Attack on Paris: 8 September 1429

Despite a wound to the leg from a crossbow bolt, Jeanne remained in the inner trench of Paris until she was carried back to safety by one of the commanders.

Date: 3 – 8 September 1429
Location: Paris, France
Outcome: English victory
Principal Combatants.
English Leadership: Jean de Villiers, Simon Morhier
English Strength: 3,000 English
citizens of Paris
French Leadership: Charles VII, Jeanne d’Arc, Duke of Alençon, Gilles de Rais, Jean de Brosse
French Strength: 10,000
Casualties: 500 dead 1,000 wounded

The siege of Paris was an assault undertaken in 1429 by the French troops of the recently crowned King Charles VII, with the notable assistance of Jeanne d’Arc, to take the city held by the English and their Burgundian allies. The Armagnac French troops failed to enter Paris, defended by the governor Jean de Villiers de L’Isle-Adam and the provost Simon Morhier, with the support of much of the city’s population.

Background

After Henry V of England entered Paris in 1420, the English administration was sympathetic to the citizens of Paris, confirming their former privileges and giving even new ones. The Parisians had accepted the English mostly by hatred of Charles VII (whom they had nicknamed “King of Bourges”) and the Armagnac party, who threatened the many liberties that the city had obtained over the centuries.

After the battle of Montépilloy on 26 August 1429, Jeanne d’Arc and Duke John II of Alençon, took Saint-Denis, a town north of Paris. On August 28, Charles VII signed the truce of Compiègne which excepted from the armistice Saint-Denis (which was already taken), St. Cloud, Vincennes, Charenton and Paris.

The battle

On September 3 Jeanne d’Arc accompanied by the Dukes of Alençon and Bourbon, the counts of Vendôme and Laval, Marshals Gilles de Rais and La Hire and their troops, lodge in the village of La Chapelle. After performing for several days recognitions and skirmishes on various gates of Paris, Jeanne d’Arc prayed in St. Genevieve chapel. In the morning of Thursday, 8 September 1429, Jeanne d’Arc, the Duke of Alençon, Marshals Gilles de Rais and Jean de Brosse Boussac start from the Village of La Chapelle to storm the Porte Saint-Honoré.

The French installed guns (culverins) on the butte de Saint-Roch to support the attack. (A culverin was a relatively simple ancestor of the musket, and later a medieval cannon. The culverin was used to bombard targets from a distance)

The Parisians, believing that the Armagnacs wanted to destroy the city from top to bottom, made a vigorous defence. Jeanne d’Arc was given the task of leading the assault to capture the city by Charles VII. Jeanne d’Arc charged towards the main gate with the french army and tried to cross the city’s moat filled with water in front of the gate. The French failed to capture any section of the gatehouse and its surrounding walls and suffered extremely heavy casualties. Jeanne d’Arc was wounded by a crossbow bolt in the thigh. Jeanne was then dragged away from the battlefield and was brought back to her house in La Chapelle. Although she wished to resume the attack on Paris, King Charles VII ordered her to withdraw to the Abbey of Saint-Denis. After 4 hours of assaulting the walls of Paris, Charles VII sounded the retreat as no progress had been made.

Consequences

The city was defended by about 3,000 English commanded by marshal Simon Morhier and governor Jean de Villiers de L’Isle-Adam, which forced Charles VII and his army of 10,000 soldiers to retreat.

Having failed by force, Charles VII, tried to take the city otherwise. In 1430, he staged a plot that was discovered by the English, and lead to the hanging of 6 Parisians on the scaffold. In 1432 and 1434, further attempts were made to open the gates of Paris to the forces of Charles VII, but were prevented by Parisians who were Burgundian partisans and English supporters. After the Duke of Burgundy had withdrawn his support for the English as a result of the Treaty of Arras (1435), on 13 April 1436 the Parisians opened the city gates to the bastard of Orléans and constable Richemont.

While Charles VII wanted to hurry south from Reims to safety, Jeanne felt it was crucial that the French take the opportunity to recapture English- controlled Paris. Around August 26, 1429, Jeanne and the Duke of Alencon began organizing an attack on Paris, and hurried ahead without the indecisive Charles to prepare for the attack. On September 7, Charles arrived on the outskirts of Paris. The next day the French assault on Paris began. Jeanne ran right up on the Paris earthworks, demanding that the Parisians surrender to their rightful king. Even after being shot in the thigh with a crossbow bolt, she continued calling her troops forward. The attack came close to succeeding, but in the end a retreat was necessary. The first day of the attack went very well, and during the fight it often seemed that the French were very close to overrunning the walls. At this rate, it looked as if Paris might be taken in a matter of days or weeks.

The day after the attack on Paris, Jeanne and the Duke of Alencon wanted to continue fighting and attack again. Jeanne even claimed that her “voices” were telling her to continue attacking. Charles, ever cautious and lacking money to pay the troops, took the near-victory as a defeat and ordered a retreat from Paris. Jeanne and Alencon were slow to obey orders, but the rest of the commanders withdrew their disheartened forces rapidly. The attack on Paris, which had seemed so promising, had stalled out. The army returned to Gien, and on September 22, Charles had the French army disbanded and sent most of the military commanders home. Charles, whose coffers were running low, could not afford to pay the troops. Of all the military commanders, only Jeanne remained with the king, always encouraging him to be kind and generous to the poor.

In October of 1429, Jeanne led a small force to take control of the town of Saint- Pierre-le-Moutier. She then engineered a siege of Le Charite-sur-Loire that went poorly. After a month, her troops ran out of supplies and they had to give up. Jeanne d’Arc would never again have a military victory.

Commentary

Paris had nearly 100,000 inhabitants, and was then the largest city in Europe. But the number of men comprising both the English-Burgundian force and the French force was dramatically smaller. Thus whoever won the support of the Parisians would also win the battle. Charles hoped that Jeanne’s charisma would encourage the people’s revolt against the English; when it became clear that this was not to be, Charles quickly gave up. He did not want a long, drawn-out siege of Paris.

Many prostitutes followed the French army hoping for work when the army stopped marching and made camp. This upset Jeanne greatly, who often attempted to chase the prostitutes away. Before the siege of Paris, she rode after one and smacked her with the flat of her sword. The sword, which had been found in the Church of Saint Catherine of Fierbois and was considered magical and lucky, shattered. The destruction of the sword upset everyone, who considered it to be a bad omen, and negative feelings about the Paris campaign in general were beginning to increase. Charles, who was especially superstitious, took the sword-breaking incident to mean that the attack on Paris was doomed.

Regardless of whether the sword was magical or not, this expectation became a self-fulfilling prophecy, since French soldiers were now more willing to flee in battle, figuring France had lost its luck anyway. Ironically, Jeanne’s victories had a similar effect: the French troops were starting to think they would always win, regardless of how hard they fought, and became complacent. Thus, Jeanne’s reputation came to be her undoing. Even though the French made a strong showing during the attack on Paris, the fact that it wasn’t an instantaneous rout, as the French soldiers had become accustomed to, led them to interpret a near-victory as a defeat.

Even before the attack on Paris, Charles had wanted to turn back. He was afraid to be so far away from the regions solidly under his control. However, the English position in the area made it difficult to turn back, so he continued the march to join the main force Paris, though ordering a retreat very quickly once he got there. In the attack on Paris, Jeanne was still famous for always winning. Charles’s forces hoped that her very presence would cause a pro-Charles revolt in Paris. Certainly, Jeanne’s presence was a major morale boost for Charles’s army and a cause for concern among the English defending Paris. Jeanne always encouraged her troops masterfully, and even when she was shot in the thigh at Paris she continued to call her forces forward.

After the battle of Paris, Charles increasingly hoped a peace could be negotiated with Burgundy, removing the need for expensive battles. He even found a clairvoyant who prophesied that Burgundy and France would make peace. Jeanne, however, assured Charles that the peace would come only after further warfare. Indeed, her previous letters to him, demanding his surrender, had met with no success. The Duke of Burgundy, who considered Charles to be responsible for the death of his forefathers, would not easily negotiate a peace with France.