St. Joan of Arc is the patroness of soldiers and of France.
On January 6, 1412, Joan of Arc was born to pious parents of the French peasant class in the obscure village of Domremy, near the province of Lorraine. At a very early age, she was said to have heard the voices of St. Michael, St. Catherine, and St. Margaret.
At first the messages were personal and general, but when she was 13-years-old, she was in her father’s garden and had visions of Saint Michael, Saint Catherine, and Saint Margaret, each of whom told her to drive the English from French territory. They also asked that she bring the Dauphin to Reims for his coronation.
After their messages were delivered and the saints departed, Joan cried, as “they were so beautiful.”
When she was sixteen-years-old, she asked her relative, Durand Lassois, to take her to Vaucouleurs, where she petitioned Robert de Baudricourt, the garrison commander, for permission to visit the French Royal Court in Chinon.
Despite Baudricourt’s sarcastic response to her request, Joan returned the following January and left with the support of two of Baudricourt’s soldiers: Jean de Metz and Bertrand de Poulengy.
Jean de Metz admitted Joan had confided in him, saying, “I must be at the King’s side … there will be no help if not from me. Although I would rather have remained spinning [wool] at my mother’s side … yet must I go and must I do this thing, for my Lord wills that I do so.
With Metz and Poulengy at her side, Joan met Baudricourt and predicted a military reversal at the Battle of Rouvray near Orléans, which were confirmed several days later by a messenger’s report. When Baudricourt realized the distance of the battle’s location and the time it would have taken Joan to make the journey, he concluded she had seen the reversal by Divine revelation, which caused him to believe her words.
Once she had Baudricourt’s belief, Joan was granted an escort to Chinon through hostile Burgundian territory. For her safety, she was escorted while dressed as a male soldier, which later led to charges of cross-dressing, but her escorts viewed as a sound precaution.
Two members of her escort confirmed they and the people of Vaucouleurs gave her the clothing and had been the ones to suggest she don the outfit.
When she arrived in the Royal Court, she met in a private conference with Charles VII and won his trust. Yolande of Aragon, Charles’ mother-in-law, planned a finance relief expedition to Orléans and Joan asked to travel with the army while wearing armor, which the Royal government agreed to. They also provided Joan’s armor and she depended on donations for everything she took with her.
With a donated horse, sword, banner, armor, and more, Joan arrived to Orléans and quickly turned the Anglo-French conflict into a religious war.
Charles’ advisors worried Joan’s claims of doing God’s work could be twisted by his enemies, who could easily claim she was a sorceress, which would link his crown to works of the devil. To prevent accusations, the Dauphin ordered background inquiries and a theological exam at Poitiers to verify Joan’s claims.
In April 1429, the commission of inquiry “declared her to be of irreproachable life, a good Christian, possessed of the virtues of humility, honesty and simplicity.” Rather than deciding on whether or not Joan was acting on the basis of divine inspiration, theologians at Poitiers told the Dauphin there was a “favorable presumption” on the divine nature of her mission.
Charles was satisfied with the report but theologians reminded him Joan must be tested. They claimed, “to doubt or abandon her without suspicion of evil would be to repudiate the Holy Spirit and to become unworthy of God’s aid.”
They suggested her test should be a test of her claim to lift the siege of Orléans, as she originally predicted would happen.
In response to the test, Joan arrived at Orléans on April 29, 1429, where Jean d’Orléans, the acting head of the ducal family of Orléans, ensured she was excluded from war councils and kept ignorant of battles.
During the five months prior to Joan’s arrival to Orléans, the French had only attempted one offensive assault, which resulted in their defeat, but after her arrival, things began to change.
Though Joan claimed the army was always commanded by a nobleman and that she never killed anyone in battle since she preferred only to carry her banner, which she preferred “forty times” better than a sword, several noblemen claimed she greatly effected their decisions since they accepted she gave Divinely inspired advice.
On May 4, the Armagnacs captured the fortress of Saint Loup and the next day led to fortress Saint-Jean-le-Blanc, which was deserted. With Joan at the army’s side, English troops approached the army to stop their advance but a cavalry charge was all it took to turn the English away without a fight.
The Armagnacs captured an English fortress build around the Les Augustins monastery and attacked the English stronghold Les Tourelles on May 7. Joan was shot with an arrow between her neck and shoulder as she held her banner outside Les Tourelles, but returned to encourage the final assault to take the fortress. The next day, the English retreated from Orléans and the siege was over.
When Joan was in Chinon and Poitiers, she had declared she would show a sign at Orléans, which many believe was the end of the siege. Following the departure of the English, prominent clergymen began to support her, including the Archbishop of Embrun and the theologian Jean Gerson, each of which wrote supportive treatises.
After the Orléans victory, Joan was able to persuade Charles VII to allow her to march into other battles to reclaim cities, each of which ended in victory. When the military supplies began to dwindle, they reached Troyes, where Brother Richard, a wandering friar, had warned the city about the end of the world and was able to convince them to plant beans, which yields an early harvest. Just as the beans ripened, Joan and the army arrived and was able to restore their supplies.
Following their march to Troyes, Joan and the French military made its way to Paris, where politicians failed to secure Duke Philip of Burgundy’s agreement to a truce. Joan was present at the following battles and suffered a leg wound from a crossbow bolt. Despite one failed mission – taking La-Charité-sur-Loire” – Joan and her family were ennobled by Charles VII in reward of her actions on the battlefield.
A truce with England came following Joan’s ennoblement but was quickly broken. When Joan traveled to Compičgne to help defend against an English and Burgundian siege, she was captured by Burgundian troops and held for a ransom of 10,000 livres tournois. There were several attempts to free her and Joan made many excape attempts, including jumping from her 70-foot (21m) tower, landing on the soft earth of a dry moat, but to no avail. She was eventually sold to the English for 10,000 gold coins and was then tried as a heretic and witch in a trial that violated the legal process of the time.
Clerical notary Nicolas Bailly, who was responsible to collect testimony against Joan, was unable to find any evidence against her. Without evidence, the courts lacked grounds to initiate trial but one was opened anyway. They denied Joan the right to a legal advisor and filled the tribunal with pro-English clergy rather than meeting the medieval Church’s requirement to balance the group with impartial clerics.
When the first public examination opened, Joan pointed out that the partisans were against her and she asked for “ecclesiastics of the French side” to provide balance, but her request was denied.
Jean Lemaitre, the Vice-Inquisitor of Northern France, objected to the trial from the beginning and many eyewitnesses later reported he was forced to cooperate after the English threatened to kill him. Other members of the clergy were threatened when they refused as well, so the trial continued.
The trial record includes statements from Joan that eyewitnesses later claimed astonished the court since she was an illiterate peasant who was able to escape theological traps. The most well-known exchange was when Joan was “[a]sked 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 trap because the church doctrine was that no one could be certain of being in God’s grace. If she answered yes, she would have been charged with heresy, but if she answered no, she would have been confessing her own guilt. Notary Boisguillaume later testified that “those who were interrogating her were stupefied.”
Many members of the tribunal later testified important parts of the transcript were altered.
Joan was held in a secular prison guarded by English soldiers, instead of being in an ecclesiastical prison with nuns as her guards per Inquisitorial guidelines. When Joan appealed to the Council of Basel and the Pope to be placed in a proper prison, Bishop Cauchon denied her request, which would have stopped his proceeding.
While imprisoned, Joan wore military clothing so she could tie her clothing together, making it harder to be raped. There was no protection in a dress, and a few days after she started wearing one she told a tribunal member that “a great English lord had entered her prison and tried to take her by force.” Following the attempted rape, Joan returned to wearing male clothing as a precaution and to raise her defenses against molestation.
Jean Massieu testified her dress had been taken by the guards and she had nothing else to wear.
When she returned to male clothing, she was given another count of heresy for cross-dressing, though it was later disputed by the inquisitor presiding over court appeals after the war. He found that cross-dressing should be evaluated based on context, including the use of clothing as protection against rape if it offered protection.
In accordance to the inquisitor’s doctrine, Joan would have been justified in wearing armor on a battlefield, men’s clothing in prison and dressing as a pageboy when traveling through enemy territory.
The Chronique de la Pucelle states it deterred molestation when Joan was camped in the field but she donned a dress when men’s garments were unnecessary.
Clergy who testified at the posthumous appellate trial confirmed that she wore male clothing in prison to deter molestation.
Though the Poitiers record did not survive the test of time, Joan had referred the court to the Poitiers inquiry when questioned about her clothing and circumstances indicate the Poitiers clerics approved the practive. She had also kept her hair short through the military campaigns and during her imprisonment, which Inquisitor Brehal, theologian Jean Gerson and all of Joan’s supporters understood was for practical reasons.
Despite the lack of incriminating evidence, Joan was condemned and sentenced to die in 1431.
Eyewitness accounts of Joan’s execution by burning on May 30, 1431 describe how she was tied to a tall pillar at the Vieux-Marché in Rouen. She asked Fr. Martin Ladvenu and Fr. Isambart de la Pierre to hold a crucifix before her and an English soldier made a small cross she put in the front of her dress. After she died, the English raked the coals to expose her body so no one could spread rumors of her escaping alive, then they burned her body two more times to reduce it to ashes so no one could collect relics. After burning her body to ash, the English threw her remains into the Seine River and the executioner, Geoffroy Thérage, later said he “… greatly feared to be damned.”
In 1452, during an investigation into Joan’s execution, the Church declared a religious play in her honor at Orléans would let attendees gain an indulgence by making a pilgrimage to the event.
A posthumous retrial opened following the end of the war. Pope Callixtus III authorized the proceeding, which has also been called the “nullification trial,” after Inquisitor-General Jean Bréhal and Joan’s mother Isabelle Romée requested it.
The trial was meant to determine if Joan’s condemnation was justly handled, and of course at the end of the investication Joan received a formal appeal in November 1455 and the appellate court declared Joan innocent on July 7 1456.
Joan of Arc was a symbol of the Catholic League during the 16th century and when Félix Dupanloup was made bishop of Orléans in 1849, he pronounced a panegyric on Joan of Arc and led efforts leading to Joan of Arc’s beatification in 1909. On May 16, 1920, Pope Benedict XV canonized her.
Centuries after her death, Joan became known as a semi-legendary figure. There were several sources of information about her life, time on the battlefield and trials, with the main sources being chronicles.
Many women have seen Joan as a brave and active woman who operated within a religious tradition that believed a person of any class could receive a divine calling.
There are several prayers to Joan of Arc, including the “Prayer of Thanks and Gratitude to St. Joan of Arc,” written by Andrea Rau:
Dear Patron Saint,
Thank you for accompanying me throughout the day, and in the work that I did. Thank you also for your guidance and your counsel. Please help me to listen to God and to you, dear Saint, that I may do what I am called to do. Please intercede on my behalf and beg God to take all my faults and turn them into virtues. I thank you for all you have done for me, and all the things you have interceded for on my behalf. Please continue to pray for me and for all the souls who need it.
St. Joan of Arc, Pray for us.