The Siege at Orléans
The siege of Orléans was to be one of the defining moments of Gilles’ life. How much he was influenced by Joan is debatable. It is alleged that as early as 1426, well before the death of his grandfather, Gilles was attempting to raise the devil. Strangely, in view of these proclivities, Gilles was a devout man, who lavished money on his chapel and maintained a choir of children, who followed him around as he moved from one of his properties to another. This choir was also to form a pool of victims.Joan was hedged about by those she was theoretically commanding. Her squire, Jean d’Aulon[i], was one of la Trémoille’s men, as was Gilles the commander of her army. La Trémoille was able to influence Jean Pasquerel, an Augustinian monk who travelled with Joan, and her two brothers.
Xaintrailled coat of arms
Gilles and the army, along with la Hire and Poton de Xaintrailles caught up with Joan, at Blois. Joan was on a processional tour with Jean de Brosse[ii] in an attempt to capture hearts and minds and reinvigorate the French people for a return to the fight against the English; that had already cost so many lives.
‘In the town of Blois many carts, great and small, were laden with wheat and also a large number of cattle, sheep, cows, swine and other victuals were taken, and Joan the Maid set out, as did the other Captains for Orléans.’[iii]Yolande had organised the supplies, but was unable to pay for them. Charles sold off his last remaining jewels and borrowed large sums from la Trémoille[iv].
The bridge protecting the southern approach to the town[v] had been taken by the English early on. As a consequence Dunois had ordered the destruction of the bridge, leaving the town isolated from the south. The English army, numbering about 3,500, planned to starve Orléans into submission. Joan and Dunois were able to meet and the pair clashed over tactics; Dunois was taking orders from la Trémoille.The Rescue
Orleans in 1428
Joan wanted an immediate attack, but there was insufficient food to feed the townspeople and the army and Gilles and Ambroise de Loré were to return to Blois to collect more supplies. Joan and Dunois were to enter the city. At eight in the evening on 29th April Joan entered Orléans in a torchlight parade, while Gilles and de Loré returned to Blois where Gilles was able to organise the fresh supplies and was back at Orléans on 4th May.
‘The Maid sallied forth into the fields…..and went to meet the Bastard of Orléans[vi], the Marshal de Rais…..and many other knights and squires….who bought foodstuffs that the people of Bourges, Angers. Tours and Blois sent to the people of Orléans.’[vii]
Arms of Sir John Fastolf
That same afternoon Sir John Fastolf[viii] arrived bringing reinforcements for the besiegers. The townspeople, inspired by Joan’s presence, had made a sortie against the English and were being slaughtered. Joan went to their rescue and in turn had to be rescued by Gilles and la Hire, who attacked the English from the rear. The combined French forces then attacked the English fortifications at St-Loup[ix] and took possession.The Siege Continues
On the 5th May Gilles and Dunois held a council of war from which Joan was specifically excluded. Action on the following day was decided against; a ruling which Joan ignored when she was informed about it. She rode out with a handful of followers against the fortress of les Augustins[x].
‘The Maid placed her standard before the fortress of Les Augustins, where came straightway the Sire de Rais.’[xi]
Despite the decision of the previous day Joan and Gilles were joined by numerous others and les Augustins was taken. The next step was to remove the English from les Tourelles. Against advice Joan joined in the attack, which was faltering in the evening of 7th May. She led a frontal assault, forcing the English into the last redoubt of les Tourelles. Their captain drowned, with many of his men, when the drawbridge gave way and the French took control of this vital gateway to Orléans.
Joan leads an attack on English fortifications
Joan was wounded by an arrow in the attack on les Tourelles. On the Sunday the English took up battle formation and the French drew up against them; but after an hour the English retreated in an orderly fashion towards Melun; this despite some harrying of the rearguard by le Hire’s men. The siege was over. In the evening there were celebrations in the town, continuing into the Monday when, with the clergy at the head, the army paraded from church to church, with Gilles prominent among the commanders.
The Loire CampaignA friendship between Joan and Gilles was starting to develop; they shared a recklessness in battle and a penchant for the dramatic, they were both drawn to simple solutions to any problem and a fondness for fine clothes.
Gilles was among those who went with Joan to talk to Charles. Joan was determined to have Charles crowned at Rheims, to validate his claim to be King of France[xii]. La Trémoille was determined that Joan should not have things all her own way and a number of alternative next moves were proposed. However Joan was adamant and in the end her proposals prevailed, although Charles insisted on a campaign in the Loire valley.
Alencon coat of arms
It was during this period of negotiations that Gilles’ star was eclipsed with the return to court of the Duke of Alençon, who had been in English hands since 1425. He was created Lieutenant-General of the French army.
Battle of Jargeau
It may be assumed[xiii] that Gilles fought at the battle of Jargeau, where the English were defeated and on 12th June the walls of the town were scaled. The Earl de la Pole[xiv] and his brother John were captured. On the 15th the army marched towards Beaugency, taking the bridge at Meung by a frontal attack. The following day they entered Beaugency, the English having withdrawn into the castle. The army was now joined by de Richemont and his men. The English agreed to leave the castle and to restrain from fighting the French for a period of ten days.
Joan on campaign
The English were sending relief under the command of Fastolf and Talbot; their attempt to retake the bridge at Meung was forestalled and the English made camp at Patay. On the 18th June the French defeated the English in a battle that was the turning point in the war. In just over a month Joan had turned around French fortunes.
Charles did not meet with his victorious army until 24th June, possibly held back by the jealous la Trémoille. After negotiations Charles left Gien on 29th en route for Rheims. They arrived at Auxerre on 1st July, where la Trémoille persuaded the town to surrender, thus enhancing his own reputation.On the 4th July Joan wrote to Troyes demanding that the town surrender; they refused and the army, despite low morale, prepared to besiege it. Joan insisted that the town would fall in two days. A pro-French monk, Brother Richard, in the town had been promoting surrender, but was concerned that Joan was a witch. At her trial Joan said of the meeting;
‘It seemed to me that the people of Troyes, fearing that this was something that did not come from God, sent him to me. And when he came to me, approaching, he made the sign of the cross, and I said to him:
‘Approach boldly – I will not fly away.’[xv]The siege lasted five days; when Joan had the assault sounded the Bishop and townspeople came out to treat with Charles. The English garrison was to depart and the citizens would receive a pardon. The English demanded to be allowed to take their prisoners with them but Joan would not allow this.
The CoronationFollowing the surrender of Châlons, on 16th July a delegation of the townspeople of Rheims met with Charles and handed him the keys of the city. Given the exposed position of Rheims it was decided that Charles must be crowned the following day, a Sunday[xvi]. Much of the royal regalia was in English hands in Paris.
Gilles was one of the four nobles selected to collect the Holy ampulla from the Abbey de St-Rémy and carry it to the Notre Dame, where the coronation took place.
‘The Marshal de Boussac, my lords de Rais and Oraville and the Admiral (Culan) with their four banners, which each carried in his hand, armed at all points and on horseback and with a fitting retinue.’[xvii]
Notre Dame de Rheims
Gilles was made a Marshal of France the same day. It was on this day too that Joan wrote to the Duke of Burgundy demanding that he make peace with his suzerain.Bibliography
The Hundred Years War – Alfred Burne, Folio Society 2005The Real Bluebeard – Jean Benedetti – Sutton Publishing 2003
The Reign of King Henry VI – RA Griffiths, Alan Sutton 1998Joan of Arc – Edward Lucie-Smith, Penguin 2000
[i] Later to become Chamberlain
[ii] Later a Marshal of France
[iii] The Real Bluebeard – Benedetti
[iv] Presumably money he had already given the favourite
[v] Built on the north bank of the Loire
[vii] The Real Bluebeard - Benedetti
[viii] Given immortality by Shakespeare as Sir John Falstaff
[ix] To the east of the town
[x] To the south of les Tourelles guarding the bridge
[xi] The Real Bluebeard - Benedetti
[xii] The young Henry VI had yet to be crowned King of France and when he was, it was in Paris rather than Rheims where all coronations took place.
[xiii] After his fall from grace reference to Gilles was removed from many official records
[xv] Joan of Arc – Lucie-Smith
[xvi] The traditional day for coronations
[xvii] The Real Bluebeard – Benedetti