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Joan of Arc, or Jehanne la Pucelle, as she was known in her day, was born on January 6, 1412, in Domremy, Champagne, on the outskirts of the French "kingdom".  She was born in the later years of the Hundred Years' War, a bloody struggle for the French throne. The English, in the 1300s, had claimed rights to the French throne through numerous treaties and royal marriage, and the French would have none of it.  So, in 1337, the war broke out. In the late 1300's, France lost the alliance of Burgundy because the then Duke of Burgundy was murdered by French loyalists. So, three factions vied for the French crown, two were allied with eachother: it was the Enlglish and the Burgundians allied against the French. Domremy was in the confines of territory which recognized the suzerainty of the Duke of Burgundy, but Domremy itself had always remained loyal to Charles.

Jaques d'Arc, Joan's father, was a peasant farmer, poor but not needy. Joan was the youngest in her family.  All accounts describe her as an unusually pious child, who frequently went to church and immersed herself in prayer. She loved the poor so much that she once gave up her own bed to house a beggar for the night.

It was around the age of 13, that Joan received the first of her visions, "whose supernatural character it would now be rash to question," whom she referred to as her voice, or counsel. It appeared to her one summer day in her father's garden.  She described a blaze of light accompanying it, and she identified it as St. Michael.  Michael told her that she would be visited soon by Sts. Catherine and Margaret.  When St. Margaret and St. Catherine appeared, they told her to be a good child and go often to church.  They soon revealed her mission to her, that she must help deliver the French people from the English, win back Orleans, and see the dauphin Charles VII crowned king at Rheims.  She was always reluctant to discuss these voices, and at her trial constantly refused to describe them.When her mission was revealed to her, she left Domremy and rode to the nearby city of Vaucouleurs, with her uncle.  There, she was to convince the town's captain, Sir Robert de Baudricourt, of her mission and request an escort to Chinon.  At their first meeting, in May of 1428, de Baudricourt was stubborn and refused to believe her.  He told the servant who brought her to him to "take her back to her father, for a sound beating."  That July, the inhabitants of Domremy left their homes for fear of armed bands of Burgundians, and her family lodged in Neufchateau.  During this time, Joan was denounced for breaking a marriage contract, which she successfully denied.

The first meeting with de Baudricourt was in January of 1429.  Still, de Baudricourt refused to send her to Chinon.  The next month, he reluctantly agreed to send her there after she described a French defeat as it happened, a battle known as the "Day of the Herrings." A courier confirmed her report a few days later. Then, she was assigned 6 an escort of 6 men: Sir Bertrand de Poulengey, his servant Julien, the squire Jean de Nouillonpont, better known as Jean de Metz, his servant Jean de Honnecourt, Colet de Vienne the royal courier, and Richard the Archer.

Along the way to Chinon, Joan desired to attend Mass, at whatever town they might pass on the way. In actuality, Joan was only able to attend Mass twice, because of safety precautions necessary for the avoidance of Burgundians.  As an extra precaution, they traveled by night, so they would not be detected.

Joan arrived at Chinon on about March 4th.  Joan had sent a letter to the king, asking him for an audience, and telling him that she would easily be able to tell him apart from his courtiers.  Two days later, she had the audience with Charles.  But Charles was already not convinced of her divine mission.  So, he decided to test her by disguising himself as a courtier.  He dressed a courtier, better looking than he, in his clothes and put him on the throne.  He hid himself in the crowd.  When Joan was admitted into the chamber, she realized that the person at the throne was not the dauphin.  She picked out Charles from the crowd and presented herself to him.  Charles asked her how she knew that the person at the throne was not the dauphin.  She replied, "Gentle dauphin, it is you and none other." Without delay, she asked for a private discussion with Charles, and he obliged. There she convinced him of her mission and showed him signs from God, ones which he was not to reveal to anyone.  It is probable that the sign that was shown him was a verification that he had royal blood, which he himself had doubts about. It is also probable that she revealed to him a prayer which he recited while he was alone. 

Charles was convinced, but as an extra assurance, Joan was sent to the church at Poitiers, so she could be cleared ecclesiastically to carry out her mission.  When asked about her education, she replied, "I do not know A from B."  They then persistently continued to examine her.  When asked why a divine mission would require soldiers, she responded, "In God's Name! The soldiers will fight, and God will give them a great victory!"  When further questioned about a divine sign, she said, "Let me go and free Orleans. There you will have your sign!"

They found nothing heretical in her claims to divine guidance.  They found in her "only ardent faith, simplicity, and honesty."  With that, she sent a messenger to the Church of St. Catherine de Fierbois to retrieve a sword which was previously unknown to have been buried under the altar.  It was not even known to the clerics in the church, who dug it up.  The sword, St. Catherine's Sword, had five crosses embossed on the blade near the hilt.  It was the sword used by the grandfather of Charlemagne, Charles Martel, during his defense of France from the Muslims in 732.  He had left it there as a trophy of his victory.  A banner was made for Joan, with the words "Jhesus, Maria," with a picture of God the Father, and kneeling angels presenting a fleur-de-lis.  A suit of armor was also made for her; it was a suit of "white armor" - that is, without decoration of any kind.

When all this was prepared for her, she rode off to free Orleans.  On April 29, 1429, one Sire de Rotslaer wrote that she said she would save Orleans and compell the English to leave, but would also be wounded by an arrow, and would not die from it.  She had also said that the king would be crowned in Rheims during the summer.

Before entering the campaign, she audaciously summoned the English to remove their troops from French soil. The English were infuriated with her boldness.  She entered Orleans on April 29.  There, she constantly compelled all her soldiers to receive confession and go to Mass.  She also made sure to keep any camp-following prostitutes out of the camp.

On April 30, Joan spoke with Glacidas, better known today as William Glasdale.  Rather, what happened was more of a shouting match, where she warned the English to retreat, and the English called her the "Whore of the Armagnacs."  At this, she broke down and cried.  The next day, Jean Dunois, the "Bastard of Orleans," left to summon French troops from Blois.  On May 2, Joan had gathered important information about the English bastides.  Before long, the attack was launched by the French to regain the bastides.  On May 4, the Saint-Loup bastide was taken.  By May 7, the remaining bastides had been taken by the French.  That day, Joan was wounded in the breast by an arrow, which passed cleanly through her; she, requested that the arrow shaft be broken, and she pulled the arrow out herself. After a brief rest, she returned to fight.  The next day, the English had raised the seige, and there was great celebration in the city.  But, there was no time for Joan or her companions to rejoice.  She had to liberate the rest of the Loire river valley, which meant there were four more battles to be won.  She proceeded with haste, because her counsel had told her she had little more than a year left in the army.  She was wounded again in the campaign, but again, she miraculously recovered. 

John, the Duke d'Alencon, joined Joan at Jargeau on June 11.  The city was taken in two days.  The attacks on Meung-sur-Loire, Beaugency, and Patay, each lasted one day.  The relative ease with which they were taken must have been due to declining English morale, for all four battles - Jargeau, Meung-sur-Loire, Beaugency, and Patay - were won within one week.  Patay was by far the greatest victory of Joan's career.  The French totally massacred the English.  The accumulated losses rivalled those of the 1415 battle of Agincourt, where the French lost 4,000 men, compared to the English loss of only around 500.

With much pomp and celebration, the dauphin Charles was crowned King at Rheims Cathedral on July 17, 1429.  The Maid stood by with her standard, because, as she explained, "it had shared in the toil, it was just that it should share in the victory."  Thus ended Joan's mission, and her voices began to go silent.  She wanted to return home to Domremy and be with her family again.  Yet, Charles held her against her will.  She was constantly dismayed by the apathy of Charles and his advisors, and by Charles' "almost suicidal diplomacy which snatched almost every bait thrown aout by Burgundy."

She led an attack with Charles on Paris in early September.  Though St-Denis was occupied by the French without opposition, the attack failed, and Joan herself was wounded again, with a crossbolt through the thigh.  The Duke d'Alencon removed her almost by force, and the attack was abandoned.  The retreat harmed Joan's prestige, and she sadly laid down her arms at the altar in St-Denis.  The following winter was apparently a sad and harsh one for Joan, since she was still held against her will by Charles from returning home.  This depression may be what inspired Charles to console her by ennobling her and her family, who were then known by the name "Du Lis," for the lilies on their coat of arms. 

She returned to the field in April, and her voices had told her she was to be captured before the Midsummer Day. She had come to the aid of Compiegne on May 24, 1430, to defend them from the Burgundian attack.  By some mistake or panic of Guillaume de Flavy, the drawbridge to Compiegne was raised during a Burgundian attack, and Joan was not able to get back inside.  A Burgundian archer snatched her from her horse, and she was taken off, kicking and screaming.

It is believed by many today that Charles put on a disgraceful show of apathy and ingratitude in leaving the Maid in Burgundian hands.  After a few months and a couple escape attempts, Joan was removed from Beaurevoir fortress, and was sold to the English, who closely guarded their prisoner, because they feared her with a superstitious terror, and they were determined at all costs to destroy her name and take her life.  The English would soon try her for heresy.

To make the trial seem church appointed, the English had ready Bishop Pierre Cauchon of Beauvais, who was a staunch English supporter.  A pretext of his involvement in the trial was that Joan's place of capture, Compiegne, was in the Diocese of Beauvais.  Since Beauvais was in Franch control, the trial took place in Rouen.  While not being interrogated, Joan was kept in a secular prison, contrary to the custom for a heretic to be kept in a church prison.  She was allowed no spiritual privileges whatsoever - such as confession, and attendance at Mass, because she was considered a heretic and also because of her male attire.

In the months that followed, the English questioned her almost every day for about two hours.  She initially refused to take an oath, since she had no knowledge of what she would be asked.  She was never offered any counsel at all, except for that which came from her voices, who told her to "answer boldly."  So she answered boldly, and she was even allowed by her voices to tell the English that within seven years they would forfeit a greater prize than Orleans.  In fact, Paris was taken from the English six years later.  She was questioned about her male attire, which itself was considered enough to convict her.  She was questioned about activities she took part in as a child.  She was questioned about why she took her banner to the coronation.  She was questioned about what the saints looked like.  She was questioned about anything the English could think of, who were trying to catch her off guard at just one point.  They asked her what sign she gave the dauphin when they first met.  She told that it was St. Michael, who brought the king a golden crown...but on further questioning she seems to have been confused and contradicted herself.  This is the only point on which any charge of prevarication could be brought against her.  On another point, her lack of education was used against her. On the question of submitting herself to the Church Militant, Joan did not understand the phrase, and was puzzled.  It was believed that her hesitation to simply commit herself to the decisions of the church was caused by deceiptful advice imparted to her to work her defeat.

Her examination ended on March 17.  Seventy charges were filed, presenting a cluttered and dishonest illustration of her "crimes."  After she was allowed to hear and respond to these charges, a final set, written in a more orderly fashion, presented twelve charges.  Before these twelve charges were presented, though, she was exhorted twice and once threatened with torture.  She remained firm in her beliefs.  To the twelve charges, a large majority of the twenty-two judges declared Joan's visions to be false and satanic in origin, which effectively said that if she refused to retract, she would be handed over to the secular arm, which meant that she would be burned.  It is more likely though, that the assessors were threatened by Pierre Cauchon with retribution if they did not find Joan guilty.  Jean LeMaitre, the Grand Inquisitor of France, participated in the trial, but only because he would have faced punishment also.  Forty-seven judges deliberated, and forty-two affirmed that she should face punishment if she should not retract.  Despite another warning in her prison cell on May 22, Joan refused to retract.  the next day she was taken to the cemetery of St-Ouen, where a stake was erected and she was warned again about the consequences of her "crimes."  There, she also challenged the preacher's contemptuous ideas of Charles.  But, at the same scene, her courage finally wore out.  She consented to sign an abjuration, but what was there on the abjuration cedula (form) is not known.  It is likely that Joan had no idea what she was retracting, for she was not able to read.  She did not sign unconditionally, but she declared that she only retracted insofar as it was God's will.  Joan was then conducted back to her cell.

The English were furious at this life-saving retraction, for as long as Joan was alive she was a threat to their interests.  Cauchon, though, calmed them down by saying, "We shall have her yet."  For, if Joan reverted, no more recanting would save her from the stake.  It happened that a return to male dress would constitute such a relapse, so Cauchon schemed with the jailors to trap her into wearing male attire.  Because her woman's clothing was taken from her, she was forced to wear her male clothing, either to defend her chastity, or simply because she knew the English were determined to kill her anyway.  The next day, May 29, the judges determined her to be a relapsed heretic.  She was sentenced to be burned at the stake, and it was to be carried out two days later.  When she was informed of her impending death, Joan said, "Alas! Am I to be so cruelly and horribly treated?  Alas! That my body, clean and whole, which has never been corrupted, should this day be consumed and burned to ashes!  Ah! I would rather have my head chopped off seven times over, than to be burned!"

The next day, May 29, Joan is believed to have charged Cauchon with the responsibility of her death.  She was allowed to receive confession and communion one last time, and the next day would be her last. The English could now do what they wanted with her. With her death, the English hoped, would also be the death of the dream of a united France.

The next day was her last.  As she was led to the stake, she cried out for someone to give her a cross.  An English soldier quickly made one and gave it to her, and she promptly put it under her garments. When she was at the stake, a crucifix was held up before her so she could look upon her Lord to the last.  When the flames were lit, she called out continuously on the Holy Name of Jesus, until she breathed her last.  As she died, some say a dove emerged from her body and flew away to France.  The scene was enough to move bitter enemies to tears.  One at the scene pronounced, "We have undone ourselves! We have burned a Saint!"  In spite of numerous attempts by the executioner to finish the job, her heart remained intact and full of blood, along with her other entrails. The executioner was astonished at this as if it were a confirmed miracle.

As Joan had predicted, the Burgundians allied themselves again with the French throne, through the Treaty of Arras in 1435.  Civil war between the Armagnacs and Burgundians had finally ended.  They had finally found the "good, solid peace that lasts a long time" that Joan had died for.  By 1453, the French and Burgundians had driven the English off of French soil.

In 1449, Charles VII, knowing that Joan's verdict of heresy would call into question his own kingship since she was responsible for his coronation, and wanting to make up for the wrong he had committed through his ingratitude, he requested that Pope Nicholas V call a new trial for Joan.  This request was not to be granted for another six years, by Pope Callixtus III. Joan's mother, Isabelle Romee, had written a moving letter to the Pope pleading for the restoration of her daughter's name.  By November 17, 1455, the trial was opened in Rouen by Jean Brehal and Guillaume d'Estouteville, who was a cousin of Charles VII.  Various childhood and career acquaintance of Joan were questioned, and investigators were sent to cities relevant in Joan's life - namely, Domremy, her home village, and Orleans, the location of her first victory.  Nobody had anything to say that would incriminate her of anything.  Among the witnesses questioned were her mother Isabelle Romee, two of her brothers, Pierre and Petite-Jean, and the knights Jean de Metz and Bertrand de Poulengey.  In the twenty-seven articles put forth by the judges at Rouen, the twenty-sixth article states that "they(the English) hated her and pursued her with a mighty hatred so that the most Christian king might be discredited for having availed himself of the aid of a woman so utterly damned."  The twenty-first article states that "they(the case and sentence) were null and unjust, since they were conducted and passed without due observance of legal formalities by judges who were not the rightful ones and who had no jurisdiction in such a case or over such a person."  By July 7, 1456 the trial adjourned, declaring the 1431 trial null and void, on the account of corruption and procedural flaws.

In April 1909, Joan was beatified.  On May 16, 1920, she was canonized a saint at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.  It was decided that her feast day would be May 30, the day of her execution at the stake, 489 years before.  She is the patron saint of France and also of all who must take up arms in defense of their country.

 

Sources:
Pernoud, Regine. Joan of Arc: Her Story. St. Martin's Press, 1999.
Thurston, Herbert (No date)
Catholic Encyclopedia entry: St. Joan of Arc [Online] Available: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08409c.htm [1999, July 5]
Froelich, Virginia. (1999)
St. Joan of Arc Center, New Mexico [Online] Available: http://www.stjoan-center.com [1999, May 18]