Siege of Compiègne
|Siege of Compiègne|
|Part of the Hundred Years' War|
Siege of Compiègne by Martial d'Auvergne
|Kingdom of France|| Duchy of Burgundy
Kingdom of England
|Commanders and leaders|
| Joan of Arc (POW)
| Philip the Good
John II of Luxembourg
|Casualties and losses|
The Siege of Compiègne (1430) was Joan of 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.
During this era late in the Hundred Years' War, the politically independent Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy, was allied with England under the regency of John, Duke of Bedford (who was the uncle of the child King, Henry VI). These two allies had conquered most of northern France during the preceding ten years. They suffered stunning losses in 1429 to a reinvigorated French army under joint command of Joan of Arc and Duke John II of Alençon.
The French had defeated the English at Patay on 18 June 1429 and had proceeded northeastward to crown King Charles VII of France at Rheims without further resistance, accepting the peaceful surrender of every town along their path. Compiègne was not along that road, its location is north of Paris, but along with several other cities it declared allegiance to Charles VII shortly after his coronation. It had previously been under Burgundian control.
In March 1430 the French court learned that Philip the Good, the duke of Burgundy planned to lay siege to the city. The count of Clermont delivered a message to the city that Compiègne was his according to legal treaty[nb 1] and demanded a surrender. Residents of the city expressed strong opposition to the demand and the French garrison commander Guillaume de Flavy readied the city for action. 
Count John of Luxembourg departed for the expedition in command of the vanguard on 4 April. Philip the Good departed from Péronne on 22 April. Meanwhile the Duke of Bedford was waiting at Calais for the arrival of King Henry VI of England, a nine-year-old boy who had recently been crowned king of England.
According to Régine Pernoud and Marie-Veronique Clin, Philip the Good planned to retake command of the cities that controlled the river Oise. Bedford supported the strategy in order to protect Ile-de-France and Paris, which was then under Anglo-Burgundian control. King Charles VII of France realized on 6 May that military defense was necessary to protect the town.
Joan of Arc had sensed the danger and began making private preparations for war in March, but she had not been granted command of a substantial force since the failed attack on Paris the previous September. By April she had assembled a company of a 300 - 400 volunteers. She departed for Compiègne, possibly without the king's knowledge, and arrived at the city on 14 May. 
Several minor actions took place in the days that followed. Two days later Captain Louis de Flavy fled artillery bombardment at Choisy and took refuge at Compiègne. On 18 May Joan of Arc attempted to surprise the Burgundians at Soissons, bringing Regnault of Chartres and the Count of Vendôme on the expedition. Residents of Soissons refused them entry and declared allegiance to Burgundy the following day.
Joan of Arc then planned a surprise assault against the Burgundians at Margny with the assistance of Guillaume de Flavy, attacking an outpost while it was separated from the main force. Count John of Luxembourg noticed the action by chance while taking a survey of the territory and called in reinforcements. These reinforcements outnumbered the attackers and Joan of Arc ordered a retreat, taking the position of honor at the extreme rear of her forces.
Capture of Joan of Arc
The next moments remain a source of scholarly debate. The city gate closed before all the French defenders could return to the town. This was either a reasonable action to prevent the Burgundians from entering the city after they had seized the end of the bridge; or an act of betrayal by Guillaume de Flavy. In the words of Kelly DeVries, "both the accusers and defenders must in turn either indict or vindicate the character of Compiègne's governor, Guillaume de Flavy, and the role he played in shutting off any escape possibility for Joan of Arc on that day." The French rear guard that remained outside had no alternative to capture.
In the description of Burgundian Georges Chastellain:
- "Then the Maid [Joan of 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 Joan of Arc's capture caused the decline of de Flavy's career.
See Joan of Arc bibliography for complete information about reference works used.
- ^ DeVries, pp. 132 – 133.
- ^ Pernoud and Clin, p. 83.
- ^ Pernoud and Clin, p. 84.
- ^ Pernoud and Clin, p. 84.
- ^ Pernoud and Clin, pp. 83 – 85.
- ^ Pernoud and Clin, p. 86.
- ^ Pernoud and Clin, pp. 86 – 87.
- ^ DeVries, p. 170.
- ^ DeVries, pp. 168 – 169.
- ^ Pernoud and Clin, p. 88.
- ^ DeVries, p. 173.