Joan of Arc

(History of the World: The Renaissance)
0111215879-joan_arc.jpg Joan of Arc (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: Joan’s victories initiated the withdrawal of English troops from France to end the Hundred Years’ War, and she made possible the coronation of Charles VII at Reims. As a martyr to her vision and mission, she had as much influence after her death as in her lifetime.

Early Life

Usually identified with the province of Lorraine, Joan of Arc grew up a daughter of France in Domrémy, a village divided between the king’s territory and that of the Dukes of Bar and Lorraine. Bells from the church next to her home sounded the events of her youth. Her father, Jacques, was a peasant farmer and respected citizen. Joan learned piety from her mother, Isabelle Romée, as part of a large family. She took special pride in spinning and sewing; she never learned to read or write. By custom, she would have assumed her mother’s surname, but in her public career she was called the Maid of Orléans, or Joan the Maid (with the double sense of virgin and servant).

Joan was born into the violence of both the Hundred Years’ War and the French Civil War. Henry V, King of England, had gained control of most of northern France and, with the aid of the French Duke of Burgundy, claimed the crown from the insane Charles VI. The heir to the throne, Charles VII—or the Dauphin, as he was called—was young and apparently believed that his cause was hopeless. Five years after his father’s death, he was still uncrowned, and Reims, the traditional coronation site, was deep in English territory. Domremy, on the frontier, was exposed to all the depredations of the war and was pillaged on at least one occasion during Joan’s childhood.

Joan began to hear voices and to be visited by the patron saints of France, Saint Michael, Saint Catherine, and Saint Margaret, when she was thirteen or fourteen years old. She claimed that she heard and saw the saints, who became her companions and directed her every step. Initially, she took the voices as calling her to a holy life, and she pledged her virginity and piety. Later she came to believe that it was her mission to deliver France from the English.

Paintings and medals were made of Joan, but no genuine portrait has been identified; a contemporary sketch survives by a man who never saw her. Three carved limestone heads in helmets (now in Boston, Loudun, and Orléans) may represent near-contemporary portraits. They show a generous nose and mouth and heavy-lidded eyes. She had a ruddy complexion; black hair in a documentary seal (now lost) indicates her coloring. Sturdy enough to wear armor and live a soldier’s life, she had a gentle voice. She wore a red frieze dress when she left Domremy; when she approached the Dauphin at Chinon, she wore men’s clothing: black woolen doublet and laced leggings, cap, cape, and boots. She wore her hair short like a man’s, or a nun’s, cut above the ears in the “pudding basin” style which facilitated wearing a helmet and discouraged lustful thoughts. Later, the Dauphin provided her with armor and money for fashionable clothing. The gold-embroidered red costume in which she was finally captured may have been made from cloth sent to her by the captive Duke of Orléans.

Life’s Work

In 1428, Joan attempted to gain support from Robert de Baudricourt, the royal governor of Vaucouleurs. (The pregnancy of a kinswoman living two miles from Vaucouleurs provided Joan with a pretext to leave home.) Baudricourt, after rejecting her twice—as the voice had predicted—became caught up in Joan’s mission. The English had besieged Orléans, as she had told him they would, and he, similarly besieged, had to agree to surrender his castle unless the Dauphin came to his aid by a specified date. Before sending Joan to the Dauphin, he had her examined and exorcised.

Charles agreed to the interview with Joan in desperation. Orléans, besieged since October of 1428, had great strategic importance; its fall would shake the loyalty of his remaining supporters and the readiness of his cities to provide money. Joan’s appearance at court on February 25, 1429, after traveling through enemy territory for eleven days, brought fresh hope. She identified the Dauphin at once in the crowded room, and she gave him some sign, “the King’s Secret,” which confirmed her mission but whose nature is still debated. A second exhaustive investigation of Joan occurred at Poitiers, where her piety and simplicity impressed everyone. Charles established a household for her. She had a standard made and adopted an ancient sword, discovered, through her directions, buried in the church of Sainte-Catherine-de-Fierbois.

On April 28, 1429, Joan and an expedition, believing they were on a supply mission, entered Orléans. Joan addressed the English commander, calling on him to retreat. She turned rough French soldiers into crusaders, conducting daily assemblies for prayer and insisting that they rid themselves of camp followers and go to confession. When a party bringing supplies to the city on the opposite bank found the wind blowing against them, she predicted the sudden change of wind that permitted the boats to cross. Nonplussed Englishmen allowed another shipment led by priests to pass without firing on it; they explained their lack of action as the result of bewitchment. Within the city, Joan’s inspired leadership encouraged the troops to follow her famous standard and her ringing cry, “In God’s name, charge boldly!” On May 7, though seriously wounded as she had predicted, she rallied the troops to victory at the Tourelles fortification, after the French captains had given up hope. The next day, the English withdrew from Orléans.

In little more than a week, with much plunder and killing of prisoners, the French drove their enemies from the...

(The entire section is 2382 words.)

Joan of Arc

(Comprehensive Guide to Military History)

Article abstract: Military significance: Joan of Arc led troops that forced British forces to abandon their seven-month siege of the city of Orléans. This was the turning point in the Hundred Years’ War and ultimately led to the driving of English forces out of France.

A defining event of the Hundred Years’ War was the defeat of French forces by the British, led by English King Henry V, at Agincourt on August 25, 1415. The French, demoralized by military losses and decimated by epidemics of plague that lasted from 1348 until Joan’s girlhood, were also divided by factional disputes. These led to the Treaty of Troyes in 1420, which named Henry V as heir to the throne of France and disinherited the dauphin (crown prince), the future Charles VII.

In 1428, British troops, aided by Burgundian allies, besieged the city of Orléans, a city critical to control of the south of France. At this crisis, Joan of Arc, daughter of a prosperous farmer father and devoutly religious mother, left the village of Domrémy, claiming voices from God had ordered her to lift the siege. Although illiterate, she convinced first an uncle and then a regional authority, Robert de Baudricourt, to allow her to go to the dauphin at Chinon, where she was received by Charles on March 6, 1429. Wearing short-cropped hair and men’s apparel in defiance of the social codes and religious edicts of her time, she led the troops Charles assigned to her, fighting despite a...

(The entire section is 606 words.)