Was Joan of Arc’s attack on Paris really a disaster?

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Well… sort of. Maybe. But then again, maybe not.

Most commentaries that I read refer to Joan of Arc’s attack on Paris as a mistake. They point out that it resulted in her first defeat, took away a little of her luster in the eyes of her countrymen, demonstrated that she was vulnerable, and even ended her mysterious and mystical inspirational leadership over the newly re-forming nation of France.

Joan biographer and philosopher Siobhan Nash-Marshall, in her book Joan of Arc – a Spiritual Biography, reflects:

“Historians have said a number of things about Joan’s attack on Paris: that it was generally a mistake; that it was a disaster; that it was the beginning of her military end. Some of these things are true. The battle for Paris was unquestionably the last one in which Joan led a force as large as the ones she had been accustomed to. It is also unquestionable that Paris marked the end of an era in Joan’s life – the era of hope, the hope that Charles would follow her and benefit from what she had to give. Paris also marked the end of Joan’s direct communication of her incredible energy, power, and faith to the people of France.”

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Yet, let’s take a look at the circumstances surrounding the attack on Paris. After Charles VII’s coronation (miraculously achieved by Divine Assistance working through Joan of Arc, we might remind ourselves), he, the newly annointed King of France and Lieutenant of Jesus Christ (Jesus Christ being the true King of France as revealed by Joan to Charles when she first met him in Chinon that previous Spring), fell flat. One of the most mystifying periods in the history surrounding Joan of Arc is that of Charles’ tepidity and passiveness after his coronation.

Charles was already in secret negotiations with his arch enemy, the Duke of Burgundy, even prior to his coronation. This dismayed Joan when she discovered it. He further exasperated everyone, including Joan, after his coronation by stalling on any attack for weeks, attacks that Joan and her captains knew would be most advantageously timed for the Franco-Armagnac army to re-take French lands from the Anglo-Burgundian alliance. Whereas Joan previously had insisted against striking at Paris and then Normandy until the time that Charles was crowned in Rheims, she was now totally on board with taking advantage of the momentum and finishing off the English in short order.

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However, it was not be. Charles, having made an unwise truce with Burgundy that served only to allow the latter to obtain reinforcements for Paris (which Joan knew and which was why she was furious when she learned of the truce between Charles and Burgundy) simply bumbled around with his royal army, avoiding any engagement with the English. He seemed intent on “leaving well enough alone” rather than on winning back his country from enemy occupation. Needless to say, that was not Joan’s style.

So, Joan, with her “Beau Duc” d’Alençon, took it on herself to attack Paris. Joan, later in her inquisitional trial, would admit that she took this on without guidance from her Voices.

The first attack was partially successful. They took one tower. The following attack almost put the royal Armagnac forces over the walls of Paris. As Nash tells us:

“Joan and her troops then advanced against the gate of St. Denis, which was near the Marché aux Porceaux (the pig market). They filled the moats, crossed them and made for the walls. Initially, it seemed that the attack would be successful, and that all Joan’s troops needed to do to get into Paris was to set their scaling ladders and climb them. The Parisian defense was completely thrown at this point. As the Franco-Armagnac’s were getting their ladders ready, however, Joan was wounded – an arrow caught her in the thigh. She was carried off the field against her wishes but continued to call out orders. Her orders were in vain; her wound had demoralized her troops and rallied the Parisian defenders. The French withdrew their forces and despite Joan’s loud protest, they retreated for the day.”

Thus, we see that but for one unfortunate incident – Joan of Arc being wounded – the battle for Paris might likely have been another victory for her and the royal army. This event parallels those that recently had taken place in Orléans. There, Joan was injured and taken off the battlefield. However, at Orléans, Joan returned with her army to crush the English at the bastille of Les Tourelles. Here, at Paris, however, the army did not give her the opportunity to rally.

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This proved to be a most costly delay. For it put the Paris assault back on the slow-motion time track of King Charles, who was still delaying. He finally promised Joan and d’Alençon that he would come to join them; however, he had a most bitter surprise awaiting them. When he did arrive in the area of Paris, he was going to sabotage Joan and d’Alençon’s efforts to build a bridge across the moat for a final, decisive blow on Paris. He was going to sabotage them and, against all reason, save a reason in Charles’ head that we are not privy to, he was going to disband the army entirely. Nash explains:

“As Joan and d’Alençon were to discover the next morning, however, Charles’ intent was more treacherous than they might have supposed. On the morning of September 10, when their army was finally ready to stage its attack on Paris, they found that the king had secretly had d’Alençon’s bridge destroyed the night before. Shortly thereafter Charles ordered a complete retreat.

Joan left a suit of armor and a sword in the chapel of St. Denis, after she was ordered to retreat….

On September 13, when Charles ordered his army to move on from St. Denis and to return to his own lands, Joan objected. At her Rouen trial she confessed that her voices had told her to stay there and not follow the king. But there was very little Joan could do at that point. She had made a king and had to treat him like one. On September 21, 1429, Charles disbanded the army.”

The attack on Paris failed first because Joan had been injured, which resulted in a fatal delay, and secondly because her king, Charles VII, sabotaged her efforts. The so-called disaster of Paris for Joan of Arc might possibly have been initiated through a failure of judgment on her part; however, it most certainly was brought to fruition through a failure of judgment on Charles’ part, wrought with political intrigue. It was here that Joan came to understand the realities of politics in the court of Charles VII. It was here that she came to finally understand that Charles was not going to support her, as referenced in the first quote above. It was here, at the tomb of St. Denis, that Joan of Arc laid her armor and sword.

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Yet, Joan of Arc was not done. Yes, her battles on earth would dwindle from here. She would eventually be captured at Compiègne and sent to her trial of condemnation at Rouen where she would be burned alive at the stake. However, this was just the beginning of a new stage in Joan’s work to save France. The first stage developed around earthly glory and pageantry, around battlefield victories and royal coronations. The second stage would develop around Heavenly victories and Heavenly coronations.

Joan of Arc was going to suffer in the mystical body of Christ for France. Joan of Arc was going to die for France. Joan of Arc was going to turn from earthly victory to Heavenly victory through suffering. She was going to unite her sufferings with the sufferings of Christ for the completion of her mission on earth.

Her mission on earth was to follow Our Lord’s command and bring the Father’s Kingdom “on earth as it is in Heaven.”

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By uniting herself with the sufferings of Christ and being burned alive unjustly at the stake, Joan of Arc was going defend Christ’s kingdom of France “on earth as it is in Heaven” given that her Voices had informed her that Jesus Christ was the true King of France. France, for Joan, existed both on earth and in Heaven for this very reason, just as the Church existed both on earth and in Heaven as depicted on her banner.

Joan of Arc’s life was the Our Father. Her life, her victories, her defeats, and her sufferings were a living prayer. Joan of Arc not only prayed the Our Father, she lived it out.

France, and we with France, are the beneficiaries of her prayer.

Pray then like this: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven… (Mt 6: 9-10)

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church… (Col 1:24)

Jehanne Cloud