Analysis Of Joan Of Arc’s Leadership And Military Contributions

Joan of Arc is one of the most widely documented figures in medieval history; no other man or woman in the Middle Ages has been as heavily studied and analyzed as she. As such, Arc’s likeness through the centuries has been portrayed in a variety of compositions: that of a religious saint and flamboyant heretic, illiterate child, heroine, and precious historic jewel of a nation. With all that has encompassed Arc’s historic stardom, there has been less analysis regarding her steadfast genius as a strategic and tactical military and political leader, even though her aggressive leadership was a central element to France’s success and outcome of The Hundred Years War – her leadership is particularly significant given women’s position in the feudal system during the medieval era. For the purpose of this paper, analysis of Arc’s military contributions versus her symbolic image will remain in the context of select primary military strategies and tactics during certain engagements, while acknowledging her post mortem iconic inflation. 

In just over a year’s time the 18 year old peasant girl who was certain she was sent forth by the divine: rallied the long downtrodden military forces of France and subsequently led them to multiple victories, crowned a new king with questionable lineage, and convinced her nation of their rightful place of leadership in their own territory. Further, she likely unintentionally began the breakdown of feudal roles and the perception of women in the military. She was injured multiple times in battle, and still returned with the strength and courage her legacy includes, and was corroborated by the men (both noble and common) she served with and led. Perhaps the most astounding political achievement Joan attained, was her responsibility for the direct tactical and strategic decisions that changed the course of history for France and prompted the end of The 100 Year’s War. Given the impressive birth of the French nation as credit to Arc’s military leadership, her influence then begs the question: Was Joan of Arc’s leadership in The 100 Years War strictly symbolic or directly influential in the outcome? The short answer is both; however, her direct influence later led to inflation of her symbolism. Arc’s influence over tactical and strategic French military decisions changed the course of the war and the future of France. Her practical demonstration of offensive and aggressive leadership skills as well as long term tactical assessments she offered her Dauphin - Charles VII, the French Army, and their citizens was the intangible force of hope. Only after Arc was granted the opportunity of physical presence in battle, did she forcibly impose her influence which resulted in the profound change in outcome of the war, and for France as a future nation.

As the force of refreshed leadership, Arc defiantly led the French Army to success in the Siege of Orleans and 8 other victories; she lost only 4 battles to her name and they all resulted from inept artillery and a lack of government support. From the siege of Orleans, Arc’s symbolic image and bravery lent to iconic portrayals for those who favored her, and iconic intimidation and heresy in the eyes of her fearful enemies. Through her capture, trial, retrial, death, and beyond, Arc’s symbolic legacy lingered in the perception of conduct of war; her symbolism, along with her strategic contributions have been extensively studied by historians and military leaders alike. Joan of Arc’s legacy is one of the most prominent in the history of medieval and siege warfare, and her direct influence in the development of strategies and tactics ultimately led to France’s success, changed the foundation of the feudal system, military conduct, and created the pathway for her iconicism to proliferate.


Born around 1412, and multiple decades into the conflict between modern day France and England, Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc) experienced a rather average upbringing in the northeastern village of Domremy, France. Although Arc could not read or write, she continued the deep familial devotion to the Catholic Church, which later influenced her initiation and persistence in engagement of military activities. In the decades leading up to Arc’s birth, England and France had continuously quarreled over claims of legitimacy, succession, and the regency of France. By 1429 almost all northern and southwestern France was under the control of England and their allies, the Burgundians; the last French-loyal city north of the Loire River was the city of Orleans. Orleans held strategic significance for England and modern-day France because it was the last remaining position that stood as barrier to the English overthrow of the French people, as well as the control of lineage and succession. If Orleans succumbed to the English, Charles VII bastardization would have been solidified in history, and the fate of the French people would have been sealed under English rule. England successfully held the strategic and military upper hand in 1429; the French, absent a claimant to the throne and threats of invasion on all sides, were left with little faith that Orleans could withstand the English siege of the city. Then on February 23rd, 1429, a young girl dressed in male clothing arrived with a divine message from God.

The Maiden

The birth of Joan of Arc’s military career, and the historic introduction of her strength and leadership began in early 1429 when she arrived to the small fortified town of Vaucouleurs. Arc aimed to convince the Garrison Commander to grant her access to Charles Valois VII (Dauphin) so she could impart her divine visions as the one who would save France. The Commander refused; undeterred, Arc eloquently and firmly provided her points to a gathered audience in a public speech. In what could arguably be considered extraordinary intervention of the divine, (and likely the most profound chivalrous favor in all of history) two Knights stepped forward and offered Arc their personal service and escort to the Dauphin’s residence across 300 miles of Burgundian occupied territory. The power of Arc’s beliefs and the fervor with which she fought to attain them only increased throughout her military journey. Upon private council and evaluation, Arc successfully convinced the Dauphin to provide her with armor, a horse, squires, and sword and granted her to lead the military charge to victory at the battle of Orleans.[footnoteRef:9] Some argued the Dauphin granted Arc’s obnoxious request only because he had exhausted every other available and rational option to resist the impending defeat in Orleans. Furthermore, it’s worth acknowledging possible arguments supporting Charles VII’s decision may have highlighted the magnitude of his desperation, given the consideration he provided personal audience to an illiterate farm girl who claimed she heard voices from angels to lead the French military to victory. The arguments may be valid, but regardless of Charles VII’s level of desperation, Joan of Arc’s profound military influence still directly changed the outcome of The 100 Years War and French history. 

A Strategist Emerged

Arrived in Orleans, Arc challenged the commander’s direction of troops as she felt they would be divided and defeated under the French commander’s strategy. The moment Arc assessed the initial impractical troop placement at Orleans, was the same moment her direct practical influence began the upheaval of the English siege. Arc sent the English commander a dictated letter advising him to surrender. The letter reveled Arc’s boldness and audacity – two characteristics essential for military leaders across the ages, and relevant to modern-day practices. When forces arrived to Orleans behind Arc, she defied the advice of the French commander, gathered the troops, and boldly led the charge to the gates of the city. Having met with the mayor’s refusal to release the drawbridge, Arc offered to remove his head instead. Her audacity and defiance resulted in the drawbridge being opened; Arc then personally led the French assault on the strategically advantaged English forces. In battle she was wounded with an arrow, but returned the next day to lead the second charge that eventually defeated the English siege.

During Arc’s heresy trial the following year, the French Commander of Orleans (Simon Charles) provided primary testimony of Arc’s practical influence and leadership abilities that directly contributed to their success in Orleans. Supporting the notion of Arc’s direct impact on the outcome of Orleans (and later the 100 Year War itself), Simon Charles explained how Arc arrived to the French position at the city gates and in no short terms, told Commander Gaucourt off (in a dignified manner) during their first encounter together. She then left defiantly rode to the Orleans city gates with noble and common soldiers in tow, before having led them on the unexpectedly successful charge.

The following Sunday, Arc demonstrated her intuitive strategic grasp and leadership reserve; she ordered her forces not to attack the already defeated English, having instead allowed them the opportunity to retreat. The significance of Arc’s decision cannot be underestimated as restraint is often a necessary element of leadership in the conduct of war and strategic long term success. Tactical reserve and avoiding outreach is a continuously relevant practical and non-symbolic leadership trait demonstrated by the young Arc, and supports the notion that her efforts in the siege of Orleans were directly practical in its outcome, and not simply symbolic. At Orleans Arc’s strategy was to relieve the fortress, and upon success, she showed wisdom enough not to push further unnecessarily. Success in Orleans was a pivotal point for the war, but it was also a pivotal moment for Arc as a military commander. She demonstrated that she was endowed with a wisdom that provided her the essential skills to observe long-term military strategy and short term tactical needs previous French commanders had not yet successfully achieved. Arc’s success at Orleans validated her claims of divine guidance in the eyes of the Dauphin and French forces; from Orleans and onward, Arc attended every meeting that discussed strategy and tactics, and it was Arc who made the final decisions.

After the victory in Orleans, Arc quickly returned to meet the Dauphin Charles. He and his advisors next aimed to isolate Paris, and while a good strategy, Arc advised against it – citing long term goals of crown legitimacy – Arc urged the change in strategy as she believed (via divine message) that anointing the Dauphin in the traditional sanctity of Rheims was an essential component to the divine power he would receive from God, and could then subsequently utilize said bestowed power to defeat his enemies. Arc’s decision to campaign the French Army to Rheims over Paris is arguably one of the most practical and significant military decisions she made, as it retrospectively altered the entire course of French military history. The holy oil kept in Rheims was culturally and spiritually meaningful to traditional French history, therefore if Charles had not been properly anointed when crowned, his already questionable legitimacy to the throne would have remained tarnished both in the eyes of foreign governments and the French population.

Symbolic Courage

Historians have long analyzed Arc’s military contributions and debated them against her iconic symbolism in The 100 Years War. Some have argued Arc’s presence was strictly symbolic and her contributions were primarily for inspiration of men to fight with renewed courage, while Arc contributed little else. It’s important to acknowledge the practical psychological effects of Arc’s symbolism as she carried a distinct white banner with spiritual depictions into battle. Symbolic psychological impact and intimidation during medieval warfare was not unique to Arc, nor to Europe. Its use has been seen in many predominant styles of warfare, including Eastern, European, and Middle Eastern warfare. Arc’s symbolism impacted French troops in real time as well. During an attack outside of Orleans, Arc was injured with an arrow. The French troops began to retreat at the sight of her injury and assumption of her death, but she later returned and ordered them forward with renewed courage. The symbolic strength Arc’s image projected was fueled by her initial practical successes in the siege of Orleans - therefore the two elements of practicality and symbolism coexisted as intertwined halves of her compounded influence. Furthermore, as long as there have been military commanders’ leading troops at the front line of conflict, there has been precedence of increased courage and enemy demoralization associated with various forms of symbolic imagery.

The direct implication of Arc’s symbolism and physical efforts in The 100 Years War was also demonstrated at the battle of Montepilloy (August 1429); the English and Burgundians held on to their defensive positions quite strongly against French skirmishes, so Arc decidedly rode out in front of her forces to taunt the English. Unexpectedly, The English Commander then refused to order an attack on Arc because he felt her banner [symbolism] demoralized and intimidated his forces. Arc’s symbolic intimidation preceded her conquests for months, and multiple cities surrendered to her Army without contest. Her iconic symbolism was further bolstered by her offensive tactical efforts. During the Siege of Jargeau (June 1429), which also highlighted her magnificently skilled use of cannons, Arc sent a letter to the English Commander urging surrender or otherwise risk the massacre of his forces. Her letter held merit, and upon refusal of surrender resulted in French cannons laying waste to the town, followed by over 1,000 combined deaths from all sides. The witness statements during Arc’s heresy trial are primary sources in which information surrounding Arc has been used to distinguish inflated fables and enemy propaganda from factual/anecdotal information. It was quite intriguing to read accounts from the men she served with and how they meaningfully credited her for her accomplishments. These testimonies are impressive in a pre-modern sense considering the uphill journey women have had in terms of social equality and equally valued military service. 

Further demonstrating Arc’s practicality in the eventual outcome of The 100 Years War was her magnificence in artillery skill and placements. Negotiations at Troyes (July 1429) became stagnant after a few days, so Arc convinced Charles VII to begin a siege. That same evening Arc spent time carefully orchestrating the placement of cannons and filling ditches that surrounded the city. By the morning, Arc ordered the start of the Siege and the city of Troyes immediately surrendered at the sight of her artillery. Impressively, from May to September 1429, Arc never lost a battle where her forces held superior quantities of artillery. To balance her successes, Arc lost four of her 13 battles, though every single loss was directly correlated with inferior artillery supplies and access. Charles VII later dissolved Arc’s Army after he was crowned King, and therefore no longer wished to support military conquests. Charles VII then decreased Arc’s artillery supplies which later contributed to her capture, imprisonment, and death. It could be argued that Charles VII no longer had a need for Arc once he attained the crown, and then possibly began to feel threatened by her power and influence.

Joan of Arc was an inspirational figure for the French Army in battle; her symbolism paved the path wherever she went and struck fear in the hearts of her enemies while giving lift and motivation to her followers. After her capture, throughout her heresy trial, and all the way until her death, Arc’s symbolism permeated and influenced; her stoicism during her heresy trial and her steadfast devotion to strength and spiritual connectivity resulted in widespread propaganda and smear campaigns by the English, aimed to erase their embarrassment as well as her legacy.


Joan of Arc embodied inspirational characteristics that have impressed scholars through the centuries as much as they did the nobles and soldiers she led. While some may view Arc’s inspirational qualities as restrictively symbolic - like a really good cheerleader - their position would also be void of facts that have been verified and corroborated by Arc herself as well as countless primary sources whose witness testimonials were extensively detailed during her heresy trial.

The restrictively symbolic counter-position could (at best) insufficiently be argued as a mere tool in the belt of French tactics and strategy. However, it would be an unjust discredit to her skillful and aggressive approach to the English forces that changed the outcome of The 100 Years War, and wouldn’t hold sound merit given Arc’s prolific showcase of military leadership. Further debunking the “simply symbolic” position, are the extensive testimonials in favor of Arc’s military leadership and bravery. Symbolic arguments cannot effectively diminish Arc’s direct contributions to the French military exclusively within the context of morale renewal. Prior to Arc’s arrival, the French Army seemed all but disenfranchised and defeated; they had ineffective strategic leadership and desperately needed a strong commander, which manifested in Arc. Her perseverance and determination, coupled with the humble strength of her emotion and relatability to the French commoner only added to her practical contributions in the outcome of The 100 Years War and the likely unintentional dissolve of the feudal system.

Joan of Arc’s iconicism in The 100 Years War was strongly influenced from direct leadership tactics and resulted in the French’s strategic rebound as demonstrated in 9 of 13 successful campaigns. Facts and testimony support the notion that Arc was an aggressive offensive commander with impeccable skills for long term strategic assessment and tactical implementations. Arc led 13 military engagements as a young teenager, and impressively prevailed in 9 of them; in more than 30 cities, the mere sight of her and her forces caused fortified cities to offer their surrender. Arc was a simple young maiden as well as an admirable military warrior. She was endowed with mounted and ground force swordsman’s skills, and held the capacity to direct full sized armies, as well as artillery use and placements. The lack of artillery supports were the lead factor in the four losses she encountered, including the siege of Paris that resulted in her capture and subsequent heresy trial. Arc’s symbolism admittedly inflated with each success she earned, and transcended centuries beyond her death. But it was her aggressive leadership, strategic creativity, and determination that propelled her successes that later led to her symbolism. Her aggressive offense was the primary factor in French military success and the rebound of the expected outcome of The 100 Years War.


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16 December 2021
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