Aftermath and abandonment – Casting off the Maid
After the dramatic and unanticipated victory at Orléans on May 8, 1429, we would have expected Charles VII to at least acknowledge Joan of Arc’s undeniable contribution in rallying the French forces commanded by Jean Dunois. A rare mention of Joan by the French King during this crucial period is found in a letter to the citizens of Narbonne (dated 10 May 1429) extolling the overall triumph but almost begrudgingly assigning her a role of a spectator, stating briskly that she “has always been present at the accomplishments of these deeds” (Procès de condamnation V; quoted in: Joan of Arc: La Pucelle, pp. 101-4).
It seems that her relationship with the French King was fraught with difficulties. As discussed inMedieval Warfare IV-2, although the French commanders masterminded the Orléans victory, it was Joan who had taken the plaudits as God’s herald. While it suited Charles and his Valois supporters to initially promote this situation, evolving events would later create tensions, especially with the increased involvement of the Royal Court.
Immediately after the relief of Orléans, French commander Count Jean de Dunois and Joan convinced Charles to act decisively. Success at Orléans, coupled with the fame of the Maid and her divine association, created a powerful momentum as both nobility and peasant flocked to enlist and fight the English. The usually torpid French King appointed the Duke of Alençon as commander of his now larger, rejuvenated forces to liberate the Loire valley. Although the captains continued to dictate tactics, d’Alençon, as a devout supporter of the Maid, would later bestow upon Joan the success of this campaign. Surrounded by these experienced captains, her invincibility remained intact.
After the significant battle at Patay (18 June 1429), in which Joan played a minor role, the captains desired to liberate Normandy, but Joan was adamant that they should move on to Rheims where the coronation of Charles could take place, to publicly legitimise his kingship as divinely authorised. The Maid’s role was pivotal in this, her invincibility and military successes were deemed evidence of God’s endorsement of the Valois cause. Little wonder then, that while travelling to Rheims, Charles “was always accompanied by the Maid” (Enguerrand de Montstrelet, 63.1).
Joan, an intelligent person, had learnt much from her association with the French captains. Cannons were beginning to be used with greater effect, and at Orléans both sides possessed this emerging gunpowder technology. This area of expertise seems to have interested Joan, for d’Alençon later stated that she was “skilful in war (…) deploying the army and preparing artillery” (Procès en nullité, I; quoted in Joan of Arc: La Pucelle, pp. 380-8). Dunois, a lifelong advocate of Charles, stated that Joan’s positioning of artillery and men at Troyes so alarmed the inhabitants that they surrendered. How much was specious exaggeration remains uncertain.
The Royal Court and the Maid
During the coronation on 17 July 1429 at Rheims, Joan was allocated a prominent role, constantly positioned next to the king. The Maid, though, had served her purpose. Away from the battlefield, Charles’ advisors would now begin to prescribe policy; politics rather than combat was advocated as the solution. A truce with Philip the Good of Burgundy was agreed in an attempt to negotiate an end to his alliance with the English. Philip was being duplicitous, using this time to allow Bedford to strengthen the defences in Paris in preparation for the inevitable French assault.
Charles and his court appeared uncomfortable with the popularity of the Maid. The ordinary people adored her. But, who was God’s representative: The King or the Maid? Her role appeared to endanger their dominant social position. People were embarking on a popular nationalism, creating a loyalty beyond their feudal Lords. Around this time too, Charles received a letter from Bedford haranguing him concerning his faith in the Maid. He was “deceiving the simple people (…) with the aid of superstitious and damnable persons, such as a woman (…) dressed in the clothes of a man (…) abominable in the sight of God”. (Enguerrand de Montstrelet, 65.1) This letter would have deeply humiliated the King and supported the dissenting voices at Court. The Maid’s role would now begin to diminish as her influence with Charles unravelled.
Although Joan continued to press for an immediate assault upon Paris, diplomacy, led by Georges de la Trémoïlle, Charles’ closest advisor, took precedence. Charles now began a tour of the neighbourhood to introduce the people to their King. This almost led to calamity. Approaching Montépilloy, Charles’ army encountered Bedford leading some 10,000 Anglo-French soldiers. Describing Charles’ force, a chronicler declared that at the forefront were his “most expert captains” before adding coolly that “the Maid was also there”. Her influence was waning. In fact, she was strangely ambivalent about what to do, sometimes “eager for combat, at other times not” (Enguerrand de Montstrelet, 66.4). After some skirmishing the two armies parted.
Failure of the Maid
The attack on Paris finally materialised on 8 September 1429, but it would strip away Joan’s aura of invincibility. The storming of the Saint-Honoré gate began at 10 am; the fighting was intense and after some five hours the French were ready to retreat. As usual, Joan stepped forward with her banner to urge the men on, only to receive a crossbow bolt to her leg. She was unable to stand and fell into one of the defensive ditches. Her page seized her banner only to receive a bolt in his leg also, but, lifting his visor in an attempt to see how to withdraw the bolt, he was shot in the face and killed. Unlike at Orléans, the Parisians had no fear of the Maid and her ‘sorcery’.
Interestingly, she was “left the whole of the day until vespers [early evening]” before being searched for and withdrawn from the battlefield. It seems her talismanic effect was deserting the soldiers also, with seemingly little attention being paid to either her absence or condition (Enguerrand de Montstrelet, 70.3). The attack had proved a debacle. Charles was deeply sensitive to criticism or insults to his dignity. His trust in the Maid appeared misplaced; she had disappointed him, allowing his enemies further ammunition with which to publicly gloat or goad him over his reliance on this “damnable woman”. Charles abandoned the siege.
On September 21, he disbanded the army, separating his captains from the Maid, including Dunois and d’Alençon. Joan was sent to Brouges under the supervision of La Trémoïlle’s half-brother; his counsel would now predominate at the King’s Court. Despite these setbacks, her influence with the people remained strong as evidenced by a later appeal to the Court from d’Alençon requesting her presence to aid recruitment for a campaign in Normandy. He was refused.
Georges de la Trémoïlle then directed her on a mission seemingly designed to fail. She was to accept a winter campaign to subdue Charité-sur-Loire with few men and, according to one chronicler, without adequate food supplies or money. The result to her credibility was disastrous. She was forced to “withdraw shamefully”, abandoning her artillery. Would one with divine support really fail so miserably? Without her captains her inexperience was exposed.
During December, both she and her family were ennobled, receiving many fine gifts. Joan was being transformed from a peasant girl into a lady. Was this a ploy to pay her off, to separate her from her core support, the ordinary person? Were they seeking to dilute her powerful image? Despite all these political shenanigans ranged against her, Joan only desired to fight on.
Another defeat on 29 March 1430 was narrowly avoided near Lagny-sur-Marne, when Franquet d’Arras and 300 men-at-arms threatened to vanquish Joan and 400 French combatants. The timely arrival of requested reinforcements from Lagny prevented further military embarrassment. Again, during May, at Choisy-au-Bac, Joan had to retreat after several attacks against Burgundians were repelled by cannons. Later, at Compiégne, her aggression sealed her fate. The city had built up its defences to withstand a Burgundian siege, but, revealing her lack of restraint, Joan led a sortie to attack the besiegers, which resulted in her capture.
How are we to view the Maid? It would certainly not be correct to assume that Joan was a mere cheerleader for the French army; neither would it be accurate to claim that she was solely responsible for their victories. The primary sources are so tarnished with self-interest that they have created an impenetrable fog around her, allowing a variety of interpretations. Joan enthused and encouraged both the soldiers and the public. Without her abetment, the bastilles at Orléans would probably not have been taken. Conversely, without the strategies of the captains, she would neither have arrived in the city nor survived long enough to witness the victory. Away from their experienced influence, Joan’s actions glaringly reveal she had so much yet to learn, despite her already impressive advancements. Political stratagem also played a part in creating the Maid, as is related in the main article in Medieval Warfare IV-2. In the end, it would be fair to say that they all needed each other. It was only after the English were on the defence that Charles and his court decided to discard the Maid. That they could do so quite easily, without much protest from soldiers and commoners alike, is a testament to the fact that unconventional heroes often need dire times to thrive.
- N. Goldstone, The Maid and the Queen; the Secret History of Joan of Arc. New York 2012.
- C. Taylor, Joan of Arc: La Pucelle. Manchester 2006.
- T. Wilson-Smith, Joan of Arc; Maid, Myth and History. Stroud 2006.
- A. France, The Life of Joan of Arc: Translation by Winifred Stephens, Vol. 1. Cambridge 1908.
- T. Johnes, The Chronicles of Enguerrand de Monstrelet. London 1810.