Joan of Arc was born at Doremy in Champagne on January 6, 1412. Witnesses claim that the roosters of the village hailed her birth by crowing long before dawn. She was born to a wealthy farmer, Jacques Darc, and his wife, Isabelle. Joan never learned to read or write but was very skilled in spinning and sewing. Villagers regarded her as a pious child, and many often saw her kneeling in church, absorbed in prayer. At the age of 12 she first became conscious of her ‘voices.’ At first it seemed that it was simply a voice that would tell her to “Be good and go to church” (Pernoud 19). Soon the voices would be accompanied by a light, and she identified them individually as being St. Catherine, St. Margaret, and St. Michael. The voices became insistent, often telling her two to three times a week that she should go to France and present herself to Robert Baudricourt who commanded for Charles VII in the neighboring town of Vaucouleurs. A month later she traveled with her uncle to see Baudricourt, but with little success, as he told her uncle to “Take her home to her father and give her a good whipping” (Pernoud 50).
Joan lived during the period of the Hundred Years War. This war was between the English and the French, who both believed they had sovereignty over territories of Aquitaine. While Joan was being rejected by Baudricourt, the military situation of King Charles and his supporters was growing more desperate. Orleans was the last major city that stood between the English and the heart of France, but by the end of the year, complete defeat of the French seemed imminent. It was at this time that Joan’s voices became even more urgent and sometimes even threatening. She states that it was in vain she resisted. She told the voices that “I am a poor girl; I do not know how to ride or fight” (Brooks 54). The voices only reiterated: “It is God who commands it” (54). Succumbing at last, she again visited Vaucouleurs and talked to Baudricourt, he finally listened to her. He was skeptical at first, but her persistence gradually made an impression on him. Joan made an announcement of a great defeat of the French outside Orleans that was later confirmed a few days later. With Baudicourt’s help, Joan finally made her way to see the Dauphin at Chinon. To test her, the Dauphin disguised himself among a group of attendants, but immediately she saluted him. She convinced him to take her seriously by telling him about a private prayer that he had made in November when he had asked God to aid him in his cause if he was the rightful heir to the throne and to punish himself alone rather than his people if his sins were responsible for their suffering. (During this time the Queen, the mother of Charles, sided with the English and claimed him to be an illegitimate son from an affair in an attempt to deny him from inheriting the kingdom.) After hearing Joan’s revelations, eyewitnesses say that the Dauphin appeared “radiant” (Williamson).
Before Joan was dispatched into military operations, she was sent to Poitiers to be examined by a committee of learned bishops and doctors. They found nothing heretical in her claims to supernatural guidance, and sent her for further testing. After the testing was completed, Joan made her preparations for the campaign. Instead of taking the sword the king offered her, she begged that they search for a buried ancient sword, buried behind an altar in the chapel of Ste-Catherine-de-Fierbois; the sword was found in the very spot her voices indicated (Williamson). At the same time she had a standard (or battle banner) made for her bearing the words “Jesus, Maria,” with a picture of God the Father and kneeling angels. Documentation during the early stage of her mission is a letter she dictated to a translator stating that she predicted: “She would save Orleans and would compel the English to raise the siege, that she herself in a battle before Orleans would be wounded by a shaft but would not die of it, and the King, in the course of the coming summer, would be crowned at Reims” (Williamson).
After Joan was provided with a suit of armor made exactly to fit her, Joan was brought to the army at Blois where she began to make major reformations, possibly among the most major changes she effected. She began to expel prostitutes from the camp. Joan further required soldiers to go to church, to make confessions, to give up swearing, and to refrain from looting the civilian populations. She told her men that the English were winning the war because the French were acting so unrighteously. It was a turning point in the war, because “Men who have refused to serve Charles’ defeated cause now began to volunteer for the campaign, as word that a saint was now at the head of the army began to change minds” (Price). Joan was given titular command over the army, an arrangement where she would serve as a symbolic leader presiding over a number of veteran commanders. Before entering the campaign, Joan summoned the King of England to withdraw his troops from French soil. The English commanders were furious at the boldness of the demand. However, Joan made rapid movement into Orleans. By May 8, 1429, all the English forts that encircled the city had been captured, and the siege had been raised. However, as she had prophesized, Joan was wounded in the breast by an arrow, but she removed with her bare hands. Joan wanted to follow her success by brining Charles in Orleans to Reims to be crowned, but the Dauphin and his advisors were hesitant to do so (Price). However at Joan’s request a short campaign was begun near Loire River, and after a series of successes the path to Reims was opened. Joan had great difficulty in persuading the commanders not to retire before Troyes, which was first closed against them. But, eventually they captured the town and reluctantly followed her to Reims, where on Sunday, July 17, 1429, Charles was anointed and crowned king.
The main objective of Joan’s mission was complete. Joan made a failed attempt on Paris at the end of August. Although she occupied the area without opposition, the assaults that were made on the city were not “seriously supported” (Brooks 119). Joan, while cheering on her men to fill the moat, was shot through the thigh with a bolt from a crossbow. She was removed almost by force, and the assault was abandoned. This failed assault damaged Joan’s prestige heavily. Shortly afterwards, a truce was signed with the Duke of Burgundy to keep peace between England and France.
However, in April 1430, at the conclusion of the truce, Joan was able to take the field again. At the city of Melun her voices made known to her that she would be taken prisoner before Midsummer Day. This prediction was not long delayed. On May 24, 1430, she threw herself into Compiègne to defend the town against an English attack. In the evening she was determined to attempt an attack, but her little troop of some five hundred came across a much superior force. Her followers were driven back and retired, desperately fighting. By some mistake or panic, the drawbridge was raised while many of those who had made the attack remained outside, and Joan was one of them. She was pulled down from her horse and became the prisoner of a follower of John of Luxemburg. Joan was sold by John of Luxembourg to the English. The English would not ransom her back to France for any amount. They were determined to take her life at all costs, partly because they feared her “With a superstitious terror, partly because they were ashamed of the dread which she inspired” (Pernoud 95). They could not put her to death for having beaten them, but they could have her sentenced as a witch and a heretic.
Government documents record in great detail the payments made to cover the costs of obtaining Joan and rewarding the various judges and assessors who took part in her trial (Prince). It is also now known that the clergy who served at the trial were entirely drawn from English supporters. Some of these men later admitted that the English conducted the proceedings for the purposes of revenge rather than out of any genuine belief that she was a heretic. Although correct Inquisitorial procedure required that suspects of heresy should be held in a Church-run prison and female prisoners should be guarded by nuns rather than male guards (to prevent them from being raped), Joan was held in a secular military prison with English soldiers as guards. According to several eyewitness accounts, it was for this reason that she clung to her soldier’s outfit and kept the trousers and tunic “firmly laced and tied together” (Price). Witnesses quote her as saying that this was now her only means of defending herself against rape, since a dress didn't offer any protection at all. Her enemies eventually decided to use this against her by stating that it violated the prohibition against cross-dressing: “Deliberately ignoring the fact that St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Hildegard, and other medieval theologians specifically allowed an exemption in such cases of necessity” (Brooks 145). Joan pleaded with Judge Cauchon (the judge hired for her trial, who had a reputation as a scoundrel) to transfer her to a Church prison with women to guard her, in which case she could wear a dress; but this was never allowed. The trial included a series of hearings from February 21 through the end of March 1431. The assessors tried to manipulate her into saying something that might be used against her. Her saints were dismissed as ‘demons,’ despite the fact that they had counseled her to ‘go regularly to Church’ and to ‘maintain her virginity’ (Brooks 147). When Joan finally consented to wear a dress, her guards immediately increased their attempts to rape her. Her guards finally took away her dress entirely and threw her the old male clothing which she was forbidden to wear, sparking a bitter argument between her and the guards. She had no choice but to put on the clothing left to her, after which Cauchon promptly pronounced her a “relapsed heretic” and condemned her to death (Pernoud 205). Several eyewitnesses remembered that Cauchon came out of the prison and at this point gleefully exclaimed to the Earl of Warwick and other English commanders waiting outside: “Farewell, be of good cheer, it is done!” implying that he had orchestrated the trap that the guards had set for her (Pernoud 207).
The scene of her execution is vividly described by a number of those who were present that day. She listened calmly to the sermon read to her, but then broke down weeping during her own address, in which she forgave her accusers for what they were doing and asked them to pray for her. The accounts say that most of the judges and assessors themselves, and a few of the English soldiers and officials, were openly sobbing by the end of it. They tied her to a tall pillar well above the crowd. She had asked for a cross, which one sympathetic English soldier tried to provide by making a small one out of wood; a crucifix was brought from the nearby church, and Friar Martin Ladvenu held it up in front of her until the flames rose (Shaw 148). Several eyewitnesses recalled that she repeatedly screamed “...in a loud voice the holy name of Jesus, and implored and invoked without ceasing the aid of the saints of Paradise” (Pernoud 210). Then her head drooped, and it was over. The executioner, Geoffroy Therage, came to Martin Ladvenu and Isambart de la Pierre afterwards, saying that “He had a great fear of being damned, [as] he had burned a saint” (Brooks 150). The worried English authorities tried to put a stop to any further talk of this sort by punishing those few who were willing to publicly speak out in her favor. It would not be until the English were finally driven from Rouen in November of 1449, near the end of the war, that the slow process of appealing the case would be initiated. This process resulted in a posthumous acquittal by an Inquisitor named Jean Bréhal, who ironically had been a member of an English-run institution during the war. Bréhal nevertheless ruled that she had been convicted illegally and without basis by a corrupt court operating in a spirit of “manifest malice against the Roman Catholic Church and indeed even of heresy” (Williamson). The Inquisitor and other theologians consulted for the appeal therefore denounced Cauchon and the other judges, and described Joan as a martyr, thereby paving the way for her eventual beatification in 1909 and canonization as a saint in 1920.
Joan’s life was nothing short of phenomenal. She was introduced to Charles at the age of 17 and began to turn around the seemingly futile French position. Still today she is considered by many the savior of France. Many believe that France would have never been able to drive out the English without her aid. A lot of her feats are rationally unexplainable, such as: her foresight of the future, her ability to find the sword buried under the altar in the chapel of Ste-Catherine-de-Fierbois, or even more astonishing, her ability to bring France to victory during the battle of Orleans where the French were completely surrounded and defeat was almost certain. Her ability to produce wonders one after the other makes one hard pressed not to believe in her saintliness. Joan is a saint and her actions can only be categorized as miracles. Joan’s life is astounding by any measure, even when one separates the fact from fiction.
Brooks, Polly Schoyer Beyond the Myth: The Story of Joan of Arc. New York: Houghton Mifflin Co, 1999.
Pernoud, Regine. Joan of Arc: By Herself and Her Witnesses. New York: Scarborough House, 1994.
Price, Patrick. JoanNet 2004. Feb 2004. http://maidjoan.tripod.com
Shaw, Benard. Saint Joan. England: Penguin Books, 1924.
Williamson, Allen. Joan of Arc Online Archive 2003. Feb 2004. http://archive.joan-of-arc.org
Picture Taken From:
Encarta, MSN Encarta 2004 April 2004. http://encarta.msn.com/media_461538692_761565945_-1_1/Joan_of_Arc.html