DeVries opens the chapter by asking "When did [Joan] become a soldier, or even better, a military leader?" He then discusses the theory that during the Hundred Years War, it was slowly dawning on people that "many where not good military leaders simply by their birth."
"The real leaders were those wizened old veterans, men who had proven themselves in warfare and had not been caught or imprisoned, let alone killed." So why did the nobles still educated their young men in military skills and leadership? Devries' argument is: "The answer is that everyone, including Joan, believed it necessary to learn how to fight and lead in a military engagement."
Joan practiced the military arts: riding a horse, wielding a lance, and interestingly, learning how to sight the 'new gunpowder weaponry' that the French used in their sieges. "Everyone marvelled at this, that she acted so wisely, and clearly in waging war, as if she was a captain who had the experience of twenty or so years; and especially in the setting up of artillery..."
Devries observes that Joan had an affinity for learning from the engagements which she fought and she may have had an advantage in being 'common': it may have allowed her to listen to others, common canoneers, for example, and to learn from them, which the nobles would not have been as likely to do. Devries says "All this resulted in a European-wide reputation for military skill and leadership which was unsurpassed in her day."
Devries now introduces the Siege of Orléans, observing that "no single engagement of the Hundred Years War has had more written about it than the siege of Orléans...The battles of Crecy, Poitiers, Agincourt, Formigny and Castillion together cannot boast the number of pages devoted to the siege of Orléans. Most of this work, of course, is in French, the English, contemporary and modern, both having g degree of embarrassment at not being able to capture the city."
DeVries also points out that if one wins using an unorthodox leader (such as Joan) "the victory takes on a miraculous description. However, if one loses to that same unorthodox leader, an excuse for the loss must be found. Naturally no one who is defeated by a 'mission' can accept it as 'divine' as that calls into question the justification and divinity of their military adventure."
Meanwhile, on to Orléans: The English Earl of Salisbury had in 1428 taken about 4,000 - 5,000 men to capture Orléans. There were never enough troops to surround the city, let alone capture it by siege. Instead, Salisbury manned only a few strongholds.
DeVries gives us the background to the siege before Joan arrived, including the capture by the English of the Tourelles, a fortified gate at the entrance to the bridge into Orléans, and how the Orleanais destroyed the bridge over the Loire river between the Tourelles and the city to keep the English out. However, the Earl of Salisbury was killed by a cannonball shortly after the capture of the Tourelles, and after that the English troops tended to remain in the fortifications that they built around the city, and exchange artillery bombardment with the French.
DeVries comments that the English plan seems to have been "wait patiently for the city's surrender from starvation, bombardment and despair. They ... did not anticipate that the ... French forces would mount an effective attempt to relive the siege." As well, the Orléanais were determined not to fall to the English without a fight.
DeVries now introduces us to Jean, the Bastard of Orléans. Born out of wedlock, he was nevertheless recognized by his father, the Duke of Orléans, which entitled him to similar benefits as his half-brothers. While renowned as a fighter of the English, DeVries comments that he seems to have been reluctant to meet the English in combat at Orléans and "at least until Joan of Arc appeared, willing to retreat from Orléans and allow the city to fall."
DeVries contrasts that with Joan's focus on relieving the siege. She sent her famous "'Letter to the English' in which she told the besiegers of her mission and her determination to complete it." He notes that "...the letter is clear in its confidence and its defiance."
The letter itself switches between first person and third person and contains phrases such as 'surrender to the Maid' and "I am commander of the armies.' It was clear that Joan felt her mission came from God, and Devries states that "she felt it only fair to give the English the opportunity of withdrawing from the city without the loss of life." It is likely that Joan wrote the letter more for the French than for the English.
In late April, Joan met the Bastard in Blois. He recalled "the large number of soldiers...and huge convoy of provisions that had been collected by the dauphin's mother-in-law, the Queen of Sicily, and paid for by the dauphin." On April 26, Joan and the Royal Army left Blois for Orléans.
Next Post: Notes on Joan of Arc: A Military Leader - Part 5.