Date: 1428 – 1429
Location: Orleans, France
Outcome: French victory-Decisive battle
English Leadership: Thomas de Montacute, William de la Pole, duke of Suffol
English Strength: 5000 men
English Casualties: nearly a thousand killed, and 600 prisoners.
French Leadership: Jeanne d’Arc
French Strength: Town population of about 5,000 people
French Casualties: ?. 200 French prisoners were found in the complex and released.
Table of Contents
Background - Hundred Years' War
The siege of Orléans occurred during the Hundred Years’ War, contested between the ruling houses of France and England for supremacy over France. The conflict had begun in 1337 when England’s Edward III decided to press his claim to the French throne, a claim based in part on ancient inheritance from William the Conqueror and augmented by inheritance from strategic marriages.
Following a decisive victory at Agincourt in 1415, the English gained the upper hand in the conflict, occupying much of northern France. Under the Treaty of Troyes of 1420, England’s Henry V became regent of France. By this treaty, Henry married Catherine, the daughter of the current French king, Charles VI, and would then succeed to the French throne upon Charles’s death. The dauphin Charles, the son of Charles VI and presumptive heir prior to the treaty, was then disinherited.
Orléans is located on the Loire River in north-central France. During the time of this siege it was the northernmost city that remained loyal to the French crown. The English and their allies the Burgundians controlled the rest of northern France, including Paris. Orléans’s position on a major river made it the last obstacle to a campaign into central France. England already controlled France’s southwestern coast.
As the capital of the duchy of Orléans, this city held symbolic significance in early fifteenth century politics. The dukes of Orléans were at the head of a political faction known as the Armagnacs who rejected the Treaty of Troyes and supported the claims of France’s uncrowned king Charles VII. This faction had been active for two generations. As a result, the duke of Orléans was one of the very few combatants from Agincourt who remained a prisoner of the English fourteen years after the battle.
Under the customs of chivalry, a city that surrendered to an invading army without a struggle was entitled to lenient treatment from its new ruler. A city that resisted could expect a harsh occupation. Mass executions were not unknown in this type of situation. By late medieval reasoning, the city of Orléans had escalated the conflict and forced the use of violence upon the English, so a conquering lord would be just in exacting vengeance upon its citizens. The city’s association with the Armagnac party made it unlikely to be spared if it fell.