THE SIEGE OF COMPIEGNE
COMPIEGNE, the Orleans of the Oise, is about forty miles northeast of Paris, which it threatened, and in some sense commanded. It barred Burgundy from the Ile-de-France. Few cities were more loved by Joan. Hither she came four or five times, in the interest of the city and of France. The council of Charles VII did not intend to fight against the Duke of Burgundy; but Joan did, and so did Compiegne. She won the fight, even though it cost her life.
Compiegne is on the eastern bank of the Oise —which flows southwest—about two miles below its confluence with the Aisne, which flows westward. Near the confluence was Choisy, on the north bank of the Aisne. Nearly opposite, the Aisne mouth, fell in the Aronde, flowing eastward to the Oise. About twenty-one kilometers west from the Oise, on the Aronde, was the fortress of Gournay, on the northern bank. Much nearer, on the same river, only four miles west of the Oise, was Coudun, which became the headquarters of the Duke of Burgundy during the siege of Compiegne.
The Duke of Burgundy, about to begin the war, appointed Peronne, fifty miles north of
Compiegne on the Somme, as the rendezvous of his army. A part, too—the artillery, it is said —gathered at Montdidier, southwest of Peronne, and much nearer to Compiegne. He visited both places before the advance.
We find Joan at Senlis on April 24th, asking quarters for her thousand horsemen. Louis de Bourbon-Vendome was in command; but he refused to receive her; there was place for only thirty or forty, was the answer. She then appears to have distributed her men between Crepy, Lagny, and Compiegne. Mention is made at this time of her visits to various places, recruiting and watching Burgundy's war-cloud on the Somme.
On the 20th of April, John de Luxembourg left Peronne with the vanguard, and crossed the Oise, to clear the country of the French outposts. The Duke of Burgundy followed on the 23rd, and apparently went to Montdidier; for from here, according to Monstrelet, he advanced on Gournay. This place belonged to his brother-in-law, Charles de Bourbon-Clermont, whose folly caused the disaster of Rouvray field. In command of Gournay was Tristan de Magnelers, who, seeing that he could not resist the Burgundian, offered to capitulate on August 1st if Charles VII or his friends did not meanwhile send a force against the Anglo-Burgundians. Having obtained the place, the duke went back with his army to Noyon, which was favorable to his party.
After a week, he determined to take the town and castle of Choisy, on the Aisne, near Compiegne. This was across the Oise, which he bridged.
Seeing Compiegne threatened, Joan came straight to help it. Here she found Clermont, who was commander of the army, and Regnault de Chartres, Archbishop of Reims. They agreed to attempt the relief of Choisy. Some one planned a brilliant coup-de-main to cut the communications of the Burgundians. On their southward march, they had crossed the Oise, or the Divette, at Pont-l'Eveque, a short distance southwest of Noyon. This place, because of its importance, was held by nearly two thousand English soldiers under Montgomery and Stewart. A surprise attack was dangerous because of the Anglo-Burgundians at Noyon. But it was planned at Compiegne, and Joan went with her old companion-in-arms, Xaintrailles, and others. They had no artillery, being accompanied by only a few wagons with scaling-ladders and hurdles to bridge the moats. They arrived as day was breaking, probably on May 15th, having gone up eighteen miles on the west bank of the Oise. They immediately scaled the walls, and fell upon the garrison. The English fought stubbornly, holding out until assistance came from Noyon. Then the French retired, protected by a rear guard, unparsed.
Some days after, another attempt, or ostensible attempt, was made to prevent the fall of Choisy.
And here we are in the midst of mysteries. It is well to remember, that, as Joan herself says, since her Voices foretold her approaching capture, and left her to her own initiative in military movements, she usually followed the advice of the captains—no doubt, fearing to bring disaster on her friends. She was here on Clermont's ground and that of the Archbishop. Her abandonment by both soon after, and her condemnation by the Archbishop in his letter, proves that she was no great friend of either. Choisy was almost beside Compiegne, and was connected with the Compiegne neighborhood by a bridge over the Aisne. Count Clermont and the Archbishop did not attempt the bridge. Compiegne had a well-protected bridge over the Oise, which would bring the French troops to the rear of Burgundy. They did not cross. There were other bridges over the river we are told. No use was made of them. But, to Joan's astonishment, as a recent military critic says, the army was sent eastward twenty miles to Soissons. For what? Ostensibly, to get in the rear of Burgundy at Choisy, by a forty miles' march instead of two. Soissons, a French city, refused to let them pass; why did they not force it? At worst, they could turn back. But—greatest wonder of all —the French Army is disbanded, said some; it is ordered, said others, to the south of France—a lesser mystery; for the Prince of Orange had designs on Dauphiny.
Clermont had put over Soissons an adventurer named Bournel, a traitor, who was actually making arrangements with Burgundy to hand over the city, as he afterwards actually did. Bournel closed the gates, and refused to allow the army to enter; he allowed, however, "the lords and their servants." Joan went in with Vendome and the Archbishop; and these two, while she was within, either disbanded the army, or sent it south. What must have Compiegne and the other loyal cities have thought? Joan, nevertheless, returned with the Archbishop to Compiegne with two or three hundred soldiers. Amongst them was Xaintrailles.
Choisy was surrendered on the 16th to the Duke of Burgundy by Louis Flavy, brother and lieutenant of Guillaume, the captain of Compiegne.. The Duke leveled to the ground the old battered castle. Then he proceeded to his headquarters at Coudun on the Aronde, where he was joined by the Earl of Arundel. On the 20th of May, he began to invest Compiegne on the western, or river side, by occupying the opposite bank of the Oise. At Clairoix, two miles up, at the junction of the Aronde, he posted John de Luxembourg with the Flemings and Burgundians; opposite the city, at Margny, he set the Picards; and two miles below, the English, under Montgomery.
Joan had left Compiegne about the 13th, and gone to Lagny, then back to Crept'-e-a-Valois, to gather defenders.
Count Clermont and the Archbishop, valuing a whole skin more than the safety of the city, had departed. Xaintrailles and her other old soldier friends had gone, too. But she, in spite of all cowardice and treason, hearing at Crept' of the investment of the city, gathered her three or four hundred men together; and when they said they were too few even to make their way through the Anglo-Burgundian skirmishers, now on their side of the river, Joan made the soldierly reply, "By my staff, there are enough of us. I will go and see my friends at Compiegne She started with her band during the night of May 22nd; and keeping to the east of the river, entered Compiegne, through the neighboring forest, at dawn on the 23rd. It was to be the last day of her fighting and her freedom.