The Siege of Orléans (1428 – 1429) marked a turning point in the Hundred Years' War between France and England. This was Joan of Arc's first major military victory and the first major French success to follow the crushing defeat at Agincourt in 1415. The outset of this siege marked the pinnacle of English power during the latter stages of the war. The city held strategic and symbolic significance to both sides of the conflict. The consensus among contemporaries was that the English regent John Plantagenet would succeed in realizing Henry V's dream of uniting all of England and France under English rule if Orléans fell. For half a year the English appeared to be winning. The siege collapsed nine days after Joan of Arc's arrival.
The more immediate background can be traced to the Treaty of Troyes of 1420 under the terms of which the then English king, Henry V, became regent of France. By this treaty, he (Henry) married Catherine, the daughter of the then French king, Charles VI, by which marriage he would then succeed to the French throne on Charles' death. Finally, Charles the Dauphin, the son of Charles VI, who would otherwise become Charles VII, king of France, was disinherited.
Under the customs of chivalry, a city that surrendered without a struggle was entitled to lenient treatment from its new ruler. A city that resisted could expect a harsh occupation. Mass executions were not unknown in this type of situation. The era had no concept of war crimes. In late medieval reasoning, Orléans had escalated the conflict and forced the use of violence so a conquering lord would be just in exacting vengeance upon its citizens. The city's association with the Armagnac party made it unlikely to be an exception if it fell.
When the siege, under the direction of the Earl of Salisbury, began on October 12, 1428, English forces already controlled several towns in the Loire River valley. Orléans was the last major Armagnac stronghold.
Very early on in the siege, the English attacked the Augustins, a walled monastery, and beyond it, the Tourelles, a fortified gatehouse located at the southern end of a nearly 1/4 mile (400 m) long bridge leading over the Loire River into the city (which was located on the northern side of the river). The Orléanais, for their part, soon made a decision to abandon the Tourelles and retreat behind the city walls to conduct their defense, tearing up a portion of the bridge behind them.
Soon after the English took possession of the Tourelles, in late October, the Earl of Salisbury was struck in the face by debris kicked up in cannon fire and, after lingering for about a week, died. About a month later, in early December 1428, after a series of temporary siege commanders, Sir William de la Pole assumed overall command of the siege, a post he would retain until the end of the siege in May of the following year.
Meanwhile, in the first few months of the siege, the English established a series of fortified positions around the city. Since they lacked a large enough force to fully invest the city, it was still possible for the defenders to move men and supplies in and out, though such movement could hardly be said to be unimpeded. This loose blockade was enforced with a series of forts to the west and north, while the Tourelles and a fortress immediately in front guarded the south. To the east, the fort of Saint Loup was located over 2 km distant from the city's eastern gate. Apart from Les Augustins, Tourelles and bridgehead on the south, the other forts were only lightly garrisoned.
The most significant military action following the investment of the city prior to Joan's arrival in late April of 1429 took place to the north of the besieged city of Orléans outside a small French town by name of Rouvray. Here, on February 12, several thousand French and Scottish soldiers attempted unsuccessfully to intercept and divert an English supply convoy in an action which has come to be known to history as the Battle of the Herrings, so named because the convoy was carrying a large supply of fish for the forthcoming Lenten season.
It was on the very day of this battle that Joan was meeting with Robert de Baudricourt in Vaucouleurs for the last time before setting out, some time later and with his support, to see the Dauphin in Chinon. The story gained currency that at this meeting with Baudricourt, Joan had disclosed to him that the Dauphin's arms had that day suffered a great reversal near Orléans and that if she were not sent to him soon, there would be others. Again, according to this version, it is when news of the defeat at Rouvray reached Vaucouleurs that Baudricourt, now convinced of the girl's prescience, relented and agreed to give her an escort to Chinon. Whatever the truth of the story, and it is not accepted by all authorities, Joan left Vaucouleurs on February 23 for Chinon and, later, Orléans.
The English numbers were insufficient to truly invest and surround the city, and their cannon were incapable of breaking the thick stone city walls. Nevertheless, by spring of 1429, despite several supply runs by the French, the city's situation was growing desperate.
Joan arrived in Chinon in early March, at which time she met with the Dauphin. Following this, she was sent to Poitiers so that church officials and other dignitaries could examine her. Once she received ecclesiastical and royal approval, she joined the relief army which was being assembled in Blois.
It was from Blois that Joan sent the first of at least two letters addressed to the English forces besieging Orléans. In this letter, she called on the English to quit the siege, surrendering all the cities and territories in France which they then occupied, and return to England. If they refused, she promised that she would raise a "War cry against them that would last forever, she then said, I shall not write any further". It was a promise whose audacity was exceeded only by the accomplishment.
Joan of Arc arrived with the relief army on the outskirts of Orléans on April 28, 1429, and after spending the night at Checy entered the city, to much rejoicing, the next day.
Meanwhile, Joan went outside the city walls and scouted all of the English fortifications, at one point exchanging words with Glasdale himself.
On May 4, Joan of Arc rode out of the city, and lent aid to the French assault on the English-held fort of St. Loup. The fort was taken, the English defenders suffering over a hundred dead, with an additional 40 taken prisoner. The taking of the fort at St. Loup allowed for relatively unimpeded communication and movement between the city and that portion of the French forces which had been stationed south of the Loire since their arrival from Blois the previous week. Following this action, Joan wrote once again to the English demanding that they quit the field or face dire consequences.
48 hours later, and following another of the almost daily disputes regarding battle tactics wherein Joan was urging attack against the recommendations of the more cautious French military leaders, a large force left the city, crossed over to the south side of the Loire and launched a direct frontal assault on the fortified English position at the Augustins on the south bank of the river in front of the Tourelles. After fighting which lasted from morning until the evening, the walled monastery compound finally fell, leaving the English garrison in the Tourelles isolated.
On the morning of May 7, the assault on the fortified gateway called Les Tourelles began. It would be another direct, frontal assault. The French forces attempted to undermine the bridge arches which served in part as the foundation to the structure and burning barges were sent against it as well, though deVries is of the opinion that this tactic would not have had much effect.
In the midst of the fight, Joan was wounded by an archer (likely using bodkin arrows). The English (many of whom considered that any woman leading an army was a witch) began to dance about singing 'The witch is dead! The witch is dead!' In his rehabilitation trial testimony, Jean Pasquerel, Joan's confessor, stated that Joan herself had some type of premonition or foreknowledge of this event, stating that "tomorrow blood will flow from my body above my breast" to use the exact words which Pasquerel attributed to Joan the day before. Joan herself pulled out the arrow from her own shoulder. After receiving a salve for the wound, Joan returned to the fight.
Later that day, towards evening, Dunois was prepared to order the engagement broken off, but Joan prevailed on him to delay this order. Then, after retiring into nearby woods to pray, she returned and the assault was renewed, this time successfully. The Tourelles was taken with all its defenders either killed or captured. Glasdale himself, leading the defense of the Tourelles, drowned in the Loire River.
The next day, in the morning, the English forces in the remaining forts assembled in battle formation. The French, for their part, matched this with their own battle ready formation. After facing each other like this for about an hour, with neither side initiating an attack (it being Sunday, Joan did not wish to initiate an attack), the English turned and marched off. The siege of Orléans was over.
The French Loire campaign of 1429 consisted of five actions:
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