The Life And Legacy Of Joan Of Arc

Joan of Arc lived from 1412 to 1431 and is still talked about to this day. Mary Gordon states, “There is no one like her. She may be the one person born before 1800, with the exception of Jesus Christ, that the average Westerner can name,” and most can even provide information about her. Joan of Arc was French, she wore men’s armor, led an army, and was burned at the stake. Many sources have survived since the 15th century that contain important information on her life. These include the transcript of her trial in 1431, the posthumous investigations of her case, postwar appeal, as well as many letters, chronicles, and thousands of military records. These provide us with eyewitness accounts from the people who knew her, correspondence from her commanders, the letters she dictated to scribes, and small details that provide historians a better look at her life.

Joan of Arc was born on January 6th, 1412. Jacques d'Arc was her father, and Isabelle was her mother. They lived in a little village of Domremy, within the Barrois region on the border of eastern France. Although she is known as Joan of Arc, or Jeanne d'Arc in French, she called herself Jehanne la Pucelle, or Joan the Maid. Jeanne was the fourth born. She had three older brothers. Jacquemin, Jean and Pierre. She also had one sister, Catherine. Jeanne and her father didn’t have a really good relationship. She had a better relationship with her mother then any one. She learned many things from her mother including how to sew linen cloths, to spin cloths, housekeeping skills, and especially religion. From her father she learned to farm and to attend the animals.

When she was born, a truce was in effect between France and England. However, a war had erupted between two factions of the French Royal family. This would make it easier for the English to re-invade. Count Bernard VII of Armagnac and Duke Charles of Orleans led the 'Orleanist' or 'Armagnac' faction. In August, 1415, King Henry V invaded France and defeated Armagnac-dominated French army at the Battle of Agincourt on October 25th. The English returned in 1417, gradually conquering northern France.

At a young age, she revered the Blessed Mary and was committed to the service of God. Jeanne d'Arc said that it was around 1424, when she was twelve, that she began to experience visions, which she described as both verbal communication and visible figures of saints and angels. She saw Michael the Archangel. He told her that she had to lead the French in a battle against the English. After she drove the English out she was to take the king to be crowned at Reims.

Joan continued to see things, and hear voices for the next several years. Joan said her visions were beautiful. They were visions from God. In her testimony, and royal documents it states that on at least two occasions specific other people could see the same figures. She said that during her childhood the visions had instructed her to be good, and to go to church regularly. But over the next several years they had called for her to go to the local commander at Vaucouleurs, to obtain an escort to take her to the Royal Court. When Joan turned sixteen she decided it was finally time to listen to what her visions had been telling her. In May of 1428, Joan arranged for a family relative to take her to see Lord Robert de Baudricourt. In May 1428, Joan of Arc had a meeting with Robert de Baudricourt. In the meeting, she asked him to take her to Chinon to see the king, Charles VII. On 13 May 1428, Joan of Arc entered the castle for the first time. Joan was looking for an escort on her trip to Chinon. Baudricourt denied her request twice. But on 23 February 1429, they said she was able to leave. The people of Vaucouleurs had a blade created specifically for Joan. It had been given to her by Baudricourt with a letter of accreditation that she was to give the Crown Prince on her arrival.

Joan then met with the king. He was suspicious at first, he thought she was crazy. He was hesitant in putting a girl at such a young age in charge of an army. While Joan waited on the king, she practiced for battle. She became a skillful fighter and an amazing horse rider. So she was ready when the king said she could fight. Eventually, the king figured he had nothing to lose. He let Joan lead a group of soldiers and supplies to the city of Orleans that was under siege from the English Army. News of Joan's visions from God reached Orleans before she did. The French people began to hope that God was going to save them from the English. Once Joan arrived the people greeted her with cheering and celebrations.

Joan of Arc was an aggressive military commander who always went for offense instead of defense. In thirteen known engagements, her troops won nine times. At least thirty different cities, towns, and villages surrendered without a fight when she approached with her army. Personally, she was a skilled horseman and swordsman, but tactically, she knew how to direct armies and place gunpowder artillery. She was successful when she had the troops and the cannons to either match or overpower her opponents, but when she fought in overwhelming circumstances, she could not win. In fact, the lack of cannons to match her opponents attributed directly to all four of the times she lost.

Joan had to wait for the rest of the French army to arrive. Once they were there, she launched an attack against the English. Joan led the attack and during one of the battles was wounded by an arrow. Joan didn't stop fighting. She stayed with the troops inspiring them to fight even harder. Eventually Joan and the French Army repelled the English troops and caused them to retreat from Orleans. She had won, which ultimately saved the French from the English.

After winning the Battle of Orleans, Joan had only done part of what her visions had told her to do. She also needed to take Charles to the city of Rheims. There he would be crowned king. During the next five weeks, Joan led French forces into multiple victories over the English. Later that month, Charles VII was crowned king of France, with Joan of Arc kneeling at his feet.

On her way back to Compiègne Joan heard that the captain of a Burgundian company had laid siege to the city. She decided to enter Compiègne under cover. On May 23rd, she led a sortie and twice repelled the Bugundians but was eventually outflanked by English reinforcements and compelled to retreat. She remained until the last day to protect the rear guard while they crossed the Oise River. During this she fell off her horse and could not remount. Joans brother Pierre, and Jean d’Aulon gave themselves up. In telling the people of Reims of Joan’s capture, Renaud de Chartres accused her of rejecting all counsel and acting willfully. Charles, who was working toward a truce with the duke of Burgundy, made no attempts to save her.

The Duke of Burgundy was thrilled that he finally captured the women who had caused him so much trouble. He sent Joan and Jean d’Aulon to his castle in Vermandois. When she tried to escape, he sent her to another castle that was farther away from French lines. Even though she was being held captive, she was treated nicely. But her desire to escape the castle grew more and more each day. One day, she decided to escape by jumping off the top of the tower. She then fell sixty feet from the top of the tower, into the moat. She was unconscious and badly bruised, but was not seriously hurt. After she recovered, she was moved farther away to Arras.

News of her capture finally reached Paris on May 25, 1430. The next day, the theology faculty of the University of Paris suggested that Joan be turned over to clergymen for inquisition. Pierre Cauchon would lead the interrogation because Joan had been captured in his diocese. On July 14, the bishop of Beauvais presented himself before the duke of Burgundy attempting to make a deal. He asked for Joan of Arc in return for a payment of 10,000 francs. The duke talked to John of Luxembourg about the deal, and by January 3, 1431, she was with the bishop.

On January 13, 1431, Joan’s trial began. First, they took statements from different people regarding Joan’s reputation as a witch. At this time, a witch was considered to behave strangely, hear voices, and have unusually good luck. Joan fit the description perfectly. She heard “voices”, she liked to go off by herself, and she wore men’s clothing. Not only did she wear men’s clothing, she had manly characteristics. Bravely commanding armies and advising male authority figures was something women didn’t do at this time. On February 21, 1431, Joan was summoned before the court. While she swore to tell the truth, she refused to say anything about Charles VII. The fact that Joan would never talk about matters relating to Charles greatly upset her judges. They said her claim to hear voices was peaking against the church. They said she inappropriately wore men’s clothes. They also felt she falsely believed she was guaranteed to be saved by Jesus. They even accused her of a sinful suicide attempt, arguing that she could not have jumped off a sixty foot tower and expected to live. During her trial, Joan was treated very badly. She asked for little, however she requested to attend mass before the trial, but they did not allow her to. Since Joan had made attempts to escape in the past, Bishop Cauchon had her chained to a wooden block. Joan was then imprisoned for months, and became sick. This worried Burgundy, because he didn’t want her to die before the court could prove she was a witch. Although Joan feared she was dying, she refused to change her statements. Soon, she was allowed to receive communion and to make confessions. On May 23, 1431, the court prepared to move her back to temporary authorities.

On May 24, 1431, Joan’s sentence was read. After her trial, she was supposed to be turned over to the English. Joan asked for an appeal, but the judges refused. She was scared for what the English may do to her, so she signed an abjuracion and admitted to her crimes. By doing this, she ruined the English’s plan. The English wanted her dead, but now she was to remain under ecclesiastical authority and not be killed. She was returned to prison and would remain there for the rest of her life. Joan did not stay in the abjuration long. In prison Joan said she was visited by her voices, she said they disapproved of her decisions. Joan now said her abjuration was a mistake, and that she didn’t mean it. On May 29 they handed her over to the temporary authorities for the last time.

Joan was sentenced to be burned. When she learned the method of her execution, she was distraught. She told her jailers that she would much rather be beheaded than burned, but no one listened. On the day of her death, a guard of English soldiers surrounded her, laughing. One soldier felt sorry for her and handed her a wooden cross as she said her last prayers. She kissed it, and put it to her bosom. While she burned, a Dominican friar consoled her by holding up a crucifix for her to look upon as she died. Even as she burned, Joan didn’t recant. Till she died, she continued to claim that the voices she heard all her life were divine in nature. She called on her three favorite saints for help as she burned. Right before she lost consciousness she yelled out “Jesus.” 

16 December 2021
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