Chapter 2 - Why Joan of Arc was Needed
DeVries notes: "When Joan of Arc involved herself in the Hundred Years War, she entered a hornet's nest of military and political problems."
In this chapter, DeVries introduces and summarizes the background of the Hundred Years War, leading up to the point at which a peasant girl named Joan would be seriously considered as a potential war leader. Starting in 1337, DeVries divides the war into four phases, contending that the French had won one, fought England to a draw in another, and badly lost the other two, "including the phase immediately preceding Joan's appearance as a leader of the French Army." DeVries then goes through an overview of the causes and course of the conflict.
DeVries points out that before 1337, the Kingdom of France had a "strong and renowned military." In 1328, trouble starts when Edward III of England's claim to the French crown was dismissed as his descent from the crown was through a woman [in light of this entire discussion, there seems a strange irony in this...] He invaded in 1340, and after several years of off and on fighting and treaties, in August 1346, dealt the French a major defeat at the battle of Crecy. The Black Death which ravaged Europe in 1348-49, put a temporary halt to the fighting, and it also influenced English tactics, which change from pitched battles to the cavalry raiding style known as the "chevauchée."
In 1356, The French lost another major battle at Poitiers, and the French king of that time, John II was captured by the English. DeVries speculates that this might have been a good thing for the French, as John II "...is generally considered an ineffective military leader..." His son, who later becomes Charles V of France, did better at regaining territory. Over the next almost forty years, he and then his son, Charles VI pushed the English back quite a bit.
However, by 1407, Charles VI of France had developed bouts of mental illness, leaving an unstable government. This gave rise to two factions, the Burgundians and the Armagnacs. The French civil war between the two factions would not be resolved in Joan's lifetime.
This created an opportunity for Henry V of England to invade, in an attempt to reclaim the French crown. This invasion culminated in the battle of Agincourt, in which the French suffered approximately 10,000 dead, while the English lost a few hundred. Agincourt took a heavy toll on the French Army's numbers, leadership and perhaps its confidence as well.
In May 1418, Paris surrendered to the Duchy of Burgundy, and the Duke of Burgundy, John the Fearless, was welcomed as the governor and "Protector" of France. Charles VI's son, the Dauphin Charles, fled to the south. Although John the Fearless attempted to put together a governing coalition including the Armagnacs, he was killed while under a writ of "safe passage," in revenge for an earlier assassination of an Armagnac leader that he had been implicated in.
The Burgundians made a treaty on behalf of France with the English, which made Henry V heir to the French throne in the event of Charles VI's death. The Dauphin was effectively disowned. The Armagnacs did not accept the treaty and still considered the dauphin to be the true heir.
And then in 1422, Henry V died before Charles VI. His infant son, Henry VI, became the king of England and France when Charles VI died later the same year. The Armagnacs, seeing an opportunity, began to fight back but the English and Burgundians continued to make significant gains.
In July 1428, the Earl of Salisbury laid siege to the city of Orléans. If he could capture it, the English would control the River Loire, and the dauphin, headquartered at Chinon, might have been forced to surrender.
And now we`re back to DeVries comment, ``...she entered a hornet's nest on military and political problems."
``Half of [France] was occupied by a foreign military, its society frightened by marauding armies and confused by a political dispute... whose argument had little grass-roots permeation, its economy broken by [armies constantly marching] across its [farms] and its industries blocked from the markets and trade routes which had once made them prosperous, with no crowned king, and few others who could or would rise to take over leadership of the government or the armies[.] The kingdom of France was not even a shadow of its thirteenth-century prototype."
DeVries then points out that there were "pockets of resistance" which had held out against the English "largely unsupported by the dauphin or his generals." This gave rise to a feeling among some 'patriots' that the English might be vulnerable to a concentrated military effort.
"...but they needed an inspiration. Dauphin Charles had not provided this inspiration. Nor was he likely to in the future, as he was being counselled to proceed against the English with sluggish, even inactive caution by his favorites."
Which, according to DeVries, explains Joan's role. "...When Joan appeared, and they felt her confidence and determination, they followed her with a loyalty which few soldiers in history have given their leaders.... Judging from her results, she may have been just what the French Military needed to regain its own confidence and composure and to realize the advantages that it had over its English enemies."
In short, it was Joan's determination to succeed, and her confidence that she could, that provided the sorely lacking inspiration and confidence in success for the French leaders, soldiers and citizens.
Of course, nothing is Quite that simple, and next time we'll take a look at the beginnings of Joan's involvement in the Hundred Years War.
Next Post: Notes on Joan of Arc: A Military Leader - Part 3.