of Arc (1429-1431)
of Arc was a girl of only 13 when she first heard the voices that would
call her to save France from disintegration. For four years she quietly
listened to these voices--until they became most insistent that she
act immediately. By the beginning of 1429 not only was France widely
overrun by the English, but Charles, the Dauphin of France (heir to
the French throne), was rapidly losing authority within even the portion
of France that remained his.
by French authorities was about what she expected--total rejection.
But she knew the voices were serious, so she persisted. With the help
of some "signs" from the same voices, she was finally able
to convince Charles of the legitimacy of her call. Finally in April
of 1429, given command of a French army she quickly rounted the English
army besieging Orléans, chased the English out of the Loire valley
and by July had delivered Reims from the English so that Charles could
be crowned king (Charles VII) in this traditional coronation site.
events began to move against her. She continued to try to rout the English
from France--even though Charles himself seemed to have little appetite
for such doings. When in September she moved against the English in
Paris she was wounded and the effort failed. Meanwhile Charles made
a truce with his enemies (and England's ally) the Burgundians. But the
next spring (1430) she took up arms again--only to be captured by the
Burgundians in an effort to rally the French at Compiègne against
an English-Burgundian assault on that town. She was sold by her captor
to the English.
then turned over to a French ecclesiastical court (with strong pro-English
sentiments) in Rouen to be tried as a witch. After a lengthy trial she
was found guilty of sorcery and heresy and sentenced to death. On May
30, 1431 she was burned at the stake as a witch.
immediately it was recognized that rather than being a witch she had
been in fact a true agent of God. Over the centuries her popularity
grew until in 1920 she was canonized as a saint by Pope Benedict XV.
Joan of Arc1 (January2 1412 – May 30, 1431) (also styled the Maid
of Orléans3) is a national heroine of France and a Saint of the
Catholic Church. At just 17 years of age, she commanded the French Royal
army. She convinced King Charles VII to drive the English out of France,
and he gave her authority over the army in the siege of Orléans,
the Battle of Patay and other engagements in 1429 and 1430. Those campaigns
enabled the coronation4 of Charles VII. As a result, he awarded her
family with ennoblement. The Burgundians captured and delivered her
to the English. Clergymen found her guilty of heresy and John, Duke
of Bedford had her burnt at the stake in Rouen. In 1920 Pope Benedict
XV canonized her in recognition of her innocence5 as found by an earlier
appeal after her death. Her posthumous reception history is a lengthy
one: she was revered by the Catholic League in the 16th century, embraced
as a cultural symbol in French patriotic circles since the 19th century,
became an inspiration to Allied forces during the First and Second World
Wars and an official Saint to Roman Catholics since the early 20th century;
currently being a focus of considerable interest in the Republic of
Ireland, Canada, United Kingdom and United States. Many people therefore
regard Joan of Arc as a notable woman of valor, vigor, and faith.
Early life and
Jeanne d'Arc or Jehanne Darc was born circa 1412 in the small village
of Domrémy in the valley of the Meuse to Jacques D'Arc and Isabelle
de Vouthon, a peasant family later granted noble status by Charles VII.
Domremy is a village which is now in Lorraine, but was then a part of
the Duchy of Bar — a part of France whose Duke was pro-Anglo-Burgundian
in loyalty. France at that time was split by a factional rivalry which
would allow the English to make swift gains. There were two factions
of the French Royal family: the Burgundians (supporters of the Duke
of Burgundy) and the Armagnacs (supporters of the Duke of Orléans
and later of Charles VII). The groups were involved in a struggle over
the government which allowed Henry V's conquests in 1415 and the following
years. In 1420, the Treaty of Troyes granted the throne to Henry V's
heirs, disinheriting Charles, the Dauphin (crown prince), and making
the infant Henry VI of England the nominal king after 1422.
Visions and mission
Jules Bastien-Lepage's 1879 portrayal of Joan of Arc when she first
heard her call; Saint Michael, Saint Margaret, and Saint Catherine are
behind her. Oil on canvas in two joined vertical panels. Metropolitan
Museum of Art, New York City.
Jeanne d' Arc by Eugene Thirion (1876) depicts Joan's awe upon receiving
a vision from the archangel Michael.
Around 1424, Joan said she began receiving visions of Saint Michael
the Archangel, St. Catherine, and St. Margaret telling her to drive
out the English and bring the Dauphin to Reims for his coronation. In
1428 at the age of 16, she asked a family relative, Durand Lassois,
to bring her to nearby Vaucouleurs in order to ask the garrison commander,
Lord Robert de Baudricourt, to give her an escort to bring her to the
Dauphin's court at Chinon. She was rejected, but returned the following
January and was finally granted an escort of six men. Two of these soldiers,
Jean de Metz and Bertrand de Poulengy, said they gave her male clothing
to wear (as the standard disguise used in such circumstances) and brought
her through Burgundian-controlled territory to Chinon. She was said
to have convinced Charles to believe in her by relating a private prayer
that he had made the previous 1 November, although he additionally insisted
on having her examined for three weeks by theologians at Poitiers before
granting final acceptance. She was then brought to a succession of towns
where preparations were being made to bring supplies to the city of
Orléans, which had been under siege by the English since the
She was joined by her brothers Jean and Pierre, and equipped with armour
and a white banner depicting God flanked by two angels and the words
"Jesus" and "Mary" on the side. With her piety,
confidence, and enthusiasm, she boosted the morale of the troops. The
small force she eventually led included the legendary soldiers Jean
d'Orleans (Count of Dunois),La Hire, and Poton de Xaintrailles.
She arrived at the besieged city of Orléans on April 29, 1429.
After several English fortifications were taken from May 4–May
7, the remaining English forces were pulled from their siege lines on
May 8. The lifting of the siege—the "sign" that she
had said would verify her legitimacy as a visionary—gained her
the support of prominent clergy such as the Archbishop of Embrun and
the prominent theologian Jean Gerson, who both wrote supportive treatises
immediately following this event.
The Royal army's next objective was to clear the rest of the Loire Valley
of English strongholds. Jargeau was taken on June 12; the bridge at
Meung-sur-Loire was occupied on the 15th, followed by the surrender
of Beaugency on the 17th. A greater victory was achieved on the 18th,
when an English army was cut to pieces near Patay, with a loss of 2,200
English soldiers versus only a little over 20 French and Scots. This
allowed the Royal army to now attempt a march toward Reims for Charles'
The army set out
from Gien-sur-Loire on June 29, accepting the neutrality of the Burgundian-held
city of Auxerre by July 3 before laying siege to the city of Troyes
on July 5. This city surrendered on the 9th, followed by Châlons-sur-Marne
on the 14th. Reims opened its gates to the army when it arrived on the
16th, allowing the Dauphin to be crowned as Charles VII the following
morning, July 17, 1429.
and a number of the commanders urged a prompt march on Paris, the Royal
Court was mesmerized by the prospect of a negotiated peace offered by
the Duke of Burgundy. Negotiations with Burgundian diplomats began at
Reims shortly after the coronation, resulting in a 15-day truce which
merely had the effect of stalling the Royal army's momentum. Charles
used this time to take the army on a wandering tour of nearby cities
in the hope of accepting their allegiance in turn, a process which bore
fruit largely due to Jeanne's "great diligence" (according
to one of the chroniclers who served in her army). A day of skirmishing
with an English army under the Duke of Bedford at Montépilloy
on August 15 led to a slow march toward Paris. An attack on the city
finally came on September 8, but ended in disaster when Jeanne was shot
in the leg and the attack was called off against her will. Charles ordered
the army to withdraw on the 10th. A lack of Royal support was also blamed
for the failure to take La-Charité-sur-Loire in late November
With a truce in effect, Jeanne didn't return to the field until the
following March. An attempt to lift the siege laid to the city of Compiègne
on May 23 led to her capture by Burgundian troops when she and her soldiers
were trapped outside the city.
state that Charles demanded that she be ransomed back to her own side,
but the Burgundians refused. Instead, she was transferred to their English
allies in exchange for the usual monetary compensation common in such
transfers, with the hand-over being entrusted to Pierre Cauchon, Bishop
of Beauvais and counselor for the English occupation government. Surviving
documents record payments made by the English government to cover the
costs of obtaining Joan and rewarding many of the judges whom they selected
to preside over her trial.
Joan of Arc is
being interrogated by the cardinal of Winchester.
Jeanne was put on trial by a hand-picked gathering of pro-English clergy,
who charged her with heresy. The trial, held in the seat of the English
occupation government at Rouen, beginning on January 9, 1431, was conducted
in flagrant violation of a number of basic Inquisitorial guidelines.
The accusations were a large and motley list, unbacked by any of the
direct witness evidence required under the Church's rules. Her visions
were dismissed as demonic in origin, without the usual procedures of
discernment ("discretio spirituum") being followed to provide
any proof of this accusation. She was alleged to be in opposition to
the Church, although eyewitnesses confirmed that this was based on a
distortion: she only objected to being tried by pro-English clergy who
were intent on convicting her. She appealed instead to the Pope, but
this was rejected; her appeal to the Council of Basel was omitted from
the record on Cauchon's orders. She was accused of being a bloodthirsty
killer, although her statement that she had never killed anybody (preferring
to carry her banner in combat) is confirmed by the other sources, which
additionally attest to the mercy she showed toward enemy soldiers. It
was, ironically, her judge, Bishop Cauchon, who had supported the bloody
Cabochien Revolt in 1413, and defended the assassination of Louis, Duke
of Orléans in 1407.
In addition to the various illegal procedures and the denial of her
appeal to the Pope, she was also kept in a secular prison guarded by
English soldiers instead of in an ecclesiastical prison, as the Church's
rules mandated. It was this last issue which was most cruelly utilized
by her accusers: many eyewitnesses confirm that she was being subjected
to attempted rape at the hands of the five English soldiers who served
as her guards, for which reason she clung to the safety provided by
the "laces and points" on her male clothing which allowed
the pants and tunic to be securely fastened together. For this, she
was accused of the sin of cross-dressing, although the Summa Theologica
and other medieval theological works specifically grant an exemption
in such cases of necessity.
A set of 12 articles of accusation, which the notaries later confirmed
had been drawn up without their knowledge and without any correction
of the many errors contained within, was sent to the pro-English University
of Paris, which dutifully recommended conviction. Since only a "relapsed
heretic" could be given the death penalty, Cauchon next carried
out what is generally accepted to have been a deliberate attempt to
provide an excuse for labeling her "relapsed".
She was first brought
to Saint-Ouen cemetery and threatened with summary execution unless
she signed a confession and agreed to wear a dress. This was followed
by what eyewitnesses described as a concerted attempt by the guards,
joined by a "great English lord", to rape her, as a means
of inducing her to readopt the protective male clothing. In the end,
according to the bailiff, Jean Massieu, they gave her nothing else to
wear except the offending male clothing, which she finally put back
on after arguing with the guards "until noon". The judges
were then brought in to view the "relapse". Witnesses saw
Cauchon triumphantly announce to the English commanders waiting outside:
"Farewell, be of good cheer, it is done!"
Eyewitnesses described the scene of the execution on May 30, 1431. Tied
to a tall pillar, she asked two of the clergy, Martin Ladvenu and Isambart
de la Pierre, to get a crucifix from a nearby church to hold up in front
of her. She repeatedly called out "...in a loud voice the holy
name of Jesus, and implored and invoked without ceasing the aid of the
saints of Paradise". When her body went limp and her head dropped
forward, the witnesses knew her ordeal was over. One English soldier,
who had just picked up a piece of wood to throw on the fire, was terrified
by the vision of a white dove (symbol of the Holy Spirit) which he said
flew out of her body at the moment of death and headed toward French-held
territory to the south. The executioner, Geoffroy Therage, confessed
to having "...a great fear of being damned, [as] he had burned
a saint." Her ashes were cast into the Seine River.
After Charles VII regained Rouen in November of 1449, the process of
investigating the case began with an inquest by the clergyman Guillaume
Bouille. This was followed by Inquisitor-General Jean Brehal's investigation
in 1452. The formal appeal was initiated in November of 1455. Pope Callixtus
III authorized this appeal (known today as the "Rehabilitation
Trial") at the request of the Inquisitor and three surviving members
of Jeanne d'Arc's family. Unlike the original trial, the appellate process
included clergy from throughout Europe, and faithfully observed lawful
court procedure. After taking the testimony of 115 witnesses and the
opinions of theologians, the Inquisitor drew up his final summary of
the case, the "Recollectio F Johannis Brehalli", in June of
1456, describing Jeanne as a martyr and her judges as heretics for having
deliberately convicted an innocent woman in the pursuit of a secular
vendetta. The declaration of her innocence was read out on July 7, 1456.
The religious play in her honor at Orleans was declared by the 15th
century Church to be a pilgrimage site meriting an indulgence, and she
was subsequently used as a symbol of the Catholic League during the
16th century. Her official beatification came in 1909, followed by canonization
as a saint on May 16, 1920. Her feast day is the 2nd Sunday in May.
During her campaigns
and imprisonment, Joan of Arc wore clothing more commonly worn by men.
Her motive is given in her own words, either quoted directly or via
eyewitnesses who knew her.
A summary of this evidence would be as follows:
• During her campaigns she said - as quoted by chronicles such
as "la Chronique de la Pucelle" - that she wore such clothing
primarily to better safeguard her chastity while camped in the field
with her troops, to discourage them from lusting after her, and because
her saints had commanded her to adopt such clothing as part of her service
in the army.
• She was quoted by a number of the clergy who took part in her
trial, who later admitted that she had said repeatedly that she clung
to such clothing out of necessity: since the type of male clothing in
question had "laces and points" by which the pants and tunic
could be securely tied together, such clothing was the only protection
she had against attempted rape at the hands of her English guards. Additionally,
they said that she was finally maneuvered into a "relapse"
by two methods
1. after being forced to wear a dress under threat of immediate burning,
her guards increased their attempts to abuse her in order to induce
her to re-adopt the protective clothing, and
2. in the end they finally left her nothing else to wear except the
offending male outfit, which she put back on after a prolonged argument
with the guards that went on "until noon" (according to the
bailiff at the trial, Jean Massieu). This was seized upon as an excuse
to convict her by Pierre Cauchon, who had been placed as her judge by
Since the medieval Church granted an exemption for such necessity-based
instances of "cross-dressing", as defined in the "Summa
Theologica", "Scivias", etc, her actions were defended
during her campaigns by a number of prominent clergy such as the Archbishop
of Embrun, the famous theologian Jean Gerson, etc, as well as by the
clergy who were called upon to give their ruling at the postwar appeal
of her case (the "Rehabilitation" or "Nullification"
Trial) after the English were driven out of Rouen.
Many contemporary attempts to explain Joan's visions have been based
on the commonly-held belief that her visions were described merely as
auditory sensations which only she could hear. Analyses based on this
idea have led to the belief that she was experiencing hallucinations
brought on by mental illness, ranging from schizophrenia to temporal
lobe epilepsy and even Bovine Tuberculosis. However, the historical
documents describe her visions quite differently than the common conception
of the subject, containing quotes from Joan stating that these visions
instead were often visual and tactile, and could take solid, physical
form that she and other people could see and touch. These quotes and
other documents state that people such as the Count of Clermont, Guy
de Cailly, etc, could simultaneously experience her visions.
After the execution of the Maid of Orleans, there were number of impostors
who claimed to be Joan, having escaped from the fire. Most of these
were swiftly exposed but two of the most famous are known as Jeanne
de Armoises and Jehanne de Sermaises, although contemporary accounts
are sketchy at best.
According to a later story (found 1686 in Metz), Jeanne appeared for
the first time in May 20, 1436 in Metz where she met with two brothers
of Joan – Pierre and Jehan – and convinced them that she
was their deceased sister. Whether the brothers really did believe or
feigned belief for their own reasons is impossible to say. For the next
three years the town of Orleans stopped the memorial services for the
Maid of Orleans and, according to town records, paid some of her expenses.
Afterwards, the false Joan supposedly moved to Arlon in Luxembourg where
she reputedly met Madame de Luxembourg. Later she married a knight:
Robert des Hermoises or Armoises.
The false Joan dealt with the king Charles VII via letters for the next
four years. Around 1440 she finally received an audience with him. According
to a later account of the king's chamberlain de Boisy, the king asked
her about the secret he and Joan had shared; reputedly it was that the
king had suspected he might have been illegitimate. She did not know
the secret so she kneeled, confessed and begged for mercy. Later she
was forced to admit her imposture in public. Still, there are contemporary
claims that Joan's brothers had with them a woman they called their
sister around 1449-1452.
In 1457, when the maid had been "rehabilitated", there was
a woman called Jehanne de Sermaises in Anjou. De Sermaises was accused
of having called herself the Maid of Orleans; wearing male dress; and
deceiving many people. She was sentenced to prison but released in February
1457 on the condition that she would "bear herself honestly in
dress" (i.e. use female clothing). Afterwards she disappeared from