Segment 6: Orléans, Part II

"Clasdas, Clasdas, ren-ti, ren-ti au roy du ciel" ("Glasdale, Glasdale, submit, submit to the King of Heaven.")1
- Joan of Arc herself, addressed to Sir William Glasdale as Les Tourelles was overrun by her troops.
 

Anno Domini 1429
T
hursday May 5th was the Feast of the Ascension, and the fighting was therefore suspended again. She used the opportunity to send her final warning to the English. As Friar Pasquerel tells it:
"That day, the Feast of Our Lord's Ascension, Joan wrote to the English troops in the fortresses..." [he then gives the full text of the letter; click here to see it]; "... she then took an arrow, and tied the letter to the arrow's tip with thread, and told an archer to shoot this arrow to the English, exclaiming, "Read, it is news!" And the arrow was received by the English along with the letter, and they read it. Having read it they began to loudly exclaim, "It's news from the whore of the Armagnacs!" At which words Joan began to sigh and weep abundant tears, calling the King of Heaven to her aid. And afterwards she was consoled, as she said, because she had news from her Lord..."2

Later that day a council was held to draw up plans for the next day's assault. The "Journal of the Siege..." includes a list of the commanders present at the meeting; the generous number of these fellows highlights the problem the French had in trying to run armies "by committee". The list included: Lord Dunois, Lord Graville, the Baron of Coulences, Chancellor Cousinot, Lord Gaucourt, Lord Villars, Lord Saint-Severe, Gilles de Rais, Poton de Saintrailles, La Hire, Lord Corraze, Jamet de Tilloy, Thibault d'Armagnac (de Termes), a Scot named Sir Hugh Kennedy (called "Canède" by the French), Ambroise de Loré, and Lord Denis de Chailly; and for good measure, some of the wealthy bourgeois of the city were also invited to add their expert input. One person who was not included among this collection was Joan herself, who was merely informed of the final decision. Jean Chartier notes that she was not pleased by this, and says that when they finally brought her in to announce their decision, she sensed that they had only told her a portion of the strategy which had been decided upon. The full plan was to launch two assaults: a feint against the fortress of St. Laurent designed to draw English troops away from the southern strongholds, followed by an assault against St. Jean-le-Blanc on the southern bank; the commanders are said to have been reluctant to tell her about the ruse, fearing that she would spill the beans (although it's never been clear why they were concerned about this: given the large gaggle of people who already knew, an eventual 'leak' of the information was almost assured). In any event, she was not fooled by the deception and immediately confronted them, pacing up and down the room and saying "Tell me what you have really decided", adding, "I would be able to keep secret a greater thing than this." ("Je celeroie plus grant chose que ceste-cy")3 If Dunois was surprised by this, he nevertheless did his diplomatic best to provide a smooth explanation, saying: "We cannot tell you everything at once. What the chancellor has told you has indeed been decided and appointed, but we have also decided that if those who are on the Sologne side of the river come to the assistance of those who are in the fortress, we shall cross the river to do whatever we can against them there."4 She was satisfied with this.

The day of May 6th would see a resumption of the fighting, centered on two strongholds. A fortified monastery called 'le bastille des Augustins' controlled the southern approach to Les Tourelles, and was therefore a crucial objective; this in turn was flanked by the fortified church of St. Jean-le-Blanc to the east on the bank of the Loire, near which the English had placed a large bombarde nicknamed "Passe-volant" which had been lobbing eighty-pound stone balls against the city's walls and buildings.5 To assault the latter fortress the troops were brought to an island lying just offshore, from which access to the riverbank was gained by means of a pontoon bridge constructed using two boats. The attack commenced around 9 a.m. ("around the hour of Terce", according to Louis de Coutes).6 As the French poured across the bridge, the English abandoned St. Jean-le-Blanc in favor of the fortress of the Augustins.7
At this point the French experienced one of their frequent moments of doubt: the commanders balked at launching an assault against the main objective, which the English were determined to defend; the troops were therefore in the process of recrossing the pontoon bridge when La Hire and Joan of Arc landed on the shore, each with a horse carried over on a boat, and rallied the soldiers for another effort. Riding side by side at the head of the rejuvenated troops, the two set a course for a body of English soldiers who had ventured out of their fortress; the accounts give the impression that the French cavalry simply ran down these troops and drove them back into the monastery.8 An assault was then launched against the palisade surrounding the fortress, of which Jean d'Aulon gave some vivid details: the entryway to the palisade was attacked by two soldiers (Alfonso de Partada of Spain, and another man whose name is not given), but their way was blocked by "a tall, strong, powerful Englishman" who was defeating all attempts to break through; d'Aulon therefore ordered Maitre Jean to take the man out with his culverin, which was done "such that he [Maitre Jean] threw him dead to the ground." The fortress was then stormed "from all sides" and overrun, with only a few English survivors making it to the safety of the nearby Tourelles.9
The troops stayed camped outside of Les Tourelles that night. Pasquerel says that the commanders, however, were thinking of pulling the soldiers back into the city while waiting for reinforcements to arrive. One of them came to Joan "after dinner", and announced the group's consensus, to which she replied: "You have been in your council, and I in mine; and know that the council of my Lord will be carried out and prevail, and this council [i.e., their decision] will perish."10 Pasquerel adds that she then turned to him and said: "Get up tomorrow early in the morning, and earlier than you did today, and do the best that you can. Always stay near me, for tomorrow I will have much to do and more than I ever had, and tomorrow blood will leave my body above the breast."11 She had apparently made periodic mention of the latter prediction for some time by that point, since a Flemish diplomat named Lord Rotselaer wrote a letter on April 22nd (two weeks earlier) mentioning that she had predicted an arrow wound12 [click here to see a summary of this portion of the letter].

May 7th was to be the climax of the siege. Les Tourelles, the most crucial fortress in English hands, was assaulted from "the hour of dawn until the eighth hour in the evening".13 The towers themselves were situated atop the bridge, connected to an earthen bulwark built on land just to the south; these were defended by some 600 English soldiers, some of whose names are recorded; the French had a larger but unknown number assaulting the fortress. The "Journal of the Siege..." describes a chaotic scene as the French began to storm the palisade from multiple points, "with such valour and boldness that it seemed... they believed themselves immortal".14 Some notion of the desperate nature of the defense can perhaps be gauged by the description of English troops sometimes using bare fists in addition to axes, maces, and other such weapons to beat down the attackers as they reached the top. Cannons (presumably culverins) are mentioned, adding the sharp crack of gunpowder explosions to the screams of the wounded. Somewhere beneath the fortifications was a small personage holding her banner and encouraging on the soldiers; Louis de Coutes says that she "always stayed with the soldiers in the assault, exhorting them to have good heart, and not fall back, for they would have the fortress soon."15 It was this proximity to the fighting which allowed her prediction to come to pass: just as she was helping to raise a scaling ladder against the redoubt,16 at some point "after the morning meal",17 an English archer found his mark. Dunois says that the arrow "penetrated her flesh between the neck and shoulder, to a depth of half a foot",18 so that the arrow came out her back, according to Pasquerel.19 She was flung backwards by the impact; Pasquerel, who was near her at the time (as she had asked him to be the previous night), says that "when she felt herself wounded, she was afraid and wept..."20
Soldiers carried her back to a safer area so the wound could be tended to. Pasquerel says that some of the soldiers wanted to "cast a charm" on the wound, but she refused, saying "I would rather die than do something which I know to be a sin, or to be against God's will", adding that she would be willing to have the wound treated by other means,21 meaning whatever cure could be offered by the medical knowledge of the era. They therefore tried to stop the bleeding by stuffing it with cotton and applying a mixture of "olive oil with bacon fat".22 Nothing could be offered for the pain, but she later testified that St. Catherine appeared to her and comforted her.23 Pasquerel says that shortly afterwards "she confessed to me with tears and lamentations".24

The French troops seem to have become demoralized by her wound, and the attack ran out of steam: by the onset of dusk the commanders, discouraged by the lack of success during an entire days' fighting, had decided to call off the assault. Dunois says that she was dismayed by this decision, and "came to me and asked that I wait a little longer; and at that point she mounted her horse and withdrew alone to a vineyard sufficiently far from the crowd of men; in which vineyard she prayed for about half a quarter of an hour."25 After that, the sequence of events becomes muddled: as with modern after-action reports from soldiers (or any other eyewitness accounts of traumatic events), the memories of the various participants are often contradictory and confusing. Dunois says that after emerging from the vineyard she "immediately took her banner in her hand and placed herself above the edge of the trench, and as soon as she was there, the English trembled and were terrified; the King's soldiers [i.e., the French], however, recovered their courage and began to ascend, dealing their assaults against the bulwark without encountering any resistance."26 Jean d'Aulon gives a detailed description of an episode involving a soldier referred to only as "le Basque", who had been given custody of her banner by another soldier (apparently someone else had been carrying it around after she was wounded); d'Aulon said that he had asked the Basque to promise to follow him into the trench in front of the earthwork, in the hope that the soldiers would see her banner being carried forward and take it as a signal to resume the assault; but Joan spotted the Basque and ran after him, "believing that she had lost [her banner]", exclaiming "Oh, my standard, my standard!" A tug-of-war then ensued, with Joan hanging on one end and the Basque trying to pull it away from her. Jean d'Aulon says he shouted, "Oh Basque, is this what you promised me?", after which the Basque succeeded in regaining sole custody of the flag and ran forward with it. The other soldiers then rallied and surged against the bulwark.27 The "Journal of the Siege..." and other chronicles give still another view, saying that she had told a nearby soldier to watch for her standard to blow against the wall; when it did so, he cried, "Joan, it touches!", at which point she said, "Then all is yours; enter!"28 This version somewhat echoes Louis de Coutes' statement that at some point during the day she had told the soldiers that "when they saw the wind moving her banner towards the fortress, they would capture it."29
Whatever the precise details may have been, all of the accounts are agreed that she and/or her banner played some role in stirring the troops to a final effort, and all are agreed as to the result: Les Tourelles' earthwork was overrun by the French without much resistance, and most of the English garrison troops were killed.30
A second attack from the north side of Les Tourelles was launched as the earthwork was being stormed. In order to span the gap in the bridge that provided access on this side, carpenters from the city had succeeded in nailing together a dubious walkway out of "gutters and ladders" and pieces of wood. French forces then made their way over this contraption, led by Friar Nicholas de Giresmes of the Order of Rhodes [aka "Knights of Saint John", one of the military orders within the Church]. The English were caught in a pincers movement.31
A final action now severed and isolated the two halves of the English position. According to the city's records, a fisherman named Jean Poitevin had been appointed to ignite a boat (presumably his own) and beach it under the drawbridge which connected the earthwork with the towers.32 As the bridge's timbers were being weakened by the flames, Glasdale and a group of other lords scrambled to get across in what turned out to be an ill-advised decision.
Pasquerel says that Joan, watching these events unfold, shouted to Glasdale to save himself and surrender, saying "Glasdale, Glasdale, submit, submit to the King of Heaven. ["Clasdas, Clasdas, ren-ti, ren-ti au roy du ciel"] You called me a whore; [but] I have great pity for the souls of your people and yourself."33 Pasquerel adds that after she said these words the bridge collapsed, sending Glasdale and his companions into the river, where they sank under the weight of their armor. He adds that "Joan, moved to pity, began to weep for the soul of Glasdale and of the others who drowned there in large numbers."34 The author of the "Journal of the Siege..." was rather sorry, too, noting that Glasdale and the other lords would have brought in hefty ransoms if they had been captured.35 Dunois said that all of the remaining English troops were killed.36

One of the most crucial days of the war was over. As the French troops returned to Orléans, church bells broke out in victory peals and the clergy and citizens sang "Te Deum Laudamus".37 The Burgundian chronicler Enguerrand de Monstrelet claims that the French "did not lose more than one hundred men of all ranks" in the assault on Les Tourelles, although his figure of "six to eight thousand" for English losses is obviously not credible.38

That night, in the first bit of peace and quiet that day, Joan had her wound dressed and ate "four or five pieces of bread" as her sole meal before going to sleep.39

The next day, Sunday May 8th, the English commanders decided to pull all forces out of their siege lines and abandon the effort. As they formed the troops in line of battle for one last challenge to the French, Joan put on a jasseren (a light suit of mail, since she was no longer able to take plate armor in her current condition) and rode out with the commanders to observe the situation.40

 
According to the "Journal of the Siege" and some of the witnesses at the Rehabilitation, the rival armies watched each other for an hour that morning without either side making a move to renew hostilities, although the French, we are told, had to be restrained by a command from Joan, who did not wish to initiate battle on a Sunday;mn1 the English were also unwilling to spark a confrontation, and finally decided to begin filing off their companies for the march toward their stronghold at Meung-sur-Loire.41 Joan was quoted as saying, 'In God's name, they are going; let them leave, and let us go give thanks to God and not pursue them any further, for it's Sunday.";42 although the "Journal" says that some of the French disobeyed orders to launch a few attacks against the English rearguard as they withdrew, during the course of which a number of bombards, arbalests, and other weapons were captured.43

Margin Note 1:
Some modern authors have criticized her willingness to "naively" obey the standard rules of chivalric warfare rather than attempting to mop up the English forces like a modern general would; I guess this is the 'no-holds-barred' mentality which has made modern warfare such an unparalleled joy.

The retreat was greeted with another celebration within the city: "the Maiden and the other lords and men-at-arms reentered Orléans in great joy, to the very great rejoicing of the clergy and people, who together gave humble thanks to Our Lord...", adding that a procession was held that day and the next,44 the first of many celebrations which would be held on the anniversary of the event in every year since then. Another source says that the procession covered all of the places where fighting had occurred, with prayers being given at each.45

The siege was over, and the English tide had begun to recede. The French Royal army, buoyed by its unlikely success and convinced of the Divine inspiration of its unusual commander, would shortly begin a series of campaigns designed to roll back the remaining English positions along the Loire.

 

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