Extracts from A Parisian Journal

Extracts from A Parisian Journal, 1405-1449, translated by Janet Shirley from the anonymous Journal d’un bourgeois de Paris (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968).

[Note: These extracts from the diary of an anonymous resident of Paris (probably a cleric) provide detailed information on the politics of the day and living conditions in the city during the last decades of the Hundred Years’ War.]

1419, War (pp. 145-147)

For this damned war has caused so much misery that I believe France has suffered more in the past twelve years than she had done in the previous sixty. Alas! First, there is Normandy entirely ruined. Almost all of them, the men who used to have the land tilled, each dwelling in his own place with his wife and his household in peace and safety, merchants and merchant-women, clergy, monks, nuns, people of all walks of life, have been turned out of their homes, thrust forth as if they were animals, so that now those must beg who used to give, others must serve who used to be served, some in despair turn thief and murderer, decent girls and women through rape or otherwise are come to shame, by necessity made wanton. God Almighty knows how many monks, how many priests, how many ladies of the religious orders and other gentlewomen have been forced to abandon everything and surrender bodies and souls to despair! Alas! how many children have been born dead for lack of aid, how many men have died without confession, through torture or otherwise, how many dead lie unburied in forests and out of the way places! How many intended marriages have been abandoned, how many churches burned and chapels, hospitals, and infirmaries, where once Our Lord’s holy service and works of mercy were done, of which now only the sites remain. How much wealth is hidden that will never do any good, and churches’ relics and jewels too and other things that will never be any use except perhaps by chance. In short, I do not think that anyone, not the most brilliant, could enumerate all the unhappy, appalling, monstrous, and damnable sins that have been committed since the disastrous and damnable appearance in France of Bernard, Count of Armagnac, Constable of France. Ever since France first heard the names of ‘Burgundian’ and ‘Armagnac’, every crime that can be thought or spoken of has been done in the Kingdom of France, so that innocent blood cries for vengeance before God. It is my sincere opinion that this Count of Armagnac was a devil in the shape of a man, because I cannot see that anyone who belongs to him or who holds by him or who wears his sash ever obeys the law or the Christian faith. On the contrary, they behave towards all those over whom they have power like men who have denied their creator, as is perfectly plain throughout the kingdom of France. I am sure that the King of England would never have dared to set foot in France in the way of war but for the dissensions which sprang from this unhappy name. Normandy would still have been French, the noble blood of France would not have been spilt nor the lords of the kingdom taken away into exile, nor the battle lost, nor would so many good men have been killed on that dreadful day of Agincourt where the King lost so many of his true and loyal friends, had it not been for the pride of this wretched name, Armagnac.

Alas! nothing will be left to them, of all their wickedness except the guilt. If they do not amend during this poor bodily life they will be for ever damned in great pain and grief, for certainly no one can hide anything from God. He, full of mercy, knows everything, so let no one put his trust in that not in long life nor any other foolish hope or vainglory. He will indeed render to everyone according to his deserts. Alas, never, I think, since the days of Clovis the first Christian King, has France been as desolate and as divided as it is today. The Dauphin and his people do nothing day or night but lay waste all his father’s land with fire and sword and the English on the other side do as much harm as Saracens. (It is better, though, much better, to be captured by the English than by the Dauphin or his people who call themselves the Armagnacs.) And the poor King and Queen have not moved from Troyes since Pontoise was taken, where they are with their poor retinue like fugitives, exiled by their own child, a dreadful thought for any right-minded person.

1429, Joan of Arc (pp. 233-4)

There was at this time a Maid, as they called her, in the Loire country who claimed to be able to foretell the future and who used to say ‘Such a thing will certainly happen’. She was altogether opposed to the Regent of France and his supporters. And it was said that in spite of all the forces in front of Orleans she made her way into the city, bringing in large numbers of Armagnacs and a good supply of provisions, and that none of the army made any move to stop her, although they could see them going by about one or two bowshots away from them and although they needed food so desperately that one man could well have eaten three blancs’ worth of bread at one meal. Other things were said of her too, by those who loved the Armagnacs better than the Burgundians or the Regent of France, such as that, when she was very small and looked after the sheep, birds would come from the woods and fields when she called them and eat bread in her lap as if they were tame. In veritate appocrisium est [“In truth, this is false”]. The Armagnacs now raised the siege and forced the English to retreat from before Orleans. But they went, it is said, to Vendôme and took that. This Maid went everywhere with the Armagnacs, wearing armour and carrying her banner, which bore the one word, ‘Jesus’. It was said that she told an English commander to leave the siege with all his men or they would all come to grief and shame. He answered her abusively, calling her bitch and tart; she told him that in spite of them all they would very soon all be gone but that he would not see it and that many of his men would be killed. And so it happened, for he was drowned the day before the slaughter. Afterwards he was fished up, cut in quarters, boiled and embalmed, and taken to St. Merry, where he remained for a week or ten days in the chapel in front of the crypt. Four candles or torches burned before his body night and day; then it was taken to his own country for burial.

1429, Joan of Arc (pp. 240-242)

On the eve of Lady Day in September the Armagnacs approached to attack the walls of Paris. They hoped to take the city by assault, but little did they gain there except sorrow, suffering, and disgrace. Many of them were maimed for the rest of their lives, men who before the attack had been strong and healthy – but a fool will never believe anything till he’s tried it. I say this because of these men who were so unfortunate, so full of foolish trust, that they relied upon the advice of a creature in the form of a woman, whom they called the Maid – what it was, God only knows – and unanimously agreed to attack Paris on the actual day of Our Lady’s holy nativity. They assembled, a good twelve thousand or more of them, and came up, their Maid with them, at about the time of high mass, between eleven and twelve, with a large number of carts, wagons, and horses, all laden with huge trebly-roped faggots of wood with which to fill up the moats. They mounted a fierce assault between the Portes St. Honoré and St. Denis and as they fought they shouted abuse and hard words at the city’s defenders. Their Maid was there with her standard on the bank above the moat, and she said to the Parisians, ‘Surrender to us quickly, in Jesus’ name! If you don’t surrender before nightfall we shall come in by force whether you like it or not and you will all be killed.’ ‘Shall we, you bloody tart?’ said a crossbowman, and shot at her. The bolt went right through her leg; she ran for safety; another transfixed her standard-bearer’s foot. When he felt the wound, he lifted his vizor to see to take it out and another man shot at him, hit him between the eyes and killed him. The Maid and the Duke of Alençon swore afterwards that they would rather have lost forty of their best men-at-arms. The fighting was very fierce on both sides and went on till at least four in the afternoon and still no one could say which were getting the best of it. Shortly after four o’clock the defenders took fresh heart and shot so fast at them, with cannon and other weapons, that they had to withdraw and abandon the assault and get away. Then it was a question of who could get away quickest, for Paris had big guns which could shoot from the Porte St. Denis to well beyond St. Lazare; these threw cannonballs at their backs, which alarmed them very much. Thus they were put to flight, but no one left Paris to pursue them, for fear of ambushes. As they retreated they set fire to the Mathurins’ barn near Les Porcherons, and they put their dead, whom they had loaded on to their horses, into this fire, great numbers of them, as the pagans used to do long ago in Rome. They cursed their Maid bitterly, for she had promised them that Paris would certainly fall to their assault, that she would sleep there that night and so would they all, that they would all be made rich with the city’s wealth, and anyone who resisted would be cut down or burned in his house. But God, who through a woman called Judith thwarted Holofernes’ great enterprise, in his mercy disappointed their hopes. For they came next day under safe-conduct to get their dead, and the herald who came with them stated on oath to the Captain of Paris that they had suffered at least fifteen hundred casualties, of which a good five hundred or more were dead or mortally wounded. There were hardly any men-at-arms in this battle except some forty or fifty Englishmen, who did their duty very well. The Parisians captured most of the carts they had used to bring up faggots in. No good ought to have come to them, planning such a slaughter on Our Lady’s holy nativity.

1430, Joan of Arc (p. 249)

On 23rd May my lady Jeanne, the Armagnacs’ Maid, was captured before Compiègne by messire Jean de Luxembourg and his men and by a good thousand Englishmen who were on their way to Paris. At least four hundred of the Maid’s men were killed or drowned.

1430, Joan of Arc (pp. 253-254)

On 3rd September, a Sunday, a sermon was preached upon two women in the Paris Notre Dame. They had been taken about six months earlier at Corbeil and brought to Paris. The elder, Pieronne, came from Breton-speaking Brittany; she maintained – and truthfully – that my lady Jeanne, who fought alongside the Armagnacs, was good and that what she did was well done and was God’s will. She admitted that she had received the precious body of Our Lord twice in one day. She affirmed and swore that God often appeared to her in human form and talked to her as one friend does to another; that the last time she had seen him he was wearing a long white robe and a red tunic underneath, which is blasphemous. She would not take back her assertion that she frequently saw God dressed like this and so was this day condemned to be burned, which she was, and died this Sunday maintaining her belief. The other girl was set free for the time being.

1431, Joan of Arc (pp. 260-265)

On the eve of the Holy Sacrament this year, May 30th in the year ’31, a sermon was preached in Rouen in the presence of my lady Jeanne, known as the Maid, who had been captured before Compiègne. She was standing on a platform so that everyone could see her clearly, dressed in men’s clothes. There she was told what great and disastrous evils had through her come upon Christendom, especially the kingdom of France, as everyone knows, and how she had attacked Paris with fire and sword on the day of Our Lady’s holy nativity; also what great and terrible sins she had done and caused others to do. How at Senlis and other places she had caused simple folk to commit idolatry, since through her false hypocrisy they had followed her as if she were a holy maiden, because she told them that the glorious archangel St. Michael, St. Catherine, St. Margaret, and many other saints, appeared to her frequently and talked to her as one friend does to another; not by revelation as God has sometimes spoken to those he loves, but bodily, by mouth, as a friend speaks to a friend. She said she was about seventeen; that she was not ashamed that in spite of her father, mother, relations and friends she often used to go to a beautiful well in the Lorraine country – the fairies’ and Our Lord’s good well, she called it. All the local people used to go there to be cured when they had fevers. This Jeanne, the Maid, often went there, and there, underneath a big tree which shaded the spring, she saw St. Catherine and St. Margaret appear to her. They told her that she was to go to a certain captain, whom they named; she went to him without asking her father or her mother’s permission. This captain gave her men’s clothes and armour, girded a sword about her, and gave her an esquire and four servants. Thus equipped, she was mounted on a good horse and went to the King of France. She told him that she had come to him by God’s command, that she would make him the greatest lord in the world, that it was ordered that all who disobeyed her should be killed without mercy; that St. Michael and many angels had given her a very rich crown for him, and there was a sword in the ground for him too, but she would not give it him till his fighting was done. And she rode with the King every day, amongst very many men-at-arms, no woman with her, wearing men’s clothing, points, and armour, and carrying a great stick in her hand. If any of her men did anything wrong, she would wallop them hard with this stick, like a very brutal woman. She says that she is certain she will be in Paradise when her days are done. She says she is completely certain that it is St. Michael and St. Catherine and St. Margaret who speak to her often, whenever she wishes, that she has very often seen them wearing gold crowns on their heads, that everything she does is at God’s command and, what is more, that she knows a great deal of what is going to happen. She has several times received the precious sacrament of the altar wearing armour, dressed like a man, her hair cut round, scalloped hood, tunic, scarlet hose tied with dozens of points-certain great lords and ladies reproved her for the mockery of her dress, telling her that she showed little respect to Our Lord, receiving him in such clothes, and she a woman. She answered at once that nothing could make her alter her dress, that she would rather die than stop wearing men’s clothes, no matter who might forbid it; that she would produce thunder and other marvels if she liked; that someone had once tried to molest her physically, but she had jumped from the top of a high tower without hurting herself at all. In several places she had men and women killed, both in battle and in deliberate revenge, for she had anyone who did not obey her letters killed immediately without pity whenever she could. She said and affirmed that she never did anything except at God’s command, as given to her frequently by the archangel St. Michael, by St. Catherine, and by St. Margaret, who made her do these things – not as Our Lord did to Moses on Mount Sinai, but themselves, personally, told her secret things that were to come; that they had ordered and did order everything that she did, her clothes and everything else.

Such and worse were my lady Jeanne’s false errors. They were all declared to her in front of the people, who were horrified when they heard these great errors against our faith which she held and still did hold. For, however clearly her great crimes and errors were shown her, she never faltered or was ashamed; but replied boldly to all the articles enumerated before her like one wholly given over to Satan. This was quite obvious, for she saw the clerks of the University of Paris humbly begging her to repent and recant of her dreadful error and all would be forgiven her through penance, or else she would be burned before all the people and her soul damned to hell. They showed her the writ and the place where the fire would be built to burn her straightaway if she did not recant. When she realized that they meant what they said, she asked for mercy; she recanted with her lips and her clothes were changed, she was dressed like a woman. But no sooner did she see herself like that than she fell again into her former error and wanted to have her men’s clothing back. She was at once unanimously condemned to death and was tied to a stake on the platform (which was built of plaster) and the fire lit under her. She was soon dead and her clothes all burned. Then the fire was raked back and her naked body shown to all the people and all the secrets that could or should belong to a woman, to take away any doubts from people’s minds. When they had stared long enough at her dead body bound to the stake, the executioner got a big fire going again round her poor carcass, which was soon burned up, both flesh and bone reduced to ashes. There were many people there and in other places who said that she was martyred, and for her true lord. Others said that she was not, and that he who had supported her so long had done wrong. Such things people said, but whatever good or whatever evil she did, she was burned that day.

In this week the worst, cruellest most pitiless of all the Armagnac commanders was taken. He was called La Hire because of his wickedness. He was captured by poor soldiers and put in the castle of Dourdan.

On St. Martin’s in summer there was a general procession to St. Martin des Champs, where a friar of the order of St. Dominic, inquisitor of the faith and master of theology, preached a sermon recalling once again everything that Jeanne, the Maid, had done. He said that she had said that her parents were very poor people, that she had gone about dressed as a man when she was about fourteen years old, that after that her father and mother would have liked to kill her if they could have done so without guilt, and that she had therefore left them, in the devil’s company, and had ever since been a murderer of Christian people, full of blood and fire, till at last she was burned. He also said that she had recanted and been given four years in prison on bread and water, but that she never did a day of it but had herself waited on in prison like a lady. There, the devil and two others appeared to her, that is, St. Michael, St. Margaret, and St. Catherine, as she called them. He – that is, the devil or devils in the shape of these three saints – was very much afraid of losing her and said to her: ‘Wretched creature, to change your dress for fear of death! Don’t be afraid, we will protect you from them all.’ So she then immediately threw her things off and put the old ones on again that she used to wear on horseback, which she had pushed into the straw of her bed. She trusted this devil completely and told him she was sorry she had ever agreed to change. When the University or those about her saw this and realized her obstinacy, she was handed over to lay justice to die. Seeing herself at the point of death, Jeanne called on those devils who appeared to her as saints, but not one of them appeared again after she was condemned, invoke them how she might. Then she changed her mind, but it was too late. He also said in his sermon that there were four of them, of whom three had been captured: this Maid and Pieronne and her companion and another who is with the Armagnacs called Catherine of La Rochelle. This woman said that when the precious body of Our Lord is consecrated she used to see the great and secret wonders of Our Lord God. All these four poor women, he said, had been under the direction of Brother Richard the Franciscan, to whose sermons at the Innocents and elsewhere all Paris had flocked, for he was their confessor. He said too that on Christmas day in the town of Jargeau he had given the body of Our Lord three times to this my lady Jeanne, the Maid, which was very wrong of him, and twice that day to Pieronne – witness their confessions, and certain people who were present when he gave them the precious sacrament.

[all seen 8 Jan. 2005]