Was there ever a stranger chapter in history! Alas, if it could have ended here, and she could have gone back to her mother and her spinning and her simple pleasures, as she was always longing to do when her work should be done. But no! we see her falling into the hands of the defeated and revengeful English—this child, who had wrested from them a kingdom already in their grasp. She was turned over to the French ecclesiastical court to be tried. A sorceress and a blasphemer they pronounce her, and pass her on to the secular authorities, and her sentence is—death.
We see the poor defenceless girl, bewildered, terrified, wringing her hands and declaring her innocence as she rides to execution. God and man had abandoned her. No heavenly voice spoke, no miracle intervened as her young limbs were tied to the stake and the fagots and straw piled up about her. The torch was applied, and her pure soul mounted heavenward in a column of flames.
Rugged men wept. A Burgundian general said, as he turned gloomily away, “We have murdered a saint.”
[Illustration: Burning of Joan of Arc at Rouen, May 30, 1431. From the painting by Lenepveu.]
And Charles, sitting upon the throne she had rescued for him, what was he doing to save her? Nothing—to his everlasting shame be it said, nothing. He might not have succeeded; the effort at rescue, or to stay the event, might have been unavailing. But where was his knighthood, where his manhood, that he did not try, or utter passionate protest against her fate?
Twenty-five years later we see him erecting statues to her memory, and “rehabilitating” her desecrated name. And to-day, the Church which condemned her for blasphemy is placing her upon the calendar of saints.
CHARLES VII. in creating a standing army struck feudalism a deadly blow. His son, Louis XI., with cold-blooded brutality finished the work. This man’s powerful and crafty intelligence saw in an alliance with the common people a means of absorbing to himself supreme power. Not since Tiberius had there been a more blood-thirsty monster on a throne. But he demolished the political structure of mediaevalism in his kingdom; and when his cruel reign was ended the Middle Ages had passed away, and modern life had begun in France.
There was no longer even the pretence of knightly virtues in France. It was time for the high-born robbers and ruffians in steel helmets to give place to men with hearts and brains. It is said that of those thousands, that chivalric host, which was slaughtered at Agincourt, not one in twenty could write his name. All alike were cruel and had the instincts of barbarians. While the Duke of Burgundy, the richest prince in Europe, was starving his enemies in secret dungeons in the Bastille, his Orleans rival, Count of Armagnac, not having access to the Bastille, was decapitating Burgundians till his executioners fainted from fatigue.