Story of Joan of Arc - Andrew Lang

The Captivity of the Maid

We might suppose that there was not a rich man in France, or even a poor man, who would not have given what he could, much or little, to help to pay the ransom of the Maid. Jean de Luxembourg only wanted the money, and, as she was a prisoner of war, she might expect to be ransomed like other prisoners. It was the more needful to get the money and buy her freedom, as the priests of the University of Paris, who were on the English side, at once wrote to Jean de Luxembourg (July 14), and asked him to give Joan up to the Inquisition, to be tried by the laws of the Inquisition for the crimes of witchcraft, idolatry, and wrong doctrines about religion.

The Inquisitor was the head of a kind of religious Court, which tried people for not holding the right belief, or for witchcraft, or other religious offences. The rules of the Court, and the way of managing the trials, were what we think very unfair. But they were not more unfair than the methods used in Scotland after the Reformation. With us old women were tortured till they confessed that they were witches, and then were burned alive, sometimes seven or eight of them at once, for crimes which nobody could possibly commit.

That went on in Scotland till the country was united to England, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, and the laws against witchcraft were not abolished till 1736. Many of the Presbyterian ministers, who were active in hunting for witches and having them put to horrid tortures, were very angry that the witchcraft laws were abolished. The Inquisition was better than the ministers and magistrates in one way: if a witch confessed, and promised not to do it again, she was not put to death, but kept in prison. In Scotland the people accused of witchcraft had not even this chance, which did not help Joan, as we shall see.

All this is told here, to show that the French were not more stupid and cruel four hundred years ago, than we were in Scotland, two hundred years ago. But it was a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Inquisition, and therefore the French King and his subjects should have paid Joan's ransom at once or rescued her by force of arms. But not a coin was paid, and not a sword was drawn to ransom or to rescue her. The people who advised the King had never liked her, and now the King left her to her fate. She could have taken a bitter revenge on him, if she had chosen to tell tales; but she was loyal to the last, like Montrose to Charles II.

Of course Joan was not a witch, and was a most religious girl, but she did not deny that she had talked with spirits, the spirits of the Saints; and her judges, who hated her, could say, and did say, that these spirits were devils, in disguise, and that therefore she was a witch. She always had known that they would do this, if they got the chance.

Jean de Luxembourg did not hand Joan over to the priests at once: probably he was waiting to see if he could not get a better price from her French friends than from her English enemies. The Bishop of Beauvais was Joan's worst enemy: his odious name was Pierre Cauchon, and in July he kept pressing the Duke of Burgundy, then still besieging Compiègne, to make Jean give up the Maid. Jean kept the Maid in a castle called Beaulieu till August, and then sent her to another castle, Beaurevoir, near Cambrai, far to the north, where it would be more difficult for her friends like Dunois and d'Alençon to come and rescue her by force, which we do not hear that they ever tried to do, though perhaps they did. The brave Xaintrailles was doing a thing that Joan longed for even more than for her freedom. She was taken in fighting to help the town of Compiègne, of which she was very fond, and her great grief at Beaulieu and Beaurevoir was that Compiègne was likely to be taken by the Burgundians and English, who threatened to put the people to death. All this while Xaintrailles was preparing a small army to deliver Compiègne.

At Beaurevoir the ladies of the castle were kinsfolk of Jean de Luxembourg. They were good women, and very kind to Joan, and they knelt to Jean, weeping, and asking him to give her back to her friends. But he wanted his money, like the men who sold Sir William Wallace to the English, and the great Montrose to the preachers and Parliament.

So Jean sold the Maid to the English. Joan knew this, and knew what she had to expect. She was allowed to take the air on the flat roof of the great tower at Beaurevoir, which was 60 feet high. She was not thinking so much of herself as of Compiègne. If she could escape she would try to make her way to Compiègne, and help the people to fight for their liberty and their lives. But how could she escape? She hoped that, if she leaped from the top of the tower, her Saints would bear her up in their arms, and not let her be hurt by the fall. So she asked them if she might leap down, but St. Catherine said, No; she must not leap. God would help her and the people of Compiègne.

Joan of Arc


But Joan would not listen, this time, to the Voice. She said that, if the leap was wrong, she would rather trust her soul to the mercy of God, than her body to the English. And she must  go to Compiègne, for she heard that, when the town was taken, all the people, old and young, were to be put to the sword.

Then she leaped, and there she lay. She was not hurt, not a bone of her was broken, which is an extraordinary thing, but she could not move a limb. The people of the castle came and took her back to her prison room. She did not know what had happened, and for three days she ate nothing. Then her memory came back to her and to her sorrows. Why was she not allowed to die! St. Catherine told her that she had sinned, and must confess, and ask the Divine mercy. But she was to go through with her appointed task. "Take no care for thy torment," said the Voice; "thence shalt thou come into Paradise." Moreover, St. Catherine promised that Compiègne should be rescued before Martinmas. That was the last good news, and the last happy thing that came to Joan in the days of her life; for, just before Martinmas, her friend, Pothon de Xaintrailles, rode with his men-at-arms through the forest of Compiègne, whilst others of the French attacked the English and Burgundians on the farther side of the Oise, and so the Saint kept her promise, and Compiègne was saved.