Saint Joan of Arc
30 May 1431) is a national heroine of France and a Catholic saint. A peasant
girl born in eastern France, she led the French army to several important
victories during the Hundred Years' War, claiming divine guidance, and was
indirectly responsible for the coronation of Charles VII. She was captured
by the Burgundians, sold to the English, tried by an ecclesiastical court,
and burned at the stake when she was nineteen years old.
Twenty-four years later, on the initiative of Charles VII, who could not
possibly afford being seen as having been brought to power with the aid of a
condemned heretic, Pope Callixtus III reviewed the decision of the
ecclesiastical court, found her innocent, and declared her a martyr.
She was beatified in 1909 and canonized in 1920.
She is, along with St. Denis, St. Martin of Tours, St. Louis IX, and St.
Theresa of Lisieux, one of the patron saints of France.
Joan asserted that she had visions from God that told her to recover her
homeland from English domination late in the Hundred Years' War. The
uncrowned King Charles VII sent her to the siege at Orléans as part of a
relief mission. She gained prominence when she overcame the dismissive
attitude of veteran commanders and lifted the siege in only nine days.
Several more swift victories led to Charles VII's coronation at Reims and
settled the disputed succession to the throne.
Joan of Arc has remained an important figure in Western culture. From
Napoleon to the present, French politicians of all leanings have invoked her
memory. Major writers and composers who have created works about her include
Shakespeare (Henry VI, Part 1), Voltaire (La Pucelle d'Orléans),
Schiller (Die Jungfrau von Orléans ), Verdi (Giovanna d'Arco),
Tchaikovsky (Орлеанская дева), Mark Twain (Personal Recollections
of Joan of Arc), Jean Anouilh (L'Alouette), Bertolt Brecht (Die
heilige Johanna der Schlachthöfe), George Bernard Shaw (Saint Joan),
and Maxwell Anderson (Joan of Lorraine). Depictions of her continue
in film, television, video games, song, and dance.
The historian Kelly DeVries describes the period preceding her appearance
with, "If anything could have discouraged her, the state of France in 1429
should have." The Hundred Years' War had begun in 1337 as a succession
dispute to the French throne with intermittent periods of relative peace.
Nearly all the fighting had taken place in France, and the English use of
chevauchée (similar to scorched earth) tactics had devastated the
economy. The French population had not recovered from the Black Death of the
previous century and its merchants were cut off from foreign markets. At the
outset of her career, the English had almost achieved their goal of a dual
monarchy under English control and the French army had won no major victory
for a generation. In DeVries's words, "the kingdom of France was not even a
shadow of its thirteenth-century prototype."
The French king at the time of Joan's birth, Charles VI, suffered bouts
of insanity and was often unable to rule. The king's brother Duke Louis of
Orléans and the king's cousin John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy,
over the regency of France and the guardianship of the royal children. This
dispute escalated to accusations of an extramarital affair with Queen
Isabeau of Bavaria and the kidnappings of the royal children. The matter
climaxed when the Duke of Burgundy ordered the assassination of the Duke of
Orléans in 1407.
The factions loyal to these two men became known as the Armagnacs and the
Burgundians. The English king, Henry V, took advantage of this turmoil to
invade France, winning a dramatic victory at Agincourt in 1415, and
capturing northern French towns.
The future French king, Charles VII, assumed the title of Dauphin as heir to
the throne at the age of 14, after all four of his older brothers died.
His first significant official act was to conclude a peace treaty with
Burgundy in 1419. This ended in disaster when Armagnac partisans murdered
John the Fearless during a meeting under Charles's guarantee of protection.
The new duke of Burgundy, Philip the Good, blamed Charles and entered into
an alliance with the English. Large sections of France were conquered.
In 1420, Queen Isabeau of Bavaria concluded the Treaty of Troyes, which
granted the French royal succession to Henry V and his heirs in preference
to her son Charles. This agreement revived rumours about her supposed affair
with the late duke of Orléans and raised fresh suspicions that the Dauphin
was a royal bastard rather than the son of the king.
Henry V and Charles VI died within two months of each other in 1422, leaving
an infant, Henry VI of England, the nominal monarch of both kingdoms. Henry
V's brother, John of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Bedford, acted as regent.
By the beginning of 1429, nearly all of northern France and some parts of
the southwest were under foreign control. The English ruled Paris, while the
Burgundians controlled Reims. The latter city was important as the
traditional site of French coronations and consecrations, especially since
neither claimant to the throne of France had yet been crowned. The English
had laid siege to Orléans, which was the only remaining loyal French city
north of the Loire. Its strategic location along the river made it the last
obstacle to an assault on the remainder of the French heartland. In the
words of one modern historian, "On the fate of Orléans hung that of the
entire kingdom." No one was
optimistic that the city could long withstand the siege.
Joan was the daughter of Jacques d'Arc and Isabelle Romée
in Domrémy, a village which was then in the duchy of Bar (later annexed to
the province of Lorraine and renamed Domrémy-la-Pucelle).
Her parents owned about 50 acres (0.2 square kilometers) of land and her
father supplemented his farming work with a minor position as a village
official, collecting taxes and heading the local watch.
They lived in an isolated patch of northeastern territory that remained
loyal to the French crown despite being surrounded by Burgundian lands.
Several local raids occurred during her childhood and on one occasion her
village was burned.
Joan said she was about 19 at her trial, so she was born about 1412; she
later testified that she experienced her first vision around 1424 at the age
of 12 years when she was out alone in a field and heard voices. She had said
she cried when they left as they were so beautiful. She would report that
Saint Michael, Saint Catherine, and Saint Margaret told her to drive out the
English and bring the Dauphin to Reims for his coronation.
At the age of 16, she asked a kinsman, Durand Lassois, to bring her to
nearby Vaucouleurs where she petitioned the garrison commander, Count Robert
de Baudricourt, for permission to visit the royal French court at Chinon.
Baudricourt's sarcastic response did not deter her.
She returned the following January and gained support from two men of
standing: Jean de Metz and Bertrand de Poulengy.
Under their auspices, she gained a second interview where she made a
remarkable prediction about a military reversal near Orléans.
Robert de Baudricourt granted her an escort to visit Chinon after news
from the front confirmed her prediction. She made the journey through
hostile Burgundian territory in male disguise.
Upon arriving at the royal court she impressed Charles VII during a private
conference. During this time Charles's mother-in-law Yolande of Aragon was
financing a relief expedition to Orléans. Joan petitioned for permission to
travel with the army and wear the equipment of a knight. She depended on
donated items for her armor, horse, sword, banner, and entourage. Her armor
was said to be white. Historian Stephen W. Richey explains her attraction as
the only source of hope for a regime that was near collapse:
“After years of one humiliating defeat after another, both the
military and civil leadership of France were demoralized and
discredited. When the Dauphin Charles granted Joan’s urgent request
to be equipped for war and placed at the head of his army, his
decision must have been based in large part on the knowledge that
every orthodox, every rational, option had been tried and had
failed. Only a regime in the final straits of desperation would pay
any heed to an illiterate farm girl who claimed that the voice of
God was instructing her to take charge of her country’s army and
lead it to victory.
|"King of England, and you, Duke of Bedford, who
call yourself regent of the kingdom of France...settle your debt to
the king of Heaven; return to the Maiden, who is envoy of the king
of Heaven, the keys to all the good towns you took and violated in
|Her Letter to the English, March–April 1429;
Quicherat I, p. 240, trans. Wikipedia.
With Joan's arrival, she effectively turned the long standing
Anglo-French conflict into a religious war.
But this was not without its risks. Charles' advisers were worried that
unless Joan's orthodoxy could be established beyond doubt, that she was not
a heretic or a sorceress, Charles' enemies could easily make the claim that
his kingdom was a gift from the Devil. To circumvent this possibility, the
Dauphin ordered background inquiries and a theological examination at
Poitiers to verify her morality. In April 1429, the commission of inquiry
"declared her to be of irreproachable life, a good Christian, possessed of
the virtues of humility, honesty and simplicity."
The theologians at Poitiers did not pass judgement on her divine
inspiration; rather, they informed the Dauphin that there was a 'favourable
presumption' to be made on the divine nature of her mission. This was enough
for Charles, but they then pushed the ball back in his court by stating that
he had an obligation to put Joan to the test. 'To doubt or abandon her
without suspicion of evil would be to repudiate the Holy Spirit and to
become unworthy of God's aid', they declared.
The test for the truth of her claims would be the raising of the siege of
She arrived at the siege of Orléans on 29 April 1429, but Jean d'Orléans,
the acting head of the Orléans ducal family, initially excluded her from war
councils and failed to inform her when the army engaged the enemy.
This did not prevent her from being present at most councils and battles.
The extent of her actual military leadership is a subject of historical
debate. Traditional historians such as Édouard Perroy conclude that she was
a standard bearer whose primary effect was on morale.
This type of analysis usually relies on the condemnation trial testimony,
where she stated that she preferred her standard to her sword. Recent
scholarship that focuses on the nullification trial testimony asserts that
her fellow officers esteemed her as a skilled tactician and a successful
strategist. Stephen W. Richey's opinion is one example: "She proceeded to
lead the army in an astounding series of victories that reversed the tide of
the war." In
either case, historians agree that the army enjoyed remarkable success
during her brief career.
She defied the cautious strategy that had characterized French
leadership. During the five months of siege before her arrival, the
defenders of Orléans had attempted only one aggressive move and that had
ended in disaster. On 4 May the French attacked and captured the outlying
fortress of Saint Loup, which she followed on 5 May with a march to a second
fortress called Saint Jean le Blanc. Finding it deserted, this became a
bloodless victory. The next day she opposed Jean d'Orleans at a war council
where she demanded another assault on the enemy. D'Orleans ordered the city
gates locked to prevent another battle, but she summoned the townsmen and
common soldiers and forced the mayor to unlock a gate. With the aid of only
one captain she rode out and captured the fortress of Saint Augustins. That
evening she learned she had been excluded from a war council where the
leaders had decided to wait for reinforcements before acting again.
Disregarding this decision, she insisted on assaulting the main English
stronghold called "les Tourelles" on 7 May.
Contemporaries acknowledged her as the heroine of the engagement after she
sustained an arrow wound to her neck but returned wounded to lead the final
|"...the Maiden lets you know that here, in eight
days, she has chased the English out of all the places they held on
the river Loire by attack or other means: they are dead or prisoners
or discouraged in battle. Believe what you have heard about the earl
of Suffolk, the lord la Pole and his brother, the lord Talbot, the
lord Scales, and Sir Fastolf; many more knights and captains than
these are defeated."
|Her Letter to the citizens of Tournai, 25 June
1429; Quicherat V, pp. 125–126, trans. Wikipedia.
The sudden victory at Orléans led to many proposals for offensive action.
The English expected an attempt to recapture Paris or an attack on Normandy.
In the aftermath of the unexpected victory, she persuaded Charles VII to
grant her co-command of the army with Duke John II of Alençon and gained
royal permission for her plan to recapture nearby bridges along the Loire as
a prelude to an advance on Reims and a coronation. Hers was a bold proposal
because Reims was roughly twice as far away as Paris and deep in enemy
The army recovered Jargeau on 12 June, Meung-sur-Loire on 15 June, then
Beaugency on 17 June. The Duke of Alençon agreed to all of Joan's decisions.
Other commanders including Jean d'Orléans had been impressed with her
performance at Orléans and became her supporters. Alençon credited her for
saving his life at Jargeau, where she warned him of an imminent artillery
attack. During the same
battle she withstood a blow from a stone cannonball to her helmet as she
climbed a scaling ladder. An expected English relief force arrived in the
area on 18 June under the command of Sir John Fastolf. The battle at Patay
might be compared to Agincourt in reverse. The French vanguard attacked
before the English archers could finish defensive preparations. A rout
ensued that devastated the main body of the English army and killed or
captured most of its commanders. Fastolf escaped with a small band of
soldiers and became the scapegoat for the English humiliation. The French
suffered minimal losses.
The French army set out for Reims from Gien-sur-Loire on 29 June and
accepted the conditional surrender of the Burgundian-held city of Auxerre on
3 July. Every other town in their path returned to French allegiance without
resistance. Troyes, the site of the treaty that had tried to disinherit
Charles VII, capitulated after a bloodless four-day siege.
The army was in short supply of food by the time it reached Troyes. Edward
Lucie-Smith cites this as an example of her luck: a wandering friar named
Brother Richard had been preaching about the end of the world at Troyes and
had convinced local residents to plant beans, a crop with an early harvest.
The hungry army arrived as the beans ripened.
|"Prince of Burgundy, I pray of you — I beg and
humbly supplicate — that you make no more war with the holy kingdom
of France. Withdraw your people swiftly from certain places and
fortresses of this holy kingdom, and on behalf of the gentle king of
France I say he is ready to make peace with you, by his honor."
|"Her Letter to Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy,
17 July 1429; Quicherat V, pp. 126–127, trans. Wikipedia.
Reims opened its gates on 16 July. The coronation took place the
following morning. Although Joan and the duke of Alençon urged a prompt
march on Paris, the royal court pursued a negotiated truce with the duke of
Burgundy. Duke Philip the Good broke the agreement, using it as a stalling
tactic to reinforce the defence of Paris.
The French army marched through towns near Paris during the interim and
accepted more peaceful surrenders. The Duke of Bedford headed an English
force and confronted the French army in a standoff on 15 August. The French
assault at Paris ensued on 8 September. Despite a crossbow bolt wound to the
leg, Joan continued directing the troops until the day's fighting ended. The
following morning she received a royal order to withdraw. Most historians
blame French grand chamberlain Georges de la Trémoille for the political
blunders that followed the coronation.
In October Joan successfully took Saint-Pierre-le-Moûtier, receiving a noble
After minor action at La-Charité-sur-Loire in November and December, Joan
went to Compiègne the following April to defend against an English and
Burgundian siege. A reckless skirmish on 23 May 1430 led to her being
captured. When she ordered a retreat, she assumed the place of honor as the
last to leave the field. Burgundians surrounded the rear guard, she was
unhorsed by an archer and initially refused to surrender.
|"It is true that the king has made a truce with
the duke of Burgundy for fifteen days and that the duke is to turn
over the city of Paris at the end of fifteen days. Yet you should
not marvel if I do not enter that city so quickly. I am not content
with these truces and do not know if I will keep them, but if I hold
them it will only be to guard the king's honor: no matter how much
they abuse the royal blood, I will keep and maintain the royal army
in case they make no peace at the end of those fifteen days."
|"Her Letter to the citizens of Reims, 5 August
1429; Quicherat I, p. 246, trans. Wikipedia.
It was customary for a captive's
family to ransom a prisoner of war. Unfortunately, Joan and her family
lacked the financial resources. Many historians condemn King Charles VII for
failing to intervene. She attempted several escapes, on one occasion jumping
from her 70 foot (21 m) tower in Vermandois to the soft earth of a dry moat,
after which she was moved to the Burgundian town of Arras. The English
government eventually purchased her from Duke Philip of Burgundy. Bishop
Pierre Cauchon of Beauvais, an English partisan, assumed a prominent role in
these negotiations and her later trial.
The trial for heresy was politically motivated. The Duke of Bedford
claimed the throne of France for his nephew Henry VI. She had been
responsible for the rival coronation so to condemn her was to undermine her
king's legitimacy. Legal proceedings commenced on 9 January 1431 at Rouen,
the seat of the English occupation government.
The procedure was irregular on a number of points.
To summarize some major problems, the jurisdiction of judge Bishop
Cauchon was a legal fiction.
He owed his appointment to his partisan support of the English government
that financed the entire trial. Clerical notary Nicolas Bailly, commissioned
to collect testimony against Joan, could find no adverse evidence.
Without such evidence the court lacked grounds to initiate a trial. Opening
a trial anyway, the court also violated ecclesiastical law in denying her
right to a legal advisor. Upon the opening of the first public examination
Joan complained that those present were all partisans against her and asked
for "ecclesiastics of the French side" to be invited.
The trial record demonstrates her remarkable intellect. The transcript's
most famous exchange is an exercise in subtlety. "Asked if she knew she was
in God's grace, she answered: 'If I am not, may God put me there; and if I
am, may God so keep me.'"
The question is a scholarly trap. Church doctrine held that no one could be
certain of being in God's grace. If she had answered yes, then she would
have convicted herself of heresy. If she had answered no, then she would
have confessed her own guilt. Notary Boisguillaume would later testify that
at the moment the court heard this reply, "Those who were interrogating her
In the twentieth century George Bernard Shaw would find this dialogue so
compelling that sections of his play Saint Joan are literal
translations of the trial record.
Several court functionaries later testified that significant portions of
the transcript were altered in her disfavor. Many clerics served under
compulsion, including the inquisitor, Jean LeMaitre, and a few even received
death threats from the English. Under Inquisitorial guidelines, Joan should
have been confined to an ecclesiastical prison under the supervision of
female guards (i.e., nuns). Instead, the English kept her in a secular
prison guarded by their own soldiers. Bishop Cauchon denied Joan's appeals
to the Council of Basel and the pope, which should have stopped his
The twelve articles of accusation that summarize the court's finding
contradict the already doctored court record.
The illiterate defendant signed an abjuration document she did not
understand under threat of immediate execution. The court substituted a
different abjuration in the official record.
Heresy was a capital crime only for a repeat offence. Joan agreed to wear
women's clothes when she abjured. A few days later she was sexually
assaulted in prison. She
resumed male attire either as a defence against molestation or, in the
testimony of Jean Massieu, because her dress had been stolen and she was
left with nothing else to wear.
Eyewitnesses described the scene of the execution by burning on 30 May
1431. Tied to a tall pillar in the Vieux-Marche in Rouen, she asked two of
the clergy, Fr Martin Ladvenu and Fr Isambart de la Pierre, to hold a
crucifix before her. A peasant also constructed a small cross which she put
in the front of her dress. After she expired, the English raked back the
coals to expose her charred body so that no one could claim she had escaped
alive, then burned the body twice more to reduce it to ashes and prevent any
collection of relics. They cast her remains into the Seine.
The executioner, Geoffroy Therage, later stated that he "...greatly feared
to be damned."
A posthumous retrial opened after the war ended. Pope Callixtus III
authorized this proceeding, also known as the "nullification trial", at the
request of Inquisitor-General Jean Brehal and Joan's mother Isabelle Romée.
The aim of the trial was to investigate whether the trial of condemnation
and its verdict had been handled justly and according to canon law.
Investigations started with an inquest by clergyman Guillaume Bouille.
Brehal conducted an investigation in 1452. A formal appeal followed in
November, 1455. The appellate process included clergy from throughout Europe
and observed standard court procedure. A panel of theologians analyzed
testimony from 115 witnesses. Brehal drew up his final summary in June,
1456, which describes Joan as a martyr and implicates the late Pierre
Cauchon with heresy for having convicted an innocent woman in pursuit of a
secular vendetta. The court declared her innocence on 7 July 1456.
Joan of Arc wore men's clothing between her departure from Vaucouleurs
and her abjuration at Rouen.
This raised theological questions in her own era and raised other questions
in the twentieth century. The technical reason for her execution was a
biblical clothing law. The
nullification trial reversed the conviction in part because the condemnation
proceeding had failed to consider the doctrinal exceptions to that
Doctrinally speaking, she was safe to disguise herself as a page during a
journey through enemy territory and she was safe to wear armor during
battle. The Chronique de la Pucelle states that it deterred
molestation while she was camped in the field. Clergy who testified at her
rehabilitation trial affirmed that she continued to wear male clothing in
prison to deter molestation and rape.
Preservation of chastity was another justifiable reason for cross-dressing:
her apparel would have slowed an assailant, and men would be less likely to
think of her as a sex object in any case.
She referred the court to the Poitiers inquiry when questioned on the
matter during her condemnation trial. The Poitiers record no longer survives
but circumstances indicate the Poitiers clerics approved her practice. In
other words, she had a mission to do a man's work so it was fitting that she
dress the part. She also
kept her hair cut short through her military campaigns and while in prison.
Her supporters, such as the theologian Jean Gerson, defended her hairstyle,
as did Inquisitor Brehal during the Rehabilitation trial.
Joan of Arc's religious visions have interested many people. The
consensus among scholars is that her faith was sincere. She identified Saint
Margaret, Saint Catherine, and Saint Michael as the source of her
revelations although there is some ambiguity as to which of several
identically named saints she intended. Some Catholics regard her visions as
Analysis of her visions is problematic since the main source of
information on this topic is the condemnation trial transcript in which she
defied customary courtroom procedure about a witness's oath and specifically
refused to answer every question about her visions. She complained that a
standard witness oath would conflict with an oath she had previously sworn
to maintain confidentiality about meetings with her king. It remains unknown
to what extent the surviving record may represent the fabrications of
corrupt court officials or her own possible fabrications to protect state
secrets. Some historians
sidestep speculation about the visions by asserting that her belief in her
calling is more relevant than questions about the visions' ultimate origin.
Documents from her own era and historians prior to the twentieth century
generally assume that she was both healthy and sane. A number of more recent
scholars attempted to explain her visions in psychiatric or neurological
terms. Potential diagnoses have included epilepsy, migraine, tuberculosis,
and schizophrenia. None of
the putative diagnoses have gained consensus support because, although
hallucination and religious enthusiasm can be symptomatic of various
syndromes, other characteristic symptoms conflict with other known facts of
Joan's life. Two experts who analyze a temporal lobe tuberculoma hypothesis
in the medical journal Neuropsychobiology express their misgivings
"It is difficult to draw final conclusions, but it would seem
unlikely that widespread tuberculosis, a serious disease, was present in
this 'patient' whose life-style and activities would surely have been
impossible had such a serious disease been present."
In response to another such theory alleging that she suffered from bovine
tuberculosis as a result of drinking unpasteurized milk, historian Régine
Pernoud wrote that if drinking unpasteurised milk could produce such
potential benefits for the nation, then the French government should stop
mandating the pasteurization of milk.
Ralph Hoffman, professor of psychology at Yale University, points out that
visionary and creative states including "hearing voices" are not
necessarily signs of mental illness and names her religious inspiration as a
possible exception although he offers no speculation as to alternative
Among the specific challenges that potential diagnoses such as
schizophrenia face is the slim likelihood that any person with such a
disorder could gain favor in the court of King Charles VII. His own father,
Charles VI, was popularly known as "Charles the Mad," and much of the
political and military decline that France had suffered during his reign
could be attributed to the power vacuum that his episodes of insanity had
produced. The previous king had believed he was made of glass, a delusion no
courtier had mistaken for a religious awakening. Fears that King Charles VII
would manifest the same insanity may have factored into the attempt to
disinherit him at Troyes. This stigma was so persistent that contemporaries
of the next generation would attribute to inherited madness the breakdown
that England's King Henry VI was to suffer in 1453: Henry VI was nephew to
Charles VII and grandson to Charles VI. Upon her arrival at Chinon the royal
counsellor Jacques Gélu cautioned,
“One should not lightly alter any policy because of conversation with
a girl, a peasant... so susceptible to illusions; one should not
make oneself ridiculous in the sight of foreign nations....”
Contrary to modern stereotypes about the Middle Ages, the court of
Charles VII was shrewd and skeptical on the subject of mental health.
Besides the physical rigor of her military career, which would seem to
exclude many medical hypotheses, Joan of Arc displayed none of the cognitive
impairment that can accompany some major mental illnesses when symptoms are
present. She remained astute to the end of her life and rehabilitation trial
testimony frequently marvels at her astuteness:
“Often they [the judges] turned from one question to another,
changing about, but, notwithstanding this, she answered prudently,
and evinced a wonderful memory.
Her subtle replies under interrogation even forced the court to stop
holding public sessions.
If her visions had some medical or psychiatric origin then she would have
been an exceptional case.
Further information: Alternative historical interpretations of Joan of
Arc, Cultural depictions of Joan of Arc, Canonization of Joan of Arc
Philippe-Alexandre Le Brun de Charmettes is the first historian who wrote
Joan of Arc's complete history
in 1817, in an attempt to restore her family fortunes from relapsed heretic
name. His interest for Joan came at a time when France was still struggling
to define its new identity after the Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. The
national ethos was in search of non controversial heroes. A staunch
prop to King and country, Joan of Arc was an acceptable symbol to the
monarchists. As a patriot and the daughter of commoners, she was seen as one
prototype of the low-born volunteers (the soldats de l'an II) who had
victoriously fought for revolutionary France in 1802 and as such could be
claimed by the Republicans. As a religious martyr, she was also popular in
the powerful Catholic community. De Charmette's Orleanide, today
largely forgotten, was another attempt to magnify the national ethos
as writers like Virgil (the Aeneid), or Camoens (the Lusiad) had done for
Rome and Portugal.
Hundred Years War
The Hundred Years' War continued for 22 years after her death. Charles
VII succeeded in retaining legitimacy as king of France in spite of a rival
coronation held for Henry VI in December 1431 on the boy's tenth birthday.
Before England could rebuild its military leadership and longbow corps, lost
during 1429, the country lost its alliance with Burgundy at the Treaty of
Arras in 1435. The Duke of Bedford died the same year and Henry VI became
the youngest king of England to rule without a regent; his weak leadership
was probably the most important factor in ending the conflict. Kelly DeVries
argues that Joan of Arc's aggressive use of artillery and frontal assaults
influenced French tactics for the rest of the war.
Joan of Arc became a semi-legendary figure for the next four centuries.
The main sources of information about her were chronicles. Five original
manuscripts of her condemnation trial surfaced in old archives during the
19th century. Soon historians also located the complete records of her
rehabilitation trial, which contained sworn testimony from 115 witnesses,
and the original French notes for the Latin condemnation trial transcript.
Various contemporary letters also emerged, three of which carry the
signature "Jehanne" in the unsteady hand of a person learning to
write. This unusual wealth
of primary source material is one reason DeVries declares, "No person of the
Middle Ages, male or female, has been the subject of more study".
Joan of Arc came from an obscure village and rose to prominence when she
was barely more than a child, and she did so as an uneducated peasant. The
French and English kings had justified the ongoing war through competing
interpretations of the thousand-year-old Salic law. The conflict had been an
inheritance feud between monarchs. She gave meaning to appeals such as that
of squire Jean de Metz when he asked, "Must the king be driven from the
kingdom; and are we to be English?"
In the words of Stephen Richey, "She turned what had been a dry dynastic
squabble that left the common people unmoved except for their own suffering
into a passionately popular war of national liberation."
Richey also expresses the breadth of her subsequent appeal:
"The people who came after her in the five centuries since her death
tried to make everything of her: demonic fanatic, spiritual mystic, naive
and tragically ill-used tool of the powerful, creator and icon of modern
popular nationalism, adored heroine, saint. She insisted, even when
threatened with torture and faced with death by fire, that she was guided by
voices from God. Voices or no voices, her achievements leave anyone who
knows her story shaking his head in amazed wonder."
In 1452, during the post-war investigation into her execution, the Church
declared that a religious play in her honour at Orléans would qualify as a
pilgrimage meriting an indulgence. She became a symbol of the Catholic
League during the 16th century. Monsignor Félix Dupanloup, Bishop of Orléans
from 1849 to 1878, led the effort for Joan's beatification, but did not live
to see it come about.
Joan of Arc's beatification finally came in 1909 - directly following
upon the passage of the 1905 French law on the Separation of the Churches
and the State, at the time considered a major blow to the Catholic Church's
position in French society. Her canonization followed on 16 May 1920. Her
feast day is 30 May. As Saint Joan of Arc, she has become one of the most
popular saints of the Roman Catholic Church.
Joan of Arc was not a feminist. She operated within a religious tradition
that believed an exceptional person from any level of society might receive
a divine calling. She expelled women from the French army and may have
struck one stubborn camp follower with the flat of a sword.
Nonetheless, some of her most significant aid came from women. King Charles
VII's mother-in-law, Yolande of Aragon, confirmed Joan's virginity and
financed her departure to Orléans. Joan of Luxembourg, aunt to the count of
Luxembourg who held custody of her after Compiègne, alleviated her
conditions of captivity and may have delayed her sale to the English.
Finally, Anne of Burgundy, the duchess of Bedford and wife to the regent of
England, declared Joan a virgin during pre-trial inquiries.
For technical reasons this prevented the court from charging her with
witchcraft. Ultimately this provided part of the basis for her vindication
and sainthood. From Christine de Pizan to the present, women have looked to
her as a positive example of a brave and active female.
Joan of Arc has been a political symbol in France since the time of
Napoleon. Liberals emphasized her humble origins. Early conservatives
stressed her support of the monarchy. Later conservatives recalled her
nationalism. During World War II, both the Vichy Regime and the French
Resistance used her image: Vichy propaganda remembered her campaign against
the English with posters that showed British warplanes bombing Rouen and the
ominous caption: "They Always Return to the Scene of Their Crimes."
The resistance emphasized her fight against foreign occupation and her
origins in the province of Lorraine, which had fallen under Nazi control.
Three separate vessels of the French Navy have been named after her,
including a helicopter carrier currently in active service. At present the
controversial French far-right political party Front National holds rallies
at her statues, reproduces her likeness in party publications, and uses a
tricolour flame partly symbolic of her martyrdom as its emblem. This party's
opponents sometimes satirize its appropriation of her image.
The French civic holiday in her honour is the second Sunday of May.
Traditionalist Catholics, in France and elsewhere, also use her as a
symbol of inspiration, often comparing the 1988 excommunication of
Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre (founder of the Society of St. Pius X and a
dissident against the Vatican II reforms), to her excommunication.
In 1867, a jar was found in a Paris pharmacy with the inscription
"Remains found under the stake of Joan of Arc, virgin of Orleans". They
consisted of a charred human rib, carbonized wood, a piece of linen and a
cat femur — explained as the practice of throwing black cats onto the pyre
of witches. They are now in the Museum of Art and History in Chinon museum.
In 2006, Philippe Charlier, a forensic scientist at Raymond Poincaré
Hospital (Garches) was authorized to study the relics. Carbon-14 tests and
spectrometry were performed, and the results
show that the remains come from an Egyptian mummy from the sixth to the
third century BC. The charred appearance comes from the embalming
substances, not from combustion. Large amounts of pine pollen were also
found, consistent with the presence of resin used in mummification and some
unburned linen was found to be similar to that used to wrap mummies. The
famous perfumers Guerlain and Jean Patou said that they could smell vanilla
in the remains, also consistent with mummification. Apparently the mummy was
part of the ingredients of Medieval pharmacopoeia and it was relabelled in a
time of French nationalism.