Joan of Arc: Heroine of France

In the year 1429, the country of France stood kingless, ravaged by the armies of England, their economy in shambles. Since 1337, France had engaged in a torrent of battles with England for power and dominance. English nobles claimed French land and titles. The Hundred Years’ War left France in a state of extreme desperation. Their only hope was placed in the hands of an old prophesy that promised France would be saved by a virgin who would raise France from the edge of destruction. In 1429, Joan of Arc had just turned 18.

Joan’s early life and visions

Collage of battles during the Hundred Years’ War – Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Joan of Arc was born in in 1412 to a family of peasant farmers. Her days were spent spinning wool with her mother and mending fields and gardens.

She was raised in a small village on the north eastern side of France. By the time she was fifteen her village had been raided numerous times by English armies, burnt and abandoned.

She claimed that her first vision came to her when she was thirteen in her father’s garden. At her trial she said that she had been visited by the figures of  Saint Michael, Saint Catherine, and Saint Margaret.

They told her that it was her task to take up arms against the English armies and drive them back, away from French fields, to their native country. The saints led her way, explaining that only she could restore the throne to the crownless king

When she was sixteen she approached Robert de Baudricourt, a commander in the French garrison, proclaiming that, in accordance the will of God, she must go to the king’s side: she was France’s only chance.

She told him of her prediction of the Battle of Rouvray and astounded the commander when her prediction proved true. Baudricort was convinced of her divine intent and took her to the king.

She was guided through the territory of the enemy disguised as a male soldier. Upon her arrival she was granted a private conference with Charles VII who, as an act of total desperation, accepted her request to advance with the army to Orleans, equipped with donated armor and weaponry.

Joan of Arc set off towards her destiny.

Joan of Arc in the military

Joan carries a banner – Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

There is debate among historians over the role she played in the battles. At her trial she claimed that she never killed a man, testifying that she led the men with her banner and her decisions.

Regardless, the armies of France and French nobles believed her to be of divine intervention and acted in direct accordance with her strategic battle plans.

Claiming that she was sent by God, Joan of Arc turned the battles into a religious war. This worried the king, for he thought that, if Joan was not a flawless Catholic, his enemies would see his armies as being sent by the Devil.

They decided to test God’s gift to the armies of France by seeing what her influence would be upon the battle in Orleans.

The battles

Citizens of Troyes hand the key of the city to the king and Joan of Arc – Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

That night, the French army, with Joan at the helm, rushed the enemy force. In the morning they attacked the English’s central base and proved victorious. The English fled. Joan of Arc was given the title of “heroine.”

The Archbishop of Embrun heard of her victory and gave her his full fledged support. England, hearing of her miraculous victory and worried by the thought that God preferred France, claimed that Joan of Arc was a messenger of the Devil.

She then proposed bold schemes to reclaim bridges near Reims, leading her armies deep into English territory. Commanders who had witnessed her affect on the prior battle and had benefitted from her divine premonitions supported her in her strategy.

Once again the French were victorious and the English armies surrendered the city of Reims. The day after the victory, Charles VII was crowned at his coronation. Joan of Arc had restored power of the king, and both England and France had agreed upon a truce.

Joan of Arc captured – Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The truce, however, did not last long and was quickly terminated by an English siege. Joan of Arc and her army traveled to the place of the battle to help defend the city of Compiègne.

They were caught in an ambush and Joan of Arc was thrown from her horse by an archer. She surrendered herself to the army and was sent to Rouen where the English held their main headquarters.

Trial and Execution

Joan of Arc awaits her fate on a wood pillar – Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Joan of Arc’s trial was stacked against English sympathizers. She was refused the right of legal representation and her request to have the jury less partisan was denied. There was no evidence against Joan of Arc but, illegally, they began the trail anyway.

They tried to convict her of heresy, using sly techniques to trap her into saying something they could portray as “counter to God’s will.” She, being a dedicated Catholic, avoided all of their traps.

They eventually tried her on the charge of crossdressing, an illegal activity at the time, unless there was sufficient reason to do so. She explained that she had crossdressed only because need had required her to do so.

When fighting she wore mens clothes for the armor, and while she was in jail she continued her practice of wearing armor in order to protect herself from the unwanted advances of English guards.

The trial ultimately found her guilty and sentenced her to death on the 30th of May, 1431. They tied her to a post in Rouen and burnt her alive. The executioner was commanded to burn the body three times in order to eliminate the existence of “relics.” Her ashes were flung into the river Seine, where they would float until reaching the English Channel.

The legacy of Joan of Arc

Joan was illiterate and had all of her letters dictated, she would sign her name at the bottom – Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

When the Hundred Years’ war finally ended twenty-two years after her death, a retrial was held for the French heroine.

The retrial was held by a panel of theologists who examined the testimonies of over 100 witnesses. They ultimately found her to be innocent and condemned the prior court and proclaimed Joan of Arc a martyr.

The centuries after passed and Joan of Arc walked over the line of reality into the world of Legends. She was seen as the mystical hero of France. In the 19th century documents on her trial were found that began to shed light on her person.

Joan of Arc has risen to become the most well known warrior in France. Gifted to the country through divine intervention, birthed from prophesy to become the heroine of France.

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