Short Reads

Joan of Arc’s Charisma

Wild Reddit Question Appears!

Why did anyone take Joan of Arc seriously?

She was a teenage girl saying she had a holy vision, not of noble heritage. How did she end up leading an army? Why was she taken seriously?

>>> Original post on Ask Historians

My Answer

I feel that there is a lot to unpack in this question. I’ll do my best to untangle the many webs intertwined here and weave them as clearly as I can in a nice little pattern 🙂

The Question of Joan’s Heritage

You mention that “[Joan was] not of noble heritage.” You’re perfectly right! She was a proper nobody. Now, believe it or not but it posed troubles to many pseudo-historians and conspiracy theorists. They couldn’t believe that Joan, having achieved what she achieved, wasn’t somehow of noble blood. They even came up with the crazy theory that Joan was of royal blood! I’ve already pinpointed the fallacies at the basis of that theory and I invite you to read it if you find the time 😉 It’s basically a Shakespearian fiction turned into a historical phony hypothesis. The fact is that Joan didn’t accomplish so much on her own for that matter. A lot of people were talking about her and granted her magical powers still. Most chroniclers of the time had an opinion on her or at least wrote about her.Joan and the French military hierarchy

Nevertheless, Joan faced a wall when she first met the men she’d fought alongside with. They wouldn’t believe in her. They wouldn’t listen to her. She was so relentless though that she carved herself a place among them. I wrote about it a little time ago. The fact that Joan actively searched to engage into battles and showed the greatest courage on the battlefield turned her into an inspiring figure. Also, it helped that she was always quick with a sharp reply. Some people in power, mostly Georges de La TrĂ©moille, thought she’d make a nice figurehead. They didn’t actually believe in her. However, a few high ranked military leaders of the French army, such as Dunois (Bastard of OrlĂ©ans) and the duke of Alençon, would years later report on Joan’s miracles at OrlĂ©ans, on her second trial*.

*Joan was condemned as a heretic on her trial at Rouen. Many years later, her mother called to the king and the Church to undo this trial and clean her daughter’s name. That’s when many people who met Joan and fought alongside her witnessed in her favour.

Who Took Joan of Arc Seriously?

The better question is who took Joan seriously? Which brings me to an anecdote I’ve never reported in my various contributions up to this point. On September 3rd, 1430, two women had been arrested and were executed in Paris in front of the cathedral. They believed that Joan of Arc was good. One of them was called PiĂ©ronne and originated from Britanny. She declared that God himself had appeared to her, dressed with a red mantel over a white gown, which was considered as blasphemous (for God’s clothing was a white mantel over a red gown–he had fashion sense!)*.

At the meantime, when Joan died, a few captains that fought with her at OrlĂ©ans tried to replace her with a random shepherd. Those two anecdotes go a long way in telling us how seriously she was taken and by whom. She contributed to a long standing superstitious culture in a world in which people believed in miracles and named miracles even the silliest things–even an unexpected colour for bread. Rational thinking was not the paradigm that most people followed. Sophie Page writes: “Since both magicians and saints claimed to possess supernatural powers, it was necessary for the ecclesiastical authorities to distinguish between the categories of magic and miracle**.”

* Colette Beaune (ed.), Journal d’un bourgeois de Paris. Paris: Livre de Poche, 1990, p. 281-282.

** Sophie Page, Magic in Medieval Manuscripts. London: British Library, 2017, p. 16.

A Too Short of an Introduction to Medieval Magic

When Joan arrived at Chinon and met the king she was then sent to Poitiers to meet theologians who were charged to assess the holiness of her visions. As it happens Augustine had written about visions in his De Genesi ad litteram (book XII). He described three types of visions: the best were spiritual and touched the soul, some were carried by dreams, the last belonged to the physical realm. The people who judged Joan at Rouen determined that her visions belonged to the third and least noble kind. They took a very long time asking Joan how the Archangel Michael was dressed and tried to pinpoint inconsistencies in her narrative. “Was he naked when he came to you?” they asked. “Do you think he’d have nothing to wear?” she answered as if they were stupid. It was common in female saint biographies that they’d be tempted by the devil at some point in their journey. He would appear to them in the flesh and try to lay with them. Having sex with a demon was certainly a “physical” and devilish vision.

“In the medieval universe, angelic mediators carried prayers to God. Demons sought to divert the souls of men and women from heaven*.” Augustine wrote that angels existed for every living things, hence the concept of guardian angels developed in the Late Middle Ages. However, “theologians were naturally dubious of the human ability to distinguish between angelic and demonic spirits, as it was well known that demons could assume fairer forms to deceive mankind*.” This led to the writings of many more texts on visions, the meeting of angels and the conjuring of demons. A whole literature flourished on the subject. All Joan had to do was to convince people she had vision and that those visions were sent by God. She certainly had visions and she never denied them. Moreover, it belonged to the realm of the possible in those times to the less pragmatic of minds had no trouble to join in on the narrative. Once OrlĂ©ans was delivered only a few days after she entered the city, Joan gained enough charisma that people believed in her.

Max Weber argued in his essay on authority and domination** that in times of great disorder and general unrest, people would easily turn to a charismatic figure to lead them. Someone who came from nothing. Someone who had no title nor experience but someone who actually showed up and led them to victory. This charismatic leader finds his/her authority rooted in his/her success. He/she has to safeguared his/her people. As soon as the charismatic leader faces a defeat or couldn’t translate his authority into another form of domination (feudal or bureaucratic, for example), he/she’s discarded. This pattern doesn’t only apply to Joan. Throughout history many figures became charismatic leaders according to that definition. Oliver Cromwell was one of them in my opinion. I find it particularily striking that he also hated that people took the name of the Lord in vain and that he promoted, as well as Joan, a very strict and religious discipline within the military. Joan is known for having chased allegded prostitutes with a sword. She broke her sword on the back of one of them and, according to Jean Chartier, a French chronicler and Valois partisan, that’s when she lost it. That’s the moment the magic stopped working and she went from incredible victories to repetitive defeats.

People took her seriously because they believed in magic and miracles. She was only human though, but that’s what makes her story even more fascinating.

* S. Page, Ibidem, p. 75, 78.

** Max Weber, La domination. Paris: La DĂ©couverte, 2013. Translated into French by Isabelle Kalinowski.

Short Reads

John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury (1387-1453)

Wild Reddit Question Appears!

John Talbot became the most feared of the English captains. La Hire himself would run away.

I wasn’t aware of this. I always imagined that the Poitiers-level casualties was the reason the Battle of Castillon doomed the English war effort, but did the death of Talbot play a significant part too?

>>> Original comment on AskHistorians

My Answer

Map. A.J. Pollard, The Theatre of War in Northern France (1427-1450). John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury
A.J. Pollard, The Theatre of War in Northern France (1427-1450)

In Short: Who’s John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury?

John Talbot was a relentless captain. So relentless in fact that he would find reasons to fight even in times of peace. Once, he came back to England for a few years and he started a judicial quarrel that almost led to an open conflict. The Duke of Bedford was wise enough to summon him in France, on the frontline, where he brought havoc to his enemies. Talbot was very gifted in starting and managing feuds.

This man was to the French people, a very scorge and a daily terror, […] in so much that women in Fraunce to feare their yonge children would cry ‘The Talbot Cometh! The Talbot Cometh!’

Talbot learned the art of war in Ireland where the chivalric code didn’t exist. He grew very attached to it later on–though he had a very technical, heartless and cold take on it–but he first learned his ways through skirmish and guerilla warfare. He was an utmost expert at night attacks, raids and decisive “coups de force”. He was very cruel too: he burnt down churches with people in it, he executed men-at-arms when they didn’t respect a surrender treaty and gave up the fortress too late, he basically scorched the earth in Normandy when the peasants revolted in 1435-1436. I personnally found several occurences of French or Burgundians troop litteraly TURNING BACK when they learned it was John Talbot they were going to face. He was that fearsome.

John Talbot became the most feared of the English captains. He was cruel, crafty and relentless. A terror to the French. Edward Hall wrote an epitaph that Grimgor Ironhide would envy: “This man was to the French people, a very scorge and a daily terror, in so much that his person was fearful and terrible to his adversaries present, so his name and frame was spiteful and dreadful to the common people absent, in so much that women in Fraunce to feare their yonge children would cry ‘The Talbot Cometh! The Talbot Cometh!’

Yet Shakespeare depicted him as a most chivalrous knight in Henry V.

At the time of the battle of Castillon (1453), Charles VII had already recovered most of France from the English. Normandy had been taken back. The Burgundians had fallen back in line. Several military campaigns in southern France meant the English were basically holding onto pretty much nothing concrete. Only Calais would remain the unpenetrable English fortress on French soil for the centuries to come (it still belonged to the British crown when Henry VIII was king!). The Duke of Bedford had passed away. Henry VI of England never grew up to have the military charisma nor the natural authority his father wielded. This sweet and pious king aspired to peace and he married a French princess after all, whilst a English princess was married to the Duke of Burgundy. John Talbot, really, was the last living and kicking remnant of the Hundred Years’ War. Most of his foes were dead or had retired. He was facing a younger generation now.

No one can state as fact that John Talbot’s death led to the end of the Hundred Years’ War. It was only diplomatically ended in 1475! However, no one had the energy nor the shoulders to pick up his mantle and continue the old fight. His death, really, is symptomatic of how times changed. It was certainly a symbolic victory for the French who had to dread no longer the “English Achilles”.

One Story To Remember Him By

Ridiculously Chivalrous John Talbot. Ridiculously Photogenic Guy. Medieval Meme.
Ridiculously Chivalrous John Talbot

Forced to retreat at OrlĂ©ans, Talbot was met unexpectedly by La Hire and his friends at Patay (1430). Talbot’s troops had covered as much as 100 miles in two days to defend the Loire valley. La Hire and company fell upon the English army before they could organize a defensive line. Talbot was ultimately captured by the archers of Poton de Xaintrailles–La Hire’s best friend and brother-in-arms.

Talbot was put to ransom, but to a ridiculously high amount. Talbot, in fact, came very close to bankruptcy while he was held prisonner from 1429 to 1433. Charles VII of France even acquired Talbot’s as a prisoner of note, exercising his regal priviledges. It was customary that the king could demand any famed knight who was put to ransom by a vassal of his in exchange of a fixed fee. As it turns out, Charles VII later exchanged Talbot for Poton de Xaintrailles! The latter had indeed been captured by Talbot’s father-in-law, the powerful earl of Warwick.

Once released, Talbot couldn’t let it stand. He took it to the Order of the Garter and blamed John Fastolf of cowardice. At Patay, the latter reportedly fled the battlefield and brought great dishonor to his knightly title. Talbot argued so passionately that Falstolf was stripped of his Garter until the early 1440’s. Facing financial ruin rendered him especially callous and mercy wouldn’t be his strongsuit in later installments of the Hundred Years’ War…

Click on this link to read one more story about Talbot. Or this one, if you want to know the role he played at Orléans.

More about Talbot:

  • A.J. Pollard, John Talbot and the War in France: 1427-1453. London & New Jersey: RHS and Humanities Press Inc., 1983.

Fun Fact About Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey' Movie Revival In The Works — Original Cast ...

Henry Talbot (Matthew Goode), who marries Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery) by the end of the unforgettable Downton Abbey TV series, is a descendant of John Talbot, 1st earl of Shrewsbury!

Needless is to say, when I heard he was a Talbot, I geeked out. Moreover, just the thought that Michelle Dockery portrayed a Talbot lady makes me squeak like a teenage girl. I mean… look at those eyes if they don’t breathe fire!!! Mary Josephine Talbot. What a nice ring to it!

Can’t wait to see her in a spin-off series stretching from the 40s to the 60s.

Short Reads

Edward of Woodstock, the Black Prince (1330-1376)

Wild Reddit Question Appears!

Why is the Edward the Black Prince so famous?

Since I watched a Knight’s Tale, I was curious about the Black Prince, I learnt that he was never king, so why is he famous? I know he’s called the Black Prince because of his black armour. Is he famous because he was a skilled knight or what?

>>> Original post on AskHistorians

My Answer

In Short: Who’s Edward of Woodstock, the Black Prince?

Edward of Woodstock only became known as the “Black Prince” by the sixteenth century. No one called him as such during his lifetime. The origin of his pseudonym remains clouded in mystery. I would argue he became worthy of the name when he dressed in black to mourn his opponent, John the Blind, dead at CrĂ©cy (1346). Nevertheless, the “Black Prince” appellation has become a common name for him in history books and therefore it sticks. It’s certainly more convenient than searching for Edward, the one who was heir to the throne of England but never made it to kingship because he died not too long before his father.

Joke aside, the answer is really quite simple. The Black Prince achieved great military deeds and dazzled many people with his lavish court in southern France–he was prince of Aquitaine. At age 16 he “won his spurs” leading the English vanguard at the Battle of CrĂ©cy (1346). Ten years later he vanquished the French at Poitiers and even managed to capture their king, John the Good! He would still insure a great military victory at Najera (1367) against a Franco-Trastamaran coalition. The man was a military prodigy.

Being prince of Wales, duke of Cornwall and earl of Cheshire, he introduced the welsh longbowmen into the English army. The havoc they brought to their enemies at CrĂ©cy, Poitiers and Najera was unheard of at the time. Moreover, the Black Prince showed all the expected virtues of a great knight. He contributed to found the Order of the Garter with his father, which is to this day the oldest knightly order in existence–quite a feat!

It is also worth reminding that he married for love!

Most of all, however, the Black Prince was a great hero in Froissart’s chronicles and he’s pictured as a legendary ancestor to Henry V in Shakespeare’s plays.

Look back into your mighty ancestors:
Go, my dread lord, to your great-grandsire’s tomb,
From whom you claim; invoke his warlike spirit,
And your great-uncle’s, Edward the Black Prince,
Who on the French ground play’d a tragedy,
Making defeat on the full power of France,
While his most mighty father on a hill
Stood smiling to behold his lion’s whelp
Forage in blood of French nobility.

[Henry V, I, ii]

Charles VI piles on the trope a bit later in the same play, warning his men about Henry V:

He is bred out of that bloody strain
That haunted us in our familiar paths:
Witness our too much memorable shame
When Cressy battle fatally was struck,
And all our princes captiv’d by the hand
Of that black name, Edward, Black Prince of Wales;
While that his mountain sire, on mountain standing,
Up in the air, crown’d with the golden sun,
Saw his heroical seed, and smiled to see him,
Mangle the work of nature and deface
The patterns that by God and by French fathers
Had twenty years been made.

[Henry V, II, iv]

The French* didn’t have the Black Prince at heart, though. Louis of Anjou commissionned a set of Apocalpse tapestries in 1373 which depicts Edward of Woodstock as a follower of his demonic father. Neat.

Most of what we see on TV or in videogames today is heavily drawn from historical fictions or historical plays: Shakespeare, Walter Scott, Mark Twain, Alexandre Dumas… I doubt screenwriters in general spend much time reading actual history books. By any standard, the Black Prince should be remembered for his great victories at least. It is the kind of historical trivia that sticks to the collective memory. However, he also became a mysterious and legendary figure in Shakespeare’s plays and that was passed on to later novelists and screenwriters, which magnified his standing as a chivalric icon.

* The French, here, are the people who belonged to the Valois party during the Hundred Years’ War. Edward of Woodstock spoke French and was, by any contemporary standard, a French aristocrat himself.

One Story To Remember Him By

Medieval Meme. Good Guy Greg. Good Knight Black Prince
Good Knight Black Prince

The battle of Poitiers (1356) saw the Black Prince and his 6,000 men (3,000 men-at-arms, 2,000 archers and 1,000 mounted infantry) oppose a French army 10,000 men strong, led by King John II himself, his heir, who would later become Charles V of France, and the full force of the royal army: the Constable and both Marshals* were there.

The French army charged the Black Prince’s troops on three occasions. Each wave was defeated when a fourth almost brought Edward of Woodstock to his knees. His men were exhausted from the battle, his archers almost out of arrows and, this time, King John himself was leading the charge with his elite reserve and many rallied soldiers. In a desperate counterattack, the Black Prince moved forward and pushed towards the French, leaving his defensive position. He sent the Captal de Buch to circle around toward the French rear with 160 mounted men, hoping to break the French’s formation. He won his risky gamble. The French were routed out of the battlefield and King John was captured!

The same night, Edward of Woodstock waited on King John’s table himself. Sensing there might be tension, he kneeled in front of the king and handed him his rosary. He told King John his father, Edward III of England, would treat him right and be his friend, for they had much in common. This show of humility moved the many ransomed French knights who witnessed the scene and it gave much credit to the Black Prince.

* The Constable was the highest ranking officier of the French army. Two Marshals were appointed to be his lieutenants. Those positions were given to highly skilled military captains instead of close relatives to the king.

Map. Shelley Reid, Battle of Poitiers (1356), in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Medieval Warfare and Military Technology (2010), 3:135
Shelley Reid, Battle of Poitiers (1356)

More on Edward of Woodstock, the Black Prince:

  • Barber, Richard W., Edward, Prince of Wales and Aquitaine: A Biography of the Black Prince. London: Allen Lane, 1978.
  • Green, David, Edward the Black Prince: Power in Medieval Europe. Harlow, U.K. and New York: Longman, 2007.
Long Reads

The Scout Rush Build Order: Interview with La Hire about Age of Empires 2

This blogpost is dedicated to PROject_Belgium. Follow him on Twitch!

The Interview

There I was, with my men, my brothers-in-arms. Maybe there was even one of my actual brothers with us—I don’t remember. We’re looking at the English encampment. There’s no way of chasing them away if we go for some fancy open battle. We don’t want to repeat the Agincourt disaster. That’s why we struck them at dawn even before the rooster sang!

A few years back I was ran over by a car. I literally flew over it and landed right back on my feet. My head hit the windshield so hard that when I landed I couldn’t stand anymore. I dropped like an apple from a tree and thumped the pavement on my ass. It wasn’t like in the movies where everything gets fuzzy. I wasn’t disoriented so to speak. I just couldn’t put two and two together anymore. I saw the car drive away but I didn’t notice that the driver had hit the brakes. I looked at my jacket and got mad it was damaged but I didn’t notice the blood on my sleeves. I wanted to jump back up but I only landed once more on my buttock.

Now, the thing I’ve never told anyone up to this day is that during the short time I was flying over the car, my mind actually wandered away in another spiritual realm. Before my ass thumped on the pavement I landed in the Purgatory! Believe it or not but it looks a lot like a giant waiting room, pretty much like what you’d find in an airport. People get in line, get a ticket and then they sit and wait. They just wait. Some of them are playing on their phones. Others take a prolonged nap. The fun part begins when you stray far, far away from the ticket line. That’s when you start to see creative people who turned the waiting room into a massive pillow fort with actual trenches, a Renaissance art gallery or even a jousting field.

I had my ticket, I was waiting for my number to be called out, so I head straight to the jousting fields when I saw them. I felt like I just stumbled on a splendid movie set. The ladies were so pretty in their exquisite dresses. The knights wore shiny armors. It was like walking in a dream. A tavern was abutted the jousting fields, I eventually went to it once I’d seen close to a hundred jousting matches and lost a fair dozen of hours gazing at the ladies around me.

The tavern was wild and loud. Beer and wine were spilled all over the floor. A bunch of unruly men-at-arms were busy binge drinking in the most competitive manner. A monk was walking around with an idol or icon of the Virgin Mary. He was the drunkest of the whole lot! Many things happened in that place that I couldn’t tell you how and why they took place. Eventually I found myself faced with my childhood hero, Étienne de Vignolles, also known as La Hire. I knew him because he stars in Age of Empires 2—the video game—next to Joan of Arc for the Battle of Patay. I couldn’t believe my luck. I told him how much I admired him. He asked me how I knew him. I told him about Age of Empires 2. He was confused at first but I think he got it somehow. I took my chance and asked him a few question.  

Mr. La Hire, my friends and I are playing this videogame that brings us back to the Middle Ages, your original time period, and the goal of the game is to take down our enemies with cunning and cutthroat strategies. I’d love to get your take on those and tell us if they remind you of tactics that you’ve actually done yourself?

Sure. Why the hell not?

So, to begin with I’d like to talk about the “Scout Rush.”

What’s that?

A Scout Rush is a strategy that you go for if you want to overwhelm your enemy, as fast as possible, with light cavalry units. You don’t need too many of them, you only need them to take the enemy by surprise so that it disrupt his plans.

I was wondering if you were some kind of punk, playing videogames instead of fighting on a horse, but I like what I’m hearing. That’s my go-to move!

As I was saying, the English wanted to take Montargis. The castle was very impressive, seating very high on a hill, and Warwick had his men spread all around the city. Facing the castle they’d built a little fortress of their own, a “bastille” as we called them. Warwick had his men in the North and his lieutenants, Suffolk and La Pole, were controlling the roads going South and West out of the city.

Really?

Yeah. Back in 1427, when Montargis was besieged by those bloody English, there was no way to get rid of them, you see? Eventually, the Constable came to me and my friends. We said we had a plan. A good plan! A solid plan. But we needed money! So he found a way to get some money, he gave it to us and then our men were very happy to fight. Motivation is key. Whatever! So we gather our troops, the Constable wants to come with us and we tell him that it is a bad idea. Someone as important as him shouldn’t mingle with low people like us or take unnecessary risks. What if we fail? Wouldn’t that be shameful? He wasn’t happy about it but we got rid of him nonetheless. Going with him meant we had to follow a protocol. However, if winning is what you’re really going for, I say drop the damn protocol and go for the jugular! There I was, with my men, my brothers-in-arms. Maybe there was even one of my actual brothers with us—I don’t remember. We’re looking at the English encampment. There’s no way of chasing them away if we go for some fancy open battle. We don’t want to repeat the Agincourt disaster. That’s why we struck them at dawn even before the rooster sang! What a debacle—for the English I mean. No offense to good old Warwick who was commanding the troops but his men lost all common sense and started to run all over the place like headless chicken, pleading for their lives. It was almost too easy to route them out. Some of them were standing there, idle, praying or hoping that we wouldn’t spot them. It was an utter victory and it brought us a lot of well-deserved glory. The English were pissed. The Constable had something to show for at the court. The good people of Montargis celebrated us. A most perfect win! I’ll never forget it.

It sounds like you struck them real hard! Did you have a lot of men with you? I mean, what was the men ratio between your army and the English army?

What you need to understand is that Montargis was not a big town, but it had a massive castle. It could fit an army of 6,000 men. Easy. That’s why the English wanted to take it. Eventually they got it, even! And we took it back. I mean, I was someplace else kicking somebody’s ass. I couldn’t be everywhere all the time. Who am I? God? No. Though I pray that he’d do for me what I’d do for him if he were me and if I was him. You know, I’m straightforward like that. Blunt and honest. God likes that. I may have committed sins, I’ll admit, but I’ve always stayed true to myself and my king and that must count for something, right? God damn it.

As I was saying, the English wanted to take Montargis. The castle was very impressive, seating very high on a hill, and Warwick had his men spread all around the city. Facing the castle they’d built a little fortress of their own, a “bastille” as we called them. Warwick had his men in the North and his lieutenants, Suffolk and La Pole, were controlling the roads going South and West out of the city. Montargis was surrounded by hills, cliffs and rivers. The English had built a few bridges to communicate more easily among themselves, you see? That’s when the English started to bombard the city.

A common bombard could fire a stone or iron ball weighing around fifty pounds*. The most impressive one, though, they were fifteen to twenty feet long, could fire no less than three hundred heavy projectiles! Sure, you had to take the artillery seriously, I mean, it killed people, but it couldn’t take over a properly defended castle.

Map of Montargis besieged by the English (1427)

I told you that the city was surrounded by rivers, right? Well, the townspeople of Montargis did the most amazing thing. There were sluices in most rivers. They closed them all and flooded the meadows around the city walls. The English couldn’t regroup. They were stuck, unorganized, divided and taken by surprise.

Didn’t that destroy the town and opened a few breaches in the walls?

Oh, no. Bombard cannons were not very accurate. They had more of a psychological effect, if you want. It was a fancy and expensive thing that let people know you meant business. Be loud or go home, am I right? Ha-ha. Cannons could sometimes hit the right spot and open a breach, sure, but that’s why we built “boulevards” in front of city gates to absorb most of the hits and fire back at the enemy. Moreover the English wanted the place. They had no interest in destroying it, they needed Montargis to take control over the region. A common bombard could fire a stone or iron ball weighing around fifty pounds*. The most impressive one, though, they were fifteen to twenty feet long, could fire no less than three hundred heavy projectiles! Sure, you had to take the artillery seriously, I mean, it killed people, but it couldn’t take over a properly defended castle.

* Philippe Contamine, La Guerre au Moyen Âge. Paris: PUF, 1980, p. 265.

So the English were surrounding Montargis and bombarding it. The city was close to surrender but then you arrived with your men and stormed the English positions by surprise, is that it?

Most certainly. That’s what happened. Can I tell you a little secret? Between you and me, we were only supposed to resupply the city with some food and what-not. That’s why we could so easily get rid of the Constable. “Listen, Sir, you’re far too noble to go on a stupid resupply mission, are you?” He bought it! Well, now, our attack had a very tactical value. We needed to find a way for the convoy to get into the city. What better way than to attack the enemy and to create a distraction? That’s why I gathered my lads, gave them a little speech like I liked to do, telling them to kill some Englishmen, you know, then we moved on to La Pole’s position, South-West of the city. It was around noon and the English had a few outposts out in the fields. However, no one was attending them! The English were too busy napping or eating, I don’t know, but I got as close as the ditches surrounding la Pole’s camp that no one had thought to call on the alarm!

It seems like you rushed the enemy very fast!

What’s the point of a light cavalry company, I’ll ask you? It’s to hit the enemy fast! We Gascons were not like the English or most French knights. We didn’t bother with a heavy armor. Our horses were quick. They could zigzag or flip around on a battlefield, no question! We were in the middle of La Pole’s camp that we were yelling “Montjoye! Saint-Denis!” and there was nothing the English could do about it!

Montjoye!

What a glorious battle! Sauton de Mercadieu, can you believe that guy? A spear ran through his mouth and he kept on fighting! He had blood all over his armor. What a mess. He pulled the spear out of his mouth himself. He was like a man enraged.

Por li rei!

They hadn’t spot us despite their outposts. At first they panicked, but they soon figured that we were only a few men-at-arms and that they could get the better of us if they kept their cool and regrouped. It was only a matter of time before Suffolk or Warwick came to the rescue. Good thing the Bastard of OrlĂ©ans had tagged along! He was protecting the convoy. He saw the battle. He never expected it to be in our favor, let me tell you. But there I was, right in the middle of La Pole’s camp, bringing havoc and routing the English. The Bastard directly joined in on the fun. He prevented the English to reinforce La Pole’s troops. Even better, the townspeople joined in!

Really? What did the people of Montargis do to help?

I told you that the city was surrounded by rivers, right? Well, the townspeople of Montargis did the most amazing thing. There were sluices in most rivers. They closed them all and flooded the meadows around the city walls. The English couldn’t regroup. They were stuck, unorganized, divided and taken by surprise. La Pole’s camp was eventually conquered. La Pole himself is trying to get away on a small boat for the waters are so high around the city. Many of his men drowned. We won just in time for me to reinforce the Bastard of OrlĂ©ans, along with the townspeople, and we gave it all we had. God! What a glorious battle! Sauton de Mercadieu, can you believe that guy? A spear ran through his mouth and he kept on fighting! He had blood all over his armor. What a mess. He pulled the spear out of his mouth himself. He was like a man enraged. The English, those “Godons” as we call them*, start to flee and try to reach Warwick’s camp. They walk over one of those bridges that they had built. Ha-ha! It broke and they fell in the water. Again, many of them drowned. Well, we may have helped a little. In the meantime, the convoy peacefully entered the city and our mission was accomplished. Warwick and Suffolk were in no position to prevent it or to rally their men, they were stuck because of the flood. Sure, they regrouped on a hill and waited for us to chase them down but we were no idiots. We let them be. The siege had been lifted. Montargis was freed and resupplied. We’d done more than what we got paid for! Even better, we even captured Warwick’s banner since he abandoned his camp in a hurry. What more could have we dreamed about? Personally, I don’t want to brag, but I was given a little “bonus” as a thank you gift. A thousand moutons d’or! A real fortune!

* Englishmen were called “Godons” by the French during the Hundred Years’ War for the common use they had of the colloquialism “God damn!”

This story is frankly amazing and quite incredible. It must have been a spectacular battle. I can’t wait to see a cinematographic adaptation of it! However, I noticed that you first said you attacked at dawn, then you said you attacked at noon? At the beginning you told me you had a plan, but the narrative of the battle let us believe that it was quite improvised actually? How can you account for those discrepancies?

Am I boring you with too many details? Don’t question my recollections. Memory is a funny thing. The only thing that matters is that we won because we caught the English off guard and unaware with our speed and restlessness. We freed Montargis and routed the English*! Hear-hear!

* Later on I was able to cross-reference the facts and most of them were true! The chronicles give contradictory accounts of the details, though. Read: D. Cornet, Le SiĂšge de Montargis par les Anglais (1427). Montargis: Librairie Roger, 1903.

Everybody around us shouted “Hear-hear!” I can’t recall if I was drunk. I mean, I was only seventeen at the time. My head was spinning, sure, but it could have been the unforeseen side effect of being hit by a car. I didn’t hear my number being called out so I kept on questioning La Hire and talk to him about Age of Empires 2. I don’t know why he indulged me but I was certainly most grateful for the time he granted me.

Even better, we even captured Warwick’s banner since he abandoned his camp in a hurry. What more could have we dreamed about? Personally, I don’t want to brag, but I was given a little “bonus” as a thank you gift. A thousand moutons d’or! A real fortune!

The Scout Rush Build Order

The Scout Rush is a standard and classic opening in Age of Empires 2, especially on Arabia. You’ll find many tutorials online. Here’s a short list of video and written tutorials to help you improve your gameplay. However, make sure to check out first how DauT, Our Lord and Savior, turned the overused Scout Rush into a masterpiece! It is casted by Resonance22, one of the most gorgeous voice to have ever comment AoE2 games.

DauT’s Scout Rush Masterpiece

Before he amazed us as Princess Yodit in Hidden Cup 3, DauT was already a strategy mastermind.

Hera’s Scout Rush Tutorial

Hera became very famous for his fast paced Arabia games. Opening with scouts? He knows what’s what!

Nili’s Scout Rush Tutorial

Nili’s an AoE2 pro-caster who recently made it to the Team Secret! His AoE2 knowledge is hippoclopedic.

ZeroEmpire’s Scout Rush Tutorial

Before T90Official became the #1 AoE2 caster, ZeroEmpire pioneered and excelled in casting AoE2 games.
Now, daddy Zack is back to teach us the classics!

Scout Rush Tutorials on Paper

The most extensive written guide I found about the Scout Rush build order certainly belongs to Age of Notes. A must read!

Don’t miss out the Forgotten Empire strategy center and learn the basic principles of the Feudal war and rushes.

Are you being rushed? Well, you’d better learn how to defend yourself. Hopefully the Steam community came up with a few answers that might help you out.

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!

Paris, BnF, français 5054. Martial d'Auvergne. Vigiles de la mort de Charles VII. Jeanne d'Arc. Charles VII. Joan of Arc. Troyes. Illuminated manuscript.
Short Reads

A Cold Case of Counterfeit History: Joan of Arc, the Secret Royal Princess.

AskHistorians: Tuesday Trivia #2

This week again I was invited by the AskHistorians subreddit to contribute to their Tuesday Trivia event and this week’s theme was ROYALTY!

In 1440, the queen of Hungary and one of her ladies-in-waiting stole the Hungarian crown—the actual, physical crown—to save the throne for her son. Helene Kottanner broke into the vault, snatched the crown, and escaped across the frozen Danube with a sled. Let’s talk about ROYALTY!

I proudly answered the call of duty and found it as another occasion to talk about my favourite non-Disney princess: Joan of Arc.

My Personal Contribution

Again, I’m late. Yet again, it’s still Tuesday somewhere!

Last time I talked about Joan of Arc. This week’s theme is royalty. There’d be no reason for me to talk again about her, right?

Hahaha. Buckle up, girls and boys. We’re about to dive into counterfeit history. When historians don’t find authentic documents to prove their hypotheses, what do they do? The honest ones acknowledge their ignorance. There’s nothing glamour about it. That’s why the others fabricate the documents they need to prove their point—when they even bother to fabricate them


The Truth about Joan. Was Joan of Arc a Royal Bastard Princess?

Paris, BnF, français 5054. Martial d'Auvergne. Vigiles de la mort de Charles VII. Jeanne d'Arc. Charles VII. Joan of Arc. Troyes. Illuminated manuscript.
Joan of Arc and Charles VII are given the keys of the city of Troyes – Paris, BnF, fr. 5054, f. 62r

You didn’t think that conspiracy theories would be limited to our contemporary era, did you.

You know how to square the circle: the Earth is flat, climate change is a lie, vaccines don’t work and the illuminati rule the world. If you go back and forth from one to another long enough, it all starts to make sense, but that’s only when you start to seriously question your mental sanity.

The problem is that conspiracy theorists are also trying to colonize the past with the most heretic holy trinity: the holocaust never happened, medieval Europe only had white people and Michael Jackson never died. He’s chilling on some Pacific Island with his buddy Elvis. Someone could swear his sister saw a picture or something, you know, tangible proof.

Among the many conspiracy theories about history the one I’ll tackle down here states that Joan of Arc was actually Charles VII’s sister.

Charles VII of France, an Alleged Bastard Himself?

Philippe Contamine, who knows more than anyone about the 15th century, medieval France, briefly addressed the rumors according to which Charles VII of France was a bastard himself, in his latest biography of the French king (published in 2017; not to brag, but I own a dedicated copy).

See, his father had lost his mind and couldn’t recognize his friends from his enemies. That’s why some people suggested that the queen couldn’t have conceived a child with him. Charles VII couldn’t be Charles VI’s legitimate son! According to Pope Pie II, the king of England advanced that very theory himself to end up seducing the duke of Burgundy. It’d served his political purpose a great deal. He wished to inherit the kingdom of France through his wife, something the Valois dynasty opposed fiercely since the start of the Hundred Years’ War.

Illuminated manuscript. Jean Froissart. Charles VI.
Charles VI, falling to paraonoia, attacks his own guards during a military expedition. (Paris, BnF, fr. 2646, f. 153v.)

“But, what about your wife, my liege? Isn’t she also born from the mad king?”

“Nonsense! He was still sane of mind when he conceived her.”

As a matter of fact, Catherine of France, Henry V of England’s wife, was born on October 27, 1401, a year and a half before Charles VII, and Charles VI (it is heavily documented) lost his mind in the year 1392 during a military expedition where he attacked his own men. Meaning, according to Henry V’s logic, that his dear wife was also an illegitimate child, but hell with the details, right?

Upon closer inspection, accusing the queen of adultery served no real political purpose to the Anglo-Burgundian alliance since she was on their side and that her signature is what made the Treaty of Troyes (1420) valid because of the dementia of her husband. The Treaty of Troyes acknowledged Henry V of England as sole heir to Charles VI of France. Fun fact, Henry V died of dysentery a few months ahead of Charles VI. He never was crowned king of France and he only left behind him a one-year-old child and a wife who quickly consoled herself with a handsome knight.

One question remains: who would have been Charles VII’s father, if it weren’t Charles VI? Well, who else but Louis of OrlĂ©ans, Charles VI’s brother! After all, the duke of OrlĂ©ans almost killed the king by burning him alive with a torch, then he attempted to rape the duchess of Burgundy—which explains why John the Fearless hated his guts*.

Illuminated manuscript. Jean Froissart. Charles VI.
Charles VI of France, desguised as a ‘savage man’, is almost burned to death by his own brother and saved in extremis by the duchess of Berry, who covers him with her mantle. (Paris, BnF, fr. 2646, f. 176r.)

Total. Legend.

And you thought Game of Thrones was full of suspense!

*This latter allegation is solely reported by Thomas Basin (d. 1491) in his biography of Charles VII.

Who really was Joan of Arc’s Father? A Shakespearian Tale

A 19th-century pseudo-historian, Pierre Cazet, bragged that he discovered the truth behind Joan’s true social status. How come a young maid from the countryside was ever received by the king? Saint Louis himself, the holiest French king of all, met his subjects regularly in the open air to render justice, according to Jean of Joinville (d. 1317). Therefore it should be totally inconceivable that Charles VII would ever meet an intriguing would-be prophetess that had such a notoriety that the duke of Lorraine personally invited her over and that the bastard of OrlĂ©ans, while she was in Gien, sent people to meet and inquire about her and her journey to Chinon.

She had to be a secret Disney princess!

Actually, it all comes from a play written by Shakespeare. I mean, this could only be the stuff of great literature. How could a poor and deficient mind come up with such a brilliant twist? Henry VI, act 5, scene 4. A shepherd, Joan’s father, comes up to her as she’s tied at the stake. Since she left, he’s been searching for her everywhere.

Ah, Joan! this kills thy father’s heart outright.

Have I sought every country far an near,

And, now it is my chance to find thee out,

Must I behold thy timeless cruel death?

Ah, Joan! sweet daughter Joan, I’ll die with thee.

Joan, however, doesn’t break into tears. She gets all riled up!

Descrepit miser! base ignoble wretch!

I am descended of a gentler blood:

Thou art no father nor no friend of mine.

Then she turns to the men who’ve put her at the stakes.

Let me tell you whom you have condemn’d:

Not me begotten of a shepherd swain,

But issu’d from the progeny of kings;

Virtuous and holy; chosen from above,

By inspiration of celestial grace,

To work exceeding miracles on earth.

Henry VI. Part 1. Joan of Arc. Royal Shakespeare Company.
Henry VI, part 1. A play by William Shakespeare featuring Joan of Arc.

The brilliant literary idea of a royal Joan (I mean, what a twist!*) then inseminated the rotten minds of ill-informed money-grabbing pseudo-historians, who pandered ‘sensational’ books only to fill their purse. Hence Joan was Charles VII’s secret sister. However, who was her father then do you ask? No other than Louis ‘the Legend’ of OrlĂ©ans.

Joan stated at her trial that she was nineteen, meaning she was born in 1412. How could that be a problem? On November 23, 1407, Louis of Orléans was assassinated in the streets of Paris by John the Fearless (GoT quality, I tell you!). Therefore, Joan lied. She must have been twenty-four and was actually born in 1407.

Oh. And by the way, her mother was Queen Isabeau herself. Why not? It’s not like she gave birth to a child on November 10, 1407. Wait? Is my math right? Do I remember anything from my biology class? It must be right. Right?

More audacious conspiracy theorists, whom websites I won’t link here to deny them the pride of free views to their counter, have now passed the idea that Joan was Queen Isabeau’s daughter. They see as a better fit than her actual mother, Isabelle RomĂ©e, was the descendant of Charlemagne. Also, they don’t need any document to prove it to you. You should trust them on their words for it. Jacques d’Arc, who, according to them, is not even Joan’s biological father, is also of noble birth too. Cherry. On. Top.

This is all a bunch of undocumented nonsense.

*Shakespeare was depicting Joan of Arc as an utterly crazy woman. This was not a twist but a foregone conclusion. Upon meeting death, she shows her true ugly colors.

Joan’s Coat of Arms: the Ultimate Evidence?

Joan of Arc's coat of arms.
Joan of Arc’s coat of arms.

Before the battle of Patay and right after the liberation of OrlĂ©ans, Charles VII granted a coat of arms to Joan of Arc. On a blue background stands a sword under a crown, flanked by two heraldic lilies. Joan’s judge at her trial at Rouen blamed her for arrogance. Who was she to dare display the ‘fleur-de-lis’, the official emblem of the French crown?

According to our dear conspiracy theorists, Joan’s coat of arms was a clever acknowledgment of her true origin. An acknowledgment so clever, in fact, that Charles VII publicly recognized Joan as his sister but in a way that no one could uncover it. A secret hiding in plain sight!

I 
 can’t 
 even.

Heraldry seems only obscure to us because we don’t understand its language. We look at coat of arms the same way Napoleon looked at the pyramid. He knew they meant something. He knew they were the stuff of legends. But he had yet no solid archeological knowledge of their history and meaning.

It so happened that Charles VII granted to other people the right to display the fleur-de-lis on their coat of arms. He especially granted it to the city of Tournai, which so far up north, deep into Burgundian territory, remained unyieldingly loyal to his cause. The fleur-de-lis was a royal honor, a symbolic and powerful mark of recognition for exceptional services and also a way to tie people to the royal house.

What about the crown? Well, what about it? Joan kept saying she was only serving one lord, the Lord. That crown is probably God’s own crown, for Christ’s sake (that is my personal hypothesis). All in all, the coat of arms translates into: “I fight under God’s command for the good of France.” How could that ever be conceived as a secret acknowledgement of common parenthood?

Final Words

Joan of Arc was not Charles VII’s secret sister (and he was not Louis of OrlĂ©ans’s bastard) but her story is only more beautiful because of it. I understand that some limited minds would only grant great deeds to people of noble breed, I do, but they’re utterly wrong. She was a commoner from the country side with nothing to her name but her faith, her sass and her cold-blooded bravery.

I know Joan of Arc didn’t actually change the course of history. The victory of OrlĂ©ans was almost a given when we take everything into account beyond her legend. Plus, it took more than a decade to finally boot the English out of France after she passed. However, she stood high and tall on a crucial turning crossroad in medieval history. It all looked gloom then she suddenly shined bright in the middle of the dark. She shocked her contemporaries like a comet burning the sky.

Personally, I find it very comforting that any young woman could achieve such a thing. However, fair warning, anyone tries to imprison and sentence Greta Thunberg to death, I might personally lead the commando to rescue her.

Map. The Carolingian Empire in 843.
Short Reads

HRE vs. France: Political Structures, Emperors & Kings

Wild Reddit Question Appears!

How were the Holy Roman Empire and Middle Ages France different in term of political structure? What led to those differences?

I always hear about HRE being a loose confederation of minor kingdoms (for lack of a better word). But wasn’t middle age France much the same? Strong dukes often controlling the king? How did the HRE and medieval France differ and how where they same? Why did the HRE becomes a looser confederation of minor kingdoms than France?

~ posted by u/daimposter on the r/AskHistorians subreddit.

My Answer

The political structure of the Holy Roman Empire (HRE) and the Kingdom of France both derive from the political structure of the Carolingian Empire. So let’s have a quick look at that first 😉

A Very Short History of the ‘Origins’

Our contemporary society recognizes three forms of power: the executive, the legislative and the judicial. The Carolingian Empire only had two: the temporal and the spiritual (the executive, legislative and judicial powers were all bundled up together). The emperor ruled over both. Charlemagne and his son, Louis the Pious, had a total control over the lords and the Church. They could grant lands, titles, bishoprics or revoke them as they see fit.

On the one hand, Charlemagne only had one heir: Louis the Pious. On the other hand, Louis had to split his Empire, according to the Frankish customs, between his three sons. He also didn’t have the charismatic aura of his father, who went from conquest to conquest, and he was left with an Empire practically impossible to rule. It all concluded in Louis’ three sons (Charles, Lothair and Louis/Ludwig) splitting the Empire into three parts. Lothair’s share was ultimately absorbed into his brother’s realms and from that point onward, West Francia and East Francia evolved into very different countries.

In the meantime, the Church which had greatly benefited from the leadership and protection of Charlemagne, Louis the Pious and their predecessors gradually became an independent political body. The Church had obeyed and served the Carolingian emperors, but it had grown so much that it was now able to confront their heirs and come up with its own political agenda. The spiritual power was free from the temporal power by the end of the 9th century and the pope became a major political player by the end of the 10th century.

The Implementation of the Feudal System in West Francia

It is often written that Charles the Bald, who inherited and ruled West Francia, gave birth to the Feudal System with the Capitulary of Coulaines (available online on the marvelous MGH website). Though the direct effects of the capitulary were not as dramatic as historians used to say, it nonetheless recognized that lands given by the King to his vassals could be inherited by their progeny. It meant that not before long every region of the realm had its own local blue-blood dynasty. Therefore the Capitulary of Coulaines was a substantial stepping stone for the implementation of the Feudal System (reminder: the word ‘feudal’ comes from the Latin word ‘feudum’ which is a type of ‘beneficium’ (a gift from a king or prince to a faithful ally) that implies the gifting of a piece of land). By the 10th century, it became obvious that the aristocrats held the real power over most of the land, ensuring it by the building of motte-and-bailey castles and by getting the Church on their side through charity. Founding and donating to monasteries became a regular political play for powerful laymen although it greatly benefited to the rise of the Benedictine Order and the network of the Cluny monasteries more than anything. Nevertheless, anyone inheriting a fief still had to pay a ‘homage’ (Latin, homagium; German, huld) to the king and formally recognize his temporal authority. It was a very significant ceremony that reminded everyone their role and the proper hierarchy within the structure of society.

The Capet Dynasty

The progressive loss of a central and strong seat of power rendered the Carolingian dynasty of West Francia unable to enforce the peace in the realm and to properly protect the northern coasts from new invaders: the infamous Vikings. It became clear to the magnates that they were better off without a king. However, they had to maintain some kind of puppet on the throne to prevent the Carolingian kings of East Francia to march on Paris and conquer the kingdom whole. Several attempts had already been made in the past to reunite the West and the East Francia. While invoking the old Frankish principle of elective monarchy, the great vassals of the realm put a new dynasty on the throne: the powerless House of Capet.

The Capet, however, followed a clever strategy. They would always make sure that two kings were simultaneously elected and anointed, the rex coronatus and the rex designates, so that matters of succession were always settled from the start and there was never any leeway for another dynasty to rise on the throne. Moreover, the Capet gradually extended their personal demesne so that they could eventually compete with their vassals and enforce their law. At the very start of the 14th century, Philip IV the Fair even instituted the ‘États GĂ©nĂ©raux’, a general assembly of the people gathering representatives of the three orders, to counter the meddling of the pope over the spiritual matters in their realm. It also served him to kill the Order of the Knights Templar and confiscate all their possessions. The kings of France therefore became strong political figures, capable of handling both the temporal and the spiritual power of their realm. They were feared and respected by their vassals and treated on an equal footing by the emperor of the HRE and the pope.

The Plantagenet Problem
 and the Valois Solution

The Capet, however, were far from all powerful. Remember those Vikings I mentioned above? They had carved a duchy for themselves, the duchy of Normandy, and no one dared to oppose the duke of Normandy. The guy minted his own money. He was so powerful and relentless, in fact, that he conquered a kingdom. I’m talking of William the Conqueror and the 1066 conquest of England, of course. Eventually, all his possessions were inherited by the Plantagenet dynasty, who also inherited the duchy of Aquitaine through clever matrimonial alliances. At some point, the Plantagenet ‘empire’ included half the kingdom of France! And the Capet kings were totally powerless against such a mighty force, until King John of England rose to the throne, faced revolts at home, bad luck abroad, was dragged into signing the Magna Carta (1215) and saw most of his French possessions confiscated and redistributed by the king.

Nevertheless, the king of France retained a vassal who was a king and everywhere he went he was faced with fierce resistance from the great dukes of the realm. The royal demesne was slowly expanding but the Parliament (the highest court of Justice in the land) had to relentlessly keep on fighting against its dismemberment by the king himself, who often wished to grant a land or two to any of his courtier or captain who provided him a great service. Eventually, after many political intrigues, the king of England said, “Enough!” and claimed the throne for himself when the Valois succeeded to the Capet.

What is really interesting is that at that point, the idea of electing a new king crossed no one’s mind. The quarrel was a quarrel of succession. The realm was an inheritance. It was traditionally passed down from one generation to the other. Since the straight line of male successors was extinct, the only question to answer was to know if a woman could inherit and pass down a kingdom or not. The long game Capet strategy had worked like magic!

Eventually, the Valois stood strong on the principle that the kingdom itself could only pass through male hands and could never be inherited or transmitted by a woman. The Hundred Years’ War came close to an end when Charles VI and Richard II became best buddies, but their terrible fate precipitated the start of new conflicts. Henry VI of England legally and effectively became the king of France but he had a strong opponent, who held on and kept the fight alive mostly despite himself, Charles VII. The latter ultimately passed on heavy taxation reforms and instituted the first permanent non-feudal but professional royal army. He won the war. His son, Louis XI, killed the dreams and ambitions of the great vassals with that very army. No one could contest the king’s authority anymore, but his own Parliament.

The Holy Roman Elective Empire

Whereas the Capet managed to turn the kingdom of France into a hereditary monarchy, which would become the most powerful centralized state of Europe, Germany remained a conglomerate of semi-autonomous states. Maybe it is worth being reminded that Charlemagne, who was crowned emperor, only took on the title to challenge the authority of the emperor of Constantinople, especially on spiritual matters. First and foremost, Charlemagne was and stayed the king of the Franks. He never had the centralized administration capable of holding an empire together. He only became a powerful imperial figure through his military charisma but the institutions of the old Roman Empire had since long collapsed and what was left of them couldn’t carry the political weight needed for an actual empire anymore.

Louis the German, Charlemagne’s grandson and Charles the Bald’s brother was not able to keep the dream alive. His dynasty was very short-lived and the imperial title quickly fell out of use. The political crises of the 9th and 10th centuries, the expansion of Christianity and the Magyar and Viking violent immigration waves prompted a ‘strong man’ to take charge and restore the imperial charge around the same time that the Capet were elected on the throne of France. This man was Otto I ‘the Great’ and he was the actual founder of the ‘Holy Roman Empire’. However, unlike the Capet, the Ottonian didn’t implement a hereditary system of succession. Too many people were fighting for the honor to wear the imperial crown. Otto III, Otto I’s grandson, was already faced with an ‘anti-king’, elected by his political rivals! The Staufer tried to make the imperial title a hereditary one. Frederick I ‘Barbarossa’ had his son elected to the imperial throne at the same time as him, which made him his uncontested father’s successor but it remained an absolute exception and the general rule was that stuck through the centuries was that the emperor was elected. It was also interpreted as a direct intervention of God in political matters and it helped to keep unworthy heirs away from the throne.

The HRE around 962

The emperors had little to go with, however, when their authority was challenged. They didn’t have access to an “imperial army” or to an “imperial administration” to help them out. The very idea that the HRE could ever become a centralized state actually scared all its neighbors and many attempts were made to prevent it from happening, though Germans hated foreign political meddling more than anything.

Several cities were placed under the direct rule of the emperor, but it was more of a way for those cities to manage themselves. Therefore the emperor could only rely on his personal demesne and diplomatic wits to assert his authority. However, contrarily to the French situation, it was not like an Imperial demesne could grow like the French royal demesne since a new dynasty could be put on the imperial throne every time an emperor would die. That’s why emperors ended up mostly benefiting of their title to boost up their personal demesne, instead of sacrificing their own resources to pass on any imperial reforms.

The Cezaropapism Crisis

The temporal power of the Holy Roman emperors was very limited and the feudal system was slowly implemented in Germany, although it developed its own specificities. In 1037, Conrad passed the Constitutio de feudis and extended the benefit of hereditary possessions of fief to the lesser lords. The 11th century also saw the emergence of the ministeriales, a group of unfree knights and vassals promoted by the imperial clergy that had no matching concordance in France, where all vassals were free men with hereditary rights and claims.

Bishops and abbots selected able men of unfree status and enfeoffed them with resources to enable them to serve as knights or administrators. The Salians also began employing ministeriales to administer royal domains and garrison the new castles built in the 1060s. The ministeriales gradually acquired other privileges, embraced an aristocratic ethos, and eventually converted their relationship based on servitude into one of more conventional vassalage to fuse with other lesser nobles as knights and barons by about 1300.

It would be wrong to interpret the ministeriales as the potential staff required to create a centralized monarchy. They were indeed used to verse more intensive management of royal domains, notably in Saxony.

Source: Peter H. Wilson, Heart of Europe: A History of the Roman Empire (2016).

The HRE around 1050

Meanwhile, the pope had become a real political player. The rise of the Benedictine and various religious orders resulted in many reforms within the papacy. The pope was no longer elected by the most powerful Roman families, for a start. Monks also got elected as pope, and popes that were formerly monks loved to live by strict rules. The papal chancery also became a proper administrative center of power: every king or prince soon flocked towards the pope or sent emissaries at least to see their privileges and titles granted and renewed. It is with a papal banner that William the Conqueror battled at Hastings.

It had to happen that the emperor, faced against rebellious vassals, turned to the pope for help and that the pope asked for something in return. In particular, the pope didn’t like that the emperor could still appoint bishops personally and it was interpreted as a violation of the Church. Henry IV (HRE) and Gregory VII (papacy) couldn’t see eye to eye on that matter. This led to the Investiture Dispute that the emperors ultimately lost. What was left of his temporal and spiritual power? Not much


The Rise of the Hapsburg Dynasty

The imperial electoral college remained undefined until the 13th century. Eventually, three ecclesiastical electors came on top of the others: the archbishops of Mainz, Trier and Cologne. As for the secular electors, they were settled by Emperor Rudolf who chose his four sons-in-law: the count Palatine, the margrave of Brandenburg, the duke of Saxony and the king of Bohemia. In 1356, Charles IV, from the Luxemburg dynasty, who had a great personal relationship with the papacy, fixed those electoral votes with the Golden Bull.

Thanks to a very thorough matrimonial strategy, the Hapsburg dynasty managed to lock on to several of the electoral secular fiefs. It also gave birth to some of the most inbred rulers of Europe, but by the election of Maximilian I to the throne in 1486, the Hapsburg maintained a firm grasp over the imperial title.

Nevertheless they were never able to create a centralized state like the Capet and the Valois did and the HRE never had a regular and professional army of its own. Charles V himself, who owned the kingdom of Spain, the former Burgundian dominions and all of the Hapsburg lands, proved unable to face the rise of the Protestant Reform whereas it was murderously quashed in France.

The dominions of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Spain and Bohemia, etc.

In Conclusion


I hope this short overview has helped to figure out how different the HRE and the kingdom of France were in regards of their political structure. The principle of a hereditary monarchy helped the French kings a great deal to progressively implement a centralized state. Meanwhile, the elective imperial title and lack of proper imperial institutions made the German emperors often powerless to shape Germany into according to their political views. That is why the HRE is often described as a ‘loose confederation of minor kingdoms’ that share a same common Germanic culture, whereas medieval France is a properly united kingdom despite the impulse of autonomy expressed by the great dukes of the realm.

La Hire. Peter Strauss. Joan of Arc. 1999
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
Long Reads

Age of Empires 2 | Joan of Arc. 2, The Maid of OrlĂ©ans | Guide, Tips & Historical Review

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 Orléans.    

The City of Orléans 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.