Joan of Arc, “The Maid of Orléans”, is considered a heroine of France for her role during the Lancastrian phase of the Hundred Years’ War, and was canonized as a Roman Catholic saint.
I am not afraid… I was born to do this.
If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me.
I was in my thirteenth year when I heard a voice from God to help me govern my conduct. And the first time I was very much afraid.
Joan of Arc, a peasant girl living in medieval France, believed that God had chosen her to lead France to victory in its long-running war with England. With no military training, Joan convinced the embattled crown prince Charles of Valois to allow her to lead a French army to the besieged city of Orléans, where it achieved a momentous victory over the English and their French allies, the Burgundians. After seeing the prince crowned King Charles VII, Joan was captured by Anglo-Burgundian forces, tried for witchcraft and heresy and burned at the stake in 1431, at the age of 19. By the time she was officially canonized in 1920, the Maid of Orléans (as she was known) had long been considered one of history’s greatest saints, and an enduring symbol of French unity and nationalism.
Born around 1412, Jeanne d’Arc or in English, Joan of Arc was the daughter of a tenant farmer, Jacques d’Arc, from the village of Domrémy, in northeastern France. She was not taught to read or write, but her pious mother instilled in her a deep love for the Catholic Church and its teachings.
At the time, that later well-known as the Hundred Years’ War, France had long been torn apart by a bitter conflict with England, in which England had gained the upper hand. A peace treaty in 1420 disinherited the French crown prince, Charles of Valois, amid accusations of his illegitimacy, and King Henry V was made ruler of both England and France. His son, Henry VI, succeeded him in 1422. Along with its French allies, led by Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy, England occupied much of northern France, and many in Joan’s village, Domrémy, were forced to abandon their homes under threat of invasion.
At the age of 13, Joan began to hear voices, which she determined had been sent by God to give her a mission of overwhelming importance: to save France by expelling its enemies, and to install Charles as its rightful king. As part of this divine mission, Joan took a vow of chastity. At the age of 16, after her father attempted to arrange a marriage for her, she successfully convinced a local court that she should not be forced to accept the match.
In May 1428, Joan made her way Vaucouleurs, a nearby stronghold of those loyal to Charles. Initially rejected by the local magistrate, Robert de Baudricourt, she persisted, attracting a small band of followers who believed her claims to be the virgin who (according to a popular prophecy) was destined to save France. When Baudricort relented, Joan cropped her hair and dressed in men’s clothes to make the 11-day journey across enemy territory to Chinon, site of the crown prince’s palace.
Joan promised Charles she would see him crowned king at Reims, the traditional site of French royal investiture, and asked him to give her an army to lead to Orléans, then under siege from the English. Against the advice of most of his counselors and generals, Charles granted her request, and Joan set off for Orléans in March of 1429 dressed in white armor and riding a white horse. After sending off a defiant letter to the enemy, Joan led several French assaults against them, driving the Anglo-Burgundians from their bastion and forcing their retreat across the Loire River.
Joan dressed and armed herself as a man (to the horror of her later judges), but it was her energy and confidence that inspired her followers more than her prowess in battle. Her amazing successes in liberating Orleans, defeating the English at Patay, and crowning the Dauphin at Rheims were quickly attributed by her enemies to black magic; captured by Burgundians early in 1430, she was sold to the English and put on trial for witchcraft and deviation – claiming direct communication with God.
She endured harsh treatment bravely, then recanted and was sentenced to life imprisonment. But she later resumed dressing as a man, and, abjuring her confession, was burnt at the stake.
Charles’ coronation was symbolically a major setback to the English; by raising French morale Joan’s example contributed greatly to turn the tide of the Hundred Years War, well earning the Duke of Bedford’s and Shakespeare’s sour portrayal of her as “a disciple and limb of the fiend.”