CHAPTER IX. JOAN OF ARC'S VICTORY OVER THE ENGLISH AT ORLEANS, A.D. 1429.
"The eyes of all Europe were turned towards this scene; where, it
was reasonably supposed, the French were to make their last stand
for maintaining the independence of their monarchy and the rights
of their; sovereign" - HUME.
When, after their victory at Salamis, the generals of the various Greek states voted the prizes for distinguished individual merit, each assigned the first place of excellence to himself, but they all concurred in giving their second votes to Themistocles. [Plutarch, Vit. Them. 17.] This was looked on as a decisive proof that Themistocles ought to be ranked first of all. If we were to endeavour, by a similar test, to ascertain which European nation has contributed the most to the progress of European civilization, we should find Italy, Germany, England, and Spain, each claiming the first degree, but each also naming France as clearly next in merit. It is impossible to deny her paramount importance in history. Besides the formidable part that she has for nearly three centuries played, as the Bellona of the European commonwealth of states, her influence during all this period over the arts, the literature, the manners and the feelings of mankind, has been such as to make the crisis of her earlier fortunes a point of world-wide interest; and it may be asserted without exaggeration, that the future career of every nation was involved in the result of the struggle by which the unconscious heroine of France, in the beginning of the fifteenth century, rescued her country from becoming a second Ireland under the yoke of the triumphant English.
Seldom has the extinction of a a nation's independence appeared more inevitable than was the case in France, when the English invaders completed their lines round Orleans, four hundred and twenty-three years ago. A series of dreadful defeats had thinned the chivalry of France, and daunted the spirits of her soldiers. A foreign King had been proclaimed in her capital; and foreign armies of the bravest veterans, and led by the ablest captains then known in the world, occupied the fairest portions of her territory. Worse to her even than the fierceness and the strength of her foes were the factions, the vices, and the crimes of her own children. Her native prince was a dissolute trifler, stained with the assassination of the most powerful noble of the land, whose son, in revenge, had leagued himself with the enemy. Many more of her nobility, many of her prelates, her magistrates, and rulers, had sworn fealty to the English king. The condition of the peasantry amid the general prevalence of anarchy and brigandage, which were added to the customary devastations of contending armies, was wretched beyond the power of language to describe. The sense of terror and suffering seemed to have extended itself even to the brute creation.
"In sooth, the estate of France was then most miserable. There appeared nothing but a horrible face, confusion, poverty, desolation, solitarinesse, and feare. The lean and bare labourers in the country did terrifie even theeves themselves, who had nothing left them to spoile but the carkasses of these poore miserable creatures, wandering up and down like ghostes drawne out of their graves. The least farmes and hamlets were fortified by these robbers, English, Bourguegnons, and French, every one striving to do his worst; all men-of-war were well agreed to spoile the countryman and merchant. EVEN THE CATTELL, ACCUSTOMED TO THE LARUME BELL, THE SIGNE OF THE ENEMY'S APPROACH, WOULD RUN HOME OF THEMSELVES WITHOUT ANY GUIDE BY THIS ACCUSTOMED MISERY." [De Serres, quoted in the notes to Southey's Joan of Arc.]
In the autumn of 1428, the English, who were already masters of all France north of the Loire, prepared their forces for the conquest of the southern provinces, which yet adhered to the cause of the Dauphin. The city of Orleans, on the banks of that river, was looked upon as the last stronghold of the French national party. If the English could once obtain possession of it, their victorious progress through the residue of the kingdom seemed free from any serious obstacle. Accordingly, the Earl of Salisbury, one of the bravest and most experienced of the English generals, who had been trained under Henry V., marched to the attack of the all-important city; and, after reducing several places of inferior consequence in the neighbourhood, appeared with his army before its walls on the 12th of October, 1428.