Born in 1412 to Jacques and Isabelle d’Arc in Doremy, France. Her mother taught her domestic skills and religion, and she was known throughout the region for her kindness to others. During her childhood, France was fighting a war not only against the English but also against a French splinter group from Burgundy. When she was 13, Jeanne began hearing revelations from God through the voices of Saint Michael, Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret. Over the next five years, these voices instructed her to lead the siege at Orleans, and bring Charles to Reims for his crowning — and drive out the invading English troops.
In February of 1429, she traveled to Chinon where she met with the Dauphin Charles on March 9th. She received the Dauphin’s approval to win back the city of Orleans which she and her men took in just one week. In July of 1429, the Dauphin Charles was crowned King of France in the cathedral in Reims. After his crowning, the king soon lost interest in Jeanne’s advice. But she kept fighting on until she was captured in battle against the Burgundians. After a year she was handed over to the English by the Burgundians. The English condemned Jeanne as a witch and a heretic. She was finally burnt at the stake in market square in Rouen on May 30th, 1431.
In 1920, almost 500 years later, Pope Benedict XV read the bull of canonization declaring her a saint.
The details of the life of Jeanne d’Arc form a biography which is unique among the world’s biographies in one respect: It is the only story of a human life which comes to us under oath, the only one which comes to us from the witness-stand.
Jeanne d’Arc was a peasant girl who became a national heroine and the patron saint of France. At a crucial period of the Hundred Years’War, she led the French resistance to English invaders and turned the tide of the war. A mystic visionary, Jeanne was ultimately captured and imprisoned by the English and condemned by an ecclesiastical court to be burned at the stake in 1431. She was 19 years old.
The only known contemporary portrait of Jeanne d’Arc. By Clément de Fauquembergue, the secretary of the Palement of Paris. The artist had never seen Jeanne d’Arc.This fascinating plain, small line drawing shows her as a small determined woman carrying her army’s sacred banner in one hand and a sword in the other. The drawing was made in the margin of the Orleans city record manuscripts on the day she got the English armies away from the city and freed the countryside around Orleans May 10. 1429
The France of Jeanne’s youth was torn by civil war. The Treaty of Troyes (1422) had recognized the claim of England’s Henry V to the French throne, and his heir, supported by the duke of Burgundy, was accepted as king in all parts of France controlled by England and Burgundy. The dauphin Charles, last heir of the Valois line, had no rights under the treaty but was supported by the Armagnac party, and controlled part of France south of the Loire River.
Jeanne was born into a peasant family in the village of Domrémy in Lorraine about 1412. By the age of 13 she began to hear what she described as her “voices,”whom she later identified as the Archangel Michael and Saints Catherine and Margaret. Over the next few years these voices urged Jeanne to find an escort to the dauphin, from whom she was to receive an army and drive the English out of France. She resisted the voices until 1428, when she first approached the Armagnac captain Robert de Baudricourt at nearby Vaucouleurs. Baudricourt refused her at first, but her persistence finally convinced him to give her an armed escort to the dauphin’s court at Chinon in February 1429. By then the English had laid siege to Orléans, the strategic gateway across the Loire into the dauphin’s territory.
When Jeanne met the dauphin, she was able to convince him of her divine mission (some say by relating to him a private prayer he had made to God). After having her examined by a group of clerics and advisers at Poitiers to ensure her orthodoxy, Charles gave her titular command of an army. She was given armor and her own banner (reading “Jesus, Mary”), and brought to the army at Blois, 35 miles southwest of Orléans. She is said to have expelled prostitutes and forced her men to go to confession, give up foul language, and swear to refrain from looting civilians. Her army lifted the siege of Orléans on May 8, 1429, and pushed on to victories in several other cities to arrive at Rheims, where, in accordance with tradition, the dauphin was crowned King Charles VII of France on July 17. After the coronation Jeanne begged the king to deliver Paris from the English, but Charles was uninterested, preoccupied with trying to negotiate peace with Burgundy.
While Jeanne was fighting on the outskirts of Paris, the king withdrew his forces, and Jeanne spent a restless winter at court. In May Burgundy renewed the war, laying siege to Compiègne. Determined to help, Jeanne led a small army of additional troops into the city on May 23. That afternoon she led a sortie outside the city and was ambushed by Burgundian troops. Staying in the rear guard, Jeanne was trapped outside when the gates of the city were prematurely closed, and was captured. Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy, refused to ransom her and sold her to the English for 10,000 francs. Pierre Cauchon, the bishop of Beauvais and a longtime supporter of the Anglo-Burgundian party, was charged with organizing an ecclesiastical court in Rouen (deep in English territory) to try Jeanne for witchcraft and heresy. Yet against inquisitorial custom, she was held in an English military prison with male guards, a situation that put her in constant danger of rape.
Jeanne’s trial lasted five months, and is well documented, including her often witty and confident replies to her interrogators. Ultimately, however, threatened with execution and torture, she signed a document abjuring her voices on May 24, and assumed female attire as the court directed her. But by May 28, condemned to perpetual imprisonment, she had resumed her male clothing and recanted her abjuration. She was immediately considered “relapsed” by members of the tribunal. She had a quick “Relapse Trial” May 28–29 and was convicted of “idolatry” for her cross-dressing, and of refusal to submit to the authority of the church, and on May 30, 1431, was turned over to the secular English authorities and burned at the stake at Rouen as a relapsed heretic.
Peace was concluded between France and Burgundy in 1435, and in 1436, the Armagnacs recovered Paris. They regained Rouen in 1449, and early in 1450, King Charles initiated an investigation into Jeanne’s trial and condemnation. The church began its own inquiry into Jeanne’s trial in 1452. In 1453, the Hundred Years’War ended, and in 1455, a rehabilitation trial opened for Jeanne. In 1456, the Inquisition announced her rehabilitation at Rouen, in a document read publicly declaring her trial to have been tainted with fraud and errors of law, therefore rendering the Condemnation Trial null and void. Her innocence was proclaimed and her good name restored. In 1920, Jeanne was canonized, and her feast day, July 10, declared a national holiday in France.
She remains the only figure in history ever to be both condemned and canonized by the Catholic Church.
The Hundred Years’ War is the generic name given to a succession of Anglo-French conflicts. The troubles started when Edward III of England, grand-son of King of France Philippe IV le Bel, claimed the throne of France.
Edward III attacked France and defeated King Philippe VI de Valois in Crécy (1346), and seized Calais (1347). Philippe VI’s successor, Jean II le Bon, was defeated and captured in Poitiers (1356), and had to sign the treaty of Brétigny (1360), by which a quarter of the Kingdom of France was annexed by England.
During the second half of XIVth century, King of France Charles V and Constable Du Guesclin expelled the English from most of France. In 1380, only Guyenne and Calais were still under English control. Under the reign of Charles VI, the civil war between the House of Orléans and Duke of Burgundy, as well as Charles VI’s insanity, helped the English to reconquer the lost territories.
After the battle of Agincourt (1415), the treaty of Troyes imposed the deposition of Charles VI and the regency of King of England (1420). In 1429, Jeanne d’Arc seized Orléans and crowned King Charles VII in Reims. She was caught in Compiègne and burnt at the stake in Rouen in 1431. However, the English were defeated in Formigny (1450) and Castillon (1453), and expelled from France.
They only kept Calais, which was given back to France in 1558.
The official records of the Great Trial of 1431, and of the Process of Rehabilitation of a quarter of a century later, are still preserved in the National Archives of France, and they furnish with remarkable fullness the facts of her life.
The history of no other life from that time is known with either the certainty or the comprehensiveness that attaches to hers.
Sixteenth-century France named her Jeanne d’Arc and made her a national heroine. The men of subsequent centuries took her story for their plays and poems, her image for their statues.
She became the spirit of France, the maiden, the holy warrior, the Republican and Napoleonic symbol for opposition to the English and for those who would protect France from foreign domination.
In the Second World War Charles de Gaulle used her standard, the Cross of Lorraine, as the symbol of Free France.
See specific: Chronology