Angelic voices instructed Joan of Arc to free the French from English rule and crown the Dauphin as Charles VII at Rheims.

Birthplace of Joan of Arc, Domrémy
Birthplace of Joan of Arc, Domrémy

Joan of Arc was approximately born on 6 January 1412 to farmer Jacques d’Arc and his wife Isabelle Romée in Domrémy, a village located between Neufchateau and Vaucouleurs in Lorraine, which remained loyal to the French king.

She was a simple peasant girl who divided her time sewing, spinning, tending her father’s sheep or she was often at the church. Her friends teased Joan for being too religious.

The Hundred Years War

However, the Hundred Years War continued. Henry V of England had won several victories including Agincourt and he came close to uniting England and France under his rule. He signed the Treaty of Troyes on 21 May 1420 and married Catherine of Valois on 2 June. Henry V was recognised as the heir instead of Charles VI’s son whose legitimacy was in doubt.

Joan of Arc painted c 1485
Joan of Arc painted c 1485

Charles VI died so parliament of Paris recognised Henry VI (the son of the deceased Henry V) as “King of England and France” on 27 October 1422 instead of the Dauphin.

Henry V’s brother John Duke of Bedford was appointed Regent of France as Henry VI was a few months old. The French resented an English king.

Charles had no patriotic feelings and no heart for war, as his fortunes were at an all-time low. Many expressed doubt he was the real heir as his mother, Isabeau of Bavaria, had numerous affairs.

Saviour of France

Joan first heard the angelic voices whilst in her father’s garden on a summer’s day in 1425. Joan became dreamy, rapt in constant meditation as she recognised the Archangel Michael, St Catherine and St Margaret. They urged her to “go to France to deliver the kingdom.”

Charles VII by Jean Fouquet 1445-1450
Charles VII by Jean Fouquet 1445-1450

Joan confided to her uncle and pestered him to take her to speak to Sir Robert de Baudricourt at Vaucouleurs. Her uncle gave in so they set out on 13 May 1428.

Her first meeting with Baudicourt proved unsuccessful as he dismissed her as mad. He suggested Joan’s uncle sent her home to her parents with a slap.

Burgundians invaded Domrémy in July 1428. Joan received news of the siege of Orléans so she returned to Vaucouleurs.

Baudicourt was impressed, although he was still not convinced, so he sent reports to Duke Charles of Lorraine and the court at Chinon.

Meanwhile Joan remained in Vaucouleurs for three weeks, diving her time between spinning and church.

John of Metz (also known as John of Novelompont), a knight serving with Baudricourt, paid a visit. Joan explained her difficulties.

John of Metz and another knight, Bertrand de Poulengy, also offered to be her escort and took her to see the Dauphin. Joan wore men’s clothing and she was given a horse, coat of mail, a lance and other equipment.

The journey took eleven days as they travelled during the night through territory occupied by the English and the Burgundians.

Charles and his councillors hesitated as they had difficulty believing a teenaged peasant girl could bring victory to the demoralised French army. Some politicians and courtiers still remained sceptical.

By bodoklecksel (own foto) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons
By bodoklecksel (own foto) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons
His mother-in-law Yolande of Aragon persuaded him to see Joan so she and her comrades arrived at Chinon 6 March 1429.

Charles was impressed but not convinced until Joan reassured him he was indeed the true king after he was plagued by secret doubts of his paternity.

Joan dictated a letter to the English demanding they withdraw their forces and end the war. The English responded with coarse insults and name calling, including “strumpet” and “cow-girl”.

She was shot by an arrow in the midst of battle so the English assumed Joan was nearly dead. Joan removed the arrow, remounted her horse and continued fighting and giving the French fresh hope.

Joan led the French to further victories and the Dauphin was crowned Charles VII at Rheims, the traditional site for French coronations.

However, Joan failed to take Paris in September 1429.

The Maid’s Downfall

English propaganda claimed Joan was a witch or a heretic and cast dispersions upon her honour.

The tower in Rouen where Joan was imprisoned. CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=60020
The tower in Rouen where Joan was imprisoned. CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=60020

Joan was captured by the Burgundians the following spring and sold to the English. She was turned over to the church court where she was tried for heresy and witchcraft by French clerics supporting the English. She confessed when threatened with torture. She was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.

She recanted her “confession” a week later so she was retried as a relapsed heretic in a secular court and burnt at the stake on 30 May 1431 in Rouen, aged nineteen.

English dominance had finally ended although the Hundred Years War continued for another twenty-two years.

An inquest on 7 July 1455 declared Joan innocent of all charges.

The Catholic Church canonised Joan on 16 May 1920. She is a patron saint of France.

Sources

Griffiths, R A, The Reign of Henry VI, Sutton Publishing Limited, Stroud, 2004 [First published in 1981]

Guzot, Francois Pierre Guillaume, A Popular History of France From The
Earliest Times Volume III, (ebook), Project Gutenberg, 2004

Smith, Carol and Roddy, Quicknotes Christian History Guidebook, Barbour Publishing, Uhrichville, OH, 2001

Sweetman, John, A Dictionary of European Land Battles, Robert Hale Limited, London, 1984

Weir, Alison, Katherine Swynford, Jonathan Cape (Random House), London, 2007

Weir, Alison, Lancaster & York: The Wars of the Roses, Pimlico, London, 1998

© 2010 Carolyn M Cash

This article was originally published by Suite 101 on 6 March 2010.

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