AskHistorians Contributions, Long Reads

Your Survival Guide To Medieval Siege Warfare

Wild Reddit Question Appears!

>>> Link to the original Reddit post on AskHistorians

I’m your average medieval citizen. My city is under siege; they’re starving us out over months but we’re fine for now. What is my daily life like? Is my coin still worth something? Do people trade or is the guard distributing rations? Do we still have fun to pass the time?

Just trying to get an idea for life during the long months of a siege.

Obviously once food starts getting low and people start getting desperate things change, but to start with, is life relatively normal?

My Answer

The following answer mostly applies for 14th and 15th century western warfare 😉

The Medieval Town

It must first be understood that medieval cities were not “whole”. The total control of a medieval town required a lot of conniving and plot. The bigger the city, the more factions it had. A “standard” town would have at least two seats of power: the bishopric and the city hall. A representative of the king, like the ‘bailly’ in France could be another player. Whoever wished to take Paris had to get the university on their side, too.

I observed that when Amiens was taken back by the Burgundians in 1435 (read Monstrelet’s Chronicle), the ‘city’ (where the bishop ruled) was left untouched. Rebels from the ‘town’ (under the jurisdiction of the city hall and the guilds) actually tried to take refuge with the bishop but he simply sent them on their way and the new bailly took over unchallenged.

Those types of situations gave way to funny happenstances. A medieval town could be taken and re-taken in a very short amount of time if leaders of opposing factions were living in the same city. Funnier were the cases of city defenders having lost their town but kept the control of one or two towers among the city walls.

When the crusaders took Antioch during the first crusade they found themselves in a very difficult situation. They had gained control of the city but not of the fortress. However, a new army was coming to reinforce the defending army. The crusaders were therefore besieged within the city they had just taken yet didn’t totally control. We can find many examples of the like in later centuries.

Urban Planning?

>>> When you say the bishop turned people away, how much of the city did he control? Was he refusing to open the doors of the cathedral? The gates of a walled compound? A large section of the city which just happened to be walled and under his control? Are there any good maps to illustrate how cities were divided in this period?

When I said a bishop turned away people, I made a mistake. The details of the story got fuzzy in my memory and I oversimplified. As it so happened during the 1435 Amiens revolt, the good people of Amiens had gathered behind a captain of their choosing, HonorĂ© Coquin. The city belonged to the royal demesne since 1185 and the king of France was count of Amiens. However, because of the 1435 treaty of Arras, Charles VII gave control of the city to the Duke of Burgundy as part of their pact of alliance. Philip the Good refused to lower the taxes and the townpeople were pretty upset about it. They’d been taxed for many years because of the war and they wished for it to stop. The Duke of Burgundy was no one to be trifled with though. He sent his new appointed bailly to deal with the situation. HonorĂ© Coquin pleaded to the Burgundians military leaders but to no effect. They entered the city and took control of the market square. That’s when one of the leaders of the revolt flead to a nearby church in which a priest was actually officing the mass. Nevertheless he was caught and done for. What amazes me in that story is that a mass was celebrated when a skirmish was about to happen on the market square! I studied the city history a few years back, I checked my notes and I found it very interesting that the town (ruled by the king and the city council) passed on different deals with enemy military companies than the city (ruled by the bishop and the religious congregations). As a matter of fact, the people ruled by the bishop were exempt from the tax that the other townpeople had to pay. It’s as if you had two towns in a single city and everybody knew about it and behaved, even on a military standpoint, accordingly.

Medieval City Maps

Amiens is an old medieval town and I was lucky to find a pretty good enough map about its medieval layout (see below). It shows city walls from the 12th and the 14-15th centuries. Within the old 12th century walls, we find both seats of power of the town and the city: the beffroi (number 8) and the episcopal palace (number 4). Next to the beffroi is a place called the “Malemaison”. It was traditionnaly the place were the mayor and the town council would gather. The market place is marked by a black triangle. The church in which the fleeing rebel leader tried to find refuge is marked by the number 11 on the map. The town and the city seems to fit into two opposing neighbourhoods within the old city walls but the positioning of this church and the central location of the market place shows that it was more mixed up than what we can think firsthand.

https://i0.wp.com/morel.and.co.free.fr/plans/am03.jpg

The city of Laon had a more clearcut layout. Look at the following map from the 17th century. Laon hasn’t changed much through time and this layout, because of how high the hills are, is still what we find today (careful, the North is upside down!). Instead of mills at the eastern end of the city, we find a large clinic centre there nowadays but the cathedral hasn’t moved one bit. When I visited the city with my former research centre, we observed how the streets near the cathedral still showed how they were inhabited by clerics for how straight and square they were. It really looked like an easily fortified neighbourhood. Right behind the cathedral was the citadel: seat of power to the king. The other side of town shows a less organized pattern. It was known as the ‘bourg’. Funnily enough the city and the ‘bourg’ or town would each have streets dedicated to a specific professional association before it was all more or less centralized and the whole town became a one and single urbanistic unit.

https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b8492478h/f1.item.zoom

Brussels today still has streets that bear the name of former guilds and corporations: rue des bouchers, rue des teinturiers, rue des frippiers… Craftmen didn’t spread out. They united and lived by the same rules according to a royal granted chart. They fixed the prices and sticked together. It showed in the urban pattern. However, there were not always clearcut boundaries from one neighbourhood to another which part of the city obeyed to the king’s justice, the bishop’s, or else. You had to live there and know it. It was pretty much on a case to case basis.

Who’s Who In A Medieval City?

>>> I was wondering more specifically about the thing you mentioned with Paris. What were the factions in Paris at this time period, why was the university so important, and how did the university work as a “political player” so to speak at this juncture?

A Short Class On Urban Social Stratification

Everyone had a place to be in a medieval town. Nevertheless people of all background were scattered all over the place more often than not. Medieval cities didn’t follow rationalized patterns. They were not built like ancient greek colonies.

There were other ways to differenciate the people within a town though. Mostly through clothing. Nevermind that, the urban social stratification started to form around the 11th century with the communal movement. Townpeople made more money and were taxed accordingly. In response they fought back to get priviledges. Those very first priviledges created the ‘bourgeoisie’ which was nothing like what it grew to become by the 18th century. Being a bourgeois only meant you had judicial priviledges from being a city-dweller. They could assemble and vote for a mayor who’d represent them to the lord. Craftmen who moved in city walls eventually got their own mayors but they were mostly suppressed in the 14th century in favor of guild associations defined by charts. The lord of a city, either the king or someone else, often had a representative of his own: a prevot, a bailly or a senechal in France. Such a man was in charge of military and police matters. He’d often have a lieutenant too.

A city could also be home to various religious congregations, especially once the mendicant orders were formed. Those congregations didn’t always answer to the bishop. Sometimes they only answered to the pope if they got their priviledges right like the Templars or the Teutonic Knights. They could also answer to their monastic order. Some religious congregations were more like laymen guilds, united under a holy patron. The bishop himself presided a chapter of canons who elected him. Also the bishop had lands of his own and though he was a spiritual lord, he also had temporal power. He couldn’t exercice his temporal power by himself most of the time though, that’s why he had a representative to do so, like a vidame.

Everyone had a specific status within a medieval town, from lord to beggar. There were priviledges and duties for each member of the society. The townwatch was split between the bourgeois and the craftmen. The former would have sitting watch duties, the latter walking watch duties. Boulevards and city walls were built, cared by and watched over by city-dwellers who could gather as militia in times of need under the lawful authority of the prevot, the bailly or the senechal. When the city had a proper fortress it would more likely be guarded by proper men-at-arms or knights under the command of a noble lord.

Political Players Within A City

Governing a medieval city was not an easy task. There were so many centres of power and money that political players only multiplied until the Early Modern Era when the centralization state building process really hit western societes. It was an administrative nightmare too in order to know who you could tax and what?

Which brings us to the university of Paris. The word ‘universitas’ used to design a guild or professional association of people sharing the same priviledges. As a matter of facts, students and teachers at the university of Paris benefited from the same rights. They were equals in the eye of the law and could only be judged by the bishop of Paris. Also, they benefited from several tax exemptions. From the 12th to the 14th century, the university was not properly installed in any buildings. Lectures were given wherever it could. It meant that if university members were unhappy with the way they were treated they could simply scatter through the winds for a few months. Now, since they made up for a lot of the economical vitality of the French capital, the authorities prefered to treat them right. Then Charles VI rose to power and his council saw it a good idea to rationalize the royal treasure and the taxation system. The duke of OrlĂ©ans was all in on those new reforms when he managed the realm for his brother once Charles VI fell into dementia. Hell! The university and the good people of Paris were not happy. They felt their priviledges were undermined and threatened. That’s when the duke of Burgundy showed up and insured he would protect ans safeguard them. The university heavily turned to John the Fearless for guidance and support. In exchange, the best intellectual of the realm provided the intellectual backbone to legitimize the assassination of the duke of OrlĂ©ans, who died in Paris in 1407 at the hand of Burgundians hired thugs. What a messy affair…

Locking all the seats of power in a medieval city was a much arduous endeavour. When cities got nearly as big as Paris it was practically impossible to achieve. The merchants, the craftmen, the noblemen, the clergymen, everybody fought for their own tiny bit of power.

To Siege Or Not To Siege

Besieging a city was a very expensive and risky venture. Elite knights and men-at-arms were few. Most battles were fought among a few hundreds of “soldiers”. How can you take over a city where several thousands can show up to defend the walls? You needed to rally the ‘communes’ or the ‘common people’ so to speak to manage an effective siege. Then you’d get along the tens of thousands of men on the battlefield. Commoners lacked the knightly culture though and they were quite unpredictable. That’s why most cities were taken by surprise thanks to some commando type of missions.

Since medieval towns had rivaling political players within their walls, a big part of taking a city over was to seduce those party leaders and grant them satisfaction. Jean de Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, who managed to take Paris not only once, but twice, first in 1418 then back in 1436, only achieved it because he was good friend with the butcher guild and the university. When Joan of Arc attacked the city in September 1429, there was no friends within the walls to help take over the capital.

Another problem was that towns were very difficult to surround properly. Even when he arrived with something like twenty thousand flemish militia to attack Calais in 1436, Philip the Good couldn’t strangle the city completely. The people of Calais were still going out with their cattle, for example, which gave way to epic or ridiculours skirmishes. It is very rare that we find a siege like the one of Melun, in 1420, when the French starved so close to death that they had to kill and eat their own horses.

The Siege of Rouen, 1418-1419

>>> What are some of the more extreme cases of a city being starved of?

The best example that comes to mind is the 1418-1419 siege of Rouen by Henry V of England. He was not messing around. He had an impressive army of 7,000 men (mostly war professionals, the English didn’t rely on the commoners too much and that really helped them win the war until the Siege of OrlĂ©ans, where most of their veteran troops were slaughtered at Patay). Rouen had a population of about 20,000 people with 4,000 garrisoned soldiers*. Henry couldn’t take the city by force but he had the authority and the means to starve it to death. His plan followed the three following steps.

Step 1: Surround The City

Rouen ranked among the largest city of France by the beginning of the 15th century. It’s position on the Seine made it a most valuable link between Paris and the English Channel. Nevertheless Henry V had his army build fortified places all over the town (I’ll put a picture on my blog later on when I publish my answers over there). Not only that, he also chained the river to make sure no food would come to relieve the city during the siege AND he sent his guerilla-minded Irish soldiers in the nearby smaller towns to gather all the food there was and keep the population in check.

The French tried to gather some troops to help Rouen but they were much too busy fighting each other. Paris had just been taken by the Burgundians (see above, when Jean de Villiers de l’Isle-Adam took it back in 1418 with the help of the butcher guild). It led to a proper massacre and it overthrew the Armagnac government. The Dauphin, who would later on be known as Charles VII, barely made it with his life and had to exile the Parliament to Poitiers. He couldn’t make peace with the Duke of Burgundy and the latter couldn’t also come in terms with the Duke of Britanny. It was an overall mess and Henry just had to wait. And see.

Step 2: Do Not Bombard The City

Rouen was heavily fortified. It would have taken a lot of artillery power to take it down. It would have been a useless expense however since Henry V hoped to take the city whole and make it his own fortress. He wanted it intact! Had he read Sun Tzu’s art of war? Maybe not. But he was surely following his principles.

Step 3: Wait It Out And Show Mercy

When it became sure the French couldn’t send reinforcement nor food to the besieged city, the townpeople of Rouen received a message from the Duke of Burgundy to deal with Henry V. Eventually, they asked for the women, the children, the priests, the poor and the elderly to be granted a safe passage. Henry sure complied and even more, he gave food to the escapees! They actually started to sing his praise and cursed their French allies who had abandonned them.

Monstrelet writes in his chronicle that most of the food was sold overpiced on the black market around Christmas. Henry V had started to besiege the city in July 1418. The city surrendered completely by January 1419. From that point onward he could easily take Pontoise and threaten Paris which not only survived a massacre but also a good old plague epidemic the same year. In the meantime, the French were no where close to conclude their own civil unrest and Henry V remained unchallenged.

This is really a classic case of siege by starvation. It led to an utter victory but it can’t be taken out of context. Henry V played it very smart in a context in which his enemies were paralysed and militarily powerless to face him.

* According to The Oxford Encyclopedia of Medieval Warfare and Military Technology (2010).

>>> Didn’t Henry refuse to let the people leave the city, leaving them to starve in a ditch between the city walls and his siege lines?

A Short Study Of Historical Method

Could you be able to source that information? I wrote this short answer after The Oxford Encyclopedia of Medieval Warfare and Military Technology.

What I gather from Monstrelet is that after the townpeople of Rouen learned they had to deal with the king of England themselves, he had a first surrender treaty rejected by the Archbishop of Canterbury. To which the townpeople came up with the plan to run for their lives by breaching their own walls and give it a last desperate go. Monstrelet’s narrative may be incomplete though.

In Gerald Harris, Shaping the Nation. England 1360-1461. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005 (The New Oxford History of England), p. 548, I find the following statement though: “The siege, prolonged by the intense cold of mid-winter, became a test of endurance for the English. But the defenders were in a worse plight: as the influx of refugees reduced the inhabitants to starbation, it was decided to expel the non-combatants, wome, childrend, and the old being forced into the town ditches between the walls and the English lines. Refused food by the English, they perished in large numbers.”

The Oxford Encyclopedia states only that food was given to the expelled townpeople by Henry V at Christmas: “At Chrismas, Henry had food brought to them in the ditches. They, according to Page, responded with a hymn of praise for Henry ‘who has more compassion than has our own nation’.”

The encyclopedia entry is written by Anne Curry, who’s a recognized expert of the period. I’d conclude therefore that indeed the expelled townpeople were denied food but were still given some at Christmas by Henry V. Nuance is everything in this case. We could go further and question Page’s account of the event but I don’t have the time (nor the energy) to go that far 🙂

>>> So they had around 6 months worth of food. Was this typical for a city of its size? Was food storage mostly by household or centralized under one or more powers?

This question requires a kind of research that I haven’t conducted. Nor do I know if it has been. Maybe? I couldn’t say without diving deep into my bibliographies. I read recently that it took 10 months for the Normans to take Palermo through a siege of starvation, in the years 1071-1072. The city also resigned in the early winter.

Refugees would flock to the city by the hundreds when a siege of that magnitude was a-coming. On the long run it would not help with the stocks. However, conducting a statistic analysis of such events would prove very, very difficult. We don’t have enough data to define any normalcy in those matters, I’d say.

As for the second part of your follow-up question, chronicles clearly show that the food was not centralized. It was sold on markets and speculation in times of war ran wild. It meant that the poor would starve first if they couldn’t find a patron or didn’t belong to some kind of association (like a guild, a university or the clerical members of a congregation). I hope it gives some kind of answer to your follow-up question 🙂 I’m sorry I can’t give a more conclusive answer at the moment.

Medieval Siege Engines

>>> Were actual battles to take the castle common or do continuous flinging of trebuchet or catapults common?

Is The Trebuchet The Superior Siege Engine?

To give an idea, a single trebuchet required around 60-100 specialized and trained personel to keep it firing 1 to 2 projectiles a hour*. That’s people that you need to feed, pay wages, and everything. Artilery was very expensive and it was especially difficult to move around from one town to the other from siege to siege.

Contrarily to what the trebuchet subreddit advertises, the projectiles weighed around 140 kg (306.7 pounds) and had a range of 220 meters (240.6 yards)*. It was specifically designed to hit weak spots within a city wall in order to open a breach. The solution was to reinforce the weak spot with palissades and earth behind it to absorb the hit. However, the single sight of a trebuchet could incite a fortified place to just give up and surrender directly.

* Renaud Beffeyte, L’art de la guerre au Moyen Age. Rennes: Ouest France, 2010. With a preface by Philippe Contamine, p. 80-81.

“Come In Like A Wreeecking Ball!”

Orléans was bombarded quite continuously by the English in 1428-1429 but it had little meaningful results, especially since the city could bombard back! Jean de Lorraine was the French artillary specialist. More than once he pretended to be dead, was carried back to Orléans, only to return to the battlefield and handle his cannons against the English to their outmost dread and distate. Firing a canon was an art but not everybody mastered it. More often than not it resulted in accidental results. The Earl of Salisbury, who was leading the siege for the English at Orléans, died only a few days after a canonball crashed in the window he was looking through. Similarly, the Earl of Arundel, hit by a canonball (in the leg, I think) at the battle of Gerberoy in 1435, also died but only a few days after the battle from his injury. The uneffectiveness of such canonballs may be explained by the fact that many of them were made out of stone instead of metal.

Canons didn’t have the firepower that they would have later on. And pretty much like trebuchets, they required a lot of trained personel. The people who made church bells were those who forged canons. It is reported that one bombard canon required no less than 20 horses to be dragged across the countryside during the 14th century*. Fire artilery became lighter and more effective during the 15th century, but it couldn’t guarantee a victory yet. Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, learned it the hard way when he died at the battle of Nancy (1467). As a conclusion, artilery fire was certainly used for very strategic or psychological purposes, but it couldn’t make up for armed men climbing ladders and siege towers to conquer city walls the “old fashion way”.

* Valérie Toureille (ed.), Guerre et Société. 1270-1480. Paris: Atlante, 2013, p. 161.

>>> How did the besieger Earl of Salisbury die? How does an accident cause a canonball to boomerang back to allied lines 😛

Haha! I love the idea but the reality is more prosaic.

A Shot In The Dark

The canonball was shot from OrlĂ©ans. No one really knows where from. At that moment, Salisbury was looking through a window from the Tourelles fortress, at the end of the southern bridge linking OrlĂ©ans to the western bench of the river Loire. Bad luck made it that the canonball hit the window Salisbury was looking through. He didn’t die on the impact but he passed away a few days later from his injuries.

Since he was the master-mind behind the overall English strategy since Agincourt and had pushed himself to besiege OrlĂ©ans when the Duke of Bedford thought that it was a bad idea, there was little morale left in the English camp after his death. Many men actually thought themselves freed from their military duties since they belonged to Salisbury’s retinue and they left the siege. Once the Burgundians left too, the English were scattered really thin around OrlĂ©ans and that’s when Joan of Arc arrived with heavy reinforcements from Blois (though most of the French army turned back to Blois… and left the people of OrlĂ©ans on their own with Joan and about the craftiest captains who were serving Charles VII at the time).

Philip the Good also almost got hit by a canonball when he besieged Calais. As he rode down on the beach with a small party of men, a canonball hit the ground not too far from him. Such events are easily recorded when they concern distinguished aristocrats. The Duke of Burgundy and the Earl of Salisbury were not “nobodies”. However there is a good chance that collateral casualties from such artilary fire were more common than we think. The lack of narrative on the matter only probably relates to the social status of the people casted in the Chronicles of the time. To be counted as a casualty, you had to have a “name”.

Commando Operations

>>> When you say that how do you mean? Am I supposed to imagine a handful of knights crossing the mote in the cover of dark, to open the Door for the rest? Or was it more like smuggling a diplomat into the walls to get him to the [faction] and promise them [something worth promising].

The covert and sneaky operations that led to the taking of a castle, a town or any fortress were very imaginative!

A Timeless Classic: Bertrand Du Guesclin Desguised As A Lumberjack (1340)

The English were holding the castle of Fougeray, near Rennes (France). Robert Pembrough, a renowned captain, was commanding the troops. Bertrand Du Guesclin wished to take it back. He was not yet the mighty connétable, supreme leader of the French army, second only to the king, but this little aventure made him quite a name for himself.

A man of his came up with the crazy idea to dress as lumberjacks and approach the castle under that desguise. They were to pretend that they were coming to work for the castle with a cart full of lumber and wood fagot. Du Guesclin selected a few daring souls to accompany him and risked himself in this crazy venture. The chronicles give quite a vivid sdepiction of the story and the battle that followed.

Du Guesclin made it to the castle. His cart blocked the drawbridge. The men in desguised were close to flee for their lives. They had weapons under their funny clothes but no armour to defend themselves and they risked being made any minute. However, that’s when Du Guesclin called it. He started the fight and called the rest of his men, a whole lot of 60 men-at-arms at most, to join him in the fight.

The battle was nasty and bloody. However, Du Guesclin took the place and his trick became so famous that castles would build TWO drawbridges to protect their entry: one that only a single man could walk through, to check up the upcoming carts, and a second, for the said carts.

It is said that some of the soldiers accompanying Du Guesclin in disguise pushed it as far as to dress as “lumberjills”.

La Hire: Who Takes One, Loses One

La Hire was quite familiar with “commando operations”. That’s how he took Louviers (located between Paris and Rouen, on the river Seine) when Joan of Arc was busy attacking Paris. Under the cover of night, approaching the fortified city with a boat, he took it by climbing a ladder thrown over the city walls. Yet he had a limp! As soon as the English heard the bad news, they sent troops to retake the city. La Hire defended it until he tried to make it out of the town to go fetch reinforcements himself (as mentioned elsewhere in this thread). Meanwhile, Charles VII did grant new privileges to the townpeople to gain their loyalty. La Hire knew! He’d been betrayed by the good people of ChĂąteau-Thierry, in Picardy, a decade earlier.

Also, having an inside man is often key in taking or losing a city. That’s how he chanced to take back Rouen, in 1436. He had a few friends within the city walls but the English caught them and then came down running at La Hire and his companions to chase them away from Normandy. It was a debacle so funny that Monstrelet tells it three separate times in his Chronicles.

The taking of Marchenoir, in 1427, on the other hand, was a real “coup de maĂźtre” orchestrated by La Hire’s proud pupil: Jean de Bueil. The latter came up with a crazy idea. See? A very large pile of manure was abutted the city walls. Jean de Bueil thought that a few men could hide in that pile of manure overnight. Then, during the day, a small group of men-at-arms would ride by the city and lure the garrison outside the city walls. It worked! As soon as it happened, the men-at-arms hidden in the manure got out of it, stormed the gates and helped to take over the city. The lured garrison met its end when the luring party rejoined the bulk of the military company. Because who would hide in a pile of manure? Seriously?! Nothing but highly motivated men.

John Talbot: A Crafty Devil

John Talbot became the most feared of the English captains. La Hire himself would run away whenever learning Talbot was coming after him if he hadn’t had the time to properly fortify his positions. Tablot was cruel, crafty and relentless. As the mightily fortified city of Pontoise was kept by an old friend and former ally of his, Jean de Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, he chose to take it back. The Burgundians had recently decided to leave the Lancastrian alliance and fight again alongside Charles VII of Valois. Only a few months ago were Talbot and L’Isle-Adam fighting next to each other! Now they were enemies.

The moat of Pontoise had frozen with the winter and no one had thought to break the ice. I mentioned this case in my main answer. Talbot took an opportunity where he found one. A few number of men crawled under the cover of night and beneath a white blanket (!!!) to reach the fortress of Pontoise. No one saw them coming. They were camouflaged as snow! They threw ladders or ropes over the walls, climbed them and took the fortress in the dead of the night. L’Isle-Adam barely had the time to flee and his noble name was certainly ternished by the venture.

A Charming Bastard: Villars’ Shame And The Loss Of Montargis

Villars, who was put in charge with defending Montargis, had a barber. His barber was taking care of a young woman who was neither his wife nor his daughter. At the same time, Villars was himself married. His brother-in-law was an enemy of his, the Bastard of Jardes. Indeed, the Bastard of Jardes was serving under the command of L’Aragonais, a faithful captain of the English party despite his Spanish nickname. This makes up for quite a complicated story but as Berry tells the tale, the Bastard of Jardes seduced the barber’s ward. He promised to marry her if she would help him take over the city. As part of the ruse, she seduced the barber who was taking care of her, beguiling him with a large promise of reward by the English.

Sex and money make up for an ugly combo… The barber and his ward helped the Bastard of Jardes to climb over the city walls. He could come and go within the city as he pleased him since his sister was the governor’s wife. Getting his men inside was another matter. It happened that a house from the suburbs was abutted to the walls (more often than not those houses were destroyed when a city was besieged). From the top of that house, the Bastard climbed over the walls with his men thanks to the barber and his ward. From then on he took over the city, chased away his brother-in-law and didn’t respect any of the promises he made towards the young woman or the barber.

I hope you like this little set of anecdotes? Really, it shows that taking a city through a “commando operation” required a lot of imagination and dedication. It was not as simple as moving under the cover of the night. Men-at-arms had to be creative. However, luring an enemy garrison outside of their walls with a small party only to surprise them with an ambush and take the city gates at the meantime was quite a common tactic. So was getting inside help. I even read a story of maids distracting men-at-arms with pastry! It’s much more entertaining than anything found in fantasy novels in my opinion.

The City And Its Countryside

The question arises: why take a city when you can plunder the countryside? Well, for one, there might be castles and garisoned troops all over the place to prevent such acts of aggression. Jean de Luxembourg, lord of Beaurevoir, had such a system in place to defend the Eastern part of Picardy. However he was a well-respected, renowned and mostly feared overlord with close connections to the Burgundian court. Once the political chessboard was overturned, though, even the Duke of Burgundy thought twice and eventually didn’t risk to mount an army against him. The king did, but that’s another story. (Jean de Luxembourg died before the king’s army reached his lands and his heir and nephew settled the matter by acknowledging the king’s authority.)

Most of the territory wasn’t safeguarded by some Jean de Luxembourg, though. It was quite easy to tear the countryside apart. The English did it several times during the first half of the Hundred Years’ War. They would do it to provoke the French into an open-field battle. CrĂ©cy (1346) and Poitiers (1356) were the results of such provocations. Charles V said no more and chose for a war of attrition: no more open-field battles, only skirmishes and surprise city take-overs. It really changed the face of the war.

Pillaging and plundering a countryside was nevertheless a fine way to bring a city to its knees. Medieval cities were directly co-dependant from their neighbouring countryside. If an army were to threaten it then a city would easily pay up in order to safeguard it. Sure, the city was well-defended enough that it couldn’t be taken. But could the citizens chase away a company of men-at-arms without a proper company of their own sent over by their lord? They couldn’t.

Rural Communities Sticking Together

>>> Would it be common to ask the bishop of your church to petition the new lord for repayment for a house burnt by his men. Or a stonemason asking his guild-master to try and find his daughter taken by mercenaries during a sacking of the town. Etc. It’s just hard to imagine that people would be willing to accept that you had no way to protect yourself and your family from roaming armies that survived by “living off the land”. Or were peasant rebellions more common against such occurrences?

Is Charity The Best Insurance Policy?

I’ve read a few medieval accounting records. They are just fascinating because they’re full of little anecdotes! Each expense or income is justified by a short story. Some of them are quite dry. A few of them are full of details! As it happens, you sometimes have the story of people who received compensation money for services given. Like a man climbed a ladder to extinguish the fire which started a-top a Burgundian palace and he was granted a few francs for his bravery. A knight came in, only had to show up and received much more money. I don’t remember the numbers nor exactly where I read it, it was years ago in class, you’ll have to forgive me.

Money as well as judicial pardons were also given to people who suffered in the service of a lord. Now say your house was destroyed because of an enemy military company. Who could help you out? What could you do? You could at first rely on your community. Are you part of a guild? Of a religious congregation? Did you have an extensive family? Joan of Arc had countless godfathers and godmothers. The social ties were really strongs within medieval communites. You could rely on your “people” to help you out, get you some resources, help you rebuild your house, etc. Though private properties were a real thing, communal areas were also very common. Enclosure was not a thing yet. Especially in the countryside, the forest–depending a few strict regulations–was a free source of wood, pasture, hunt and resources for everybody. You could get a fine if your pigs roamed through it too wildly though.

Someone could ask pitty money to a lay or ecclesiastic lord, too. They could expect to get it freely by waiting outside a church on big Christian celebration days, but they mostly ever got anything if they could legitimize it if they officially asked for it. Then it mostly depended on the will of the lord. Some saw charity as a great mean to control the population (like the Duke of Burgundy, from Philip the Bold to Philip the Good). Others rather indulged into extortion and saw their lordship as a mean to get as rich as possible as fast as possible (like the Duke of Berry, John the Magnificent). There was no instituted way for anyone to recover from a war related destruction of property. You had to play creative, rely on your social network and hope for the best.

Law And Order: Medieval Edition

It was the social expected duty of rulers to put pressure on bandits, unruly rogue military companies, and make safeguard the peace in the realm. It was difficult to insure when the centralized power showed weakness. When Charles VI descended into madness and the high princes of the land started a civil war, inviting the English to fight as mercenaries (around 1410-1412) it quickly led to devasted countrysides. It got so bad that countrymen took refuge into the woods and created military companies of their own. Those bandits really posed a threat to the moving of troops on the military chess. They would keep on fighting from 1411 to 1418!

Self-defence often became a necessity to rural communities. During the Écorcherie crisis of 1438-1439 a city closed its door to a military company that was actually charged with chasing down a rogue military company. They eventually let the men-at-arms go through in very little numbers because they mistrusted them so much. The Écorcheurs, or skinners, allegedly commited some of the worst war crimes of the Hundred Years’ War. They destroyed things for fun or so it seems. Their numbers grew exponentially because their ranks swelled with newcomers who wished to avoid plunder and to join in on the loot. Military companies were very exotic things back then: men-at-arms had armed and non-armed servants. Even old women could be part of a company and could serve as support or spy. It saved the French captains trapped at Gerberoy in 1435 to know more about the enemy surrounding them! It would take the 1445 military reform to really define who could or couldn’t join the army or be part of a military company.

The most famous peasant who took up arms to defend his people was certainly Grand FerrĂ©, who fought in the year 1359. He supposedly killed 60 Englishmen by himself with an axe when they attacked his company of two hundred patriots at the Longueil-Sainte-Marie manor, near CompiĂšgne (France). He even resisted an assassination attempt but eventually died from his injuries. His venture had been authorized by proper political leaders! When the “Great Companies” stormed all over France in the year 1360’s and brought havoc with their rogue military depredation, however, such peasant heroes would act more autonomously. Their ventures would more often than not be shortlived.

The real hope for rural population against rogue military companies were to get their ‘bailly’ or any military representative of the king or their lord to muster his troops and chase them down. Sometimes a lord could also call his people to arms and lead them to a cleansing expedition of epic disproportions. Again, however, nothing was systematic and it mostly depended on the people in charge. Who were they? How did they conceive their role? Could they perform their duties effectively? Etc. Peasants rebellions were quite common in the end and often bound to happen in such circumstances.

The Daily Duties Of A City-Dweller

Though city-dwellers were “free men and women” they still had to accomplish many tasks. One of them was the town-watch. It was up to city-dwellers to make the rounds on the walls, to break the ice of the moat around the city (to make sure no one would cross it and make their way to the walls too easily–which happened!), etc. They had to provide material support in times of war, women too, by bringing water, boiling oil, and many other things to the “frontline”.

The roads were guarded by “boulevards”, or road-block fortifications, and they prevented enemy troops to get too close from a city. Besieging a city therefore often began miles away from the city walls. It guaranteed the safekeeping of pastures, agricultural fields and suburbs around the town. Such boulevards had to be built by city-dwellers themselves. Even besieged, a city could keep some kind of normal life unless the situation became too dire. Since a city was not often properly surrounded, exterior communication was not so difficult and food could easily be brought in.

Some people speculated and made a fortune during times of war by raising the price on crops, for example. It was a criminal offense but many got away with it… Money often became an issue for besieged populations and they hoped to rely on the church or their lord to get by. Having a rich protector, serving in a mighty house, was certainly a way to stay on safe side of things. Anyway, it took quite some time for the situation to be really desperate unless the enemy army was actually overwhelming.

When Boulevards Were Medieval Fortifications

>>> About boulevards: how did it help? If we’re talking about a siege done by hundreds or many thousands of armed people, why would something on a road stop enemy so far from the city? I realise it’s not that easy but
 why not walk around something that isn’t a single piece of wall?

Is This A Tower? Is This A Fortress? It’s A Boulevard!

When fire artillery started to spread by the end of the 14th century, most fortifications were not ready to endure a copious bombarding. Putting bombards or cannons a-top of city walls was also very difficult to do. The rare case of Beauvais providing its walls with ramps to help push the canons at the top of them, by the first half of the 15th century, shows that it was a very expensive type of construction to undertake.

The ‘boulevard’ was made up in the Burgundian Low Countries to answer the need to protect old fortifications against bombard showers and to provide the town with actual counter-canons. Boulevard were originally made out of wood and filled-in with earth to absorb the shock of canonballs. They looked like hillside slopes that stopped on a sharp cliff and they were put in front of fortification weak spots such as city gates or others. Eventually they were built out of stone and gained massive dimensions! They could spread as wide as 15 to 45 meters (16.4 to 42.2 yards) on each of their sides, pretty much like squares, and be elevated up to 10 meters high (10.9 yards)*! It was quite a bad place to find yourself on if you had the fear of heights. As to how many people it could hold, I’d say as much as they could depending on their dimensions. You needed personel to fire the canons but also a few men-at-arms and archers to defend the place.

*A. Salamagne, Les villes fortes au Moyen Âge. Paris: Jean-Paul Gisserot, 2002.

“Up And Down The Boulevard”

I would invite you to look at the following maps of OrlĂ©ans during the 1428-1429 siege 😉

As you can see, the walled city is surrounded by a large suburb area. Everywhere you see the letter ‘B’ (first map) also means there was a barrier or fortification of some kind. Getting close to the city implied a prolonged guerilla type of warfare. Neighbourhoods were to be taken one by one.

Then, if you spot the number 37 on the bridge (first map), the “Boulevart de la belle Croix”, you’ll see that there isn’t getting around that specific boulevard unless you dive down for a swim (look at map 2 for a detailed plan of the area).

Map. Orléans. 1429. Bridge. Loire. Jollois.
Plan de l’ancien Pont d’OrlĂ©ans et de ses abords avec ses bastilles et boulevards, le fort des Tournelles et la bastille des Augustins. Jollois restituit

Roads and paths around a city were not as wide or clear as one might think. Paris in particular had two lines of moat in addition to its fortified walls surrounding the city. When Joan attacked it, one was dry but the other was still filled in with water. The only way to go around a boulevard defending the entrance of a city door was to somehow fill in the moat with wood fagot in order to cross it eventually.

Indeed–I wasn’t clear and I’m sorry–boulevards were mostly built in front of city doors to prevent enemies to knock it down. The boulevards were moreover protected by the higher city walls behind it. Also they were firing canonballs so it proved quite difficult to get close to it safely.

The Art Of Surrounding A City

>>> “Since a city was not often properly surrounded, exterior communication was not so difficult and food could easily be brought in.” Couldn’t that be solved by making a few bands of “raiders” out of soldiers?

When Henry V of England besieged Rouen in 1418-1419 (see my addition somewhere else on the thread on that matter), he made sure to dig trenches all around the city to connect his network of fortified places. His band of Irish soldier policing the neighbouring towns and chaining the river Seine were not enough.

At OrlĂ©ans, where the English attempted a remake of the siege of Rouen, they didn’t dig trenches and they didn’t chain the river Loire. As a matter of fact, Joan of Arc got around them by crossing the river East and just passing near the Bastille of St Loup (that you can also see on the map). A little band of soldier made it out of OrlĂ©ans as a distraction and she reached the eastern gate with reinforcement and food for the city without too much problems.

Therefore raiding was not enough to insure the total paralysis of a besieged city. When he was defending Louviers in 1431, La Hire tried to make it out of the city by himself in order to get reinforcements at La FertĂ©-Bernard. He’s spotted by Burgundians soldiers and captured. The sole fact that he tried though, as experienced as he was, meant that there he had a chance!

About Boiling Oil

>>> Do you have a source for this? I thought that boiling oil was a bit of a common misconception given the cost of pouring boiling oil on attackers was much much more expensive than just pouring boiling water on them

I wrote about the boiling oils by following the subsequent passage from the Journal of Orléans*, which praise how townwomen came to the rescue by providing those who defended a boulevard with many useful things:

Pareillement y feirent grant secours les femmes d’OrlĂ©ans ; car elles ne cessoient de porter trĂšs diligemment Ă  ceulx qui deffendoient le boulevert, plusieurs choses nĂ©cessaires, comme eaues, huilles, gresses bouillans*, chaux, cendres et chaussetrape.*”

Technically, it doesn’t say boiling oil but boiling grease (and oils are mentioned) which is pretty much the same I’d say? I perused my copy of The Oxford Encyclopedia of Medieval Warfare and Military Technology and I couldn’t find anything about boiling oil as a myth. It deserves more research certainly.

*Paul Charpentier & Charles Cuissard (ed.), Journal du SiĂšge d’OrlĂ©ans, 1428-1429. OrlĂ©ans: Herluison, 1896, p. 7

A Short Reading List

>>> May I have your sources you used for the section “The Daily Duties Of A City-Dweller” ?

Here’s a short list of references (almost exclusively in French, sorry…) that talk about townwatch and other duties expected from city-dwellers:

  • Primary source (a total must read!): Janet Shirley (ed.), A Parisian Journal. 1405-1449. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968 (read especially the narrative of the year 1418).
  • Secondary literature:
    • Guilhem Ferrand, “Les Murs, le guet et la communautĂ© : la construction d’un systĂšme dĂ©fensif”, ArchĂ©ologie du Midi MĂ©diĂ©val, 25 (2007), p. 141-155; URL: https://www.persee.fr/doc/amime_0758-7708_2007_num_25_1_1642
    • Gustave Fagniez, “Essai sur l’organisation de l’industrie Ă  Paris aux XIIIe et XIVe siĂšcles (deuxiĂšme article)”, BibliothĂšque de l’École des chartes, 30 (1869), p. 80-105, in particular pp. 98-103; URL: https://www.persee.fr/doc/bec_0373-6237_1869_num_30_1_446253
    • A.-M. Hayez, “Travaux Ă  l’enceinte d’Avignon sous les pontificats d’Urbain V et de GrĂ©goire IX”, La Guerre et la paix au Moyen Âge. Paris: BibliothĂšque nationale, 1978, p. 119-223.
    • R. Cazelle, Paris, de Philippe Auguste Ă  Charles V. Paris: Hachette, 1994.
    • N. Savy, Les villes du Quercy en guerre : la dĂ©fense des villes et des bourges du Haut-Quercy pendant la guerre de Cent Ans. Pradines: Savy A.E., 2009.

There must be articles or monographs in English dealing with such a topic but I can’t find them right off the bat without going into a university library or diving too far in additional research.

From Skirmishes To Victory Or Surrender

If a city was besieged and couldn’t be taken over “Rambo style” with a clever, daring an deceitful tactic, it would first open on several weeks of skirmishes around the boulevards and the countryside. Nearby smaller towns would also serve as battlefields. People often found refuge in stone built churches: they were torn apart or put on fire.

Delay was the key words for the defenders. The name of the game was to hold as long as possible for ally troops to find their way to the siege and help. Montargis waited and waited until La Hire arrived and saved the day, in 1427. It is an interesting case, however, because La Hire and his friends wouldn’t help Montargis unless they got paid. Indeed, if besieging a city was a most expensive affair, so was defending it!

Larger cities would hold much longer. They often had pastures and fields within their walls that belonged to this or that abbey. You’d have cattle within the city walls too: cow, pigs, sheep… Not enough to feed the entire population for a prolonged time, but just enough to help the city hold against the enemy.

Renowned knights would then square things off in many skirmishes until one or the other party gathered enough money to push the siege forward or to break it off. Journals and chronicles of the time often mention who fought bravely during the first hours/days/weeks of a siege.

The surrender would always come into the form of a peace treaty between the military leaders of both parties. Often the defender would ask for his people to get a safe-passage accross the enemy territory to get back to an allied city. The military leader of a city was not always taking the city-dwellers into consideration, or just couldn’t protect them, and more often than not he allowed his enemy to pillage and plunder the taken city. That’s why, among so many other reasons, city-dwellers didn’t have men-at-arms to heart and often mistrusted them. There are cases of city-dwellers that actually denied entry to supposedly allied men-at-arms when the countryside was torn apart by roaming rogue companies. Hell, the Duke of Burgundy found himself trapped inside the city of Brugge and had to fight his way out!

La Hire. Peter Strauss. Joan of Arc. 1999
AskHistorians Contributions, Short Reads

How Joan of Arc Died

AskHistorians: Tuesday Trivia!

The AskHistorians Subreddit invited me to pitch in on their latest Tuesday Trivia event. This week theme was FIRE.

Fire in the hole! …and in the house, castle courtyard, barn loft, cave, wiping out entire cities. What are some of the major flame-related disasters in your era? How did people fight fires?

I could just not pass on such an honor and I did my best to come up with a good story to share.

My Personal Contribution

If you know me you guess by then what I decided to talk about. Again. Joan of Arc.

This is the story of how she died and how she burned.

The Relapse

Illuminated Manuscript. Dante. Divine Comedy. Forest of Suicide. Bodleian Library. Holkham Misc. 48.
Oxford, Bodleian Library, Holkham Misc. MS 48, f. 19r – Dante visits the Forest of Suicide.

Joan’s judges had found her guilty on twelve accounts. Chief among them was the charge that her visions were nothing but superstitious delusions that proceeded from evil and diabolical spirits. Joan was also found guilty of attempted suicide because she jumped from the tower of the Beaurevoir castle when she tried to escape from her Burgundian ward, Jean de Luxembourg (a tale that I already briefly mentioned in a former post).

I will be lazy for a minute and briefly remind that suicide was deemed as a very serious crime in the 15th century, France. If you committed suicide, your belongings were confiscated—meaning you could leave no inheritance to your relatives—and your body would have to suffer a degrading sentence. We have actually found pardon letters addressed to people who committed suicide, blaming their death on insanity or something else, meaning they were eventually not responsible of their own demise.

Neat.

On a less judicial and more spiritual level, let me quote Benjamin Zweig on that one (and be a doll, check out his thesis on the Images of Suicide in Medieval Art):

As the German nun and mystic Hildegard of Bingen tells us, suicide is unforgivable because it is a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. But, then, what makes suicide blasphemous? Because, she and other medieval theologians might respond, suicide denies the possibility of God’s forgiveness. By flinging one’s own body into death, one doubts God’s mercy. When one denies God’s grace, one repudiates God’s very essence—that is, the Holy Spirit. To kill oneself is to proclaim one’s disbelief in God. But unlike blasphemous words, for which one can plead mercy, suicide cannot be undone. One cannot repent after death.

I’ll just conclude in reminding that in his touring of the circles of Hell, Dante visits the Forest of Suicide. It should serve as a final proof that attempted suicide was a good reason to find anyone guilty of something immoral. Of course, Joan tried to escape, and ultimately to live, but it didn’t bother her judges. She jumped and it was constructed as a guilty charge against her.

The fact that Joan sided against the Burgundians also played against her. It was seen as a transgression against God’s commandment to “love thy neighbor”. No one bothered to mention her quarrel against the English, which indicates the political ties of her judges and who might have really been pissed at her. She’d sent a letter to Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. I bet that letter was very ill received. She also met him, and Monstrelet records it. He reports that he was there himself, but that he forgot what the Duke said to the Maid. How convenient
 Let’s not forget that he later offered his chronicles to Philip the Good.

Last, but not least, Joan’s unwillingness to answer her judges on certain matters—like her personal exchanges with Charles VII—were constructed as a rebellion against the church. She was therefore charged as schismatic.

On May 24, 1431, Joan was put in front of a stake and her charges were read to her. Everything was ready for her to burn alive and be done with like Jean Hus and many others before her. However, before the end of the sentencing, Joan finally cracked under the pressure, pleaded guilty and asked for a pardon, which was granted to her. She was brought back to her cell and probably raped by her English wards.

Among the twelve charges, Joan had also been found guilty of wearing men’s clothes. It was deemed as blasphemous. Therefore when she was seen wearing them again after her “confession”, maybe as a way to repel her wards, she was deemed relapse. It meant that the church couldn’t do anything for her anymore. Her soul was beyond saving. She had to burn at the stake


Burning at the Stake

Paris, BnF, français 5054. Martial d'Auvergne. Vigiles de la mort de Charles VII. Joan of Arc. Jeanne d'Arc. Rouen. Illuminated manuscript.
Joan of Arc being burned as a heretic at Rouen – Paris, BnF, fr. 5054, f. 71r

It was a Wednesday. Joan was brought out of her cell for the very last time on May 30, 1431, at the sweet age of nineteen.

We think indeed that she was born in 1412, which is why her biography and dictionary written by Philippe Contamine, Xavier HĂ©lary and Olivier Bouzy was published in 2012, six hundred years after she was born.

Martin Ladvenu, who heard Joan’s last confession and escorted her to the stake, reported that until the bitter end, she maintained that her visions were sent to her by God and that she didn’t believe that she’d been fooled by any evil spirit.

By ten o’clock in the morning, Joan was already where she would die, on a scaffold where everyone could see her. The good people of Rouen didn’t dare to move to help her. They were still under the shock of the 1418-1419 siege that cost them so many lives. However, we can guess that they didn’t really like what they saw. One very sarcastic Norman chronicler, Pierre Cochon—not to be mistaken with Pierre Cauchon, Joan’s chief judge—stopped his chronicle at the very moment Joan entered Rouen. He never mentioned her in his work. Yet he was a close friend to several of the clerks who attended her trials and who, for the most part, pleaded heavily in favor of Joan on her second trial.

Silence, in some case, is more meaningful than any formulated opinion


ClĂ©ment de Fauquembergue, clerks for the Parliament in Paris, wrote that Joan wore a miter which displayed four words: “Heretic. Relapse. Apostate. Idolatrous.” There was also a board that described Joan as the wickedest witch of the West.

The executioner put the stake on fire and Joan burned alive. However, the fire was extinguished halfway to show that under her men’s clothes she was indeed a woman. Eventually, her ashes were spilled in the Seine to make sure no one could turn any of her remnant into a relic.

How She Was Replaced

La Hire. Peter Strauss. Joan of Arc. 1999
La Hire (Peter Strauss) cries as he arrives to late to save Joan of Arc. | Joan of Arc (TV Mini-Series), 1999

The 1999 telefilm that cast Neil Patrick Harris as Charles VII shows how La Hire and Jean de Metz arrived too late to save Joan at Rouen. They see the flames from beyond the city walls. They know she is dead
 However, historically, the French captains and the French court remained quite indifferent to Joan’s passing.

La Hire was otherwise busy at the time. Earlier that year he’d taken the city of Louviers in a successful commando mission that freed the most skilled and wisest French captain of the time, a man so dangerous that the English had always refused to discuss any ransom and kept his location secret, Arnaud-Guilhem de Barbazan, the man who singlehandedly defended Melun nine months in 1420 against Henry V and all of his army.

The English were in the business to retake Louviers and La Hire swooped back in the city in April to manage its defense. As he sneaked out of town to fetch for reinforcements at La FertĂ© he was captured, taken to Dourdan and released in exchange for several hostages. He still had yet to pay for his ransom and La Hire therefore went to Chinon to ask the king for help. Charles VII, who couldn’t pull out money the way his grandfather did to help out Du Guesclin, allowed La Hire to write to the good cities of France to raise money for his ransom. We know that La Hire wrote at least to Lyon and Tours.

In the end, he was nowhere near Rouen when Joan died and not the least concerned with her passing. Jean de Metz? We don’t know where he was at the time


On August 12, 1431, La Hire had forgotten Joan of Arc altogether. According to the chronicler Jean LefĂšvre de Saint-RĂ©my, La Hire and several captains put a young shepherd at the front of their army to lead them to victory but the poor boy didn’t have Joan’s nerves. He was captured, brought back to Rouen and probably thrown in the Seine to drown. No one bothered with a “proper trial” on that one.

More about Joan:

Age of Empires 2 (1999). Joan of Arc's Campaign. Scenario 2: The Maid of Orléans
Age of Empires 2, AoE2 Campaigns

‘The Maid of OrlĂ©ans’ – Walkthrough & Commentary

This blog post also available in French!

I fell in love with Joan of Arc thanks to Age of Empires 2. I never healed from it. As Ovid says: “Quod nullis amor est sanabilis herbis.” There is no remedy to love.

Tower. Beaurevoir. Joan of Arc. John of Luxembourg.
Tower of Beaurevoir © Stéphane Bloch, 19/07/2013

Once I started to study History at the university, I met Joan again. I discovered her through new lenses. I read the papers and scholarly books written about her. I read the original sources from the 15th century. Her voice sounded clear to me when I read her trial. I saw her proud gait whilst perusing medieval chronicles. Then I visited Picardy and many places she went. I walked near the tower she jumped from when she tried to escape the English.

In the following paragraphs it will look like I’m dismantling piece by piece the second scenario of Joan of Arc’s campaign in Age of Empires 2. However this is a love letter more than anything. Age of Empires 2 is a fantastic video game to discover the Middle Ages. There is much to say about the scenarios and the in-game encyclopedia, but that’s only for the better when you really think of it.

Tower. Beaurevoir. Joan of Arc. John of Luxembourg.
Tower of Beaurevoir, from afar © Stéphane Bloch, 19/07/2013

Intro: Joan of Arc’s Campaign, Second Scenario

March 26, Chinon

It is one thing for a band of dispirited soldiers to put their trust in a teenage girl. It is entirely another for that girl to be given command of the army of an entire nation.

We were filled with pride when we heard the Dauphin’s heralds pronounce Joan the Maid as Commander of the Army of France.

So that she may look like a general, the Dauphin presented Joan with a great warhorse and a suit of white armor.

Joan instructed me to look for an ancient sword buried beneath the altar of a local church.   

I was skeptical, but not only did the men unearth a rusted blade, but we found that the sword belonged to Charlemagne, grandfather of France. I shall not doubt her word again. Still visible on the hilt was the fleur-de-lis.

Joan adopted the fleur-de-lis as her symbol and had it blazoned upon her battle standard. Wherever Joan goes, the standard goes also. It goes with us to OrlĂ©ans.    

The City of OrlĂ©ans is one of the finest in France, but it is under siege by our enemies, England and Burgundy, and is about to fall.   

This war has dragged on for one hundred years with precious few French victories. The people of Orléans need a savior. They are to get Joan of Arc.

Illuminated Manuscript. Brussels, KBR, ms. 9392. Christine de Pisan. Loyset Liedet. Jean Miélot. Pentesilea. Queen of the Amazons. Women in Armours.
Pentesilea, Queen of the Amazons, leading the charge – Bruxelles, KBR, ms. 9392, f. 18v

Commentary

This, for one, is a wonderful text. It really helps us to connect with Joan’s story on an emotional level. However, it is filled with inaccuracies


Though Joan’s brothers were given nobility titles after the victory of OrlĂ©ans, she was never invested of any official military title. The “Commander of the Army of France” was the ‘connĂ©table’ and that man, since 1425, was Arthur of Bretagne, count of Richemont. ConnĂ©tables were chosen for life. Richemont himself had fallen into disgrace because of his political actions (he had drowned the king’s favorite courtier) but he still held on his title. Right under him were the ‘marĂ©chaux’ and those titles had also already been handed out to other aristocrats.

Regarding Joan’s famous sword, it didn’t belong to Charlemagne
 First off, the fleur-de-lis only became a symbol of the French royalty during the 12th century, once coat of arms were properly invented. It couldn’t have been Charlemagne’s emblem. Secondly, the sword was not miraculously found, dug up or given to Joan. It was merely an ex-voto that caught her eye when she went in pilgrimage to Sainte-Catherine-de-Fierbois on her way to Chinon.

Finally, when Joan arrived to OrlĂ©ans the Burgundians had already lifted the siege. Poton de Xaintrailles, La Hire’s brother in arm, had risked a dangerous diplomatic move. He’d offered to open OrlĂ©ans to the Duke of Burgundy if he could insure the safety of its inhabitants. Philip the Good wished for nothing less but it angered the Duke of Bedford, Regent of France. The two men were at odds since Anne of Burgundy had passed away. Sister to Philip the Good and Bedford’s former wife, she’d already saved the Anglo-Burgundian alliance in the past and her death left the alliance in tatters. Therefore, the English were left alone to besiege OrlĂ©ans.

1.1. The Map: Orléans surrounded

Age of Empires 2 (1999). Joan of Arc's Campaign. Scenario 2: The Maid of Orléans
Age of Empires 2 (1999). Joan of Arc’s Campaign. Scenario 2: The Maid of OrlĂ©ans

In this scenario we find three French cities: Chinon and Blois, south of the Loire, controlled by the artificial intelligence, and Orléans, north of the Loire, which the player takes over as soon as he steps into it.

Orléans is threatened by four British fortresses, two north of the city, which produce long swordsmen, longbowmen and mangonels, plus two other, south of the city, which produce battering rams and knights.

Furthermore, the Burgundians are still in play, though it is historically inaccurate. They send up spearmen to attack Orléans along other units.

Since all those units will continuously attack the player, he will have to produce a vast variety of counter units to push back the AI efficiently. It will be tricky to balance an economy properly to that end, however, with a population capped at 75


1.2. The Siege of Orléans

Map. Orléans. 1428, 1429. Joan of Arc. Jollois. Harttweig
Plan de la ville et du siĂšge d’OrlĂ©ans en 1428. Jollois restituit ; Harttweig sculpsit

Historically speaking, OrlĂ©ans was surrounded by English bastions, mainly west to the city. John Talbot, knight of the Order of the Garter, was commanding those fortified places himself. He’d been a real thorn in the shoe of the French since he landed on the Continent, back in 1427. The British also had a few bastions eastwards, but first and foremost they occupied the ‘Bastille des Tourelles’ that closed the Loire bridge. It forced the people of OrlĂ©ans to destroy the bridge so that it couldn’t be crossed, contrarily to what the player can do in the Age of Empires 2 scenario.

For its defense, Orléans had no less than thirty towers along its walls and barricades also blocked the city access in the suburbs. Churches also could serve as fortified places. However, the people of Orléans struggle every day a bit more to ration their food and they urgently needed supplies to maintain their spirits up.

2.1. How the scenario plays out

The second scenario of Joan of Arc’s campaign has a few surprises but it plays in a quite straightforward fashion. It starts at Chinon with the Duke of Alençon greeting Joan. He moves towards her on his gorgeous steed: “I’m the Duke d’Alençon, my Lady. I will proudly ride with you to OrlĂ©ans.”

From that point in the very southern corner of the map, Joan, Alençon and their troops ride to Blois where they will meet the king’s army. On their way they’ll fight out a little ambush if they don’t avoid it, but when they reach Blois, the player gets a full load of knights, crossbowmen and trade carts to provide OrlĂ©ans in resources. Those trade carts must reach the city town center, not the market, for the resources to be collected by the player.

Map. Orléans. 1429. Bridge. Loire. Jollois.
Plan de l’ancien Pont d’OrlĂ©ans et de ses abords avec ses bastilles et boulevards, le fort des Tournelles et la bastille des Augustins. Jollois restituit

Exiting Blois, Joan can reach OrlĂ©ans through the dirt path leading to the Loire bridge but that’ll force her into an early battle against Burgundian troops guarding the access. However, transport ships are waiting to help the player across the river and out of harm way. Whatever the choice taken by the player, Joan and the French army reach OrlĂ©ans through one of its two southern gates.

Once into Orléans, the objective is quite simple: keep the city cathedral safe, maintain Joan of Arc alive and destroy one of the four English castles. Whenever the trade carts get to the city forum, the player gets resources and he can start to build his economy with the few villagers he finds in Orléans.

Rooftop view of the Cathedral of Orléans

The easiest and quickest way to win the scenario, however, is to get to Castle Age as soon as the trade carts get to OrlĂ©ans forum. Forget about the economy altogether. Cross back the river Loire with a few villagers and build a siege workshop at the back of the southern British fortress. As soon as you can create a few battering rams, break down the British walls, get inside their base and ram down their castles. The knights you get in Blois can also swoop in for extra damages: the castles don’t have the murder holes technology.

Now, if you want to play really tricky, though it requires a bit of skills, station your knights between the two southern British fortresses, wait for villagers to open the gates while passing through it to gather resources, rush into the enemy base and bring fire the old fashion way: through good old sword repetitive smacking.

2.2. How History played out

Map. Orléans. 1429. Joan of Arc. Boucher de Molandon. EugÚne Moreau.
“OrlĂ©ans, la Loire et ses Ăźles lors du siĂšge de 1429. PremiĂšre expĂ©dition de Jeanne d’Arc : ravitaillement d’OrlĂ©ans”

First things first: the Duke of Alençon has nothing to do in this scenario. He only comes up in Joan’s saga much later, notably during the siege of Paris. The real historical character who supervised the military operations on the French side was the bastard of OrlĂ©ans, Jean Dunois. La Hire, who is introduced to the Age of Empires 2 player in the next scenario, was also of the party.

In summary, the French army commanded by the maréchal de Boussac, in company of La Hire, Joan of Arc and a convoy of supplies, journey from Blois to Orléans. In order to reach the besieged city, they decide to go around it from the east and cross the Loire River on transport ships. The bastard of Orléans waits firmly for the resupply and supervise the crossing.

Dunois (the bastard of Orléans) and St John the Evangelist, witnessing the Last Judgement ~ London, BL, Yale Thompson MS 3, f. 32v.

When she meets Dunois, Joan is upset. She demands why they didn’t cross west of OrlĂ©ans, where the English are the most heavily fortified, where John Talbot who commands the troops is located. Dunois is flabbergasted by Joan’s audacity. She dare answer that the advice she brings is better than his, for she’s sent by God. At that point, the wind was not favorable for a crossing. All of a sudden it changed and Dunois interpreted it as a miracle, when he talked about it years later during Joan’s second trial.

The maréchal de Boussac and the French army, however, turn back to Blois. Joan of Arc, La Hire and the resupply convoy cross the Loire. They briefly rest at Reuilly with Dunois then ride to Orléans. The English garrisoned in the bastille of Saint-Loup attempt to attack the convoy but last minute reinforcements from Orléans distract them from their purpose. Joan and the convoy arrive in Orléans untouched to the great relief of the population. One man get so close to Joan to better see her that he actually puts her sleeve on fire with his torch. The disaster is fortunately avoided.

Far to dictate the strategy, Joan is kept in the dark. Nothing is shared to her. The bastard of Orléans and the faithfull captains of Charles VII talk shop without her. When she awakes from a nap, Joan says she saw in a dream that French blood was spilled. She puts on her armor and gallops out of Orléans. She reaches the French troops attacking Saint-Loup and the place is taken.

The bastille of the Augustins is next to fall, then the French mount an attack against the Tourelles, which guards the bridge entry facing OrlĂ©ans. All day long, the French troops can’t overcome the English defenders of the fortress. Nevertheless, thanks to Joan’s last galvanizing speech, they gather their last drops of courage and eventually conquer the place. The French army based in Blois has now a freeway to enter OrlĂ©ans. John Talbot is forced to leave and empties the last English strongholds parked around the besieged city.

The liberation of the Loire can finally begin.

Outro: Joan of Arc’s Campaign, Second Scenario

Joan prophesied that she would be wounded at Orléans. At the height of the battle, an arbalest bolt knocked her from her horse. We could not believe our misfortune.

But as we carried Joan away from the carnage, the battle was won. Orléans was free.

When we entered the city, the entire population cheered us on from windows, rooftops, and city streets.

They fired artillery into the night sky and shouted aloud their nickname for Joan: ‘La Pucelle’—The Maid of OrlĂ©ans.

Commentary

Joan actually predicted her injury. As he travelled to Lyon for the sake of his master, the Duke of Brabant, the lord of Rotselaar gave news from Charles VII’s court. His letter, dated from April 22th, 1429, mentions that a young woman swore to liberate OrlĂ©ans, but that she will be injured during the battle. The attack of the bastille des Tourelles happened two weeks after this letter was sent and Joan is indeed struck by a range weapon in the morning, right in the shoulder. Her prediction is also stated in other sources. To this day the historians remain fascinated.

Joan, once injured, cries. However, she refuses to be healed through witchcraft. She takes the arrow out of her shoulder herself, with nothing else than olive oil and a piece of cloth to ease her pain. She goes back to battle. As the evening drops, the day seems lost but she carries on. “Fear not, the place is ours!” she shouts as she sees her banner close to the fortress walls, pointing out to everybody where to strike. The French muster their morale, dive once more into the breach and eventually conquers the Tourelles in a last assault that will become unforgettable.

The night proceeds with careful celebrations as Talbot hasn’t left yet. However, no artillery fired into the night sky. Canons shot at the start of a siege. The bells rang, from all over the city. Gathered in churches, the people of OrlĂ©ans and their defenders sang the Te Deum Laudamus that Joan had had the French army sing when they left Blois. It wasn’t Joan who was celebrated, but God.

Close your eyes, picture the cathedral of Orléans and transport yourself back to 1429. Your own mind remains the best time travelling machine.

Top 3 overlooked facts

The very last assault on the Tourelles gave place to great moments which are worth remembering.

The Loire Bridge had been partly destroyed. Seeing that the fight reached no conclusion, the people of Orléans decided to help out their allies. They threw planks across the long narrow bridge. The first one to come forth was a Knight Hospitaller, Nicolas de Giresme. His crossing was perceived as a miracle.

The English captains, however, were not so lucky
 The drawbridge of the Tourelles collapses under their very feet and they all drown in the Loire. According to an Italian merchant relating the events of the siege, the drawbridge collapsed because of a demolition ship prepped on Joan of Arc’s orders, then moved forward at the most strategic moment!

Silent and deadly.

Finally, as the English withdrawn from their strongholds, a war prisoner, the bastard of Bar, managed to escape his jailers in a way nothing short of fabulous. He gets the personal priest and confessor of John Talbot to carry him to Orléans! Not only does he come back to reinforce his friends, but he also hands them a very valuable informant.

Historians still debate today on Joan’s real impact over the commandment of the French army. It is rather excluded that she ever held any official title or ordered the troops herself, even if the most daring historians have argued that he left a “legacy”. She feared no danger, she was pro-active on the battlefield, she never backed down from a fight. In that, however, she was La Hire’s perfect pupil, minus the wisdom and experience. Nevertheless, without her, it is undisputable that the Tourelles wouldn’t have been conquered the day they were and the siege of OrlĂ©ans could have dragged on more.

The English were already in a pickle. Their alliance with the Burgundians was in tatters and the earl of Salisbury, their military genius, was dead during the first days of the siege of Orléans. The town, meanwhile, was defended by the best and bravest, the cream of the French army. La Hire, Poton de Xaintrailles, their brothers and their friends were all there. They had no pompous title but they counted among the most professional soldiers in France at the time.

Joan of Arc only put more oil on a fire the fire and the tide was already turning against the English. Yet it takes nothing away from her bravery, her valor and her charm, that History consecrated forever.

More About Joan:

Long Reads

“La Pucelle d’OrlĂ©ans” – Soluce et commentaire

Do you wish to read this blog post in English?

Age of Empires 2 m’a fait tombĂ© amoureux de Jeanne d’Arc. Il s’agit d’un amour dont je n’ai jamais guĂ©ri. Comme le dit Ovide : « Quod nullis amor est sanabilis herbis Â». Il n’existe aucun remĂšde Ă  l’amour.

Tower. Beaurevoir. Joan of Arc. John of Luxembourg.
Tower of Beaurevoir © Stéphane Bloch, 19/07/2013

Une fois entrĂ© Ă  l’universitĂ©, j’ai redĂ©couvert Jeanne d’Arc Ă  la lumiĂšre de mes Ă©tudes. Elle m’apparaissait dĂ©sormais au travers des recherches historiques et des sources d’époque. J’ai entendu sa voix en lisant son procĂšs. J’ai perçu sa fiĂšre allure Ă  la lecture des chroniques. Ensuite j’ai visitĂ© la Picardie et j’ai dĂ©couvert des endroits oĂč elle s’était rendue. J’ai marchĂ© au pied de la tour, Ă  Beaurevoir, dont elle aurait sautĂ© pour tenter de se sauver des Anglais.

Dans les paragraphes qui suivent, je vais dĂ©monter piĂšce par piĂšce le scĂ©nario du siĂšge d’OrlĂ©ans dans Age of Empires 2. NĂ©anmoins, il s’agit bien d’une lettre d’amour. Age of Empires 2 est un jeu fantastique pour dĂ©couvrir le Moyen Âge et s’intĂ©resser Ă  son histoire. Il y a beaucoup Ă  redire sur les scĂ©narios et l’encyclopĂ©die du jeu, mais ce n’est que pour le mieux.

Tower. Beaurevoir. Joan of Arc. John of Luxembourg.
Tower of Beaurevoir, from afar © Stéphane Bloch, 19/07/2013

Intro

26 mars, Chinon

Remettre toute sa confiance en une jeune fille, pour une bande de soldats abattus, ce n’est pas rien. Mais pour cette jeune fille, se retrouver Ă  la tĂȘte de l’armĂ©e de toute une nation, c’est bien autre chose.

Nous Ă©tions gonflĂ©s d’orgueil quand nous avons entendu les hĂ©rauts du Dauphin dĂ©clarer Jeanne la Pucelle, Chef de l’ArmĂ©e de France.

Pour que Jeanne ait l’allure d’un gĂ©nĂ©ral, le Dauphin lui a offert un cheval de bataille et une armure blanche.

Jeanne m’a chargĂ© d’aller chercher une ancienne Ă©pĂ©e sous l’autel d’une Ă©glise.

J’étais sceptique et pourtant non seulement les hommes ont dĂ©terrĂ© un fer rouillĂ© mais nous avons dĂ©couvert que cette Ă©pĂ©e avait appartenu Ă  Charlemagne, le pĂšre de la France. Je ne douterai plus jamais de ses paroles. La fleur de lys se voyait encore sur la poignĂ©e.

Jeanne a adoptĂ© la fleur de lys comme symbole, qu’elle a fait reprĂ©senter sur son Ă©tendard de bataille. Partout oĂč Jeanne allait, son Ă©tendard la suivait. Et il nous a accompagnĂ© jusqu’à OrlĂ©ans.

La ville d’OrlĂ©ans est l’une des plus belles villes de France mais elle est assiĂ©gĂ©e par nos ennemis, l’Angleterre et la Bourgogne et elle est sur le point de succomber.

Cette guerre dure depuis cent ans avec de rares victoires françaises. Le peuple d’OrlĂ©ans a besoin d’un sauveur. Ils auront Jeanne d’Arc.

Illuminated Manuscript. Brussels, KBR, ms. 9392. Christine de Pisan. Loyset Liedet. Jean Miélot. Pentesilea. Queen of the Amazons. Women in Armours.
Pentesilea, Queen of the Amazons, leading the charge – Bruxelles, KBR, ms. 9392, f. 18v

Commentaire

Ce texte est magnifique et il nous investit de façon trĂšs Ă©motionnelle dans les aventures de Jeanne. Toutefois, il est parsemĂ© d’erreurs


Si les frĂšres de Jeanne d’Arc ont Ă©tĂ© anoblis aprĂšs la victoire d’OrlĂ©ans, elle-mĂȘme ne reçut jamais le moindre titre officiel au sein de l’armĂ©e du roi. Le « chef de l’armĂ©e de France Â» Ă©tait le connĂ©table, et ce titre appartenait en 1429 Ă  Arthur de Bretagne, comte de Richemont. Il s’agissait d’un titre dĂ©tenu Ă  vie, et si le connĂ©table de Richemont Ă©tait en disgrĂące en raison de ses partis-pris et de ses actions politiques, il disposait toujours de son titre. En dessous du connĂ©table se trouvaient les marĂ©chaux, et ces fonctions Ă©taient Ă©galement occupĂ©es.

La cĂ©lĂšbre Ă©pĂ©e de Jeanne d’Arc, dĂ©jĂ  cĂ©lĂšbre de son vivant, n’avait pas appartenu Ă  Charlemagne. Ici, les auteurs du scĂ©nario commettent plusieurs erreurs. Tout d’abord, il eut Ă©tĂ© impossible qu’une Ă©pĂ©e ayant appartenu Ă  Charlemagne fĂ»t ornĂ©e d’une fleur de lys. Le principe des armoiries ne vit le jour qu’au XIIe siĂšcle. Ce n’est pas avant cette Ă©poque que les rois de France adoptĂšrent la fleur de lys comme emblĂšme. Ensuite, l’épĂ©e fut tout simplement prise Ă  l’église de Sainte-Catherine-de-Fierbois, oĂč Jeanne se rendit en pĂšlerinage et priĂšre avant d’atteindre Chinon. Plusieurs Ă©pĂ©es y avaient Ă©tĂ© laissĂ©es en ex-voto et l’une d’entre elle attira certainement l’intĂ©rĂȘt de Jeanne, mais il ne faut pas croire que l’épĂ©e fut trouvĂ©e par miracle.

Enfin, quand Jeanne arriva Ă  OrlĂ©ans, les Bourguignons n’assiĂ©geaient plus la ville. Suite Ă  une manƓuvre diplomatique aussi rusĂ©e que risquĂ©e, Poton de Xaintrailles, le frĂšre d’armes de La Hire, offrit d’ouvrir les portes de la ville au duc de Bourgogne si ce dernier acceptait d’en assurer la protection. Rien n’aurait fait plus plaisir Ă  Philippe le Bon, mais cette Ă©ventualitĂ© fĂącha le duc de Bedford, rĂ©gent de France. Les deux hommes n’étaient plus en trĂšs bons termes depuis le dĂ©cĂšs d’Anne de Bourgogne, Ă©pouse de Bedford et sƓur de Philippe le Bon. Ce dernier dĂ©cida donc de lever le siĂšge et de laisser les Anglais seuls devant OrlĂ©ans


1.1. La carte du jeu

Age of Empires 2 (1999). Joan of Arc's Campaign. Scenario 2: The Maid of Orléans
Age of Empires 2 (1999). Joan of Arc’s Campaign. Scenario 2: The Maid of OrlĂ©ans

Telle qu’est prĂ©sentĂ©e la carte du second scĂ©nario de Jeanne d’Arc, on trouve tout d’abord trois villes françaises : Chinon et Blois, au sud de la Loire, contrĂŽlĂ©es par l’intelligence artificielle, et OrlĂ©ans, au nord de la Loire, dont le joueur prend le contrĂŽle dĂšs qu’il y parvient.

OrlĂ©ans est menacĂ©e par quatre forteresses britanniques. Les deux forteresses au nord produisent des fantassins Ă  Ă©pĂ©e longue, d’autres fantassins Ă  arc longs et des mangonneaux, tandis que les deux forteresses au sud produisent des bĂ©liers et des chevaliers.

Enfin, les Bourguignons participent encore au siĂšge, mĂȘme si cela constitue une erreur historique. Ils menacent notamment OrlĂ©ans avec leurs piquiers et d’autres types d’unitĂ©s.

Compte tenu que ces unitĂ©s viendront assaillir le joueur continuellement, il devra se parer d’unitĂ©s de plusieurs types pour contrer l’intelligence artificielle de façon efficace. Or, avec une population maximale bloquĂ©e Ă  75 unitĂ©s, cela pourra s’avĂ©rer difficile Ă  accomplir tout en maintenant une Ă©conomie stable et bien Ă©quilibrĂ©e


En outre, le joueur peut rencontrer quelques dangers sur la route, entre Chinon et Blois, notamment, mais surtout Ă  l’entrĂ©e du pont de la Loire, oĂč une troupe bourguignonne importante l’attend au pied d’une vilaine tour.

1.2. Orléans encerclée

Map. Orléans. 1428, 1429. Joan of Arc. Jollois. Harttweig
Plan de la ville et du siĂšge d’OrlĂ©ans en 1428. Jollois restituit ; Harttweig sculpsit

Comme nous l’avons dĂ©jĂ  prĂ©cisĂ©, les Bourguignons n’étaient plus prĂ©sents au siĂšge d’OrlĂ©ans quand Jeanne d’Arc vint au secours de la ville. En revanche, OrlĂ©ans Ă©tait encerclĂ©e par un vĂ©ritable chapelet de forteresses et de bastilles occupĂ©es par les Anglais. Sur la rive droite, Ă  l’Ouest d’OrlĂ©ans, les bastilles Ă©taient d’ailleurs gouvernĂ©es par Jean Talbot en personne, un chevalier de l’ordre de la JarretiĂšre qui donnait bien du fil Ă  retordre aux Français depuis son arrivĂ©e sur le continent. Les Anglais disposaient encore d’une ou l’autre bastille Ă  l’est, mais ils bloquaient principalement le pont de la Loire en occupant la bastille des Tourelles, directement au sud d’OrlĂ©ans. Pour cette raison, les habitants de la ville avaient sabotĂ© le fameux pont et il Ă©tait en vĂ©ritĂ© infranchissable, ce qui n’est pas reflĂ©tĂ© dans le scĂ©nario d’Age of Empires 2.

Pour se dĂ©fendre, OrlĂ©ans disposait de puissantes murailles, garnies d’une trentaine de tours. Les faubourgs de la ville, de surcroĂźt, avaient Ă©tĂ© bardĂ©s de barricades pour entraver l’accĂšs Ă  la ville aux Anglais. Les Ă©glises pouvaient Ă©galement servir de lieux fortifiĂ©s. Toutefois, OrlĂ©ans se trouvait peu Ă  peu asphyxiĂ©e et le besoin de ravitaillement se faisait chaque jour plus urgent.

2.1. Les étapes du scénario

Le second scĂ©nario de la campagne de Jeanne d’Arc nous rĂ©serve quelques petites surprises, mais il se joue de façon assez linĂ©aire. Le duc d’Alençon rencontre Jeanne dĂšs les premiĂšres secondes de la partie et s’avance vers elle, sur son magnifique destrier. « Je suis le duc d’Alençon, Madame. Je serais fier de vous accompagner jusqu’à OrlĂ©ans. Â»

De lĂ , Jeanne, Alençon et la petite troupe quitte Chinon, dans le coin infĂ©rieur de la carte, pour se rendre Ă  Blois, au Nord-Ouest. Une petite embuscade attend le joueur sur la route, mais quand il parvient Ă  Blois, le joueur obtient un grand nombre de chevaliers et plusieurs charrettes de ravitaillements, qu’il doit escorter jusqu’au Forum d’OrlĂ©ans, au Nord de la Loire.

Map. Orléans. 1429. Bridge. Loire. Jollois.
Plan de l’ancien Pont d’OrlĂ©ans et de ses abords avec ses bastilles et boulevards, le fort des Tournelles et la bastille des Augustins. Jollois restituit

En sortant de Blois, le joueur peut suivre le chemin de terre, mais il tombera alors sur une troupe bourguignonne, et passer le pont de la Loire relĂšvera d’un vĂ©ritable dĂ©fi. S’il explore les berges du fleuve, en revanche, le joueur pourra trouver quelques embarcations qui lui permettront de franchir l’eau sans ĂȘtre ennuyĂ©, et de parvenir indemne Ă  OrlĂ©ans.

DĂšs que le joueur entre dans OrlĂ©ans par le Sud (s’il a traversĂ© le pont) ou le Sud-Ouest (s’il a empruntĂ© les embarcations), il prend possession de la ville et sa mission principale devient d’en dĂ©fendre la cathĂ©drale des assauts britanniques et bourguignons. Afin de gagner la partie, il doit abattre au moins un chĂąteau anglais, maintenir la cathĂ©drale debout et s’assurer que Jeanne reste en vie.

CathĂ©drale d’OrlĂ©ans, vue depuis les toits de la ville.

La mĂ©thode la plus facile consiste Ă  passer Ă  l’Âge des ChĂąteaux sitĂŽt que les charrettes de ravitaillement parviennent au Forum d’OrlĂ©ans. Ensuite, il suffit de repasser la Loire avec quelques villageois et de construire un Atelier de SiĂšge Ă  proximitĂ© de la forteresse anglaise la plus au Sud de la carte. Quelques bĂ©liers suffisent pour percer une faille dans les remparts et dĂ©molir le chĂąteau qui s’y cache et terminer le scĂ©nario endĂ©ans les quinze minutes, montre en main. Il n’est pas mĂȘme nĂ©cessaire d’amener les chevaliers trouvĂ© Ă  Blois jusqu’à OrlĂ©ans, ils peuvent s’engouffrer dans la forteresse anglaise dĂšs qu’une brĂšche est faite et aider Ă  dĂ©truire le chĂąteau ennemi, qui ne dispose pas de la technologie « meurtriĂšres Â» pour se dĂ©fendre.

2.2. La véritable histoire

Map. Orléans. 1429. Joan of Arc. Boucher de Molandon. EugÚne Moreau.
“OrlĂ©ans, la Loire et ses Ăźles lors du siĂšge de 1429. PremiĂšre expĂ©dition de Jeanne d’Arc : ravitaillement d’OrlĂ©ans”

Tout d’abord, le Duc d’Alençon n’a rien Ă  faire dans ce scĂ©nario. Il n’intervient que plus tard dans la saga de Jeanne d’Arc, notamment au siĂšge de Paris. Le vĂ©ritable personnage historique ayant supervisĂ© les opĂ©rations militaires du cĂŽtĂ© français, lors du siĂšge d’OrlĂ©ans, Ă©tait Jean Dunois, le bĂątard d’OrlĂ©ans. Il y avait Ă©galement La Hire, que le joueur d’Age of Empires 2 ne rencontre qu’à la mission suivante.

En rĂ©sumĂ©, l’armĂ©e française dirigĂ©e par le marĂ©chal de Boussac, en compagnie La Hire, Jeanne d’Arc et un convoi de ravitaillements, voyagent depuis Blois jusqu’à OrlĂ©ans. Afin d’atteindre la ville assiĂ©gĂ©e, ils dĂ©cident de la contourner par l’est et de traverser la Loire Ă  l’aide de navires de transports. Le bĂątard d’OrlĂ©ans attend le convoi de pied ferme pour superviser la traversĂ©e.

Dunois (le bĂątard d’OrlĂ©ans) et saint Jean l’apĂŽtre observant le Jugement Dernier ~ London, BL, Yale Thompson MS 3, f. 32v.

Quand elle rencontre Jean Dunois, Jeanne d’Arc est Ă©nervĂ©e. Elle demande pourquoi ils ne franchissent pas la Loire Ă  l’Ouest, oĂč les Anglais se sont le plus lourdement fortifiĂ©s, lĂ  oĂč se trouve leur commandant Jean Talbot. Jean Dunois est Ă©patĂ© par l’audace de la jeune femme. Elle lui rĂ©torque que le conseil de Dieu, qu’elle reçoit, est certainement meilleur que le sien. Jusque-lĂ , le vent empĂȘchait la traversĂ©e du fleuve. Quand Jeanne finit de parler, il tourna. Des annĂ©es plus tard, le bĂątard d’OrlĂ©ans interprĂ©tera ce moment comme un « droit miracle Â».

Le marĂ©chal de Boussac et l’armĂ©e française, toutefois, tournent les talons et retournent Ă  Blois. Jeanne d’Arc, La Hire et les ravitaillements franchissent la Loire. Ils se reposent briĂšvement avec Jean Dunois Ă  Reuilly, puis font route vers OrlĂ©ans. Les Anglais en garnison Ă  la bastille de Saint-Loup tentent une sortie pour attaquer le convoi, mais sont distraits par des troupes qui jaillissent en renfort d’OrlĂ©ans. Jeanne et les ravitaillements arrivent intacts dans la ville, pour le plus grand bonheur des habitants. L’un d’entre eux s’approchent si prĂšs de Jeanne pour l’observer qu’il met feu Ă  sa manche avec une torche, mais la catastrophe est Ă©cartĂ©e.

Loin de diriger les opĂ©rations, Jeanne est maintenue dans le noir. Rien ne lui est communiquĂ©, le bĂątard d’OrlĂ©ans et les capitaines fidĂšles Ă  la cause des Valois discutent de stratĂ©gie sans elle. Quand elle se rĂ©veille d’une sieste, elle dit avoir rĂȘvĂ© que le sang français Ă©tait versĂ©. Elle se pare de son armure et galope Ă  tout rompre hors d’OrlĂ©ans. Elle rejoint en vitesse les troupes françaises qui assaillent la bastille de Saint-Loup, et celle-ci est prise.

La bastille des Augustins tombe ensuite, puis la prochaine bastille attaquĂ©e est celle des Tourelles, de l’autre cĂŽtĂ© du pont de la Loire. Pendant toute la journĂ©e, les troupes françaises ne parviennent pas Ă  s’emparer de la place. NĂ©anmoins, grĂące aux ultimes encouragements de Jeanne, les Français reprennent courage et conquiĂšrent la bastille. La voie est libre pour l’armĂ©e française de venir depuis Blois sans entrave jusqu’à OrlĂ©ans. Jean Talbot est contraint de plier bagages et il Ă©vacue les forteresses campĂ©es autour de la ville assiĂ©gĂ©e.

La libération de la Loire peut enfin commencer.

Outro

Jeanne a prĂ©dit qu’elle serait blessĂ©e Ă  OrlĂ©ans. Au point culminant de la bataille, un carreau d’arbalĂšte l’a frappĂ©e, la faisant tomber de son cheval. Nous ne pouvions croire Ă  notre malchance.

Mais tandis que nous transportions Jeanne Ă  l’écart du carnage, nous avions remportĂ© la bataille. OrlĂ©ans Ă©tait libĂ©rĂ©e.

Quand nous sommes entrĂ©s dans la ville, la population tout entiĂšre nous acclamait des fenĂȘtres, sur les toits et dans les rues.

Ils ont tirĂ© des coups de canon dans la nuit et criĂ© Ă  tue-tĂȘte le surnom de Jeanne : ‘La Pucelle’ – La Pucelle d’OrlĂ©ans.

Commentaire

Jeanne d’Arc a bel et bien bien prĂ©dit sa blessure. Tandis qu’il est en voyage Ă  Lyon pour son seigneur, le duc de Brabant, le sire de Rotselaar donne des nouvelles de la cour de Charles VII. Sa lettre, datĂ©e du 22 avril 1429, mentionne qu’une jeune femme a promis de libĂ©rer OrlĂ©ans, mais qu’elle serait blessĂ©e durant les combats. L’attaque de la bastille des Tourelles se joue deux semaines aprĂšs l’envoi de cette lettre, et durant l’assaut, Jeanne est en effet frappĂ©e au matin d’un projectile dans l’épaule. Sa prĂ©diction est relatĂ©e par d’autres sources. Les historiens en sont encore Ă©tonnĂ©s aujourd’hui.

Jeanne, blessĂ©e, pleure. Mais elle refuse d’ĂȘtre soignĂ©e Ă  l’aide de « sortilĂšges Â». Elle retire elle-mĂȘme la flĂšche de son Ă©paule, n’ayant rien d’autre pour soulager sa peine qu’un bout de tissu et de de l’huile d’olive. Elle retourne aussitĂŽt au combat. Au soir, la journĂ©e semble perdue, mais elle insiste. Â« Ne craignez pas, la place est nĂŽtre ! Â» s’écrie Jeanne quand elle voit son Ă©tendard prĂšs des murs de la bastille, et indique que c’est lĂ  qu’il faut attaquer. Les Français reprennent courage et conquiĂšrent enfin les Tourelles, dans un ultime assaut qui gravera toutes les mĂ©moires.

Le soir se prĂȘte aux cĂ©lĂ©brations, mais il n’y a pas de coups de canons tirĂ©s dans la nuit. Le canon Ă©tait tirĂ© pour marquer le dĂ©but officiel d’un siĂšge. Les cloches de la ville, en revanche, sonnĂšrent toutes de concert. Recueillis dans les Ă©glises, les habitants d’OrlĂ©ans et leurs dĂ©fenseurs chantĂšrent le Te Deum Laudamus, que Jeanne avait fait chanter Ă  l’armĂ©e française au dĂ©part de Blois. Ce n’était pas Jeanne, mais Dieu, que l’on remerciait pour la victoire.

Fermez les yeux et imaginez vous à Orléans, au soir de la victoire, par la magie intemporelle de la musique et des chants grégoriens.

 Trois anecdotes truculentes du siĂšge

L’ultime assaut de la bastille des Tourelles donna lieu Ă  de grands moments, qui mĂ©ritent d’ĂȘtre remĂ©morĂ©s.

Le pont de la Loire avait Ă©tĂ© dĂ©truit, mais voyant que le combat s’éternise, les habitants d’OrlĂ©ans dĂ©cident de venir en aide Ă  leurs alliĂ©s. Ils jettent des planches en bois au travers du pont. Le premier Ă  oser s’avancer sur ces constructions de fortune est un chevalier de l’ordre de l’HĂŽpital de Saint-Jean de JĂ©rusalem, Nicolas de Giresme. Alors qu’il franchit le pont sans que la planche ne cĂšde sous lui, on crie au miracle.

Les capitaines anglais dans la bastille des Tourelles, en revanche, voient le pont levis s’écrouler sous eux et se noient dans la Loire. D’aprĂšs un marchand italien, cela tient d’un navire de dĂ©molition, prĂ©parĂ© par Jeanne d’Arc, et avancĂ© sous le pont au moment le plus fatidique.

Enfin, alors que les Anglais Ă©vacuent leurs bastilles, un prisonnier de guerre, le bĂątard de Bar, parvient Ă  s’échapper de la façon la plus originale du monde. Il se fait porter par le prĂȘtre-confesseur de Jean Talbot en personne jusqu’à OrlĂ©ans ! Non seulement vient-il renforcer ses amis, mais il leur apporte un informateur de rĂȘve.

Les historiens dĂ©battent encore aujourd’hui pour dĂ©terminer l’impact rĂ©el de Jeanne sur le commandement de l’armĂ©e française. S’il est dĂ©sormais exclu qu’elle ait dirigĂ© elle-mĂȘme les troupes, les plus audacieux prĂ©tendent qu’elle a laissĂ© derriĂšre elle un « hĂ©ritage Â». Elle allait au-devant du danger et ne reculait devant rien. En cela, toutefois, elle Ă©tait une parfaite Ă©lĂšve de La Hire, la sagesse et l’expĂ©rience en moins. Pourtant, sans elle, il est indĂ©niable que les Tourelles n’auraient pas Ă©tĂ© conquises et que le siĂšge d’OrlĂ©ans aurait pu s’enliser davantage.

Les Anglais Ă©taient en mauvaise posture. Leur alliance avec les Bourguignons fondait comme neige au soleil et le comte de Salisbury, leur gĂ©nie militaire, Ă©tait mort aux premiĂšres heures du siĂšge d’OrlĂ©ans. La ville, en revanche, Ă©tait dĂ©fendue par les capitaines d’armĂ©es les plus retords et les plus braves de l’armĂ©e française. La Hire, Poton de Xaintrailles, leurs frĂšres et leurs amis, ils Ă©taient tous lĂ . Ils n’avaient aucun titre pompeux, mais ils Ă©taient de vĂ©ritables professionnels de la guerre.

Jeanne d’Arc ne jeta jamais que de l’huile sur le feu, alors que les braises Ă©taient encore chaudes et que le vent avait dĂ©jĂ  commencĂ© Ă  tourner. Cela ne retire nĂ©anmoins rien Ă  son courage, Ă  sa vaillance et Ă  son charme, consacrĂ©s Ă  jamais par l’histoire.

Age of Empires 2, AoE2 Campaigns

Joan of Arc in AoE2: Quick Words

What follows is my reaction to an AskHistorian Reddit thread that states the following:

All of us here, questioner and answerer, are inspired by portrayals of history in popular media, like games, film and tv. The recent release of the HBO Chernobyl mini-series is a great example – we had a sudden rush of interest in the history of the disaster. […] This week, we will look at the Age of Empires game series, from the first to the third and all of their expansions, which cover the ancient world, the medieval era and the ‘age of discovery’ period, and are set in various locations across Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas.

Foreword

I, for once, cannot shy away from that one. I’ve started a Twitch channel for the sole purpose to provide historical commentaries on Age of Empires—even though not very succesfully audience wise. Here is a highlight I saved from a former stream where I go on reading the in-game encyclopedia on the « Knights Â» entry and ramble about it. At first I went on to play Joan of Arc’s campaign and provided commentaries as I advanced in the scenario. That’s on YouTube now, even though I couldn’t make it into a series, along with a few short clips about Vikings [#1, #2, #3, #4, #5]. My latest and probably cleanest video edit is probably the short historical analysis I did on the Battle of CrĂ©cy, whilst comparing the longbowmen to the genoese crossbowmen units from Age of Empires 2. It’s only me working on it though, with my poor video edit skills, my full time night job and my social life to juggle altogether #CaptatioBenevolentia. It all started with a top facts on Joan of Arc I wrote on the AoEZone website (and also on Reddit, adding some corrections), in their kinda dead history forum. I’d love to finish a clean and well cut video edit on Joan of Arc’s campaign and provide something better than what Spirit of the Law is producing out of Wikipedia. I mean, I read the chronicles, the trials, the most recent books on the topic. So there it is, my short historical overview of the first scenario of Joan of Arc’s campaign (I won’t have the time to write about them all in one single go, maybe I’ll post one scenario a day since this is going on all week).

Here’s The Viper playthrouhg of Joan’s first AoE2 scenario. Respec’ to the Master. However… just watch that awful map for a second…

The Map of France

Now, the map that we see when we start the campaign is just plain awful, as I’ve complained several times. It basically shows the borders of France today, along with the borders of Switzerland (that becomes Burgundy!?), Belgium and the Netherlands. On that one, I’m sorry, but we can only give an F to Microsoft. One very pretty map that displays the border of France during the time of Joan of Arc is the one drawn by Auguste Longnon in the 19th century. I actually challenged u/Brother_Judas to provide his fresh take on it and he’s at it! It’s going to be beautiful. I can already tell.

I mean… just look how beautifully detailed Longnon’s map is!

An Unlikely Messiah

From the Journal of Guy Josselyne

“February 19, Army Camp near Vaucouleurs”    

“This morning I awoke to visions of fire and steel. These nightmares come more often now that I have seen my beloved France eaten away in years of war.”

“I wandered through camp ignoring the new snowfall, but observing the wounds and weariness of every soldier under my command, observing the desperation in their eyes.”    

“It was then that I first saw the girl. She told us that her name was Joan. She told us she was but a peasant, who did not know how to ride or fight. She told us that she intended to rescue France. The darkness lifted from the men’s souls. ” 

“Her voice rang with conviction, and we drank in her every word. I may have lost my faith, but Joan has not lost hers, and that is enough for me.”    

“Joan has asked our ragged band of soldiers to take her to Chinon, where the rightful ruler of France, the Dauphin, hides from his foes.”    

“The war-torn land between is infested with enemy marauders, and we will lose many men.  Death is by now an old companion, but for Joan, we will face it again.”

Paris, BnF, français 5054. Martial d'Auvergne. Vigiles de la mort de Charles VII. Joan of Arc. Jeanne d'Arc. Chinon. Vaucouleurs. Illuminated manuscript.
Joan of Arc goes to Chinon to meet Charles VII – Paris, BnF, fr. 5054, f. 55v

“As Joan’s footsteps echoed down the marbled hall of the chĂąteau, the fat and whispering dukes did naught but stare.”

“The Dauphin himself seemed afraid as she kissed his feet. ‘My gentle Dauphin,’ she demanded, ‘why does England claim what is ours? Why are you not crowned King of France as is your right?'”    

“The courtiers began to murmur. The chamberlain whispered lies into the Dauphin’s ear.”    

“But the Dauphin pushed the chamberlain away and rose to meet Joan’s gaze.”    

“She stands only to the shoulder of the shortest man, but all of us must look up to speak to her.”    

“I know not what silent conversation passed between the Dauphin and his would-be savior, but it was obvious that his majesty was in the same thrall as we.”    

Ideology versus reality

What we see in the scenario introduction is nothing short of a build up to depict Joan as a national hero. Well
 The young girl was certainly pretty religious, but she had no idea of what a “nation” was in regard of our current understanding of the concept. She saw that the king had not been anointed in Reims, as was the tradition dating back from the Carolingian kings, and she maybe thought of it as the supernatural cause at the source of the wars that were afflicting the French people. I say “wars” because the Hundred Years War was in fact not one single big conflict between two nations, but the many push backs from the French nobility (including the king of England, who was a French nobleman) against the raising authority of their king through the slow building of an actual administrative state, which eventually lead, long term, to the administrative monarchy that ruled Louis XIV. Among the many concerns of the French nobility was the ability to raise their own troops. The king managed to deny them that right when he finally introduced the “Compagnies d’Ordonnances”, the first permanent and professional army in Europe since the Roman times. It brought the end of the Feudal system as we know it, where the suzerain called on his vassals. From then on, the king could rely on a constant military support, but it needed massive tax reforms and he really struggled to pass them on. Many of the noblemen that fought alongside Joan of Arc to “liberate France”, such as the Duke of Alençon, actually turned against Charles VII when the Companies d’Ordonnances were instated. That historical episode was called “the Praguerie” and it happened before the final battle of Castillon, which is portrayed as the final chapter of Joan’s campaing in AoE2.

Paris, BnF, français 5054. Martial d'Auvergne. Vigiles de la mort de Charles VII. Joan of Arc. Jeanne d'Arc. Rouen. Illuminated manuscript.
Joan of Arc being burned as a heretic at Rouen – Paris, BnF, fr. 5054, f. 71r

Basic nitpicking

  • Basically, everything was much more complicated than what AoE2 makes us believe. Also, Joan’s travel from Vaucouleurs to Chinon was not a commando mission. Jean de Metz didn’t like that Joan would stop in every church to attend mass, because he wanted to be discreet about their journey (they also travelled a lot at night), but they didn’t have to force their way through a Burgundian settlement as the scenario suggests.
  • About the scenario introduction, yet again: Paris is misspelled “Pairs”. Also, the game map fused the Seine and the Loire together into one single river.
  • As we start the game, we witness a battle where the French are literally crushed and overpowered by an English army. The problem that the French faced however was not that they didn’t have enough military to counter the English. At that time (from 1410 to 1440), they were poorly organized and divided between opposing factions that couldn’t play well together. The Duke of Burgundy refused to attend the battle of Agincourt, the Duke of Bourbon only sought his own personal glory, the Count of Richemont showed poor political skills when he drowned the king’s favorite courtier, etc. The French army was more than able to push back the English forces, as Charles V demonstrated during his rule with his attrition strategy. It just lacked a proper hierarchy up until the Compagnies d’Ordonnances were put into play.
  • Oh, and by the way, Joan could ride a horse! She wore a red dress when she arrived in Vaucouleurs and was given men’s clothes to go on her journey at the request of Jean de Metz. He stated so himself during Joan’s second trial. #JustRanting
  • Now, it is true that Joan called Charles VII “mon gentil Dauphin” (meaning “my noble Dauphin”). However, Charles VII was already king! He was not the heir to the throne, but the dude on the throne. He only hadn’t been anointed yet. Henry VI of England, who claimed to be Henry II of France and who was Charles VII’s nephew, hadn’t been anointed either. He would nonetheless be anointed in Paris in 1431, as a political answer to Charles VII 1429 ceremony in Reims. So France had two kings just as Christendom, around those very years, had two popes. The question was only who could actually wield the power since both Charles VII and Henry II had very strong legal claims to the crown. Meanwhile, Charles VII and Henry II held different parts of the royal demesne and they offered different political “programs” so to speak. Allied to the Burgundians, the Lancastrian pretenders maintained more traditional and conservative views, whereas the Valois mustered for a better centralization of the unruly state.
Henry VI of England being crowned as Henry II of France by the Cardinal of Winchester… in Paris (1431) ~ Paris, BnF, fr. 5054, f. 76

Needless is to say that Joan of Arc’s AoE2 campaign is what actually gave me my love for History. This campaign is emotionally very important to me and I can’t stress enough how much I love it. Even though I could tear down every single thing from the campaign, from the scenario intros and outros to the gameplay, I freaking love it and would recommend anyone to play it. The only reason I made my master thesis on La Hire is because of that freaking campaign.

By the way, spoiler alert
 La Hire was dead in 1453 when the Battle of Castillon took place. So when I replayed that last scenario I actually shed a tear as I found him virtually still alive and kicking, thirsting for blood. He died in 1443 during a military campaign the king lead in the Southern part of France. He was dearly missed by Charles VII himself, as Monstrelet writes in his chronicle. Just as much as Bertrand Du Guesclin and Arnauld-Guilhelm de Barbazan before him, Étienne de Vignolles, La Hire, was nothing short of a hero. He became the Jack of Heart in the traditional French card game.

The blood on La Hire’s sword is almost dry.

Top 7 Facts of Joan of Arc’s Journey to Chinon

7. Joan was very religious. Her quest was more of a spiritual one than a patriotic one. The idea of a “French nation” as we define it today was quite foreign to her.

6. Joan asked to stop in many churches to attend mass. Jean de Metz proved quite reluctant since he prefered to travel unnoticed by Burgundians forces.

5. When she left Vaucouleurs, Joan was dressed as a man (because men’s clothes were more fit for travel) and riding a horse. She was not the average “sheperd girl” but she came from a well off family.

4. Before leaving Vaucouleurs, Joan was invited by the Duke of Lorraine, Charles II, to meet him. He was feeling ill and wondered if she could cure him. She only told him to stop cheating on his wife and asked for his ten years old son-in-law to be, RenĂ© d’Anjou, who belonged to the highest nobility, to escort her to Chinon. Her request was declined.

3. As she left her native village of DomrĂ©my, Joan lied to her parents. She told them she was going to help her cousin to deliver her child but she then asked her cousin’s husband to lead her to Vaucouleurs. That “white lie” would later cost her dearly during her trial in Rouen…

2. As Jean de Metz slept next to Joan several times on their way to Chinon, he never felt any desire for her. He had too much esteem for her as he would later testify on Joan’s second trial, held by Charles VII to clear her name of heresy.

1. Once she’d arrived in Chinon, Joan was then examined in Poitiers by theologians regarding the validity of her spiritual claims. Prior to that Yolande of Aragon also insured she was still a virgin and that is why she was later called the “Pucelle” (french word meaning virgin).

See Joan’s itinirary (picture it without the modern day highways ^^): click here.