Joan of Arc was born in 1412 in the village of Domremy in
North Eastern France. Her parents were peasants, and Joan never attended school.
Like all children of the working classes in those days, she helped with chores
from an early age. She was deeply religious and spent hours praying in the
From a young age she claimed to hear the voices of St Michael
(the Archangel) and two saints, St. Catherine and St. Margaret.
When Joan was born, England and France had been at war for
about 100 years. The details of the war are extremely confusing, but the
relevant part is that they were, at that time, fighting over who should be King
The English had won lands in North Western France. Henry V
was King of England and Charles VI was King of France. All French Kings were
crowned in Reims, a city in the Northern part of France controlled by the
English. After the English won the land they signed a treaty with France. The
agreement was that Charles could remain King of France, but that when he died,
Henry would rule. Unfortunately Charles and Henry both died within a very short
time of each other. Charles had a son, (also named Charles, later known as
Charles VII). Henry also had a son (later known as Henry VI) whom the English
claimed should be King of France due to the agreement between the two countries.
When his father died, Charles, at that time known as the Dauphin, quickly
claimed the throne for himself. The French people refused to accept that he was
King until he had been crowned in Reims. The English were determined that would
never happen, and started trying to take even more French land. The Duke of
Burgundy, a French Duke, was helping the English. He wanted to eventually take
the crown for himself, or at least gain more land. With no King in charge, the
French were losing and it looked fairly certain that they would eventually
control all of France.
Into this stepped Joan. The voices, which until then had
given her only general guidance, began telling her she must save France from the
English. She was instructed to go to the leader of the French Army, telling him
she could lead France to victory and have Charles crowned. She was seventeen
years old at the time.
With the help of a local baron, she found her way to Charles.
She managed to persuade him that she truly heard voices, and that God would help
her get him crowned. Although it is unclear why Charles believed her, legend has
it she told him things that only he could have known. Charles was convinced that
Joan and the voices were genuine, and he agreed to give her a small army. He
also gave her a suit of white armor and a sword.
The English had recently captured Orleans, a city about 80
miles from Paris. This is where Joan started her mission. She led her small army
against the English, and was wounded. Her men, seeing her bravery and
determination to fight on, were inspired. They retook the city of Orleans for
France. Joan became known as the maid of Orleans. The French rallied behind Joan
and supported her. With their help she won several more battles. The English
were losing ground quickly, and Reims once again belonged to the French.
Charles could now be crowned King of France. Joan and her
Army escorted him to the cathedral in Reims, where he was crowned, in July 1429.
Once he was crowned Charles decided that he ought to negotiate with the English
and the Duke of Burgundy. Joan and her voices, however, had different ideas. She
was determined to fight on and rid France of the English forever.
Joan continued to fight but began to lose battles. She was
captured by the troops of the Duke of Burgundy in 1430, at the Battle of
Compeigne. The Duke sold her to the English. The English could not admit that a
teenage girl had beaten them in battle. They needed to prove that she had used
trickery, sorcery and witchcraft to do it. She was imprisoned in a dungeon and
tortured. The English wanted her to admit that she had lied about the voices.
They also wanted her to agree to remove the men’s clothing, which they said
was against the Churches ruling. Joan refused and remained in prison.
Charles no longer had any interest in Joan, she had given him
what he wanted, the French crown. Now she was just a nuisance and an obstacle to
him negotiating with the English. He made no attempt to rescue her or buy her
back from the English. Joan remained in prison, growing weaker and more tired
She finally agreed to remove the soldiers clothing and signed
a statement that she had been wrong. In return she was supposed to be allowed to
visit the church. The English had lied. Remember that she could neither read nor
write. She probably had no idea what it was that she was admitting to. She again
insisted that the voices had been real, and put her soldiers clothing back on.
They now had the proof they needed to have her tried and convicted of heresy and
witchcraft. She was tried, convicted and sentenced to death. Because she was
found guilty of being a witch, she was to be executed by fire. She was 19 years
On May 30, 1431 she was burned at the stake. Charles did
nothing to save her, and neither did the French people, who only shortly before
had claimed she was a heroine. After her death Charles decided that it wasn’t
a good idea for people to believe she had been a witch or heretic. That would
mean that he had been wrongfully crowned. He set about having her name cleared.
Thirty years after her death the Pope claimed she had been
wrongly accused and that she was not guilty of any crime against the Church or
God. She was eventually canonized in 1920, becoming St Joan. The church never
stated whether or not her visions and the voices she heard were real. She was
made a Saint because she was convinced that God had ordered her to do what she
did, and she followed those orders. Her absolute faith in God and obedience of
what she believed were His instructions are what made her a saint.