joan of arc -- 8/30/22

Today's selection -- from A History of France by John Julius Norwich. Joan of Arc:
"[In March 1429], the English, already masters of northern France, were now laying siege to Orleans, which was resisting bravely but had little hope of defeating them.

"At this point, there appeared on the scene France's beloved heroine, Joan of Arc. Born of peasant stock at Domrémy in Lorraine, she had first heard her 'voices' at the age of thirteen; and four years later, in the early spring of 1429, she left her home village, against formidable opposition, for the court of the dauphin at Chinon. On 8 March, having been instantly identified by her as he hid among a group of courtiers, he granted her an audience -- in the course of which she reassured him 'that he was the true heir of France and son of the King' and informed him of her divine mission: to raise the siege of Orleans and to escort him to his coronation at Reims. Still unconvinced, he sent her to Poitiers for examination by a body of ecclesiastics; only after they had given their unqualified approval did he despatch her to Orleans.

Joan of Arc enters Orléans by Jean-Jacques Scherrer
(1887, Musée des Beaux-Arts d'Orléans)

"The city had been under siege since the previous October by an English army initially under the command of Thomas Montagu, Earl of Salisbury, who had recently returned to France with a private army of 2,700 men raised at his own expense. In November, however, Salisbury had been killed by a French cannonball as he stood at a window; his place had been taken by two joint commanders, William de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk and John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, who had determined to starve out the city.

"The winter that followed had not been uneventful. An armed convoy of provisions had been attacked on 12 February by 4,000 French and Scots. The assailants had been repelled, but not before their cannon had shattered the supply casks, which had spewed vast quantities of salted fish all over the field. Shortly after this 'Battle of the Herrings' the defenders of Orleans, now running seriously short of food, suggested the surrender of the city to the Duke of Burgundy, who had joined the siege with an army of his own. Bedford -- who had remained so far in his headquarters at Chartres -- naturally refused, but the duke took grave offence and immediately withdrew with all his men.

"It was at this point that Joan arrived in the city. Her appearance put new spirit into the citizens, and on 4 May the counter-attack began. She herself, though wounded in the neck by an arrow, refused to leave the battle till it was won. A day or two later the English were in full retreat, the French in pursuit. During the fierce street fighting Suffolk and Talbot were both taken prisoner. Joan, now believed on all sides to be invincible, met Charles at Tours and pressed him no longer to delay his coronation at Reims. The cere­mony took place, in her presence, on 17 July 1429. Her work done, her voices now silent, her mission accomplished, she longed to return to her village. Had she been allowed to do so, it would have saved her life; but the people refused to let her go and she bowed, disastrously, to their will, urging Charles now to march on Paris. He did so in September, but his attempt to capture the city was unsuccessful and Joan was once again wounded, this time in the thigh.

"All was not yet lost: the English, still in retreat, had already evacu­ated the Loire valley, most of the Ile-de-France and virtually all Champagne; a concerted French push into Picardy might have driven them back to Calais. But the chance was thrown away. The French commander George de la Tremoille -- who detested Joan -- now took it upon himself to disband the army, giving Bedford the perfect opportunity to regroup and recover, and to bring his young sover­eign over to France for his coronation. Henry, by now nine years old, reached Calais in April 1430 in the company of Cardinal Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester and 10,000 men, but such was the prevailing anarchy that he had to remain there for another three months; not till the end of July was he able to travel, and then only as far as Rouen. He was lodged in the castle, and was still there five months later when Joan arrived, in chains. She had been taken prisoner on 23 May during an attempt to relieve Compiegne, which was under siege by the Burgundians; but she had spent the interim in several other prisons while her captor John of Luxembourg haggled over her price with Philip of Burgundy and the Duke of Bedford. Finally she had been handed over to the English for 10,000 francs. Did she and Henry ever meet? They certainly could have; but Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick -- the king's guardian and tutor, who happened also to be governor of the castle -- kept her guarded day and night by five English soldiers. He is unlikely, to say the least, to have permitted his young guest to come in contact with a woman whom he believed to be an evil witch, 'the disciple and limb of the Fiend'.

"Joan's examination began on 21 February 1431. Five weeks later, on 27 March, she appeared at her trial, during which she was allowed no defence counsel or spiritual adviser; and on Wednesday 30 May, excommunicated and declared a heretic, she was burned at the stake in the marketplace of Rauen -- the pyre having been prepared well in advance of the sentence. Her ashes were cast into the Seine. She was only nineteen, but she had done her work well. She had deliv­ered Orleans; she had seen the dauphin crowned, as his ancestors had been crowned before him, in the cathedral at Reims; from the moment of her first appearance, English fortunes had begun to decline. They were never to recover. True, the ten-year-old Henry VI finally reached Paris where, on 26 December, alone of all the English monarchs, he was crowned in Notre-Dame -- by Cardinal Beaufort, and according to the English liturgy; but if Bedford had hoped to impress the French by this ceremony, he failed. The service was poorly attended, the subsequent banquet proved a fiasco, no amnesty was declared, no alms were distributed to the poor, and two days after Christmas the king was slipped almost furtively out of Paris to return to England."



John Julius Norwich


A History of France


Grove Press


Copyright John Julius Norwich 2018


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