short time she returned to the village of Petit Burey,
to await there the governor's answer ; but she soon came back to
Vaucouleurs, to renew her entreaties and protestations, declaring
that she must, and she would reach the presence of the king, even
if in doing so ' she wore through her feet to her knees.' Joan and
her uncle lodged at Vaucouleurs at the house of a cartwright, with
whose wife the maid formed an intimate acquaintance, being accom-
panied by her everywhere when her uncle was not at her side. This
circumstance, carefully recorded, argues, we think, that Joan had
already formed a plan from which she never deviated. In her after-
career, as now, it was her custom in every town to choose some
matron of irreproachable character as her companion and protec-
tress. But to return to Vaucouleurs. Though she was slow in per-
suading the governor to listen either to her promises or requests,
her fervent piety and earnest entreaties made a great impression on
the towns-people. At last, Baudricourt consented to write to King
Charles, and refer the question of her journey to his decision.
Meanwhile, she had made two converts at Vaucouleurs of some
importance. The first of these was a gentleman surnamed De Metz,
who declared that her tone of inspiration had convinced him, and
who promised, ' on the faith of a gentleman, and under the conduct
of God, to lead her before the king.' The other was Bertrand de
Poulengy, a gentleman who had been present at her first interview
with Baudricourt, and who also resolved to escort her on her journey.
The fame of Joan had also by this time reached the Duke of
Lorraine, who sent for her, considering that, if she were endowed
with supernatural powers, she could cure him of a dangerous disease
under which he was suffering. But Joan replied, with truthful sim-
plicity, that her mission was not to that prince, nor had she such a
gift as that he desired. The duke dismissed her with a present of
four livres, which were most probably highly acceptable ; for though
Baudricourt, worked on by De Metz and Poulengy, and by the force
of popular opinion, was now consenting to her departure, the only
assistance he rendered her was the present of a sword. Whether
the governor had received any answer or not to the letter he had
addressed to the king, is not recorded ; but it was the honest Durand
Laxart who, assisted by another countryman, borrowed the money


\vherewith to purchase a horse for Joan's use ; and the expenses of
the journey were defrayed by Jean de Metz, though it appears he was
afterwards reimbursed by the king. The maid, by command, as she
said, of ' her voices,' assumed male attire, which she wore throughout
her expedition ; and Baudricourt so far protected her as to require
an oath from her escort that they would take all possible means to
conduct her safely to the court.

The news of these proceedings caused great consternation at
Domremy. The parents of the maid hastened to Vaucouleurs ; but
their dissuasions failed to shake her resolutions ; though she appears
to have suffered greatly at witnessing their grief, and to have been
uneasy until she received their forgiveness. There is no doubt this
was shortly awarded to her. It was not according to human experi-
ence that Joan's immediate family should have been the first to
acknowledge her as a ' prophetess ; ' but neither were they the last ;
and we find that, shortly afterwards, when at Touraine, she was
joined by her youngest brother Pierre. Joan set out from Vaucouleurs
on the first Sunday in Lent, the I3th of February 1428; her escort
consisting of six persons namely, the Sires de Poulengy and de
Metz, each with an attendant, a king's archer, and a certain Colet
de Vienne, who is styled a king's messenger. Their direct road lay

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) → online text (page 1 of 58)