Joan Of Arc – One Of The Most Heroic Women In History

Joan of Arc was one of the most heroic women in French history. She has claimed to hear voices that told her to lead France in the Hundred Years War leading France to some victories. Although some believe that the Joan of Arc heard the voice of God, others believe she was just a schizophrenic 19 year old girl that would hear voices which eventually led to her capture and death.

Joan of Arc was born around January 6, 1412 in a village of Domrémy in Champagne, France. She was the youngest child of Jacques d’Arc, a tenant farmer. Her mother, Isabelle Romée, was a devout member of the catholic church and instilled deeply religious views on young Joan. Joan spent much time praying in church. She did not learn to read or write. She had three brothers and one sister named Pierre d’Arc, Jacquemin d’Arc, Jean d’Arc, and Catherine d’Arc. Joan grew up during an uncertain time in France was at war with England in what became known as the hundred years of war.

At the time of Joan’s birth, France and England were engaged in a long period of conflict known as the hundred years of war. Although this conflict was not really war, it lasted more than one hundred years from 1337 to 1453, the two sides fought a series of separate battles over territory of Aquitaine, a rich land in southwestern France. England had gained control of this area in the twelfth century and was determined not to lose it. France was equally determined to drive the English away from it.

In 1415, when Joan was about three. King Henry V of England had won a shattering victory over the French at the battle of Agincourt in the following years, he consolidated this victory by seizing most France of north of the Loire River , lands which had been in English hands in the 11th and 12th centuries but which king John had lost in the early 13th John’s successors had never surrendered their claims and Henry V said he was simply resuming his rights as king of England and France. Shakespeare makes it clear in Henry V that there was a fair degree of cynicism in the claims by then, and is probably correct in believing that Henry used them largely as a pretext for military swagger and self-aggrandizement. Henry V died in 1422, but the regents for his infant son, Henry VI, maintained the pressure on France throughout the 1420s. The siege of Orleans in 1428 brought matters to a crisis. The English were allied with the duke of Burgundy, and the king of France's armies appeared powerless to save the city in the face of these combined foes.

When Joan was thirteen in 1425, she began to hear voices. She determined these were from saint Michael the archangel, saint Catherine of Alexandria, and saint Margaret of Antioch, who were sent by god. The voices told her of a mission. That she was to save France by ridding it of English control. Joan accepted her mission but Joan knew her father would not let her seek help of the king with word of her visions or voices. So in an unusual act of disobedience justified by her “voices,” she persuaded her uncle to take her to the local authorities where she reported her visions to sir Robert de the nearby town of Vaucouleurs. Skeptical and amused at first, he was ultimately impressed by her determination and sent her to the king under escort in early 1429. She proved her miraculous gifts to the uncrowned king, Charles VII, supposedly by revealing to him several secrets which he had believed were known only to himself and God. Then she told him: I have come to raise the siege of Orleans and to aid you to recover your kingdom. God wills it so. After I have raised the siege I will conduct you to Reims to be consecrated. Do not distress yourself over the English, for I will combat them in any place I find them.

Before accepting her services, however, he subjected her to rigorous tests of faith in his castle at Poitiers, to be certain of her orthodoxy. The priests found her blameless, a point she emphasized often at her trial two years later. Joan, about whom claims of beauty were never made at the time, was strongly built, and soon showed that she could wear armor, ride war horses, and use a jousting lance. 'As soon as her armor was made she put it on,' wrote one observer, 'and went out in to the fields of Poitiers with other armed combatants where she handled her lance as well or better than any man there. She rode spirited chargers, the capricious ones that no one else dared mount without fear.' The English Holinshed chronicle took the same view: 'Of favor was she counted likesome, of person stronglie made and manlie, of courage great, hardie, and stout withal.' She told one of the king's armorers to go to the church of Saint Catherine of Fierbois where he would find a finely wrought sword inscribed with five crosses, buried behind the altar, which was to be her weapon. He did. Joan had never been there, and this legend of the empowering weapon soon became a French counterpart to the English tale of King Arthur's Excalibur.

In May of 1428, Joan traveled to Vaucouleurs, along the way garnering followers who had heard her prophecy. When she was rejected, she continued her mission to Chinon. Then Charles VII supplied her with an army to accompany her to Orleans, which at the time was under English control. In March of 1429, Joan dressed in all white and riding a white horse, led the army. The army was able to drive the Anglo-Burgundian forces from Orléans. By this time, word had spread of Joan’s victory, which angered the English forces.

Armed and determined. Joan now led a column of soldiers to the relief of Orleans. Learning of their approach the British besiegers withdrew temporarily into fortresses they had prepared nearby and let french enter the town as soon as reinforcements arrived, Joan moved onto the offensive and in her distictive white armor, led her troops against saint loup, the small english fort on the south bank of the river. In a brisk fight, she seized the fort, killing or capturing all of the defenders. She moved on the other forts in the following days and displaying a calm assurance under attack, was always in the midst of the fight. Although she suffered a foot wound from a spiked caltrop and a crossbow wound above the breast, she stayed in action, forcing the English to retreat. The British commander felt certain that only enchantment or sorcery could have led to such a defeat. With the aid of visions of Saint Catherine, Joan recovered in two weeks from her wounds, she now moved along the Loire River, the fortified frontier of the English possessions in France. Her army, purged of camp followers and blasphemers and with religious zeal, seized the forts of Jargeau, Meung-sur-Loire, and Beaugency. It then veered north to defeat an English relief column at the village of Patay on June 18, 1429, prompting dozens more fortified towns, which had earlier made terms with England, to swear loyalty to the French king. 'In war,' said George Bernard Shaw, 'she was as much a realist as Napoleon; she had his eye for artillery and his knowledge of what it could do. She did not expect besieged cities to fall Jerichowise at the sound of her trumpet, but, like Wellington, adapted her methods of attack to the peculiarities of the defence.” Joan's dizzying feats of arms inspired the French court, but the bizarre actions she undertook were already the cause of suspicion in some observers. They could see she went to confession very often and became very suspicious of her.

King Charles later decided that he wanted to negotiate with the English and the Burgundians, people of an independent state within France who were allies of the English. Joan, on the other hand, wanted France for the French, and she fought on. But she soon lost a few battles. In May of 1430, during the battle of Compiègne, Joan was captured by the Burgundians. She was then sold to the English for 10,000 pounds, taken to the city of Rouen, and shackled to a dungeon wall. The English were eager to prove that Joan could have defeated them only by using witchcraft. They brought her to trial for sorcery and heresy. The representatives of the Church who tried her believed that God would speak only to priests. They wanted her to deny that she had heard the voices of the saints and to remove the soldier's, or men's, clothes that she wore, since this was a violation of Church rules. But Joan refused to do what they wanted.

Charles, whom Joan had helped crown, sent no one to rescue her. After months in prison, sick and weak, she finally signed a general statement of faults and put on women's clothes. The authorities had promised Joan that she could attend church and confession after she had signed this statement. But afterward, they would not let her leave the dungeon, they had lied to her. In response, Joan put on her soldier's clothes once more. For this disobedience, she was quickly sentenced to death, and on May 30, 1431, she was burned at the stake in the marketplace of Rouen.

The shameful story of her death led everyone involved to try not to take the blame. Even Charles tried twice to have the verdict against her overturned. In 1456, a mere twenty-five years later, Pope Calixtus III declared that Joan had been not guilty, and condemned the verdict against her. In 1920, almost five hundred years after her death, the Catholic Church canonized Joan, or declared her to be a saint.        

16 December 2021
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