Hundred Years' War: Siege of Orléans

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Joan of Arc. Photograph Courtesy of the Centre Historique des Archives Nationales, Paris, AE II 2490

Siege of Orléans: Dates & Conflicts:

The Siege of Orléans began October 12, 1428 and ended May 8, 1429, and took place during the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453).

Armies & Commanders

English

  • Earl of Shrewsbury
  • Earl of Salisbury
  • Duke of Suffolk
  • Sir John Fastolf
  • approx. 5,000 men

French

  • Joan of Arc
  • Jean de Dunois
  • Gilles de Rais
  • Jean de Brosse
  • approx. 6,400-10,400 men

Siege of Orléans - Background:

In 1428, the English sought to assert Henry VI's claim to the French throne through the Treaty of Troyes.

Already holding much of northern France with their Burgundian allies, 6,000 English soldiers landed at Calais under the leadership of the Earl of Salisbury. These were soon met by another 4,000 men drawn from Normandy by the Duke of Bedford. Advancing south, they succeeded in capturing Chartres and several other towns by late August. Occupying Janville, they next drove on the Loire Valley and took Meung on September 8. After moving downstream to take Beaugency, Salisbury dispatched troops to capture Jargeau.

Siege of Orleans - the Siege Begins:

Having isolated Orléans, Salisbury consolidated his forces, now numbering around 4,000 after leaving garrisons at his conquests, south of the city on October 12. While the city was located on the north side of the river, the English were initially confronted by defensive works on the south bank. These consisted of a barbican (fortified compound) and twin-towered gatehouse known as Les Tourelles.

Directing their initial efforts against these two positions, they succeeded in driving out the French on October 23. Falling back across the nineteen-arch bridge, which they damaged, the French withdrew into the city.

Occupying Les Tourelles and the nearby fortified convent of Les Augustins, the English began to dig in.

The next day, Salisbury was mortally wounded when surveying French positions from Les Tourelles. He was replaced by the less aggressive Earl of Suffolk. With the weather changing, Suffolk pulled back from the city, leaving Sir William Glasdale and a small force to garrison Les Tourelles, and entered winter quarters. Concerned by this inactivity, Bedford dispatched the Earl of Shrewsbury and reinforcements to Orléans. Arriving in early December, Shrewsbury took command and moved troops back to the city.

Siege of Orleans - the Siege Tightens:

Shifting the bulk of his forces to the north bank, Shrewsbury built a large fortress around the Church of St. Laurent west of the city. Additional forts were built on the Ile de Charlemagne in the river and around the Church of St. Prive to the south. The English commander next constructed a series of three forts extending northeast and connected by a defensive ditch. Lacking sufficient men to fully surround the city, he established two forts east of Orléans, St. Loup and St. Jean le Blanc, with the goal of blocking supplies from entering the city. As the English line was porous, this was never fully achieved.

Siege of Orleans - Reinforcements for Orléans & the Burgundian Withdrawal:

When the siege began, Orléans possessed only a small garrison, but this was augmented by militia companies that were formed to man the city's thirty-four towers. As the English lines never fully cut off the city, reinforcements began to trickle in and Jean de Dunois assumed control of the defense. Though Shrewsbury's army was augmented by the arrival of 1,500 Burgundians during the winter, the English were soon outnumbered as the garrison swelled to around 7,000. In January, the French king, Charles VII assembled a relief force downstream at Blois.

Led by the Count of Clermont, this army elected to attack an English supply train on February 12, 1429 and was routed at the Battle of the Herrings. Though the English siege was not tight, the situation in the city was becoming desperate as supplies were low.

French fortunes began to change in February when Orléans applied to be put under the protection of the Duke of Burgundy. This caused a rift in the Anglo-Burgundian alliance, as Bedford, who was ruling as Henry's regent, refused this arrangement. Angered by Bedford's decision, the Burgundians withdrew from the siege further weakening the thin English lines.

Siege of Orleans - Joan Arrives:

As the intrigues with the Burgundians came to a head, Charles first met with the young Joan of Arc (Jeanne d'Arc) at his court in Chinon. Believing that she was following divine guidance, she asked Charles to allow her to lead relief forces to Orléans. Meeting with Joan on March 8, he sent her to Poitiers to be examined by clerics and Parliament. With their approval, she returned to Chinon in April where Charles agreed to let her lead a supply force to Orléans. Riding with the Duke of Alencon, her force moved along the south bank and crossed over at Chécy where she met with Dunois.

While Dunois mounted a divisionary attack, the supplies were barged into the city. After spending the night in Chécy, Joan entered the city on April 29. Over the next few days, Joan assessed the situation while Dunois departed to Blois to bring up the main French army. This force arrived on May 4 and French units moved against the fort at St. Loup. Though intended as a diversion, the attack became a larger engagement and Joan rode out to join the fighting. Shrewsbury sought to relieve his beleaguered troops, but was blocked by Dunois and St.

Loup was overrun.

Siege of Orleans - Orléans Relieved:

The next day, Shrewsbury began consolidating his position south of the Loire around the Les Tourelles complex and St. Jean le Blanc. On May 6, Jean sortied with a large force and crossed to the Ile-Aux-Toiles. Spotting this, the garrison at St. Jean le Blanc withdrew to Les Augustins. Pursuing the English, the French launched several assaults against the convent through the afternoon before finally taking it late in the day. Dunois succeeded in preventing Shrewsbury from sending aid by conducting raids against St. Laurent. His situation weakening, the English commander withdrew all of his forces from the south bank except for the garrison at Les Tourelles.

On the morning of May 7, Joan and the other French commanders, such as La Hire, Alencon, Dunois, and Ponton de Xaintrailles gathered east of Les Tourelles. Moving forward, they began assaulting the barbican around 8:00 AM. Fighting raged through the day with the French unable to penetrate the English defenses. In the course of the action, Joan was wounded in the shoulder and forced to leave the battle. With casualties mounting, Dunois debated calling off the attack, but was convinced by Joan to press on. After praying privately, Joan rejoined the fighting. The appearance of her banner advancing spurred on the French troops who finally broke into the barbican.

This action coincided with a fire barge burning the drawbridge between the barbican and Les Tourelles. English resistance in the barbican began to collapse and French militia from the city crossed the bridge and assaulted Les Tourelles from the north.

By nightfall, the entire complex had been taken and Joan crossed the bridge to re-enter the city. Defeated on the south bank, the English formed their men for battle the next morning and emerged from their works northwest of the city. Assuming a formation similar to Crécy, they invited the French to attack. Though the French marched out, Joan counseled against an attack.

Aftermath:

When it became apparent that the French would not attack, Shrewsbury began an orderly withdrawal toward Meung ending the siege. A key turning point in the Hundred Years' War, the Siege of Orléans brought Joan of Arc to prominence. Seeking to maintain their momentum, the French embarked on the successful Loire Campaign which saw Joan's forces drive the English from the region in a series of battles which culminated at Patay.

 

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Hickman, Kennedy. "Hundred Years' War: Siege of Orléans." ThoughtCo, May. 13, 2015, thoughtco.com/hundred-years-war-siege-of-orleans-2360758. Hickman, Kennedy. (2015, May 13). Hundred Years' War: Siege of Orléans. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/hundred-years-war-siege-of-orleans-2360758 Hickman, Kennedy. "Hundred Years' War: Siege of Orléans." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/hundred-years-war-siege-of-orleans-2360758 (accessed November 20, 2017).