Sunday, July 17, 1429
Another two days and the towers of Reims rose above the level horizon. A little to the eastward of the city is a rise of ground, and from it Joan first saw the great cathedral loom dreamlike against the afternoon sky. Among the soldiers about her there was excitement and eager pointing and on every side the cheering multitude. Amid all this we may believe that the Maid herself uttered no audible word, but only sat and gazed, seeing little for the happy tears. Then presently they were in the city, the street a tossing human river that bore them to the doors of their lodging place.
Joan may have known that her father was in that throng. Those whom she had met at Chalons could have told her he was on his way to the great spectacle, to see the daughter he had once threatened to drown, now in the moment of her triumph, the greatest ever achieved by any woman of France. He was enormously proud of her, of course, and proud to be known as her father. He lodged just across from the cathedral and lost no time in seeking the presence of his soldier children.
There was to be no delay in the coronation. Nobody wished to delay it. The city did not care to feed the great army a day longer than was necessary, while Joan was eager to push on to Paris. It was on Saturday, July 16, that the Maid and the King reached Reims, and the great service was arranged for the next day. All through the night there was busy preparation, that the city night show itself in readiness by daybreak. Streets were decorated with banners; festoons were hung where the King and the Maid and their escort of richly attired churchmen and nobles would pass; gay tapestries were suspended from the windows.
At an early hour next morning – it was Sunday, July 17, 1429 – four nobles, according to ancient custom, were sent to the abbey church of St. Remy, to escort from there the sacred Ampoule, a phial of holy oil, believed to have been brought from Heaven by a dove, for the consecration of Clovis more than nine hundred years before, and since held sacred for the anointing of French kings. These nobles took the accustomed oath to conduct and reconduct the precious the precious vessel safely, and fully armed and mounted, carrying each his banner, they accompanied the gorgeous procession of churchmen bearing it to the cathedral – rode their horses into the great church, to the entrance of the choir, almost to the very altar itself. All this we are told in a letter written to Queen Marie and Yolande by three gentlemen of Anjou, eyewitnesses of the event.
The King, the letter says, found all in complete submission to him at Reims, and all the requirements for his coronation,
such as robes, vestments and crown as fully provided as if they had been ordered a year before. "And there were so many persons as would be a thing without end to write, and as well, the great joy that each felt."
The letter then quaintly tells of the great lords present, and how Alencon knighted the King, and how another lord held the sword while the Archbishop of Reims performed the ceremony of consecration: "The which service lasted from nine O’clock until two. And at the hour that the King was anointed, and also when the crown was placed on his head, all assembled cried out "Noel!" And the trumpets sounded in such manner that it seemed that the vaults of the church must be driven apart.
"And during the said mystery the Maid was ever near the King, holding her standard in her hand. And a most fair thing it was to see the beautiful bearing of the King and of the Maid. And God knows it was wished that you were there."
This is the only account of any eyewitness, but a chronicle of the times says that when the Maid saw the King anointed and crowned she knelt before him, and embracing his knees said as her hot tears flowed:
"Noble King, now is accomplished the pleasure of God who willed that I should raise the siege of Orleans and should bring you to this city of Reims to receive your holy coronation, thus showing the you are the true King, him to whom the thrown of France must belong."
It may well be so; something of the sort she would be moved to do. The great audience, we are told, wept with her. The peasant girl had made good her promise. They were witnessing an event without counterpart in human history.
Of Joan’s appearance on this great occasion we know little. Her page, Louis de Contes, was present, perhaps by her very side; by he only said:
"I attended the coronation. In my quality of page I never quit Joan."
That is all; and how much he might have told us! Mingling with such glories, bursting with pride, yet not a hint of the Maid’s dress, nor of what she did and said. We may picture her wearing her armor, over it the crimson huque given her by the Duke of Orleans. We know that her banner was there and by her own testimony that she held it, at least for a time. Did Louis de Contes stand by her side with the sacred sword of Fierbois? Oh, Louis de Contes, graceful, graceless picture-book boy! How we blame you, and how we envy you – the most fortunate youth in history!
The only thing Joan ever asked of France.
Of the great assembly that saw Joan’s triumph there were at least six persons who felt it in a deep and especial pride: her two loyal knights, Jean de Metz and Bertrand de Poulengy; her two brothers; her father, Jacques d’Arc, and best of all loyal Durand Laxart, first to receive her confidence and join his faith to hers. As he stood there, his eyes wide with splendor of it all, did he remember that winter morning on the frozen road beyond Greux when this strange girl, now the wonder and glory of France, had bad him ask Sir de Baudricourt to have her conducted to the King? He had believed in her; this was his reward. (In his larger work, "Joan of Arc – Maid of France" – first edition – the author, through an oversight, stated that Durand Laxart was not at the coronation.)
Jacques d’Arc did not immediately return home, and when he did, he went the proudest men in France. On the morning after the coronation, at Joan’s request, Charles VII gave his royal promise that the heavily burdened villages of Domremy and Greux should from that time be forever free of taxation, a promise later affirmed by official mandate, which made it as nearly eternal as any king’s promise is ever likely to be. During more than three hundred and sixty years the tax books of the district bore after the names of Domremy and Greux the words "Neant, la Pucelle." – "Nothing, the Maid." Then came the revolution, and this modest grace, the only thing that Joan ever asked of France, was abolished. Tradition said that Charles had required her to name her reward, and that she would accept only this. Certain it is that for herself she accepted nothing, received nothing, not even loyalty.
Jacques d’Arc remained in Reims until the official document came. The King on his own account had presented him with a purse of sixty francs – a large sum when one remembers that a horse could be bought for twelve. Nor was this all, for in full his bill at the inn, and to present him with a horse on which to return home.
And so it happened that once upon a time a simple peasant who had walked a long way to see the King crowned went riding home on a fine horse, in his pocket not only a purse, but a document that relieved his villages from taxation, made them unique among all the villages of France. No fairy tale was ever more wonderful.