Joan of Arc
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.
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.
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...
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