Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

The Maid of France
Being The Story Of The Life And Death of Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc)


THE tactics of the English after Jeanne's arrival in Orleans are unintelligible. They were expecting, as has been seen, a reinforcement from Paris, led by the resolute Fastolf, the victor of Rouvray, and may have meant to risk nothing before his arrival. Meanwhile they had lost, with the fall of St. Loup, their command of the upper Loire. On May 6 they lost, with the Augustins and St. Jean le Blanc, their command of the French ferry from Orleans to the farther bank. Though the English possessed a perfectly safe means of crossing, lower down the stream, from their headquarters in the fort of St. Laurent to their fort on the Isle Charlemagne, whence they could land under the protection of Fort St. Prive they did not, on May 6, send a man to reinforce the Tourelles, the boulevard, and the Augustins. Yet they must have seen that the French attack on the Augustins was no diversion, no feint to cover a return across the stream and a real assault on St. Laurent.

About the numbers engaged on both sides, on May 6, we have no valid knowledge. A contemporary German estimate of the army of relief, at 3000 men, confirmed by the Chronique de Tournai, is most probably near the truth. To these must be added the garrison of Orleans and the town militia.

The estimates of the whole English effective vary from 10,000 without the Burgundians, who had withdrawn (Jollois), to from 5000 to 3500 in round numbers (Molandon and Beaucorps, also Jarry). The former authors, "in the absence of more precise and harmonious documents than we possess, hold that we must suppose the English to have had an effective force equivalent to the desired result, and the extent and population of Orleans."

The last proposition may be doubted, especially when we remember Bedford's complaint at the end of March, that many had deserted, and his demand for some fifteen hundred lancers and archers from England. The English, contrary to Bedford's judgment, had risked their enterprise on their prestige, on the helpless distracted Council of the Dauphin, and on the luck of the English army. The Maid had steeled the Council for an hour ; had restored the confidence of the French fighting men; had. been nobly backed by Dunois, La Hire, de Rais, de Gaucourt, and the townsfolk; had turned the luck, and, it is probable, had terrified and demoralised the rank and file of Talbot and Suffolk, who dared not face "the witch," the Milkmaid of the Armagnacs. A panic was possible. It may seem astonishing to us that the English generals, with a secure crossing over the river, did not make a night attack on the wearied French who were bivouacking at the Augustins, in the darkness between sunset of May 6 and the dawn of May 7. The fear that they might do so, as we saw, caused the greatest anxiety to the Maid, who may have been no strategist, but who possessed abundant common sense.

We hear of no night attacks during the whole siege, though they were commonly practised by Bruce and Randolph in the Scottish War of Independence, and, earlier than 1429, by La Hire. Far from making such an assault, Talbot, on May 6, either commanded or permitted his garrison at Fort St. Prive (which secured his power of crossing the river) to burn the work and retire in boats, under cloud of night, to his headquarters at St. Laurent. It was therefore plain to the French that Talbot on May 7, was to abandon his garrisons on the bridge-head fort--the Tourelles, and its strong boulevard--to themselves and to their fate.

The bridge-head forts, the Tourelles, were very strong, and were held by some 600 of the pick of the English army, under de Moleyns, Poynings, and Glasdale. Behind their moats and walls they should have been able to resist a force of 3000 French. But they were not to be supported, and they knew it. What is more, Talbot was to relieve them by no diversion, no demonstration even, in the way of attack on the gates and walls of Orleans, so as to recall the French from their enterprise. In such a diversion his superstitious men would not have been obliged to face the Witch and Milkmaid of the Armagnacs, who was on the farther shore. "If Talbot had seen, if Talbot had chosen, he might have taken Orleans," says a French historian. But Talbot could not help seeing, from the walls of St. Laurent, all that was being done. As will presently appear, what he did see, from dawn to sunset, was simply the complete success of the defence by his garrison at the bridge-head. The sudden change, the total defeat, in the deepening twilight, was the work of the Maid, the work of ten minutes. Talbot was fated to hear the French trumpets sound the recall, to see the French retreat begin, and then the Tourelles in flames.

Even so, we cannot understand Talbot's failure to make, on May 7, at least a demonstration against the St. Regnart gate of Orleans; for Talbot, as will soon be seen, was brave even to rashness.

The nature of the task that now fell to the French must be clearly understood. They had first to capture, on the opposite bank of the Loire, on solid land, the boulevard or outwork protecting the Tourelles, which was a stone fort of two towers on an arch of the bridge. The Tourelles themselves were protected from assault on the Orleans side by the destruction of an arch of the bridge, and by an outwork commanding the gap. The boulevard was separated from the Tourelles by another breach or gap through which flowed a stream of the river. This gap was crossed by a drawbridge; the defenders of the boulevard, if too hard pressed, could rush across, retire into the Tourelles, raise the drawbridge, and defy the enemy. Their position now would be unenviable, they would find themselves blockaded in the Tourelles, till Talbot, if reinforced by Fastolf, could deal a decisive blow at the French on either side of the Loire.

The boulevard itself appears to have had high walls, for it had to be attacked with scaling-ladders, and it was surrounded by a deep fosse. The walls, while the boulevard was in possession of'the French, in October 1428, were made of earth and faggots. On October 21, 1428, the English had lost 240 men killed, in an unsuccessful attempt to take this work. On October 22 the English had mined it, and therefore, on October 23, the French abandoned the position. The English, when they acquired this all-important boulevard, strengthened it considerably. A place strong enough to cause the loss of 240 men slain, without being taken, was manifestly apt to give the Maid "much to do, more than I ever had yet," as she said.

At sunrise on May 7, Jeanne heard Mass. It is said by a later chronicler that the French leaders were unwilling to risk an attack, and that she set forth against their will. This is very dubious. Before Jeanne set out a man brought her a sea-trout for breakfast (une alose), whereon Jeanne said to her host, Boucher, "Keep it for supper; for I will bring you a Godon, later, and will come back by the bridge," which was broken down. (Littre explains alose as "a fish which is good to eat, and comes up the river in spring." This appears to indicate a sea-trout or shad, for a bull trout is not "good to eat.") The townsfolk all day were making preparations for bridging the broken arches and assaulting the Tourelles. The knights and the Maid crossed the water by boat. There were Thibault de Termes (a witness in 1450-1456); Dunois and de Gaucourt; de Villars, old in arms; La Hire, Poton de Saintrailles, Florent d'llliers, and many other captains. It is hard to believe that they had tried to stop the enterprise; if so, the more the glory of the Maid. All the men who could be spared from the task of keeping the town safe against an attack by Talbot must have been present. But that task must have kept a large proportion of combatants in Orleans; for, the garrison of the Tourelles consisting of 600 men, according to a contemporary bulletin of the Dauphin (May 9-10), Talbot can scarcely have had less than 2500 men with whom to storm the city.

The assailants had an abundant supply of guns of all calibres, with other engines, arrows, and the accustomed huge shields and movable wooden shelters to protect small advancing parties. They must have been a motley host, men-at-arms, routiers of the robbing companies, foreign mercenaries like Alphonzo de Partada, townsfolk, apprentices with clubs and bows, crossbow men, Scots, whether men-at-arms under Kennedy, or the wild plaided mountaineers from the Lennox, unkempt, shaggy-bearded warriors with axe and bow, as shown in a contemporary work of art.

Within the English forts, under de Moleyns, Poynings, Glasdale, GifTord, and other leaders, were 600 English yeomen, without a thought of surrender. There were John Reid from Redesdale, William Arnold, Bill Martin, Walter Parker, Matthew Thornton, William Vaughan, John Burford, Patrick Hall, Thomas Sand, John Langham, Thomas Jolly, George Ludlow, Black Henry, Davy Johnson, Dick Hawke, Geoffrey Blackwell, tough customers, as they were to prove themselves on this the latest day that dawned for most of them. They, too, were well equipped on all points: they must have had the gun Passe Volant of the Fort St. Jean le Blanc, which cast stone balls of eighty pounds weight into Orleans across the river. Perhaps this antique Long Tom was rather of the nature of a mortar for lobbing heavy balls high to the distance of 500 yards, than a gun capable of a low trajectory, and of sweeping the ranks of the French. In any case, the English wanted not for guns, bows, arrows, and determined courage.

The attack began early in the morning, each company under the displayed standard of its captain. The assault was made from every side; doubtless with supporting companies, carrying their scaling-ladders. " And well the English fought; for the French were scaling at once in various places, in thick swarms, attacking on the highest parts of their walls, with such hardihood and valour, that to see them you would have thought they deemed themselves immortal. But the English drove them back many times, and tumbled them from high to low; fighting with bowshot and gunshot, with axes, lances, bills, and leaden maces, and even with their fists, so that there was some loss in killed and wounded. Ladders were rising, men were climbing them; the ladders were overthrown, or the climbers were shot, or smitten, or grappled with and dashed into the fosse; while the air whirred to the flight of arrows and bolts, and the smoke rose sulphurous from the mouths of guns.

The standard of the Maid floated hard by the wall, till, about noonday, a bolt or arrow pierced her shoulder-plate as she climbed the first scaling-ladder, and the point passed clean through armour and body, standing out a hand's-breadth behind. She shrank and wept, says her confessor; she refused to have a song to stay the blood sung over the wound; refused to be "charmed" as the hurt of Odysseus--the gash that the wild boar drove with his tusk in the glade of Parnassus--was charmed by a song of healing. Dunois declares that she ceased not to fight, and took no medicament, though the assaults continued till the eighth hour of evening. It is more probable that, as Pasquerel her confessor says, she suffered her wound to be dressed with olive oil, and confessed herself to him.

The English must have seen that the Maid was stricken, and was for awhile out of action ; must have believed that they, having drawn her blood, had spoiled her witchcraft; for that is still a rural superstition, just as the magical power of stanching blood by muttered words still prevails in Glasdale's own country. Probably her place in the front rank was not long empty. There she stood under her banner and cried on her French and Scots; but they were weary, and the sun fell, and men who had said that "in a month that fort could scarce be taken," lost heart as the lights of Orleans began to reflect themselves in the silvery waters of the Loire. "The place, to all men of the sword, seemed impregnable," says Perceval de Cagny. "Doubt not, the place is ours," cried the clear girlish voice. But Dunois "held that there was no hope of victory this day" he bade sound the recall, and gave orders to withdraw across the river to the city. Three or four general assaults had been given, says Dunois : the third, we learn from Le Jouvencel, was usually the fiercest and the last. "But then the Maid came to me, and asked me to wait yet a little while. Then she mounted her horse, and went alone into a vineyard, some way from the throng of men, and in that vineyard she abode in prayer for about half a quarter of an hour. Then she came back, and straightway took her standard into her hands and planted it on the edge of the fosse" so says Dunois. The English, seeing the wounded Witch again where she had stood from early morning, "shuddered, and fear fell upon them," says Dunois. His language is Homeric.

The details of the result are given by the Maid's equerry, d'Aulon. The French trumpets had actually sounded the recall, --a glad note in the ears of the resolute English. As the French were retreating, the standard-bearer of the Maid (who herself had retired to pray), still, though weary and outworn, was holding her flag aloft in front of the boulevard. Now he handed it to be carried in the retiral by a Basque of the command of de Villars. DAulon knew the Basque, and he also feared that the retreat might end in disaster {doubtoit que a Voccasion de la retraicte mal nes ensuivisi).

An English sally might convert retreat into rout: the standard of the Maid might be taken. D'Aulon reckoned that if the standard were brought again to the front, "the men-at-arms, for the great affection they bore to it, might storm the boulevard." Dunois, too, had now countermanded the order to retreat, at the request of the Maid. DAulon said to the Basque," If I dismount and go forward to the foot of the wall, will you follow me ?"

"I will," said the Basque.

D'Aulon sprang from his saddle, held up his shield against the shower of arrows, and leaped into the ditch, supposing that the Basque was following him. The Maid at this moment saw her standard in the hands of the Basque, who also had gone down into the ditch. She seems not to have recognised his purpose. She thought that her standard was lost, or was being betrayed, and seized the end of the floating flag. "Ha! my standard! my standard!" she cried, and she so shook the flag that it waved wildly like a signal for instant onset. The men-at-arms conceived it to be such a signal, and gathered for attack.

"Ha! Basque, is this what you promised me?" cried d'Aulon. Thereon the Basque tore the flag from the hands of the Maid, ran through the ditch, and stood beside d'Aulon, close to the enemy's wall. By this time her whole company of those who loved her had rallied and were round her.

"Watch!" said Jeanne to a knight at her side," Watch till the tail of my standard touches the wall!"

A few moments passed. "Jeanne, the flag touches the wall!"

"Then enter, all is yours!"

Then, heedless of arrows and bullets, the multitude rushed en masse on the wall; every scaling-ladder was thronged, they reached the crest of the fort, they leaped or tumbled into the work; swords and axes rose and fell;" never had living men seen such an onslaught." The English ammunition was exhausted, or time failed them to load the guns; the bolts and arrows were expended; the yeomen thrust with lances, hacked with their bills, smote with their maces, even with their fists; threw down great stones; there was a din of steel blades on steel armour, but at last the English turned and fled to the drawbridge that enabled them to cross towards the stone fort of the Tourelles.

But the drawbridge was cracking under their feet, it was enveloped in an evil stench and smoke; tongues of flame licked it, and shot up through the planks; while the stone bullets of the guns of Orleans lighted on roof and walls of the Tourelles, and splashed in the water of the Loire.

Jeanne saw the fire and the peril, and had compassion on the brave, brutal Glasdale who had threatened and insulted her.

"Glasdale," she cried, "Glasdale ! Yield thee, yield thee to the King of Heaven! You called me harlot, but I have great pity on your soul and the souls of your company!"

So says Pasquerel, who was present. In her pity and courtesy the Maid bade her insulter yield himself, not to her or to any knight, but to the King of Heaven.

But how had the drawbridge been fired?

The knights in Orleans and the people had constructed a fireship, and loaded it with masses of all that was greasy, inflammable, and of evil savour; had laid on the bulk many greased and tarry flags; had lighted them, and towed the flaming barque under the wooden drawbridge.

Yet the greater part of the surviving defenders of the English boulevard dashed through the smoke into the Tourelles, while Glasdale, de Moleyns, and a few other English knights and gentlemen stood at bay, protecting the retreat, and holding the drawbridge with axe and sword. But the fugitives had scarcely reached the Tourelles when they found themselves assailed in a new quarter--from the front, from Orleans!

Whoever watched the fight now saw men from the Orleans side crossing the vacant space of air--the gap whence two arches had been broken--as it were by miracle. In the smoke and the dusk their support was hardly visible. The Orleans people had found an old gouttiere, long, but not long enough to cross the gap above the stream. A carpenter had fixed to it a beam, supported by stays, and so enabled its further extremity to rest on the intact arch of the Tourelles. Across this "Bridge of Dread" walked Nicole de Giresme, the Prior of the Knights of Malta, other men-at-arms following him in single file. The impregnable Tourelles were thus assaulted on both sides; and when Glasdale, Poynings, de Moleyns, and the rest of the little rearguard leaped on to the smouldering drawbridge to cross into the fort, the bridge broke beneath their mailed feet, and they fell into the stream. Armed cap-a-pie as they were, the weight of their armour drew them down: steel, fire, water had conspired against them. Jeanne saw this last horror of the fight; she knelt, weeping and praying for the souls of her enemies and insulters.

The practical knights beside her lamented that they had lost great ransoms. There was no other drawback to the triumph of the French; in that night of terror not one of the stout defenders of the boulevard and the Tourelles escaped, all were slain, drowned, or taken and held to ransom.

The joy bells of Orleans sounded across the dark Loire, lit with the red flames, and the Maid, as d'Aulon had heard her prophesy, returned by the bridge.

She had kept her word, she had shown her sign, Orleans was delivered, and the tide of English arms never again surged so far as the city of St. Aignan. The victory, her companions in arms attest, was all her own. They had despaired, they were in retreat, when she, bitterly wounded as she was, recalled them to the charge. Within less than a week of her first day under fire, the girl of seventeen had done what Wolfe did on the heights of Abraham, what Bruce did at Bannockburn, she had gained one of the "fifteen decisive battles" of the world.


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