There are stories from history that make me wish I could go back in time to watch closely, perhaps as a fly on a wall somewhere in the vicinity, to feel the whole expression of it. I think we all have these dreams from time to time. The moment may be something that inspires us, or perhaps something that appears very beautiful to us. On any account, we are fascinated by the story we hear or read, and we think we would give anything to witness it. I will tell you about one such time. It involves Joan of Arc and the battle for Orleans, specifically her assault on Les Tourelles, the last Bastille to stand between the Maid, La Pucelle, a Daughter of God (in many of our eyes anyway), and freedom for her people in that city and country.
My devotion to Joan of Arc seems boundless at times. That is one of the many magnificent attributes of love; that is, that it can be boundless for one individual without taking a single ounce of love away from another. It just develops and flowers with no worry about how it might affect another field we have planted elsewhere.
And so, with my love for Joan of Arc in mind, I will tell you about a particular point in time during that decisive spring in the year 1429, in the country of France and the city of Orleans. The English had occupied that place and kept the local French inhabitants locked in a siege since around October of the previous year. Joan of Arc aimed to free it. To make short of it, the English were buttoned down strongly inside the heavily armed fortress walls of Les Tourelles and had no intention of going anywhere, despite the fact that Joan had already dictated a letter to the English commander in the area, Talbot, warning him in no uncertain terms that he and his army must leave immediately and return to England or face the consequences. Now, please note that Joan spoke with simplicity, faith, and force when dealing with her adversary; she simply commanded him to leave, “in the name of God” or she would force the issue with a “clash of arms to be eternally remembered” (Mark Twain). A message, from the lips of Joan of Arc, is not hard to grasp.
I like her style. With Joan of Arc there was no politically correct, media-conscience phrasing. There were no code words and no reading between lines. What is the point in that? If Joan of Arc wished to convey the message of Jesus Christ, given her by the Visions of St. Michael the Archangel, St. Catherine, and St. Margaret, why twist and stammer out a carefully worded spin that sort of hints, a little bit, kind of, at what the message is? Joan of Arc knew what the message was to be delivered to the English, and she delivered it. Englishmen, go home, the King of Kings commands it. Go and no harm will come to you. Stay, and be removed by force of arms – your choice, enough said.
The above is a prelude, if you will, to that very precise moment during this conflict about which I was telling you above. This is the moment where I would have liked, at least temporarily, to be a fly watching on the Bastille wall, just overlooking the bridge connecting the mainland to Les Tourelles. Joan of Arc walked right up to the river in front of the fortress and shouted up to Sir William Glasdale, the commander of that particular Bastille; she shouted the very same message that she had delivered to Talbot, that he should, in God’s name, give himself and his army up, turn right away toward England and start marching. Again, no real hint of an awareness as to how this all might sound on CNN, particularly if certain phrases were construed out of joint in a small ten second sound-bite. The honest simplicity and straightforwardness in the words of Joan of Arc would not only baffle the English on the battlefield, but would absolutely humiliate the proud scholars, Church or otherwise, who later mocked her during her kangaroo-court heresy trial. Be very careful not to underestimate Joan of Arc.
And Sir William Glasdale would have been wise to pay heed to that last recommendation, for he, as you might already suspect, did not think much too highly of Joan’s message. No, the English did not pack up and march back to England at her insistence that day standing on the brink of the bridge and shouting over the wall. But God bless Joan. You cannot say that she did not deliver the message.
Well, the English response was almost equally curious. They, for their part, did not shoot arrows at Joan of Arc, nor try to run out and capture her. Oddly, the English shouted insults and obscenities to her, calling her, among many names unfit for print one would suppose, a “Cowgirl”. With that, our dear Joan simply shouted back to the rude English soldiers that they were “liars” before calmly walking away. And as I sit attached with my sticky fly feet to the side of that Bastille, I think I am hearing a war being conducted between the Supreme Commander of the French Army and a senior commander of the English army along the lines of “Are so, am not, are so…you’re a big liar!” It does not get more confusing, curious, or quaint than this. But if you are joining me as a little fly on the Bastille wall that day, then I would suggest we get moving, for it is no longer a good time to be hanging around the wall. For when Joan of Arc returns in a few days time, she storms the Bastille walls and brings the English army to its knees. You should not have underestimated the young country girl from Domremy, Mr. Glasdale. But I think he eventually got the message.
And so, this is the moment in history about which I was referring in the beginning. A young country girl only seventeen years old walks within shouting distance of an enemy fortress, shouts that God demands they leave, calls them liars when they insult her, and follows up by storming its walls until the opponent falls through the back door bridge to his death.
Yes, I would very much have loved to witness that little piece of poetic history. I would have loved to stand in awe of Joan of Arc.