Joan of Arc
The Hundred Years War
The Hundred Years War occured from 1337 to 1453. It was a series of conflicts waged by the House of Plantagenets against the House of Valois. These were the ruling houses of England and France respectively. Due to the Kings of England having orginated in Normandy, (William the Conqueror), they were also linked to the French Throne. Therefore after the death of the French King, Charles IV there were disputes over who was the rightful heir to the French Throne. The War resulted in the House of Valois retaining the throne.
Joan of Arc, known as “The Maid of Orléans,” was born in 1412 in a village called Domrémy. The village’s name has since changed to Domrémy-la-Pucelle after her nickname, la Pucelle d’Orléans. She was the daughter of Jacques d’Arc and Isabelle Romée. They were tenant farmers. Joan was not taught how to read or write, but learned piety and domestic skills from her mother.
Throughout her lifetime, England had waged a series of conflicts with France which would later become known as The Hundred Years’ War.
At the age of 13, Joan began having visions of figures she identified as Saint Michael, Saint Margaret and Saint Catherine. They told her to drive the English out of France and take the Dauphin (Charles) to Reims for his coronation.
When Joan was 16, she made her way to Vaucouleurs, considered a stronghold for supporters of Charles. She pleaded with the captain of the garrison, Robert de Baudricourt, to provide an armed escort to take her to the French Royal Court at Chinon. She attracted followers and many believed her to be the girl mentioned in a popular prophecy. The prophecy stated that France would be saved by a virgin from the borders of Lorraine.
De Baudricourt initially laughed off Joan’s request, but through the persistence of her and her followers, he relented. Joan cut her hair and disguised herself as a male soldier for the 11 day journey to Chinon.
Meeting with Charles
Joan was aged 17 and Charles, 26 when they first met. He was not sure what to make of her and her claim that she would save France. However, he was greatly impressed when she managed to identify him dressed incognito amongst members of his court.
She requested an army to fight for Orléans which was under siege by the English. She promised to have Charles crowned king at Reims.
Joan was said to have revealed information to Charles that only a messenger of God would know. In order to counter any possible claims that Joan was not a heretic, he had theologians examine her at Poiters. They declared that Joan was a good Christian with good virtues. They stated that her claims of lifting the siege should be put to the test.
Against the advice of his top generals, Charles granted her the army and she set off for Orléans.
The French soon attacked the English troops which resulted in their retreat.
Joan was wounded in the battle. She was hit by an arrow between the neck and the shoulder, however she returned to the front later on to encourage a final assault. Historians debate the extent of Joan’s participation and leadership in the battles. Nevertheless, The English retreated from Orléans the next day, and the siege was over.
The Siege of Orléans was the first major victory for the French Royal Army after the defeat at Agincourt in 1415.
Joan of Arc gained many supporters after the victory and persuaded Charles VII to accompany the army. They went on to recapture Jargeau on 12 June, Meung-sur-Loire on 15 June, and Beaugency on 17 June.
The French Army pursued the English and caught them near the village at Patay. The English suffered heavy casualties and an embarrassing defeat.
The French Army continued on towards Reims. Many towns on the way surrendered and returned to French allegiance without resistance.
On 16 July 1429, the French Army entered Reims. The following month, Charles VII’s cornonation occurred.
On 8 September 1429, the French assault at Paris commenced, it was a complete failure for the French as they could not enter the city. They suffered many casualties. Joan of Arc was hit in the thigh with a crossbow bolt. The Army received an order from Charles VII to withdraw. A victory followed at Saint-Pierre-le-Moûtier.
This victory was followed by an unsuccessful attempt to capture the town of La Charité. After a month struggle in bad weather, the attempt was called off.
On 29 December 1429, Joan and her family were ennobled by Charles VII.
A truce with England followed for a few months. However, Joan of Arc and the French Army were soon called to help defend the city of Compiègne from a Burgundian and English siege.
Capture and Execution
On 23 May 1430, Joan was ambushed and captured while attempting to attack a Burgundian camp. She was imprisoned at Beaurevoir Castle. She is believed to have made several escape attempts. One of these included jumping from her 21m high tower.
The English negotiated with the Burgundians to transfer her into their hands. This transfer included a payment of 10 000 livres tournois. The Armagnacs attempted to rescue her from Rouen, where she was held, on numerous occasions but failed.
Joan was trialed for heresy. The trial was completely politically-motivated. Historians have criticized it for its bias and lack of evidence.
Heresy was only a capital crime, if it was a repeat offence. Hence, a charge of “cross-dressing” was added. Cross dressing was only considered a crime after considering the context. If used for protection against rape, this was permissible.
Despite this, Joan was condemned and sentenced to death in 1431.
On May 30, 1431, Joan of Arc was burned at the stake at the Old Marketplace in Rouen. Her body was burnt twice more, to reduce it to ashes. This prevented any relics being taken from the scene. Her ashes were thrown into the Seine River.