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Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc on the upper park at Meridian Hill (Malcolm X) Park


Joan of Arc, or Jeanne d'Arc (1412–30 May 1431) is a national heroine of France and a saint of the Catholic Church. She stated that she had visions, which she believed came from God, and she used these to inspire Charles VII's troops to retake most of his dynasty's former territories which had been under English and Burgundian dominance during the Hundred Years' War.


She had been sent to the siege of Orléans by the then-uncrowned King Charles VII as part of a relief mission. She gained prominence when she overcame the disregard of veteran commanders and ended 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 confidence of Charles VII's forces outlasted Joan of Arc's 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 on, and fell prisoner during a skirmish near Compiègne the following spring. A politically motivated trial by the English convicted her of heresy. The English regent, John, Duke of Bedford, had her burnt at the stake in Rouen. She had become the leader of her faction at the age of seventeen, but died at the age of nineteen. Some twenty-four years later, Joan's aged mother, Isabelle, convinced the Inquisitor-General and Pope Callixtus III to reopen Joan's case, resulting in an appeal which overturned the original conviction by the English. 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, including Shakespeare, Voltaire, Schiller, Verdi, Tchaikovsky, Twain, Shaw, and Brecht, have created works about her, and depictions of her continue to be prevalent in film, television, and song.


The period that preceded Joan of Arc's career was one of the lowest points in French history. The prolonged war had produced much suffering among the population. Much of the northern portion of the kingdom was controlled by English troops, and there was a likely possibility that France would be joined with England as a "Dual Monarchy" under an English king. The French king at the time of Joan's birth, Charles VI, suffered bouts of insanity and was often unable to rule. Two of the king's relatives, Dukes John the Fearless of Burgundy and Louis of Orléans, quarreled over the regency of France and the guardianship of the royal children. The dispute escalated to accusations of an extramarital affair with Queen Isabeau of Bavaria and kidnappings of the royal children, and culminated when John the Fearless ordered the assassination of Louis 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 John the Fearless 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 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 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, the duke of Bedford, acted as regent.


By 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, a city situated at a strategic location along the Loire River which made it the last major 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 was born in the village of Domrémy in 1412 to Jacques d'Arc and Isabelle Romée. Her parents owned about 50 acres of land and her father supplemented his farming work with a minor position as a village official, collecting taxes and heading the town watch. They lived in an isolated patch of northeastern territory that remained loyal to the French crown despite being surrounded by Burgundian lands. Several raids occurred during Joan of Arc's childhood, and on one occasion her village was burned.


Joan 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 Poulegny. Under their auspices she gained a second interview, where she made an apparently miraculous prediction about a military reversal near Orléans.


She preferred to carry her standard into battle. Witnesses also reported her holding a sword, lance, or axe.Baudricourt granted her 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. Because she had no funds of her own, she depended on donations for her armor, horse, sword, banner, and entourage. Historian Stephen W. Richey explains her rise 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.


Joan of Arc arrived at the siege of Orléans on 29 April 1429, but Jean d'Orléans (aka Dunois), 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. She overcame this by disregarding the veteran commanders' decisions, appealed to the town's population, and rode out to each skirmish, where she placed herself at the extreme front line, carrying her banner. The extent of her actual military leadership is a subject of historical debate. The eyewitness accounts say that she often made intelligent suggestions in the field, but that her soldiers and commanders regarded her mainly as a divinely-inspired mystic whose victories were attributed to God. 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 more often suggests that her fellow officers esteemed her as a skilled tactician and a successful strategist. Stephen W. Richey asserts that "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.


Reims cathedral, traditional site of French coronations. The structure had additional spires prior to a 1481 fire.Joan of Arc defied the cautious strategy that had previously characterized French leadership, pursuing vigorous frontal assaults against outlying siege fortifications. After several of these outposts fell, the English abandoned other wooden structures and concentrated their remaining forces at the stone fortress that controlled the bridge, les Tourelles. On 7 May, the French assaulted the Tourelles. Contemporaries acknowledged Joan as the leader of the engagement, during which at one point she pulled an arrow from her own shoulder and returned, still wounded, to lead the final charge.


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; Dunois later said that this in fact had originally been the plan, until Joan convinced them to proceed instead to Reims. 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-held territory.


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. 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 strong supporters of her. 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 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 decimated 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 negotiated neutrality 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 nearly 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 alleging that Joan of Arc was more blessed 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 just as the beans ripened.


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.


.After minor action at La-Charité-sur-Loire in November and December, Joan went to Lagny-sur-Marne the following March, then to Compiègne on May 23rd 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 honor as the last to leave the field. Burgundians surrounded the rear guard.


It was customary for a war captive's family to raise ransom money whenever the captor allowed a ransom, which the Burgundians did not allow in this case. Many historians condemn Charles VII for failing to do more 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 obtained her from Duke Philip of Burgundy. Bishop Pierre Cauchon of Beauvais, an English partisan and member of the Council which oversaw the English occupation of northern France, assumed a prominent role in these negotiations and her later trial.


Joan's trial for heresy was politically motivated. The duke of Bedford claimed the throne of France for his nephew Henry VI. She was responsible for the rival coronation. Condemning her was an attempt to discredit her king. 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.


To summarize some major problems, the jurisdiction of judge Bishop Cauchon was a legal fiction. He owed his appointment to his partisanship. The English government financed the entire trial. Clerical notary Nicolas Bailly, commissioned to collect testimony against her, could find no adverse evidence. Without this, the court lacked grounds to initiate a trial. Opening one anyway, it denied her right to a legal advisor.


The trial record demonstrates her exceptional 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" and abruptly halted the questioning for that day. This exchange would become famous, and is incorporated into many modern works on the subject.


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. Illiterate Joan signed an abjuration document she did not understand under threat of immediate execution. The court substituted a different abjuration in the official record.


Heresy was a capital crime only for a repeat offense. Joan agreed to wear women's clothes when she abjured. A few days later, according to eyewitnesses, she was subjected to an attempted rape in prison by an English lord. 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 often 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, but 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.


The neutrality of the following section is disputed.


Joan of Arc's religious visions have been one of the most heavily analyzed and controversial aspects of her life, attracting interest from theologians and psychologists alike. Whether Joan of Arc herself believed that her visions were from God is rarely disputed; based on her martyrdom and other biographical details, her religious faith is widely judged to have been sincere. She identified St. Margaret, St. Catherine, and St. Michael as the source of her revelations, although, as several saints have been canonized under each of these names, there is some ambiguity as to which of the identically-named saints she was referring to. Devout Roman Catholics regard her visions as divinely inspired. Those who suggest medical or psychiatric explanations for Joan of Arc's visions typically posit hallucinations, mental illness, or self-delusion. Most scholars who propose such explanations for the visions, such as paranoid schizophrenia, consider Joan a figurehead more than an active leader. Among other hypothesized conditions are a handful of neurological conditions that can cause complex hallucinations, such as temporal lobe epilepsy. Ralph Hoffman, professor of psychology at Yale University, states that "hearing voices is not necessarily a sign of mental illness," and names Joan of Arc's religious inspiration as a possible exception without speculation as to alternative causes.


Psychiatric explanations have encountered some objections. One is the slim likelihood that a mentally ill person could gain favor in the court of Charles VII. This king's own father, Charles VI of France, had been popularly known as "Charles the Mad", and much of the political and military decline that had occurred in France during the previous decades could be attributed to the power vacuum that his episodes of insanity had produced. The old 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. As royal counselor, Jacques Gélu cautioned upon Joan of Arc's arrival at Chinon, "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, this particular royal court was shrewd and skeptical on the subject of mental health.


I t has also been argued that reports of Joan of Arc's intelligence conflict with the possibility of mental illness. 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. However, although intellectual decline and chronic memory loss are listed among the potential prodromes of several major mental illnesses, the apparent lack of these two symptoms does not, by itself, rule out the possibility of mental illness. It does, however, represent a lack of some of the identifiable symptoms that modern medical diagnostic manuals consider necessary for a positive diagnosis. Some scholars, such as Judy Grundy, have likewise pointed out that, based on the eyewitness accounts, other potential outward symptoms of such disorders, such as marked changes in personality and confused speech, were also absent in Joan's case. Those who argue the opposite position consider the visions themselves to be proof of mental illness, usually based on one or more of the following propositions: 1) it is assumed that God would not order someone to wage war, or at least would not promote warfare against the English, therefore Joan must have been subject to hallucinations rather than Divine communication. Since this is an unproven assumption about the nature of God, the medical community would not normally use it as the basis for a diagnosis of mental illness. 2) It is assumed that science rejects the existence of God, therefore any such visions must be hallucinations, therefore she was mentally ill. This view also has its critics: since 40% of modern scientists say they do believe in God's existence, the scientific community would seem to be divided on that issue. Additionally, the medical community does not automatically consider all mystics to be mentally ill, and generally does not consider the above type of argument to be valid grounds for a diagnosis: since the issue of possible mental illness in Joan of Arc's case concerns the question of whether her visions were hallucinations, if one wishes to include these visions themselves as two symptoms of mental illness (i.e., "hallucinations" and "delusions"), then one would need to prove that these were in fact hallucinations and delusions rather than merely assuming them to be such and then using that assumption as evidence proving the assumption itself. To qualify as a valid diagnosis, evidence would need to be provided to support the proposition.


The only detailed source of information about Joan of Arc's visions is the condemnation trial transcript, a complex and problematic document in which she resisted the court's inquiries and refused to swear the customary oath on the subject of her revelations. Régine Pernoud, a prominent historian, was sometimes sarcastic about speculative medical interpretations: in response to one 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.


The Prayer to St. Joan of Arc for Strength:

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.


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.


"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 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 honor 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.


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 honor is the second Sunday of May.




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Taken on April 23, 2006