FROM a recent sojourn in France I have brought back no more pleasant and abiding picture than that which rises at the thought of Chinon—the real starting point of Jeanne d'Arc in her grand career. Situated in the lovely country of Touraine, famous in history and romance, whence Balzac drew his finest creations, it remains the "pleasance of France." favored alike by the traveler and the artist.
I was making a tour of the chateau-and-Loire country, with special regard to the vestigia of Jeanne, and first saw the place on a bright spring day, with the sun gilding the ruins of the old castle on the hill, sparkling on the blue slate roofs of the town and the waters of the Vienne at its foot. I repeat, a picture that delights the heart and pleads for retention in the memory.
The remains of the castle, though but fragmentary, are of great interest to the pilgrims of Jeanne d'Arc, who come here in endless procession. One is shown the great hall in which she first saw the king; also her sleeping room, and the tradition as to both is fairly authentic. At any rate, she was here and from this place went forth to make great history and a fame
without parallel. It is a thought that endues these rude stones with a live significance and accounts as nothing the defacements of time.
Very different was the scene in early March, 1429, when Jeanne arrived here with her brave escort, no whit the worse for her long and perilous ride, and eager to unfold her mission to the king. The chateau was then in all its formidable completeness—bastion, tower, portcullis, drawbridge; heavily garrisoned with defenders and peopled by a fairly numerous court. Jeanne had scarcely arrived when a strange incident occurred which seemed to warrant her supernatural agency. A rough soldier seeing her pass, hailed her jocularly and in words none too delicate. "God have mercy on your soul!" was all the notice Jeanne vouchsafed him. The man was drowned within a few hours, and the fact, coupled with the insult, made a strong sensation.
To her simple surprise Jeanne was made to wait two and one half days for her eagerly anticipated audience with the king. Charles was slow and distrustful by nature. Besides, the priests put him on his guard—she might turn out to be an emissary of the Evil One! Now Charles was quite religious in the medieval fashion of royal persons; that is, he feared the Devil heartily, but at the same time gave himself plenty of indulgence. Nobody doubted that the same was his royal privilege—not even the priests, it would seem by whom he was constantly tutored and surrounded.
Jeanne came, saw, conquered. The first interview
had place at night in the grand hall of the tour de l'horloge (the clock tower) restored in recent years. There was present a brilliant assembly of courtiers, and the scene was such as the humble Maid could not have imagined, in its luxury and magnificence, lights, costumes, all the appanages of chivalry. She was nowise abashed amid this unwonted splendor, yet demeaned herself with modest dignity; turned from the Comte de Clermont, who pretended to personate the king, according to a plan agreed upon to test her, and went at once to Charles dissimulated among the courtiers; knelt at his feet and declared her mission to raise the siege of Orleans and to lead him to Reims for his consecration as the rightful king of France. As Charles, astonished, seemed to hesitate in doubt, she begged for a private word. He led her a little apart from the wondering courtiers, and then, unheard of any one save the king, she assured him of his legitimacy, concerning which he was in doubt—as he well might be from the character of his mother, Isabella of Bavaria. She further revealed to him a secret prayer which he had made some time before, asking God to enlighten him on the point first mentioned, and if he were not the true heir of the kingdom, to spare the misery of his poor people and enable him to escape to some foreign country from the perils and trials of his situation.
This appears to be the true and only "sign" shown by Jeanne to the king, to elicit which she was afterward pitilessly grilled by her inquisitors at the trial. It seems to have induced the fullest faith of Charles
at the time; he accepted her, the court of course following suit, and she was without further ado placed upon an honorable footing, assigned quarters at the chateau, with provision made for herself and attendants.
Meantime steps were taken to investigate her life at Domremy—a suitable business for the priests, who in this instance were the Franciscans, an order which, by the way, remained, almost without exception, devoted to her. A more important proceeding was set on foot to examine into her mission and test her spiritual credentials before an ecclesiastical tribunal at Poitiers, the seat of a university, the more important as a center of learning and religion at this time, Paris and its university being in the hands of the English.
The monks brought back a good report from Jeanne's friends and neighbors at Domremy. We need not follow the Poitiers inquiry in detail, puerile as it sometimes was, owing to the crude theological notions of the time, which savored so much of diabolism. On the whole, this tribunal did not lack a due impressiveness, and, favorably predisposed as it was by the warrant of Charles, the issue could not be in doubt. But it was terribly prolix in assuring itself of Jeanne's orthodoxy and entire freedom from relations with the Evil One, and the poor girl, who was to suffer so much from priestly inquisitors, pined and fretted under the pedantic quibbling and verbose delays. The worthy priests knew their value and made the most of their job.
After a session of three weeks they produced a proces-verbal, or report, which happily has not come down to us. Upon the king's order a new inquiry was begun, at which Frere Seguin the redoubtable demanded from Jeanne a sign or miracle in proof that she was of God and not of the devil. (To the modern reader nothing is more ludicrous in these old chronicles than the free talk about "signs and miracles" by priestly, men who had never witnessed a single example of such in all their lives!)
Whereupon the Maid broke out with splendid spirit that she had not come to Poitiers to make "signs." "Lead me to Orleans," she cried, "and I will furnish you the proof of my mission. Let them give me as many or as few soldiers as they please and I will start!"
This crackling speech, so utterly modern and un-mediaeval, as Jeanne always was in her great moments, brought matters to a head at once. The assembly adjourned sine die, certifying the acceptability of Jeanne in every particular required by the king. The mission was approved as of heavenly sanction. The cause had its declared warrior!
Grand old Tours, where I spent some happy days tracing the footprints of Jeanne, has a part in the legend, as also stern old Blois where the business of soldiering called her on divers occasions. At the former place, immediately after the findings of the Poitiers tribunal, she passed a brief time while her military accoutrements were in course of preparation. Here she was fitted up with her beautiful white armor, and here that figure first appeared, gallant and winsome,
heroic and maidenly, which has charmed the fancy of so many generations. Over her armor la belle guerriere wore a loose coat or cassock of cloth-of-gold or velvet (indeed, she had one of each material), the same being ungirdled and with short sleeves. Jeanne was innocently pleased with these fine habiliments—as what seventeen-year-old girl would not have been?—and with the splendid trappings of her war-steed; all provided by the king. At a later time she was charged with sinful pride and vanity on account of these things, both by her enemies and false friends. They were priests, too, not in the least indifferent themselves to sacerdotal trimmings!
Instructed by her Voices, Jeanne procured her own sword from the Church of Ste. Catherine of Fierbois, a small neighboring village. It was found behind the altar, at her direction, and Jeanne carried it until the day when she struck a "bad woman" lurking in the camp, with the flat of it—the only blow she is ever known to have dealt with a weapon. The sword broke at the unworthy contact. ( Michelet deduces from this incident that Jeanne was becoming somewhat coarse and bold from her life among soldiers and her assumed authority in the camp. The notion lacks support; we hear of nothing later in the way of confirmation. It is not the only point on which the great historian went astray: he allowed himself to accept the abjuration—a capital error.)