The village, originally named Domrémy, is the birthplace of Jeanne d’Arc. It has since been renamed Domrémy-la-Pucelle after Jeanne’s nickname, la Pucelle d’Orléans (“the Maid of Orléans”).
Domremy. Prophecies, Faith, and Fairies
Domremy, in which Jeanne was born 1, is one of many villages that nestle by the banks of the Upper Meuse. The straggling river, broken by little isles, and fringed with reeds, flows clear in summer; the chub and dace may be seen through its pellucid water, unbroken as it is by dimples of the rising trout. As in a Hampshire chalk-stream the long green tresses of the water-weeds wave and float, the banks are gardens of water-flowers, the meadows are fragrant with meadow-sweet. After the autumn rains the river spreads in shallow lagoons across the valley, reflecting the purple and scarlet of the vineyards. The scene, on a larger scale, much resembles the valley of the Test at Longparish, with its old red-roofed villages, mills, and mill-leads; but the surrounding hills are higher, and in places are covered with dark forests. The climate is temperate, the people are grave,–“Seldom die, never lie,” is a local proverb attesting their longevity and truthfulness.
Though the house of Jeanne d’Arc, and the village church where she prayed, still exist, terribly “restored,” they contain little that is old, except the ancient receptacle of holy water, shaped like a stone cannon. Little is here that to the Maid was familiar; but the aspect of her country, the river wherein her father threatened to drown her; the oakwood, even the clear fountain where once she saw her Saints, are almost unchanged.
The Meuse flowing north past the legendary oak forest, “le Bois Chesnu,” separates, on the left, Jeanne’s linked villages of Domremy and Greux from the villages of Maxey and the two Bureys, before it reaches the walled town of the region, Vaucouleurs, then held for the Dauphin by a stout, rough, humorous captain, Robert de Baudricourt. The villenie of Vaucouleurs, including Domremy and Greux, was a kind of island of loyalty in a region either Anglo-Burgundian, or alien, in a territorial sense, to France. From the Duchy of Loraine the house of the father of Jeanne was separated only by a little burn, or it was even on the Loraine side of the march, for the inconstant stream is said to have changed its course once or more than once. Whatever the truth may be, a point on which much learning has been expended, Jeanne and Charles VII agreed in regarding the sites of Domremy and Greux as French soil, though the habit by which Domremy people spoke of “going into France” suggests that their village may once have been regarded as on the Loraine side of the march. To the west, Champagne, with Troyes and Reims, was Anglo-Burgundian ; on more sides than one the local seigneurs were “false Frenchmen,” like the de Vergy family; or changed sides at will, like Robert de Saarbruck, the blackmail-levying Damoiseau of Commercy. None the less Robert de Baudricourt held high the flag of France in the castle of Vaucouleurs, which, while Jeanne dwelt at Domremy, was seriously threatened, as far as we know, only on one occasion2.
In Domremy, about 1410, dwelt Jacques d’Arc, a native of Ceffonds in Champagne, with his wife, from Vouthon, named Isabelle3, and called Romée, whether by reason of a pilgrimage achieved by her, to Rome or to some famous distant shrine, or because she inherited the surname. The mother of the Maid was certainly devout, and, even in middle age, not destitute of energy and a taste for pious adventure. The parents of the Maid were good Catholics, of good repute, and honourable position as “labourers.” Jacques owned horses and cattle, in 142 1 was doyen of his village, and in 1427 represented it in some litigation. He was a relatively rich and a prominent member of his little community.
In front of the village of Domremy, at the foot of a line of low hills which command, on the west, the valley of the Meuse, was a place of strength generally named “the castle of the island.” This castle had a large court, walled and fortified, and a great garden, enclosed by a moat; there was also a chapel dedicated to Our Lady. The island itself was formed by the stream of the Meuse, which it divided. The hold belonged to the family of Bourlemont, seigneurs of the village; but the Bourlemonts had, before 1420, ended in an heiress, whose daughter and successor in the estates had married and lived at Nancy, with her lord Henri d’Ogiviller.
The castle, court, gardens, and adjoining pasture land were let to a little syndicate of the villagers, on a lease running from April 2, 1420, to June 24, 1429, about a week after the time when Jeanne was at the great French victory of Pathay. The village syndicate paid rent for the deserted fortress in money and in services. They were seven in number, with two chief and leading tenants, Jean Biget, of whom no more is known, and Jacques d’Arc, the father of the Maid. Jacques d’Arc was manifestly a person of substance for his station in life, and in the fortress of the isle he had a place of strength, where his little children could play at sieges, and act scenes of the chivalrous life; while, in times of danger, they helped to drive the cattle and pigs of the villagers within the fortified castle court.
Domremy in Time of War
Had there been no cruel wars in France, Jeanne would probably have lived and died as obscurely as her little friend Hauviette. Her mission was, by conciliation if possible, if not, by the sword, to free France from the English invaders; to restore the rightful king; and to make him reign well and in Christian fashion. Had there been no pressure of national danger and of enslavement, it does not seem probable that she, like her elder contemporary St. Colette the daughter of a carpenter, would have embraced the religious life, and have reformed some convents and founded others. Jeanne was a child of the free air, not of the cloister. She made no vow of perpetual maidenhood; she would remain, as we saw, a maiden “while it was the will of God” that is, probably, till she had accomplished her task. She had no ambition to be a Saint; to deliver France and restore the rightful king was her one ambition, save that she dreamed, when France was free, of some great deed of Christian chivalry, with England and France allied.
The distress of France was her ruling and inspiring motive. Many regions were depopulated; in many the wild wood had overrun the cultivated soil; in others agriculture could only be practised near castles and walled towns. Under the sound of the warning horn or church bell, the cattle would run of themselves to places of refuge. Whether the vicinity of Domremy was thus harried and devastated or not, is matter of dispute. In the battle of Verneuil, of August 17, 1424, France was beaten to her knees. If we are to look for anyone national sorrow or disaster which especially stimulated the Maid, Verneuil, in the apparent year and summer of her earliest visions4, naturally attracts the eyes. But neither from Jeanne nor from any one of her contemporaries in Domremy do we gather that she thought more seriously than other children about the condition of her country, till the light came and the Voice spoke to her of “the great pity that was in France.” She may have wept in secret, she does not say so; and none of those who speak of her devotions add that she was melancholy through patriotic regret.
Historians, especially the late erudite and sympathetic M. Siméon Luce, have recovered from old documents many particulars of the tribulations of Domremy between 1419 and 1428. The sight of these sorrows is supposed to have roused Jeanne to the desperate resolution of riding in the van of armies. But she certainly was no Maid of Saragossa, no rival of that “brave, bonny lass, Mary Ambree, “when the waves of war reached her own village. She did not take jack (jaseran) and steel cap and sword, like the legendary “fair maiden Liliard “who” fought upon her stumps” when
“the bold Buccleugh ‘gainst stout Lord Evers stood,”
at the battle of Ancrum Moor. It was not at home that she found “great pity, “but” in France”; wherefore to France she would go. She was not a virago. Her first wish was to prevail on the English to go home peacefully as the allies, no longer the scourges, of France. She was religious first; she would have her Dauphin” consecrated, would have him reign as “God’s vassal,” as His lieutenant over a peaceful and devout realm. St. Colette reformed convents; Jeanne would bring a kingdom back to freedom and duty and religion. She had th at faith which moves mountains; it was by faith that she wrought military miracles for the conversion of the English. The sight of the sufferings of her village could not, alone, suggest these ideas, and did not suggest them to any other child in Domremy and Greux.
Childhood is careless and elastic, though patriotic; and the troubles which Jeanne actually witnessed at home were less than those to which the boys and girls of the Border, English and Scottish, were hardened by familiarity. On many nights in the year the prickers of Bewcastle and Tyne were riding through the steadings of Liddesdale, burning, driving cattle, plundering, slaying any Armstrong, Elliot, or Scott, who drew sword. On as many nights the Elliots, Armstrongs, and Scotts were leaving empty byres, weeping widows, and fatherless children in peel towers of Tynedale. Cattle were taken, Scottish lairds and tenants were slain, houses were burned; and the stolen cattle, or other cattle, were recovered; English gentlemen and farmers had their throats cut and their dwellings fired.
On other days the combatants met at races and football matches and marriages. Musgraves of England wedded Armstrongs of Scotland; Gordons of Lochinvar took as brides Grahams of Netherby. We read accurately kept balancesheets of slayings and revenges, of robberies and recoveries, in the “Border Papers” of the reign of Queen Elizabeth. All these things were in the day’s work; nobody made great moan; no little girl of the Border took it upon herself to save her country.
To modern historians and literary men such sufferings and such anxiety, such patrollings, and watchings from the tower-top, and lighting of beacon fires, and ringing of the church bells backward, seem terrible enough to create and inspire a Pucelle! Hundreds of years of these agitating experiences produced no Pucelle on the Border, and only one on the Meuse.
“Stout hearts of men!” Light hearts of children! People grew stoical, and took what pleasures came in their way. Never were games and athletic sports pursued more eagerly, says M. Simeon Luce, than during the Hundred Years’ War. Hockey and football were the favourite rural pastimes. Domremy was a healthy, happy place, a village proverbially remarkable for the longevity of its inhabitants, and justly remarkable, as we see when we look at the ages of the contemporaries of Jeanne, the witnesses in the Trial of Rehabilitation (1450-1456).
The village still has several medieval buildings, including Jeanne d’Arc’s birthplace.
The village of Domremy lies in the valley of the Meuse, where the Vair enters the larger stream. Through rich, green meadows, about a mile wide, the sluggish waters of the river flow in many small channels, which change their course at flood-time from year to year. Behind the meadows, east and west, rise low, gentle hills, two or three hundred feet high, so flat at the top that they seem to mark the original level of the land, through which the river and its tributaries have forced their way. Just at the foot of this low, sloping wall of hills, on the very edge of the meadows, lies the little village, made up to-day of forty or fifty houses, as it was four hundred and fifty years ago. Never important enough to be walled, it straggles along the great highroad from Langres to Verdun, and along a narrow, crooked, irregular lane behind it.
In 1412 the slopes of the hills and the flat land at their top were well covered with woods. Above each little village on the banks of the Meuse, above Domremy, Maxey, Greux, Burey, and the rest, stretched the forest which still keeps the name of the village whose inhabitants it supplied with firing four or five centuries ago.
The peasants of Domremy raised crops of corn, and there was a vineyard near by; each family kept fowls and bees, but their principal wealth was in their cattle. These fed together on the rich pastures of the river-bottom, and were tended in turn by the children of the village. Such is the custom to-day. The houses were of stone with thatched or tiled roofs; they were small, of one or two or three rooms, and sometimes there was a low garret overhead. The furniture was simple: a few stools and benches, a table or a pair of trestles with a board to cover them, a few pots and pans of copper, and some pewter dishes. The housewife had in her chest two or three sheets for her feather-bed, two or three kerchiefs, a cloak, a piece of cloth ready to be made into whatever garment was most needed, and a few buttons and pins. Often there was a sword in the corner, or a spear or an arblast, but the peasants were peaceful, seldom waged war, and often were unable even to resist attack.
Under the feudal system, every foot of land had many owners, each holding it of a superior lord, until the sovereign himself was reached. The peasants of Domremy were vassals of the noble family of Bourlemont, whose castle, some four miles to the south, still stands on a wooded headland which juts out into the flat meadows of the Meuse. To the same family belonged the larger village of Greux, half a mile north of Domremy, forming with it but one parish.
The lords of Bourlemont held their lands of more than one overlord. Their castle they held directly of the king of France; not so Domremy. It is probable that nearly the whole of this village lay south of an insignificant rivulet which separated Greux, a possession of the bishop of Toul, from the duchy of Bar. The duke of Bar was thus the overlord of Domremy, but for this part of his duchy he, in turn, owed allegiance to the king of France. The position of this rivulet and the precise feudal relation of Domremy have been the subject of endless controversy. Its lord lived in France, its bishop was a prince of the Empire, the provost was an officer of the duke of Bar, while the bailiwick, in which it was included, included also territory more directly dependent upon the French crown. From year to year, moreover, king and duke, bishop and bailiff, tried to extend their several jurisdictions, and so time increased the natural confusion of the feudal system. It is quite clear, however, that the peasants did not care whether they were separated from the king of France by one or more intermediate vassals. Their speech was French; their sympathies looked west rather than east; even in Lorraine, on the other side of the Meuse, the feeling for France was warm, though the duchy of Lorraine was no part of the kingdom, but belonged to the Holy Roman Empire.
In 1301 the duke of Bar was compelled to do homage to the king of France for all that part of his duchy which lay on the left bank of the Meuse, including Domremy. Thereafter Domremy south of the brook belonged to that part of the duchy which, in the technical language of feudalism, “moved” from the kingdom of France. Thedistrict north of the brook still belonged to the bishop of Toul. Both Domremy and Greux continued to belong to the family of Bourlemont, which held lands of many overlords. Chapellier, ubi supra.
Of the three persons concerned, the king of France, the duke of Bar, and the bishop of Toul, the king was the strongest and the bishop the weakest. At some time which cannot be fixed precisely, probably early in the fifteenth century, Greux passed out of the temporal power of the bishop of Toul, and became a subject of dispute between the king and the duke. The king’s officers were always seeking to extend their jurisdiction, while the duke, now become duke of Lorraine, and therefore a powerful and independent prince, sought to consolidate his possessions and to free himself from French control. The duke claimed both Greux and Domremy, while the king claimed both as integral parts of his dominions, and not simply as estates “moving” from them.
There were vicissitudes in the controversy, but at length the Three Fountains Brook seems to have been agreed upon as the boundary, north of which the king could do as he pleased, while south of it he had only the shadowy rights of a suzerain. Chapellier, Lepage hist., 19 et seq.; Lepage, J. est-elle Lorraine? 2de dissert.; Luce, xxx. In the latter part of the sixteenth century, even these were renounced, and the territory south of the brook became incorporated in the independent duchy of Lorraine. (In 1571 and 1575.) About two hundred years later (in 1766) the whole of this duchy, Domremy included, was finally joined to France.