Segment 3: Vaucouleurs
"Go, and let come what may."1
- Robert de Baudricourt, as Joan of Arc left Vaucouleurs.
Anno Domini 1428
Beginning at some
point after this time, she began calling herself "la Pucelle", meaning
"the maiden" or "virginal young girl", explaining that she had promised her saints
to "maintain my virginity for as long as it
Some historians have pointed out
that the term also served a practical purpose: now that she
would be associating with soldiers, it was in her interest to
distance herself from the primary variety of single women who accompanied
armies: prostitutes, which the eyewitnesses said she particularly
loathed. The best way to do this was to bluntly declare herself a
virgin. Now that her mission was beginning
in earnest, she would adopt this label as her official
title, and it is by this term that she is most often referred to in the 15th century chronicles
and eyewitness accounts.
She returned to Domrémy. Two months later, in July of 1428, the
Anglo-Burgundians launched a campaign against Vaucouleurs (the only
fortified town in the region which was still loyal to the Armagnac
faction). Lord Antoine de Vergy, Burgundian governor of the County of Champagne,
led an army of 796 men-at-arms plus auxiliaries
through the Meuse valley, terrorizing the local villages along his
route. Domrémy was no exception: as the church bells sounded the
alarm, Joan of Arc and her family joined the
other villagers in driving their herds to the safety of the walled
city of Neufchâteau several miles to the southeast, where
the family stayed at an inn run by a widow named La Rousse for
a few days.
After the troops had gone through, the population returned to
their village to view the aftermath: the inside of the Church of St. Rémy
was damaged by fire, as were other structures; the fields were left
in devastation. Vaucouleurs was besieged, during the course of which
Baudricourt was forced to sign an agreement effectively taking him
out of the war.
While these events were occurring the English were massing for a new
campaign which would set in motion the sequence which later earned
Joan the title "Maid of Orléans".
Stymied in his attempts to convince his English cousins to
call off the siege, Duke Charles of Orléans occupied himself with
his brooding poems. One of these, apparently written about this
time, deals with the war:
IN 1428 Joan said she finally heeded her visions, and around May 13th of that year ("around the Ascension of Our Lord")2 she made her first journey to Vaucouleurs on the pretext of visiting her relatives Durand and Jehanne Lassois (or Laxart) in the nearby village of Burey-le-Petit. During the week spent with them she convinced Durand Lassois to bring her before Robert de Baudricourt, the local commander at Vaucouleurs.
As she would later say: "I went to an unclemn1
of mine and told him I
wanted to stay with him for some time; I stayed there about eight
days. I told my uncle that I must go to the town of Vaucouleurs,
and so my uncle took me. When I reached Vaucouleurs, I easily recognized
Robert de Baudricourt, although I had never seen him before; I knew
him through my Voice, which told me it was he. I told him that
I must come into France."3
Margin Note 1:
She called him her uncle; he was married to a family relation.
Durand Lassois later testified: "I myself went to find Joan at her
father's house and brought her to my own house, and she said to me that she
wanted to go to France, to the Dauphin, to have him crowned, saying:
'Has it not been said that France would be ruined by a woman
and later restored by a virgin?'mn2
And she also said that she would
go tell Robert de Baudricourt to have her brought to the place where
my lord the Dauphin was. Robert told me several times to
take her back to her father's house and give her a good slapping; and when
the Maiden saw that Robert was not willing to have her taken to where the Dauphin was,
she brought back my cloak and said she would
like to withdraw."5
Margin Note 2:
This was one of the popular prophecies which popped up during France's time of crisis. See section farther down for additional information.
In June the Earl of Salisbury had landed in France with fresh reinforcements: 450 men-at-arms, 2,250 archers, and a column of artillery. On October 12th the English besieged Orléans, which controlled a crucial bridge over the Loire River less than 65 miles north of Bourges. The Duke of Bedford had initially objected to the campaign, since the city's hereditary lord was being held prisoner (and in fact that hereditary lord would file a complaint with the English council,6 reminding them that a captive lord's lands were entitled to neutrality). Bedford favored an alternate plan of securing the Touraine region before moving against the heart of Armagnac territory; but Salisbury's plan won the day.
Beginning at some point after this time, she began calling herself "la Pucelle", meaning "the maiden" or "virginal young girl", explaining that she had promised her saints to "maintain my virginity for as long as it pleases God".4 Some historians have pointed out that the term also served a practical purpose: now that she would be associating with soldiers, it was in her interest to distance herself from the primary variety of single women who accompanied armies: prostitutes, which the eyewitnesses said she particularly loathed. The best way to do this was to bluntly declare herself a virgin. Now that her mission was beginning in earnest, she would adopt this label as her official title, and it is by this term that she is most often referred to in the 15th century chronicles and eyewitness accounts.
She returned to Domrémy. Two months later, in July of 1428, the Anglo-Burgundians launched a campaign against Vaucouleurs (the only fortified town in the region which was still loyal to the Armagnac faction). Lord Antoine de Vergy, Burgundian governor of the County of Champagne, led an army of 796 men-at-arms plus auxiliaries through the Meuse valley, terrorizing the local villages along his route. Domrémy was no exception: as the church bells sounded the alarm, Joan of Arc and her family joined the other villagers in driving their herds to the safety of the walled city of Neufchâteau several miles to the southeast, where the family stayed at an inn run by a widow named La Rousse for a few days. After the troops had gone through, the population returned to their village to view the aftermath: the inside of the Church of St. Rémy was damaged by fire, as were other structures; the fields were left in devastation. Vaucouleurs was besieged, during the course of which Baudricourt was forced to sign an agreement effectively taking him out of the war.
While these events were occurring the English were massing for a new
campaign which would set in motion the sequence which later earned
Joan the title "Maid of Orléans".
Stymied in his attempts to convince his English cousins to call off the siege, Duke Charles of Orléans occupied himself with his brooding poems. One of these, apparently written about this time, deals with the war:
|...Priant a Dieu, qu'avant qu'aye vieillesse
Le temps de paix partout puist avenir
Comme de Cueur j'en ay la desirance
Et que voye tous tes maulx brief finir
Trescrestian, franc royaume de France!
|...Praying to God, that before I reach old age|
A time of peace may everywhere arrive
As I long for with all my Heart
And that I should see all of your ills soon end
Most-Christian, noble Kingdom of France!7
The ills of which the poem speaks were now descending upon the poet's city.
Orléans was besieged by 4,000 English troops, supplemented by 150 Burgundian subjects whose services the Duke had generously lent his allies for a tidy sum. The Armagnac defenders included 2,400 Royal troops and 3,000 local levies protected by 30-foot walls and 71 cannons. The English also had a substantial number of artillery pieces, including several large 'bombardes' (wide-barreled, stubby cannons designed for lobbing massive stone balls), some hurling projectiles weighing up to 164 pounds.8
Salisbury's forces captured the outlying towers known as "Les Tourelles" (located on the southern end of the bridge) on October 24th after a steady bombardment shattered portions of the structure and sappers tunneled underneath the earthwork fortification along the shoreline. After his troops occupied the fortifications, the Earl of Salisbury was on the second floor looking over the opposing positions when a veuglaire (a type of cannon with a long barrel and medium bore) suddenly fired from the city's Notre Dame Tower, sending a stone ball crashing through Salisbury's window. The projectile "crushed half of his cheek and gouged out one of his eyes", according to one 15th century chronicler.9 Gangrene set in, and Lord Salisbury died at Meung-sur-Loire after eight days of agony. The Earl of Suffolk replaced him as commander, followed by the Earl of Shrewsbury (Lord Talbot) in December.10
Things were still worse for their opposite number, who found
themselves unable to break the stranglehold on this crucial city.
chronicler Enguerrand de Monstrelet notes that the Dauphin Charles
and his counselors feared that the fall of Orléans would doom their
The Royal Court relocated from Bourges to Chinon. If the worst came to pass, Charles was apparently planning to seek sanctuary from the friendly governments in Scotland or Spain.12 After that, his options were probably rather limited.
As the siege of Orléans continued through the winter months, Joan of Arc
made her second journey to Vaucouleurs in January, leaving Domrémy for the
last time. She would later say, "Since God had commanded it, it
was necessary that I do it. Since God commanded it, even if I had a
hundred fathers and mothers, even if I had been a King's daughter, I
would have gone nevertheless."13
She told her parents that she was going to help the wife of Durand Lassois,14 and it was he who came to pick her up again.
Gerard Guillemette later said: "...I saw Joan passing before her father's house with a certain uncle of hers, named Durand Laxart, and at that time Joannie [Jhenette] said to her father: 'Adieu! I am going to Vaucouleurs.'"15
She apparently said little to the people in her village outside of her own family. Mengette later testified that "... she said to me 'Adieu', and then left, commending me to God, and went to Vaucouleurs."16
Jean Waterin: "I saw her leaving the village of Greux [on the route between Domrémy and Vaucouleurs], and she said to the people "Adieu!". And I heard it said many times that she was going to restore France and the Royal Family."17
There was no goodbye for little Hauviette, who was "three or four years" younger and therefore apparently no more than 12 or 13 at the time;18 despite the age difference, it has sometimes been assumed that Hauviette was Joan's closest childhood friend. Much later during the Rehabilitation Trial, a middle-aged Hauviette would remember: "I did not know when Joan left, for which I wept a great deal; because I was so fond of her for her goodness [or "kindness"], and I was her friend."19
|Margin Note 3:|
Predictably, some pop authors have taken one of the fictional characters cited as an alleged source ("Merlyn") and spun a revisionist tale out of it. Click here for an examination of this subject.
As the witnesses mentioned, she was still
frustrated in her attempts to persuade the local
garrison commander to take her seriously. While Robert de Baudricourt
was ignoring her, however, she attracted the
attention of a more distant lord: a message arrived at Vaucouleurs
requiring her to travel to the city of Nancy in the Duchy of Lorraine
(at that time a part of the Holy Roman Empire just across the border)
to meet with the ailing Duke Charles II of Lorraine, who had heard that
a visionary had appeared whom he hoped might be able to
cure him. This pro-English duke was an aging soldier who had taken
part in crusades against the Turks and numerous other wars; he was
now 64 and in bad shape. As Joan would later testify: "... the Duke of
Lorraine ordered that I should be taken to him; I went, and told him that
I wanted to go to France. The Duke questioned me about the recovery
of his health, but I said that I knew nothing about
that, and I spoke little about my journey. I nevertheless said to the Duke
that he should send his son and some men to take me into France,
and that I would pray to God for his health."22
This was echoed by Durand Lassois, "... I took her to [the town of] Saint-Nicolas; and when she got there she went with a safe-conduct to my lord Charles, Duke of Lorraine, and when the Duke saw her, he spoke with her and gave her four francs, which she showed me."23
A vivid account of her activities at this time comes from the testimony of Jean de Metz, one of Baudricourt's soldiers who would later serve among the men in her escortmn5: "When Joan the Maiden arrived at Vaucouleurs in the diocese of Toul, I saw her clothed in a poor dress, red in color; she was staying in the house of a certain Henri le Royer of Vaucouleurs. I said to her: 'My friend, what are you doing here? Will not the King be expelled from the kingdom and we become English?'. The Maiden answered me: 'I have come to this Royal town to speak to Robert de Baudricourt, so that he might wish to bring me, or have me brought, to the King; but he pays no attention to me or my words. Nevertheless, before mid-Lent I must be before the King even if I must wear down my feet to the knees. For truly no one in the world, neither kings, nor dukes, nor the King of Scotland's daughtermn6 nor anyone else can regain the Kingdom of France; there is no aid except myself, although I would prefer to spin wool beside my poor mother, because this [i.e. leading an army] is not of my social rank; but it is necessary that I go and do this, for my Lord wishes that I do it.' And when I asked her who her lord was, she said that it was God. And then I promised the Maiden, giving her my faith by touching her hand,mn7 that with God as guide I would lead her before the King. I asked her when she wanted to leave, to which she replied: 'Rather now than tomorrow, and tomorrow rather than later'. And I asked her if she wanted to go with her own clothes [note: it was dangerous for women to travel through disputed territory without a disguise, hence the question]; she replied that she would be willing to have male clothing [note: This was standard practice, and if it was being done out of necessity the medieval Church granted an exemption]. I provided her with clothing and boots belonging to one of my servants; and when this was done, the inhabitants of Vaucouleurs had male clothing, boots, greaves, and other necessary items made for her; and they gave her a horse which cost sixteen francs, or around that. When she was dressed and had a horse, with a safe-conduct from my lord Charles, Duke of Lorraine, she went to the place of my lord the Duke; I went with her as far as the city of Toul..."25
She arrived back at Vaucouleurs on or before February 12th and went
before Robert de Baudricourt for the last time: "Robert twice refused to listen to me, and rejected me; the
third time he listened to me and gave me an escort. The Voice told
me that it would be so."26
According to the 15th century document known today as "Journal du Siège d'Orléans" and other sources, Joan of Arc finally convinced Baudricourt by telling him about the disaster at the Battle of Rouvray (12 February 1429) before word of the battle was brought to Vaucouleurs.27
|Margin Note 8:|
A portion of the cargo of herrings was sacrificed to French cannon-fire during the early stages of the battle, and gathered up by local farmers afterwards. The English had few other losses.
Margin Note 9:
For Catholics, flesh meat is forbidden during Lent (a period of fasting during the weeks preceding Easter), hence the fish being delivered to the English troops.
The convoy's escort consisted of some 600 English soldiers and 1,000 Parisians commanded by Sir John Fastolf. On February 12th the convoy's leaders learned from local English garrisons that two hostile forces were closing in on their position. Fastolf ordered his men to group their wagons into a square with two openings guarded by archers supported by armored men-at-arms. The Armagnacs achieved some limited success against this makeshift fortress by using their field artillery (apparently small veuglaires) to rupture some of the wagons, spilling salted fish all over the place. Their ground assault, however, met with disaster. La Hire and many of the other commanders had initially hoped to attack before the English completed their defenses, but Clermont sent repeated orders to wait until the rest of his troops were brought into position. In the end they did neither: while the remainder of the troops continued to plod toward the battlefield and the English made use of the delay to complete their preparations, the Scottish contingent finally launched an assault on its own initiative and thereby induced the available portion of the French troops to follow suit. By that point they were faced with a solid barricade of wagons from which poured a dense hail of arrows. The attacking forces were decimated. Dunois and Clermont were wounded, and Stewart was killed along with many of his Scots as they tried to fight their way through one of the openings. In a now-familiar pattern, the Armagnacs lost 120 nobles and some 500 common soldiers, whereas English losses totaled a mere four. The salted herrings arrived safely within Talbot's lines.29
The battle was another hopeless defeat in a long string of such defeats,
at a time when the Dauphin was running low on money, the Royal army
was running low on morale, and the city of Orléans was beginning to
run out of time. Perhaps, as the "Journal" claimed, it was a
prophecy of this battle which convinced Baudricourt to take Joan of Arc
seriously, coupled perhaps with a growing sense that things were
getting desperate. In any event, he finally authorized her to be
escorted to the Dauphin's court at Chinon and sent along a letter with
To quote the witnesses:
|Margin Note 10:|
Quadragesima Sunday / Dimanche des Bures: the first Sunday in Lent, 13 February 1429.
Bertrand de Poulengy: "... I and Jean de Metz, with the
help of the other people of Vaucouleurs, arranged that she give
up her female clothes, which were red in color, and we had them make for
her a tunic and male clothing, spurs, greaves, a sword, and the like,
and also a horse; and then I, with Joan and my servant Julian,
Jean de Metz' servant Jean de Honecourt, Colet de Vienne and Richard
l'Archier, took to the road to go before the Dauphin."31
Henri le Royer: "When she had determined to leave, she was asked how she would manage, with all the soldiers everywhere. She answered that she was not afraid of the soldiers, for her way was unobstructed; because, if there were soldiers along the route, she had God, her Lord, who would clear a way for her to the lord Dauphin, and that she had been born to do this."32
And finally, Joan herself: "Robert de Baudricourt required those who escorted me to swear an oath to conduct me well and safely, and Robert said to me as I left: 'Go, and let come what may.'" 33
Copyright © 2000 - 2014, Allen Williamson. All rights reserved.