Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Maid of Orleans

Today is the feast of one of my favorite saints, St. Jehanne D'Arc, usually known in English as "Joan of Arc", which is due to something of a misunderstanding, since D'Arc seems to have functioned just as a last name, not as a description. In any case, she herself preferred to be called la Pucelle, the Maid. She died on this day in 1431 at the age of 19, having led the French army to quite unexpected and crucial victories, thus humiliating the English-Burgundian alliance, who had seemed to have an absolute upper hand. Here is her first salvo in that fight, a demand that the English surrender before a battle they seemed almost certain to win. (It should be noted that there are slightly divergent copies and there are a few small phrases in the copies we have that she later denied were actually in the letter she dictated; for instance, she denied that she ever actually said that she was Chef de Guerre, i.e., commander. Since she was unable to read and write, we don't know if this is a case of the scribe she was dictating to adding some flourishes and glosses, which may be, or if later copyists added them. They don't change the substance of the letter, however, which we know to be essentially accurate. For more discussion of the matter, see here, which site has some excellent discussion of all of Joan's letters. I have added some paragraphing to make it easier to read.

+ Jesus Maria +

King of England, and you, Duke of Bedford, who call yourself Regent of the kingdom France; you William de la Pole, Count of Suffolk; John, Lord Talbot; and you Thomas, Lord Scales, who call yourselves lieutenants of the said Duke of Bedford:

Do justly by the King of Heaven; render to the Maid [she claimed later that she said 'the King'] who is sent here of God, the King of Heaven, the keys of all the good cities that you have taken and violated in France. She has come here from God to restore the royal blood. She is all ready to make peace, if you will deal rightly by her, acknowledge the wrong done France, and pay for what you have taken.

And all of you, archers, companions of war, nobles and others who are before you; and if this is not done, expect news of the Maid, who will go to see you shortly, to your very great injury.

King of England, if you do not do this, [I am Chef de Guerre, and] in whatever place I shall find your people in France, I will make them go whether they will or not; and if they will not obey I will have them all killed. I am sent here by God, the King of Heaven, [body for body,] to put you out of all France. And if they will obey I will be merciful. And stand not by your opinion, for you will never hold the kingdom of France through God, King of Heaven, son of Saint Mary; it will be thus ruled by King Charles VII, true heritor; for God, the King of Heaven, wishes it, and this to him is revealed by the Maid, and he will enter Paris in good company. If you will not believe the news from God and the Maid, in whatever place we shall find you, we shall strike in your midst, and will make so great a Hahay! that for a thousand years there has not been one in France so great, if you do not deal justly. And you may well believe that the King of Heaven will send more strength to the Maid than you will be able to lead in all your assaults against her and her good soldiers. And when the blows fall we shall see who will have the better right[, whether God of Heaven or you].

You, Duke of Bedford, the Maid begs you and requires of you that you work not your own destruction. If you listen to her you will yet be able to come in her company to where the French will do the finest deed that ever was done for Christianity.

And reply to this, if you wish to make peace at the city of Orleans; and if thus you do not do, you will shortly remember it to your great sorrow. Written this Tuesday, Holy Week.

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