It is so hard to find out the truth by looking at the past. The process of time obscures the truth and even contemporaneous writers disguise and twist out of malice or flattery. — Plutarch

Story of the English - Helene Guerber




The Maid of Orleans

When Henry V. died, his only child, Henry VI., was nine months old. The English crown was far too large and heavy for this baby monarch's head, and when the sceptre was brought, his tiny hand clutched it as if it had been a mere rattle. Fortunately for him, Henry VI. had two very able uncles, the Dukes of Gloucester and Bedford, who governed England and France for him.

Two months after the death of Henry, the insane monarch of France breathed his last. According to the treaty of Troyes, Henry VI. was now King of France; but the Dauphin Charles, the eldest son of the mad king, also claimed the crown, which by right did really belong to him.

The northern part of France was now in the hands of the English, who in fun called the dauphin King of Bourges, because they said he ruled only the province around a small town of that name. Charles had very few troops, but he often secured the help of the Scots, who hated the English because they kept the Scotch king, James I., a prisoner. The baby king's uncles now agreed to set James free, provided the Scots paid for his eighteen years' board, and promised they would not help the French or make war against the English for a term of seventeen years.

It now seemed as if all would go well for the English. The Duke of Bedford, who was as good a warrior as Henry V., declared that as soon as he became master of the town of Orleans, which he was then besieging, he would consider all France conquered. Just then, however, a poor peasant girl, Joan of Arc, fancied that she had been chosen by Heaven to save her country from the English. She was good and earnest, and spoke so convincingly that people finally believed her. A knight from the neighbourhood took her to Bourges, where the king and his advisers allowed her to do as she wished and lead an army to the rescue of Orleans.

The common soldiers, who were very superstitious, believed that Joan had seen visions and had spoken to angels, so they were ready to do all she told them. They felt sure they would win as long as she led them on. The rumour of her mission soon reached the ears of the English soldiers, who dreaded her appearance, and said that if Heaven had sent her, their resistance would be vain.

This state of feeling in the two armies grew much more marked when Joan actually fought her way into Orleans, bringing provisions to the famished inhabitants. They received her with rapture, and called her the "Maid of Orleans." But Joan was not yet satisfied, and she vowed she would not rest until she had driven the English away from Orleans and taken the dauphin to Rheims to be crowned in the same cathedral as all the kings before him.

Joan kept her word. The English fled as she drew near. Town after town opened its gates when she appeared, wearing a suit of armour like a man, and sitting astride a great battle steed. Advancing thus, she won back many of the lost provinces, and at last Charles VII. was formally crowned. Then she said that her mission was ended, and begged permission to go home and tend her sheep.

But the king would not let her go, and the generals, knowing the effect of her presence upon the minds of both armies, urged her to remain. Joan of Arc sadly yielded to their entreaties, but all her joyous confidence now forsook her. The result was that, in spite of her courage the French soldiers ceased to believe in her. One day, when she had headed a sally from the town of Compiegne, they even treacherously forsook her.

Poor Joan fell into the hands of a French knight, an ally of the English, and he, seeing that her king had basely deserted her, sold her into their hands. Joan of Arc was then thrust into prison, treated with the most inhuman cruelty, and, after being accused of heresy and witchcraft, she was burned at the stake in Rouen, and her ashes were cast into the Seine! But the heroic Maid of Orleans died so bravely, on the very square where her statue now stands, that the English soldiers' began to fear that they had killed a saint. Their dread, and the Frenchmen's indignation, gave the latter the advantage, and at each new defeat the English cried that it was a judgment against them for burning Joan.

When the Duke of Bedford saw that France was lost, he died of grief, and was buried in Rouen. Some time afterwards Charles VII. became master of that city, and his soldiers proposed to open the duke's tomb and scatter his ashes abroad; but the duke had fought so bravely that Charles would not allow this, and said: "No; let him repose in peace; and be thankful that he does repose, for were he to awake he would make the stoutest of us tremble."

The war between France and England went on several years longer, with occasional pauses. But the French steadily advanced, and the English finally found that the Hundred Years' War, which lasted from about 1338 to 1453, cost them no end of men and money, but brought them little besides the glory won in the three great battles of Crecy, Poitiers, and Agincourt. During the reign of Henry VI. they lost, in fact, all the territory they had won in France, except the city of Calais, which they were to hold for another century.



Contents

Front Matter
Review

Early Times
The Druids
The Britons
Caesar in Britain
Queen Boadicea
The Great Walls
The Great Irish Saint
The Anglo-Saxons
Brave King Arthur
The Laws of the Saxons
The Story of St Augustine
Three Great Men
The Danish Pirates
King Alfred and the Cakes
Alfred conquers the Danes
A King's Narrow Escape
The King and the Outlaw
The Monasteries
An Unlucky Couple
St Dunstan
King Canute and the Waves
A Saxon Nobleman
Lady Godiva's Ride
The Battle of Hastings
The Conquest
Lords and Vassals
Death of William
The Brothers' Quarrels
Arms and Armour
The "White Ship"
Matilda's Narrow Escapes
Story of Fair Rosamond
Thomas a Becket
Murder of Thomas a Becket
Richard's Adventures
Richard and the Saracens
The Faithful Minstrel
Death of Richard
The Murder of Arthur
The Great Charter
The Rule of Henry III
A Race
Persecution of the Jews
The Conquest of Wales
A Quarrel with France
The Coronation Stone
The Insolent Favourite
Bruce and the Spider
Death of Edward II
The Murderers punished
The Battle of Crecy
The Siege of Calais
The Age of Chivalry
The Battle of Poitiers
The Peasants' Revolt
Richard's Presence of Mind
A Tiny Queen
Henry's Troubles
Madcap Harry
A Glorious Reign
The Maid of Orleans
The War of the Roses
The Queen and the Brigand
The Triumph of the Yorks
The Princes in the Tower
Richard's Punishment
Two Pretenders
A Grasping King
Field of the Cloth of Gold
The New Opinions
Death of Wolsey
Henry's Wives
The King and the Painter
A Boy King
Lady Jane Grey
The Death of Cranmer
A Clever Queen
Elizabeth's Lovers
Mary, Queen of Scots
Captivity of Mary Stuart
Wreck of the Spanish Armada
The Elizabethan Age
Death of Elizabeth
A Scotch King
The Gunpowder Plot
Sir Walter Raleigh
King and Parliament
Cavaliers and Roundheads
"Remember"
The Royal Oak
The Commonwealth
The Restoration
Plague and Fire
The Merry Monarch
James driven out of England
A Terrible Massacre
William's Wars
The Duke of Marlborough
The Taking of Gibraltar
The South Sea Bubble
Bonny Prince Charlie
Black Hole of Calcutta
Loss of the Colonies
The Battle of the Nile
Nelson's Last Signal
The Battle of Waterloo
First Gentleman of Europe
Childhood of Queen Victoria
The Queen's Marriage
Wars in Victoria's Reign
The Jubilee