Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Joan of Arc Victory at Orleans
Commentary by Pope Pius II

portrait of pope pius ii
One of the earliest commentaries on Joan of Arc's victory at Orleans was written by Pope Pius II (Enea Silvio Piccolomini) while he was Pope (1458-1464) as part of his autobiography known as his Commentaries which were published in 1584 after his death. His remarks about Joan and the raising of the siege of Orleans provide an interesting perspective from a world leader who lived during the time of the Battle of Orleans however his knowledge seems to have been limited to a general overview as his specifics about the events of the battle are not consistent with the known facts.

The matter was discussed in council for some time with various opinions. Some said the girl was crazy, others said she was bewitched, others that she was inspired by the Holy Ghost, and these last recalled the fact that Bethulia and other cities had in the past been saved by woman; the kingdom of France had often been aided by Heaven; it might be that now too it was defended by a maid sent by God and that the task had been committed to the weaker sex that the French with their accustomed pride might not be overconfident of their own powers; in any case a girl whose advice was so sensible could not be called mad.

This opinion prevailed and they entrusted the matter of Orleans to the Maid. A woman was put in command of war. Arms were brought, horses led up. The girl mounted the most spirited steed; then in her gleaming armor brandishing her spear like Camilla in the tale she made him leap, run, and curvet. When the nobles saw this, none of the them scorned to be commanded by a woman. All the noblest took arms and eagerly followed the Maid, who, when all was ready, set out on the march.

The approach to Orleans by land was very difficult. All the roads were blocked by the English and at each of the three gates they had a camp fortified with a moat and a rampart. The Maid, knowing that the river Loire flows by the walls of the city, loaded ships with grain in a secluded place and embarked with her troops, sending word to the besieged that she had started. By rowing quickly and taking advantage of the swift current she appeared in sight of the city before the enemy knew she was coming. Armed English troops rushed up and putting out in small boats tried in vain to prevent her landing. They were forced to retreat with many wounds.

The Maid entered the city, where she was received with great rejoicing by the people, and brought supplies of all kinds to a populace near starvation. The next day at dawn she at once furiously attacked the camp of the enemy which was besieging the main gate. Filling the moats and shattering the mound and rampart she routed the English in confusion, captured their fortifications, and set fire to the towers and bulwarks which they had built. Having thus heartened the townsmen, she made sallies through the other gates and did the same in other camps.

Since the English forces were stationed in several different places and one camp could not come to the help of another, the siege of Orleans was weakened by these tactics and then utterly broken. All the enemy who had fought against the Maid fell so that there was hardly anyone left to carry news of the disaster. The glory of this exploit was credited to the Maid alone, though very brave and experienced soldiers who had often commanded troops took part in it.

Such a massacre of his men and such humiliation was unbearable to Talbot, the most celebrated of the English commanders, and with 4,000 horsemen picked from the entire army he marched against Orleans to fight the Maid if she dared meet him, never doubting that when she came through the gate he could either capture or kill her. But the event proved quite otherwise. The Maid led out her troops and as soon as she saw the enemy, with loud shouts and terrific force she charged the English lines. Not a man dared to stand fast or show his face; sudden panic and horror seized them all. Although they were superior in numbers they had supposed they would be fewer and thought countless forces were fighting for the Maid. Some even thought angels were fighting on the opposite side and had no hope of victory if they found themselves battling against God. Their drawn swords fell from their hands; everyone threw away shield and helmet to be unencumbered for flight. Talbot's shouts of encouragement were unheard and his threats unheeded. It was a most shameful rout. They presented only their backs to the Maid, who followed up the fugitives and took or killed every man except a few - including the commander, who when he saw that his men could not be rallied, made his escape on a swift horse.

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