Joan of Arc
Saint Joan of Arc
Painting, c.1485. Artist's interpretation; the only portrait for which she
is known to have sat has not survived. (Centre Historique des Archives
Nationales, Paris, AE II 2490)
Born c. 1412, Domrémy, France
Died 30 May 1431, Rouen, France
Venerated Roman Catholic Church in
Beatified 18 April 1909, Notre Dame Cathedral by Pope Pius X
Canonized 16 May 1920, St. Peter's Basilica, Rome by Pope Benedict XV
Feast 16 May
France; martyrs; captives; militants; people ridiculed for Patronage their piety; prisoners; soldiers; Women Appointed for
Voluntary Emergency Service; Women's Army Corps
Joan of Arc (c. 1412 – 30 May 1431) also known as "the Maid of Orleans," was a 15th century Catholic Saint, and national heroine of France. A
peasant girl born in Eastern France, Joan led the French army to several important victories during the Hundred Years' War, claiming divine
guidance, and was indirectly responsible for the coronation of King Charles VII. She was captured by the English, tried by an ecclesiastical
court and burned at the stake when she was nineteen years old. Twenty-four years later, the Holy See reviewed the decision of the ecclesiastical court, found her innocent, and declared her a martyr. She was beatified in 1909 and later canonized in 1920.
Joan asserted that she had visions from God that told her to recover her
homeland from English domination late in the Hundred Years' War. The
uncrowned King Charles VII sent her to the siege at Orléans as part of
a relief mission. She gained prominence when she overcame the dismissive attitude of veteran commanders and lifted the siege in only nine days. Several more swift victories led to Charles VII's coronation at Reims and
settled the disputed succession to the throne.
Joan of Arc has remained an important figure throughout Western culture. From Napoleon to the present, French politicians of all leanings have invoked her memory. Major writers and composers who have created works about her include Shakespeare, Voltaire, Schiller, Verdi, Tchaikovsky,
Twain, and Shaw. Depictions of her continue in film, television, video
games, song, and dance.
Jeanne d'Arc at San Francisco's Palace of the Legion of Honor The historian Kelly DeVries describes the period preceding her appearance with, "If anything could have discouraged her, the state of France in 1429 should have." The Hundred Years' War had begun in 1337 as a succession
dispute to the French throne with intermittent periods of relative peace. Nearly all the fighting had taken place in France, and the English use of chevauchée tactics had devastated the economy. The French population
had not recovered from the Black Death of the previous century and its
merchants were cut off from foreign markets. At the outset of her career, the English had almost achieved their goal of a dual monarchy under English control and the French army had won no major victory for a generation. In DeVries's words, "the kingdom of France was not even a shadow of its thirteenth-century prototype."
The French king at the time of Joan's birth, Charles VI, suffered bouts
of insanity and was often unable to rule. The king's brother Duke Louis
of Orléans and the king's cousin John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy,
quarreled over the regency of France and the guardianship of the royal children. This dispute escalated to accusations of an extramarital affair with Queen Isabeau of Bavaria and the kidnappings of the royal children.
The matter climaxed when the Duke of Burgundy ordered the assassination of the Duke of Orléans in 1407.
The factions loyal to these two men became known as the Armagnacs and the
Burgundians. The English king, Henry V, took advantage of this turmoil
to invade France, winning a dramatic victory at Agincourt in 1415, and capturing northern French towns. The future French king, Charles VII,
assumed the title of Dauphin as heir to the throne at the age of 14, after all four of his older brothers died. His first significant official act
was to conclude a peace treaty with Burgundy in 1419. This ended in disaster when Armagnac partisans murdered John the Fearless during a meeting under Charles's guarantee of protection. The new Duke of Burgundy, Philip the Good, blamed Charles and entered into an alliance with the English. Large sections of France were conquered.
In 1420, Queen Isabeau of Bavaria concluded the Treaty of Troyes, which
granted the French royal succession to Henry V and his heirs in preference to her son Charles. This agreement revived rumors about her supposed affair with the late duke of Orléans and raised fresh suspicions that the Dauphin was a royal bastard rather than the son of the king. Henry V
and Charles VI died within two months of each other in 1422, leaving an infant, Henry VI of England, the nominal monarch of both kingdoms. Henry V's brother, John of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Bedford, acted as regent.
By the beginning of 1429, nearly all of northern France and some parts of the southwest were under foreign control. The English ruled Paris, while the Burgundians controlled Reims. The latter city was important as
the traditional site of French coronations and consecrations, especially since neither claimant to the throne of France had yet been crowned. The English had laid siege to Orléans, which was the only remaining loyal
French city north of the Loire. Its strategic location along the river
made it the last obstacle to an assault on the remainder of the French heartland. In the words of one modern historian, "On the fate of Orléans hung that of the entire kingdom." No one was optimistic that the city could long withstand the siege.
Her birthplace is now a museum. The village church where she worshipped is on the right behind the trees.
Joan of Arc's parents' names were Jacques d'Arc and Isabelle Romée in
Domrémy, a village which was then in the duchy of Bar (and later annexed to the province of Lorraine and renamed Domrémy-la-Pucelle). Her
parents owned about 50 acres (0.2 square kilometers) of land and her father supplemented his farming work with a minor position as a village official, collecting taxes and heading the local watch. They lived in an isolated
patch of northeastern territory that remained loyal to the French crown despite being surrounded by Burgundian lands. Several local raids occurred during her childhood and on one occasion her village was burned. Joan said she was about 19 at her trial, so she was born about 1412; she later testified that she experienced her first vision around 1424 at the age of 12 years when she was out alone in a field and heard voices. She had said she cried when they left as they were so beautiful. She would report that Saint Michael, Saint Catherine, and Saint Margaret told her
to drive out the English and bring the Dauphin to Reims for his coronation.
At the age of 16, she asked a kinsman, Durand Lassois, to bring her to nearby Vaucouleurs where she petitioned the garrison commander, Count
Robert de Baudricourt, for permission to visit the royal French court at Chinon. Baudricourt's sarcastic response did not deter her. She
returned the following January and gained support from two men of standing: Jean de Metz and Bertrand de Poulengy. Under their auspices, she gained
a second interview where she made a remarkable prediction about a military reversal near Orléans.
Ruin of the great hall at Chinon where she met King Charles VII. The
castle's only remaining intact tower has also become a museum dedicated to her.
Robert de Baudricourt granted her an escort to visit Chinon after news
from the front confirmed her prediction. She made the journey through hostile Burgundian territory in male disguise. Upon arriving at the
royal court she impressed Charles VII during a private conference. He then
ordered background inquiries and a theological examination at Poitiers
to verify her morality. During this time Charles's mother-in-law Yolande
of Aragon was financing a relief expedition to Orléans. Joan petitioned
for permission to travel with the army and wear the equipment of a knight. She depended on donated items for her armour, horse, sword, banner, and entourage. Her armor was said to be white. Historian Stephen W. Richey explains her attraction as the only source of hope for a regime that was near collapse:
After years of one humiliating defeat after another, both the “ military and civil leadership of France were demoralized and
discredited. When the Dauphin Charles granted Joan’s urgent
request to be equipped for war and placed at the head of his
” army, his decision must have been based in large part on the
knowledge that every orthodox, every rational, option had been
tried and had failed. Only a regime in the final straits of
desperation would pay any heed to an illiterate farm girl who
claimed that the voice of God was instructing her to take charge of her country’s army and lead it to victory.
"King of England, and you, Duke of Bedford, who call yourself regent of the kingdom of France...settle your debt to the king of Heaven; return to the Maiden, who is envoy
of the king of Heaven, the keys to all the good towns you took and violated in France."
Her Letter to the English, March–April 1429; Quicherat I, p. 240, trans. Wikipedia.
She arrived at the siege of Orléans on 29 April 1429, but Jean d'Orléans,
the acting head of the Orléans ducal family, initially excluded her from war councils and failed to inform her when the army engaged the enemy.
This did not prevent her from being present at most councils and battles. The extent of her actual military leadership is a subject of historical debate. Traditional historians such as Édouard Perroy conclude that she was a standard bearer whose primary effect was on morale. This type of
analysis usually relies on the condemnation trial testimony, where she stated that she preferred her standard to her sword. Recent scholarship that focuses on the nullification trial testimony asserts that her fellow officers esteemed her as a skilled tactician and a successful strategist. Stephen W. Richey's opinion is one example: "She proceeded to lead the
army in an astounding series of victories that reversed the tide of the  In either case, historians agree that the army enjoyed remarkable war."success during her brief career.
The inner keep at Beaugency is one of the few surviving fortifications
from Joan's battles. English defenders retreated to the tower at upper right after the French breached the town wall.
She defied the cautious strategy that had characterized French leadership. During the five months of siege before her arrival, the defenders of
Orléans had attempted only one aggressive move and that had ended in disaster. On 4 May the French attacked and captured the outlying fortress of Saint Loup, which she followed on 5 May with a march to a second fortress called Saint Jean le Blanc. Finding it deserted, this became a bloodless victory. The next day she opposed Jean d'Orleans at a war council where she demanded another assault on the enemy. D'Orleans ordered the city gates locked to prevent another battle, but she summoned the townsmen and common soldiers and forced the mayor to unlock a gate. With the aid of only one captain she rode out and captured the fortress of Saint Augustins. That evening she learned she had been excluded from a war council where the leaders had decided to wait for reinforcements before acting again. Disregarding this decision, she insisted on assaulting the main English stronghold called "les Tourelles" on 7 May. Contemporaries acknowledged
her as the heroine of the engagement after she sustained an arrow wound to her neck but returned wounded to lead the final charge.
"...the Maiden lets you know that here, in eight days, she has chased the English out of all the places they held on the river Loire by attack or other means: they
are dead or prisoners or discouraged in battle. Believe what you have heard about the earl of Suffolk, the lord la Pole and his brother, the lord Talbot, the lord Scales, and Sir Fastolf; many more knights and captains than these are defeated."
Her Letter to the citizens of Tournai, 25 June 1429; Quicherat V, pp. 125–126, trans.
The sudden victory at Orléans led to many proposals for offensive action. The English expected an attempt to recapture Paris or an attack on Normandy. In the aftermath of the unexpected victory, she persuaded Charles VII to grant her co-command of the army with Duke John II of Alençon and gained
royal permission for her plan to recapture nearby bridges along the Loire as a prelude to an advance on Reims and a coronation. Hers was a bold proposal because Reims was roughly twice as far away as Paris and deep in enemy territory.
Notre-Dame de Reims, traditional site of French coronations. The
structure had additional spires prior to a 1481 fire.
The army recovered Jargeau on 12 June, Meung-sur-Loire on 15 June, then
Beaugency on 17 June. The Duke of Alençon agreed to all of Joan's decisions. Other commanders including Jean d'Orléans had been impressed with her
performance at Orléans and became her supporters. Alençon credited her for saving his life at Jargeau, where she warned him of an imminent artillery attack. During the same battle she withstood a blow from a stone cannonball to her helmet as she climbed a scaling ladder. An expected English relief force arrived in the area on 18 June under the command of Sir John Fastolf. The battle at Patay might be compared to Agincourt in
reverse. The French vanguard attacked before the English archers could
finish defensive preparations. A rout ensued that devastated the main body of the English army and killed or captured most of its commanders. Fastolf escaped with a small band of soldiers and became the scapegoat for the English humiliation. The French suffered minimal losses.
The French army set out for Reims from Gien-sur-Loire on 29 June and accepted the conditional surrender of the Burgundian-held city of Auxerre
on 3 July. Every other town in their path returned to French allegiance without resistance. Troyes, the site of the treaty that had tried to disinherit Charles VII, capitulated after a bloodless four-day siege.
The army was in short supply of food by the time it reached Troyes. Edward Lucie-Smith cites this as an example of why she was more lucky than skilled: a wandering friar named Brother Richard had been preaching about the end of the world at Troyes and had convinced local residents to plant beans, a crop with an early harvest. The hungry army arrived as the beans ripened.
"Prince of Burgundy, I pray of you — I beg and humbly supplicate — that you make
no more war with the holy kingdom of France. Withdraw your people swiftly from certain
places and fortresses of this holy kingdom, and on behalf of the gentle king of France
I say he is ready to make peace with you, by his honor."
"Her Letter to Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, 17 July 1429; Quicherat V, pp. 126–127, trans. Wikipedia.
Reims opened its gates on 16 July. The coronation took place the following morning. Although Joan and the duke of Alençon urged a prompt march on Paris, the royal court pursued a negotiated truce with the duke of Burgundy. Duke Philip the Good broke the agreement, using it as a stalling tactic to reinforce the defense of Paris. The French army marched through towns
near Paris during the interim and accepted more peaceful surrenders. The Duke of Bedford headed an English force and confronted the French army in a standoff on 15 August. The French assault at Paris ensued on 8 September. Despite a crossbow bolt wound to the leg, Joan continued directing the troops until the day's fighting ended. The following morning she received a royal order to withdraw. Most historians blame French grand chamberlain Georges de la Trémoille for the political blunders that followed the coronation.
The tower in Rouen, where she was imprisoned during her trial, has become known as the Joan of Arc tower. During one of her escape attempts, she leaped from a different tower, probably of similar construction. After minor action at La-Charité-sur-Loire in November and December, Joan
went to Compiègne the following April to defend against an English and
Burgundian siege. A skirmish on 23 May 1430 led to her capture. When she ordered a retreat, she assumed the place of honor as the last to leave the field. Burgundians surrounded the rear guard.
"It is true that the king has made a truce with the duke of Burgundy for fifteen days and that the duke is to turn over the city of Paris at the end of fifteen days. Yet
you should not marvel if I do not enter that city so quickly. I am not content with
these truces and do not know if I will keep them, but if I hold them it will only
be to guard the king's honor: no matter how much they abuse the royal blood, I will
keep and maintain the royal army in case they make no peace at the end of those fifteen
"Her Letter to the citizens of Reims, 5 August 1429; Quicherat I, p. 246, trans.
It was customary for a captive's family to ransom a prisoner of war.
Unfortunately, Joan and her family lacked the financial resources. Many historians condemn King Charles VII for failing to intervene. She
attempted several escapes, on one occasion jumping from her 70 foot (21 m) tower in Vermandois to the soft earth of a dry moat, after which she was moved to the Burgundian town of Arras. The English government eventually purchased her from Duke Philip of Burgundy. Bishop Pierre
Cauchon of Beauvais, an English partisan, assumed a prominent role in these negotiations and her later trial.
The trial for heresy was politically motivated. The Duke of Bedford claimed the throne of France for his nephew Henry VI. She had been responsible for the rival coronation so to condemn her was to undermine her king's legitimacy. Legal proceedings commenced on 9 January 1431 at Rouen, the seat of the English occupation government. The procedure was
irregular on a number of points. In 1456, Pope Callixtus III declared her innocent of the heresy charges brought against her.