Segment 8: The March to Rheims

"Gentil roy, or est executé le plaisir de Dieu, qui vouloit... que vous amenasse en ceste cité de Reims recevoir vostre sainct sacre..." ("Noble king, now is accomplished the will of God, who desired... that I should bring you to this city of Rheims to receive your holy anointing...")1
- Joan of Arc herself, at the coronation.
 

Anno Domini 1429
T
HE battle of Patay broke the English hold on the Loire and left the Royal army free to pursue bigger objectives. Dunois says that the "lords of the Royal family" had wanted to focus on retaking Normandy after these victories, but Joan of Arc convinced them to stick with her plan of bringing Charles to Rheims for his coronation.2 Under the medieval theory of succession, a king had to be symbolically anointed by God before he would truly become king, and Joan was quoted as saying that she would continue to call him "Dauphin" until the official ceremony had taken place.3

Sunday the 19th was spent camped at Patay, where the army ate lunch before moving out.4 Some of the victorious troops would have to part company with the group, however, as court politics made an unwelcome intrusion.
Richemont's service at Patay had impressed Joan and won her over to his cause: as soon as she was reunited with Charles she would argue in favor of pardoning the Count and accepting him back as a Royal commander. She received half: Charles granted a pardon "at her request", although in order to please Georges de la Trémoille he refused to allow Richemont to accompany the army,5 declaring that he would rather not receive his crown if the Count was present at the coronation.6 The latter therefore returned to his estate at Parthenay, taking his troops with him.7
The army was not happy: "The Maiden was very displeased, and so were several great lords, commanders, and other counselors."8

The rest of the Royal army returned to Orléans, where the troops were greeted with great celebration, the commanders joining the citizens in giving thanks in the churches.9 The city prepared for the expected arrival of Charles himself by having the "streets hung with bunting up to the heavens" in the memorable phrase from one account,10 and men streamed into the city "from all quarters" to serve in the army.11 But Charles didn't arrive,12 and his Court, as soon became apparent, had developed a bad case of cold feet about the prospect of further campaigns into enemy territory.

Now followed the torturous process of inducing the Royal council to give the order to move the army forward, frequently a matter of some difficulty. In order to urge prompt action and allay any concerns about the undertaking, Joan met with her monarch, evidently at St-Benoit-sur-Loire, an event remembered vividly by the Royal official Simon Charles: "the King had compassion for her because of the burden she carried, and told her she should rest. And then Joan told the King, while weeping, that he shouldn't have any doubts, and that he would gain his entire kingdom, and that he would soon be crowned."13 Although a Royal visit to Orléans was not on the agenda, she convinced him to meet with his commanders at Chateauneuf-sur-Loire on the 22nd before he returned to Sully.14

Decisions were made, and things now got underway: the army moved out from Orléans on Friday the 24th, "early morning".15 In one of her memorable phrases, Joan of Arc told Alençon: "Have trumpets sounded and mount your horse. It's time to go meet the noble King Charles to put him on his way to his anointing at Rheims."16

It was a forty mile journey to Gien, covered in one day.17 Charles himself was there to greet them with "great joy"18 in this city on the edge of friendly territory, the jumping-off point for the coronation march.
On the 25th Joan dictated a letter to the citizens of Tournai in Flanders, an independent city which had remained free from Burgundian control by the simple expedient of paying off the Duke, who had been granted legal overlordship by the English but was happy to take money instead.19 The letter describes the victories in the Loire Valley, explaining that "in eight days she has driven the English out of all the places they held on the river Loire..." and asks the city to send officials to the planned coronation [click here to read the full text]. To deal with some of the less friendly Burgundian-held towns closer to home, Charles had heralds deliver messages to Bonny-sur-Loire, Cosne, and La Charité, ordering them to render obedience.20 They refused, and so an army under Louis de Culan was sent off for a quick campaign which forced Bonny-sur-Loire to surrender on the "Sunday after [the Feast of] St. John", June 26.21 The other two, more distant towns, were left for the time being despite misgivings from the more cautious members of the Council.22

At Gien, the troops received their pay, such as it was: Jean Chartier says that even the men-at-arms received no more than "two to three francs"23 (less than what Joan had been given by the Duke of Lorraine for telling him he was "behaving sinfully"); but Cagny says that the troops were willing to serve regardless, declaring that they would go "anywhere she wished to go".24 The Royal court lacked the means to keep them directly supplied with food as well, which would have consequences as the army moved into enemy territory.

The court took its time embarking on the latter course. After waiting three days for the army to be given marching orders, Joan and a number of the commanders left early and camped "about four leagues" (around 12 miles) to the east on the route to Auxerre.25
Charles took the hint: he finally left Gien two days later, and the campaign began on "the [feastday] of St. Peter", June 29th.26
After the order had been given for the troops to move out, Joan noticed that some of the soldiers were distracted by prostitutes lurking around the army. Action was swift: drawing her sword, she hit "two or three" of them with the flat of the blade, breaking the blade in the process.27 She later indicated that this had been one of her ordinary swords rather than the one from Ste-Catherine-de-Fierbois;28 but Charles had apparently heard otherwise, and chided her to "use a baton" [a commander's staff of authority] instead next time.29

Once the prostitutes were left behind, things were underway. The author of "The Journal..." paints a lively picture of the army as it set off: the troops, he says, were all "gallant, bold, valiant and of great courage", as they ventured into a region in which "the towns, fortresses, bridges and passages were garrisoned by the English and Burgundians". It lists no fewer than 21 commanders, while leaving out many for the sake of brevity; and claims that the total number of troops amounted to 12,000. These included minor landholders who lacked the means to provide adequate equipment for themselves and their company, but came anyway as archers and "coustillers" [lightly-armored soldiers equipped with swords or spears] mounted on "little horses", eager to serve in an army with Joan in charge.30

The army was on the move, and nervous reports of its progress appear in some of the Anglo-Burgundian documents. On July 1st a Burgundian commander named Philbert de Moulant, in charge of a contingent of troops at Nogent-sur-Seine, sent a letter off to the leaders of Rheims reporting that the Royal army had been sighted "at Montargis". He assured them that Auxerre and the other towns of the region were not concerned about either "the Armagnacs nor the Maiden" but promised to aid the Burgundians in Rheims if they, quote, "had any trouble with her."31 His bravado would prove to be unwarranted.

The army decided to take a detour to Auxerre,32 which would otherwise be a possible menace to their rear. Earlier, she'd had to sneak into this town to hear Mass; now, she was at the head of an army.
The city leaders of Auxerre defiantly refused to render full obedience to Charles, out of recognition of their fealty to the Duke of Burgundy,33 who had been given the town in 1424.34 The commanders therefore made preparations for a siege.35 This plan was overruled, however, and the chroniclers all placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of Lord Trémoille, whom the citizens had bribed with a payment of "two thousand écus" to call off the attack.36 The commanders were "very displeased", but they could do nothing but grumble: Trémoille was still in power at the court.37 The city merely agreed to render whatever obedience that the cities of Troyes, Châlons, and Rheims might choose to do, and agreed to sell food to the army.38
After a rest of three days, the host proceeded eighteen miles northeast to the town of Saint-Florentin, which immediately surrendered, and then set course for the city of Troyes,39 where the treaty disinheriting Charles had been signed nine years before.
On July 4 the army was at the town of St-Phal, within easy distance of Troyes. A flurry of letters followed: Joan sent one to the citizens of Troyes asking them to "render true obedience and recognition to the noble king of France, who will be in Rheims and Paris quite soon, come who may against him; and in his cities in the holy kingdom, with the help of King Jesus." [click here to see the full text]
Correspondence from the other side vividly traces the following events. On the 5th, the leaders of Troyes sent a letter, written "upon the walls" evidently while looking over the forces arrayed against them, reporting that "the enemy in person" had arrived before the city at nine that morning.40 The garrison of about 500 English and Burgundian troops attempted to drive off the Armagnacs but were forced back into the city after bitter fighting.41 Since the citizens refused to surrender, the army settled down for a siege42 which quickly proved more disagreeable for the attackers than the defenders: the army wasn't being supplied with food, with the result that several thousand men were without basic staple items such as bread.43 The troops ended up surviving by picking raw beans and wheat from the fields; the beans were plentiful, we are told, due to sermons preached the previous winter by a Franciscan named Friar Richard, who had told the citizens to "sow great quantities of beans" in anticipation of "the one who must come."44 Whether or not he intended the Royal army, the troops were grateful for the beans even if such minimal food was well below what many of them were accustomed to.

 
The modern military ration - culinary delights made from "mystery meat" and chemical preservatives - had no counterpart in the Hundred Years War,mn1 nor would such fare have been accepted, even in the field, by the "professional" troops of the era (i.e., aristocrats and well-paid mercenaries) who generally expected to enjoy a more robust diet. Jean Gerson complained about noble soldiers who insisted on having portable ovens hauled along with them so they could eat "little pies" baked fresh on campaign,45 referring to the rich meat pastries typical of the era. The reader can well imagine the agony produced by an unhappy meal of raw beans picked from the fields.
The situation produced a far worse problem: with genuine hunger setting in, the troops inevitably began to steal food from nearby farms despite Joan's prohibition against such pillaging. Simon Beaucroix recalled an incident at one point in the campaigns, probably at Troyes, in which a Scottish soldier informed her that the piece of meat she had just eaten was from a calf which someone (presumably himself) had stolen. She was so angry, says Beaucroix, that she tried to slap the Scot for it.46

Margin Note 1:
The closest equivalent were the salt-herrings visited earlier: fish meat packed in brine to prevent spoilage. Salt is a more palatable preservative than the unpronounceable chemicals favored in modern times, although it must be granted that salt-herring will not last for the 11+ years that modern army rations can remain nominally edible (for those who yearn to enjoy a decade-old rice-with-lard MRE).


With a precarious situation developing, Charles called a meeting of his lords and asked them to decide whether the siege should be abandoned. They were in favor of withdrawing the army; but then an aged member of the council named Robert le Maçon suggested that since they had known from the beginning that they didn't have the material resources for such a campaign, and it had therefore been faith in Joan's advice that had prompted the undertaking in the first place, it would be reasonable to consult her before making any decision.47 She told the group that if Charles chose to stay in front of the city, it would be his within two or three days, "...either willingly or by force or by courage, and treasonous Burgundy will be amazed."48

The saint then mounted her warhorse, "a baton in her hand", and organized the soldiers to bring bundles of sticks, "doors, tables, window frames" and other items to fill in the moat, build siegeworks, and set up the cannons; she did this work, in the words of Jean Chartier, "as could have been done by a commander who had been nourished all his life in war."49 The city leaders of Troyes came to a similar conclusion as they looked out over the preparations the following morning: with an assault imminent, and Joan actually giving the order to begin, the city's leading citizens came out to request negotiations.50
Among those who came to meet her was the same Friar Richard who had been responsible for the abundant fields of beans; as Joan would later say, he initially approached her cautiously while sprinkling holy water, which seems to have amused her: she called out, "Approach boldly, I shall not fly away".51
Richard would shortly declare her to be Divinely inspired, making her one of several female visionaries whom he had associated with. The friar had lived a colorful existence prior to that point: the previous April he had become something of a celebrity while preaching in Paris before landing himself in trouble with the English occupation government. According to the Anglo-Burgundian author of the document known today as "Journal d'un Bourgeois de Paris", Richard's rousing sermons against gambling and other vices had succeeded in convincing a number of the citizens to give up their dice, backgammon boards, and other gaming equipment, as well as the elaborate, prideful hats worn by women of the era. He was approved as a "sower of proper doctrine to enlighten his fellow man"52 - until he made the mistake of delivering sermons considered too supportive of Charles VII, and was therefore expelled from the city by the English authorities.53 His decision to join Joan's army would be the final straw: when the Parisians heard the news that this friar was now traveling with the enemy, they exacted revenge by re-adopting all their games and fancy hats, and discarding Richard's tin "Jesus" medallions in favor of the Cross of St. Andrew (a Burgundian symbol).54

The city's Bishop also came as part of the delegation representing the garrison and townsmen. The agreement that was settled upon allowed the Anglo-Burgundian troops to leave with their belongings and prisoners; the citizens were to be granted a general pardon from Charles. The town, for its part, agreed to provide supplies to feed the hungry besiegers.55
The garrison pulled out the next morning, sparking a confrontation: Joan met them at the gate and refused to allow their prisoners to be hauled off into continued captivity. Charles ended up agreeing to pay a small ransom for each in order to obtain their freedom.56

The victorious army entered Troyes around nine in the morning, with Joan arranging ranks of archers all along the road to serve as a welcome for Charles and his lords.57 Another small picture of her emerges from the events on this day: she took part in the baptism of one of the babies for whom she would be asked to serve as godmother. She would later say that she usually named the boys "Charles" after her king, and the girls "Jehanne" (following a common practice of naming babies after one of the godparents).58

With the surrender of Troyes, an easy path was opened to Rheims.
On July 14th the army reached Châlons-sur-Marne, which opened its gates promptly.59 It was apparently here that she met a number of people from her home region (Jean Moreau, to whom she gave one of her garments, plus four other villagers) who were making their way to Rheims in response to Charles' summons to attend the coronation.60 She had last seen these people a few months ago, but it must have seemed like years.
It may also have been here that she was joined by her cousin Nicholas Rommée (de Vouthon), a clergyman of the Cistercian Order whose monastery was in the diocese of Châlons. One surviving document says that he was requested by Joan herself to serve as a chaplain and almoner in her army, and Charles ordered the monastery's Abbot to grant him leave for that purpose.61

The army left Châlons on the 15th and headed for Rheims.62 The fulfillment of Joan's mission was now not far off.
At the chateau of Sept-Saulx, about a dozen miles from the city, Charles halted his army63 amid fresh worries. One eyewitness says that there was some concern that if the place chose to resist, the army's lack of adequate artillery would doom the campaign; but Joan told him: "Have no fear, the townsmen of Rheims will come out to meet you."64
She was correct. The Burgundian commanders of the city's garrison, the Lord of Chatillon-sur-Marne and the Lord of Sauveuses, left with their troops after informing the citizens that they would come back with reinforcements if the city was willing to hold out "for up to six weeks". The dust from the departing troops had hardly settled before the citizens decided that they would not hold out. The keys to the city were handed over when the army approached on Saturday, July 16th.65
Charles entered the city towards evening and was greeted by the citizens with shouts of "Noël!"66 This had been the traditional greeting for kings or popular leaders ever since Charlemagne had been crowned on Christmas Day (hence the use of "Noël"). Evidently, the citizens' pro-Valois sentiments were capable of bubbling to the surface once freed of armed Burgundian troops.
With control of the city being handed over, a number of Anglo-Burgundian partisans hastily left, including Pierre Cauchon - for whom this would become something of a standard routine as Joan's army continued to advance from city to city.67 He would not forget, nor forgive her, for the defeats that dashed his faction's hopes for imminent victory and which personally drove himself first from his home region and then from his diocese.

Others had a different view of the changed fortunes of war. Word of the impending coronation brought new contingents of troops to Joan's army, led by the Lord of Commercy and Lord René d'Anjou.68 The latter was a figure of great importance who, like so many other important figures in this era, boasted a thoroughly tangled political and familial situation, with lands, claims and relatives spread haphazardly across central Europe. He had been forced by his uncle the Duke of Bar and father-in-law the Duke of Lorraine to pledge loyalty to the English for his duchy of Anjou in northwestern France, but would shortly reject that agreement and ally himself with his brother-in-law Charles VII.69 He would insist on leading the Royal army, being both a Duke and a claimant to the Kingdom of Sicily. He was twenty-one.
Another pair of important personages, at least to Joan, also arrived around this time: within the financial records of Rheims there is a small entry which says that "the father of the Maiden" (and also her mother, according to another source) stayed at an inn called "L'Ane Rayé" ["The Striped Donkey"], across from the cathedral, and were lodged there at the town's expense during the coronation.70 Sometimes the most poignant moments in history are recorded in the smallest scraps of information.

And sometimes poignant moments are enacted upon the largest of stages.
July 17th saw the culmination of her stated mission. The towering cathedral of Rheims, hung with the banners of the principle nobles of the Armagnac faction and packed with people eager to see the coronation, provided the backdrop for this moment.

The holy vial of anointing oil - "la saincte ampoule" in medieval French - was solemnly escorted on horseback by four of the commanders appointed to the task: Lords Saint-Sévère, Culan, Rais, and Graville. These accompanied Abbot Jean Canard as he carried the relic into the cathedral.71

 

Tradition required twelve specific secular and ecclesiastic dignitaries to attend the coronation, but with France divided between warring factions some changes had to be made.mn2 The Duke of Alençon took the place of the Duke of Burgundy, and a clergyman took the place of Cauchon.72 Guy XIV de Laval (the young man whose letter was previously cited) was elevated to the rank of Count and joined the Counts of Vendôme and Clermont as stand-ins for three of the other missing lords.73

The ceremony lasted from nine in the morning until two in the afternoon.74
Charles was knighted by the Duke of Alençon,75 and the Archbishop of Rheims placed the crown on his head. "Every man shouted 'Noel!'" wrote one eyewitness, Lord Pierre de Beauvau, in a letter to the Queen, "and trumpets sounded in such a manner that it seemed the arches of the church would break apart. And during this ceremony, the Maiden always remained beside the King, holding her banner in her hand."76
After Charles was crowned, Joan went down on her knees and embraced his legs, "weeping hot tears", and said, "Noble king, now is accomplished the will of God, who wished me to lift the siege of Orléans, and to bring you to this city of Rheims to receive your holy anointing, to show that you are the true king, and the one to whom the kingdom of France should belong." Many of the onlookers, say a number of sources, wept along with her.77

Margin Note 2:
The English would fare worse when they crowned the boy Henry VI at Paris, in the wrong location and without the Saincte Ampoule.


Over the centuries this scene has been the subject of numerous paintings, freezing the moment in time. But the participants would only pause briefly before moving on to the next campaign: the submission of the Ile-de-France followed by an attempt to retake Paris.
 

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