France, embroiled in a war with England in a struggle over the French throne during the Hundred Years’ War, would find a savior who in turn was a heretic to the English. This sinner and saint was a woman by the name of Joan of Arc. While most people know that the English burned her at the stake at Vieux Marche in Rouen, most have forgotten her military adventures against the English.
The Peasant Girl
In 1412, Joan of Arc (or Jeanne d’Arc) was born in the village of Domremy located in the Duchy of Bar, France. She was the daughter of poor farmers by the names of Jacques d’ Arc and his wife Isabelle. Like the upbringing on any farm, Joan learned primarily agricultural skills. She was said to have been a hardworking and religious child.
Jeanne d’Arc, by Eugène Thirion (1876). The portrait depicts Joan of Arc’s awe upon receiving a vision from the Archangel Michael. (Public Domain)
Joan’s fame came when she claimed to hear the voice of God, which instructed her to expel the English and to have the Dauphin, Charles Valois (Crown Prince of France) crowned king of France. Incredibly, Joan would get her chance to meet with the Dauphin Charles VII when the situation changed for the worse in 1429.
In 1429, the city of Orleans, loyal to the French crown, had been under siege by the English for over a year. With Orleans heavily under attack, the uncle of Henry VI, John, Duke of Bedford and the English regent, advanced with a force towards the Duchy of Bar, which at that time was under the rule of Rene, the brother-in-law of Charles Valois.
Siege of Orléans, 1429. (Public Domain)
Seeing that the English advance seemed unstoppable, the young Joan in the village of Domremy, approached the garrison commander, Robert de Baudricourt, and informed him that voices told her to rescue Orleans. She demanded that he assemble some men, provide some resources, and take her to meet with the Dauphin at Chinon. The garrison commander scoffed at the idea of a peasant girl standing before the French Royal Court and sent her away. Not dissuaded, she petitioned Baudricourt’s soldiers, and making accurate predictions about the outcomes of battles (apparently proving divine revelation), was eventually escorted to the Royal Court.
Joan arrived at Chinon on 23 February 1429. Right before Joan arrived, Charles is said to have disguised himself to see if she would be able to identify him, and to test her ‘powers’ as a prophetess, but it was to no avail, because she bowed before him, and said, “God give you a happy life, sweet King!”
Miniature from Vigiles du roi Charles VII. Joan of Arc and Charles VII, king of France. (Public Domain)
After a lengthy examination by the theologians, she was found not to be a heretic or insane. With no mental issues found, they advised Charles to let her do what the divine will had apparently commanded her to do. Charles agreed.
Joan of Arc on horseback. (1505) (Public Domain)
Before setting off to fight the English, Joan wrote a letter to English king and English Regent of France:
King of England, render account to the King of Heaven of your royal blood. Return the keys of all the good cities which you have seized, to the Maid. She is sent by God to reclaim the royal blood, and is fully prepared to make peace, if you will give her satisfaction; that is, you must render justice, and pay back all that you have taken.
King of England, if you do not do these things, I am the commander of the military; and in whatever place I shall find your men in France, I will make them flee the country, whether they wish to or not; and if they will not obey, the Maid will have them all killed. She comes sent by the King of Heaven, body for body, to take you out of France, and the Maid promises and certifies to you that if you do not leave France she and her troops will raise a mighty outcry as has not been heard in France in a thousand years. And believe that the King of Heaven has sent her so much power that you will not be able to harm her or her brave army.
To you, archers, noble companions in arms, and all people who are before Orleans, I say to you in God’s name, go home to your own country; if you do not do so, beware of the Maid, and of the damages you will suffer. Do not attempt to remain, for you have no rights in France from God, the King of Heaven, and the Son of the Virgin Mary. It is Charles, the rightful heir, to whom God has given France, who will shortly enter Paris in a grand company. If you do not believe the news written of God and the Maid, then in whatever place we may find you, we will soon see who has the better right, God or you.
William de la Pole, Count of Suffolk, Sir John Talbot, and Thomas, Lord Scales, lieutenants of the Duke of Bedford, who calls himself regent of the King of France for the King of England, make a response, if you wish to make peace over the city of Orleans! If you do not do so, you will always recall the damages which will attend you.
Duke of Bedford, who call yourself regent of France for the King of England, the Maid asks you not to make her destroy you. If you do not render her satisfaction, she and the French will perform the greatest feat ever done in the name of Christianity.
Done on the Tuesday of Holy Week (March 22, 1429). HEAR THE WORDS OF GOD AND THE MAID.
One can definitely suspect that the king of England and the English Regent of France did not take it to be cordial.
Joan of Arc, as a symbol of god’s will to the French, had turned a generational Anglo-French battle over thrones into a religious war.
Joan of Arc (Public Domain)
After convincing the theologians and future king of France that the divine had sent her, she was given armor to wear and a force of four thousand men were placed under her command. She set off towards Orleans soon after, carrying a white banner depicting Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and two angels.
Fortifications around Orleans at the time of the siege. English forts are depicted red, French forts depicted in blue. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
On 29 April 1429, she entered Orleans. She there met with the commander of the garrison, John, the Bastard of Orleans. Upon meeting him, she demanded that he immediately attack the English. However, John was not ready. While John was preparing with the now additional four thousand troops who accompanied Joan, Joan decided to approach and shout at the English troops. She informed them that she was the one sent by God—the “maiden”—and said to them “Begone, or I will make you go” but the English upon hearing her message, hurled insults back.
On April 30 the Orleans militia, under the command of Etienne de Vignoles, assaulted the English at the Boulevard of Saint-Pouair, but the attack proved unsuccessful. Joan called out to Sir William Glasdale at Les Tourelles stating, “Yield to God’s command.” The English replied by calling her a “cowgirl”. They made it known to Joan that if they captured her they would surely burn her. But even in their anger, they were also cautious.
On May 1, Dunois and a small band of men, along with Joan and some soldiers, left to bring the army back to Blois. During this small mission, the English did not attempt to engage the French even though they knew she was among this small army. Interestingly, the reason for not engaging the French seems to have been due to fear, for the lower English ranks feared that she had some supernatural powers and to risk taking her dead or alive was detrimental to their own wellbeing.
On May 3, the main body of Joan’s relief force arrived. She made it clear to the French soldiers and officers that God had sent her, as she rode in at the head as a priest chanted from the book of Psalms.
(Creative Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)
With Joan and 4,000 men in Orleans, the Armagnacs (Prominent Orleanists in French politics) attacked the outlying English fort of Saint Loup on May 4 and captured it. Feeling confident after the capture of Saint Loup, the French were preparing to attack the weakest English bastions on the south bank of the Loire the next day. However, despite the win, Joan decided on a temporary one-day truce to honor the Feast of the Ascension on May 5. It was during this truce that Joan wrote a letter for the English stating, “You, men of England, who have no right to this Kingdom of France, the king of Heaven orders and notifies you through me, Joan the Maiden, to leave your country; or I will produce a clash of arms to be eternally remembered. And this is the third and last time I have written to you; I shall not write anything further.”
She gave this letter to a crossbowman and he shot the letter into the English fortress of Les Tourelles. In the fortress, an archer retrieved the message and said, “Read, here is the news!” The English commander replied, “Here is news from the Armagnac whore!” Joan is said to have wept after hearing their reply.
The English Downfall
On May 6, the French set off and reached Fort Saint-Jean-le-Blanc. However, they found it empty. The Armagnacs continued to advance. The English appeared outside the fort and attempted a cavalry charge but were defeated and driven back into their stronghold.
15th-century depiction of Joan of Arc leading an assault on an English fort at the siege of Orléans. (Public Domain)
With the English bottled up, the Armagnacs continued on capturing another English forts near the Les Augustins monastery. From here, the Aramagnacs held steady on the south bank of the river Loire before engaging the English fortress of Les Tourelles the following morning on May 7.
While Joan partook in many of the battles, she did so from a support role, encouraging the men, boosting morale and confidence, and she also helped many of the wounded before she was herself wounded above the breast by an arrow at Les Tourelles. She is said to have pulled the arrow out with her own hand and dressed the wound with oil. After treating her wound and getting some rest, she noticed French troops retreating from the fortress. She quickly grabbed her standard, and stormed towards the fortress. She stuck her banner into ground and shouted encouragement to the men to fight on.
Sir William Glasdale and his small English force, seeing that they could hold no longer in their earth-and-timber fortress, and after witnessing that Joan was not dead, fled the flimsy ill-constructed fort for the safer stone fortress of Les Tourelles. It was at this moment that Joan saw Glasdale fleeing and shouted to him. “Glasdale! Glasdale! Yield to the King of Heaven! You called me a whore, but I have great pity on your soul and the souls of your men!”
Whether Glasdale stopped or not is up for debate, but during the chaos around them, a French incendiary boat became wedged beneath the wooden drawbridge, causing it to catch fire. Glasdale and his men attempting to cross it to reach the safety of Les Tourelles, did not make it, for the bridge caught fire and soon weakened. The bridge could not hold the weight of the men and it disintegrated and gave way. Glasdale and the men with him went crashing into the river and drowned due to the weight of their armor.
The seemingly unstoppable French advance caused the English to surrender the fortress, which resulted in a French victory that lifted the siege of Orleans. Nine days after Joan’s arrival at Orleans, the siege had collapsed. This military victory was a major turning point in the Hundred Years war.
Afterwards, more fortresses fell within the duchy causing the English to send forces to stop the advancement but they were in turn defeated. In just a few weeks, the English in the Loire valley were swept aside and Bedford, the English Regent of France, had lost much of his supplies, which greatly crippled any further English advancement for the time being.
Joan partook in many successful military operations until the English eventually captured her.
Joan of Arc and the French army marched toward the defense of Compiegne against the Burgundian army, led by John of Luxembourg, and arrived on 14 May 1430. However, on May 22, Joan went out during a sortie and surprised the Burgundians. While Joan’s attack was effective, the Burgundian forces refused defeat, rallied their forces, and defeated her men.
Joan retreated towards the gates and continued to fight, as she refused to admit defeat. This stubborn will allowed her to fall into the hands of her enemy, for the commander of the town left the gates open long enough for Joan and her forces to enter. However, seeing Joan refusing to disengage and the enemy ever so close to the entrance, the commander ordered the gate shut, sealing Joan’s fate.
Joan captured by the Burgundians at Compiègne. Mural in the Panthéon, Paris. (Public Domain)
After the Burgundians captured her, they imprisoned Joan at Beaulieu Castle at Rouen. After a lengthy imprisonment and trial, the Maiden of France was executed on 30 May 1431.
“Joan of Arc dies at the stake”, painted in 1843 by German artist Hermann Anton Stilke (1803-1860). Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. (Public Domain)
Featured image: Detail; Joan of Arc at the Siege of Orléans by Jules Lenepveu (CC BY-SA 2.5)
By Cam Rea
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