Joan Of Arc – the Maid of Orleans
Jeanne d’Arc, better known to those who speak only English as ‘Joan of Arc’, also known as “the Maid of Orleans”, was a national heroine of France and is considered a saint by the Roman Catholic Church. She was born at Domremy in Champagne, circa January 6, 1412, and died at Rouen on May 30, 1431. She was born to Jacques d’Arc, a peasant farmer, who was poor, but not extremely needy. She was also the third of five children borne by her mother. Much of her childhood life was spent tending her father’s herds and learning religion and housekeeping skills from her mother.
At the age of twelve, Joan began to hear voices, which she believed to be from God. At first, it was simply a voice that she heard, which she later referred to as her “counsel.” It seem as though someone nearby had spoken to her, and this voice was accompanied by a blazing light. She later could clearly distinguish the faces of Saints who appeared to her. They were St. Michael, who was accompanied by a throng of angels, St. Margaret, and St. Catherine.
These voices told her that it was her duty to relinquish her country from the clutches of England and assist the dauphin in gaining the throne of France. These voices told her she was to cut her hair, dress in a man’s uniform, and take up arms against England. They became urgent, and even threatening. She resisted the voices, saying, “I am a poor girl; I do not know how to ride or fight.” But the voices only reiterated, “It is God who commands it.” Finally yielding to the voices, she left Domremy in January, 1429.
By the year 1429, England, with the help of its Burgundian allies, occupied Paris and all of France north of the Loire Valley. Resistance by France was minimal due to low morale and lack of leadership. Henry VI of England laid claim to the French throne for himself. Joan convinced the captain of the dauphin’s forces, as well as the dauphin himself, of her divine calling and, after passing an examination by a board of theologians, she was given troops and the rank of captain.
At the Battle of Orleans, May 1429, Joan led her troops to a miraculous victory over England, giving her the title “the Maid of Orleans”, and she continued to fight enemies all along the Loire. The troops under her command were so feared by their enemies that when she approached the army of Lord Talbot at Patay, the majority of the English troops, along with Sir John Fastolfe, fled the battlefield. Fastolfe, as punishment for his act of cowardice, was later stripped of his Order of the Garter. Although Lord Talbot stood to fight Joan, he was defeated and was captured, along with 100 English noblemen, and lost 1800 soldiers in the battle.
On July 17, 1429, in Reims Cathedral, Charles VII was crowned King of France. At the coronation, Joan was given a place of honor next to the king. She was later ennobled for her services to her country.
In 1430, she was captured by the Burgundians while defending Compeigne, and was sold to the English. She was then extradited to the ecclesiastical court at Rouen led by Pierre Cauchon to stand trial for works of witchcraft and heresy. Great attempts were made by her prosecutors to connect her with superstitious practices supposedly performed around a certain tree, known as the Fairy Tree, or l’Arbre des Dames, but to no avail. The sincerity of her answers baffled the judges.
The examinations ceased on March 17. Seventy propositions were then drawn up, forming a disorderly and unfair presentment of Joan’s “crimes,” but after she had been permitted to hear and reply to these, another set of twelve were drafted. These were better arranged and less extravagantly worded than the ones before. With this summary of her misdeeds before them, a large majority of the twenty-two judges who took part in the deliberations declared Joan’s visions and voices to be “false and diabolical,” and they decided that if she refused to retract she was to be handed over to the secular arm, or, to be burned.
Certain formal warnings, at first private, and then public, were administered to Joan, but she refused to submit, and the judges could have considered this satisfactory. On May 9, she was threatened with torture, but still she held her ground. Meanwhile, the twelve propositions were submitted to the University of Paris, which, being extremely English in sympathy, denounced Joan in violent terms. The judges, strong in this approval, held a final deliberation, and forty-two of the forty-seven reaffirmed that Joan ought to be declared a heretic, and handed over to the civil power, if she still refused to retract. Yet another admonition followed in the prison on May 22, but Joan remained unshaken.
The next day, a stake was raised in the cemetery, and in the presence of a great crowd, she was solemnly admonished for the last time. Here Joan’s will failed her, and she consented to form a type of retraction. The precise terms of that retraction are unknown. However, due to this retraction, she was not to be burned, but returned to prison. The English and Burgundians were furious, but Cauchon placated them by saying, “We shall have her yet.”
An argument was brought against her as to why she insisted on wearing men’s clothing. Joan was told that in doing so she was committing a crime against God. However, she was determined to continue to wear them. She did so because the voices had not told her to change yet, and also because they protected her from sexual abuse by her jailors. This determination was viewed as defiance, and her fate was sealed.
Joan was convicted after a fourteen-month-long interrogation. She was burned at the stake in the Rouen marketplace on May 30, 1431. No attempt to rescue her was made by Charles VII, and she died at the young age of 19. However, in 1456, a second trial was held, and Joan was pronounced innocent of the charges against her. She was beatified in 1909 and canonized in 1920 by Pope Benedict XV.
Joan of Arc, the Maid of Orleans, will forever remain a strong emblem of the Christian faith. She will continue to be held in high respect as a heroine of France, who pulled her country from under the rule of England. Even today, people look to Joan for encouragement to stand strong in their beliefs as followers of Jesus Christ.