Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Maid of Orleans (Joan of Arc)

When Henry V. died in 1422, and the unhappy Charles a few weeks later, the infant Henry VI. was proclaimed King of France as well as of England, at both Paris and London, while Charles VII. was only proclaimed at Bourges, and a few other places in the south. Charles was of a slow, sluggish nature, and the men around him were selfish and pleasure-loving intriguers, who kept aloof all the bolder spirits from him.

The brother of Henry V., John, Duke of Bedford, ruled all the country north of the Loire, with Rouen as his head-quarters. For seven years little was done; but in 1429 he caused Orleans to be besieged. The city held out bravely, all France looked on anxiously, and a young peasant girl, named Joan d'Arc, believed herself called by voices from the saints to rescue the city, and lead the king to his coronation at Rheims. With difficulty she obtained a hearing of the king, and was allowed to proceed to Orleans. Leading the army with a consecrated sword, which she never stained with blood, she filled the French with confidence, the English with fear as of a witch, and thus she gained the day wherever she appeared. Orleans was saved, and she then conducted Charles VII. to Rheims, and stood beside his throne when he was crowned. Then she said her work was done, and would have returned home; but, though the wretched king and his court never appreciated her, they thought her useful with the soldiers, and would not let her leave them. She had lost her heart and hope, and the men began to be angered at her for putting down all vice and foul language. The captains were envious of her; and at last, when she had led a sally out of the besieged town of Compi├Ęgne, the gates were shut, and she was made prisoner by a Burgundian, John of Luxembourg.

The Burgundians hated her even more than the English. The inquisitor was of their party, and a court was held at Rouen, which condemned her to die as a witch. Bedford consented, but left the city before the execution. Her own king made no effort to save her, though, many years later, he caused enquiries to be made, established her innocence, ennobled her family, and freed her village from taxation.