Story of the Middle Ages - S. B. Harding

Joan of Arc and the Close of the War

Even so great a defeat as this could not make the French princes cease their quarrels. Again the leader of one party was murdered by the follower of another; and the followers of the dead prince became so bitterly hostile that they were willing to join the English against the other party. In this way the Burgundians, as the one party was called, entered into a treaty with Henry of England against the Armagnacs, as the other party was called; and it was agreed that Henry should marry Katherine, the daughter of the insane King, and Henry should become King of France when the old King died. No one seemed to care for the rights of the Dauphin (the French King's son) except the Armagnacs; they, of course, were opposed to all that the Burgundians did.

Both Henry V. of England and poor old Charles VI. of France died within two years after this treaty was signed. Henry had married Katharine as agreed; and though their son (Henry VI.) was a mere baby, only nine months old, he now became King of both England and France. In neither country, however, was his reign to be a happy or a peaceful one. In England the little King's relatives fell to quarreling about the government, just as had happened in France; and when he grew up, like his French grandfather he became insane. At the same time the English found their hold upon France relaxing and the land slipping from their grasp.

Only the Armagnacs at first recognized the Dauphin as King; and for seven years after the death of his father he had great difficulty in keeping any part of France from the hands of the English. In the year 1429, however, a great change took place. A young peasant girl, named Joan of Arc, appeared at the King's court in that year, and under her inspiration and guidance the French cause began to gain, and the English and Burgundian to lose ground.

Joan's home was in the far northeastern part of France, and there she had been brought up in the cottage of her father with her brothers and sisters. There she helped to herd the sheep, assisted her mother in household tasks, and learned to spin and to sew. She never learned to read and write, for that was not thought necessary for peasant girls. Joan was a sweet, good girl, and was very religious. Even in her far-off village the people suffered from the evils which the wars brought upon the land, and Joan's heart was moved by the distress which she saw about her. When she was thirteen she began to hear voices of saints and angels,—of Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret, and of the angel Gabriel. When she was eighteen her "voices" told her that she must go into France, aid the Dauphin, and cause him to be crowned king at Rheims, where the kings of France had been crowned before him.

Joan of Arc


The cause of the Dauphin at this time was at its lowest ebb. The English were besieging the city of Orleans, on the Loire River; and if that was taken all France would be lost. So the first work of Joan must be to raise the siege of Orleans.

With much difficulty she succeeded in reaching the Dauphin. When she was brought into the room where he was, she picked him out from among all, though she had never seen him, and many of the courtiers were more richly dressed than he. After many weeks she succeeded in persuading his councillors that her "voices" were from God, and not the evil one. Then, at last, she was given a suit of armor, and mounted on a white horse, with a sword at her side and a standard in her hand, she rode at the head of the Dauphin's troops to Orleans.

When once Joan had reached that place, she so encouraged the citizens that within eight days the English were forced to raise the siege and retire. It seemed to the French a miracle of God, while the English dreaded and feared her as a witch or sorceress. From this time Joan is called "the Maid of Orleans." Nor did her success stop with the relief of that city. Within a few months, the Dauphin was taken to Rheims, and crowned as true King of France. After this many flocked to his standard who before had taken no part in the war. From that time on the French began to get the advantage of the English; and it was mainly the enthusiasm and faith aroused by the Maid that caused the change.

Joan's work was now almost done. Twice she was wounded while fighting at the head of the King's troops. At last she was taken prisoner by a party of Burgundians, and turned over to the English. By them she was put on trial for heresy and sorcery. She showed much courage and skill before her judges, but she was condemned and sentenced to be burned to death at the stake.

The next day the sentence was carried out. To the last she showed herself brave, kind, and womanly. As the flames mounted about her an Englishman cried out:

"We are lost; we have burned a saint."

Such indeed she was, if a saint was ever made by purity, faith, and noble suffering.

Joan at Rheims


The English burned the Maid and threw her ashes in the river Seine; but they could not undo her work. The French continued to gain victory after victory. Soon the old breach between the Armagnacs and Burgundians was healed, and the Burgundians abandoned the English. Then Paris was gained by the French King. Some years later Normandy was conquered, and finally Aquitaine.

In the year 1453, the long, long war came to an end. Of all the wide territories which the English had once possessed in France, they now held only one little town in the north; and the shadows of a civil war—the War of the Roses—were rising in England to prevent them from ever regaining what they had lost. Down to the time of George III. the English kings continued to style themselves kings of France; but this was a mere form. The French now felt themselves to be a nation, and only a national king could rule over them.

That this was so was mainly due to the Maid of Orleans. She was the real savior of France, and remains its greatest national hero.