Siege of Orleans 1429 - Joan of Arc Saves France DOCUMENTARY
The third phase of the Hundred Years’ War started just as decisively as the first had, with a decisive and shocking victory for the English over France’s army on the field of Agincourt. However, this undeniable triumph was just the beginning of war rather than the end of one, and King Henry V had a lot of work to do if he was to make his conquest of France the permanent one he now sought. Welcome to our fifth video on the climactic medieval conflict between England and France, and witness how the tide began to turn once again under the standard of a single young woman - Joan of Arc.
Joan of Arc saved France from the foreign occupation, while the sponsor of this and our most loyal partner – MagellanTV can save you from boredom. This is the favorite documentary platform of Kings and Generals and we hope that our viewers love it too. MagellanTV is a documentary streaming service run by filmmakers, that has over 3,000 documentaries among them hundreds of historical documentaries. If you want to learn more about Joan of Arc, Magellan has you covered, as their 1.5-hour documentary called The Real Joan of Arc tells the entire story of this warrior, while Kings of Europe: France, The Habsburgs, and The Russian Tsars is perfect if you want to learn more about European affairs of the period. You can watch both anytime, anywhere, on your television, laptop, or mobile device and it is compatible with most devices.
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Aiming to heal the Western Schism, Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund arrived in England in early 1416 but ended up forming an alliance1 with Henry and denouncing France instead. At sea, the king’s commanders crushed the Franco-Genoese fleet in 14164 and 14175, leaving the channel open for another crossing. By the middle of that year, Henry had his army together and sailed to Normandy, this time going to conquer it entirely. On September 20th the dominos began to topple as Caen surrendered after a short siege. No relief was anywhere close because any royal force which might have assisted was busy facing off against the Burgundians2.
Next to fall was the great Norman capital at Rouen. Henry put France’s second city to siege at the end of July 1418 and, after a brutal siege lasting over half a year, its garrison finally surrendered. With that, almost every other castle in the duchy surrendered and, by the turn of the decade, Normandy was under English control for the first time in two centuries. This frighteningly quick conquest horrified both the Armagnacs and Burgundians. Despite the latter’s covert talks with Henry V, they realised such a full conquest wouldn’t benefit them at all. Realising something had to be done, both John the Fearless and France’s new dauphin - the future Charles VII, agreed to negotiate.
However, when the Duke of Burgundy knelt before his Valois prince, Armagnac retainers accompanying Charles suddenly came forward and hacked John the Fearless to death - revenge for Louis of Orléans’ death over a decade before. Whatever the motive, it was a disaster for France. As Francis I stated a century later when shown the mutilated skull of the dead duke - “This is the hole through which the English entered France.” Wide swathes of the kingdom burst into uproar or panic at the Armagnacs’ brutal murder of John, but when the news reached his son and heir Philip in Flanders, he is said to have thrown himself on his bed, teeth grinding in grief and rage. Seething and eager for revenge, the new Duke of Burgundy formed an alliance with Henry V. The former would recognise the English king’s claim to the throne of France, while the latter ensured Philip’s territories were enlarged and secure.
This was the last straw. Battered by the English invasion and tired of civil war, the barely lucid Charles VI signed the Treaty of Troyes3 on May 21st, 1420. Henry V would be heir and regent of France, he would marry the mad king’s daughter - Catherine of Valois, and their child would be king as well. After capturing a few more towns loyal to the dauphin, Henry spent Christmas in Paris before going back to England and crowning Catherine his queen. While this was happening, Thomas - Duke of Clarence was defeated and killed at Baugé during March 1421, a defeat which convinced Brittany to defect to the dauphin’s reduced kingdom.
In October however, Henry returned to France and took a few castles at Dreux, Vendome, and Beaugency before putting Meaux to siege. It was there that King Henry fell ill with his army but insisted on staying with the troops, which he did until the city fell in May 1422. Though he returned to Paris, the king fell deeper into sickness and began to take measures for the succession - naming Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester regent in England while his brother - the Duke of Bedford would lead in France in the name of the newborn Henry VI. England’s great Lancastrian king, perhaps the greatest in the country’s history died at Vincennes on August 31st, 1422 at the age of just 35. The mad king Charles VI finally died only two months later, and his son declared himself the king. Nevertheless, all of France north of the Loire came under Anglo-Burgundian rule, while his son only retained the loyalty of the south with a moving court.
After an indecisive campaign of sieges, Bedford and his second-in-command Salisbury won a victory in 1424 at the Battle of Verneuil, widely seen as a ‘second Agincourt’, and this greatly increased the regent’s prestige. Unfortunately, Gloucester’s blundering6 meant that Bedford was forced to return to England for two years to put things straight, and only sailed back to France in March 1427. He and Salisbury now started planning a campaign to capture Orléans - the ‘Key to the Loire’. If this great riverine lynchpin was conquered, the English could easily launch further attacks to knock the dauphin out for good.
After capturing more than 40 towns and fortresses along the way, Salisbury approached Orléans in early October 1428 - at the time garrisoned by 2,400 regular soldiers and a further 3,000 militia. A contingent of the English army under Suffolk captured both Jargeau and Chateauneuf to isolate the city, while Salisbury encamped opposite French defences on the southern end of Orléans’ 350-meter-long bridge. He began an initial artillery bombardment on the 17th, and four days later ordered his men to storm the fortified gatehouse known as Les Tourelles.
This attack was driven away by the defenders after each side took around 200 losses, with the dauphinist French being constantly resupplied with food, drink, and arms by the city’s women. When the direct attack failed, Salisbury abandoned this approach and instead sent sappers to undermine the foundations. Realising this was happening, the guardians of Les Tourelles retreated deeper into the city on the night of October 23rd, destroying a small part of the bridge behind them. The fall of this fortification seemed like Orléans’ doom, but as the aggressive Salisbury climbed atop Les Tourelles to decide where to attack next, a stray cannonball clattered through the window, killed one of his companions, and flung an iron bar at the Earl, slicing half his face off.
Incapacitated and in agony, he was replaced by William - Earl of Suffolk, before dying a week later. The more cautious Suffolk decided on a prolonged siege, and in the next week, the English began constructing siegeworks. At about the same time, Orléans received some additional reinforcements from the southeast - the city was too large to be entirely cut off by such a small force. The city’s defenders started bracing for an extended engagement as well by burning and tearing down the suburbs outside the walls, depriving the English of cover and winter quarters by doing so. Starting on November 8th, English boats began ferrying men across the Loire and constructing siege positions to the north and west of the city. The French responded with a few unsuccessful sorties, and to compound these failures, by the turn of December the besiegers had been reinforced.
While the northern bank siegeworks were being constructed, the English launched a failed probing assault across the broken Loire bridge. The defenders responded with massive 26-pound shots from a new bombard and by completing the levelling of their suburbs. As 1429 began, Orléans’ would-be captors shifted focus to the now-fortified north bank with a number of easily-repelled assaults on the Porte Renard in January. The loose nature of the encirclement also allowed a supply convoy including hundreds of sheep and pigs to reach the city. As gallant resistance continued, 200 men of the garrison slipped out of Orléans and joined a 3,000 strong French force at Blois. Having received reports of an enemy supply caravan approaching from Paris to resupply the besiegers, they marched to intercept near Rouvray.
However, when the French and Scots under Clermont found the 1,500 strong caravan on February 12th, their assault over the open country was repulsed and counterattacked from behind a ring of supply wagons. 400 of the dauphin’s troops, mainly Scots were killed, and Clermont subsequently withdrew to Tours along with a number of other commanders, certain of defeat. At Chinon, Charles was so demoralised by the grand city’s seemingly inevitable fall that he considered abandoning his kingdom completely. However, events many hundreds of miles to the east were about to thoroughly rejuvenate the French cause. Three years before, a fifteen-year-old girl named Joan began hearing voices and by 1428 became convinced she was being granted a task from God, delivered by the Archangel Michael in addition to Saints Margaret and Catherine. Her task? To lead an army against the English so that Orléans might be relieved, and to have the dauphin traditionally crowned as Charles VII in Reims Cathedral, where Louis the Pious had succeeded to the Frankish throne six centuries earlier.
Through aid from Robert de Baudricourt - a pro-Valois commander in Vaucouleurs, Joan undertook a dangerous journey to Chinon and then to Poitiers, where her faith was declared true and her virginity assured. To test whether this woman’s extraordinary claims were true, she would be sent to Orléans in an attempt to break the siege. After being granted armour, horses, a special banner and supposedly finding a legendary sword, she went to Blois and joined a gathering relief force.
Upon her arrival, the deflated mood among French soldiers and officers immediately began changing at her holy presence. Leaders who had withdrawn from the siege previously - such as Clermont, or who had avoided getting involved at all now rallied to the cause, inspired by Joan’s patriotic mission. While the dauphin’s army mustered, the lull at Orléans following Rouvray allowed English forces, who were aware that a relief attempting was incoming, to construct a number of formidable fortifications - the Bastille de Saint-Loup to the east, the Boulevard de la Pressoir-Ars on April 9th, the Bastille Saint Pouair on the 15th and Bastille de Saint-Jean-le-Blance five days later. Notably, new English commander Glasdale created an external earthen rampart outside Les Tourelles, making it into a citadel.
Joan and her relief force set out for Orléans on the 26th and, after a miraculous crossing of the Loire at Checy and bypassing Saint-Loup without opposition, entered the city through its Burgundian Gate three days after leaving Blois7. After resting for the night, Joan was eager to go on the attack. Because one wasn’t planned for that day, she walked across the Loire bridge to the Belle Croix stronghold and asked the English to lift the siege. Glasdale shouted back that she was a mere cowherd and they would burn her if she was captured. Nevertheless, Joan’s threat to kill all prisoners their forces had taken if her heralds were not released worked, and they were indeed set free. Also, on that day, a lengthy skirmish was fought when French commander La Hire sortied out against the northern English fortification at Saint-Pouair, but was eventually forced back inside.
This inability led the overall defending leader Jean de Dunois - the Bastard of Orléans, to slip out of the city on May 1st and return to Blois, where he sought reinforcements. While he was gone, Joan didn’t remain inactive. She rejuvenated the morale of Orléans’ long-besieged citizens who crowded to meet her and give their Maid gifts, whilst also performing military reconnaissance against Glasdale’s positions to see which were weak and which were strong. Dunois returned on May 4th with much-needed reinforcements, and shortly after an attack began spontaneously on England’s eastern fort at Saint-Loup by 1,500 troops. Joan was resting at the time, but when informed either by an angel’s voice or any of the other mortal voices in the city, rode out as swiftly and eagerly as possible to join the attack. For three grueling hours, Joan inspired her warriors to fight.
Despite fierce resistance by the English garrison, the French soldiers managed to finally capture and raze Saint-Loup to the joy of Orléans people. Despite her jubilation at the victory, Joan of Arc wept for the 140 slain English soldiers, who had died without confession. Still, the officers remained cautious, but this was shattered when news came from Paris of a large incoming Anglo-Burgundian relief army - led by John Fastolf. It was now clear that the siege had to be broken before it got to Orléans, or all their bravery would be for nothing.
On the 5th, French forces crossed the Loire in order to attack Saint-Jean le Blance - an earthen fortification protecting Les Tourelles, but when the English withdrew to the gatehouse itself, the defenders managed to occupy the outlying position. The next day, Joan crossed the Loire again, pushing the troops forward against the Bastille des Augustins. After a ferocious clash in which the French had to use a cannon to take down a particularly big Englishman, they overran the fortress. Glasdale’s remaining fortresses retreated behind the boulevard protecting Les Tourelles. With divine favour seemingly on their side and momentum at their back, the French attacked Les Tourelles’ outer defences on the 7th by escalade, but were repelled at first with heavy losses. During the fighting, Joan herself was even struck between the shoulder and neck by an English arrow, but fought on nonetheless.
After going off to pray in a nearby vineyard for guidance, Joan of Arc returned with her banner in hand, motivating the French to a final attack in which they managed to drive the besiegers from the fortification in front of the Les Tourelles gate. The Maid of Orléans called on Glasdale to surrender but he refused. When he subsequently attempted to lead his remaining troops across the drawbridge and to the inner gatehouse, the timber cracked under the weight of so many soldiers and dropped many into the Loire.
Glasdale himself, clad in heavy armour along with many of his men, drowned. Morale inside the inner fortress crumbled after this loss and the surviving English inside quickly surrendered. On the northern Loire bank, the remaining English troops abandoned their siege lines and formed up in two large battle formations, challenging the French to open battle.
When Joan and the other commanders lined up in front of them and prepared for battle, however, the besiegers lost their nerve and turned to march away. Their army split, one group moving to garrison Jargeau8, while another went to man Meung9, all the way being harried by French troops who disobeyed orders to ride them down. After 210 days, the Siege of Orleans was over, the dauphin’s loyal, the capable army had held firm and Joan of Arc was enshrined forever in history as the Maid of Orleans.
Joan pushed for an immediate advance to crown Charles, but the French commanders that with the English still holding castles on the Loire, they weren’t yet in a position to do that. So, in mid-June, the army, with an enthusiastic Joan of Arc in tow, began retaking them one by one. Jargeau fell on the 12th, Beaugency on the eve of the 17th, and then finally Meung at dawn on the 18th.
The remaining English forces retreated north and united with Talbot’s southward marching relief army, bringing their strength up to around 5,000. Hotly pursued by Joan and the 6,000 French troops, the English field army was decisively defeated in the Battle of Patay, dispelling the myth of invincibility of England’s armies in the field for good. Such a great victory in the open field finally encouraged the dauphin to accompany Joan of Arc and his newly enlarged 12,000 strong army in a march towards Reims.
There, on July 17th, 1429, the long-beleaguered son of Charles the Mad was crowned as Charles VII in the city’s grand cathedral as the Maid of Orleans stood at his side, holy banner in hand. This was militarily insignificant, but a propaganda triumph. As the Burgundian supporter Enguerrand de Monstrelet stated soon after this seminal moment - “The French now believed that god was against the English.” The story of Joan of Arc and the continued French resurgence will continue, so make sure you are subscribed and have pressed the bell button to see the next video in the series.
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