Joan of Arc: The Woman Contacted By God To Save France

Regarded as a French heroine during the Lancastrian period of the Hundred Year’s War, Joan of Arc was born to a peasant family in northeast France. In her youth, Joan claimed that she received visions from various saints, encouraging her to defend France from England. She was instrumental in lifting the Siege of Orléans as well as several other decisive military victories, and successfully installed Charles VII as king. After eventually being captured, she was put on trial for a variety of charges resulting in her being burned at the stake. Take a look at who Joan of Arc was, and how she shaped the outcome of the Hundred Year’s War.

She Didn’t Go By The Name We Know Her As

Statue of Joan of Arc
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Joan didn’t come from a place named Arc as some might believe. In reality, her name was Jehanne or Jehanette, as she was known. She grew up in Domrémy, a village in northeastern France, the daughter of a farmer and a devout Catholic mother.

At her trial in 1431, she referred to herself as “Jehanne la Pucelle” (“Joan the Maid”) and claimed that she didn’t know her last name. She later added that her father’s name was Jacques d’Arc and her mother Isabelle Romée, noting that daughters in her town took their mother’s surname.

She Was Born In A Tumultuous Time In European History

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Joan of Arc was born in France in 1412, right in the middle of the Hundred Year’s War, which was an over 100-year bloody conflict over the French throne and lands that are now French-controlled territories.

Nearly all of the fighting had taken place on French lands, and the English army’s destructive tactics of chevauchée or “scorched earth” destroyed much of the land and devastated France’s economy. Before Joan of Arc’s entrance into the war, Britain had nearly achieved its goal of a dual monarchy under the English crown.

Doctors Believed There Are Scientific Explanations To Her Visions

Joan of Arc having a vision
Culture Club/Getty Images
Culture Club/Getty Images

Around 12 or 13, Joan of Arc supposedly began hearing voices and experiencing visions from angels and saints, which she interpreted as her being contacted by God. At first, she claimed she was only instructed to be pious and attend church, although the voices later told her to prevent the English from taking control of France.

She also claimed that a bright light accompanied her visions and the voices were the clearest when bells sounded. Based on this information, experts have suggested that she may have suffered from one or several neurological or psychiatric conditions such as migraines, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia among others.

She Wasn’t Exactly Burned At The Stake For Witchcraft

Burned at the stake
Universal History Archive/Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Getty Images

After being captured in 1430, Joan of Arc was tried in the English stronghold of Rouen by an ecclesiastical court. There were 70 charges against her ranging from horse theft to sorcery but were eventually narrowed down to 12, with the most significant being wearing men’s clothes and claiming to be in contact with God.

Joan was offered life in prison with an admission of guilt and being illiterate, and she signed the document without understanding. However, several days later, possibly for fear of being assaulted, Joan began wearing her male attire once again, in which she was condemned as a “relapsed heretic” and sent to the stake in 1431.

She Never Participated In Actual Combat

Joan of Arc in Battle
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Although Joan of Arc is portrayed as a fierce warrior that fought in hand-to-hand combat against the English forces, that’s not exactly true. Although considered a heroine, she never physically fought against the enemy, but rather acted as an inspirational mascot of sorts, carrying her banner rather than a weapon.

However, she did have a hand in military tactics, the directing of troops, and attempts of diplomacy. Nevertheless, she still managed to get wounded twice, taking an arrow to the shoulder during her Orléans campaign and a crossbow bolt to the thigh trying to liberate Paris.

Her Brothers Passed Off An Imposter As Joan From 1434 to 1440

Joan of Arc arriving at castle
Photo12/UIG/Getty Images
Photo12/UIG/Getty Images

Although several women posed as Joan of Arc after her death in 1431. One of the most notable was Claude des Armoires who resembled Joan and had supposedly participated in military campaigns dressed as a man. Claude, along with Joan’s two brothers, Jean and Pierre, then acted as though Claude was Joan and presented her to the people of Orléans, claiming she had escaped captivity.

The three were hailed by the French people, receiving gifts and graces wherever they went. However, Claude eventually admitted the lie to Charles VII, who Joan had helped to put on the French throne.

She Left Behind An Impressive Legacy

Painting or Joan of Arc with halo
H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images
H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images

Although she was burned at the stake for supposedly being a heretic, on May 23, 1430, an inquisitorial court authorized by Pope Callixtus III re-examined the trial and disproved the charges against her, proclaiming her innocent, and declaring her a martyr.

In the 16th century, she was named a symbol of the Catholic League, and in 1803 declared a national symbol of France by Napoleon Bonaparte. Furthermore, she was beatified in 1909 and canonized as a saint in 1920. She is currently one of the nine patron saints of France.

She Approached The Heir To The French Throne, Charles

Joan in front of Charles
PHAS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
PHAS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Regarding her vision, Joan was convinced that God wanted her to install Charles, the heir to France on the throne. At first, local priests didn’t believe her, but when he approached a local garrison, she was dispatched to visit with Charles.

The Dauphin was impressed with the 16-year-old Joan after having her piousness and faith tested by two priests from the University of Sorbonne. One story claims that Joan won over the trust of the Dauphin after she was able to identify him in a crowd without ever having seen him before.

She Wasn’t Necessarily Poor

Joan of Arc in the garden
Heritage Art/Heritage Images/Getty Images
Heritage Art/Heritage Images/Getty Images

While Joan of Arc is usually portrayed as a peasant girl who became a great military leader, that isn’t necessarily the case. Although she may not have come from nobility, according to author Ronald Gower, Joan’s father was a senior inhabitant of the village, and most likely a man of importance.

Joan’s family were also landowners, holding over 20 acres, and most likely were of better means than the majority of the other people in the area. The idea that she came from a poor family most likely came about because it was a better story to help boost morale.

She Inspired A Popular Haircut

Picture of Sue Carol
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Not only did Joan of Arc dress as a man, but she also cut her hair in a similar fashion as them. She wore it short as a common pageboy would until it was shaved by guards during her imprisonment.

Then, in 1909, hairdresser Monsieur Antoine, a popular stylist in Paris, began cutting his client’s hair in a short “bob,” claiming Joan of Arc as his inspiration. The look caught the attention of the public and by the 1920s was one of the most popular hairstyles, especially among movie stars and flappers.

She Was Burned Multiple Times

Joan of Arc at the stake
PHAS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
PHAS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Although it’s well known that Joan of Arc was executed by being burned at the stake, those who condemned her wanted to make it clear to everyone that she was dead. So, the Cardinal of Winchester ordered for her body to be burned a second time, and then a third.

They did this to ensure that nobody could say that she escaped flames, although some claimed that her heart remained untouched by the fire. Her remains were then thrown in the Seine River with the executioner, Geoffry Thérage, admitting that he “greatly feared to be damned for he had burned a holy woman.”

The Church Thought They Had Found Relics From Joan Of Arc

Old jar
Heritage Arts/Heritage Images via Getty Images
Heritage Arts/Heritage Images via Getty Images

Before carbon dating, people could take just about anything old that they found and proclaim that it was a relic of a saint or someone famous. This is precisely what happened in 1867 when someone in Paris found what they considered to be bones of Joan of Arc in an attic, which the church accepted as true.

However, after carbon dating, it was determined that the bones were from sometime between the seventh a third centuries BC, long before Joan of Arc was ever alive. It’s assumed that the relic is actually the remains of a mummified cat from ancient Egypt.

Her Capture Involved A Trade

Joan thrown from her horse
Historica Graphica Collection/Heritage Images/Getty Images
Historica Graphica Collection/Heritage Images/Getty Images

In 1430, King Charles VII ordered Joan of Arc to Compiegne, where the English and their Burgundian allies were besieging the town. During her troop’s attempt to break the siege, she was thrown from her horse and captured by the Burgundians.

Because of how difficult Joan made things for the English, the English entered negotiations with the Burgundians to take Joan as their prisoner. After a period of discussion, the Burgundians agreed to hand over Joan for 10,000 francs, a substantial amount of money.

The French Turned Their Back On Her

Turned their back
DeAgostini/Getty Images
DeAgostini/Getty Images

Regardless of everything that Joan of Arc had done for the French in their war against the English, the French crown did little to help her following her capture. Although France could have entered negotiations to have Joan freed in exchange for gold or other soldiers, the new king of France saw Joan as disposable.

Upon being captured, her contributions to the war against the English were also downplayed by the French in hopes that the public would eventually forget about her.

She Was Known To Have A Temper

Painting of Joan of Arc on horseback
Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images
Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images

Although Joan was known for her piety and dedication to the French cause, she was also known for having a strong temper. She was known to lash out at her French troops if they failed to attend mass and was particularly cruel if they didn’t follow her plans the way she expected them to.

Furthermore, she once reportedly slapped a soldier for stealing meat and was known for driving away women from the ranks at swordpoint.

She Remained Faithful In Her Cause

Joan of Arc praying
DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI/De Agostini via Getty Images
DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI/De Agostini via Getty Images

After her capture, Joan was put on trial where she was relentlessly questioned over a dozen times in a month’s span in early 1431. However, she never wavered in her claim that she was innocent.

While most female prisoners would have been under the care of nuns, Joan was held in a military prison where she was constantly under the threat of torture. She was known to tell her accusers that “God has always been my Lord in all that I have done.”

Her Village Was Attacked

Joan of Arc traveling
Culture Club/Getty Images
Culture Club/Getty Images

In 1426, her village was raided by Anglo-Burgundian troops, forcing her family to flee, although return when the attack was over. It was after this that she left home for the last time, going to Vaucouleurs to convince Robert de Baudricourt to escort her to take her to see Charles VII at his castle at Chinon.

When he finally agreed, Joan’s journey was more than 300 miles through enemy territories in which she traveled at night and avoided towns until finally meeting Charles VII.

She Is Credited With Breaking The Siege In Orléans

Joan with banner at siege
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ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images

When Orléans was under siege and outnumbered by the English, Joan’s arrival provided a significant morale boost for both the civilians and the soldiers. While the French commanders were hesitant about attacking the Anglo-Burgundian forces, Joan pressed for a result that turned out to be successful.

Professor Siobhan Nash-Marshall comments that when she “arrived at the scene, it is claimed, a roar went up among the French troops, who redoubled their efforts and won the day with ease.” This was just one of the many times that Joan’s appearance on the battlefield changed the tide of the fighting.

She Was Present At The Coronation Of Charles VII

Crowning of Charles VII
DeAgostini/Getty Images
DeAgostini/Getty Images

After saving Orléans and several other successful military campaigns, it was time for Joan to fulfill another part of her godly mission, the crowning of Charles VII as King of France. Traditionally, French Kings were crowned at Reims, which at the time was under the control of the Anglo-Burgundians.

However, they went anyway, and upon arrival, had a quick ceremony in which Charles was knighted and anointed as king. The ceremony took place on July 17, 1429, and is considered one of her greatest military achievements.

She Attempted Escape On Several Occasions

Joan of Arc imprisoned
Universal History Archive/Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Getty Images

While being imprisoned by the Burgundians at Beaurevoir, Joan made several attempts to escape, with one of them being jumping from a 70-foot tower onto the soft earth of a dry moat. However, whether this was an attempted suicide is still up for debate.

Regardless, she was captured soon after where she was brought to Rouen to face trial. It was during that time that both Joan, the English, and the French knew that her fate had been sealed.

She’s Been Portrayed In More Than 70 Movies And Shows

Wheel Productions
Wheel Productions

IMDb recognizes 74 movies and television shows regarding Joan of Arc. Some of these adaptations date back to the 1920s when moving pictures were still relatively new. A 2012 french film about the heroine starred Marion Cotillard, one of the starring actresses in the movie Inception.

One of the most popular versions of Joan’s story is the 1999 film The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc starring Milla Jovovich, a Ukrainian actress you may recognize from the movie The Fifth Element.

She Somehow Picked Out A Man She’d Never Met

Culture Club/Getty Images
Culture Club/Getty Images

After negotiating with garrison commander Robert de Baudricourt to gain access to Charles VII, she spent 11 days traveling to the Dauphin. Simon Charles witnessed Joan’s first encounter with Charles VII, stating that the king hid behind others in anticipation of her arrival.

Though Charles tried to appear ambiguous, and though Joan had never seen the Dauphin before, she was still able to pick him out in the crowd and seemed to recognize him.

She Inexplicably Knew Things

John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Being that Joan of Arc had been hearing voices from the time she was a teen, it is often speculated that she suffered from mental illness. On the contrary, some tales about the legendary figure seem to be unexplainable.

For instance, when she first met the Dauphin, she is said to have not only picked him out in a crowd, but also to have recited a prayer he was thinking of at that moment. She also supposedly knew where a sword had been hidden behind a church’s altar.

She Returned To The Frontlines After Being Injured

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

At the young age of seventeen, Joan headed into battle on the front lines. Though she did no harm in battle and instead was a symbol of inspiration to the soldiers, she did get injured.

Still, she returned to battle to support the army’s final charge. She additionally offered peacemaking solutions to the English, which were not accepted. For her efforts, she was nicknamed “The Maid of Orléans.” She is said to have loved her banner “forty times better” than her sword.

She Stuck To Her Story Through Harsh Captivity

Leemage/Corbis via Getty Images
Leemage/Corbis via Getty Images

Abandoned by King Charles VII and charged with 70 counts against her, Joan of Arc had every reason to lose all hope and concede. Despite all she had done for the war and the bravery and support she’d displayed, she was charged with heresy, witchcraft, dressing like a man, and more.

In early 1431, she was interrogated more than a dozen times within a single month. Despite being held captive in a military prison, she persisted that she was innocent and stuck to her story and strong faith.

Her Faith Faltered Just Once

Imagno/Getty Images
Imagno/Getty Images

We can only imagine was she went through while being held captive, but she finally caved when offered life in prison for a guilty plea. Considering how harsh police investigations can be these days, its possible that she was in a desperate state at the time of her confession.

That would explain why mere days later she returned to her male clothing and reasserted her original belief that she was hearing voices. Condemned as a “relapsed heretic,” she was sent to the stake.

King Charles VII Ordered An Investigation

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Thierry PRAT/Sygma via Getty Images

After her untimely end in front of 10,000 people in a Rouen marketplace, Charles VII seemed to have snapped out of his momentary aversion to Joan and ordered an investigation in her honor.

A quarter-century later, Joan was cleared of all charged and was deemed a martyr, three years after the Hundred Year’s War finally ended. It wasn’t until hundreds of years later that she was declared the patron saint of France in 1920.

Joan Had An Imposter

Keystone Features/Getty Images
Keystone Features/Getty Images

After Joan’s passing, news spread that she was still alive, after all. As it turns out, her brothers teamed up with a Joan of Arc lookalike named Claude des Armoises. Together they spun a story about Joan somehow surviving and going on to marry a knight.

Claude was happily received by the townspeople who wanted to believe that she was Joan and showered her with gifts. The imposter became riddled with guilt, and confessed what she’d done to King Charles VII.

The English Blamed Her For Their Defeats

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Though she was rejected for her supposed supernatural powers, that doesn’t mean that people didn’t believe in them. The English blamed her for their defeats, thinking that her “supernatural” powers gave their enemies an unfair advantage by way of enchantment and sorcery.

Remember, this was 600 years ago and long before our understanding of mental health was anywhere near where it is today. Back then, having visions was something that people didn’t understand, and therefore feared.

She Grew Up In A Volatile Environment

RKO Radio Pictures/Getty Images
RKO Radio Pictures/Getty Images

Being that Joan of Arc only lived to be nineteen, it’s shocking how brave she was as a mere teenager. If you consider her upbringing, it makes more sense how she was able to grow up so fast. At her trial, Joan said that where she grew up, children fought children.

She didn’t mean the usual petty fights that some children may have, but all-out attacks that related to her hometown being harshly divided. Some of the nearby territories were allied with the English, so not all of her neighbors were loyal to Charles VII.

The First Time She Heard Voices Was In A Garden

Print Collector/Getty Images
Print Collector/Getty Images

Joan of Arc began hearing voices at the age of thirteen and admitted how it happened while on trial. She stated that the first time was in her family’s garden and that the voice came from the direction where the church was located.

She added that church bells would sometimes trigger the voices. In addition to hearing someone, she said that a bright light shone when she first heard the voices, as well.

Her Meeting With Charles Is Still A Mystery

Universal History Archive/Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Getty Images

It’s surprising enough that Joan of Arc was able to point out Charles VII without having met him before. She somehow persuaded him to talk to her for quite some time, during which she turned his mood to one of joy, rather than suspicion.

But the real kicker is that this teenage girl with voices in her head somehow convinced the Dauphin to provide her with soldiers to help raise the siege of Orléans. Even more questionable is that Joan wasn’t forthcoming about the exchange at her trial.

Joan Was Not In Command Of The Force

Terry Fincher/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Terry Fincher/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

A popular but misguided belief is that Joan of Arc lead the soldiers that Charles VII provided to her in her mission to siege Orléans. In actuality, the force was led by the Count of Dunois.

Tension built between the two when the Count ignored Joan’s advice and snuck around the English fortifications. He wanted to try to avoid a major battle, which angered Joan since she wanted to get on with her plans.

Joan Made A Believer Out Of The Count Of Dunois

Print Collector/Getty Images
Print Collector/Getty Images

Tensions between Joan of Arc and the Count of Dunois came to a head when the fount and his forces ended up stranded beside a riverbank due to the wind going against them.

Joan of Arc took the moment to assert that she was the best help that the count could possibly receive due to her faith. According to the count, the wind changed the moment Joan made her declaration, allowing his forces to cross into Orléans.

Joan Boosted French Morale Significantly

Ernest Brown/FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Ernest Brown/FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Despite her controversy, Joan of Arc made a significantly positive impact on the French overall in terms of their defenses. Before Joan, the French would lose battles even when they outnumbered their enemy by far due to their low morale.

A prime example of Joan’s impact on the soldiers’ morale is a battle in which the French troops all erupted into a roar upon seeing her appear at the battlefield. Their bravery soared and they won the day.

It All Went Downhill After Paris

RKO Radio Pictures/Getty Images
RKO Radio Pictures/Getty Images

Joan of Arc pushed King Charles VII to reclaim Paris, but he was hesitant. When they did finally attack, it was a failure due to his limitation on the forces. To make matters worse, the attack happened on a holy day, which cast a bad light on the religious Joan.

Afterward, the king made a truce with the Burgundians, who were allies of the English, and no longer supported Joan. Still hot-headed, she remained ready to battle.

The Voices In Her Head Warned Of Her Capture

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Getty Images

Without the support of King Charles VII, it was no secret that Joan of Arc would struggle to remain protected. Still, she chose to aid the town of Compiègne when an Anglo-Burgundian force rushed to attack.

She headed in with only a few hundred soldiers by her side. The voices in her head told her months prior that she would be captured by the English, but she ignored them to carry on with this mission.

She Had An Impressive Canonization Ceremony

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ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Joan of Arc was made a saint of the Catholic Church in 1920, which was made official through a canonization ceremony. The event took place at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and attracted around 65,000 people.

Of all the events performed at the basilica, her canonization ceremony is said to have been one of the most impressive. This isn’t surprising given all that she went through for her faith and the fact that she was, at last, being celebrated.

She Is Still Celebrated Today In Orléans

GUILLAUME SOUVANT/AFP via Getty Images
GUILLAUME SOUVANT/AFP via Getty Images

Parts of France still celebrate Joan of Arc in the form of tribute events. In 2012, the town of Orléans celebrated her 600th birthday with festivities that were planned for a year prior to the event.

Reenactments and films in the park are a large part of the festivities, along with speeches and musical scenes. There is also a virtual exposition that features 600 images of Joan of Arc created by worldwide visual artists.

There Is A Joan of Arc Pilgrimage

GUILLAUME SOUVANT/AFP via Getty Images
GUILLAUME SOUVANT/AFP via Getty Images

One organization in France puts on a Joan of Arc pilgrimage each year. The 2020 event will be the thirteenth time they’ve gone on this journey, trailing through France with the eyes of a spiritual supporter of Joan.

The program states that they want to experience the places she roamed first as believers, and secondly as historians and/or tourists. The journey begins in a small town near Orléans and includes day trips to various locations before ending in Domrémy-la-Pucelle.