Joan of Arc: Historical

Jeanne d’Arc was born in or around 1412 to Jacques d’Arc and Isabelle Romée in Domrémy, a village in eastern France, where her parents owned about 50 acres of farm land.  Her later testimony stated that she began to have her visions at age 12, when the voices of the Archangel Michael, the “good martyr” Saint Catherine, and the virgin Saint Margaret, told her to defeat the invading English army and drive them from French soil, allowing for the Dauphin Charles to go to Reims for a true coronation.

In 1429, at age 16, in an interview with Count Robert de Baudricort, she predicted a turnaround in the military situation at Orleans.  When this came to pass, he gave her an escort to go to Chinon to meet with Charles.  In this meeting, she was able to convince the Dauphin to allow her to dress as a knight (she had already been disguising herself as a man) and travel with the army.

Because of her visions, she was able to turn the Hundred Years War into a religious battle.  Because the Dauphin’s supporters were worried that their enemies could then view any victories with Joan as battles won only with the help of the devil, Charles called for a theological inquiry at Poitiers as a vetting.  This commission “declared her to be of irreproachable life, a good Christian, possessed of the virtues of humility, honesty and simplicity.”  The commission didn’t make any determination of her visions, only that there was “favourable presumption” of her divine inspiration.

While the actual value of her military actions is questionable, she was present at most councils and battles.  Many believe her main effect was on French morale, and that she was really no more than a standard-bearer.  Others believe, based upon retrial testimony by French officers, that she was a good military strategist.  Regardless, she arrived at Orleans in April of 1429, and going against a council decision, decided to assault the English encampment “les Tourelles” in early May.  French leaders saw her as the heroine of this victory, especially after she took an arrow to the neck, and still led the final assault, which resulted in the ultimate victory at Orleans.

This victory helped her convince the Dauphin to give her a military co-command with Alencon.  Her goal was to retake bridges on the Loire River so that the French army could later advance on Reims for Charles’ coronation.  This began a string of French victories in which Joan was the main strategist and Alencon the implementer of her plans: in less than a one-week period, Jargeau, Meung-sur-Loire, and Beaugency were taken by the French.  At Jargeau, she survived another battlefield injury, this time a cannonball to her helmet as she was scaling the walls of the town.  The next week, she intercepted an English reinforcement troop (including Fastolfe and Talbot) at Patay and gave the English a humiliating defeat.

During the ensuing march toward Reims, more French towns were regained with little resistance, including Auxerre and Troyes, and in mid-July, Reims was entered, allowing for Charles to be crowned on July 17.  Joan’s army then began to trek to Paris, and took more towns in bloodless surrenders.  During the first day of the assault on Paris in September, Joan sustained another injury, a crossbow arrow to the leg, but was able to lead her troops until the end of the day.  Even though she was ordered to withdraw from Paris, she was able to continue to capture more towns, including Saint-Pierre-le-Moûtier in October.

In April of 1430, Joan arrived at Compiègne to defend against a English / Burgundian siege. On 23 May 1430, she was captured by Burgundian troops.  Joan and her family were not rich enough to ransom her, and Charles failed to intervene.  She tried to escape on multiple occasions (including a jump off a 70-foot tower in Vermandois), but to no avail, and Burgundy finally sold Joan to the English forces.

She was tried for heresy by the English in January of 1431.  Through Henry V’s earlier victory, the English still claimed the French throne for Henry VI, and since she (and her military exploits) made it possible for Charles to be crowned at Reims, a conviction of her as a heretic would call into question the validity of Charles’ coronation.  Thus, by no surprise, she was convicted, and–though only a repeat offense of heresy carries a capital sentence–executed in May by burning (burned, in fact, three times, to completely destroy the body, so no one could either say that she had escaped, or claim any portion of the body as a religious relic).

The verdict was overturned and Joan declared innocent by posthumous retrial, authorized by Pope Callixtus III, in 1456.  She received beatification in 1909 and was canonized in 1920.

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