Joan of Arc, is one of the most notable figures of the medieval period and French history. She was called in the service of her country by Saints and unhesitatingly gave up her life for voices she believed in. She was called the, Maid of Orleans, by the soldiers she led.
Joan was born on 6th January,1412 to Jacques d'Arc and Isabelle de Vouthon in the little village of Domremy. Her real name was Jehanne d'Arc, but she preferred to be called Jehanne la Pucelle or Joan the maid. She never learned reading and writing, but was quite skilled at household chores of spinning and sewing. From a very young age, she was often seen in prayer in the church and helping the poor.
In the summer of 1425, when she was 13, she became conscious of the supernatural manifestations around her. She started hearing voices that were accompanied by a blaze of light and later realized that the appearances she witnessed were of St. Michael, St. Margaret and St. Catherine. The voices that she heard gave her the mission of liberating France from the English rule. She kept these messages a secret for nearly 5 years, but once she was convinced that she had to deliver the people of France, and God had chosen her to do it, she left her home, at the age of 17 in 1429, to fulfill her mission.
Joan Of Arc and King Charles VII
She traveled with an escort to the court of Dauphin, where the King of France, Charles VII was living. On his invitation, when she went to court, Charles had disguised himself as a courtier. She not only found him in the crowded court but also revealed secrets, that made him a believer in her mission. However, Joan was subjected to scrutiny by the church theologians. Finally Charles agreed to allow Joan to lead an army against the English at Orleans.
Battle of Orleans
Joan marched towards Orleans in April 1429 with 5,000 soldiers. She wore a white armor and carried an ancient sword in one hand, found near a saint's tomb, and a white banner with embroidered lilies on it in another hand. She inspired the soldiers with her visions of victory, that God had ordained for them. The English soldiers were angered and astonished by her audacity, as she asked them to surrender. She entered Orleans, despite the efforts of the English to stop her, and led her soldiers to victory. She took over all the English forts and was injured at the end of the battle. In eight days, Joan was able to lift the siege on Orleans.
In June 1429, she led her troops to victory over Reims, where Charles was crowned as the King of France. After his coronation, it's believed that, she knelt at his feet and said, "O King, the will of God is done and my mission is over! Let me now go home my parents." However Charles urged her to stay and help him free France completely from the domination of the English. Although she consented to stay, she confessed to him about not hearing the heavenly voices any more.
Capture and Trial
With considerable success she kept fighting the battle, but it was in May 1430 during an attack on the Burgundians, she was captured and handed to the English. She was held in the Rouen prison for a year before being tried. All that time she waited for King Charles VII, to save her, but she was deeply disappointed and sorrowed by his negligence and inaction. It was more important to the English that she be tried as a heretic and sorceress, who was influenced by the Evil One, so doubt could be put on the legitimacy of Charles coronation, hence it was politically motivated.
In March 1431, she was charged for claiming to receive the divine word of God, for suggesting that the saints spoke in French and not English and for showing immodesty by wearing male clothes. All these charges amounted to heresy. During the trial several attempts were made to persuade her to recant. She finally agreed, under the threat of rape and molestation, only to retract in three days. She was finally condemned to be burned at stake.
On Charles VII initiative, 24 years later after Joan was burnt, Pope Callixtus III reviewed the decision of the court and found her innocent and declared her a martyr. In 1909, the Vatican beatified her. She was canonized on 16th May, 1920 by Pope Benedict XV.
Joan of Arc has always fascinated the historians and been the subject for much art and literature. In Rouen, her statute stands on the spot where she was burnt. Today she is one of the three patron saints of France and her feast is celebrated on 30th May.