Murder was little thought of in those days, but murder in a church, before the altar itself and under the very eyes of the priests who were engaged in their religious offices, was a crime that made the whole civilized world ring with horror. And it blackened the name of Robert Bruce with a stain that has lasted to this day, in spite of his great glory.
Bruce, however, had been greatly provoked to this bloody deed, and was now to prove himself a true champion of the Scottish people. He sought safety in flight for a time, and at last rallied the Scots about him at Lochmaven Castle, from which place he told them that he would make himself King over all Scotland and liberate the land from the English yoke. With his vassals and retainers about him, he issued proclamations for all who would fight against England to join his banner, and at Scone he had placed on his head the Scottish crown.
When King Edward heard of what Bruce had done—how he had murdered Comyn and been crowned king and was inciting all of Scotland to rise against the English rule, he fell in such a rage that he could hardly speak for anger, and swore a great oath that the rest of his life should be devoted to punishing Bruce for his crimes. A strong English army was promptly raised and sent against the new Scottish King.
The English soldiers under the Earl of Pembroke fell on the Scots at night in the woods at a place called Methven, when the followers of Bruce believed themselves to be safe from attack, and had taken off their armor. As the English with shouts and battle cries attacked the unguarded Scots, Bruce leaped to his horse and with his great two-handed sword drove his enemies before him like chaff. But while the English recoiled before the blows of his powerful arm, they succeeded in routing his followers. A large number of Bruce's friends and retainers were captured, and he himself only escaped by killing with his own hand three men who laid hold of his equipment and were trying to drag him from his horse. For the time being the Scots were thoroughly defeated, and were obliged to take shelter wherever they could find it.
With his army scattered and only about five hundred followers remaining faithful to him, Bruce fled into the mountain forests of Athole. His troubles had only begun, for many fierce Scottish noblemen themselves were his bitter enemies on account of wars between the different Scottish clans, and particularly because of the foul murder of Lord Comyn.
Then began a period of wandering and suffering for Bruce and his followers. They made their way across the mountains to Aberdeen, where their wives joined them, preferring to be hunted outlaws with their husbands rather than to remain in safety away from them. And finally the little band of ragged highlanders came to Argyl, where they were confronted in battle by a Scottish chief called John of Lorn.
Bruce's men were in poor condition on account of the hardships they had undergone and were also outnumbered by their enemies. The result of the battle was a second defeat for Bruce, who now must hide more closely than ever, as his enemies were hunting for him everywhere.
Once more his wife had to part from him, for his state was now so dangerous and the hardships he endured so great that no woman could withstand them. And the lords who remained in his company had likewise to say farewell to their wives and children. No spot in Scotland was safe for them. Nowhere could Bruce rest his head and be sure that his enemies would not attack him before morning. English soldiers and Scots who had become their allies were looking for him everywhere. Moreover, those Scots who fell into the hands of the enemy could not hope for mercy. If they were men of low degree and with no title of nobility they were hanged. If they were of noble birth, they suffered the more aristocratic fate of beheading.
Still further misfortunes were to follow Bruce. The Pope could not forget his desecration of the church and passed on him what is known to all followers of the Catholic faith as the sentence of excommunication. This was a terrible punishment, for it meant that so far as the power of the Church went—and that power was absolute in those far days—Bruce could never be received in Heaven or even have the privilege of repenting for his sins. He was cast out of the Church into the outer darkness, and the hands of every priest and of all righteous men were turned against him.
He was obliged to flee to a little island off the coast of Ireland, where with a few followers he had a comparatively safe hiding place, although the ships of King Edward were hunting for him high and low. In the meantime his Queen and her ladies, whom he believed he had sent to a safe refuge in a stronghold called Kildrummy Castle, were captured by the English and kept in close confinement, being made to undergo many indignities because Bruce himself had succeeded in eluding vengeance.
But all the time he lay in concealment Bruce considered how he could go back to Scotland, whose shores he could see from his hiding place, and he and his followers were constantly making desperate plans to return. Chief among them was one James Douglas, who was a brave and noble warrior, second only to Bruce himself in the strength of his arm and no way inferior to him in the quality of his courage. After many a talk with Douglas and the rest of his followers as to what would be best for them in their extremity, Bruce decided to send a trusty messenger in a small boat to the Scottish shore to learn if there was any discontent under the British rule, and if the time for a second uprising had not perhaps arrived. For Bruce knew he had many friends, if he could only reach them and gather them to his side.
The messenger who made this dangerous journey was to signal to Bruce if it was safe for him to return by lighting a beacon fire on the headland that was most visible from the Island of Arran where Bruce was then hiding. If Bruce saw the fire on the following night he and his followers were to embark at once for Scotland. There they would be met by friends and their further course made clear to them.
How great was Bruce's joy when the night fell to see the beacon fire spring up on the distant headland! With a high heart he and his followers embarked and pulled strongly at the oars. They believed that Scotland would be theirs again.
But when Bruce and his small band of followers arrived on the mainland they found the messenger awaiting them. It seemed that some ill chance had befallen, for the beacon had been kindled by accident and for some other purpose than to call Bruce from his hiding place. So far from being prepared for his invasion, Scotland seemed more dangerous than ever for him. Two of his brothers had been captured by the English and both had been beheaded. Bruce learned also that the Queen and her ladies whom he believed to be safe in Kildrummy Castle had fallen into English hands and were pent in dungeons like wild beasts.
Discretion told the little band of adventurers to return to their island retreat, but after consulting together over their bitter fortunes, they decided to make a bold stroke for success and die if it did not succeed. An English garrison lay at Turnberry Castle not far off, and had been divided in two parts, one being billeted in a nearby village, while the other occupied the castle itself. It was decided to attack the English soldiers who were in the village and not to leave a man of them alive.
Silently Bruce and his men stole up to the little town. As the frightened English came running half clad into the streets they were met by the swords and axes of the Scots. Few escaped the grim vengeance of that attack, and Bruce retaliated heavily for the injuries the English had worked on his wife and his kinsmen in his absence.
The Scots, however, did not rally to Bruce's standard as quickly as he hoped, and he was once more compelled to take shelter in the mountains. To escape the enemies who fell on his little band in far superior numbers and with better arms and equipment he was obliged to flee as swiftly as possible. His enemies, however, had tracked Bruce himself by a bloodhound, and it seemed impossible for him to escape the unerring scent of this terrible animal, which picked up his trail from among those of his followers. At last, with a few men, he separated entirely from his soldiers, telling them of a rendezvous where they were to meet him in case he should escape.
Bruce avoided the bloodhound by wading through a running stream, and then had adventures which have become the subject of legends in his country. At one time he was ambushed and attacked by three traitors of his own force, who hoped to make their fortunes by bringing his head to the English. Instead of this they dug their own graves, for Bruce slew all three with his own hand. On another occasion he took refuge with a single companion in a deserted house where three more enemies endeavored to kill him as he slept. Bruce had a companion at his side, but both were worn out by the hardships they had undergone and were fast asleep as the ruffians with drawn swords and daggers stole upon them.
The good angel of Scotland made one of them tread too heavily. All at once Bruce awoke and leaped to his feet with his mighty two-handed sword in his grasp. His companion was slain, but alone Bruce struck down and killed the three murderers that had set upon him.
There are many stories about Bruce while he lay hiding in the mountain fastnesses of Scotland. We are told that on the day following his victory over the three would-be assassins he went to the house of an old woman and asked for something to eat. And when he begged for food she replied that she would give it to him willingly for the sake of one wanderer that she loved; and Bruce inquired of her who that might be.
"No other than King Robert himself," she responded. "He is hunted now and without friends, but the time will come when he shall rule all Scotland." "Know, then, woman," said Bruce, overjoyed at this evidence of devotion that had followed him in his trouble, "that I am he of whom you speak and have returned for no other purpose than to resume my crown and throne."
When the old woman recovered from her amazement she did him reverence as the rightful King of Scotland and called in her three strong sons to wait on him and join the ranks of his soldiers.
Bruce slowly collected the men that had remained faithful to him, and at Loudon Hill in May he and his followers met an English army. The English leader, whose name was De Valence, had done everything in his power to make Bruce come forth from his mountain retreat and do battle with the English, for he believed that on open ground he could defeat the Scots decisively and do away with the long chase of Bruce that was wearying himself and his followers. So De Valence sent Bruce a letter in which he called him a base coward for refusing to meet him in battle, and challenged Bruce to stand up to him as a soldier at Loudon on the tenth of May. Stung with anger, Bruce accepted the challenge and the crafty English leader rejoiced because his enemy had delivered himself into his hands.
Bruce, however, had no intention of being defeated. He arrived on the appointed spot several days before the English and studied his ground with the eye of a trained general. He knew the route that must be taken by the English and so arranged his forces that it would be impossible for his enemies to outflank him, entrenching himself behind marshes and ditches that the English could not pass.
On the appointed day he saw the gay banners and shining armor of his enemies. They approached recklessly and hurled themselves against his line in a headlong charge. But the Scots held firm. Again and again the English sought to break the Scottish ranks or to take them on the flank, but to no avail. And then when their ranks showed signs of wavering, Bruce himself gave the signal for the charge. With a shout his men rushed forward and the English were routed. Victory had crowned the arms of a tattered and ragged band of outlaws who fought with English halters around their necks.
Then a terrible calamity befell the English and turned the scale still further in favor of Bruce. Old King Edward, embittered because his cherished schemes regarding Scotland had failed, died, and with his last breath he asked his son, the Prince of Wales, to see his bones were carried in their coffin at the head of the English army invading Scotland.
The Prince of Wales who succeeded him was called Edward the Second and was a hollow echo of his father's greatness. While Edward had been the finest general of his time either in England or in Europe, the new king knew little of military art and was idle and of a pleasure loving nature. He knew nothing of generalship and cared less, being content to leave the leading of his armies in the field to the nobles who served him.
At once it was seen that the death of the strong King Edward the First was a great stroke of good fortune for his equally strong opponent. In the two years that followed King Edward's death nearly the whole country of Scotland rose against the English and threw off the foreign yoke, acclaiming Bruce as their rightful king. Border warfare was constant and raids and skirmishes were carried on both by the Scots and the English, with varying success on either side.
In these raids, sieges and forays one of Bruce's followers particularly distinguished himself. This was James Douglas, who had shared all his leader's hardships.
While most of Scotland was now under Bruce's banner, the English still held many important strongholds which were thorns in the side of Bruce and his followers. Chief among these fortresses were those of Stirling and Berwick.
Realizing that the overthrow of these strong fortresses was necessary to the success of the Scottish cause, King Robert in the autumn of 1313 sent his brother, Edward Bruce, to lay siege to Stirling Castle. So well did the Scots succeed and so ruthlessly did they beset the strong walls of Stirling that at last the English commander, one Sir Philip Mowbray, agreed to surrender, providing the besieged soldiers were not relieved by the English before the twenty-fourth of June of the following year. This was a strange agreement and showed that the old laws of chivalry which bound all noblemen to certain forms of warfare and certain conditions of fighting were still in operation.
But the English had no intention of allowing Stirling Castle to fall into the hands of the Scots and before the stipulated date a strong army advanced into Scotland, led by King Edward the Second in person. It numbered, we are told, about one hundred thousand men, while the total number that Bruce was able to muster was thirty thousand, so that his force of seasoned veterans was compelled to fight at odds of more than three to one.
Bruce sent out scouts to keep close watch of all the English movements, and on the twenty-second of June they brought him word that the English were advancing on Stirling Castle by way of a place called Falkirk.
This information enabled Bruce to know exactly how his enemies must travel, for to reach Stirling after passing Falkirk they would have to cross a stream called Bannock Burn, and Bruce was thoroughly acquainted with the country in the vicinity of this stream.
He assembled his army on its bank and strengthened his position with hundreds of pits in which sharp stakes were planted to trip and impale the English cavalry. When these pits were prepared they were covered up again with turf in such a way that they were practically invisible. Bruce also took his position at a ford in the river, knowing that his flanks would be protected by deep water and high banks so that the enemy could not get around him.
When his men had taken their positions he spoke to them. He told them that the hour had come when they were to make Scotland free or die as they faced the foe. If the men did not like his conditions, he continued, they were free to depart before the battle began.
But the Scots stood firm. Although they had an idea of the odds against which they must fight, their confidence in their leader was so great that they had no doubt in their minds that victory would be theirs. Behind their rude fortifications, with sharpened pikes and swords, they awaited grimly the coming of Edward's horsemen.
The battle opened in a curious manner. While Sir Thomas Randolph, one of Bruce's kinsmen, was fighting with a body of English cavalry that sought to outflank Bruce and make its way to Stirling Castle, Bruce himself engaged in single combat with an English knight named Sir Henry de Bohun. This knight had recognized Bruce as the latter rode up and down in front of the line of Scottish warriors and spurring his horse with lance in rest he charged at the Scotch King. Bruce was only mounted on a small pony, while the Englishman rode a heavy charger—but when the knight was upon him, Bruce, by a deft twist of the bridle, avoided the deadly lance, and in another second had driven his battle axe through the skull of his enemy with so mighty a blow that the handle broke in his hand.
A great cheer rose from the Scottish ranks as they beheld this deed, and with the greatest bravery they routed the English as they charged. The English had not reckoned on such stubborn resistance from a force far inferior to their own, both in size and equipment, and as the day was waning they withdrew in good order, planning to hold a council of war and gain the battle on the following day.
Early in the morning the Scots were in position, and with a great rush of horses and men the English surged upon them. It was to no avail. Again and again the flower of the English nobility charged the squares of Scottish infantry and were driven back in confusion.
At last the English lines wavered and with a deafening cheer the Scots rushed upon them. Pell mell the English retreated and the battle was won. It is said that thirty thousand Englishmen were slain in this encounter—a number equal to the total number of the Scottish army.
The victory that Bruce won at the battle of Bannockburn changed the entire course of English history. Instead of being a hunted fugitive he was now acknowledged as king and openly received the fealty of his subjects. The English strongholds in Scotland were overthrown, and Scotland became a kingdom in fact as well as in name. Moreover, Bruce's wife and daughter, who had been imprisoned in England, were set at liberty. Fighting was not yet over, however, and border warfare for a time continued with varying success on either side. Edward Bruce, the brother of King Robert, was killed when fighting in Ireland.
In 1328 a treaty was signed with England in which the English recognized that Scotland was now fairly entitled to her independence and that Bruce was her rightful ruler.
But the great king was not to enjoy for long the fruits of his victory. His hardships in the wilderness when flying from his enemies, and his great suffering and lack of food when he fled in the Scotch heather like a hunted animal, had made him fall prey to a terrible malady—the disease of leprosy. So great was the love in which the Scots held him that even this did not make them shun him with the fear that is shown toward ordinary sufferers from this disease. Surrounded by friends, Bruce gradually wasted away and died in 1329. His noble follower, Douglas, who had won the name from the English of "the black Douglas," took the heart of the dead king and placed it in a silver box, planning to carry it to Jerusalem. But Douglas himself did not live to place it there, for he was killed in a battle with the Moors.
In all history there have been great soldiers and chiefs of Scottish birth. How great the Scots are as soldiers has been shown in the recent war, where they rendered the most distinguished service for Great Britain, fighting under the British flag, their former quarrels with England reconciled, if not forgotten. But of all none was more glorious than Robert Bruce, and his name is a household word to-day through the whole of Scotland.
In northern France the river Meuse runs through broad meadowlands, where the sun shines dimly for many months each year, and cold, rolling mists sweep down upon the earth in winter, coating each twig with silver. There, in the little village of Domremy, in the year 1412, was born a girl named Jeanne d'Arc, whose father, Jacques d'Arc, was a simple peasant.
When Jeanne d'Arc was born life was hard and dangerous in Domremy. The villagers were hard put to it to protect themselves against fierce knights and noblemen who rode at the head of marauding bands to steal and plunder at will. The peasants had to look on sadly, with no hope of redress, when brutal men at arms drove off their sheep, or tossed the torch into their cottages—and as there was little to choose between friend and foe, the villagers stood guard in the tower of a nearby monastery, and gave the alarm when any soldiers approached the town.
Domremy, however, was no worse off in these respects than other towns and villages in that far time. And it must not be thought that the village folk were wholly without pleasures. Roses grew along the walls of their cottages, wine flowed from their vineyards, and there were village festivals and dances in which they loved to take part. Although they could not read or write, their priests instructed them in the history of the Church and its mighty power, and in the lives of the Saints and Martyrs and their teachings—how those that obeyed the Church and its priests were blessed, while those that broke its laws must surely enter the dismal fires of Hell. There were also bands of players who acted the religious stories taught by the priests in so vivid a manner that the peasants were thrilled and delighted; and while their cottages were bare and poor, their church was glorious with gold, rich with embroidery and bright with candle light that gleamed upon the carven, painted figures of the Saints that they adored.
It had been prophesied in France that from a forest near Domremy there would come a maid who would deliver the country from the perils that beset it—and when Jeanne d'Arc was a little girl the times seemed ripe indeed for the appearance of such deliverer. A great war had been raging between France and England; the English had captured many French towns and laid claim to the crown itself; the French King, Charles the Sixth, was quite mad; his Queen had leagued herself with the enemies of France, and her son, Prince Charles, who was called the Dauphin, had been compelled to flee to escape the English and the Burgundians.
Perhaps Jeanne d'Arc had heard the prophesy about the maid,—certainly she had listened to many beautiful tales about the lives of the Saints. In those days the Saints were believed to take sides in war with the countries that were dearest to them. The English believed in St. George, who slew the dragon; but the patron Saint of France was the Archangel Michael. He was portrayed in the churches as a knight in shining armor with a crown above his helmet, and sometimes he bore scales in which he weighed the souls of men. Jeanne had listened to many stories about him, and to tales of other Saints as well—legends of St. Margaret, whose soul escaped from her persecutors in the shape of a white dove, and stories of the gracious St. Catherine, who died by the sword because she was a Christian.
These tales made a great impression upon her—all the more because she did not know one letter of the alphabet from another. She was a serious child, with something about her that marked her as being different from the other children of the village, and as she grew older she grew apart from them and did not share their games and dances. Often, when her father believed her to be tending his sheep, she was kneeling at prayer. Her girl friends, Mengette and Hauviette, urged her to share their pleasures and to give less heed to the dreams that seemed to hold her in their spell, but Jeanne persisted in her way of life, and gained a reputation for piety that passed beyond her village into the neighboring countryside.
When a mere child, something happened to Jeanne that was destined to shake the entire Kingdom of France. When she listened to the church bells as they rang out over the meadows, she believed that she heard heavenly voices calling her name. She was only thirteen years old when she began hearing them and they seemed to come from the direction of the church that was near her cottage. The first time was at noon and a bright light appeared to her, while a grave, sweet voice said, "I come from Heaven to help you to lead a pure and holy life. Be good, Jeannette, and God will aid you." Badly frightened, she ran into the cottage and said nothing of what had happened; but a few days later the same voice called out to her again. In amazement she knew it to be the voice of an angel—and then—Saint Michael himself appeared to her in the light!
From that time on the visions and the voices came more frequently. And it seemed to Jeanne that not only St. Michael came, but St. Margaret and St. Catherine appeared to her also, coming with a bright light, and speaking with sweet and musical words. And they were so real that she believed she had actually touched their garments and tasted the sweet scents their robes emitted.
They began to urge her to take a strange course of action far removed from her birth and station and marvelous to think of, telling her that she must alter her way of life, put on armor and become a captain in the wars, for she was chosen by the King of Heaven to save France from its enemies. And they called her "Daughter of God." But Jeanne was filled with fear and grave misgiving, for how was she, a poor, unlettered girl and the daughter of peasants, to lead armies and wield the sword of war?
In the meantime the mad Charles the Sixth died and left his throne to be fought for by the Dauphin, who was destined to be Charles the Seventh—but this prince found his dominions so harried by war, so divided against themselves, and his path beset by so many enemies that he was unable to go to the city of Rheims, where all French kings must be anointed with sacred oil before they could be considered as the rightful sovereigns of France. His failure to do this gave added power to the English and better reason for them to claim the French crown for their young King, Henry the Sixth, whose armies had joined the Duke of Burgundy. And it became more plain each day that France would be ruled by whichever king was the first to be crowned at Rheims.
In the meantime the heavenly voices that spoke to Jeanne grew more and more insistent, telling her that she must go forth to the wars and lead the Dauphin Charles to the Cathedral at Rheims to be crowned and anointed. And at last she could no longer disobey, but prepared to fulfil the strange destiny that they pointed out to her.
Clad in her poor best dress, Jeanne visited a garrison of French soldiers, and told their captain that Heaven had called on her to lead the French to victory and see that the Dauphin Charles was duly crowned at Rheims. For a week she remained, imploring the captain to listen to her, but gaining nothing but insults and mockery that drove her at last to return to her home. But the Archangel Michael and Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret continued to appear to her, and she had no choice except to listen to their words.
Again she went to the French stronghold and told the captain, whose name was Robert de Baudricourt, that if the Dauphin Charles would give her men at arms she would deliver the city of Orleans, which was being besieged by the English, and drive the English enemy from their strongholds in all France. And this time the captain gave heed to her and wrote to the French Court, telling the Dauphin of what she had said; and after many days of weary waiting he received a reply ordering that Jeanne be taken to Chinon where the Dauphin was awaiting her.
This was not accomplished all at once, and Jeanne had to answer many tedious and wearisome questions; for wise men and clergymen from all over the land desired to know if she were inspired by angels or devils, and they feared that the visions she had seen might be the work of Satan himself. But they decided at last that there was great virtue in what she had beheld and that perhaps after all she was to be the deliverer of France that prophets had told of. And they decided that, as travel was dangerous and there were many rough characters on the road, Jeanne should go to the French Court dressed as a boy, and a jerkin, a doublet, hose and gaiters were given to her.
Attired in these garments and accompanied by men at arms Jeanne set forth on her journey, and traveled for more than seventy leagues through a hostile country with enemies on every hand. At length she came to Chinon and sent the Dauphin a letter, telling him that she was sent by God to crown him as King of France.
Charles was suspicious of Jeanne and desired to see for himself if she was inspired by angels; and when he summoned her to the Court he prepared a trick to deceive her. He had one of his courtiers wear the royal robes and seat himself on the throne, while the Dauphin, disguised in humble garments, stood quietly in the group of courtiers and servants that crowded the room.
When Jeanne entered she stopped for a minute and glanced about her. Then, instead of going to the throne where the supposed Prince was sitting, she went straight to Charles where he stood among his courtiers, and falling on her knees before him she told him that the King of Heaven had called upon her to deliver the city of Orleans from the hands of the English and to take him to Rheims to be crowned.
All who beheld this were amazed, for Jeanne had never seen Charles before,—nor had she so much as looked upon his portrait—and Charles and his noblemen believed that this was indeed a sign that Jeanne was guided by heavenly powers.
Before they went any further, however, they put her to further tests and she was questioned again by learned doctors and ministers. Messengers were even sent to the village of Domremy to learn about her early life. They asked her to give signs and to perform miracles—but Jeanne told them that it was not in her power to do these things. Her deeds, she declared, should answer for themselves and before the walls of Orleans all should receive the sign that they required in the rout of the English army. And she begged them to make haste and let her go there, for the English were battering at the walls and the besieged garrison was suffering.
In Tours Jeanne was fitted out with plain white armor and received a sword that was believed to have belonged to the great Charles Martel, who had saved France and all Christendom from the invader several hundred years before her time. She also had a banner painted for her, snowy white, with fleur de lis upon it and a picture of God holding up the world, with angels on each side. And then, in company with skilled captains and men of war, and with her two brothers, Jean and Pierre, riding behind her, Jeanne went to the city of Blois, where the army to relieve Orleans was awaiting her arrival.
With priests marching at the head of the column, chanting in Latin, accompanied by captains decked in all the panoply of war, and followed by men at arms, Jeanne left Blois for Orleans. She was in command of a convoy of supplies and provisions and the larger part of her army was to come up later. There were two roads to Orleans, which was built on the margin of the river Loire—one road leading directly past the English camp, the other running down to the river, where entrance to the town was to be gained only by bridges and boats.
Jeanne had desired to march directly past the English, and so strike fear into their hearts, but her captains deemed that the other road was the safer and without her knowledge guided her upon it, so that when she beheld Orleans the river was between. And she spoke bitterly to the captains for deceiving her.
"In God's name," she cried in anger, "you deceive yourselves, not me, for I bring you more certain aid than ever before was brought to a town or city. It is the aid of the King of Heaven," and in truth the way that the captains had chosen in their timidity was more dangerous and uncertain than the one that Jeanne had chosen.
The English, however, were so negligent, that they allowed the entire army to enter the city in safety, and the people of Orleans rejoiced beyond words when Jeanne in her shining armor appeared within the ramparts of the beleaguered town. They beat upon the door of the house where she was lodged and clamored to see her, and they crowded so closely about her as she rode through the streets that a torch set fire to her white standard, and the Maid, wheeling her horse, was obliged to put it out with her own hands.
On the following day Jeanne sent two heralds with a letter to the English leaders, bidding them to depart and save their lives while there was time, for otherwise the French would fall upon them and slay them all—but the English laughed greatly at the letter pretending to scorn it and really believing it to be the work of a witch who was led by evil spirits; and they answered her with vile taunts and insults, and one of their captains named Glasdale shook his fist in her direction and shouted in a voice that reached her ears: "Witch, if ever we lay our hands upon you, you shall be burned alive."
None the less the English were more frightened by the sight of this young girl in white armor than they cared to admit, for they believed they were now fighting the powers of darkness; and in this way Jeanne's presence did the French army more good than the thousands of soldiers she brought with her.
It came to pass that soon after Jeanne's arrival in the city, although she was now considered the real leader of the French rather than the captains, an attack was made by the French against one of the English forts that rose without the city walls. And things went badly for the French, for the English repulsed them with great slaughter.
Jeanne had not been told of the attack and was asleep at the time it took place, but the Saints that watched over her appeared to her in a dream and told her that she must rise instantly and go forth against the English; and when she rose she heard the hearty shouts of the English soldiers and the screams of the French who were being slaughtered.
She put on her armor as quickly as possible and galloped to the scene of the fight with her white standard in her hand. The French were in full flight when she appeared, but their courage returned when they saw her and they ran to gather around her banner. She cried out to them that they must return to the charge and take the English fort, and although the English hurled great stones upon them and fired with crossbows and cannon, the French soldiers swarmed over the English ramparts and gained the victory. And through the fight the Maid stood unmoved beneath the hail of missiles that the English showered down upon her followers, and she led the attack in person when the French climbed over the walls.
This was only the commencement of the fighting, for the French with Jeanne to lead them, now commenced a determined series of attacks against the English forts that lay about the city. And everywhere Jeanne and her white standard were in the front rank of the battle, and she risked her life a thousand times each day.
At last the French attacked one of the strongest of all the English forts, the bastille of Les Tourelles. Before the fight began Jeanne told the men-at-arms who were detailed to accompany her on the field to stay particularly close to her that day—"For," said she, "I have much work to do, and blood will flow from my body—above the breast."
As the French approached the stronghold they were met with showers of stones and arrows. The English crossbowmen did deadly work and the English cannon fired stone balls into the ranks of the French soldiers. The French brought scaling ladders to mount the walls, but above them the English stood ready with boiling pitch and melted lead to hurl into the faces of those who succeeded in mounting.
In spite of all these dangers Jeanne was constantly close to the English walls and her white standard always rose where the fighting was hottest. When a scaling ladder was placed against the wall she was the first to mount and was half way to the top when an English crossbowman, taking careful aim, fired an arrow with such force that it pierced right through her steel coat of mail and stood out behind her shoulder. Her grip relaxed from the ladder and she fell.
A mighty cheer went up from the English who believed that in drawing the blood of the witch they had drawn her power too. And for a time it seemed as if this really were so, for Jeanne's wound was very painful and she seemed no longer a warrior, but a pitiful little girl, overcome with tears and faintness. At last, however, when her steel shirt had been removed, she grasped the arrow with her own hands and drew it from the wound. And after this she rose and insisted on donning her armor once more.
The French had seen her fall and their courage had left them, and they were in full retreat when Jeanne returned to the battle.
"In God's name," she cried, riding toward them, "forward once more. Do not fly when the place is almost ours. One more brave charge and I promise you shall succeed."
The English were still rejoicing at what they had accomplished when to their dismay the French trumpets blew the charge again and they beheld the Maid with her white standard directly beneath their walls. And they considered that her return to the fight was nothing less than magical and fear gripped their hearts. Then the French swarmed up the scaling ladders like monkeys, leaped over the ramparts, and a horrible din arose from the interior of the fort, where, amid oaths and outcries and the clangor and crash of axes and meeting shields, the English were savagely slaughtered.
Glasdale, the same leader who had threatened Jeanne from the English camp, was guarding the retreat of his men as they ran across a bridge over the Loire, but the French brought up and set fire to an old barge piled high with straw, tar, sulphur and all kinds of inflammable material, and the only escape for the English lay directly through the flames.
Jeanne, on seeing this, was smitten with great pity for her enemies.
"Yield, Glasdale, yield!" she cried. "Thou hast called me witch, thou hast basely insulted me, but I have great pity on your soul."
But the brave English captain refused to give in and continued to guard the escape of his comrades. When all had passed through the smoke and flame he tried himself to rush across—but the planks were now eaten through with fire and would not hold him. With a crash of breaking timbers he plunged into the river beneath, where the weight of his armor pulled him down and he was drowned.
With the capture of this English stronghold the siege of Orleans came to an end. The English saw that they were beaten and that their months of fighting to gain the city had availed them nothing. On the following day the French beheld them marching away in good order, and Jeanne cried out for joy.
"Let them go," she said to her captains who wished to pursue them. "It is Sunday and God does not will that you shall fight to-day, but you shall have them another time." And the French held a solemn mass in thanksgiving for their victory.
Jeanne had made good her word and Orleans was saved. And now the Maid returned to Tours to meet the Dauphin, who had been so faint hearted that he stayed out of harm's way while a girl had gone forth and fought his battles for him. But he was very glad to see the Maid and he gave her a royal welcome and Jeanne told him that no time was to be lost but that he must come to Rheims and be crowned.
At last the tardy prince yielded to her request, and Jeanne with the army set forth once more to capture the towns that still were held by the English—and with the Maid at the head of the French army the towns of Jargeau, Meuny and Beaugency were soon taken. The English were so frightened by the marvelous feats performed by Jeanne that it was not long before their entire army was in full retreat toward the city of Paris. But Jeanne pursued them and defeated them in the battle of Pathay, where the mighty English leader, Talbot, was taken prisoner.
And then Jeanne took matters into her own hands, for Charles continued to delay. She issued a proclamation to the people to come to Rheims to the King's Coronation, and she left the Court again to join the army, where Charles was compelled to follow her. And at last through the efforts of this simple peasant girl, the sluggard Charles was crowned with divine pomp and glory in the Rheims cathedral, and Jeanne in her white armor and with her white banner floating over her stood beside him all through the ceremony. The holy oil was poured on his head and all the people shouted in rejoicing, because they now had a king.
Among the spectators was Jeanne's father who had journeyed to Rheims to see his famous daughter. All the old man's expenses were paid by the King, and when it was time for him to depart he was given a horse to carry him back to his native village.
Jeanne now desired to besiege and capture Paris which was held by Charles' enemies, but since he had been crowned he was reluctant to make any further effort to secure his kingdom. Paris was besieged, to be sure, but only half-heartedly, for the King did not send up the necessary reinforcements, and the siege was unsuccessful.
Then came months when Jeanne was forced to wait at Court, where the laggard King did nothing whatever, quite content with what had already been accomplished in his behalf. It is true that he gave Jeanne many presents, among other things a mantle of cloth of gold; and that many sick persons believed her to be a saint and came to touch her, in order to be cured of illness and suffering. But when Jeanne was asked to lay her hands upon some sufferer and cure him, she replied that his own touch would be as healing as her own, for that no extraordinary power lay in her.
The English and the Burgundians sought to retrieve their fortunes by capturing Compiegne, a town that was important in its relation to Paris and as large and strong as Orleans itself. Word of this was brought to Jeanne, and she learned also that her enemies had already appeared before the city walls.
With her usual swift decision she went to help the beleaguered garrison. She arrived before the city by secret forest paths and succeeded in gaining an entrance to it. And one morning with about five hundred followers she rode through the city gates to do battle with the besiegers. Her force drove the Burgundians before them like chaff, and the attack would have been wholly successful if a company of English men at arms had not come up at the gallop and attacked the French from the flank and from the rear.
All of the French fled except a small band in the immediate vicinity of the Maid. They were driven back into the town with the English and Burgundians so close on their heels that the archers on the walls of the town could not shoot for fear of wounding their own comrades. Then the drawbridge was raised to keep the English from forcing an entrance—and Jeanne and her few followers were surrounded by the enemy. The Maid was dressed in a scarlet and gold cloak which covered her armor, and more attention was drawn to her than usual on account of the richness of her apparel. A Burgundian archer laid hands on her and dragged her from her horse. She was a prisoner.
A great shout of triumph went up from the Burgundians when they saw that it was indeed Jeanne the Maid whom they had taken, and she was brought before the Duke of Burgundy, who, with great joy, sent many letters abroad informing the heads of the Church and the English of his good fortune.
The English were determined to get Jeanne in their power, for they had planned a cruel death for her. The Holy Inquisition likewise demanded her "to receive justice at the hands of the Church."
And now must be recorded the black and shameful fact that Charles made no effort to ransom Jeanne or do anything to relieve her misfortune, as might well have been possible, for the French held important English prisoners. And not content with leaving her to die, he proceeded to slight the name of the girl that had won him his throne. For in official accounts of how he had been crowned he made no reference to Jeanne at all. Orleans was won "by the grace of God." His enemies were routed "by the will of Providence." Of Jeanne and her efforts in his behalf he said not one single word.
Jeanne was sent from castle to castle and confined in one prison after another. On one occasion she was jailed in a high tower and she tried to escape by leaping from a window more than sixty feet above the ground, only to be picked up insensible and bleeding as she lay at the foot of the castle wall.
Then her worst enemy appeared before her. This was Pierre Cauchon, the Bishop of Beauvais. He persuaded the English to buy her from her captors so that they might try her and punish her, and the sum of six thousand francs was paid by them as blood money.
Jeanne was then taken to the town of Rouen and imprisoned in a grim and ancient castle, which was already centuries old. Not content with lodging her in a damp cell, the English placed fetters on her leg and chained her to a great log so that she must needs drag the chain about whenever she moved. And instead of allowing her women to be her attendants, her only jailers were rough men at arms, who were constantly with her.
To try this simple girl came the greatest dignitaries of the realm—men aged in experience and the law, grave doctors and wise bishops, all with the single purpose of accomplishing her death. With every advantage on their side they did not even allow a counsel for their prisoner, and when they saw that in spite of this she might be able skilfully to defend herself, they had her answers set aside as being of no importance and having no bearing on the trial. And they were right, for nothing that Jeanne said could possibly affect an issue where the stake and the executioner were already decided upon. And when some of the spectators showed signs of pity for her youth and innocence they had the trial continued secretly in her cell.
They played with her as a cat plays with a mouse and tortured her in mind as well as in body. And under the guise of compassion they pretended to spare her life, only in the end to tell her that the stake had been made ready and that she must come at once to the market place to be burned.
On the thirtieth of May, 1431, Jeanne was taken from her cell by two priests and escorted by men at arms to the market place of Rouen, where three scaffolds had been prepared. On one sat the priests who had been her judges, on another Jeanne must stand and hear a sermon before she died, and on the third was a grim stake with fagots piled high for her burning, and at the top of the stake was nailed a placard that bore these words:
"Jeanne, who hath caused herself to be called the maid, a liar, pernicious, deceiver of the people, soothsayer, superstitious, a blasphemer against God, presumptuous, miscreant, boaster, idolatress, cruel, dissolute, an invoker of devils, apostate, schismatic and heretic."
Then, with the learned doctors and churchmen drinking in the words, a sermon was read for the benefit of her soul. After it was ended the Bishop of Beauvais read the sentence which concluded by abandoning her to the arm of the law, for the Church itself could not pronounce sentence of death, but must leave that to the civil magistrates. Neither could the clergymen behold the infliction of the sentence, and they all came down from their seats and left the market place. What followed was supposed to be too dreadful for them to see.
So Jeanne was burned, and even in her death there took place something approaching a miracle, for when the fire was extinguished her brave heart was found intact among the embers, and the frightened English threw it into the river.
But the end did not come here. The enemies of Jeanne were so afraid of her power that they followed her with persecution after she was dead and made various attempts to darken her reputation, and give her memory an evil name. But they defeated their own ends, for twenty-five years later another trial was held in which the Maid was pronounced to be innocent. And nearly five hundred years later, in 1909, Pope Leo the Thirteenth took the first step toward making her a Saint by pronouncing her "venerable." Her canonization followed in 1920.
The marvels wrought by Jeanne still continue,—for without her there might be a different France from that which we know to-day. In Domremy the house of Jacques d'Arc still stands, much the same, in many ways, as it was when she beheld her visions there. In addition a splendid church has been built to her memory not far from the village she loved. And her name and fame grow greater as time passes.
In the year 1447, or about that time, there was born in the city of Genoa in Italy a boy named Christopher Columbus. He was the son of a wool weaver named Domenico Columbus, and spent his early boyhood in the dark and busy weaver's quarter of Genoa, always within hearing of the sound of the loom. His father was an industrious and hard-working man, and designed that Christopher should become a wool weaver like himself. It was a good business, he thought, and all his sons might enter it with credit and profit; and though they must work hard, they would have an honest business and an occupation for their lives.
But Christopher was an adventurous boy and preferred the crowded harbor and the busy docks of Genoa to the stuffy weaving room. In his spare time he was constantly beside the water, talking with the sailors from all parts of the earth and hearing wonderful tales of adventure that stirred his blood. The sea was a dangerous place in those days, for not only were the ships small and badly built so that they could only with the greatest difficulty weather the gales that beat in vain against the steel sides of our great ships to-day, but there were many outlaws and pirates who followed the sea and made every voyage a peril. There were dark-skinned Moslems or Moors who would swoop in their swift boats upon Christian craft to kill or capture all on board, selling their prisoners into the horrible slavery of the Far East. There were also fearful tales of serpents and dragons that lived in the far waters of the "Sea of Darkness," for so the Atlantic Ocean was known among the seafaring men of Italy, Spain and Portugal, and stories galore of gold and undiscovered land. And many of the more adventurous youths of those days became sailors to see with their own eyes the marvels that the mariners would describe, while splicing rope upon the docks.
When ten years old, however, Christopher was made to work in the wool shop and became his father's apprentice, with little free time from the loom to go about his own affairs. It is thought that he did not take kindly to this business and he may have run away, for a few years later we hear rumors of him in the University of Pavia, where, although a lad in his teens, he was greatly interested in the studies of geography and astronomy. He had already learned all that was then known about the science of navigation and the use of the few rude instruments with which mariners determined their position on the sea. He had also mastered the science of making maps and was so skilful at drawing them that he could earn his living by this means. He had taken his first trips as a sailor and visited many ports in the immediate vicinity of Genoa and perhaps he had gone even farther, for the love of adventure and of a wandering life were in his blood.
When a very young man the wanderings of Columbus brought him to Portugal, where he lived for a time, at Lisbon, with his brother Bartholomew, who already had made his home there and was drawing maps for a living. The Portuguese were the best sailors of Europe and the boldest explorers. Perhaps that was the reason why Columbus went to Portugal to live. But another story, later told by his son, says that he was attacked by pirates when in command of a vessel not far from the Portuguese coast, and saved his life by swimming to the shore.
While Columbus was drawing maps in Lisbon, he used to go to a church that was visited by a beautiful girl called the Lady Philippa, the cousin to no less a person than the Archbishop of Lisbon himself. Columbus fell in love with her and attended the church whenever he believed that it would be possible to see her there. She, in turn, began to look with kindness upon him and at last Columbus and the Lady Philippa were married and the marriage proved to be a very happy one.
Philippa's grandfather had himself been a bold sailor and an adventurous explorer and discovered the Madeira Islands, where his granddaughter owned some property. As she did not like the idea of having her husband work constantly making maps, the young couple went to live on the Madeira Islands at a place called Porto Santo, where Philippa's brother was Governor.
Porto Santo was on the edge of the Sea of Darkness and was full of the most terrible and mysterious tales concerning it. While a few learned men of the time began to think that the world was round, most of the sailors and even the scholars thought that it was flat and that by sailing westward on the Atlantic you would eventually fall off of the rim of the world. The west was also thought to be inhabited by fearful monsters. Sea serpents were there, of a size so great that they could easily crush a sailing vessel in their jaws; there were dragons and giant devil fish; in one place there was a burning belt, where the air was like molten flame and the sea a mass of fire; in another there lived evil spirits and demons, and a fate worse than death would befall any sailor that ventured there. If you sailed to the south, so the mariners believed, you would come to a land where the air was too hot to support life, while if you sailed to the north you would arrive at a clime so frigid that you would certainly freeze to death. The sailors believed these things because the air grew warmer as they ventured down the coast of Africa toward the equator, and colder when they sailed past England and the Scandinavian peninsula to the chill seas that border on the Arctic Circle.
While Columbus lived at Porto Santo, however, he heard other tales that interested him greatly and made him believe that the world was round and that all the legends of the Sea of Darkness were idle fancies—or at least that it would be possible to sail across this sea and come to the wonderful countries of India and China and Japan.
For the Governor of Porto Santo had told him of strange things that had been washed on shore when the wind had blown for many days from the west—of a cane so thick through that it would hold a gallon of wine, of a piece of wood carved in a manner that never had been seen before,—and once of a canoe, which had been made by hollowing out a giant tree, in which were the dead bodies of two strange men such as the European world had never seen,—yellow in color with flat, broad faces.
Columbus thought greatly about these things and studied again what little was known of the world's geography; and he became convinced that by sailing to the westward he would reach Japan and China, and determined to set out upon this marvelous and brave adventure.
First he went to the King of Portugal in whose dominions he had made his home, and asked the King for ships and men to undertake a trip that would make Portugal the richest and most powerful kingdom in the entire world,—for once the new lands were discovered, said Columbus, there would be gold for all and land a plenty,—to say nothing of the opportunity for carrying the religion of the Holy Catholic Church into far lands and saving the souls of the heathen.
The King of Portugal was greatly interested in Columbus' words, but he thought that Columbus was too greedy in what he demanded for himself, for the ambitious sailor desired a tenth part of all the profits that would be gained by his voyaging and wanted also to be considered as King in the countries that he would discover. Therefore, without saying anything about it to Columbus, the King of Portugal tried to cheat him out of the fruits of his great idea by secretly sending a sailing vessel with another captain on a voyage to that part of the ocean where Columbus thought that China and Japan could be found.
This boat sailed into the west for many days, but encountered terrible gales and turned back; and the captain, to save his face among the mariners, exaggerated the difficulties that he had encountered, declaring that it was idle nonsense to think that anything could be gained by sailing westward.
Columbus soon heard how the King had deceived him and determined to leave Portugal forever. In addition to the deceit that had been practised upon him in which others had so basely tried to rob him of the rewards of his great design, a far greater sorrow had come into his life by the death of his good wife, whom he had loved tenderly. So, with his little son, Diego, Columbus went to Spain, thinking that perhaps the Spanish King and Queen would listen to him, and give him ships and money to carry out his plan.
The King and Queen of Spain, or rather the rulers of the two related kingdoms of Castile and Aragon, were named Ferdinand and Isabella. A terrible war was going on between these Spanish kingdoms and the Moors, who had overrun Spain hundreds of years before. Queen Isabella, however, was deeply interested in the words of Columbus,—particularly because she was a devout Catholic, and desired to spread the Catholic religion in the Far East. She told Columbus that she was too busily engaged in fighting the Moors to help him then and that he must wait until the wars were finished when, she assured him, he should have the money and ships he needed to carry out his design for the glory of Spain and the Catholic faith.
But the war against the Moors lasted for years, and Columbus, vainly waiting at Court, seemed no nearer to getting the ships and crews that he so ardently desired than when in Portugal being cheated by the Portuguese King. He had no money, and in following the Court it was hard for him to earn anything to pay for his needs. His garments became worn and tattered,—so much so that he became known as "the man with the cloak full of holes." At one time he went into the army and battled against the Moors, but as he received no pay, he was compelled at last to take up his map drawing once again to earn enough money for food and clothing. Disappointed and discouraged he sent his brother Bartholomew to the Court of the King of England, but the ship was robbed by pirates and Bartholomew was obliged to return.
After compelling Columbus to wait for seven long years, the King and Queen of Spain went back on their word and refused to have anything to do with his adventure. Scientists had ridiculed it and told them that they might just as well cast their gold into the sea as to give it to Columbus. So the unhappy Columbus was compelled to leave Court, his hopes extinguished and plunged into the lowest depths of despair.
With him was his son who was now old enough to accompany him in his wanderings. Together they passed a monastery called La Rabida where Columbus paused to beg a mouthful of bread and a drink of water for his boy,—and here there came an absolute change in his fortunes, for here there dwelt a friar who had formerly been confessor to Queen Isabella with whom he still had a great deal of influence; and after going over Columbus' plans with a shipbuilder named Martin Pinzon and an astronomer named Hernandez, the good friar promised to ask the Queen to grant Columbus' request. At all speed he went to the Spanish Court and brought back word that Columbus was to receive another interview with the Queen, with the additional good news that he was to be of good heart in the meantime, for his request was to be granted. And Queen Isabella also sent Columbus a sum of money with which to buy decent raiment and pay his expenses in coming back to the Court.
In this way it befell that, after weary years of waiting, the great idea of Columbus was finally received, and he was allowed to set out on his wonderful voyage; and he was so sure of success that he almost seemed to see the new lands that lay thousands of miles across the Sea of Darkness.
Columbus went back to Court and made certain demands of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella that they finally consented to—namely that he was to be the "Admiral of the Ocean Sea"—for so he called the Atlantic—and should rule over all new lands that he discovered. One tenth of all future profits from these lands were to be his, and he alone should have the right to settle trade disputes that might arise. In addition to these things he was to receive one-eighth of the profit of his first voyage, as he was willing, and in fact his agreement with the Queen demanded, that he should pay one-eighth of the expenses of the venture.
Once the consent of the King and Queen had been given and the money provided, Columbus set about collecting his vessels and their crews. This last, however, was a difficult undertaking, for so many and terrible were the stories about the Sea of Darkness and the monsters that lived near the far edge of the world that the boldest mariners refused to venture with him on such an errand, and finally his crew was gathered by proclaiming in the jails that any criminal who accompanied him was to receive full pardon on his return to Spain—a means that filled his ships with the most worthless and evil men.
Three ships were provided. They were called the Santa Maria, the Pinta and the Nina,—the last of which was so small that it seemed in size little more than a modern life boat as it only had room for eighteen men. The Pinta carried twenty-seven men and was under the command of the same Martin Pinzon who had aided Columbus in gaining the ear of Queen Isabella—a man whom Columbus trusted completely, but who was to betray that trust long before Columbus returned from his perilous voyage. The Santa Maria was the largest of the three ships, and held fifty-seven men. This was Columbus' flagship.
At a seaport called Palos these vessels were made ready for their voyage and on the Third of August, 1492, they might have been seen with the sunlight gleaming on their white sails, on which were painted the huge red Crosses of the Catholic faith, as they made their way into the open sea and bore to the westward under a favoring breeze. They stopped at the Canary Islands, where food and water were taken aboard, and then, leaving behind them the entire civilized world, they sailed boldly out into the Sea of Darkness toward that far region where not only the Unknown but all the fears that superstitious seamen could invent awaited them.
It was not long before Columbus saw that among his crew of desperate ruffians and jailbirds there were many who would betray him on the first opportunity. On the way to the Canaries and while stopping there, the rudder of the Pinta was twice broken; and now that the open sea was reached and they were sailing into the far west, the helmsmen tried to alter the course of the vessels so that they might not go any further. When Columbus slept, the men at the tillers of all three ships would steer into the northeast instead of the west, so that the vessels, unperceived, might turn upon their own course and eventually return to the Canary Islands and to Spain. But Columbus was too shrewd a sailor to be tricked by any such clumsy means and placed the few men that he could trust in charge of the helm. Fortunately for his design a breeze came from the eastward and bore them rapidly along their course. Columbus, moreover, did not let the men know how far they had sailed, but every day gave out a distance far less than what had actually been completed, so that his sailors might think themselves nearer to Spain than was the reality.
On the Thirteenth of September, however, something took place that caused even Columbus' bold heart to beat quicker with fear, for the compass, that infallible instrument of direction, which was trusted by the mariners of those days even more than it is in the present time, began to veer around from the north and no longer pointed steadily to the pole. Only a few of Columbus' men were aware of this, and Columbus strengthened their resolution by telling them that it was not the compass which was at fault,—but rather the Pole Star that was changing, so that the compass still pointed truly—and on and on they sailed into the west.
As days and weeks went by a great fear gripped the hearts of the sailors. Never had any men been so far from shore as they. Day after day they saw nothing but roaring waves and the empty sky. They believed that even if they turned their vessels about it would be almost impossible for them to return, and anger and bitterness arose in their hearts against their brave leader whose strong will and steady hand forced them to continue the perilous voyage.
At last, however, they began to see signs of land that cheered them greatly. Terns and sea gulls appeared about their vessel, diving for the scraps of food that they tossed overboard. One day some little birds that came from the land rested in their rigging and sang. With their hearts high they watched for land, but it did not appear. On and on they sailed and still nothing was to be seen but the wide sky and the watery horizon. But more signs of land soon appeared. A branch from a wild rose bush floated past. Weeds were seen in the water. A careful lookout was kept and a large reward was promised to that sailor who might first see land.
On the night of October eleventh, Columbus believed that he saw a light directly in front of his vessel. It moved, glimmered, and disappeared, only to appear again a moment later. Some of the lookouts also thought that they had seen it, and the watch for land became keener than ever. At about two in the morning the cry of land was raised. One of the sailors had seen a sandbar and a low line of land. At once the vessels anchored, and with beating hearts the sailors waited for the morning that was to be fraught with such tremendous adventures.
Sure enough the rising sun disclosed green hills from which the breeze brought a most delicious perfume and where, as they drew closer, the birds could be heard singing. And on the shore a crowd of savages was gazing with astonishment upon the mysterious ships that floated with sails furled on the smooth waters of the bay. Hardly able to speak for excitement and joy the sailors leaped into their rowboats. First of all was Columbus, richly appareled, with the banner of Spain in his hand. And as the prow of his boat grounded in the sand he sprang ashore and took possession of the land in the name of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, unfurling the gorgeous banner to the breeze. Then he and his men kneeled and said a prayer of thankfulness, and they also planted in the earth a great wooden cross, to show that the new land had come under the power of the Christian Church.
The natives, who had gazed with wonder upon these actions, now approached timidly but with every sign of friendship, offering Columbus gifts of flowers and fruits and gay colored parrots, and lances tipped with bone and feather belts. They seemed to have no difficulty in understanding the sign language that the Spaniards used to make their wants understood, and they worshipped the newcomers as though they were more than human, and indeed their simple minds were convinced that these gorgeous strangers in velvet and armor were no less than superhuman beings.
By the sign language the savages made Columbus understand that there were other lands not far off, and he believed that he had arrived at India and could sail in the course of a few days to the rich countries of China and Japan. And he called the natives "Indians," as a token of his belief—a name that they and all the other natives of the American continent have borne to the present time. To his dying day Columbus believed that he had reached India and the Far East. How great would have been his astonishment had he known that another ocean nearly twice as broad as the one that he had crossed, lay between him and the Orient, and that he had come upon an entirely New World where no civilized men had ever set foot before!
Columbus named the island that he first set foot upon San Salvador. After he had remained there for some time he gathered his crews and set sail once more to discover other lands. He came to the island of Cuba and he discovered Haiti, but he thought that these were islands or part of the mainland of Japan, China or India, and so reported them in his writings. And now came his first bitter taste of the treachery that was to wreck his fortunes, for Martin Pinzon in command of the Pinta deserted him to search for gold, sailing away in the Pinta to cruise where he pleased.
Then, through the carelessness of a helmsman, the Santa Maria was wrecked upon a reef,—and Columbus was left with only the Nina, which could carry at most eighteen men, to bear the news of his great discovery back across the ocean to the Kingdom of Spain. A native king, however, came to his aid and with his tribe helped Columbus to save everything that was aboard the Santa Maria, and trusting in his kindness Columbus decided to found a colony where the greater part of his followers could remain, while he with a few men sailed back to Spain in the Nina to carry the word of what had been accomplished.
This was done and Columbus founded his colony after building a fort from the timbers of the Santa Maria; and he cautioned his men to treat the natives kindly and to respect in every way their rights and their property. Then, with a few men, he boarded the Nina and set sail for Spain.
On his way he encountered the treacherous Martin Pinzon in the Pinta, and the voyage across the ocean recommenced. It was a terrible voyage, for a hurricane fell upon the tiny vessels and they were almost destroyed. The seas, said Columbus, ran first in one direction and then in another, and at times completely submerged his ships. Convinced that he was going to be drowned and that the news of his discovery would die with him, he placed an account of it in a water-tight keg which he tossed overboard with his own hands, preparing another one which he left upon the deck of the vessel to be floated off when it sank beneath the waves.
In the nick of time, however, the waves moderated, and after a weary voyage and many adventures Columbus dropped anchor in the harbor at Palos from which he had sailed months before. He then sent word to Ferdinand and Isabella of his discovery, and was received with the utmost pomp and ceremony. The King and Queen were overjoyed at his achievement and granted him honors which hitherto had never been allowed to any of their subjects. Columbus sat with them enthroned beneath a canopy of cloth of gold and he rode at the side of the King in a triumphal procession. He gave the King and Queen who had so greatly befriended him many gay-colored parrots and rich fruits and spices that he had brought with him from the west, and he showed Isabella a number of the Indians whom he had brought back across the sea. His fame quickly penetrated beyond Spain and the entire Christian world rang with the deeds he had accomplished and the wonders he had seen. And Columbus' triumph was in no way marred by the treachery of Martin Pinzon who once again had sought to betray his master and leader. For when the vessels reached Spain, Pinzon had hastened to send to the Queen word of their arrival and had represented the discovery as the result of his own courage and sagacity. He was, however, coldly received, and shortly afterward died beneath a cloud of disgrace that he richly deserved.
Then Queen Isabella bade Columbus prepare for another voyage to the west and add to his discoveries,—particularly to find gold that the Kingdom of Spain was in great need of. This time it was not difficult to raise a crew, and soon Columbus once more set sail into the west with many vessels under his command.
When he arrived at the spot where his colony had been founded he learned that terrible things had happened in his absence. The Spaniards had abused the unsuspecting natives until these had risen in revolt and attacked the fort, and of all the Spaniards that Columbus had left behind not a single man remained alive.
And this was only the beginning of the trouble that was to pursue Columbus until the end of his life. Quarreling and strife broke out among the men that were under him. When he sent a part of his fleet back to Spain his enemies and those who were jealous of his greatness hastened to spread evil reports about him that came to the ears of the King and Queen. Still, however, they continued to trust him, and when Columbus returned they sent him forth on a third voyage in which he was to bend all his efforts to find the mainland of Asia, which he believed lay only a short distance beyond the colony that he had founded.
On this voyage, however, strife broke out to such an extent among his followers and so many and so lawless were their ill deeds in their commander's absence—for the need of further discovery had forced Columbus to leave the governing of the colony in the hands of others than himself—that the King and Queen finally sent out a man named Bobadilla to succeed Columbus and take over his powers.
Bobadilla hated Columbus and forced upon him an indignity that it is pitiful to think of,—for the discoverer of the New World and the Admiral of the Ocean Sea was compelled to return to Spain wearing chains that had been locked upon his wrists at Bobadilla's orders.
When the Captain of the vessel that bore Columbus homeward was about to remove the fetters, Columbus haughtily refused to take them off, saying that he would not part with them until he had knelt in chains before his sovereigns and given them this proof of the ingratitude with which they had treated him. And Columbus at last came before Queen Isabella, ill in body and broken in mind from the hardships and indignities that he suffered.
When the Queen saw how her commands had been twisted and the shame that had come upon the man who had served her so splendidly, she wept and asked his forgiveness,—and Columbus wept also at the memory of what he had suffered.
Unhappily the full measure of Columbus' misfortune was yet to come. Queen Isabella died, and Ferdinand, who, at the best, had been no more than lukewarm toward the achievements of the great sailor, refused to take any further interest in Columbus or what might become of him. The pension that Columbus had earned was never given to him, nor did he get the share in the profits of his venture that rightfully should have been his. So ill that he could not walk, he entreated Ferdinand at least to pay his sailors for their last voyage,—but this was never done. Deserted, old and broken-hearted, Columbus, who had aged before his time as a result of his hard life, died in 1506 in a room where he had hung his chains as a sign of the ingratitude of his sovereign. He knew, however, that he had accomplished something that would make his name immortal and he died with this consolation. He did not know, however, that he had done something far mightier than his original design of crossing the Atlantic Ocean to Asia—namely that he had discovered a New World that was to give birth to a great nation, greater one thousandfold than the Spain that he had served.
WILLIAM THE SILENT
In the year 1560 two horsemen were riding in the Forest of Vincennes in France, followed by a splendid retinue. It could be seen from their costume and bearing that they were officials of high rank and large following—and indeed they were no less personages than Henry the Second, the King of France, and a Prince from the Netherlands named William of Orange, a powerfully built young man of commanding appearance and great nobility of demeanor.
The Netherlands which were ruled by the King of Spain, had been at war with France and William had been sent to the French court as a hostage while peace was being arranged. He was brave, generous, handsome and wealthy, and gained the respect and liking of all that knew him, wherever he happened to be. But his heart was as heavy as lead while the French King was talking to him, for Henry the Second was telling him of a secret scheme by which all people in the Netherlands who did not believe in the Catholic religion were to be wiped out by fire and sword.
"Everything has been arranged," said Henry triumphantly, "and the King of Spain has agreed with me to carry out the affair in the Low Countries as shall be done in France. The ancient edicts are to be brought forth again. The Holy Inquisition is to be revived in its greatest severity, and before long there will be no place in Spain, France or the Low Countries where a heretic may lay his head in safety."
Now Henry of France was very foolish when he spoke this way to Prince William of Orange. He believed that because the Prince had been commander of the army of King Philip of Spain that he was in the complete confidence of the Spanish King—but this was not the case. Although William had been brought up in the Catholic faith he was a Protestant at heart, and came from a Protestant family. He had only turned to the Catholic religion because it had been necessary for him to be of that faith to become the ruler of the Principality of Orange,—and even if his own father and mother had not been Protestants, William would never have consented to the hanging and burning of innocent people because they happened to believe in a religion that was slightly different from his own. His blood ran cold with horror when he heard what the King of France and the King of Spain were planning—but in spite of what he heard he had presence of mind enough to listen quietly without showing any sign of the rebellion and anger that were in his heart. He knew that he could aid the Protestants and the Netherlands far more if the powerful monarchs who were in league against them did not realize that they would have him to reckon with as one of their enemies, but from that time on Prince William determined not to rest until the last Spanish soldier had been driven from his country and the people were allowed to worship God in their own way.
Still William said nothing. He pretended to be greatly interested in the measures that he had learned of and expressed no disapproval of their severity. The King of France never learned what an error he had made. But William, from his attitude on this matter and the way that he conducted himself, gained the nickname of "William the Silent" which clung to him throughout his life and has been attached to him in history ever since.
William was well liked in the Netherlands or the "Low Countries" as they were then called. He was the son of a nobleman, Count William of Nassau, and succeeded to the principality of Orange on the death of his cousin Rene of Nassau who was killed in battle. Rene was an ardent Catholic, and stipulated that to gain the principality William would have to be brought up in the Catholic faith. So young William went to the Court of Charles the Fifth, Emperor of Spain and Germany, and became a page in Charles' establishment in the city of Brussels.
When a youth of eighteen William married a girl of high birth named Anne of Edgemont and lived happily with her until he went to the wars with the Spanish army. He did not like military life, but none the less he did so well that before he was twenty-one he was made a General. His record was creditable to the utmost, but through all his life William never showed any great military ability. He was slow to come to decisions and too deliberate to make a military leader of the highest order.
When William returned to the Netherlands after his sojourn in the French court he was made Governor of the principalities of Zeeland, Utrecht and Holland. And here, in his efforts to help the Protestants from the harsh decrees that were being carried out against them, he first came in collision with the cruel and cold-blooded Philip of Spain.
Philip believed in the instrument of justice called the Holy Inquisition and for years this had been in operation in his own kingdom of Spain. It was a body of Priests and wise men who judged and condemned all persons who were accused of heresy, as any difference from the Catholic religion was called. The punishments dealt out by the Holy Inquisition were most severe and brought great suffering. For the Inquisition employed the most inhuman tortures, not only for those who were convicted of guilt, but also for unfortunate people who were accused, maintaining that under torture nobody could refrain from telling the truth, nor conceal any wickedness that he had ever committed. As a result of this, confessions were often wrung from innocent people, who could not support the agony of torture, preferring to be punished for crimes they had not committed than to bear it. And this punishment was almost invariably to be hanged or burned alive at the stake.
At the time when William was put in control of the three small states that we have spoken of, Philip had left the Low Countries for Spain, and had placed the government of his dominions in the Netherlands in the hands of his half sister, Margaret the Duchess of Parma, and under her rule the cruel measures enacted by Philip against the Protestants were ruthlessly carried out.
As Governor under Philip, William was expected to apply these measures himself, and on one occasion was ordered to put to death certain people who were accused of heresy. Being unwilling to do this he sent them private warning, suffering them to escape before his men came to arrest them; and from this time on he followed a course of action that soon brought him into disfavor with the Duchess of Parma who suspected him of treachery and wrote to the King of Spain accusing William of many crimes.
Greater and greater grew the unrest and dissatisfaction throughout the Netherlands. And one curious sign of this was in the formation of a society of noblemen who called themselves "The Beggars." This organization had come about in the following manner. Three hundred or more noblemen had presented to Margaret a request that the Inquisition be abolished and the edicts against the Protestants revoked. Some of her advisors laughed at the request of the Flemish nobles, referring to them scornfully as "beggars," and the term came to their ears. At once they took the word for their watch cry and dressed themselves in the costume of beggars with wallets and begging bowls, declaring that they would not resume their ordinary dress until their requests had been granted. And this organization did a great deal to fan the opposition to Spain, which was increasing every day throughout the Netherlands, into a flame of rebellion.
Another disturbance soon took place that made the King of Spain more bitterly angry against the Low Countries than any other thing that could have happened. A storm against the Catholic faith swept through the country and churches were sacked and the holy images destroyed in every province. Mobs marched through the streets attired in the sacred vestments of the priests that they had torn from the altar. Stained glass windows were broken with stones; entire churches were ransacked and plundered of everything of value that they contained. The people at last had turned in revolt, and "the image breaking" as this rioting was called, was the first sign of it. And then, or shortly after, William the Silent became a Protestant.
Frightened by the signs of revolt Margaret pretended to consent to the wishes of the nobles and stated that the Inquisition should be abolished in the Netherlands and the edicts against the Protestant religion revoked. And she sent a secret letter to the King of Spain, informing him of what she had done.
Philip was determined on the most bitter vengeance, but until he could bring a powerful army into the Low Countries it suited him to have his subjects there believe that he had actually consented to their demands. So he pretended to agree to what Margaret had granted, and all through the Low Countries the bells rang and the bonfires burned in rejoicing that freedom from persecution had at last been gained.
But Philip had put a nobleman named the Duke of Alva in charge of the army that was to subdue the Netherlands, and could not have chosen a better or surer man to carry out his dark ends. The Duke of Alva was a monster of cruelty, implacable as iron, and possessed of a skill in warfare that few could equal. He had been ordered to seize William of Orange as well as other leaders and bring them to instant execution, and then so to punish the Netherlands that not a trace of the recent rioting or rebellion should remain.
The Netherlands were not then in a position to offer a strong resistance to such a highly organized, well trained army as the Duke of Alva's, but secret preparations were going through the country for a great struggle of which the recent rioting was only the smallest beginning. The Duke of Alva, proud soldier that he was, did not estimate the strength of the Lowlanders at its proper value. He boasted that he had tamed men of iron in his time and could easily tame the men of butter who were now opposed to him. And his first act was to carry out King Philip's demands against the noblemen who were chiefly implicated in the recent uprisings.
These were the Counts Egmont and Horn and rightly or wrongly William of Orange. William himself had been shrewd enough to fly to Germany. He knew Philip and he urged Counts Egmont and Horn to fly with him. But they, foolishly feeling secure in their own country, decided to remain where they were.
For a very brief time they thought they had decided rightly, for the Duke of Alva was courteous to them. He invited them to his house to dinner and made them his guests—but while they were eating his bread and drinking his wine, an armed guard surrounded his house and the two unfortunate nobles were arrested by the treacherous Spaniard and promptly thrown into prison. They never regained their liberty. After being held as captives for the better part of a year they met their fate courageously on the public scaffold where so many of the bravest and best heads of the Netherlands were falling by the Duke of Alva's orders.
A reign of terror then swept over the Netherlands that has had practically no equal in history. Alva was relentless as flint in every dealing with the people under his charge. To meet the numerous trials that were necessary under his regime he appointed what was called the Council of Troubles—a name that was quickly changed by the people themselves to the Council of Blood, for it never acquitted, never showed mercy. Prisoners were led before it and condemned in batches of a hundred or more at a time, and sometimes prisoners were delivered to the executioners without even the poor formality of a trial that this council afforded.
Nor was this all—for to fill his coffers the Duke of Alva established a system of taxation that if carried out would reduce to beggary every man, woman and child in the Low Countries.
William the Silent was not idle in Germany, where he had fled on the coming of this Spanish tyrant; he was engaged in raising money and enlisting the sympathy of German princes in the cause of his oppressed people. Aided by his brother Louis, who was a fine soldier, he worked day and night to raise an army to march against the Spaniards, and at last was able to send his forces into the Netherlands, while he himself remained with a small reserve ready to support them when necessary.
But although William's brother and the other leaders of his new army were fine soldiers, they failed against the brilliant military genius of the Duke of Alva. At first they seemed partly successful and won a minor victory at a place called Heiliger Lee,—but then the Duke of Alva himself marched against them at the head of a splendid army, and wiped out the forces of his adversary at Jemmingen, killing the wounded and taking no prisoners, but exterminating his foes wherever he met them. And among the dead was William's youngest brother, Adolphus, who had distinguished himself for his bravery.
Then William had to raise another force to supplant the one that had just been destroyed. The German princes were discouraged by his failure and were reluctant about giving their aid; and in his distress he turned to Queen Elizabeth of England, who sympathized with his cause, but could not do anything for him at that time.