On the banks of the Upper Meuse, not far from Vaucouleurs, is the little village of Domremy. Its red-roofed cottages lie in the midst of meadows fragrant with meadowsweet, through which straggles the winding river, whilst all around are high hills, here and there dark with thick forest. Here Joan of Arc was born, on Twelfth Night, I402, and here she spent her childhood and girlhood.
One day, however, while walking in the garden, so she told the judges at her trial, Joan was suddenly dazzled by a brilliant light, and a sweet voice bade her "be a good girl, and God would bless her." Later came a second vision, which told her of the part she was to play in the history of her country. While she was tending the sheep one day in the fields, wonderful forms floated past her, and a strange, sweet music filled the air ; and she was told that France was to be delivered from the English through her aid. From that time she conversed often with these beings - St.catherine, St. Margaret, and the Archangel Michael. She knew them, she said, from their manner of addressing one another.
Meantime, England was pressing France very hard. The Duke of Bedford had made himself master of all France north of the Loire except Orleans, and to that town he now laid siege. When the news of her country's desperate condition reached Joan's ears, she was seized with a consuming desire to help her unfortunate king. She begged to be taken to the Governor of Vaucouleurs,de Baudricourt, that she might tell him of the saints' bidding, and obtain from him an introduction to the king, and an escort to take her to him. Her uncle accompanied her, and got well chided for his pains. , To De Baudricourt poor Joan was but a visionary.
But she was not to be so easily turned from her purpose, and at last the Governor gave in. The news of her " mission " spread rapidly, and the people of Vaucouleurs,roused to enthusiasm, volunteered to pay for her equipment. She left in February, I429, and traversed Champagne, Nivernois,beri,touraine. The journey was made longer because they had carefully to avoid the enemy's positions. When she arrived before her " gentle Dauphin," as she termed him, she wore a black pourpoint, a kind of breeches fastened by laces and points to the pourpoint, a short, coarse, dark grey tunic, and a black cap on her close-cropped black hair.
Joan showed no nervousness.
"Most noble Lord Dauphin," she said, "I come from God to help you and your realm."
An interview with Charles resulted in his believing implicitly in her mission to relieve Orleans and to compass his crowning at Rheims, yet it was some time before she was allowed to set out for the scene of war.
At last the march to Orleans began. Her armour was made at Tours, and was white. She wore also a cloak of rich stuff, cloth of gold or velvet. Her standard was of white linen, with the fleurde-lys scattered over it, and with two angels represented on it on either side of a globe. It bore the motto "Jesus - Maria." Her personal blazon was a shield azure with a white dove, bearing in its beak a scroll with the words "De par le Roy du ciel." She was exhibited to the people on horseback in military attire, when her dexterity in managing her horse was regarded as a fresh proof of her mission. Joan was a tall girl, and beautiful. To Guy de Laval, one of her companions in arms, she seemed " a thing all divine," and others speak of her as beautiful in face and figure, with glad and smiling eyes.
The rescue of Orleans is too well known to need repetition, but, as much has been written to prove that she took no actual part in the war, it is interesting to note what two of her comrades in arms have said about her conduct in the field.
The Duc'alencon was her staunch friend. She had won his heart at Chinon by her wonderful management of her horse and her skill with the lance ; and later she saved his life on more than one occasion. He writes of her : "She was most expert in war, as much in carrying the lance as in mustering a force and ordering the ranks, and in laying the guns."
And De Termes writes: "At the assaults before Orleans Jeanne showed valour and conduct which no man could excel in war. All the captains were amazed by her courage and energy and her endurance."
And she was as full of pity as she was of courage. She was once seen resting the head of a wounded Englishman on her lap, comforting and consoling him. We have remarkable evidence of the atmosphere of purity she diffused about her. Her prohibition of swearing in this war, which she regarded as holy, was respected to a surprising extent.
The march to Rheims was an extraordinary one. The town was in a distant quarter of the kingdom, and the country traversed was in the hands of the enemy. But every town opened its gates, and Rheims sent its keys. At the coronation Joan stood next to the king, standard in hand.
She would fain have retired from the war now, for she felt her mission was ended, but she was pressed by the French to stay. Yet her counsel was seldom followed, and disaster began to overtake the Dauphin's arms, and at length, in making a sally from Compiegne, Joan was taken prisoner by the Burgundians. Her captor, Jean of Luxembourg, sold her into the hands of the English, and during a long imprisonment she was treated with incredible brutality. She was condemned to be burned for sorcery and magic, and on the morrow of Pentecost, I43i,was led out to her doom.
But the awfulness of the death she was to die terrified her, and she recanted, declaring herself to have been misled by her visions. The sentence was thereupon commuted to perpetual imprisonment. This did not please the English, and they soon found an excuse for asserting her relapse into heresy. When she was led out to the stake a second time, she died bravely, asserting her belief that her voices were from God, and with the word " Jesus " on her lips.