Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

The Maid of France
Being The Story Of The Life And Death of Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc)
CHAPTER 6

THE SIEGE OF ORLEANS BEGUN

Here we leave Jeanne for a moment : little is known of her life from July 1428 to January 1429. We turn to the siege of Orleans, the Moscow campaign of the English in France. They did not see the signs of the times. In France, as a military novelist of about 1460 says (Bueil, in Le Jouvencel), a new generation was coming into action, and new allies from Scotland were in the field.

The Constable, with Sir John Stewart of Darnley, and John Wishart, repulsed the English under Mont St. Michel. Stewart, taking a lesson from the English, dismounted all his men, and had a success. It is to be observed that, in the deadly feud between the Constable and La Tr^moille, the Scots took sides against the obese Royal favourite.

In September 1427, La Hire and Dunois defeated the English and raised the siege of Montargis,--a gleam of light on a dark horizon.

The English attempt on Orleans, the effort to break the line of the Loire and drive the Dauphin to Spain or Scotland, was, indeed, an insensate scheme, devised in mad self-confidence, and the English were equipped with forces and munitions wholly inadequate. " God knoweth by what advis the siege of the city of Orleans was taken in hand," wrote, in 1433, the Duke of Bedford, Regent for the infant Henry VI, to the English Govern- ment. If Bedford did not know to whom fell the responsibility for this wild enterprise, we cannot hope to discover the truth.

Here it may not be out of place to describe, from unpublished documents, the nature of the English preparations for the complete subjugation of France. The artillery and siege material were collected by the vicars of Enfield and Cheshunt, and by John Parker, Master of the Ordnance for the Earl of Salisbury. Parker drew £666, 13s. 4d. for ordnance, and £66, Js. gd. for master manners and others to carry it across the Channel. He purchased fourteen small brass guns called fowlers ; each was one foot and a half in length ; each had three chambers, and could throw stones of two pounds in weight. There were three other brass guns with one chamber, and twenty-nine other cannon. Sixteen small "hand-cannons" were supplied, bound with iron rings, with twelve hundred leaden bullets. This kind of hand-cannon, a most monstrous musket, with a rest, was used effectually on the French side, as we shall see, by Master John the Lorainer.

For guns of position, three great iron pieces were furnished, capable of throwing 18-inch stones; two other pieces were of 16-inch calibre. Three more of 18 to 14-inch calibre were bought from another factory. Stones from 24 to 14 inches were purchased, 1214 in all, with 200 stones for the "fowlers." About 320 "pavoises" or strong wide shields used in assaulting fortified positions were provided, and 123 chests of bows and arrows. Four pairs of bellows were commissioned, to be used, if necessary, in casting new guns beyond the sea. From French military science was borrowed the idea of employing quantities of lead to make " samons '' for strengthening the feet of the cannon, (ad usum Francice). A great wooden instrument, le vice, was manufactured, to be used in loading and unloading the guns.

Preparations so immense, and outlay so lavish, were calculated to strike terror into the boldest hearts in France. England was going to work regardless of expense, and employed the latest appliances of military science.

As for the host thus equipped, it was levied, by contract, by Salisbury himself, on the shortest service principle. The men were engaged for a period of six months : the officers were 6 knights bannerets, 34 knights bachelors, 559 esquires, and with 1800 bowmen, including 30 details, there were 2509 men in all. Two hundred and forty combatants, however, did not keep tryst at the port of Sandwich on June 30, 1428, and Salisbury enlisted 450 more archers. A hundred and nineteen men-at-arms, devoid of ambition, had preferred to stay at home in England.

Bedford added, at Paris, 400 lances and 1200 archers, so that, exclusive of pages, Salisbury was at the head of nearly 5000 men. Reinforcements were drawn from garrisons, to the extent of 8 men from Rouen, and so on. By the end of March 1429 the feudal levies of Normandy were called out for the siege of Orleans, and were largely used in guarding convoys. The number of Burgundians employed in the siege is unknown, but they were withdrawn before Jeanne set out to relieve Orleans.

The whole English equipment was much below what Bueil, many years after the events, thought necessary. Writing after his years of war are over, probably about 1460, Bueil remarks that new military inventions are constantly being made : among these, probably, are the light leather boats, capable of being transported by horses, which were used for crossing the water moats of towns. His idea of the artillery needed in the siege of a large strong town like Orleans is a park of 250 pieces, of various calibre ; and his notions of the adequate gunpowder for each gun would have startled the English of 1429.

Bueil, moreover, in thirty years of experience, had learned to distrust bastilles^ or palisaded earth-works, such as were used by the English and Burgundians in the sieges of Orleans, Compiegne, Dieppe, and Mont St. Michel. These extemporised forts, built at intervals all around the threatened town, are represented, in the illustrated manuscripts of the period, as mere circles of park palings, not of the height of a man. They were, in fact, much stronger ; the palisades crowned high earth-works, and tall scal- ing ladders were needed by assailants, while the artillery of the period did not easily breach them.

The English before the end of the siege had ensconced their men in twelve or thirteen of these bastilles. But, as Bueil argues, they were so remote each from each, that the garrison of one fort could not rescue the men in its neighbour, if attacked, and they did not supply accommodation for horses. " I have always heard that no good comes of bastilles, and, in the late wars, I saw them ruined at Orleans, Compiegne, Dieppe, and St. Michel." Really the bastilles were not to blame, but there were not enough of them, because the investing armies were numerically inadequate.

Bueil's criticisms came too late ; nor is it easy to see how the English could, with their limited forces, have done better than they did. They had not soldiers enough to man twice the number of bastilles, but, till the Maid arrived, the French never assaulted one of their thirteen forts.

From Salisbury's original force of about 5000 men, with which he took forty towns and castles in September 1428, must be deducted the garrisons which he left in these places of strength. This deduction makes it plain that he had not men enough either to invest Orleans, a town with a coronal of towers, a river frontage, and walls of great height and thickness ; or to take by storm a city well found in guns of various calibre, and garrisoned by people of laudable courage and patriotism, and by the companies of all the great French leaders. Other cities, the Estates, and the Dauphin, contributed money and provisions ; the town was well victualled, well provided with guns, powder, arrows, pavois or shield-screens, and all the munitions of war. The citizens destroyed the houses and the beautiful churches of their suburbs, on the opposite side of the river, and welcomed adventurous captains, men like Dunois, La Hire, Poton de Saintrailles. Unluckily for France the massive churches were only wrecked, not levelled ; and several of the investing forts of the English were palisaded earth-works, or bastilles, surrounding and resting on the half-ruined walls of the churches and the strong church towers.

On October 1 2 the siege began ; firing from the opposite bank of the Loire, the English guns of position threw heavy stone balls into the town, and killed--one woman. They destroyed the water mills, but the townsfolk established mills worked by horse power. The bridge-head, on the English side of the stream, was protected by two strong towers, " the Tourelles," with an outer boulevard. From its boulevard, or outwork, the English were repulsed, with loss of 240 men in killed alone. The English then mined, or were believed to have mined, the outwork, and the French deserted the Tourelles on October 23, breaking down an arch of the bridge, and erecting a barricade on the arch of the Belle Croix (later enriched by the ladies of Orleans with statues of Charles VII and the Maid, kneeling in prayer on either side of the Fair Cross).

On October 24, Salisbury was mortally wounded by a cannon- ball as he reconnoitred the town from a window of the Tourelles. This discouraged the English as much as the arrival of Etienne de Vignoles (the famous La Hire), of the brave Dunois, then styled Bastard of Orleans, and of their bands, with archers, cross- bowmen, and professional infantry from Italy, encouraged the townsfolk. On November 8 the English army broke up, retiring to more hospitable quarters in the adjacent towns of Meun and Jargeau ; while William Glasdale, a north countryman and a soldier of high repute, held, under Lords de Moleyns and Poynings, with five hundred men, the Tourelles and their outwork. Glasdale could only observe the city, while the French destroyed twelve churches and monastic houses in the suburbs, that they might not afford shelter to the main body of the English on their return. We hear of no attempt to recapture the bridge-head, with its fortifications ; the French were not yet led by Jeanne d Arc, and, though greatly superior in numbers, had no heart for the assault.

On December 1 the great Talbot arrived to reinforce the English in the Tourelles with men, food, guns, and ammunition. He kept up a well-nourished fire of ponderous missiles, which injured many buildings, but caused almost no loss of life. The garrison replied with a huge new piece of ordnance; but by Christmas Day, when there was a truce, and Orleans lent musicians to the enemy, neither side had done anything new of the slightest note. A famous gunner named Jean u sniped " a few English day by day : on December 29 the Orleanais levelled eight or nine more churches ; the Earl of Suffolk and Talbot arrived on the Orleans side of the water with 2500 men, and established a huge fortified camp, or bastille and boulevard, at St. Laurent des Orgerils, outside the west gate, Porte Regnart, of the city. This camp was intended to close the Porte Regnart and the road down the river towards Blois, so as to stop any French relieving force advancing from that centre. The English were only opposed by skirmishing bands of cavalry under Dunois : there were daily skirmishes, but no attempt was made to prevent the English from fortifying themselves in their great bastille of St. Laurent and elsewhere.

So the siege, if it can be called a siege, went on. Day by day bands of the French sallied out and teased the English ; day by day the English advanced " with marvellous cries " against one of the gates of the city. There was no genuine attack, no resolute fighting, no night assault ; and each side retired when it came within the very limited range of hostile artillery fire, some five hundred yards. French troops and supplies entered Orleans at pleasure, but the English erected a bastille on the isle Charlemagne, which lay in the river between their fort of St. Laurent and their new fort, St. Prive, built on the opposite bank of the river to secure the ferry from the isle Charlemagne. The garrisons of these works could not keep out (January 10, 1429) a great convoy with supplies and ammunition sent from Bourges, due south of Orleans.

The English, in fact, had on that day appreciable losses in slain men and prisoners, while, next day, a cannon-ball from the Orleans side destroyed the roof of the English bridge-head fort. On January 12 a herd of 600 swine was driven into the city; while, on the following day, Sir John Fastolf reinforced the besiegers with a company of 1200 men, guns of various calibre, powder, victuals, and supplies of arrows. Presently 40 beeves and 200 swine were thrown into Orleans; but next day the English seized the ferry-boat of the Orl^anais which plied between the opposite bank, and the church of St. Loup in the fields outside of the eastern wall, and also made spoil of 500 head of cattle intended to supply the town, slew a number of the enemy, and captured the famous light field-piece of that master gunner, Jean the Lorainer. This piece, which had caused them so much loss, the English bore in triumph to the Tourelles ; but Jean escaped by swimming. So they continued to skirmish, the towns- folk being in good heart, and well fed. There we leave them, on January 30, 1429, rejoicing in the arrival of nine pack horses laden with oil for their winter salads.

The fighting was not much more serious than the combats with apples and cheeses, in the pleasant land of Torelore, as described in the old romance of Aucassin and Nicolete. The French, according to the contemporary author of the Journal du Siege, do not seem to have lost fifty men ; the English, save at the Tourelles, not a hundred. If we may believe the mysterious Scots chronicler, the Monk of Dunfermline (who avers that he was with the Maid till her end), the English camp was like a great fair, with booths for the sale of all sorts of commodities, and had sunk ways, leading from one fort to another.

Certainly the French had plenty of supplies ; but the siege was soon to be tightened, and from February 25 till the arrival of the Maid at the end of April, but small quantities of provisions were introduced. The arrival of a few pigs is duly chronicled !

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