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Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc (French: Jeanne d'Arc) (January 6, 1412 - May 30, 1431), known as the Maid of Orléans (French: la pucelle d'Orléans), is a national heroine of France and saint of the Catholic Church. During the Hundred Years' War she led the French against the English: against all odds she defeated the English at the siege of Orléans as well as in a series of subsequent battles, enabling the coronation of King Charles VII of France in Rheims. Captured by the Burgundians, she was delivered to the English, who had a selected group of pro-English clergy condemn her for heresy, and who eventually burnt her in Rouen. Joan of Arc's campaigns were responsible for a revitalization of Charles VII's faction during the Hundred Years War. She has been revered as a national symbol in French patriotic circles since the 19th century.


Early life and context

Jeanne d'Arc or Jehanne Darc was born in Domrémy to a peasant family. 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: 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) became involved in a struggle over the government which facilitated Henry V's conquests beginning in 1415. In 1420, the Treaty of Troyes granted the throne to Henry V's heirs, disinheriting the Dauphin (Crown Prince), Charles, and making the infant Henry VI of England the nominal king after 1422.

Visions and mission

Joan of Arc at the moment she first heard her call; Saints Michael, Margaret, and Catherine are behind her; Oil on canvas in two joined vertical panels by Jules Bastien-Lepage, 1879
Joan of Arc at the moment she first heard her call; Saints Michael, Margaret, and Catherine are behind her; Oil on canvas in two joined vertical panels by Jules Bastien-Lepage, 1879

Around 1424 Jeanne 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 November 1st, 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 previous October.

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.

She arrived at the besieged city of Orléans on April 29, 1429. After several English fortifications were taken on May 4th, 6th, and 7th, 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' coronation.

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.

Although Jeanne 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 and December.

Capture, trial and execution

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.

Several sources 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.

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 " 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 second 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 the pro-English judge, Pierre Cauchon, who had been placed as her judge by the English in order to convict her using any excuse or trick that could be devised.

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.

False "Joan of Arc"s

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 king had suspected that 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 public records.

Historical representation

The figure of Jeanne d'Arc has fascinated writers throughout the ages. The best known plays, offering widely differing interpretations of her life, were written by Shakespeare (Henry VI, part 1), George Bernard Shaw (Saint Joan), Friedrich Schiller (Die Jungfrau von Orleans), Jean Anouilh (L'Alouette) and Bertolt Brecht (Saint Joan of the Stockyards). Samuel Clemens wrote a fictional biography of Joan of Arc under the pen-name of Sieur Louis de Conte, forgoing his usual pen name of Mark Twain. During World War II, both the Vichy Regime and the French resistance used the image of Jeanne: the Vichy regime took her as a symbol of national pride and emphasized her peasant origin and anti-English spirit; the resistance countered by reminding people that Jeanne was born in Lorraine (now lost to the Germans) and that she had fought for the liberation of the country. To this day the right-wing French party Front National still uses the image of Jeanne as a symbol of French nationalism .

Joan of Arc in pop culture

Joan of Arc on Clone High
Joan of Arc on Clone High
  • Leonard Cohen's 1970 album Songs of love and hate contains a song named Joan of Arc, as well as a verse in the song Last year's man that refers to her:

'I met a lady, she was playing with her soldiers in the dark, oh one by one she had to tell them, that her name was Joan of Arc', etc.

See also

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations by or about Joan of Arc

Wikimedia Commons has multimedia related to Joan of Arc .

External links

  • International Joan of Arc Society by administrator Bonnie Wheeler - A WWW repository of scholarly and pedagogic information about Joan of Arc.
  • Joan of Arc Archive by Allen Williamson - An archive of almost 500 pages concerning Saint Joan of Arc, including biographies, translations, and other original research by the author.
  • Joan of Arc Museum in Rouen - English-language version of the official site of this museum in Rouen, France.
  • Joan of Arc in the First World War by B.J. Omanson - Site that covers the interest in Joan of Arc during the First World War.
  • Information about Joan of Arc by Norman Boutin - Site that deals with several misconceptions concerning Saint Joan of Arc.
  • The Passion of St. Joan of Arc by Ryan McMaken - A review of Carl Dreyer's 1928 movie on Joan of Arc and a comparison with that other The Passion of ... movie.
  • Joan of Arc Chapel - Site of a chapel which Joan of Arc allegedly prayed in, now located on Marquette University campus, France.
  • Reportret: Joan of Arc by Marco Bakker - An attempt to reconstruct a portrait of Joan of Arc. The short accompanying biography includes some information that has been rejected by experts such as historians Jules Quicherat, Pierre Champion , Régine Pernoud , and (more currently) researcher Allen Williamson. According to the latter, the ideas displayed on this page include variations of misconceptions popularised by people such as playwright George Bernard Shaw.
  • Saint Joan of Arc Center by Virginia Frohlick - A center of devotion to Saint Joan of Arc in Albuquerque, New Mexico USA. Many stories, topics, texts, films and images concerning Saint Joan of Arc are discussed on this site. Several links and even a gift shop are included.
  • Joan of Arc leaves indelible mark by reporter Jen Waters - A newspaper article from The Washington Times of 20 May 2004 regarding the CBS series Joan of Arcadia and facts from the history of Joan of Arc.
  • Joan of Arc - Facts on Joan of Arc from Catholic Online Saints.
  • JoanNet by Patrick Price - An online Joan of Arc resource.
  • Catholic Encyclopedia - An encyclopedia entry on Joan of Arc.
  • IMDb film search - Films on Joan of Arc.
  • Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, volume 1
    and volume 2
    by Mark Twain - A fictional biography of Joan of Arc.
  • Joan of Arc - Jehanne la Pucelle, Maid of Orléans - A collection of reproductions regarding Joan of Arc, from the Histoire de Jeanne D'Arc by Marcel Poullin from 1890.
  • Joan of Arc, In Pictures and Text - A collection of images and historical narrative.
  • Jeanne d'Arc - A timeline with a few links.
  • Jeanne d'Arc - A scrolling timeline.
  • Jehanne D'Arc - A Joan of Arc fanlisting site.
  • Short biographies of Joan of Arc (text only):
    • Jeanne d'Arc, Sainte (Joan of Arc) ;
    • Biography of Joan of Arc ;
    • Saint Joan of Arc, Virgin—1412-1431 .

Last updated: 02-07-2005 03:29:21
Last updated: 02-28-2005 11:06:06