In French, Joan of Arc is also known as Jeanne d’Arc or as la Pucelle d’Orléans (the Maid of Orleans). She was born at Domremy, France, on or about January 6, 1412. Her family members were peasants. She took care of the animals on the farm, and she was good at sewing and spinning. Joan never went to school, and she was very religious.
When Joan was about 12 years old, she began to hear voices of different saints: St. Michael the Archangel, St. Catherine, and St. Margaret. St. Michael told her, “Daughter of God, go save France!” She felt it was her divine mission to free her country from the English and to help the dauphin become king. Dauphin is the title of the oldest son of the king of France, the one who should inherit the throne.
In May 1428, she went to Robert Baudricourt, who commanded troops for Charles, the Dauphin. She asked for permission to join Charles and his cause. Baudricourt told the kinsman who came with her, “Take her home to her father and give her a good whipping.” They returned home.
Joan’s voices continued. She responded, “I am a poor girl; I do not know how to ride or fight.”
The voices said, “It is God who commands it.”
She returned to Baudricourt and made a prediction that the French would be defeated in a battle near Orléans. This came true, so Baudricourt took her to see the dauphin. She dressed in men’s clothing and cut her hair short so she would not be recognized as they travelled through hostile Burgundian territory. Joan asked Charles for permission to travel with the army and dress as a knight. Armor, horses, swords, a banner, and other items were donated to her and her brothers, Jean and Pierre. Her standard was painted with an image of Christ, and the banner had the name of Jesus.
People at this time were very superstitious. They wanted to make sure Joan was not a sorceress or a heretic (someone who challenges the authority of the Church). She had to pass an examination by church representatives before she was given the rank of captain and troops to lead. After she passed, Joan began to lead the French. They captured the fortress of Saint Loup on May 4. The next day they took the fortress of Saint Jean le Blanc. On May 7, they lay siege to Les Tourelles. During the battle, Joan was shot through the neck with an arrow, but she returned to the fight. The French were inspired by her bravery and defeated the English. Next she convinced the commanders that they should take the city of Reims where coronations of French kings were held. Reims was taken on July 16, and the dauphin was crowned King Charles VII on July 17. At the coronation, Joan was given a place of honor next to the king.
The French tried to take Paris on September 8, and Joan’s leg was wounded by a crossbow. Once again, she continued the fight. In May of 1430, during the Battle of Compiègne, Joan was captured by the Burgundians. They put her in prison. She tried to escape several times. Once she jumped sixty feet from the top of her prison tower into the moat. She was knocked unconscious and bruised, but not seriously hurt. She was sold to the English for 10,000 pounds (several hundred thousand dollars today). The English wanted to prove that Joan had used witchcraft to beat them. She was brought to trial for sorcery and heresy. Representatives of the Church wanted her to deny that she had heard the voices of saints and to remove her soldier’s clothes. They said this violated Church rules. Joan refused to do what they wanted.
Charles did not try to rescue her. The authorities promised Joan that she could go to church and confession if she signed a statement of her faults and put on women’s clothes. Joan finally agreed, but they had lied to her, so Joan put her soldier’s clothes back on. For this disobedience to the Church, she was sentenced to death. On May 30, 1431, she was burned at the stake in the marketplace of Rouen. She was nineteen.
In 1456, Pope Callixtus III declared that Joan had been not guilty and condemned the verdict against her. In 1920, the Catholic Church declared Joan to be a saint. She is the patron saint of France and soldiers. Catholics celebrate her feast day on May 30. The French consider her a national heroine.