Orléans, Siege of (1429)
PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: English forces for Henry VI and
Burgundian allies vs. Joan of Arc and forces for the
French heir Charles
PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): City of Orléans in southern
DECLARATION: No formal declaration
MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: A contest for the French
throne following the death of King Charles VI.
OUTCOME: The dauphin ascended to the throne.
APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS:
English, 5,000; Joan was accompanied to Orléans by
several hundred troops.
CASUALTIES: English, 500 killed or captured; French,
In 1420, during the HUNDRED YEARS’ WAR, England’s King
Henry V (1387–1422) became heir to the French throne,
by courtesy of the Treaty of Troyes, upon the death of
French king Charles VI (1368–1422). The deal was
denounced by Charles’s son, the dauphin, and his followers,
and when Charles died, the dauphin claimed the crown
as Charles VII (1403–61). Unfortunately, the English, too,
decided to press their claim, and they allied with Philip III
(the Good; 1396–1467), duke of Burgundy—whose forces
controlled much of northern France—to keep Charles from
taking the throne. As it happened, Henry V died the same
year as Charles VI, so it was not he but his infant son,
Henry VI (1421–71), in whose name the English regent,
John Plantagenet (1389–1435), duke of Bedford, took control
of English holdings in northern France. Five years after
the death of this father, Charles VII had not yet been
crowned, since Reims, traditional site of French coronations,
lay under the control of his enemies.
Even worse, Bedford soon attacked the south, sending
5,000 troops to conquer Maine, a border region between
those French lands recognizing Henry of England as king
and those recognizing Charles as king. After taking Maine,
Thomas de Montacute (d. 1428), earl of Salisbury,
launched the siege of Orléans, a city which had become
key to maintaining the dauphin’s ambition. Not only the
French were unhappy with Salisbury. His action had been
taken against the advice of the duke of Bedford himself,
who argued for an advance into Anjou instead. Salisbury
managed to capture some important places upstream and
downstream from Orléans, along with the bridgehead fort
on the south bank of the Loire River opposite the city
itself, before he died from a battle wound on November 3.
His successor in command, William de la Pole (1396–
1450), earl of Suffolk, did little to advance the siege before
December of 1428, when John Talbot (1384–1453 [later earl
of Shrewsbury]) and Thomas Scales arrived to push him forward.
Under their influence the English began to build
impressive siegeworks, including forts, and to press harder
on the city, and a French attempt to cut the besiegers’ line of
supply was defeated in the Battle of the Herrings on February
12, 1429. Still, as the weeks went by, Orléans held out.
Part of the reason lay with a young French peasant
girl, the deeply religious Joan of Arc (1412–31), who
would lead the defense against the siege after forcing an
audience with the dauphin and persuading him to accept
what she saw as her divine mission to save the city. In fact,
the defenders, under Jean d’Orléans (1403–68), comte de
Dunois (bastard son of Charles VII’s late uncle Louis, duc
d’Orléans [1372–1407]), were considering capitulation
when Joan had her audience. At length, she persuaded
Charles to send an army to relieve the besieged town.
With several hundred of the dauphin’s troops, Joan set
out for Orléans. From Chézy five miles upstream, Joan
distracted the English with a diversionary feint against
one of the English forts, and entered Orléans with supplies
on April 30. On May 4 she attacked the principal
English forts, and within three days they had all been
stormed. Suffolk abandoned the siege. What was more,
the English were forced out of Troyes, Châlons, and
Reims. There, at last, Charles was crowned. Although ultimately
the English would execute Joan as a witch and a
heretic, the “Maid of Orléans” had loosened England’s grip
on French lands for good.
See also ROSES, WARS OF THE.
Further reading: Anne Curry, The Hundred Years War
(New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003); Desmond Stewart,
The Hundred Years’ War: England in France, 1337–1453
(New York: Penguin USA, 1999); Jonathan Sumption, The
Hundred Years’ War: Trial by Fire (Philadelphia: University
of Pennsylvania Press, 2000).