Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Joan of Arc Chapter 7


To understand the operations for the relief of Orleans, it is necessary first to know something of the siege and of the campaign which preceded it.

Map of Frace during Hundred Years War when Joan of Arc was alive

In the spring of 1428, as has been said already, the English with their Burgundian allies occupied Normandy, Picardy, Artois, Isle de France, Perche, all French Flanders except Tournai, nearly all Champagne, considerable parts of Maine and of the Gâtinais, besides Burgundy and the Nivernais in the east, and the most of Gascony and Guyenne in the southwest. The duke of Brittany, irritated by the plots of Charles's favorites and the disgrace of his brother, the constable Richemont, inclined to the English alliance, though he gave them little active help. Charles ruled over only the central provinces of France, Dauphiny being almost as a foreign possession, while Languedoc sometimes wavered in its allegiance and often was compelled to make its own treaties with the English partisans.

These central provinces of France are bounded north and east by the Loire. Rising in the mountains of Languedoc, less than a hundred miles from the Mediterranean, this river flows northward for two hundred and fifty miles, though bending more and more to the west, until at Orleans it comes within seventy miles of Paris.

Speaking roughly, the duke of Burgundy owned the territory to the east of the Loire; the provinces to the west of it were loyal. From Orleans the Loire continues its sweep for about sixty miles, here bending in a curve to the south and west until it reaches Tours; from Tours it flows nearly due west to the Bay of Biscay. North of the Loire, Charles still had some possessions, but the towns between Orleans and Paris were always in danger, frequently taken and retaken, while the broad river and the fortresses which covered its passage kept the central provinces reasonably clear of the English. If the regent Bedford would make his nephew really king of all France, the Loire must be crossed.

For thirteen years England had made great sacrifices both in men and money to accomplish the conquest of France. When it is considered that these sacrifices were made by a country neither rich nor populous and comparatively rude, and that they were made to carry on a foreign war, some idea may be gained of the prosperity and strength which an insular position and domestic peace had given to England. The campaign of 1427, directed against the Gâtinais, and especially against Montargis, which lies about forty miles northeast of Orleans, had failed. For the campaign of 1428 greater preparation was made. Large sums of money were subscribed and borrowed; the mayor and citizens of London lent three thousand pounds.

The method of raising an army in the fifteenth century differed much from that practiced to-day. The old feudal levies, serving because it was their duty, like the great standing armies of the present generation, lost their efficiency when the larger part of the community was no longer used to arms. Regular forces of professional soldiers, kept constantly on foot like the armies of the eighteenth century, were as yet almost unknown. The English and French armies were composed mostly, though not altogether, of companies whose captains were under written contract with the sovereign to supply a certain number of men at so much a head. In such contracts, the rights of both parties were carefully guarded. The troop was to be inspected frequently, so that the king should get his money's worth, while payment was to be made for soldiers disabled or killed; no captain was allowed to recruit his troop at the expense of another's, and the division of ransom was regulated exactly. This waging war by contract tended to lengthen operations, since peace deprived the contracting captain and most of his men of their professional livelihood. It was more difficult to maintain discipline among troops furnished under this system of contract than among troops levied directly by the sovereign, and so the foundation of a regular standing army by the organization of the French gendarmerie at the end of the Hundred Years' War soon resulted in the complete overthrow of the English. In 1428, the principal contractor employed by the English and the general of their army was Thomas Montagu, earl of Salisbury in England, and count of Perche in France. He was in the prime of life, accounted "the most crafty, skillful, and lucky of the princes and captains of the realm. of England." He landed at Calais about July 1, and went to Paris, where the plan of the campaign was settled in council. Some favored an attack upon Anjou, and it has been said that the regent Bedford agreed with them, but it was decided to make Orleans the objective point.

The choice was natural, and seems to have been a wise one. To attack Charles effectively, the line of the Loire must be forced, and Orleans was the point on the Loire nearest Paris, the English base of supplies. The men of Orleans felt themselves aggrieved by the choice, and the reasons for their hope of immunity illustrate the strangely personal character of mediæval warfare. Charles of Orleans, their feudal lord, had been a prisoner in England since Agincourt, and it seemed to some people unchivalrous to attack the possessions of a man who could not defend himself. Again, it was said that Salisbury himself had promised the duke to let his city alone,--a strange promise for a commanding general to make, though some men pretended to name the sum of money paid for it. In fact, Salisbury had negotiated a treaty to this effect with the Bastard of Orleans, the duke's agent in his absence, but the regent Bedford had refused to ratify it, saying with reason that an imprisoned prince could not compel his provinces to observe neutrality, and that his request was not a sufficient reason for suspending military operations.

Though the English council had decided to attack Orleans, Salisbury began his campaign by movements which would open the road to Orleans and Anjou alike. At the beginning of August he marched toward Chartres with four or five thousand soldiers, about half of whom he had brought with him from England, while the rest had been raised in France or drafted from the English garrisons in Normandy and elsewhere. Most of his men were English, a few were Frenchmen who held to Henry VI.; at one time or another he was joined by some Burgundian allies. Acting with great vigor, he again retook some towns which the French had retaken in their successful campaign of the preceding year. On reaching Chartres about August 15, he disclosed his plan of operations, and Orleans was seen to be his objective point, though he did not march directly against it. Before doing so, he proposed to isolate the city by reducing all the neighboring towns, and he meant to besiege it only after he had secured his own communications, and had thoroughly cut those of the French.

The only serious resistance was that made by Janville, a place about twenty miles north of Orleans, and Janville held out but a week. First the town was occupied, and then the castle was stormed, after the fiercest assault, as Salisbury wrote to the mayor of London, that he had ever seen. Its defenders were treated harshly, though not more so than the laws of war allowed. The warning thus given was heeded. About September 5 Salisbury wrote out a list of forty towns which he had taken in as many days. In some cases the inhabitants swore allegiance to Henry VI.

Among these towns were several which secured the passage of the Loire, both above and below Orleans. Ten miles down-stream on the north bank of the river was Meung, six miles farther was Beaugency, both with bridges strongly fortified. Ten or twelve miles up-stream on the south bank was Jargeau, with another fortified bridge. All these places the English occupied in force.

Above Jargeau was Sully, belonging to La Trémoille, which he hastened to surrender, probably in order to save his property from damage.

Now that the passage of the Loire was secured at Meung, Beaugency, and Jargeau, it may be asked why the English waited to besiege Orleans and did not rather push on at once, into the heart of France. It was possible for them to march by way of Jargeau directly upon Bourges, having a safe line of communication and retreat by way of Auxerre and the Burgundian possessions east of the Loire; but to do this would leave Paris and Normandy open to. French attack. It was possible, also, to pass the Loire below Orleans and march on Tours and Poitiers; but this would expose the army to great danger in case of defeat, as experience had shown once, and was to show again, that neither Meung nor Beaugency could defend the passage of the Loire beyond a few hours, or a day or two at the most. Salisbury's best reason for instantly besieging Orleans, however, was his desire to use in attacking a strong and valuable city the impetus he had gained by his rapid success. For the long investment which actually followed, he was in no way responsible.

When the English army took the field, a French army should have taken the field to meet it, but Charles was without that useful device for carrying on a campaign. In September and October, after Salisbury had crossed the Loire, the Estates of France met at Chinon, and voted large sums of money for the war. They also begged the king to practice economy, to maintain justice, and to make peace with the duke of Burgundy and the constable. To these requests the king gave vaguely favorable answers, and lived the same slothful, cowardly, spendthrift life as before, the creature of La Trémoille.

On all sides of Orleans the country is very flat. In the Sologne, as the district south of the Loire is called, dikes are needed to protect the fields against the river in flood. In the Beauce, the district north of the Loire, where Orleans itself is built, the ground is but a few feet higher. The river is from three hundred to seven hundred yards wide, neither rapid nor slow, flowing among shifting sand-bars and low islands of changing shape. In 1428, the city was built close to the northern bank in a slightly irregular rectangle, about nine hundred yards along the river by six hundred yards in the other direction. It was protected by a wall from twenty to thirty feet high, having a parapet and machicolations, with twenty-four towers. Outside the wall, except where it faced the river, was a ditch forty feet wide and twenty feet deep.

The bridge which crossed the Loire was about three hundred and fifty yards long, including that part of it which rested on an island in mid-stream. On its southernmost pier was built a small fortress called the Tourelles, connected with the shore of the Sologne by a drawbridge, which, in its turn, was covered by a strong earthwork or boulevard. Though the walls of Orleans inclosed little more than a hundred acres of land, and though part of this small space was occupied by a large cathedral and several parish churches, yet twenty thousand people had their home in the closely packed houses that lined the narrow and crooked streets. The expense of building and maintaining a wall was so great, the duty of watching it by day and night was so burdensome, that, during the Middle Ages, the cost of land inclosed in a walled town was very considerable. Modern cities are enormously more populous than any which existed five hundred years ago; but it is likely that the overcrowding of the poor, now much talked about, was greater then than it is to-day. Just outside the walls were several populous faubourgs or suburbs.

On October 5, Jargeau surrendered to the English. A week afterwards, Salisbury appeared before the Tourelles, having a considerable body of men and a well-appointed siege train. The garrison of Orleans was commanded by Gaucourt, an elderly and experienced soldier, but without marked ability. Under him served several of Charles's hard-fighting, freebooting captains, and a small body of professional troops; beside these the citizens fought with desperate courage.

With his odd-looking copper cannon, some of which threw stone balls of a hundred and fifty pounds' weight a distance of seven hundred yards, Salisbury battered at short range the Tourelles and its protecting boulevard, while he dropped some shot into the city itself. The garrison, also, was well supplied with artillery, and it returned Salisbury's fire, but without much effect, as there was nothing in particular to aim at. At the end of about a week of bombardment, varied by sortie, the English made a furious assault upon the boulevard. This lasted four hours, and in it, says the chronicler of the siege, "were done many fair deeds of arms on the one side and the other." Even the women of Orleans brought across the bridge to the soldiers boiling oil, lime, and hot ashes, whatever would check the besiegers. For the time the English were repulsed, but the boulevard was mined, and the French position untenable; the boulevard was first abandoned, and then the Tourelles itself, having been battered to a ruin. Before withdrawing, however, the French broke down a span of the bridge between the Tourelles and the town, and built a barricade at their side of the opening.

On the afternoon of the same day, Salisbury went up into the Tourelles with some of his officers to look at the city across the river. As he stood by an embrasure, he was struck in the head by a cannon ball, and was wounded so severely that in three days he died. No one knew who fired the lucky shot, and so among the French his death "was esteemed by many persons to be the work of God. For he spared neither monasteries nor churches if once he could get into them, which naturally leads us to believe that his days were shortened by God's just vengeance." The death of Salisbury seems to have paralyzed the English. No one was commissioned to command in his place, and, after doing nothing for a fortnight, on November 8 the main force of the English divided and with. drew to Meung and Jargeau. Five hundred men, under William Glasdale, were left in the Tourelles, after the fort had been repaired and its boulevard had been rebuilt stronger than ever.

Meantime, the garrison had been strongly reinforced, and Gaucourt, who had been injured by a fall, was supersealed in his command by John, Bastard of Orleans, afterwards created count of Dunois. He was the natural half-brother of the duke of Orleans, a brave and skillful soldier of five-and-twenty, and accounted "the finest speaker in France."

His forces were greatly superior to those of Glasdale, but he did not attempt to retake the Tourelles; perhaps because he knew that the main body of the English was distant only four or five hours' march. During more than three weeks, he and Glasdale idly faced each other, while the men of Orleans, left unmolested for the time on the north bank of the Loire, destroyed the city's suburbs, "the finest in the kingdom," razing fifteen churches, several monasteries, hundreds of dwelling-houses, everything that could shelter an Englishman approaching the walls. Fifteen thousand people, thus made homeless, crowded into Orleans, nearly doubling its population and threatening all with famine and disease.

In the latter part of November, the question of the command of the English forces was settled by dividing it among three generals,-- William Pole, earl of Suffolk; Thomas, Lord Scales; and John, Lord Talbot, "the great Alcides of the field." All these were men of note, but after Salisbury's death the English operations lacked vigor. About December 1, Talbot came to the Tourelles with a small reinforcement, and for nearly a month he and the Bastard kept up an artillery duel across the river, with very little damage to either combatant. One day an English shot fell into the middle of a table at which five people were dining, yet no one was hurt, -- "a miracle supposed to be wrought by our Lord, at the prayer of my Lord St. Aignan, patron of Orleans." On Christmas Day there was a truce from nine in the morning until three in the afternoon, "during which time Glasdale and other English lords begged the Bastard and the Lord of St. Sevère, marshal of France, to cause their minstrels, trumpets, and clarions to play. Which was done accordingly, and the instruments played a long time, making fine music." Military operations in the Middle Ages were sometimes carried on in a leisurely manner.

Between Christmas and the New Year the main body of the English army arrived, advancing through the Beauce directly against the city. The Bastard sallied out to meet it, but was beaten back, and the English headquarters were established in a bastille or fortified camp, west of Orleans. It was about a gunshot from the walls, and was connected by a bridge with a camp on the south bank of the river, below the Tourelles. From time to time the English built other forts west of the city and at about the same distance from its walls; but for several months they did not try to invest Orleans completely, nor did they make any vigorous attempt to carry the city by storm or to open a breach in the walls by bombardment or by mining. Not infrequently considerable supplies were smuggled into the city, but the English forces, almost always successful in the field, made the provisioning of Orleans an occupation very risky and uncertain.

During all this time Charles VII. lived quietly at Chinon, and there received deputations from the citizens of Orleans urging him to succor their city. Probably he always hoped that a French relieving army would turn up, but for some months he did little or nothing more than hope. A government which waits to ask for supplies until its enemies have been six weeks in the field is not likely to be very prompt in relieving besieged places.

Through the early winter the siege dragged on, with cannonading and frequent sorties, with cutting off French supply trains and dare-devil exploits in bringing them in. The peaceful citizens were in constant terror. Sometimes the English disguised themselves as women, and crept close to the walls, capturing the poor vine-dressers as they ventured forth. At dead of night the bells rang out or the cry of treason was raised, startling every one front sleep: it might be a false alarm, or the English might be already at the gates. There were distractions, of course. Two knights, chosen from the two parties, would break a lance in regular tournament; or the English and French pages would be turned loose in one of the sandy islands of the river, to fight it out with fists and stones, while grown-up people looked on. The humor of the siege was supplied in large part by one John of Lorraine, who used with much skill a culverin, the unwieldy prototype of the musket. Posted on the bridge, he did great execution, varying his work with pleasant jests at the English expense. "In order to mock them, sometimes he let himself fall to the ground, feigning to be dead or wounded, and thus was carried into the city. But incontinently he returned to the fight, and so bore himself that the English knew him for a live man to their great harm and discomfiture."

Early in February a French army of relief was gathered, and its command was given to Charles of Bourbon, count of Clermont, a prince of the blood royal, and a headstrong young man. Instead of making a direct attack upon the English camp, he decided first to intercept a large convoy of provisions and ammunition which was approaching Orleans from Paris, under charge of the famous Sir John Fastolf. Fifteenhundred soldiers of the garrison sallied out one Friday to meet Clermont, who had given them rendezvous at Rouvray, twenty-five miles north of Orleans. Their march was made without interference from the besiegers.

The rest of Friday, and all Saturday, the men of Orleans waited for news. It came about midnight, when a disordered and terrified rabble poured into the city. All had gone wrong. The soldiers from Orleans came first to the rendezvous, and found themselves face to face with Fastolf. The count of Clermont had not come up, and yet had forbidden an attack upon the English in his absence. Fastolf, a prudent and experienced soldier, saw at once that he was outnumbered, drew his men together, and covered their front with his heavy wagons. Still Clermont did not appear, and at last the impatient soldiers of the garrison would wait no longer. They could not break through the wagons, but were thrown into disorder and then cut to pieces by the English. Clermont came up just in time to see the disaster, but, though his force alone outnumbered Fastolf's, he fled in confusion to Orleans. Several wagons, laden with salt herrings, made part of Fastolf's convoy, and so the fight was known as the battle of the Herrings. This was the battle which Baudricourt believed that Joan had announced to him. On the very day it was fought.

The citizens were now disheartened. The Bastard was wounded. Clermont's frightened soldiers could not be induced again to face the English, and, as they did nothing but eat up the scanty store of provisions, the citizens begged that they might be withdrawn. With them went many captains, and even the bishop of the city, so that the wounded Bastard was left almost alone. Hope from Charles there was none, and the men of Orleans had recourse to a strange expedient. An embassy was sent to Philip of Burgundy, begging him to have mercy on his old enemy Duke Charles, and to take the city under his protection. Weeks must pass before the return of the embassy, and slowly the English closed their blockade. Now and then food and supplies were still introduced, sent, perhaps, by some friendly city, Tours or Albi or La Rochelle. Occasionally a messenger was dispatched to the king, quite uselessly, of course. His council spent much time in considering whether Dauphiny or Spain would afford him the safer retreat after the fall of the city. "All the citizens and dwellers in Orleans," said a rich burgher, "were come into such straits by reason of the besiegers that they knew not to whom to turn for help, save God alone."

At about this time the story of Joan's journey was brought to Orleans, probably from Gien, where first she had been able to speak freely of her mission. Quite naturally the story was laughed at, but the condition of the city was too serious for much laughter, and the desperate people were ready for a miracle, since nothing else would help them. The Bastard sent two of his officers to Chinon; they soon returned to Orleans, the citizens were called together, and the messengers told their tale. The people began to take courage at the wonderful story; even if the Maid brought them no miraculous help, at least she would be accompanied by a good body of soldiers.

For nearly two months longer they had to wait, while their condition grew worse. Moved, perhaps, by Joan's letter and a report of the 'proposed expedition, the English built new bastilles, to be connected by earthworks which should completely inclose the city. Before these were finished, however, the em bassy returned from Burgundy. For years the duke had been guided alternately by his desire to avenge his father's murder upon Charles VII. and his fear lest the English should grow too strong. At this moment the latter motive prevailed, and he asked the duke of Bedford to raise the siege. This Bedford refused to do, probably for the reason given by one of his councilors, that it was not worth while to do the chewing for Burgundy to swallow. Philip thereupon ordered his subjects to withdraw quietly from the besieging army, and their defection weakened the English so much that the blockade could not be completed. It was still possible, though at great risk, occasionally to bring into Orleans reinforcements and provisions.

About April 25 Joan arrived at Blois, where had been gathered a considerable force of soldiers and several of the most noted French captains. There were Gaucourt, the old commander of Orleans; Rais and Boussac, the two marshals of France; Culant, the admiral; and La Hire, the cruel and witty Gascon freebooter already mentioned. "If God were to turn manat-arms, He would be a cut-throat," was one of the sayings which fairly expressed his notion of warfare. With all their experience these generals seem to have been quite undecided what to do. Their forces, joined to those of the garrison, were at least as numerous as those of the English, but after the recent experience of Rouvray they hesitated to face their enemies in the field. The main body of the English was encamped about Orleans on the north side of the river, while comparatively small detachments occupied the Tourelles and other posts in the Sologne. The French captains, therefore, decided to march to Orleans by the south bank of the Loire. How they were to cross the river when they came opposite the city they seem not to have considered, but to have left to the inspiration of the moment. The result of the expedition made their plan appear singularly foolish, and they were not inclined to revive its memory; judged by their actions, however, this was what they intended to do.

Joan's theory of the art of war was simple; she believed it to consist in attacking at once the principal body of the enemy. As the French intended to use her trust in the divine favor to stir up the enthusiasm of their soldiers, they did not tell her their plans, but, with the falsehood that usually accompanies vacillating weakness, they made her believe that Orleans was on the south bank of the Loire, and so that the relieving army was marching directly to the city and against the English. There was no reason why Joan should doubt them, and she did not. In one matter, however, she would have her own way; she was waging a holy war, and the men who fought with her should be holy. The soldiers must go to confession; and they did so, it is to be hoped to their spiritual advantage. She was not to be satisfied with a bare ceremonial compliance; profane swearing was conspicuous among the lesser vices of La Hire, and she told him that he must give it up. This the fierce ruffian actually did, for men found it hard to refuse Joan, but it seems that he humorously begged her to leave him something to swear by. Joan's sense of humor was by no means wanting, and she allowed him to make use of his "martin," or baton, for the purpose, perhaps because the name was like that of St. Martin, whom the Gascon probably used to swear by in his milder moods.


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