Joan of Arc

Known to the Americanised world as Joan of Arc, her name was actually pronounced Jeanne d’Arc. In approximately the year 1412 Jeanne d’Arc was born, some say on January 6th in Domremy, a village in the Champagne region of North-Eastern France, one of five children. Her parents have been said to be Jacques and Isabelle d'Arc, respectable peasants. She was taught like other young women of her station in that age, to sew and spin, but not to read or write and believed to have spent time attending her father's herds in the fields (this may be myth) and learning religion and housekeeping skills from her mother. All the witnesses in the process of rehabilitation spoke of her as a singularly pious child and grave beyond her years, whom often knelt in the church, absorbed in prayer and loved the poor tenderly. Jeanne was deeply of faith from a young age, often attending confession. She was by all accounts a beautiful young girl, with dark black hair, filled with decency and kindness. She was a playful child who however developed an exceptionally deep piety as she grew up into a young lady. She prayed often to the statues of the Virgin and saints at her village church. It is said that it was around the summer of 1425, when she was about 13, that she first began hearing voices, from higher powers. Scared at first, she heard the first voices, two women and a man, accompanied by a bright light, coming from the realm of those saints. Eventually there were other voices, whom she was able to identify as St. Michael, St. Margaret, St. Catherine. She kept the story of these voices to herself, not even mentioning them to her confessor. But with time, the message of these voices became more and more targeted on a call that God was placing on her, to come to the assistance of her king, Charles VII of France. She was apparently resistant, as she knew nothing about riding horses, much less waging war. But by May of 1428 the voices, in particular that of St. Michael, were quite adamant that she was to present herself to Robert Baudricourt, the local French military commander located nearby in Vaucoulers. This was during the era of the Hundred Years War, which was actually a series of wars and truces running between the kings of France and England since the mid 1300s. The English royal family had claims on lands in France that reached far back in their family history and were pressing those claims boldly against the French royal family in Paris. The tide in France had swung strongly in favour of the English kings. The whole south of France (Aquitaine) had long been in English hands and the English were also pressing for total control of north-western France. Paris, the very heart of France, was itself held by the English under the Duke of Bedford. Indeed, the English were close to laying claim to possession of the whole of France. In 1420 another round in the Hundred Year's War ended with the Treaty of Troyes which designated King Henry V of England as king of France upon the death of the current (and visibly insane) French king, Charles VI. But as things worked out, both kings died two years later in 1422. The English however pressed the case for Henry VI as king of both England and France, in keeping with the intention of the Treaty of Troyes. The French Dauphin Charles VII, son of Charles VI, was hardly in agreement with the English on this matter. He naturally sought the French crown for himself. But in order to legitimate this claim, he would have to have himself crowned king in the cathedral of Rheims, the ancient site of all French coronations. This however presented a major problem as Rheims was in English hands. For a while there was a political stand off between French and English interests. But the standoff only worsened the situation for Charles weakening his authority among the French with each year that he did nothing to legitimate his claim to the throne. Further, this tenuous situation was made even more complex by the workings of national and regional political alliances. Burgundy was a large region in the south and east of France that was nominally a vassal of the French king--but was in fact quite independent in its politics. Indeed, the Burgundians, for reasons of mutual interest in a weakened French monarchy, were allies with the English in the English-French struggles. France was in serious trouble and the military situation of Charles VII and his supporters was growing more desperate. By October 1428, Orléans was invested and by the close of the year complete defeat seemed imminent. France needed a miracle. In May 1428, the around 16 year-old illiterate peasant girl Jeanne D’Arc left home, to save France. In her visit to Baudricourt in June 1428 she was laughed out of his presence with the instructions that she be sent home for a good spanking. But by that fall the situation facing Charles was worsening rapidly. The English had broken the Treaty of Troyes and were starting up a new round in the ancient war by attacking the city of Orléans. To capture this city in the heart of France was to leave the English in unquestioned control of all of France. By the end of the year the fall of Orléans seemed to be at hand. In January 1429 a very reluctant Joan once again, under the very urgent call of the voices, visited Baudricourt in Vaucouleurs. Baudricourt again did not receive her well, but this time he did not send her away either. She persistently stayed on in Vaucoulers, claiming that she had to obey the voice of God. When asked who her Lord was, she replied, "He is the King of Heaven!" and when asked if she was afraid, "I fear nothing for God is with me!" Her quietness and piety gained her the respect of the people and the captain. Then in mid February she disclosed another of her visions, that the French had just suffered a major defeat just outside the city walls of Orléans, and that her services were needed more than ever. When a few days later news arrived of exactly such a defeat, Baudricourt finally yielded to her request to be led to the French king. At some point cutting her hair short into that of soldiers, she dressed in men's clothing and armour and accomplished by six men-at-arms, she left for Vancouleurs on February 23. After travelling for 11 days she reached the king's court at Chinon in the Loire valley in the west of France, not far from Orléans for a royal meeting with Charles VII. Her reception by the king's court was inclined to be much like Baudricourt's initial reception, the king's close advisor, La Trémoille, was adamantly opposed to her. After being able to pick out Charles, who had hidden himself among his courtiers, Jeanne spoke "Gentle Dauphin, my name is Jeanne, the Maid. The King of Heaven has sent me to bring you and your kingdom help." She was able to communicate to the king her knowledge of a secret that he alone knew, strengthening greatly in the king's mind her claims to have the powers of God with her willing him somewhat half-heartedly, to believe in her mission. Nonetheless, before Charles was willing to trust her entirely, he sent her off to Poitiers to be examined by "doctors" of the church, to ascertain whether the visions she claimed to be receiving were authentic or not. When asked by the priests why God needed soldiers, she "In the name of God! The soldiers will fight and God will give the victory!" "In the name of God! I have not come to Poitiers to give signs but take me to Orleans and I shall show you signs for which I have been sent!" When asked what language her Voices spoke she replied, "They speak better French than you!" and when asked if she believe in God "Indeed, yes, better than you do!" came here reply. She was examined, found to be quite orthodox in her spirituality, and the doctors returned her to the king with their understanding that she could safely be put to some kind of use, along with continuing scrutiny. It is said she was also examined to be sure of Chastity. Her esteem with the court, La Trémoille apparently being the usual exception, was enhanced greatly when upon being offered a sword, she instead asked for the sword buried behind the altar in the chapel of Ste-Catherine-de-Fierbois. Much to everyone's surprise, such a sword was indeed found and delivered to her. She further impressed the court with her announcement that Orléans would soon be delivered from the English, that she herself would be wounded by an arrow in the battle, and that the King would be crowned in Rheims by summer and with the mention of a few other things that only the king knew to be true. After this announcement a 17-year-old Joan of Arc, with her white banner bearing the name of Jesus, sword recognizable by the five crosses cut into its blade and white armour and new grand horse given to her was ready to answer the call of her God.

On March 22nd 1429 Jeanne dictated her first letter to the English that they were to retreat from Orléans, for God so willed it, but this only infuriated the English. In late April Jeanne and her army set out for Orleans. Orleans, besieged since October 12, 1428 was almost surrounded by a ring of English troops. When Joan and one of the French commanders, La Hire, entered Orleans with supplies on April 29, she was instructed that further action would have to be procrastinated until further reinforcements could be brought in. Jeanne was known for her upmost honour and strongly opposed any actions against civilians or their property, and constantly tried to force her troops to take the same view. She was constantly scolding the troops for swearing, forcing them to go to confession, and relentlessly driving out the mistresses and prostitutes who congregated around the army camp. On May 4, when Joan was resting in the evening, she suddenly arose and announced that she must go and attack the English. Having armed herself she set out towards the east of the city towards an English fort. There a secret meeting was in progress. Even Joan was not informed of the meeting. Her arrival roused the French and they captured the fort. The following day Jeanne addressed another of her letters of defiance to the English, if there were any chance of winning without spilling blood she would take it, she would continue to negotiate. On May 6, in the morning she crossed the south bank of the river and advanced towards another fort. The English immediately evacuated it in order to defend a stronger position nearby, but Jeanne and La Hire attacked them there and took the fort. On May 7, the French troops advanced toward the fort of Les Tourelles. Before the siege began Jeanne rode forward and urged the English leader Glasdale to retreat, “Glassidas, surrender to the King of Heaven, you called me a whore, but I take pity on you and yours,” she cried. She had compassion for his soul, but the English would not submit. The French’s siege against the English began at 7am, before which Jeanne is said to have inspired her men by crying, “In God’s name I am going, he who loves me, will follow me!” As the battle raged Jeanne was hit with an arrow between the neck and chest, as she had predicted, some say while trying to climb the Fort walls. Carried from battle by some of her troops she was about to be tended to when she pulled the arrow out herself, the sight of her own blood causing her to cry. As one of her troops attempted to use a magic charm to save her life, she brushed him away stating “I would rather die than sin”. Remarkably she eventually returned to the battle and encourages the troops to make a final assault in which Les Tourelles was finally taken. Jeanne’s vision was correct as the French won this battle. She pressed on and the next day, May 8th, Orléans was completely free. She stood ready to pursue the English, now that the tide in the war was turning. But Charles, under the advisement of La Trémoille and the Archbishop of Rheims, was slow in his response to her entreaties. She finally got authorization for a move along the Loire valley against the English. She met with a number of small successes forcing the English finally to send out a huge army against her from Paris. But this too she and her army routed on June 18 at the battle of Patay. Defeat at the hands of the French army was a crushing blow to the English army as well as to its reputation. Despite her growing set of victories she still found the French forces nervous. When at Troyes her efforts to take that town met with serious resistance, her commanders were ready to retreat. But she once again rallied the army and took Troyes. Even as she then turned toward Rheims with the idea of restoring that all-important city to French rule, she found her commanders reluctant. Once again by her sheer popularity with her army she pushed on, taking that city and paving the way for Charles to be crowned there on July 17th 1429. She now had the honour to stand by the king, holding her own military standard, as he was crowned. She had completed the mission that God had been calling her to for the past several years. Charles VII left Reims on July 20 and for a month the army wandered through Champagne and the Ile-de-France. On August 2, the king decided to retreat from Provins to the Loire. This move implied that he had given up all plans to attack Paris. The loyal towns that would have been left to the enemy’s mercy expressed their fear. Jeanne opposed Charles’ decision. She wrote a letter to reassure the citizens of Reims on August 5. In her letter she stated that the Duke of Burgundy who then possessed Paris had made a fortnight’s truce after which it was hoped that he would hand over Paris to the king. On August 6, the English troops disallowed the French army from crossing the Seine at Bray. By then Jeanne was acclaimed everywhere. According to a 15th century chronicler she was the idol of the French. At that juncture she felt that the purpose of her mission had been achieved. On August 14, near Senlis the French and English armies again confronted each other. Neither side dared to start a battle, though Jeanne openly challenged them. Meanwhile Compiegne, Beauvais, Senlis and other towns, north of Paris surrendered to the king. On August 28, a four months’ truce was made for all the territories located north of Seine as well as for Burgundy. With the passage of time Jeanne grew increasingly impatient. She thought it was essential to take over Paris. Jeanne and Alencon were at Saint Denis on August 26. By that time the Parisians had started to organize their defences. On September 7, Charles arrived at Saint Denis. The next day an attack was launched on Paris. In the war Joan’s presence was strongly felt by the French as well as the English. She stood on the earthworks and told them to surrender. Though she was wounded in the thigh by an arrow she continued to encourage the soldiers. The next day Joan and Alencon intended to resume the attack, but unfortunately were commanded to retreat. Charles VII went to the Loire and was followed by Joan. On September 22, the French army was disbanded at Gien Alencon and the other captains returned home. Only Jeanne stayed back with the king. Later when Alencon planned an attack on Normandy, he requested the king to allow Jeanne to rejoin him. But la Tremoille and the other courtiers did not favour his idea. Jeanne went to Bourges along with the king. Many years later the people of Bourges remembered Joan for her generosity to the poor. In October, she went with few men to attack Saint-Pierre-de-Mautier. Her courageous assault was a major factor in taking the town. The next target of Jeanne’s army was La Charite-sur-Loire. When they ran short of munitions they appealed to the neighboring towns for help. Unfortunately the supplies arrived quite late and after a month the French troops had to withdraw. Jeanne rejoined the king who was in the towns along the Loire. In December 1429, Charles VII issued patent letters ennobling Jeanne, her parents and her brothers. In 1430, the Duke of Burgundy began to threaten Brie and Champagne. As a result the inhabitants of Reims were afraid that there would be an attack on Reims. In March, Jeanne wrote a letter, which was addressed to them. She assured them of the king’s concern and promised to defend them. Meanwhile the Duke of Burgundy started preparations for an assault on Compiegne. On the other hand the townsfolk determined to resist the attack. Later Jeanne left the king to help the townsfolk. She was accompanied only by her brother Pierre, the squire Jean d’Aulon and a small troop. In April, she arrived at Melun. There the citizens of Melun declared to support Charles VII. On May 14, 1430 Jeanne was at Compiegne, there she encountered Renand de Charles, the archbishop of Reims and Louis I de Bourbon, Comte de Vendome, who was a relative of the king. Along with them she went to Soissons where the townsfolk did not allow them to enter. As a consequence Renand and Vendome decided to return to the south of the Marne and Seine rivers, while Jeanne preferred to return to her "good friends" in Compiegne. While returning Jeanne got the news the John of Luxembourg, the captain of a Burgundian company had besieged Compiegne. She hurried and entered Compiegne secretly. On May 23 1430, Jeanne led an army and almost drove away the Burgundians twice. But eventually the British forces overpowered the French troops and the French army was forced to retreat, soon a nervous gatekeeper closed the gates, leaving Jeanne and a few others outside the walls. She was pulled from her horse and handed over to the Burgundian general, John of Luxembourg, Jeanne the Maid had been captured. Some say King Charles VII betrayed her, to get her out of the way so to speak, although no proof of this has ever been found. Many believe Charles did very little to bring about her freedom. Some say the opposite, the pro-English University of Paris (the group that put her on trial) itself sent a letter to John of Luxembourg frantically complaining that the people of Joan's faction were attempting to do, quote, "everything in their power" to ransom her or otherwise save her by "extraordinary means". This is also mentioned in an entry in the archives of the Morosini family (Venetian merchants who had dealings with the Royal court) which says that Charles VII tried to stop the sale of Joan to the English and threatened to engage in similar treatment with regard to his own prisoners if the deal went forward. He may additionally have funded some of the rescue attempts which were apparently led by La Hire in the winter of 1430-1431 and by Dunois in March 1431. Others claim Charles took no action and neither did the prosperous city of Orléans, which owed their freedom to her or any other French citizen make such an offer. In any case, John of Luxembourg subsequently sold Jeanne to the English for a very large sum of money. The English however were not looking for a prisoner. They were looking for her death. However the rules of warfare were such that a soldier could not be put to death for simply having been a powerful enemy. So they looked for another rationale to put an end to her.

At this point the Bishop of Beauvais, Bishop Cauchon, who was a partisan of the Burgundian party, stepped forward to charge Jeanne with witchcraft. His jurisdiction was questionable, Jeanne had been captured in his diocese but he himself had no authority there as Beauvais itself, was held by the French. The Trial of Condemnation was consequently held in Rouen, safely to the west in English-held Normandy. The evidence against her was her voices were not the voices of departed saints, but of demons, which the English were easily ready to believe. The very idea of a woman donning armour and leading a full army itself was further evidence that she was demon possessed. The case against her opened in January of 1431 and she herself appeared before her accusers in February. Her answers about her directives from God were simple, honest and ultimately not very helpful in the case against her. Indeed, she began to increase sympathy among those who gathered to hear her case. Consequently the case was moved to a small private court. A major point against her was her attire that was appropriate only for a male nobleman, not a female of any stature. There is much to speculate on about this. Why did she continue when clearly this was a mark against her? Some say that it was the only protection for the little modesty still allowed her that she had. Another problem was that she had to represent herself without counsel and was thus at times very uncomprehending of what was being asked of her or the implications of her answers. Jeanne is said to have warned Bishop Cauchon, "You say that you are my judge. I do not know if you are! But I tell you that you must take good care not to judge me wrongly, because you will put yourself in great danger. I warn you, so that if God punishes you for it, I would have done my duty by telling you!" Jeanne's reply to the threat of torture was, "Truly, if you were to tear me limb from limb and separate my soul from my body, I would not say anything more. If I did say anything, afterwards I would always declare that you made me say it by force!" "And if I were condemned and brought to the place of judgment and I saw the torch lit and the faggots ready, and the executioner ready to kindle the fire, and if I were within the fire, yet I would say nothing else and I would maintain unto death what I have said in this trial!" At one point, despairing of the fate she knew awaited her from her captives, she leapt from the 70-foot high tower of Beaurevoir, either to end her life or to make her escape. Amazingly she was unhurt but was also quickly captured. From then on she was confined inside an iron cage with head, hands and feet manacled. Finally the hearings were finished in Mid-March and some 70 charges were brought against her. She was allowed a reply to these points. Subsequently these charges were rewritten into 12 charges. She was given the opportunity to renounce parts of her earlier position, which at first she refused to do, even under the threat of torture. Once again, on May 23 1431, as the stake was being prepared outside to receive its victim, she was asked again to sign some kind of abbreviated retraction. The next day she was taken to a platform and threatened with execution, finally she signs the retraction. Thus her life was spared. But she now instead faced a lifetime of imprisonment. This was not the way things were supposed to go and the English and the Burgundians were furious with the French court that had heard the case. The Bishop of Beauvais promised that somehow they would still "get her." It seemed that in signing the statement of renunciation she had agreed to a number of terms, including not ever wearing men's dress again. Failure to meet any of these terms would automatically convict her of possessing a faithless (ie, demonic) spirit and make her subject to death at the stake. Thus when in her continuing confinement she donned her soldier's attire, some say that her women's wear was taken from her in order to catch her in this trap, others say that she did this as an act of defiance when the worship privileges she was promised were not forthcoming, others say she continued to wear them to help avoid rape attempts by the guards, some think she just simply chose to Reject her previous abjuration, "My Voices have since told me that I did a great evil in declaring that what I had done was wrong. All that I said and revoked that Thursday, I did for fear of the fire!" She was declared a relapsed heretic. On May 29 1431, the judges and 39 assessors unanimously agreed to hand over her to the secular authority, which meant death. A friar was sent to inform the prisoner of the death sentence and to administer the last rites. Jeanne cried, "Alas! Am I to be so horribly and cruelly 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 far rather have my head chopped off seven times over, than to be burned!" "Alas! Had I been in the Church prison, to which I submitted myself, and been guarded by the Clergy instead of my enemies, as I was promised, this misfortune would not have come to me! Ah! I appeal to God, the Great Judge, for the great injuries done to me!" "Bishop, I die because of you!" Bishop Cauchon strongly protested his guilt. Jeanne replied, "If you had placed me in the Church's prison and gave me into the hands of competent and suitable Church guardians, this would not have happened. That is why I appeal to God for justice against you!" Fear of fire had made her restless. But after making her confession and receiving communion at the place du Vieu–March, a certain peace came over her. It sustained her through the terrible rituals of the following few hours, wearing an old dress dipped in sulfur, to help it to catch fire quickly, the lonely ride to the town square in the executioner’s cart, the first view of the scaffold with the sticks piled high around its bases, the masses of hostile English and the dozens of churchmen arrayed on a dais. Jeanne remained serene and composed through the lengthy sermon that was preached to her. Then Bishop Cauchon began to read the final sentence in which he declared that Joan was a relapsed heretic and thus would be turned over to the civil authorities to be dealt with accordingly. With the reading of the sentence Jeanne’s seething emotions that had been held in check for hours broke loose. Jeanne began to pray aloud. With tears and great passion she called on God and the saints. She begged over and over for the crowd to forgive her, to pray for her and promised in turn to forgive them. Very soon many people in the assembly were moved to tears including many churchmen who had condemned her. Even the English were deeply moved. When Jeanne asked for a crucifix, an English soldier rushed to tie two sticks together and hand them to her. Jeanne took the makeshift cross and stuffed it into the front of her dress. An unearthly calm came over her. Then quietly with dignity she mounted the great pile of wood and sticks at the base of the scaffold. She stood still as the executioner bound her to the pole. She had just one last wish, that someone would go to the church, get the crucifix, bind it to a long stick and hold it close to her face so that she would have the comfort of gazing on it during her last moments. One of the churchmen sped off to do her bidding. The flames rose quickly. As the tongues of fire caught the sulfur soaked robe Jeanne began to call out. For several minutes all that could be heard was the crackling of the flames and the piercing cries of the young girl. These were said to be her last words, "Rouen! Rouen! Must I die here? Ah, Rouen, I fear you will have to suffer for my death!" "I ask you priests of God, to please say a Mass for my soul's salvation. I beg all of you standing here to forgive me the harm that I may have done you. Please pray for me." As soon as Joan noticed that the fire had been lit she urgently warned Brother Martin: "Good Brother Martin, I thank you for comforting me, but you must leave this place, now." "My Voices did come from God and everything that I have done was by God's order." "Hold the crucifix up before my eyes so I may see it until I die." "Jesus, Jesus, JESUS!" Jeanne D’Arc was burnt at the stake on May 30th 1431. She was 19 years old. 4 years after her death, as she predicted a Treaty of Arras was declared between Charles VII and Philippe-le-Bon de of Burgundy, effectively dooming the English cause. Paris soon surrenders to the French and Rouen is taken by the French. In 1450, 19 years after Jeanne’s death the English are driven out of Normandy, then 3 years later the English driven out of Guyenne, most historians consider this to be the end of the "Hundred Years War" and France is one, just as Jeanne predicted. In 1450 the process of retrying Jeanne D’Arc's case begins under the direction of Guillaume Bouillé. In 1452 Jeanne D’Arc's retrial process continues under Cardinal d'Estouteville and Inquisitor Jean Bréhal. On June 11th 1455, Pope Calixtus III authorizes Jehanne's mother, Isabelle, to open the suit. On November 7 1455 the opening session of the retrial ("Trial of Rehabilitation") is held at Notre Dame in Paris. After much testimony and persistence from the D’Arc family, on July 7th 1456, beginning at the hour of 8am, a public announcement of the judgement of the court is made in which the original verdict is thrown out and Jeanne D’Arc is declared innocent. It was found that she was guilty of no wrongdoings and in fact had been true to the very clear call of God on her life. Over the centuries her reputation continued to grow even finding acceptance among the English by the 19th century. In February 1903 a formal proposal for Jeanne’s canonisation is put forward. In January 1904, Pope Pius X awards her the title of "Venerable" and on April 11th 1909 Jeanne D’Arc is given Beatification. Finally on May 16th 1920, Jeanne D’Arc is Canonised as a saint by Pope Benedict XV, she is now Saint Jeanne D’Arc. Jeanne D’Arc, or Joan of Arc as she is known was not just a symbol of faith and purity. He is a hero to the people of France and remembered for her honesty, courage, kindness, and saintliness. Jeanne was not a warrior, although she did lead her men in battle waving her banner or sword, many believe in her lifetime and war experience Jeanne never did actually slay anyone, in fact she was known to comfort dying English soldiers. To the last Jeanne claimed that the voices were from God and had not deceived her. In that last moment the full force and significance of Joan’s character was felt as it had been at no other time in her life. Of course many still wonder about her voices. Were they really from God? Why would God care about whether France survived or not? Why would God send a girl to do a man's job? Was this all real, or was it all just the product of a vivid imagination of a very impressionable Catholic girl? These questions have to be answered if you are going to seriously address the events of those days. One thing is for certain, Jeanne really believed that she heard those voices. And another thing is also certain, without those voices she would have lived and died as just another villager from Domremy. Those voices turned her into someone who was fearless beyond all reason and I have yet to hear of a future prediction she made that didn’t come true. To ask these questions I think we must first ask ourselves what we, as individuals believe. To ask these questions of Jeanne is really to ask was Jesus really god’s son? Or is there really a God at all? It’s about faith and I for one truly believe Jeanne and she is one of my greatest Hero’s. Nobody is more deserving of worship, admirable and sainthood.