Date: 18 June 1430
Location: Near Compiègne, south of Amiens, France
Outcome: French victory
English Leadership: Philip the Good, John of Luxembourg
English Strength: Unknown
English Casualties: Heavy
French Leadership: Jeanne d’Arc
French Strength: Unknown
French Casualties: Jeanne captured
The Siege of Compiègne (1430) was Jeanne d’Arc’s final military action. Her career as a leader ended with her capture by the Burgundians during a skirmish outside the town on 23 May 1430. Although this was otherwise a minor siege, both politically and militarily, the loss of France’s most charismatic and successful commander was an important event of the Hundred Years’ War.
After Paris and Jeanne’s failed siege of La Charite-sur-Loire, Jeanne’s career went rapidly downhill, though in December of 1429 the thankful King Charles VII promoted Jeanne, her parents, and her brothers to noble status. In 1430, the Duke of Burgundy threatened Champagne and Brie, and Jeanne promised Charles she would protect the regions.
Thus, she left Charles’s side to fight the Burgundian forces at the ill-fated Battle of Compiegne. Jeanne was accompanied only by her brother Pierre, her squire Jean de Aulon, and a few soldiers. Nonetheless, when she reached Compiegne on May 14, 1430, Jeanne’s very presence helped greatly to rally the people there, giving them new hope against the Burgundian threat. Jeanne then accompanied Renaud, the archbishop of Reims, southward before returning to Compiegne.
Upon her return, Jeanne was surprised to find the city under siege from a leader allied with England, John of Luxembourg. Luxembourg was the Duke of Burgundy’s most capable captain, so Jeanne was up against a formidable opponent. Jeanne managed to sneak into the city secretly, past John’s guards, and led several brave attempts to repel the Burgundian forces.
In the description of Burgundian Georges Chastellain:
“Then the Maid [Jeanne d’Arc], surpassing the nature of a woman, took on a great force, and took much pain to save her company from defeat, remaining behind as the leader and as the bravest of the troop. But there fortune permitted for the end of her glory and for the last time that she would ever carry arms. An archer, a rough and very sour man, full of much spite because a woman, who so much had been spoken about, should have defeated so many brave men, as she had done, grabbed the edge of her cloth-of-gold doublet, and threw her from her horse flat to the ground.”
She surrendered to Lionel, Bastard of Vendôme, who was in the service of the Count of Ligny. Although the defense of Compiègne was successful, accusations of misconduct regarding Jeanne d’Arc’s capture caused the decline of de Flavy’s career.
Totally outmanned, the city of Compiegne fell to John of Luxembourg’s army. Jeanne led forces to hold off John’s soldiers while the citizens escaped. In the process, Luxembourg’s men captured Jeanne, an even more valuable prize than the city itself: Jeanne had found her army’s escape route cut off by the British army, which had lain in waiting, and as the French made a final attempt to flee, an archer pulled Jeanne off her horse and onto the ground. After her capture, Jeanne immediately swore to her captors that she would do nothing that would betray Charles VII.
Archbishop Renaud, a clergyman on Charles’s side, told everyone that Jeanne’s capture was her own fault, and that ignoring Charles’s orders had gotten her into her present crisis: and indeed, Charles had been thinking of surrendering Compiegne to the Duke of Burgundy anyway in hopes of appeasing him. But the people of Compiegne had refused to give up and be ruled by Burgundy; thus Jeanne wasn’t the one who had disobeyed orders; she had merely aided a town that, out of loyalty to the king and France, was unwilling to abide by Charles’s wishes. Ultimately, Compiegne’s loyalty to France so offended the Duke of Burgundy that he became even closer with his English allies.
The failure to take Paris had marked the beginning of Jeanne’s downfall. Her luck now continued to go downhill, and she would win no more battles. Still, the common people always rallied under her banner. Indeed, in Campiegne she proved her devotion to the people of France by standing boldly against the British in order to allow the people of the city to make their escape.
Charles was increasingly frightened by her immense popularity with the people, who were already venerating her as a saint. Charles’s advisors had turned against Jeanne a long time before; now the King himself began to think he would be better off without her interference. Jeanne, now given a fully independent command, proved unable to win victory at Compiegne, and her strategy was disorganized and wavering. This showed that, although an extremely valuable asset to the French military in terms of her ability to boost morale, as a lone commander she was not militarily gifted–or even all that militarily competent.
This was not surprising, given that she had no formal training in the art of war, nor any real experience. Jeanne made several bad decisions at Compiegne, including marching hr troops through the night to get there. Exhausted, the troops wanted to rest upon arrival, but Jeanne only gave them a few hours before beginning an attack against John of Luxembourg’s forces. Thus the contest was doomed from the start, for the enemy not only had more energy, but they also had more men.
Some have pointed out that the first attack did take the Burgundians by surprise, and thus represented some good strategy. However, the immediate attack did not turn the tide of the battle against the British and it was extremely hard on Jeanne’s troops, who had little fight left in them after the first engagements.
According to legend, before the Battle of Compiegne Jeanne started making predictions that her end was near. Although this may very well be an embellishment added to the story for dramatic effect, perhaps Jeanne did sense that, with her men ever less motivated and Charles increasingly against her, she could not maintain her privileged position much longer.
At the time, when an army captured anyone as important as Jeanne, they would ransom the person. Jeanne, however, was a special case, and was not ransomed. Jeanne hoped she would die quickly, because she greatly feared torture and imprisonment, especially a long imprisonment. Some stories say that when she was captured, she pretended to be a man until she was found out.
This story is unlikely. Jeanne’s crest was well known and she dressed in very colorful, fine clothing. She was not hard to pick out in a crowd and her description was now famous throughout France. Burgundy was extremely excited by Jeannes capture, and he immediately wrote a letter to commemorate his success. Very soon, the clergy at the University of Paris (Paris was then mostly pro-English) let it be known that they wished to interrogate Jeanne, whom English propaganda had long associated with witchcraft.