The Siege Until The Coming of Joan
THE Duke of Bedford had returned from England in 1427, determined to push on the conquest of France. For the time, extraordinary preparations were made in England. The chief point of attack was, naturally, and apparently necessarily, the Loire and Orleans. At the end of March, 1428, Thomas de Montague, Earl of Salisbury, allied to the royal family, made a contract with the government to enter France in June with six hundred men-at-arms, six knights bannerets, thirty-f our knights bachelors, and seventeen hundred archers; he finally gathered twenty-five hundred combatants. The Duke of Bedford added to the English host at Paris four hundred lancers and twelve hundred archers, making up an army of some five thousand men. In March, 1429, the feudal levies of Normandy were added. About the middle of August, Salisbury began the campaign, and wrote at the beginning of September that he had already reduced forty towns, castles, and fortified churches. This brought him to Janville, about twenty miles north of Orleans. Janville made a fierce resistance—the hardest in his experience, Salisbury said. Its walls, flanked with towers, surrounding the great central donjon, were guarded by a double moat. The gallant garrison, few in numbers, were mercilessly massacred by the victor. Then he summoned Orleans to surrender; but met a flat refusal.
Meung, eighteen kilometers southwest of Orleans, with its most useful bridge over theLoire, submitted immediately; and was strongly fortified. The celebrated sanctuary of Our Lady of Clery was only six kilometers, distant. The Catholic Salisbury sent his soldiers to pillage it, and "do other evils without number." Beaugency, father down the stream, followed Meung. Here, too, was a bridge. Finally, by taking La Ferte-Hubert, the English made themselves quite secure in the Beauce county, around Orleans on the north. Then Salisbury turned east and crossed to the southern bank. Forty-seven kilometers away from Orleans was Sully, the property of La Tremoille. His brother, a Burgundian partisan, took charge of it. Jargeau was nearer – at seventeen kilometers; and Chateauneuf, the favorite residence of the Duke of Orleans, was between. All were occupied. Thus the invader was firmly established below the river and city, in the possessions of King Charles of France. On the 7th of October, a demonstration was made against the suburb of Portereau, opposite Orleans; and on the 12th Salisbury here set his camp. The French burned the church and monastery of St. Augustine,
and worked day and night to strengthen the boulevard at the end of the bridge. The English occupied and strongly fortified the still serviceable ruins of St. Augustine; and thence commenced to cannonade the Tourelles, the bridge, and the city. Even women fought with extreme heroism, pouring down boiling oil, burning cinders, etc., on the assailants of the boulevard; and repelling at the point of the lance the foremost of the foe. The place was, however, ruined; and the French retired to the Tourelles, raising the drawbridge behind them. The Tourelles, battered by English cannon, had to be abandoned. It was quickly occupied by the foe, and repaired, the Scot Glasdale being put in command. The French retreating, had broken down one or two arches of the bridge, and fortified themselves a little farther on in the boulevard of Belle Croix. The Earl of Salisbury had ascended the Tourelles, and stationing himself at a window between a knight and Glasdale was observing the bridge and city, when a cannon ball, shot through the window, killed the knight, and hurled a fragment of wall against the head of the Earl. His eye was knocked out, his cheek torn, and he himself cast to the ground. Removed in secrecy to Meung, he died there on November 3rd.
The Duke of Bedford arrived at Chartres, forty or fifty miles away to the north, and sent reinforcements. In November and December
the besiegers secured their positions on the southern side of the river. Thus the city was cut off from King Charles and his states. Next day after the fall of the Tourelles, Dunois, La Hire, Boussac, and other captains came to encourage the people. Probably by their advice, the suburbs on the northern side were destroyed, including twenty-two churches. The French cannon began to annoy the English; and, in particular, the culverin of John of Lorraine, picked off many a besieger. This was a long slender piece, which threw leaden balls to a great distance. At Christmas there was an armistice; and at the request of Glasdale, Dunois sent a corps of musicians to play in the English camp.
Talbot, Scales, and others arrived with reinforeements on the 1st of December; and on the 30th twenty-five hundred more soldiers came. The English occupied the height of St. Laurent-les-Orgerils, a strong position on the river, west of the city, and nearly at the end of the faubourgs. A bastille, or tower, nearly opposite, on Ile Charlemagne, facilitated communications with the southern bank, on which stood the fort of St. Prive, and thus with the defenses which cut off the city on the south—the Tourelles, St. Augustine, and St. Jean-le-Blanc, at the eastern end of Ile-aux-Toiles. This was done in the midst of hard fighting—sorties, hand-to-hand combats, and many examples of individual bravery.
The siege had lasted about four months, when the terrible defeat of Rouvray on February 12th overwhelmed with consternation the French king, court, and city of Orleans. On Ash-Wednesday an immense convoy of three hundred wagons left Paris to provision the army besieging Orleans. It was protected by fifteen hundred Anglo-Burgundian troops, with a thousand men of the communes, under Sir John Fastolf, and the Provost of Paris, Simon Morhier. King Charles, at the urgent prayer of his people, appealed to Charles de Bourbon, Count of Clermont. With the latter came many nobles of Auvergne and Bourbonnais, numbering at least four thousand men as they arrived at Blois. Many others had come to Orleans, to join in the attack on the convoy. Fifteen hundred, amongst whom were many Scots under Sir John Stuart of Darnley and his brother, went out from the city to join Bourbon at Rouvray. The latter, one of the chronicles says, was so confident of victory, that he ordered no quarter to be given. La Hire, with the Stuarts and others, advanced to reconnoiter, and saw the long line of wagons slowly advancing. They sent couriers repeatedly to Bourbon to allow them to attack before the English could form for battle. But the vain and inefficient French commander bade them wait for him, and proceeded to confer knighthood on his nobles. Fastolf immediately arrayed his men behind a barricade of wagons and the usual stockade, the
knights in the center, protected by archers.
The arrow-flight of the French van left the English immovable. Stuart of Darnley dismounted to fight on foot; others imitated him; others pushed on their horses. But the English shafts and stockade threw them into confusion; and the troops, issuing from their improvised defenses, cut the French army to pieces. Some four hundred French knights were slain, and with them the two Stuarts and their Scottish soldiers. Dunois was wounded and thrown from his horse, but was re-seated and saved. Bourbon, informed of the fortune of the battle, made no attempt to help, although he had men enough still to snatch victory from the now scattered English. He rode into Orleans at midnight. Only one Englishman lost his life, says the partisan Monstrelet; probably disdaining to mention the drivers and camp-followers. On the 18th of February Bourbon abandoned the city, accompanied by its Scottish Bishop Kirkmichael, with the Archbishop of Reims, and the noble host of two thousand unwounded knights and others who had turned their backs to the foe. La Hire went out, too, but promised and intended to return. Two months later came Joan with the long-expected convoy.
Things had come to such extremes after Rouvray, that the citizens invited the Duke of Burgundy to take possession of the city. Pleased with the proposition, he went personally to the regent at Paris;
but he was rather brusquely refused. The English soldiers had carried on the siege and their victory seemed assured; they would not allow the Duke of Burgundy to gather the fruit. Piqued at his failure, the duke ordered his adherents to quit the camp before Orleans. According to the most careful writers, they could not have been very numerous, for there was an armistice between King Charles and Burgundy, and during the investment there is scarcely mention of any but English besiegers. The Duke of Bedford now asked for two hundred lancers and twelve hundred archers from England, and urged the young king to come to France to be crowned.
The cordon of investment was drawn tighter around Orleans, and the Journal of the Siege notes the decreasing supplies of food sent in. The Burgundian Monstrelet states, that at the end of seven months siege the English had enclosed the city in a ring of sixty fortifications. The very valuable Chronique de la Pucelle, and others, say that there were thirteen large forts, which commanded every road. A wide space of three kilometers, between the fort of St. Pouair on the north and St. Loup on the river, to the east, which opened into a country well secured under English control, after having been ineffectually closed by trenches, was finally secured by the enormous fort of Fleury. So when Joan approached the city, the blockade was complete, and the people, as we are told, were very short of bread.
It is said that thirty thousand people were within the walls, which raises the population to about twice the normal. The difficulty of sending in food must have been very great, for Joan gave as a sign of her mission the sending in of a convoy safely to relieve the people.
There is no certainty as to the actual number of besiegers. The Burgundian Monstrelet puts them at eighteen thousand; the most reliable chronicles on the side of the French king, at ten thousand; Wyndecken, who contradicts himself, at three thousand. The army of defenders varied at various times. After Rouvray and the departure of Charles de Bourbon, the defenders, we are told, were few. The Maid is said to have brought in two thousand to increase the force of two thousand five hundred already holding the city.