Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc

(c. 1412-1431)

A peasant girl who became a warrior and saved a monarchy, Joan of Arc was born in the village of Domremy in northeast France. Joan grew up amidst the turmoil of the Hundred Years’ War between France and England. England’s King Henry V had smashed the French army at Agincourt in 1415 and set his son up as the new king in Paris. Charles VII of France, the uncrowned dauphin (doe-FAN) (crown prince) fled to the Loire River valley.

Around the age of 13, Joan began to have religious visions and hear voices. She claimed that saints Michael, Margaret and Catherine came to her and told her that she was destined to save France from the English.

As she grew older, the visions increased in intensity, and at the age of 17, she presented herself to the local fort commander and asked for safe passage to see the dauphin.

She was turned away twice but on her third request, Robert de Baudricourt gave her a horse and an escort of armed men. Traveling by night, with muffled hooves, the party evaded the English scouts and reached the dauphin’s court at Chinon on the Loire.

Charles VII was naturally surprised that a peasant girl should ride a horse, much less tell him she intended to save his throne. The dauphin turned her over to a group of reli¬ gious scholars. They examined Joan and pro¬ claimed she was of sound mind and not delu¬ sional.

The great crisis hanging over France was the English siege of the key city of Orleans. Further resistance seemed hopeless if Orleans fell. The dauphin gave command of 4,000 men to Joan and bade her do her best.

Arriving at Orleans at the end of April, she directed the French movements in an inspired counterattack that forced the English to lift the siege.

She pushed northward, invading ter¬ ritory held by the English for nearly 10 years. She led the French cavalry in an attack that won the Battle of Patay, the first major defeat for the English in many years.

Joined by the dauphin, Joan pressed on to Rheims Cathedral, where on July 17, 1429, the dauphin, Charles, was anointed and crowned King Charles VII. In less than three months, she had won major victories and ensured the survival of the Valois monarchy.

On May 23, 1430, Joan was captured by Burgundian soldiers (Frenchmen allied with the English). She was sold to the English for 16,000 francs and brought to the city of Rouen, where she was tried for heresy.

The trial was an ecclesiastical (church) trial, but the English had engineered matters so she would be found guilty of wearing men’s clothing and claiming she heard the voices of saints. Joan was convicted, sentenced and burned at the stake at Rouen on May 30, 1431.A court trial in 1456 found that Joan had been sentenced improperly. She was canonized (made a saint) in 1920.