In Celebration Of International Women’s Day 2012: One Of My Favourite Inspirational Woman From History: Joan of Arc

Statue of Joan in Notre Dame Paris

It is a day late but here is my tribute to International Women’s Day. I have already written about several Inspirational ladies, Octavia Hill, Mary Queen of Scots, Lady Jane Grey and Queen Victoria. All these ladies have incredible achievements and historical credentials. So the woman that I choose to profile needs to be pretty inspirational and very deserving of the blog for this special day. The woman I have decided to highlight is Joan of Arc, of course woman may be the wrong term she was virtually a child when she was executed.

Joan was of a peasant background, she was born in 1412 to Jacques d’Arc and Isabelle Romée near the region of Lorrainein a small village called Domrémy-La- Pucelle. It is thought that Joan’s parents were farmers and owned about 50 acres of land. Her father also had a official post collecting local taxes. She was born in to a France in the grip of the 100 years war.

The war had began in 1339 over which family should inherit the French throne. The King at the time of Joan’s birth was Charles VI. He had bouts of insanity (possibly Porphyria the same as George the 3rd of Britain) and was unfit to rule. Two cousins then fought over who should be the regent for Charles VI. The first was the king’s brother; Duke Louis of Orleans and the second claimant was John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy. Theses two played dirty! There was kidnapping of the royal children and it all came to a head in 1407 when the Duke of Burgundy ordered the assassination of the Duke of Orleans.

This became more than a civil war when Britain’s Henry V decided to wade in and take advantage of the upheaval of civil war; as a consequence the battle of Agincourt took place in 1415. The English won and in victory captured large parts of the north of France.  Joan would have been 3 at the time but her small village although surrounded but British territory and supporters to the Duke of Burgundy remained loyal to the Orleans French family.

So how did a peasant girl from the east of France get involved in a war of

Beautiful image of Joan of Arc

succession between royal cousins and then the British? Recorded in her evidence at her trial Joan told the court that she experienced a series of visions telling her to help rid France of the British and bring the Dauphin, the future Charles VII, to Rheims to be crowned King of France. She told the court that the first vision was in 1424 when she would have been 12 years old. The people she claimed to have seen were Saints Catherine, Margaret and Michael.

Joan didn’t attempt to carry out the request of the saints until she was 16 years old. She tried and failed several times to gain access to the dauphin. Eventually she found an escort through the support of Robert de Baudricourt to bring her to the royal court. While she travelled she disguised herself as in men’s clothing. Once at court she gained access to see the future Charles VII and impressed him in their meeting. At the time of her visit to the royal court, the dauphin’s mother in law was arranging for some royal troops to go to Orleansto relieve the tried men. Joan asked if she could join the expedition and was given donations of the equipment she needed to keep her safe including sword, horse & armour.

By including this young woman in the entourage the 100 years war turned from being a war of succession and fighting British invaders into a religious war. In order to insure that Joan was no heretical crackpot or witch Charles VIII investigated her background and it was found that she was:

“Declared … to be of irreproachable life, a good Christian, possessed of the virtues of humility, honesty and simplicity.” (Vale, M.G.A., ‘Charles VII’, 1974, p. 55.)

Joan arrived at the siege of Orleanson 29th April 1429. The siege at Orleans was a stand off against the British. On the 4th May the French marched up toOrleans and captured a tower called St Loup. The following day Joan tried the same with a second tower within the city called St Jean Le Blanc, when she arrived the tower was deserted. The next day at a council of war she challenged the military men saying that they should attack again however they rejected this idea. Ignoring them she persuaded the locals to open the gates to the city in she rode and captured a major point in the city the fortress of St Augustins. While gaining this important fortress for the French the men held a council of war without her deciding to wait for back up before going on; Joan disregarded this and went on to attack Les Tourelles. During this battle against the British this 17/18 year old girl was wounded in the neck by an arrow but still went on to lead the French into the final assault against the English. This final attack secured victory to the French.

Was that good strategic planning was it youthful impatience and dare devil naivety or sheer luck that drove Joan to act and then become a victor at the siege of Orleans? Many historians have debated this for years and for the purpose this post it is unimportant, what is important is that this peasant teenage girl went into battle (medieval battle) was wounded, ignored the military men of the time and then went on to win a battle.

Joan at the Coronation of Charles VII

That was truly a remarkable achievement. Joan had made good progress on the visions from the saints she had at this point defeated the British but she hadn’t pushed them out of France or brought Charles VII to Rheims to be crowned King of France. She still had a lot to do. With the Orleans victory under her belt she was able to persuade Charles to allow her to co-command the French army. She set about recapturing along theLoireRiveras the army advanced toward west to Rheims where she hoped the dauphin would finally be crowned.

One of her greatest moments was commanding the army on 18th June 1429, at the battle of Patay. This was the French retribution for Agincourt; the British were beaten and Joan was right there in the centre commanding the royal army. As the army moved towards Rhiems towns did not resist and became royalist again. There was a small siege that last four days at the town of Troyes but it was bloodless. Of all the towns en route, this was going to be the hardest as it was here that Charles VII had been disinherited from the throne. Luck was on Joan’s and the army’s side though. On 16th July 1429 Joan and the army had reached Rheims. Charles VII was crowned the following day, on 17th July 1429, in the traditional city and cathedral for the coronations of the French Monarchy.

Joan and her co-commanding officers wanted to leave forParisat this point however the new King now saw this as a good opportunity to resolve the royal family disagreement that had been at the centre of the 100 years war; he wanted to draw up a treaty with the Duke of Burgundy. I came across a translation of a letter that Joan wrote to the Duke of Burgundy on Coronation day asking him to support the new King.

“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.”  (Her Letter to Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, 17 July 1429; Quicherat V, pp. 126–127)

On the 8th September 1429 the French attacked Paris and once again was in the thick of the fighting and co-commanding the army. During this attack Joan suffered a wound from a cross bow in her leg and unbelievably continued to fight and command until the end of the day! That is one tough lady!

Her next achievement was to finally crack the city and siege at Saint-Pierre-le-Moûtier. It was this victory on the back of an assault lead by her; that would persuade Charles VII to make her part of the French nobility – not bad for a peasant girl from near Lorraine.

Golden Statue outside of Emmanuel Fremiet Paris

You can see why this lady is a worthy lady for a post celebrating International Women’s Day 2012. However her luck was due to run out and the next part of her story is appalling seeing how impressive, successful and brave she has been.

Near the end of 1429, Joan was still active within the army and kept busy at a small skirmish at Siege of La Charité. She asked for supplies and back up several times and finallyOrleanshelped however it was too little too late. Joan had no option but to eventually give up as the town was too strong and the weather was against her and her troops.

In April 1430 Joan arrived at Compiègne to help the town against the English and the Burgundy Duke. On 23rd May 1430 Joan was captured during a skirmish between the two sides. The poor girl was then abandoned by the man she had fought for and brought to be crowned, Charles VII. This brave young woman attempted to escape from her burgundy goalors and on one occasion jumped from a tower 70 foot tall. The next twist in Joan’s life was that she was brought from theBurgundy duke by the English.

Her Time in prison and the inquiries would have been harrowing and disturbing for a young woman.  At some point she was subjected to a test of virginity that was over seen by the Duchess of Bedford. They made inquiries into her life as Charles VII had and the result was that they could not find any wrong doing on Joan behalf to justify her charges. However they did not let her go. On the 21st February 1431 in the chapterhouse of Rouen Cathedral Joan was interrogated by The Bishop of Beauvais, Pierre Cauchon. She appeared but still wore her military clothes – I would imagine Joan probably wasn’t a girl who carried spare feminine clothes as she battled and she didn’t come from a rich background despite being made a noble would these ecclesial men preferred she turn up to an inquiry wearing nothing but her birthday suit? The charges they wanted to bring against her were Heresy and witchcraft.

In all she endured 6 public interrogation sessions and a fruither 9 sessions in prison. Her trial started 26th March 1431. she was found guilty; she renounced her heresy but could not be executed under English law unless she has been found guilty of heresy twice. As part of renouncing her heresy she gave up wearing men’s clothing. Many of the selected men at her trial had to be bribed to voting guilty to this young woman’s supposed “crimes”. While in prison wearing Female clothes she was harassed reverted back to wearing male clothes and is reported to have had more religious visions while in prison. This was a breech of her recantation of heresy meant that she was now twice guilty of the heresy and was sentenced to death.

Joan went to her death on 30thMay 1431 and was burnt at the stake in the

Image of Joan at the Stake before execution

Vieux –Marche in Rouen. Sources say that she was brave as she endured her painful long death. She was only 19 years old and had achieved so much. In 1456, in a Catholic inquiry into the trial and execution of Joan by the then Pope, Callixtus III, announced that Joan had suffered great injustice and was found not guilty of the crimes the English accused her of and declared that she was a Martyr to the Catholic Church.

Why did Charles VII not aid the Maid of Orleans? Well to my mind it boils down to 2 answers 1) she was a peasant girl who had impressed and won favour could Charles (he was young) be jealous of the affection people had for her and her success on the battle field, as well as the respect she had from military men. Reason 2) is less emotional more political. Because she helped him to the throne, after she was convicted she was a embarrassing stain on the validity of the Charles kingship. If she was executed he would feel more secure; even better if he let the English do it – no blood on his French hands.

Joan has gone down in French history as being a hero who was unjustly treated by the English (but who sold her to the English like a prize heffer?) The Church has gone on to keep her story alive and she was beatified in 1909 and finally made a saint by Pope Benedict XV in 1920.

For me she will always be an inspiring brave lady who stood by her convictions and showed the men of medieval Europe that women were just as powerful as them! Let Joan be an Inspiration to you!


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2 Responses to In Celebration Of International Women’s Day 2012: One Of My Favourite Inspirational Woman From History: Joan of Arc

  1. Grace Elliot says:

    A fascinating post and you mention some of my favourite woman in the introduction.
    It was through reading Margaret George’s book about Mary, Queen of Scots that my interest in history was re-born – after being well and truly throttled at birth by school history teachers.

  2. Reblogged this on Laura Brennan, A Historian and commented:

    Today is the Anniversary of the death of Joan of Joan of Arc heres an old post about an amazing and inspiring young lady

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