Joan of Arc
Relief of Orleans
During the march to Orleans, Joan never took her armor off. She was not used to it, and wearing the hot and heavy armor greatly tired her out. On the evening May 4, 1429, Joan was resting outside Orleans as she waited for all the French reinforcements to arrive. Suddenly, her voices spoke to her and she saw a vision that told her she had to attack the English immediately. She leapt up, and told everyone to prepare for an attack. Quickly strapping on her armor and mounting her horse, she raced to the east. Although she had little way of knowing that there would be a battle taking place at this place and time, there was in fact an engagement in progress: French forces were attacking one of the English forts around Orleans. Once Joan arrived on the scene, the French rallied to her dynamic presence and took the fort. It was a decisive victory for Joan, and seemed to justify her strange behavior as divinely guided.
On May 6, Joan led an attack on another English fort. This time, the English retreated to a stronger position. Joan and La Hire defeated the English at this stronger position as well. La Hire had a lame leg and preferred horseback to riding. He was an extravagant soldier of fortune who was not very religious and who cursed often. For Joan, however, he was willing to clean up his act. It is somewhat humorous to imagine how the blaspheming and cutthroat La Hire got along with the ultra-pious Joan of Arc. This odd match was a successful one, however, as they achieved victory after victory. And La Hire was not the only soldier Joan "cleaned up"; she encouraged all her men to give up prostitutes, gambling, drinking and swearing, believing that God would help pious soldiers more than dissolute ones. Perhaps this strategy of morality worked, for on May 7, Joan led yet another successful French attack on the Les Tourelles, a fort controlled by the English. Although Joan was wounded by a crossbow shot to her neck, she continued fighting bravely and inspired the French to win yet another remarkable victory over the English. The rejoicing Orleans threw a feast in Joan's honor. The "Maid of Orleans," as she was now called, surprised everyone by taking only some bread and some watered-down wine for a modest dinner, and then going to bed early.
Another important commander in Joan's army was Gilles de Rais. He would later garner infamy for killing numerous children, and the legendary "Bluebeard" character would be based on him. Traditional accounts depict Joan and de Rais as mortal enemies, diametrically opposed opposites. Certainly the two weren't kindred spirits, but despite Gilles de Rais's later atrocities, there is little evidence that there was a particular animosity between the two.
On May 9, Joan quickly rode to Tours to tell the Dauphin of his victories at Orleans. She urged him to hurry to Reims for his coronation. There was some delay in this, however, due both to Charles's hesitancy and to the fact that the way to Reims was not entirely freed of obstacles: English forces were camped in the towns around the Loire. Joan quickly dispensed of these, however, assisted by the Duke of Alencon; afterwards, the Duke would always be one of Joan's biggest supporters.
The Siege of Orleans which Joan had come to relieve had been going on for quite some time when she arrived. The English had built a series of forts around Orleans in an effort to prevent anyone from leaving the city, and to prevent trade and communication from entering it, cutting the city off from the parts of France loyal to the Dauphin. It was these forts that Joan now attacked. Joan's victory constituted a critical turning point in the Hundred Years' War. Orleans had seemed doomed: 7,000 English and Burgundians were arrayed against only 2,500 French defenders and thus Joan's relief effort took victory right out of the hands of the English. However, the triumph, however decisive, was in fact quite disorganized and haphazard, and its success probably owed more to luck than strategy. Indeed, Joan's strength never lay in her strategic thinking: her power came from her ability to inspire the French troops to fight to their full potential.
When Joan suddenly decided to ride east with her army on May 4, she could not have known that she would encounter a battle in progress. She may have simply had good luck. However, everyone on the Dauphin's side considered Joan to have been guided by the hand of God, while the English and Burgundians quickly concluded that her good fortune was the result of witchcraft. Her reputation among France's enemies was not helped by the fact that she constantly dictated harassing letters that she then had sent to the English. Already, the English were spreading rumors that Joan was a witch and the French military successes were the result of her evil magic. Most likely high-level English commanders did not really believe this, but it made good anti-French propaganda.
When the French realized that the English were retreating from the Siege of Orleans, most commanders wanted to pursue them. Joan, however, refused to allow pursuit because it was Sunday. Thus, tactical advantage was sacrificed to her extreme piety. While many commanders felt they were losing a great opportunity, Joan argued that if they rested on the Sabbath, God would repay them with more victories and glories later. Although in a very strict sense this decision did represent a missed opportunity to strike at the English, it probably did have a positive effect on the French armies morale: they were now very inspired by Joan's piety and felt that it gave them a special power to win. The fact was, as long as the French armies felt that Joan's presence gave them a special power, it did. The increased enthusiasm and bravery brought by her presence gave them a deadlier fighting force.
Having ended the long stalemate at the Siege of Orleans, Joan now became extremely popular with both the army and the French people. Increasingly, commanders looked to this teenage girl to give orders, and eagerly followed these. Not everyone instantly worshipped Joan, however: Charles's advisors were quite suspicious of her, and envied her growing popularity and power. Many of Charles's advisors sought to undermine Joan's plans and counseled the Dauphin to wait a while before setting out to Reims to be crowned and anointed.
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