THE SIEGE OF ORLEANS
 YOU have already heard a little about Charles when he
was the dauphin, but listen
now to what an old chronicler writes of him after he
had become king.
"Charles VII.," he says, "was a handsome prince, and
compassionate toward poor folk;
but he did not readily put on his harness, and he had
no heart for war if he could
do without it." By "harness" the chronicler meant
It was the greatest pity in the world that Charles VII. had "no heart for war," for
war was inevitable if the English were to be turned out
of the country, and Charles
was ever to claim his true inheritance as King of
But as in truth he had "no heart for war," the King of
Bourges wandered aimlessly
about France, with only a few attendants, sometimes
fleeing before the English,
sometimes forced to fight them with what army he could
collect from his loyal
subjects in the south.
It was not only the English who stood in Charles's way,
but their allies the
Burgundians, without whose help the English would have
been too weak to hold France
for their baby-king.
Queen Isabelle, the dauphin's mother, had, you
remember, also joined the
Burgundians, and she did nothing to help her son's
Charles was in a miserable condition. Sometimes he had
not even enough money to pay
for a pair of boots. He was so unhappy that he often
dreamed that he could not
really be the king's son, and the true heir to the
 and almost he would
make up his mind to flee to Spain, and think no more
about the kingdom he had lost.
While Charles idled and dreamed, the English were
active and wide awake. In October
1428 they determined to besiege Orleans, on the banks
of the river Loire, which was,
after Paris and Rouen, the most important city in the
kingdom. It would indeed be a
bitter blow to the cause of Charles VII. should he lose
Orleans. For it was the key
to the south, and should it be taken by the English,
the Royalist party would almost
certainly be overthrown.
When the Duke of Bedford ordered the Earl of Salisbury,
who had come from England
with reinforcements, to lay siege to Orleans, the
French were without allies,
without any great leader.
But the citizens in Orleans were all loyal, and
determined to defend their city.
They had a garrison of about twelve thousand men, and
the reckless soldier, La Hire,
as well as the brave Dunois, of whom you will hear
more, hastened to the help of the
besieged town. Of the stout La Hire it is told that,
one day as he was hurrying to a
battlefield, he met a priest and begged to be absolved
from his sins. But when the
priest bade him confess. La Hire refused, saying his
sins were many and his time was
short. So without further remonstrance the priest gave
the rough captain the
absolution he desired.
La Hire then folded his hands and prayed: "God, I pray
Thee to do for La Hire this
day as much as Thou wouldst have La Hire do for Thee if
he were God and Thou wert La
Hire." Then the bold soldier went happily away to his
Meanwhile, the English had stormed and taken a strong
fortress called the
Tournelles, which commanded one of the bridges across
the Loire leading into the
city. Here Sir William Glansdale, who was in charge of
the Tournelles, placed his
guns, so as to control both the bridge and the city.
 The Earl of Salisbury, wishing to see the
surrounding country, climbed to the
top of the fortress. As he stood there, Glansdale by
his side, a shot from the city
wounded the earl, and soon afterwards he died.
While the Tournelles was the principal fortress, and
would have to be taken before
the city could be reached, there were thirteen other
forts built round the besieged
At times the garrison in Orleans was confident enough
to sally out and attack the
foe. Hearing in February 1429 that the Duke of Bedford
was sending provisions from
Paris to the English army, the French made up their
mind to seize the fresh supply
of food before it reached the camp. Among the
provisions, I must tell you, were
large numbers of barrels filled with herrings.
The English soldiers were warned that they would be
attacked, so they halted at a
place called Bouvray, placed the wagons with the
provisions close together, and
hurriedly put round them a paling made of stakes. The
French, led by Dunois, the
Bastard of Orleans, as he was called, fired at the
enclosure, but the English never
Then the French, reckless as ever, attacked the little
camp. This was what the
English had hoped they would do. At close quarters they
were more than a match for
their foes, and the French were soon beaten and flying
in all directions. Dunois was
wounded as well as two or three hundred of his men.
This fight was called not only the Battle of Bouvray,
but more often the Battle of
the Herrings, for the barrels had been shattered, and
the fish which they had held
was strewn on the ground.
The citizens of Orleans were discouraged by this
defeat. Moreover, to add to their
distress, the Archbishop of Rheims who had been with
them, as well as many nobles,
now left the city.
In their despair the people offered to give up the town
 to the Duke of
Burgundy on condition that the Duke of Bedford with his
English army would withdraw.
The Duke of Burgundy was already growing tired of his
English alliance, and would
have accepted the citizens' offer, but Bedford was
indignant when the duke asked him
to raise the siege. "I do not care to beat the bushes
for another to get the birds,"he said.
This answer made the Duke of Burgundy so angry that he
at once withdrew his forces,
so that the English suffered greatly by the quarrel
between the two dukes.
Had the citizens of Orleans but known the feeling in
the English camp, they might
have made a great effort and forced the besiegers to
withdraw. For the soldiers were
tired after a winter spent more or less in the
trenches, and they knew that without
the Burgundian troops they could not take Orleans,
although they might still be able
to prolong the siege.
To add to the gloom in the English camp, strange
rumours now reached them of one
calling herself Joan the Maid, who had promised the
French king that she would raise
the siege of Orleans.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics