Battle of Patay
The Battle of Patay was fought on June 18, 1429 between French and English forces just outside the little village of Patay in north-central France. The battle was the final one in a phase of operations by the French known as the Loire Valley campaign and resulted in a huge victory for the French. For Joan of Arc it was her most overwhelming victory and opened the way for her to lead the Dauphin Charles to his coronation and anointing in Reims to fulfill her strategic plan for restoring France.
The battle occurred as part of the French campaign to clear the English from the rest of the Loire Valley after Joan's great victory at Orleans. On June 17th the long awaited English reinforcements under Sir John Fastolf arrived at Janville to the north of Patay and met up with the English field commander Talbot and proceeded toward Meung a few miles north of Beaugency where the French army had just forced the city to surrender. Upon learning of the large English force of 6000 approaching them the French captains including the Duke of Alencon, Dunois the Bastard of Orleans, and several other French leaders went to Joan asking what they should do. Dunois later described the meeting:
"The Constable de Richemont, myself, and several others being present, the Duke of Alencon said to Joan: 'What shall I do?' and Joan answered quite loudly: 'Have good spurs all of you!' Hearing these words, all present asked Joan: 'What did you say? Are we to retreat?' Joan replied: 'No, the English will turn their backs. They will not defend themselves, and will be beaten. You will need good spurs to chase after them.'"
The French leaders, probably apprehensive after learning of the large size of the oncoming English force, continued to hesitate. LaHire and another knight said to Joan: "The English are coming; they are in order of battle and are ready to fight" to which Joan responded: "Strike boldly, they will take to flight!" and added "It will not take long." The English had marched a little south of Meung and dug in with their classic defenses. After waiting for some time for the French to attack they sent heralds into the French camp challenging them to send three champions to meet three of their knights in battle. The reply from the French was: "Go to your rest today for it is late enough. Tomorrow, if it pleases God and our Lady, we shall see you at close quarters." The English withdrew to Meung for the night where they made preparations for advancing against the French to rescue Beaugency the next day.
On the morning of June 18th Fastolf and Talbot finally learned that Beaugency had already surrendered so they decided they must retreat back the way they had come toward Paris. The French followed them retaking Meung but again there seems to have been some hesitation by the French leaders as Joan was recorded as speaking the following words to inspire them to fight: "In God's name, we must fight them! If they were hung from the clouds we would have them; for God sends us to chastise them! The noble King will have today the greatest victory that he has had in a long time. And my counsel has told me that they (the enemy) are all ours." Apparently having lost contact with the English after their hesitation Joan was then asked where the English could be found and her next words seem to have been exceptionally prophetic: "Ride boldly on, we will have good guidance."
As the French forces moved forward seeking the English the vanguard was commanded by LaHire leading eighty mounted knights who were acting as the advance scouts for the French army. When they came in sight of the small village of Patay they did not yet see the English who were probably hidden by the wooded countryside. The English had just received reports of the French coming towards them in force so Talbot attempted to establish their classic battle defense with stakes and archers. Then fate seems to have intervened and fulfilled Joan's prediction that the French would "have good guidance." A Burgundian knight fighting with the English named Jean de Waverin du Forestel later recorded what happened next:
"Most straightly came the French after their enemies, which they could not yet fall upon, not knowing the place where they were, when by adventure the front riders saw a stag leave the woods, which took its course toward Patay, and straight among the troops of the English, who raised a most great cry, not knowing their enemies to be so near to them. Hearing this cry, the afore-mentioned French riders made certain that it came from the English, and also saw them, soon after, very plainly. So sent they some companions to announce to their captains what they had seen and found, letting them know that they might ride forward in good order, and that it was the moment to strike. The men quickly prepared themselves at all points, and rode so fast that they soon saw the English plainly. When the said English saw the French approach them so near, they hurried the most that they could, in order to assemble at the hedges before the enemies arrival."
As de Waverin described, the French had the good fortune of spooking a buck which ran right through the English forces causing a commotion that gave away their position to the French. The scouts sent back to LaHire the simple message "Found!" and LaHire responded by ordering his cavalry into line of battle and charging. The heavy cavalry of the French overwhelmed the English who were still in the process of setting up their defenses. As panic struck the English, Fastolf with the cavalry of his main body attempted to rejoin the advance guard of his army who were a short distance away at some hedges. The commander of the advance guard mistook Fastolf's action as a full retreat and ordered a full retreat of his own men toward the Paris road. The result for the English was the wholesale slaughter of the men who remained upon the field fighting. Those killed at Patay were estimated as high as 4000 for the English while the French lost only a handful of men.
Over the years some historians have tried to diminish Joan of Arc's role in winning the Battle of Patay because they say she was not present in the vanguard that lead the attack. This is ludicrous as she clearly was in command and even more importantly was the driving force behind the French aggressively pursuing the English which is what lead to the great victory at Patay. I tried to include in this article as much of the dialogue as possible showing just how much Joan was the leader of the French army. When you read Joan's words and then look at what happened it not only becomes clear how important Joan of Arc was to the French victory at Patay but also shows how extraordinary a military commander Joan really was.