Joan of Arc was born in 1412 into a family whose father owned a farm in Domremy, France. It was there where the innocent peasant girl lived until leaving home at the tender age of sixteen. Joan of Arc’s entire tale has been based on the fact that Joan has heard voices from the time she was twelve. It was these “voices” that were to change her destiny and mankind’s history forever. These voices from St. Michael, St Catherine and St. Margaret would eventually guide her to leave home at this early age and help the Dauphin capture the Coronation City of Reims. She was convinced that her divine mission was to ensure that Charles VII would be crowned the next King of France. Her faith and efforts ended with an agonizing fate and on May 30, 1431, Joan of Arc was burned alive for these visions that changed the course of history as it is today.
During the Hundred Years War, England had controlled most of northern France. Since the English controlled Reims, where coronations were held, the heir to the throne could not be crowned. England decided to proclaim King Henry VI the King of France. However, in 1428, Joan made her way to Vaucouleurs, a Dauphine stronghold, where she presented her visions to Commander Robert Baudricourt. Her vision was to bring the Dauphin to Reims for his coronation. The commander, unable to believe her visionary words from the heavens, sent her back home. Joan of Arc persisted in her belief and returned months later. This time her strength, determination and devoutness won over the commander and she was allowed safe passage from the captain of the garrison. It was then when Joan of Arc’s visions and destiny were given the chance to materialize as she now was able to reach the castle in Chinon.
Joan of Arc would disguise herself as a man for her journey from home to the castle at Chinon. Baudricourt not only gave her permission, he sent an escort of six soldiers along with her. She had made it to Chinon and Charles VII granted her a meeting and for weeks Charles VII and Joan were questioned by theologians. The theologians made Charles VII know that he would be nothing but wise to utilize the young girls charismatic ways and an expedition was then sent to Orleans with Joan at its helm. Charles VII had conferred with his advisers and was told that Joan was a virtuous and good Christian. They believed that she was driven by divine guidance and not by the Devil, though she would have to prove this by winning at Orleans.
She was then granted permission to travel with an army which was given to her by the Royal government. Joan was given armor, a horse, a sword and a banner by donations from her group to carry with her along with her faith and passion.
Orleans had been held by the English since October of 1428. Joan arrived in April of 1429. Her presence there was followed by a quick and noticeable change in the pattern of the siege of Orleans. In the five months prior, only one attack was tried and ended disastrously. With her arrival, however, several more bold attacks against the stronghold of England were victorious.
During one of the battles, Joan of Arc was injured by an arrow while she was holding one of the banners made for her by Hauves Poulnoir, a painter in Tours. It had pierced through a gap in the armor she wore. The wound was deep and the arrow landed between her neck and shoulder. No one at the time was sure if the young peasant girl would survive the injury. After caring for her wound, she returned to the battlefield inspiring and encouraging one more, final aggression. This attack was a success and on the next day, May 8, the English troops retreated and the French reclaimed Orleans.
When Joan of Arc was at Chinon, she had claimed that there would be a divine sign at Orleans. Many people viewed the retreat of the English and the reclaiming of Orleans to be that very sign. Support for her grew quickly by the theologians and clergy.
Over the course of the following month, more victories were accomplished by the French commanders and Joan of Arc. They reached Reims on July 16 and Charles VII was made King of France the very next day. Joan was standing close and called joyously to Charles VII, calling him King for the first time while holding up an image of Christ.
The new King and Joan of Arc headed to battle on September 8 with their sights set on Paris. In the middle of the battle, Joan shouted for the people of Paris to surrender to the new king. The siege was unsuccessful and King Charles VII ordered the troops to retreat.
Joan of Arc was captured in the town of Compiegne on May 23, 1430 and held at Beaurevoir Castle. Escape attempts proved futile as she had tried to sneak into the town of Compiegne during the night to help defend it while it was under siege from the enemy. The English put Joan of Arc on trial in March of 1431.
The charges against Joan of Arc were brought about by scholarly religious experts in Rouen, France. They charged her with heresy and rejecting the authority of the church. They claimed she did this by listening to direct and divine messages from God instead of those from the church but Joan of Arc refused to compromise her beliefs.
On May 24, she was sentenced; Joan would be handed over to nonreligious authorities and to be executed. Fear overcame her and she retracted her statement of beliefs and her sentence was then changed to life in prison.
While in prison, Joan of Arc was ordered to dress like a woman and she complied but changed back into her male clothing just a few days later. When the judges asked her why she was wearing male clothing again, the answer she gave sealed her fate.
Joan told the judges that St. Catherine and St. Margaret were disappointed in her for going against her beliefs to satisfy the church. Joan of Arc was then classified as a relapsed heretic and ordered, on May 29, to be put to death. At the Place du Vieux-Marche in Rouen, her last request was to have a priest shout prayers and hold a crucifix for her to see as she died. On May 30, 1431, Joan of Arc was burned alive at the stake. Joan of Arc was sentenced to death for her beliefs and thirty years later, she was found to be not guilty. Joan was canonized (made a saint) by Pope Benedict XV in 1920 at St. Peter’s Basilica. Her legend now lives on as Saint Joan of Arc.
By Saki Kahala