Story of Joan of Arc - Andrew Lang

How the Maid was Taken

We have heard how the town of Compiègne came over to Joan and the King, after the coronation at Rheims. The city had often been taken and retaken, and held by both sides. But now they made up their minds that, come what might, they would be true to France, and now, in May, the English and Burgundians besieged Compiègne with a very large army.

Joan, who was at Lagny, heard of this, and she made up her mind to help the good and loyal town, or perish with it. She first tried to cut the roads that the Duke of Burgundy used for his soldiers and supplies of food, but she failed to take Soissons and Pont l'Évêque, and so shut the Duke off from his bridges over the rivers. So she rode into Compiègne under cloud of night, with her brother Pierre, and two or three hundred men. This was before dawn, on May 23.

The town of Compiègne is on the left bank of the river Oise. Behind the town was a forest, through which Joan rode, and got into the town, to the great joy of the people. From Compiègne to the right bank of the Oise, where the English and Burgundians had their camps, there was a long bridge, fortified, that led into a great level meadow, about a mile broad. In wet weather the meadow was often under water from the flooded river, so a causeway, or raised road, was built across it, high and dry. At the end of the causeway, farthest from Compiègne, was the village of Margny, with the steeple of its church, and here a part of the Burgundian army was encamped. Two miles and a half farther on was the village of Clairoix, where lay another part of the Burgundian force. About a mile and a half to the left of the causeway was the village of Venette, which was held by the English, and, about three miles off, was Coudun, where the Duke of Burgundy himself had his quarters. There were very large forces in front, and on the side, of the only road by which Joan could get at them, with her own men, only three hundred, probably, and any of the townspeople who liked to follow her on foot, with clubs and scythes, and such weapons.

Thus it was really a very rash thing of Joan to lead so few men, by such a narrow road, to attack the nearest Burgundians, those at Margny, at the end of the causeway. The other Burgundians, farther off, and the English from Venette, quite near, and on Joan's left flank, would certainly come up to attack her, and help their friends at Margny. She would be surrounded on all sides and cut off, for the garrison of Compiègne stayed in the town, under their general, de Flavy, who was a great ruffian, but a brave man, and loyal to France.

Why Joan, about five o'clock in the evening of May 23, rode out with her little force, crossed the bridge, galloped down the causeway, and rode through and through the Burgundians at Margny, we do not know. Her Voices seem to have ceased to give her advice, only saying that she would certainly be captured. Perhaps she only meant to take Margny; though it is not easy to understand how she expected to hold it, when the whole Burgundian and English armies came up to recover it, as they would certainly do. If she aimed at more, her charge was very brave, but very ill-judged. Joan said that her Voices did not tell her to make her desperate sally; it was her own idea.

Nearly seventy years afterwards, two very old men said that, when they were young at Compiègne, they heard Joan tell a crowd of children, before she rode out, that "I am betrayed, and soon will be delivered to death. Pray God for me, for I shall never again be able to help France and the King." One of the men was ninety-eight, so he would be quite twenty-eight when he heard Joan say this; if he really did hear her. But, long before men are ninety-eight, or even eighty-six, like the other man, they are apt to remember things that never happened. But Joan may have told children, of whom she was very fond, that she knew she was soon to be taken.

Her enemies declared that she said she would take the Duke of Burgundy himself, but as he was several miles away, in the middle of a large army, while she had only three hundred of her own men, this cannot be true. Probably she only meant to break up the Burgundians at Margny, and show that she was there, to encourage the people at Compiègne.

Joan of Arc


Her own account is that she charged the Burgundians at Margny, the nearest village, and drove them twice back to Clairoix, where they were reinforced by the great Burgundian army there, and thrust her back to the middle of the causeway, where she turned again, charged them, and made them retreat. But then the English came up from Venette, on her flank, and came between her and the bridge of Compiègne, and she leaped her horse off the raised causeway into the meadow, where she was surrounded, and pulled off her horse and taken, though she would not surrender. No doubt she hoped that, as she refused to surrender, she would be killed on the spot. When they cried to her to yield she said, "I have given my faith to another than you, and I will keep my oath to Him," meaning Our Lord.

But she was too valuable to be killed. The captors might either get a great ransom, a king's ransom, or sell her to the English to burn. The French would not pay the ransom, and Jean de Luxembourg, who got possession of her, sold her to the English. The Burgundian historian, who was with the Duke, and did not see the battle, says, "the English feared not any captain, nor any chief in war, as they feared the Maid." "She had done great deeds, passing the nature of woman." Says another Burgundian writer: "She remained in the rear of her men as their captain, and the bravest of all, there, where fortune granted it, for the end of her glory, and for that last time of her bearing arms."

But, indeed, her glory never ceased, for in her long, cruel imprisonment and martyrdom, she showed more courage than any man-at-arms can display, where blows are given and taken.