Written by- Adwaiya Srivastav
Joan of Arc is a historically significant figure whose example today is given throughout the world whenever the individual ability of a woman is challenged. She was who defied all norms and rules of her times and proved everyone wrong in a profession which even men feared to partake in, the army. She didn’t just take part in them but led them and came out victorious. Here is her story-
Early life- Joan was born in the year 1412 to a peasant couple in the Northeast region of France (Domremy) during the peak of the Hundred Years’ War. As a child, she and her siblings aided their parents in the farms. Though she was poor and illiterate, her mother instilled a deep love of the Catholic Church in her since a very young age. She always used to have a heavy heart due to the English seeking to conquer France and wished to change it.
Often she shared her longing of wanting to see the Dauphin (later Charles VII) regain his rightful place as the heir of the throne to her family and friends but always was she simply brushed off as a silly woman lost in her dreams.
Divine visions and dreams- When Joan was around the age of 13, she started receiving visions of St. Michael the Archangel, St. Catherine of Alexandria, and St. Margaret the virgin. All of these visions spoke only of one thing to her- She was to lead the French army, drive out the English from their lands and bring the crown to the Dauphin.
Being as religious as she were, she almost immediately traveled to visit Robert de Baudricort in Vaucouleurs who was the garrison commander and requested to face the Royal Court. Unsurprisingly, her request was met with mockery and laughs. But she persisted and a few months later she came again. During her second meeting with Baudricort, she revealed the knowledge she had of the military reversal of the Battle of Rouvray before it even happened. This surprised and convinced and he lead her to Chinon to face the Royal Court.
Winning Battles- Upon meeting Dauphin, she promised him she would seem him crowned as the King at Reims (the traditional site of French royal investiture), and then asked him to give her an army to retake Orleans from the English. Though most of Dauphin’s counselors and generals were against this, Charles granted her request since the wisdom she portrayed about military strategies in court were unparalleled.
Dressed in white armor, Joan set off for Orleans in March of 1429. And her promises bore fruition indeed, as the English faced a crushing defeat at her hands in Orleans and tales of her ferocity and zealous spread throughout Europe. Subsequently, she and her followers escorted Dauphin across enemy territories to Reims, seizing towns that resisted by force and enabling his coronation as King Charles VII in July 1429.
Joan’s Fall- It was the spring of 1430 when the king ordered to crush a Burgundian assault on Compiégne. While defending the towns and its inhabitants, she was thrown off from her horse and was captured by the Burgundians who amidst much fanfare took her to the castle of Bouvreuil. The English entered into negotiations with the Burgundians to release Joan to them, which succeeded, and which led her to be judged by Bishop Pierre Cauchon, an English partisan. Unfortunately, she never received a fair trial, as all of the clerics and judges present were either English or Burgundian – none were French.
Adding to the capital crime of heresy, she was charged with cross-dressing as an offense. Though it was understood it was necessary for her to conceal her identity as a woman by wearing the male military uniform (as women were not allowed to partake in military service), she was nonetheless humiliated with this charge against her. She was convicted of both of these crimes and sentenced to death.
Joan was burnt at the stake in the year 1431 at a mere age of 19. When she was tied to the pole, Joan requested to see a crucifix to gain strength and courage in knowing the fact that she was dying for the lord. An English soldier, out of pity, constructed a crude wooden cross for her to see as she burned alive.
Legacy- After her death, many people looked into her life and found her to be a hero who was unjustly punished. Even people like St. Thomas Aquinas defended her cross-dressing as a man being necessary, to carry out the will of God in those circumstances.
Twenty-two years after her death, when the Hundred Years’ War finally ended, a retrial was opened to investigate whether or not she received a fair trial.
A panel of theologians thoroughly researched her trial and they all found her to be an innocent bona fide martyr. This nullified the original trial that had condemned her as a heretic and also opened the cause for canonization to occur.
But, she wasn’t officially canonized until 1920 by Pope Pius X, though for centuries she had already been celebrated as a French icon and inspiration for generations. Also, in the twentieth century, the documents of Joan’s original trial were discovered which confirmed the belief that she was unjustly tried and executed. Today, St. Joan of Arc serves as an inspiration for the many women of bravery in the face of grave dangers, and even death. Today she is one of the patron saints of France, and its martyrs, captives, military personnel, prisoners, soldiers, those who were ridiculed for their piety, and the Women’s Army Corps.
One of her most famous quotes is - “I am not afraid. I was born to do this!” and so shall she be remembered by them."