Joan of Arc: History, Facts, & Accomplishments
Joan of Arc was a French peasant girl who rose to immense prominence fighting on the side of the Dauphin of France Charles against English forces. Ultimately, Joan of Arc, who was acting on divine visions she had seen, helped Charles of France retake his French lands and defeat the English. On the back of a very successful showing at the Siege of France, Joan of Arc was later captured by pro-English Burgundian forces. While in captivity, no attempt was made by France to secure her release.
Joan, the heroine of the siege of Orléans, was subsequently put on trial, found guilty, and sentenced to death for heresy. The diminutive peasant girl who had inspired the unity of France met her end in a very gruesome manner as she was burned at the stake by her English captors.
Following her death in 1431, she became one of the most famous martyrs in all of Europe. And about 500 years after her execution, in 1920, the Catholic Church proclaimed Joan of Arc a saint.
Birth and Early Childhood
She was born around 1412 into an obscure peasant family in France. She was brought up in a small French town called Domrémy, often spending her time tending to livestock.
Her parents were Jacques and Isabelle. Her father was a tax official in the town while her mother was housewife who taught Joan how to sew.
She grew up in a very a religious home. By her teens she had stated her desire to serve God all the rest of her life.
Her place of birth Domrémy was part of the Duchy of Bar which in turn was part of the territory of the King of France.
Did you know: Domrémy, the village in which Joan of Arc was born in, was renamed Domrémy-la-Pucelle after the heroine’s nickname?
Joan of Arc’s alleged visions from God
A devout Christian right from an early age, Joan of Arc allegedly started having visions from god when she was around the age of thirteen. According to Joan, the apparition told her to leave her home and rally all France against English forces in France. Once she had done that she was supposed to ride along with the French king to Reims for coronation.
Those sorts of visions and alleged divine encounters did not cease; instead they continued to occur a number of times more. In one account, she described the visions she received from God as wonderful visions. During her trial a few years later, she stated that those visions she saw almost always was accompanied by very bright light and saints like St. Catherine and St. Michael.
Rival claimants to the French crown during the Hundred Years’ War
Charles de Ponthieu (later Charles VII) was an ineffectual leader of France who struggled to bring his people together. France at the time was still reeling from the disastrous defeat to England at the Battle of Agincourt on October 25, 1415.
Subsequently, two main French factions emerged – the Burgundians and the Dauphins. The two sides were at odds with each other, with the Burgundians favoring the young English monarch Henry VI. The English king, in alliance with the Burgundians, claimed the French crown and controlled almost all of northern France, including Reims, the traditional site for the coronation of French kings.
The remaining part of the country was in the hands of Charles VII of France. Charles held firmly to Orleans as it was a key strategic city that kept the pro-English Burgundians from overrunning his territories.
The conflict between the two sides had dragged on for quite some time, with neither monarchs anointed. In Charles’s case, he could not make his way to Reims as the city was under the control of English forces.
Read More: Facts and Achievements of Henry V, the hero at the Battle of Agincourt
Joan of Arc sets out to renew the French nation
Upon reaching the age of 16, Joan left home to comply with the directives she had received from the visions. In 1428, the visions had instructed her to meet with Charles de Ponthieu and begin the process of uniting the people of France. Her goal (allegedly under the instructions of the Divine voices) was to accompany Charles to Reims, where he would be anointed king of all of France.
Joan of Arc and Charles de Ponthieu
The French peasant girl rode to a town nearby and met up with the commanding officer at the garrison, Count Robert de Baudricourt. Joan then told Baudricourt that she sought to meet with Charles VII. The teenager was quickly brushed off and laughed at. However, with sheer determination and clarity, Joan quickly secured the support of some local religious leaders who were able to convince Baudricourt to take Joan to the king in the city of Chinon.
Donning a man’s clothes, Joan and Baudricourt make it to Chinon. At first glance, Charles was said to be very suspicious of Joan’s true intentions. So Charles disguises himself as one of his courtiers to test Joan’s abilities and powers. Legend has it that Joan took no time in identifying Charles behind the disguise. It was at this point that Charles began to have some bit of belief in Joan’s visions.
In order to be fully convinced that Joan was a messenger from God, and not a crazy peasant girl, Charles tasks his churchmen to properly examine her. In time, Charles came to believe Joan of Arc, who by the way was just 17 years of age by then.
4 Major accomplishments of Joan of Arc
The following are the major accomplishments of the French peasant girl whose works turned the tide in favor of France during the Hundred Years’ War:
Joan of Arc is given control of French forces
Fully convinced of Joan of Arc’s divine visions, Charles allows Joan to accompany his troops to the city of Orleans, where they hope to lift the city from a seven-month siege from the English forces.
By this time, Joan had been elevated to somewhat noble status; she was given her own pages and squire. She even had her own standard and banner, as she trained with the soldiers. She ended up being a good fighter and horse rider.
Joan de Arc’s visions lifted the spirit of French forces in the city of Orleans
Joan’s presence among the French troops lifts their spirits. While the French forces began oozing with confidence and belief, English forces on the other hand had allowed fear and disbelief creep into their camps.
Battle of Orléans on April 29, 1429
The presence of Joan of Arc had made the French forces believe that God was on their side. And everywhere Joan went, she was greeted with celebrations. French commanders went on to take full advantage of the situation and allowed Joan of Arc fight in the Battle of Orleans on April 29, 1429.
Joan led the charge against the English and caused the English soldiers to go into disarray. Although she sustains an injury from an arrow, she continues to fight on. And by May 8, the French forces had successfully repelled the English from Orléans. The heroics of Joan ended up securing a massive victory for the French people.
Within a year, the French forces will secure victories at Troyes and Patay. Joan’s continued presence in the army received enormous praise from the French commanders, as many French towns are liberated from English occupation.
Joan of Arc helped in liberating Reims
The northeast city of Reims had for decades served as the traditional site where French kings were anointed. Following the instructions of the voices to letter, Joan of Arc convinces Charles to continue his march to Reims where he would be officially crowned king of France.
By the time Charles and Joan make it to Reims on July 16, the city had sort of prepared a red carpet welcome for the French king. Charles consecration ceremony then takes place in the city’s cathedral on July 17. Following the anointment (with holy oil) of Charles, Joan of Arc proceeds to kneel before Charles.
How did Joan of Arc end up in English custody?
With Charles VII crowned king of France, there was hardly any doubt among the French people that Joan of Arc was indeed moved by the Holy Spirit. She had accomplished exactly what the visions told her to do.
Desiring to take her exploits even further, Joan of Arc continued to amass more and more followers to her cause to completely drive every English soldier out of France.
Joan of Arc’s campaign also targeted the Burgundians, who were in cohort with the English at the time. For about nine months, her campaign went smoothly and more French towns became liberated.
Beginning around May 1430, things began to go south for the teenage heroine of France. During one of her campaigns in the city of Compiègne, she and her forces had come under a barrage of attacks from the Burgundians. Her small forces that were defending the city had been overwhelmed completely by the enemy. It is said that she fell from her horse and then found herself trapped by enemy forces at Compiègne in northern France.
Joan was held captive by the Burgundians for a while as her fate was decided. Ultimately, the Burgundians decide to sell her off to the English.
The trial of Joan of Arc
In what was well documented interrogation and trial, Joan of Arc’s ordeal begins around January 1431. All throughout her interrogation by the inquisitors, she remains resolute, calm and collected. Her responses the questions showed just who Joan was and what her character was.
About two months into her captivity, a trial begins. Joan of Arc stands accused of heresy, witchcraft and more than 60 other charges, including one for immodesty for dressing like a man. Obviously a completely farce trial, her inquisitors and the English had long decided her fate before she even appeared in the trial.
Leading the investigation was Bishop Cauchon – a churchman who was a big supporter of the English. Although Cauchon thoroughly disliked Joan, he hoped, at least in his mind, to save Joan’s immortal soul from going to hell.
The recorded conversations between Joan and Cauchon showed just how the former handled herself brilliantly. She did not succumb to the endless hours of her interrogators accusing her of heresy. At one point she warned her accusers, including Bishop Cauchon, of passing false judgment on her least they be punished by God.
Joan of Arc’s guilty verdict
The persecutors of Joan of Arc gave the 19-year-old girl two options – either recant all that she said or die in the most gruesome of ways at the stake. She courageously went with the latter, believing wholeheartedly that the vision she had received was from God. And so, the judges pass a guilty verdict.
Upon hearing the verdict read out, it is said that she began to sob and even confessed. At that point, she is informed that instead of the death sentence, she would be imprisoned all her life. Less than a week later, however, she recanted her confession. With an even sterner demeanor, she maintains that her visions and the voices were never made up.
Execution of Jeanne d’Arc
As she was led to the stake, Joan of Arc remained composed, calling upon every dignity she could muster. Her execution took place on May 30, 1431. It was recorded that over 10,000 people thronged into the place to see the her death sentence carried out.
Just before she was burned alive at the stake, she asked for a cross from a soldier, who gave her a wooden cross. The 19-year-old also asked for forgiveness for her accusers.
What happened after the execution of Joan of Arc?
Joan’s ashes were scattered in the Seine. According to one legend, her heart remained intact. In a way stories of those nature convinced some English folks of the being truly what she said she was.
Joan’s death was classified officially as a martyr death. It is worth mentioning that her being a martyr inspired France to continue its quest to clear the English out from the country.
About 26 years later, France achieved that goal. French forces successfully drove the English invaders out of many of the occupied French territories, leaving the English with only the Pale of Calais (Pas de Calais) in northern France. Although no outright peace treaty was signed, hostilities between the two countries subsided, bringing an end to the Hundred Years’ War (1415-1453).
Just how biased was the trial
Joan of Arc’s trial was at first held in public. Her accusers moved it behind closed doors because they were sensing that the public was getting on her side. Joan of Arc carried herself properly, responding in the clearest of manner possible. She definitely did not look like a deluded person; if anything at all, it was her accusers that appeared to be losing the religious battle with the young woman. The church could not stand idle and watch a peasant French teenager humiliate them, even school them on some important religious text. Therefore, the decision to move the trial behind closed doors was taken.
Top 3 quotes by Joan of Arc
Joan of Arc responded very clearly with unambiguous rebuttals. She made it clear that her accusers did not have authority over her, as she believed that only God rather than church could judge her. She responded to the questions of her accusers with straightforward answers, which in turn started to gain her some bit of sympathy from the public.
The following are three major quotes by Joan of Arc, the French heroine who was nicknamed “The Maid of Orléans” (La Pucelle d’Orléans):
More Joan of Arc facts
- Joan of Arc claimed that since the age 12 she started hearing voices she believed were instructions from God. During her interrogation in English custody, she stated that the voices sometimes took the form of saints like St Michael, St Margaret and St Catherine of Alexandria.
- Although her life was cut short at such an early age, her accomplishments have been etched in the annals of history forever, especially among the French people.
- According to some historians, she may have been tortured while in prison to secure her confession. However, to this day no evidence exists to either confirm and refute the claim.
- In 1456, Pope Callixtus III ordered the reexamination of Joan of Arc’s trial. Her guilty verdict was reversed subsequently.
- The chief inquisitor at the trial of Joan of Arc was Pierre Cauchon (1371-1442). The Bishop of Beauvais allowed his pro-English sentiments deeply cloud his investigations. In the 1450s, Pope Callixtus III allowed for a posthumous retrial of Joan of Arc. All charges against her were debunked and she was pronounced innocent on July 7, 1456 by the appellate court.
- For his abysmal and biased way of handling the trial, Bishop Cauchon was excommunicated posthumously in 1457 by Pope Callixtus III – reexamined the trial – debunked the charges against her – pronounced her innocent on July 7, 1456.
- The executioner at her death sentence – Geoffroy Thérage – felt very remorseful for the rest of his life because he believed that he had burned a holy woman to death.
- Before she died she asked Father Martin Ladvenu and Father Isambart de la Pierre to hold a crucifix before her.
- In 1803, French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte declared Joan of Arc a national symbol of France. She is considered one of the nine secondary patron saints of France.
- Joan of Arc’s beatification took place in 1909, and then 11 years later, in 1920, she was canonized by the Catholic Church during the papacy of Benedict XV.
- During the Hundred Years’ War, a prophecy was foretold that France will be lost by a woman, however a virgin would later emerge to save the nation. The prophecy fits the events that transpired during Joan of Arc’s time. First of all, Isabeau of Bavaria – mother of Charles VII and wife of Charles VI – signed the 1420 Treaty of Troyes which gave the French throne to Henry V instead of Charles VII. Next, a peasant girl from obscure family backgrounds emerged to save France.
- When Charles VII of France asked Joan of Arc how he could thank her for brave efforts in getting him crowned at Reims, the young peasant girl appealed to Charles not to impose taxes on her village folks in Domrémy and Greux. And so Joan’s village was exempted from paying taxes “forever” in 1429. It was not until during the French Revolution that the village started paying taxes.