An Analysis of the causes of the Wars and the course which they took.
Michael D. Miller
|Chapter 25: The coronation of King Charles VII - July 1429
|After the battle of Patay, there were few who were able or
so minded to resist Joan's demands for an immediate advance on Rheims. It was not all
plain sailing, because Auxerre closed its gates to her and Troyes had to be taken before
Rheims could be reached. Troyes was held by an Anglo-Burgundian garrison which could have
prevented the coronation unless it was first defeated. The French army, which was being
swelled with recruits with every mile it advanced, was now desperately short of supplies.
The soldiers had to subsist on a diet of beans and parched corn. La Tremoille advised a
retreat, but Joan insisted on an attack. She got her way, and a determined assault induced
the garrison to surrender after a siege which lasted for only a few days. This lead to the
submission of Chalons and of Rheims itself.
On 17th July 1429, in a scene of great splendour in Rheims cathedral, Charles was crowned King of France, the seventh of that name. In this great and momentous occasion Joan, who had done so much to bring this about, stood quietly to one side of the alter. In four short months, she had come so far and had achieved so much. Surely the time had now come when she could return to her father's sheep. It seemed little enough to ask, since she had achieved the relief of Orleans and the coronation of the King of France in the customary place, and thus fulfilled the task given to her by the Virgin Mary. Her voices told her this was not to be, and there was much further work to be done before she could be released from her obligation, for such it had now become, to save France. For her, the die was now cast for the events which were to lead her to the stake in Rouen. There was to be no turning back.
After the coronation, La Tremoille wanted the newly crowned King safely back in Bourges, and this suited Charles' inclinations very nicely. Joan wanted to strike while the iron was still hot and, now that the English were for once knocked off balance, to follow up the recent successes by advancing on Paris. Her fame was now such that the country people would fully support the French army which could expect supplies and recruits in ample measure. After some bitter argument, an advance on Paris was agreed upon with King Charles, somewhat apprehensively, riding at the head of his troops. Laon, Chateau Thierry, Coulommiers and Soissons opened their gates to him and he, and in particular Joan, were received with the wildest joy. From Soissons, the short road to Paris lay open.
La Tremoille may have been a wretch who was incapable of subordinating his own selfish interests to the common cause, and he may have been consumed with jealousy so far as Joan was concerned, but there were solid reasons for a cautious approach to the position. There were negotiations in being for a rappromement with Philip-the-Good, and his defection from the Anglo-Burgundian Alliance would have made the English position in France untenable. In the end nothing came of them, but in the late summer of 1429, there was real hope that they would bear fruit. Hatred and distrust of the former Armagnac faction was still strong in Paris, and without the Burgundians as allies, and to some extent as guarantors, the warmth of the welcome of the Parisians to the newly crowned King was a very uncertain factor. Paris was not some provincial city, whose loss once again would not greatly matter. It was the principal city of France and once taken, would have to be held permanently. To lose the City once more was unthinkable. It was strongly fortified, and an assault upon it would present many problems, particularly as the English would do all that lay within their power to frustrate it. The Regent and his subordinate commanders were excellent soldiers, and as such they would recover quickly from the reverses they had just suffered. In fact, they did so.
Cardinal Beaufort (for such we must now call him), had been raising troops in England for a crusade against the Hussites [page ]. Providentially, they had just landed in Northern France. The Cardinal put his soldiers at the disposal of the Regent, whilst Sir John Ratcliff brought with him another strong reinforcement, this time intended for the Regent's armies. In August 1429, the Regent felt strong enough to take the field with the aim of bringing the French army to battle. The two armies warily marched and counter-marched around Paris, with the English army, which was always moving on the interior and therefore smaller circle, keeping itself between Paris and the French. In Mid-August, the two armies faced each other in battle array near Senlis. Apart from some skirmishing among the outposts, no battle was fought, although Joan and the Duke of Alencon sought, without success, to tempt the Regent into making a rash move. The English did not think it wise to advance upon superior numbers, whilst the French considered it imprudent to risk another Agincourt by attacking an English army arrayed in a defensive position with so many archers among its numbers.
The Regent had other problems. Arthur of Brittany had been campaigning most successfully in Maine, and was even threatening Evreaux. Picardy was in a state of unrest, and even the smallest spark could have caused a conflagration. He could not risk such an uprising at his back. He therefore retreated through Paris to overawe the province, leaving Louis of Luxembourg, Bishop of Therouanne, to defend the City.
Joan and the Duc d'Alencon now saw a chance to attack Paris and thus force King Charles VII into an option which did not come readily to him. Before the end of August 1429, they entered St-Denis without opposition. It took two appeals from the Duke, in ever more pressing terms, to persuade King Charles to come as far as St-Denis; King Charles was not the stuff of which heroes are made, and no amount of appeals could induce him to come any nearer to the scene of the fighting. On 8th September 1429, Joan launched her assault on the Porte St Honore. The attack was on too narrow a front and, although the French captured the outer fortifications, they were defeated by the inner moat. Joan was once again knocked down by a quarrel from a cross-bow, and was only brought to safety with some difficulty.
Joan had suffered her first reverse, and its news was received with differing feelings in various quarters. To John, Duke of Bedford, the Regent of France, there was relief that Louis had managed to repel a French assault, and some food for thought that Joan's super-natural powers were not invincible. They could after all be beaten. To King Charles, there was also relief that he could now retire to his warm and comfortable Court far from the hard blows of battle. To La Tremoille, there was unbounded glee, which he made no attempt to conceal, that the person whom he hated above all others had been discomforted. To Joan, there was bitterness that not even her friends and supporters, who she knew were no cowards, would not renew an assault which she considered had every chance of success.
September - December 1429
It is easy to be critical of Joan and Alencon for choosing to attack Paris and not for going after the Regent's army with a view to bringing it to battle and defeating it.
It would not have been difficult to by-pass Paris and to follow the Regent into Picardy, a province which was so hostile to him and so markedly sympathetic to the French that Joan's face, once shown there, would have raised the countryside in her favour. If the Regent had been defeated, then Paris would probably have submitted in any event, even if there were doubts about the sympathies of the Parisians. Such criticism ignores the problems they faced within the French Court. There jealousies and hatreds were opposed to any further successes on their part, and the spineless nature of King Charles VII, who alone could have overcome the opposition, made it impossible to undertake such a sensible course as going in pursuit of the Regent. Joan and Alencon therefore saw the attack on Paris as the only course which was open to them to force the King's hand, because he could easily have frustrated a lengthy and complex operation such as pursuing the Regent into Picardy. For all that was said, there was still some time of the campaigning season left, and the English themselves had shown that it was possible to campaign during the winter months. It was not necessary to disband the French army so soon.
Again in fairness to La Tremoille and those who thought like him, the position of Burgundy was presently uncertain. The negotiations with Philip-the-Good were still dragging on in a desultory fashion, but they were not yet dead. An attack on the Regent's army may well have lead him to move strongly in support of the Regent. This would have killed the negotiations, and would also have decreased the chances of a French success. On the other hand, the negotiations had proceeded so far that there was real hope that Burgundy could be persuaded not to move in the Regent's support, and in any case she may have been unable to do so if the French army had moved fast, as it had already proved it was capable of doing. All this is of course speculation, but fortune does favour the brave, and it is tempting to think that, had there been more resolution on the part of King Charles, this terrible war could have been brought to a rapid conclusion by the end of 1429. All that can be said is that a great chance was ignored and thereby lost, and for this King Charles VII must carry the blame.
|Copyright © Michael D. Miller 2003|