Never perhaps in modern times had a country sunk so low as France, when, in the year 1420, the treaty of Troyes was signed. Henry V. of England had made himself master of nearly the whole kingdom; and although the treaty only conferred the title of Regent of France on the English sovereign during the lifetime of the imbecile Charles vi., Henry was assured in the near future of the full possession of the French throne, to the exclusion of the Dauphin. Henry received with the daughter of Charles vi. the Duchy of Normandy, besides the places conquered by Edward III. and his famous son; and of fourteen provinces left by Charles V. to his successor only three remained in the power of the French crown. The French Parliament assented to these hard conditions, and but one voice was raised in protest to the dismemberment of France; that solitary voice, a voice crying in a wilderness, was that of Charles the Dauphin—afterwards Charles VII. Henry V. had fondly imagined that by the treaty of Troyes and his marriage with a French princess the war, which had lasted over a century between the two countries, would now cease, and that France would lie for ever at the foot of England. Indeed, up to Henry’s death, at the end of August 1422, events seemed to justify such hopes; but after a score of years from Henry’s death France had recovered almost the whole of her lost territory.
There is nothing in history more strange and yet more true than the story which has been told so often, but which never palls in its interest—that life of the maiden through whose instrumentality France regained her place among the nations. No poet’s fancy has spun from out his imagination a more glorious tale, or pictured in glowing words an epic of heroic love and transcendent valour, to compete with the actual reality of the career of this simple village maiden of old France: she who, almost unassisted and alone, through her intense love of her native land and deep pity for the woes of her people, was enabled, when the day of action at length arrived, to triumph over unnumbered obstacles, and, in spite of all opposition, ridicule, and contumely, to fulfil her glorious mission.
Sainte-Beuve has written that, in his opinion, the way to honour the history of Joan of Arc is to tell the truth about her as simply as possible. This has been my object in the following pages.
On the border of Lorraine and Champagne, in the canton of the Barrois—between the rivers Marne and Meuse—extended, at the time of which we are writing, a vast forest, called the Der. By the side of a little streamlet, which took its source from the river Meuse, and dividing it east by west, stands the village of Domremy. The southern portion, confined within its banks and watered by its stream, contained a little fortalice, with a score of cottages grouped around. These were situated in the county of Champagne, under the suzerainty of the Count de Bar.