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 an early age, she was said to have heard the voices of St. Michael, St. Catherine and St. Margaret. When she was 13 years old, she was in her father’s garden and had visions of the three saints, each of whom told her to drive the English from French territory. They also asked that she bring the Dauphin (the crown prince) to Reims for his coronation.
When she was 16, 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 was 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.
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, who 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.
Though Charles was satisfied with the report, 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.
For 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.
After a decisive victory over the English, prominent clergymen began to support her, including the Archbishop of Embrun and the theologian Jean Gerson, each of which wrote supportive treatises. Joan was able to persuade Charles VII to allow her to march into other battles to reclaim cities, each of which ended in victory.
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 Compiegne 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 escape 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.
The trial record includes statements from Joan that witnesses 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 “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 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 “[t]hose who were interrogating her were stupefied.”
Despite the lack of incriminating evidence, Joan was condemned and sentenced to die in 1431. 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 investigation 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.
Adapted by A.J. Valentini from: Online, C. (n.d.-a). St. Joan of Arc – Saints & Angels. Catholic Online. Retrieved May 25, 2021, from https://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=295