Joan of Arc

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Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc, c. 1485. The only known portrait for which she sat has not survived, so all depictions of her represent artistic license. (Centre Historique des Archives Nationales, Paris, AE II 2490)
Born c. 1412 in Domrémy, France
Died 30 May 1431 in Rouen, France
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Beatified 18 April 1909, Notre Dame Cathedral by Pius X
Canonized 16 May 1920, St. Peter's Basilica by Benedict XV
Feast 30 May
Patronage captives; France; martyrs; opponents of Church authorities; people ridiculed for their piety; prisoners; rape victims; soldiers; Women Appointed for Voluntary Emergency Service; Women's Army Corps
Prayer to St. Joan of Arc for Faith

In the face of your enemies, in the face of harassment, ridicule, and doubt, you held firm in your faith. Even in your abandonment, alone and without friends, you held firm in your faith. Even as you faced your own mortality, you held firm in your faith. I pray that I may be as bold in my beliefs as you, St. Joan. I ask that you ride alongside me in my own battles. Help me be mindful that what is worthwhile can be won when I persist. Help me hold firm in my faith. Help me believe in my ability to act well and wisely. Amen.
St. Joan of Arc

Saints Portal

Joan of Arc, also known as Jeanne d'Arc, (c. 1412 – 30 May 1431) was a national heroine of France and is a saint of the Roman Catholic Church. She asserted that she had visions from God which told her to recover her homeland from English domination late in the Hundred Years' War. The uncrowned King Charles VII sent her to the siege at Orléans as part of a relief mission. She gained prominence when she overcame the light regard of veteran commanders and lifted the siege in only nine days. Several more swift victories led to Charles VII's coronation at Reims and settled the disputed succession to the throne.

The renewed French confidence outlasted her own brief career. She refused to leave the field when she was wounded during an attempt to recapture Paris that autumn. Hampered by court intrigues, she led only minor companies from then onward and fell prisoner at a skirmish near Compiègne the following spring. A politically motivated trial convicted her of heresy. The English regent John of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Bedford had her burnt at the stake in Rouen. She had been the heroine of her country at the age of seventeen and died at just nineteen. Some twenty-four years later Pope Callixtus III reopened the case and a new finding overturned the original conviction. Her piety to the end impressed the retrial court. Pope Benedict XV canonized her on 16 May 1920.

Joan of Arc has remained an important figure in Western culture. From Napoleon to the present, French politicians of all leanings have invoked her memory. Major writers and composers who have created works about her include Shakespeare, Voltaire, Schiller, Verdi, Tchaikovsky, Twain, Shaw, Brecht, Dreyer, and Honegger. Depictions of her continue in film, television, and song.


The historian Kelly DeVries describes the period preceding Joan of Arc's appearance with, "If anything could have discouraged her, the state of France in 1429 should have." The Hundred Years' War had begun in 1337 as a succession dispute to the French throne with intermittent periods of relative peace. Nearly all of the fighting had taken place in France and the English use of chevauchée tactics had devastated the French economy. The French population had not recovered from the black death of the previous century and its merchants were cut off from foreign markets. At the outset of Joan of Arc's career the English had almost achieved their goal of a dual monarchy under English control and the French army had won no major victory for a generation. In DeVries's words, "the kingdom of France was not even a shadow of its thirteenth-century prototype."

Although the English nobility had spoken Norman French as their primary language for centuries after the Norman Conquest, this was no longer the case during Joan of Arc's lifetime. The English language had gained ascendancy in England during the fourteenth century. Notwithstanding Joan of Arc's claim of a divine mission and her enemies' claim that she proceeded instead from the devil, both she and her opponents were Catholic, and England would remain so until the following century when England split with Rome during the reign of Henry VIII.

France at the outset of Joan of Arc's career. The dot that represents Paris is near the center of the Anglo-Burgundian region. Reims lies to its northeast.
France at the outset of Joan of Arc's career. The dot that represents Paris is near the centre of the Anglo-Burgundian region. Reims lies to its northeast.

The French king at the time of Joan's birth, Charles VI, suffered bouts of insanity and was often unable to rule. The king's brother Duke Louis of Orléans and the king's cousin Duke John the Fearless of Burgundy quarreled over the regency of France and the guardianship of the royal children. This dispute escalated to accusations of an extramarital affair with Queen Isabeau of Bavaria and kidnappings of the royal children and culminated when the Duke of Burgundy ordered the assassination of the Duke of Orléans in 1407.

The factions loyal to these two men became known as the Armagnacs and the Burgundians. The English king, Henry V, took advantage of this turmoil and invaded France, won a dramatic victory at Agincourt in 1415, and proceeded to capture northern French towns. The future French king, Charles VII, assumed the title of dauphin as heir to the throne at the age of fourteen after all four of his older brothers had died. His first significant official act was to conclude a peace treaty with Burgundy in 1419. This ended in disaster when Armagnac partisans murdered John the Fearless during a meeting under Charles's guarantee of protection. The new Duke of Burgundy, Philip the Good, blamed Charles and entered into an alliance with the English. Large sections of France fell to conquest.

In 1420 Queen Isabeau of Bavaria concluded the Treaty of Troyes, which granted the French royal succession to Henry V and his heirs in preference to her son Charles. This agreement revived rumors about her supposed affair with the late duke of Orléans and raised fresh suspicions that the dauphin was a royal bastard rather than the son of the king. Henry V and Charles VI died within two months of each other in 1422, leaving an infant, Henry VI of England, the nominal monarch of both kingdoms. Henry V's brother, John of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Bedford, acted as regent.

By the beginning of 1429 nearly all of northern France and some parts of the southwest were under foreign control. The English ruled Paris and the Burgundians ruled Reims. The latter city was important as the traditional site of French coronations and consecrations, especially since neither claimant to the throne of France had been crowned. The English had laid siege to Orléans, which was the only remaining loyal French city north of the Loire. Its strategic location along the river made it the last obstacle to an assault on the remaining French heartland. In the words of one modern historian, "On the fate of Orléans hung that of the entire kingdom." No one was optimistic that the city could long withstand the siege.



Joan of Arc's birthplace is now a museum. The village church where she worshipped is on the right behind several trees.
Joan of Arc's birthplace is now a museum. The village church where she worshipped is on the right behind several trees.

Joan of Arc was born to Jacques d'Arc and Isabelle Romée in Domrémy, a village which was then in the duchy of Bar (and later annexed to the province of Lorraine and renamed Domrémy-la-Pucelle). Her parents owned about 50 acres (0.2 square kilometers) of land and her father supplemented his farming work with a minor position as a village official, collecting taxes and heading the local watch. They lived in an isolated patch of northeastern territory that remained loyal to the French crown despite being surrounded by Burgundian lands. Several local raids occurred during Joan of Arc's childhood and on one occasion her village was burned.

Joan said she was about nineteen at her trial, so she was born about 1412; she later testified that she experienced her first vision around 1424. She would report that St. Michael, St. Catherine, and St. Margaret told her to drive out the English and bring the dauphin to Reims for his coronation.

At the age of sixteen she asked a kinsman, Durand Lassois, to bring her to nearby Vaucouleurs where she petitioned the garrison commander, Count Robert de Baudricourt, for permission to visit the royal French court at Chinon. Baudricourt's sarcastic response did not deter her. She returned the following January and gained support from two men of standing: Jean de Metz and Bertrand de Poulengy. Under their auspices she gained a second interview where she made a remarkable prediction about a military reversal near Orléans.


Ruin of the great hall at Chinon where Joan of Arc met King Charles VII. The castle's only remaining intact tower has also become a museum to Joan of Arc.
Ruin of the great hall at Chinon where Joan of Arc met King Charles VII. The castle's only remaining intact tower has also become a museum to Joan of Arc.

Robert de Baudricourt granted Joan of Arc an escort to visit Chinon after news from the front confirmed her prediction. She made the journey through hostile Burgundian territory in male disguise. Upon arriving at the royal court she impressed Charles VII during a private conference. He then ordered background inquiries and a theological examination at Poitiers to verify her morality. During this time Charles's mother-in-law Yolande of Aragon was financing a relief expedition to Orléans. Joan of Arc petitioned for permission to travel with the army and wear the equipment of a knight. She depended on donations for her armor, horse, sword, banner, and entourage. Historian Stephen W. Richey explains her attraction as the only source of hope for a regime that was near collapse:

"After years of one humiliating defeat after another, both the military and civil leadership of France were demoralized and discredited. When the Dauphin Charles granted Joan’s urgent request to be equipped for war and placed at the head of his army, his decision must have been based in large part on the knowledge that every orthodox, every rational, option had been tried and had failed. Only a regime in the final straits of desperation would pay any heed to an illiterate farm girl who claimed that voices from God were instructing her to take charge of her country’s army and lead it to victory."
"King of England, and you, duke of Bedford, who call yourself regent of the kingdom of France...settle your debt to the king of Heaven; return to the Maiden, who is envoy of the king of Heaven, the keys to all the good towns you took and violated in France."
Joan of Arc, Letter to the English, March - April 1429; Quicherat I, p. 240, trans. Wikipedia.

Joan of Arc arrived at the siege of Orléans on 29 April 1429, but Jean d'Orléans, the acting head of the Orléans ducal family, initially excluded her from war councils and failed to inform her when the army engaged the enemy. This did not prevent her from being present at most councils and battles. The extent of her actual military leadership is a subject of historical debate. Traditional historians such as Edouard Perroy conclude that she was a standard bearer whose primary effect was on morale. This type of analysis usually relies on the condemnation trial testimony, where Joan of Arc stated that she preferred her standard to her sword. Recent scholarship that focuses on the rehabilitation trial testimony asserts that her fellow officers esteemed her as a skilled tactician and a successful strategist. Stephen W. Richey's opinion is one example: "She proceeded to lead the army in an astounding series of victories that reversed the tide of the war." In either case, historians agree that the army enjoyed remarkable success during her brief career.


The inner keep at Beaugency is one of the few surviving fortifications from Joan of Arc's battles.  English defenders retreated to the tower at upper right after the French breached the town wall.
The inner keep at Beaugency is one of the few surviving fortifications from Joan of Arc's battles. English defenders retreated to the tower at upper right after the French breached the town wall.

Joan of Arc defied the cautious strategy that had characterized French leadership. During the five months of siege before her arrival the defenders of Orléans had attempted only one aggressive move and that had ended in disaster. On 4 May the French attacked and captured the outlying fortress of Saint Loup, which she followed on 5 May with a march to a second fortress called Saint Jean le Blanc. Finding it deserted, this became a bloodless victory. The next day she opposed Jean d'Orleans at a war council where she demanded another assault on the enemy. D'Orleans ordered the city gates locked to prevent another battle, but Joan of Arc summoned the townsmen and common soldiers and forced the mayor to unlock a gate. With the aid of only one captain she rode out and captured the fortress of Saint Augustins. That evening she learned she had been excluded from a war council where the leaders had decided to wait for reinforcements before acting again. Disregarding this decision, she insisted on assaulting the main English stronghold called "les Tourelles" on 7 May. Contemporaries acknowledged her as the hero of the engagement after she pulled an arrow from her own shoulder and returned wounded to lead the final charge.

"...the Maiden lets you know that here, in eight days, she has chased the English out of all the places they held on the river Loire by attack or other means: they are dead or prisoners or discouraged in battle. Believe what you have heard about the earl of Suffolk, the lord la Pole and his brother, the lord Talbot, the lord Scales, and Sir Fastolf; many more knights and captains than these are defeated."
Joan of Arc, Letter to the citizens of Tournai, 25 June 1429; Quicherat V, pp. 125-126, trans. Wikipedia.

The sudden victory at Orléans led to many proposals for offensive action. The English expected an attempt to recapture Paris or an attack on Normandy. In the aftermath of the unexpected victory, she persuaded Charles VII to grant her co-command of the army with Duke John II of Alençon and gained royal permission for her plan to recapture nearby bridges along the Loire as a prelude to an advance on Reims and a coronation. Hers was a bold proposal because Reims was roughly twice as far away as Paris and deep in enemy territory.

Reims cathedral, traditional site of French coronations. The structure had additional spires prior to a 1481 fire.
Reims cathedral, traditional site of French coronations. The structure had additional spires prior to a 1481 fire.

The army recovered Jargeau on 12 June, Meung-sur-Loire on 15 June, then Beaugency on 17 June. The Duke of Alençon agreed to all of Joan of Arc's decisions. Other commanders including Jean d'Orléans had been impressed with her performance at Orléans and became her supporters. Alençon credited Joan for saving his life at Jargeau, where she warned him of an imminent artillery attack. During the same battle she withstood a blow from a stone cannonball to her helmet as she climbed a scaling ladder. An expected English relief force arrived in the area on 18 June under the command of Sir John Fastolf. The battle at Patay might be compared to Agincourt in reverse. The French vanguard attacked before the English archers could finish defensive preparations. A rout ensued that devastated the main body of the English army and killed or captured most of its commanders. Fastolf escaped with a small band of soldiers and became the scapegoat for the English humiliation. The French suffered minimal losses.

The French army set out for Reims from Gien-sur-Loire on 29 June and accepted the conditional surrender of the Burgundian-held city of Auxerre on 3 July. Every other town in their path returned to French allegiance without resistance. Troyes, the site of the treaty that had tried to disinherit Charles VII, capitulated after a bloodless four-day siege. The army was in short supply of food by the time it reached Troyes. Edward Lucie-Smith cites this as an example of why Joan of Arc was more lucky than skilled: a wandering friar named Brother Richard had been preaching about the end of the world at Troyes and had convinced local residents to plant beans, a crop with an early harvest. The hungry army arrived as the beans ripened.

"Prince of Burgundy, I pray of you - I beg and humbly supplicate - that you make no more war with the holy kingdom of France. Withdraw your people swiftly from certain places and fortresses of this holy kingdom, and on behalf of the gentle king of France I say he is ready to make peace with you, by his honour."
Joan of Arc, Letter to Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy, 17 July 1429; Quicherat V, pp. 126-127, trans. Wikipedia.

Reims opened its gates on 16 July. The coronation took place the following morning. Although Joan and the duke of Alençon urged a prompt march on Paris, the royal court pursued a negotiated truce with the duke of Burgundy. Duke Philip the Good broke the agreement, using it as a stalling tactic to reinforce the defense of Paris. The French army marched through towns near Paris during the interim and accepted more peaceful surrenders. The Duke of Bedford headed an English force and confronted the French army in a standoff on 15 August. The French assault at Paris ensued on 8 September. Despite a crossbow bolt wound to the leg, Joan of Arc continued directing the troops until the day's fighting ended. The following morning she received a royal order to withdraw. Most historians blame French grand chamberlain Georges de la Trémoille for the political blunders that followed the coronation.


The structure in Rouen where she was imprisoned during her trial has become known as the Joan of Arc tower.  During one of her escape attempts she leaped from a different tower, probably of similar construction.
The structure in Rouen where she was imprisoned during her trial has become known as the Joan of Arc tower. During one of her escape attempts she leaped from a different tower, probably of similar construction.

After minor action at La-Charité-sur-Loire in November and December, Joan went to Compiègne the following April to defend against an English and Burgundian siege. A skirmish on 23 May 1430 led to her capture. When she ordered a retreat she assumed the place of honour as the last to leave the field. Burgundians surrounded the rear guard.

"It is true that the king has made a truce with the duke of Burgundy for fifteen days and that the duke is to turn over the city of Paris at the end of fifteen days. Yet you should not marvel if I do not enter that city so quickly. I am not content with these truces and do not know if I will keep them, but if I hold them it will only be to guard the king's honour: no matter how much they abuse the royal blood, I will keep and maintain the royal army in case they make no peace at the end of those fifteen days."
Joan of Arc, Letter to the citizens of Reims, 5 August 1429; Quicherat I, p. 246, trans. Wikipedia.

It was customary for a captive's family to ransom a prisoner of war. Joan of Arc and her family lacked the financial resources. Many historians condemn Charles VII for failing to intervene. She attempted several escapes, on one occasion leaping from a seventy foot tower to the soft earth of a dry moat. The English government eventually purchased her from Duke Philip of Burgundy. Bishop Pierre Cauchon of Beauvais, an English partisan, assumed a prominent role in these negotiations and her later trial.


Joan of Arc's trial for heresy was politically motivated. The Duke of Bedford claimed the throne of France for his nephew Henry VI. She had been responsible for the rival coronation so to condemn her was to undermine her king's legitimacy. Legal proceedings commenced on 9 January 1431 at Rouen, the seat of the English occupation government. The procedure was irregular on a number of points.

The cardinal of Winchester interrogates Joan of Arc. (By Gillot Saint-Èvre, Louvre, Paris, 1835)
The cardinal of Winchester interrogates Joan of Arc. (By Gillot Saint-Èvre, Louvre, Paris, 1835)

To summarize some major problems, the jurisdiction of judge Bishop Cauchon was a legal fiction. He owed his appointment to his partisan support of the English government that financed the entire trial. Clerical notary Nicolas Bailly, commissioned to collect testimony against Joan of Arc, could find no adverse evidence. Without such evidence the court lacked grounds to initiate a trial. Opening a trial anyway, the court also violated ecclesiastical law in denying her right to a legal advisor.

The trial record demonstrates her remarkable intellect. The transcript's most famous exchange is an exercise in subtlety. "Asked if she knew she was in God's grace, she answered: 'If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me.'" The question is a scholarly trap. Church doctrine held that no one could be certain of being in God's grace. If she had answered yes, then she would have convicted herself of heresy. If she had answered no, then she would have confessed her own guilt. Notary Boisguillaume would later testify that at the moment the court heard this reply, "Those who were interrogating her were stupefied." In the twentieth century George Bernard Shaw would find this dialogue so compelling that sections of his play Saint Joan are literal translations of the trial record.

Several court functionaries later testified that significant portions of the transcript were altered in her disfavor. Many clerics served under compulsion, including the inquisitor, Jean LeMaitre, and a few even received death threats from the English. Under Inquisitorial guidelines, Joan should have been confined to an ecclesiastical prison under the supervision of female guards (i.e., nuns). Instead, the English kept her in a secular prison guarded by their own soldiers. Bishop Cauchon denied Joan's appeals to the Council of Basel and the pope, which should have stopped his proceeding.

The twelve articles of accusation that summarize the court's finding contradict the already doctored court record. The illiterate defendant signed an abjuration document she did not understand under threat of immediate execution. The court substituted a different abjuration in the official record.


A modern church in Joan of Arc's honor stands on the site of her execution in Rouen.
A modern church in Joan of Arc's honour stands on the site of her execution in Rouen.

Heresy was a capital crime only for a repeat offense. Joan agreed to wear women's clothes when she abjured. A few days later she was subjected to a sexual assault in prison that may have gone as far as attempted rape. She resumed male attire either as a defense against molestation or, in the testimony of Jean Massieu, because her dress had been stolen and she was left with nothing else to wear.

Eyewitnesses described the scene of the execution on 30 May 1431. Tied to a tall pillar, she asked two of the clergy, Martin Ladvenu and Isambart de la Pierre, to hold a crucifix before her. She repeatedly called out "in a loud voice the holy name of Jesus, and implored and invoked without ceasing the aid of the saints of Paradise." After she expired, the English raked back the coals to expose her charred body so that no one could claim she had escaped alive, then burned the body twice more to reduce it to ashes and prevent any collection of relics. They cast her remains into the Seine. The executioner, Geoffroy Therage, later stated that he "...greatly feared to be damned for he had burned a holy woman."


A posthumous retrial opened as the war ended. Pope Callixtus III authorized this proceeding, now known as the "rehabilitation trial", at the request of Inquisitor-General Jean Brehal and Joan of Arc's mother Isabelle Romée. Investigations started with an inquest by clergyman Guillaume Bouille. Brehal conducted an investigation in 1452. A formal appeal followed in November 1455. The appellate process included clergy from throughout Europe and observed standard court procedure. A panel of theologians analyzed testimony from 115 witnesses. Brehal drew up his final summary in June 1456, which describes Joan as a martyr and implicates the late Pierre Cauchon with heresy for having convicted an innocent woman in pursuit of a secular vendetta. The court declared her innocence on 7 July 1456.


Joan of Arc at the coronation of Charles VII, by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1854), is typical of attempts to feminize her appearance. Note the long hair and the skirt around the armor.
Joan of Arc at the coronation of Charles VII, by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1854), is typical of attempts to feminize her appearance. Note the long hair and the skirt around the armor.

Joan of Arc wore men's clothing between her departure from Vaucouleurs and her abjuration at Rouen. This raised theological questions in her own era and raised other questions in the twentieth century. The technical reason for her execution was a biblical clothing law. The rehabilitation trial reversed the conviction in part because the condemnation proceeding had failed to consider the doctrinal exceptions to that stricture.

Doctrinally speaking, she was safe to disguise herself as a page during a journey through enemy territory and she was safe to wear armor during battle. The Chronique de la Pucelle states that it deterred molestation while she was camped in the field. Clergy who testified at her rehabilitation trial affirmed that she continued to wear male clothing in prison to deter molestation and rape. Preservation of chastity was another justifiable reason for crossdressing: her apparel would have slowed an assailant.

She referred the court to the Poitiers inquiry when questioned on the matter during her condemnation trial. The Poitiers record no longer survives but circumstances indicate the Poitiers clerics approved her practice. In other words, she had a mission to do a man's work so it was fitting that she dress the part. She also kept her hair cut short through her military campaigns and while in prison. Her supporters, such as the theologian Jean Gerson, defended her hairstyle, as did Inquisitor Brehal during the Rehabilitation trial.

According to Francoise Meltzer, "The depictions of Joan of Arc tell us about the assumptions and gender prejudices of each succeeding era, but they tell us nothing about Joan's looks in themselves. They can be read, then, as a semiology of gender: how each succeeding culture imagines the figure whose charismatic courage, combined with the blurring of gender roles, makes her difficult to depict."


Jeanne d' Arc, by Eugene Thirion (1876). Late nineteenth century images such as this often had political undertones because of French territorial cessions to Germany in 1871. (Chautou, Church of Notre Dame)
Jeanne d' Arc, by Eugene Thirion (1876). Late nineteenth century images such as this often had political undertones because of French territorial cessions to Germany in 1871. (Chautou, Church of Notre Dame)

Joan of Arc's religious visions have interested many people. The consensus among scholars is that her faith was sincere. She identified St. Margaret, St. Catherine, and St. Michael as the source of her revelations although there is some ambiguity as to which of several identically named saints she intended. Devout Roman Catholics regard her visions as divine inspiration.

Analysis of Joan of Arc's visions is open to evidentiary challenge. The only detailed source of information on this topic is the condemnation trial transcript in which she defied customary courtroom procedure about a witness's oath and specifically excluded testimony about her visions from any guarantee of honesty. She complained that a standard witness oath would conflict with an oath she had previously sworn to maintain confidentiality about meetings with her king. It remains unknown to what extent the surviving record may represent the fabrications of corrupt court officials or her own possible fabrications to protect state secrets. Some historians sidestep speculation about the visions by asserting that Joan of Arc's belief in her calling is more relevant than questions about the visions' ultimate origin.

Documents from Joan of Arc's own era and historians prior to the twentieth century generally assume that Joan of Arc was both healthy and sane. A number of more recent scholars attempted to explain Joan of Arc's visions in psychiatric or neurological terms. Potential diagnoses have included epilepsy, migraine, tuberculosis, and schizophrenia. None of the putative diagnoses have gained consensus support because, although hallucination and religious enthusiasm can be symptomatic of various syndromes, other characteristic symptoms conflict with other known facts of Joan of Arc's life. Two experts who analyze a temporal lobe tuberculoma hypothesis in the medical journal Neuropsychobiology express their misgivings this way: "It is difficult to draw final conclusions, but it would seem unlikely that widespread tuberculosis, a serious disease, was present in this 'patient' whose life-style and activities would surely have been impossible had such a serious disease been present." Historian Régine Pernoud was sometimes sarcastic about speculative medical interpretations. In response to another such theory alleging that Joan of Arc suffered from bovine tuberculosis as a result of drinking unpasteurized milk, Pernoud wrote that if drinking unpasteurized milk can produce such potential benefits for the nation, then the French government should stop mandating the pasteurization of milk. Ralph Hoffman, professor of psychology at Yale University, points out that visionary and creative states including "hearing voices" are not necessarily signs of mental illness and names Joan of Arc's religious inspiration as a possible exception although he offers no speculation as to alternative causes.

Among the specific challenges that potential diagnoses such as schizophrenia face is the slim likelihood that any person with such a disorder could gain favour in the court of Charles VII. This king's own father, Charles VI, was popularly known as "Charles the Mad," and much of the political and military decline that France had suffered during his reign could be attributed to the power vacuum that his episodes of insanity had produced. The previous king had believed he was made of glass, a delusion no courtier had mistaken for a religious awakening. Fears that Charles VII would manifest the same insanity may have factored into the attempt to disinherit him at Troyes. This stigma was so persistent that contemporaries of the next generation would attribute inherited madness to the breakdown that England's King Henry VI was to suffer in 1453: Henry VI was nephew to Charles VII and grandson to Charles VI. Upon Joan of Arc's arrival at Chinon the royal counselor Jacques Gélu cautioned, "One should not lightly alter any policy because of conversation with a girl, a peasant... so susceptible to illusions; one should not make oneself ridiculous in the sight of foreign nations...." Contrary to modern stereotypes about the Middle Ages, the court of Charles VII was shrewd and skeptical on the subject of mental health.

Besides the physical rigor of her military career, which would seem to exclude many medical hypotheses, Joan of Arc displayed none of the intellectual decline that normally accompanies major mental illnesses. Joan of Arc remained astute to the end of her life and rehabilitation trial testimony frequently marvels at her intelligence. "Often they [the judges] turned from one question to another, changing about, but, notwithstanding this, she answered prudently, and evinced a wonderful memory." Her subtle replies under interrogation even forced the court to stop holding public sessions. If Joan of Arc's visions had some medical or psychiatric origin then she would have been an exceptional case.


Joan of Arc changed the fortunes of King Charles VII. By the end of his reign he had regained every English possession in France except for Calais and the Channel Islands. (Portrait by Jean Fouquet, tempera on wood, Louvre Museum, Paris, c. 1445)
Joan of Arc changed the fortunes of King Charles VII. By the end of his reign he had regained every English possession in France except for Calais and the Channel Islands. (Portrait by Jean Fouquet, tempera on wood, Louvre Museum, Paris, c. 1445)

The Hundred Years' War continued for 22 years after Joan of Arc's death. Charles VII succeeded in retaining legitimacy as king of France in spite of a rival coronation held for Henry VI in December 1431 on the boy's tenth birthday. Before England could rebuild its military leadership and longbow corps lost during 1429, the country lost its alliance with Burgundy at the Treaty of Arras in 1435. The duke of Bedford died the same year and Henry VI became the youngest king of England to rule without a regent. That treaty and his weak leadership were probably the most important factors in ending the conflict. Kelly DeVries argues that Joan of Arc's aggressive use of artillery and frontal assaults influenced French tactics for the rest of the war.

Joan of Arc became a semi-legendary figure for the next four centuries. The main sources of information about her were chronicles. Five original manuscripts of her condemnation trial surfaced in old archives during the nineteenth century. Soon historians also located the complete records of her rehabilitation trial, which contained sworn testimony from 115 witnesses, and the original French notes for the Latin condemnation trial transcript. Various contemporary letters also emerged, three of which carry the signature "Jehanne" in the unsteady hand of a person learning to write. This unusual wealth of primary source material is one reason DeVries declares, "No person of the Middle Ages, male or female, has been the subject of more study than Joan of Arc.

Joan of Arc dictated her letters. Three of the surviving ones are signed.
Joan of Arc dictated her letters. Three of the surviving ones are signed.

She came from an obscure village and rose to prominence when she was barely more than a child and she did so as an uneducated peasant. French and English kings had justified the ongoing war through competing interpretations of the thousand-year-old Salic law. The conflict had been an inheritance feud between monarchs. Joan of Arc gave meaning to appeals such as that of squire Jean de Metz when he asked, "Must the king be driven from the kingdom; and are we to be English?" In the words of Stephen Richey, "She turned what had been a dry dynastic squabble that left the common people unmoved except for their own suffering into a passionately popular war of national liberation." Richey also expresses the breadth of her subsequent appeal:

The people who came after her in the five centuries since her death tried to make everything of her: demonic fanatic, spiritual mystic, naive and tragically ill-used tool of the powerful, creator and icon of modern popular nationalism, adored heroine, saint. She insisted, even when threatened with torture and faced with death by fire, that she was guided by voices from God. Voices or no voices, her achievements leave anyone who knows her story shaking his head in amazed wonder.

In 1452, during the postwar investigation into her execution, the Church declared that a religious play in her honour at Orléans would qualify as a pilgrimage meriting an indulgence. Joan of Arc became a symbol of the Catholic League during the 16th century. Félix Dupanloup, bishop of Orléans from 1849 to 1878, led the effort for Joan's eventual beatification in 1909. Her canonization followed on 16 May 1920. Her feast day is 30 May. She has become one of the most popular saints of the Roman Catholic Church.

Joan of Arc was not a feminist. She operated within a religious tradition that believed an exceptional person from any level of society might receive a divine calling. She expelled women from the French army and may have struck one stubborn camp follower with the flat of a sword. Nonetheless, some of her most significant aid came from women. Charles VII's mother-in-law, Yolande of Aragon, confirmed Joan's virginity and financed her departure to Orléans. Joan of Luxembourg, aunt to the count of Luxembourg who held Joan of Arc after Compiègne, alleviated Joan of Arc's conditions of captivity and may have delayed her sale to the English. Finally, Anne of Burgundy, the duchess of Bedford and wife to the regent of England, declared Joan a virgin during pretrial inquiries. For technical reasons this prevented the court from charging Joan with witchcraft. Ultimately this provided part of the basis for Joan's vindication and sainthood. From Christine de Pizan to the present, women have looked to Joan of Arc as a positive example of a brave and active female.

Flag of Charles de Gaulle's government in exile during World War II. The French Resistance used the cross of Lorraine as a symbolic reference to Joan of Arc.
Flag of Charles de Gaulle's government in exile during World War II. The French Resistance used the cross of Lorraine as a symbolic reference to Joan of Arc.

Joan of Arc has been a political symbol in France since the time of Napoleon. Liberals emphasized her humble origins. Early conservatives stressed her support of the monarchy. Later conservatives recalled her nationalism. During World War II, both the Vichy Regime and the French Resistance used her image: Vichy propaganda remembered her campaign against the English with posters that showed British warplanes bombing Rouen and the ominous caption: "They Always Return to the Scene of Their Crimes." The resistance emphasized her fight against foreign occupation and her origins in the province of Lorraine, which had fallen under Nazi control. Traditional Catholics, especially in France, also use her as a symbol of inspiration, often comparing the 1988 excommunication of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre (founder of the Society of St. Pius X and a dissident against the Vatican II reforms) to Joan of Arc's excommunication. Three separate vessels of the French Navy have been named after Joan of Arc, including a helicopter carrier currently in active service. At present the controversial French political party Front National holds rallies at her statues, reproduces her likeness in party publications, and uses a tricolor flame partly symbolic of her martyrdom as its emblem. This party's opponents sometimes satirize its appropriation of her image. The French civic holiday in her honour is the second Sunday of May.

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