Joan of Arc, also known as Jeanne d'Arc, was born in January 1412 in Domremy to Jacques d'Arc and Isabelle Romee. They were farmers and her father supplemented his income by working as a minor village official.
At the age of 12, Joan experienced her first vision. She said the St. Michael, St. Catherine and St. Margaret told her to drive the English out of France and bring the Dauphin, Charles VII to Reims for his coronation.
When she was 16 years old, she asked Durand Lassois, a kinsman, to bring her to Vaucouleurs where she petitioned the garrison commander, Count Robert de Baudricourt, for permission to visit the royal French court at Chinon. He gave her a sarcastic reply.
She came back the following year in January with the support of two men of standing: Jean de Metz and Bertrand de Poulengy. Then she got a second interview where she made an amazing prediction about a military reversal near Orleans.
When this prediction was confirmed, Robert de Baudricourt granted Joan an escort to Chinon. She went disguised in male attire. At the court, she met the Dauphin, Charles VII in a private conference. He was suitably impressed by her, but ordered a background inquiry and a theological examination at Poitiers nevertheless.
The Hundred Years War was in full swing at that point of time; the military and civil leadership of France were severely demoralized. When Joan of Arc asked to be equipped for war and placed at the head of his army, the Dauphin agreed. He perhaps saw that such a move might create a positive fervor among his troops, especially from a religious point of view.
In April, 1429, Joan arrived at the siege of Orleans. Jean d'Orleans who was the head of the Orleans ducal family kept excluding her from military councils and did not keep her informed of any military activity. This did not deter her, however, and she attended the councils as and when she found out.
Under her leadership, the army was roused again. So far the French army had tried only one aggressive assault during the siege of Orleans and had failed miserably in that attempt. On the 4th of May they attacked and captured Saint Loup and on the 5th of May they captured Saint Jean le Blanc in a bloodless battle as the fortress was deserted.
Joan kept pushing at Orleans for another aggressive attack on the English. He tried to keep her from doing so by locking the gates of the city. Joan, however, could not be stopped. She summoned townsmen and soldiers and forced the mayor to unlock the gate.
On the 7th of May, she attacked an English stronghold called Les Tourelles. Although wounded in the shoulder, she returned to the battle and the French won. This led to plans for more offensive action. Joan asked the Dauphin to grant her co-command of the army with Duke John II of Alencon.
What followed was a string of victories on the path to Reims. Jargeau was won on the 12th of June, Meung-Sur-Loire on the 15th of June, and then Beaugency on the 17th of June. By now the Duke Alencon and Jean d'Orleans had begun to believe her. She had even once saved Duke Alencon's life by warning him of an imminent military attack at Jargeau.
Joan was also injured in the battle of Jargeau when a cannonball hit her helmet. On the 18th of June, reinforcements of the English army arrived under the command of Sir John Fastolf. The battle of Patay became a source of English humiliation. The French army attacked them before they could even make their defensive preparations and routed them thoroughly.
They then set out for Reims from Gien-Sur-Loire on the 29th of June. Auxerre surrendered conditionally on the 3rd of July. Troyes surrendered after a four day bloodless siege. All the other towns along the way began to surrender without a fight. Finally, Reims was taken on the 16th of July and the coronation of the Dauphin took place the following morning.
Duke Alencon and Joan of Arc kept persuading the Dauphin to now attack Paris. But the Royal court wanted to negotiate a treaty with the Duke of Burgundy. The Duke of Burgundy used this as a stalling technique to reinforce his defenses of Paris. As the French army marched along to Paris, the towns along the way surrendered peacefully.
From the 15th of August to the 8th of September, the French army confronted the English Duke of Bedford at Paris. The French army withdrew when Joan received a Royal order to withdraw. She had suffered a crossbow injury in her leg. In November and December, Joan led the army at La Charite-Sur-Loire and then in April 1430 she went to Compiegne.
On the 23rd of May, 1430, she was captured by the Burgundians as the French army was again ordered to retreat. At the time, it was a customary practice that the family members of the prisoner of war ransom him or her.
Since Joan's family was poor, they could not do so. The Dauphin, Charles VII also did nothing to ransom Joan. Finally, the English ransomed her.
Saint Joan of Arc: The Trial
The Duke of Bedford claimed the throne of France for his nephew Henry VI. To condemn would bring doubt to the Dauphin's coronation. So Joan's trial of heresy was motivated on political grounds.
The trial began on the 9th of January, 1431 at Rouen. It has now been proved that most of the proceedings of the trial were wrong and motivated by the politics of the time. The court lacked any evidence to prove any charges against Joan and they even denied her any legal council.
Also, another fact to be noted was that Joan had been medically examined and it had been proved that she was a virgin. Therefore, it was difficult under the law of the day to accuse her of witchcraft. Joan managed to show immense courage and intelligence to surprise the clergy staff.
When the trial opened, she remarked that all those present were against her and asked for ecclesiastic staff from the French side to be present. Another famous example of Joan's intellect was her answer to the question put to her asking her if she knew that she was in God's grace.
She surprised everyone with her answer: "If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me." The church doctrine holds that no one could be certain of being in God's grace. Therefore, admitting to being in God's grace would have been heresy and admitting otherwise would have been tantamount to confession of guilt.
On the 30th of May 1431, Joan of Arc was burned to death on a stake. After her death, her body was burned again to ensure that she had not escaped and that there would be nothing left of her but ashes. These were then cast into the Seine. Following an investigation in 1452, a retrial was authorized by Pope Callixtus III, at the end of the war.
On the 7th of July, 1456, Joan of Arc was declared innocent. In 1909 she was beatified, and in 1920 she was canonized as a Saint. St. Joan of Arc has been a political symbol for France. Several political and military leaders like Napoleon have invoked her name. The second Sunday of the month of May is a civic holiday in her honor in France.