Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc/Book II/Chapter 33

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THE SIEGE OF ORLEANS (From the painting by J.E. Lenepveu in the Panthéon at Paris)
Chapter XXXIII

Yes, Orleans was in a delirium of felicity. She invited the King, and made sumptuous preparations to receive him, but—he didn't come. He was simply a serf at that time, and La Tremouille was his master. Master and serf were visiting together at the master's castle of Sully-sur-Loire.

At Beaugency Joan had engaged to bring about a reconciliation between the Constable Richemont and the King. She took Richemont to Sully-sur-Loire and made her promise good.

The great deeds of Joan of Arc are five:

1. The Raising of the Siege.

2. The Victory of Patay.

3. The Reconciliation at Sully-sur-Loire.

4. The Coronation of the King.

5. The Bloodless March.

We shall come to the Bloodless March presently; (and the Coronation). It was the victorious long march which Joan made through the enemy's country from Gien to Rheims, and thence to the gates of Paris, capturing every English town and fortress that barred the road, from the beginning of the journey to the end of it; and this by the mere force of her name, and without shedding a drop of blood—perhaps the most extraordinary campaign in this regard in history—this is the most glorious of her military exploits.

The Reconciliation was one of Joan's most important achievements. No one else could have accomplished it; and in fact no one else of high consequence had any disposition to try. In brains, in scientific warfare, and in statesmanship the Constable Richemont was the ablest man in France. His loyalty was sincere; his probity was above suspicion—(and it made him sufficiently conspicuous in that trivial and conscienceless Court).

In restoring Richemont to France, Joan made thoroughly secure the successful completion of the great work which she had begun. She had never seen Richemont until he came to her with his little army. Was it not wonderful that at a glance she should know him for the one man who could finish and perfect her work and establish it in perpetuity? How was it that that child was able to do this? It was because she had the "seeing eye," as one of our knights had once said. Yes, she had that great gift—almost the highest and rarest that has been granted to man. Nothing of an extraordinary sort was still to be done, yet the remaining work could not safely be left to the King's idiots; for it would require wise statesmanship and long and patient though desultory hammering of the enemy. Now and then, for a quarter of a century yet, there would be a little fighting to do, and a handy man could carry that on with small disturbance to the rest of the country; and little by little, and with progressive certainty, the English would disappear from France.

And that happened. Under the influence of Richemont the King became at a later time a man—a man, a king, a brave and capable and determined soldier. Within six years after Patay he was leading storming parties himself; fighting in fortress ditches up to his waist in water, and climbing scaling-ladders under a furious fire with a pluck that would have satisfied even Joan of Arc. In time he and Richemont cleared away all the English; even from regions where the people had been under their mastership for three hundred years. In such regions wise and careful work was necessary, for the English rule had been fair and kindly; and men who have been ruled in that way are not always anxious for a change.

Which of Joan's five chief deeds shall we call chiefest? It is my thought that each in its turn was that. This is saying that, taken as a whole, they equalized each other, and neither was then greater than its mate.

Do you perceive? Each was a stage in an ascent. To leave out one of them would defeat the journey; to achieve one of them at the wrong time and in the wrong place would have the same effect.

Consider the Coronation. As a masterpiece of diplomacy, where can you find its superior in our history? Did the King suspect its vast importance? No. Did his ministers? No. Did the astute Bedford, representative of the English crown? No. An advantage of incalculable importance was here under the eyes of the King and of Bedford; the King could get it by a bold stroke, Bedford could get it without an effort; but, being ignorant of its value, neither of them put forth his hand. Of all the wise people in high office in France, only one knew the priceless worth of this neglected prize—the untaught child of seventeen, Joan of Arc—and she had known it from the beginning as an essential detail of her mission.

How did she know it? It was simple: she was a peasant. That tells the whole story. She was of the people and knew the people; those others moved in a loftier sphere and knew nothing much about them. We make little account of that vague, formless, inert mass, that mighty underlying force which we call "the people"—an epithet which carries contempt with it. It is a strange attitude; for at bottom we know that the throne which the people support stands, and that when that support is removed nothing in this world can save it.

Now, then, consider this fact, and observe its importance. Whatever the parish priest believes his flock believes; they love him, they revere him; he is their unfailing friend, their dauntless protector, their comforter in sorrow, their helper in their day of need; he has their whole confidence; what he tells them to do, that they will do, with a blind and affectionate obedience, let it cost what it may. Add these facts thoughtfully together, and what is the sum? This: The parish priest governs the nation. What is the King, then, if the parish priest withdraws his support and deny his authority? Merely a shadow and no King; let him resign.

Do you get that idea? Then let us proceed. A priest is consecrated to his office by the awful hand of God, laid upon him by his appointed representative on earth. That consecration is final; nothing can undo it, nothing can remove it. Neither the Pope nor any other power can strip the priest of his office; God gave it, and it is forever sacred and secure. The dull parish knows all this. To priest and parish, whatsoever is anointed of God bears an office whose authority can no longer be disputed or assailed. To the parish priest, and to his subjects the nation, an uncrowned king is a similitude of a person who has been named for holy orders but has not been consecrated; he has no office, he has not been ordained, another may be appointed to his place. In a word, an uncrowned king is a doubtful king; but if God appoint him and His servant the Bishop anoint him, the doubt is annihilated; the priest and the parish are his loyal subjects straightway, and while he lives they will recognize no king but him.

To Joan of Arc, the peasant-girl, Charles VII. was no King until he was crowned; to her he was only the Dauphin; that is to say, the heir. If I have ever made her call him King, it was a mistake; she called him the Dauphin, and nothing else until after the Coronation. It shows you as in a mirror—for Joan was a mirror in which the lowly hosts of France were clearly reflected—that to all that vast underlying force called "the people," he was no King but only Dauphin before his crowning, and was indisputably and irrevocably King after it.

Now you understand what a colossal move on the political chess-board the Coronation was. Bedford realized this by and by, and tried to patch up his mistake by crowning his King; but what good could that do? None in the world.

Speaking of chess, Joan's great acts may be likened to that game. Each move was made in its proper order, and it as great and effective because it was made in its proper order and not out of it. Each, at the time made, seemed the greatest move; but the final result made them all recognizable as equally essential and equally important. This is the game, as played:

1. Joan moves to Orleans and Patay—check.

2. Then moves the Reconciliation—but does not proclaim check, it being a move for position, and to take effect later.

3. Next she moves the Coronation—check.

4. Next, the Bloodless March—check.

5. Final move (after her death), the reconciled Constable Richemont to the French King's elbow—checkmate.