Joan of Arc

This account of the life and voice experiences of Joan of Arc is sourced from Spark Notes.

Youth

Voices

The Dauphin

Relief of Orleans

The Battle of Patay

The Dauphin Crowned

Paris

Battle at Compiegne

Imprisonment and Trial

Execution

 

Youth

Joan of Arc was born into a peasant family lived in the small French village of Domremy, between Champagne and Lorraine,  born sometime around 1412, although the exact date is unknown. Her father was Jacques of Arc, and her mother was Isabelle Romee. Joan had three brothers: Jacquemin, Pierre, and Jean. She also had a sister, Catherine, who died before Joan left on her mission to help the Dauphin in 1429. Joan’s family, and most of Domremy, supported the Dauphin. However, they lived very near a pro-Burgundy area. Conflict between villagers from the two regions often erupted in violence, which Joan witnessed throughout her childhood.

As a peasant in the 15th century, Joan had no formal schooling and probably did not know how to read, although near her death she did know how to sign her name. Whatever schooling Joan had she received from her mother, Isabelle. An extremely pious woman who may have even made a pilgrimage to Rome, Isabelle carefully taught Joan her prayers. Joan inherited her religious devotion from her mother, and throughout Domremy Joan was always known as an exceptionally pious and devout girl.

Tradition says that Joan worked as a shepherdess, tending her family’s flock of sheep. Certainly she helped work the family lands, exhibiting a particular gusto for men’s heavy labor, such as plowing. Her diligent work on the family farm made her strong, and many in Domremy were impressed with Joan’s exceptional strength for a female. But while Joan was fond of the physical exertion of traditional men’s work, she also spun thread and sewed just like any other 15th- century peasant girl, and was allegedly just as skilled in this “women’s work” as in her exertions of physical strength.

Joan, although extremely hard working and unusually talented, seemed to be an essentially normal peasant girl. The one thing that set her apart was her intense religious devotion. Otherwise always very gentle and kind, Joan became cross if the Churchwarden was ever late ringing the church bells, and would scold the man harshly. On weekends she would sometimes journey to a small chapel in a neighboring region. She refused to dance, raising eyebrows among village girls of the same age, and she went to confession constantly.

Commentary

Domremy was an extremely complicated place in terms of its loyalties and allegiances. Religiously, it fell under the control of a diocese based in the Holy Roman Empire. Politically, the majority of it did not fall under the control of any French noble as most regions did; instead, the French King ruled Domremy directly.

Joan’s youth must have been fairly idyllic. She remembered playing under a favorite tree, called the “fairy tree” according to legends of the Domremy townsfolk. During her later trial, accidental mention of this tree would cause her some trouble, as her inquisitors used it to strengthen their accusations about Joan’s links to magic and the occult. It may be delightful to imagine the young Joan as an isolated shepherdess tending her flock, but this legend seems to give a false impression.

The major business in Domremy was cattle, and there were very few sheep, so it seems unlikely that Joan’s family actually owned many sheep. There is little direct evidence either way; the account of her as a “lone shepherdess” has been widely repeated by biographers but may only be legendary. In her exceptionally well-documented trial, Joan did not talk about herding sheep, so this suggests that she may not have really worked as a shepherdess. Then again, this role would have put her out of parental control quite often, something she might not have wanted to admit to her inquisitors.

Joan didn’t always get along very well with her parents, in fact. She did have some conflicts with her parents, especially shown by the fact that she left home in 1429 without telling them of her plan to join the Dauphin. Joan also refused to enter into a marriage her father arranged for her.

Joan certainly was a very devoted Christian from an extremely early age. Her friends of course praised her devotion, although sometimes they found it a bit strange. Joan was never late to mass, and she would stop her work in the evening to kneel and pray in the field. Apparently, Joan sometimes confessed more than once a day. This obsession with confessing her sins disturbed some of Joan’s friends, who found this excessive faith unnecessary. The priests in Domremy, however, were always impressed with her piety and righteous sense of guilt and sin. Joan claimed that a person could never cleanse his or her soul too often. One has to wonder why Joan was so obsessed with confession, especially given the extremely clean life she was reputed to live. But although her religious devotion marked her as somewhat strange, everyone in Domremy accepted her. People might have looked at her more critically if they knew that at age 13 (as she would later report) she started hearing mysterious “voices.” Joan didn’t tell anyone about the voices, not her friends, not her parents, and not even the priests.


Voices

In 1425, English and Burgundian forces drove off all of Domremy’s cattle and burned the town. The same year of this trauma, when Joan was 13, she started hearing “voices.” The first of these voices spoke to her from her father’s garden, and was accompanied by a blinding white light. Joan claimed that the voices were angels and saints, through whom God was addressing her. She identified the saints as Saint Michael, Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret, all crucial French saints of whom Joan had learned through statuary in the church she attended and through her mother’s careful religious instruction. Although she was initially afraid to speak to other people about them–she never mentioned them to the Domremy priests even though she was constantly at confessional–she would claim to talk to these saints and hear their voices regularly. Joan said they always spoke in French. Although frightened of them at first, eventually she came to terms with the voices, even claiming to beckon them at will. Increasingly, these voices must have become a large part of the way Joan processed and perceived reality.

Joan complained that noise or company stopped the voices and visions from coming. Also, she often heard the voices after the ringing of the Church bell. If the bells triggered the voices she heard, it is no wonder she became so irate at the Churchwarden whenever he was late ringing the bells. Saint Michael appeared to Joan as a good-looking gentleman. Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret appeared as nothing but faces, and even regarding Saint Michael she could recall very few visual details. Joan believed very strongly that the apparitions were real; she even claimed at one point to have clasped Saints Catherine and Margaret in embraces, and recalled that they had smelled wonderful.

Most importantly for Joan’s life, however, was what the voices commanded her to do. She claimed that they told her to help the Dauphin by going to Orleans and breaking England’s siege of the city.

Commentary

Joan’s “voices” have been interpreted in a variety of ways. It seems extremely unlikely from all accounts that she simply made up a claim of hearing voices for the sake of theatricality and attention. Some choose to believe that she really was hearing divine commands from saints and angels. Others have attempted to explain the voices as hallucinations that Joan delusionally believed to be saints and angels. Under these interpretations, the messages Joan heard would really be ones she had come up with herself, subconsciously, which were now communicated to her conscious mind via visions and voices. Certainly, hallucinations are not all that uncommon, and are often intense and are commonly perceived within a religious idiom. Young adults are especially susceptible, although visual hallucinations are much more common than hallucinations of sound. If Joan did hallucinate, she experienced especially well-developed and recurrent hallucinations that combined elements of both sight and sound. During her trial she even said that she had seen a large number of angels “in the guise of certain very tiny things.” The voices were always more clear to Joan when she was alone, which might explain why she became increasingly isolated from friends, preferring to spend time by herself as she became older. Initially, Joan heard simple and brief messages, but over time these became longer and more detailed. Ultimately, she may even have been able to carry on conversations with the voices. All of this follows models of hallucination development that psychologists have witnessed in the present day. Such hallucinations are often triggered by some trauma, and 1425 was a particularly tumultuous year for Domremy and Joan. The burning of Domremy in 1425 may have helped focus Joan’s mind on the war, and to suggest to her the mission of ending the war. The typical adolescent tumult Joan was the going through, including her conflicts with her father, who was then trying to marry Joan off, might also help explain the voices she heard. Whatever their nature, Joan took the voices seriously and they had a dramatic impact on her life.

Appropriately, Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret were both martyred virgins, as Joan would be. Furthermore, Joan’s sister’s name was Catherine, so if the voices were hallucinations, her constant hearing of her sister’s name might account for why she saw this particular saint. Saint Margaret was familiar to Joan from a statue in the Domremy church.

Joan always became extremely upset whenever anyone asked her for details regarding the saints’ appearances, and never provided very complete descriptions.


 The Dauphin

Summary

In 1428, Joan’s “voices” commanded her to travel to Vaucouleurs, a nearby fortress still loyal to the Dauphin. Knowing her parents would forbid her to go, Joan lied to her parents and told them she was leaving to help a neighbor’s wife give birth. Joan found the captain of the fortress and asked him to let her join the Dauphin. He did not take the sixteen-year-old peasant girl seriously, however, laughing at her and sending her home to Domremy. In 1429, Joan returned to the fort at Vaucouleurs. For unknown reasons, the captain was persuaded by her earnestness this time. On February 13, 1429, Joan and her small military escort set out from Vaucouleurs to travel to the Dauphin’s castle at Chinon. Joan now began wearing men’s clothes to make herself less conspicuous as she traveled through English-controlled territory.When she arrived in Chinon, the Dauphin hesitated to see Joan. But two days after her arrival at Chinon, the Dauphin finally agreed to grant Joan an audience. According to legend, even though the Dauphin had secretly hidden himself among his court for security reasons, Joan immediately walked right up to him (though she had never seen him before) and pledged to help him defeat the English and see his coronation at Reims as France’s true king. Charles sent Joan to be interrogated by churchmen, since her claim to hear commands from God smacked of possible heresy or witchcraft. For three weeks, ecclesiastical experts questioned Joan at Poitiers. Joan’s greatest support in the Dauphin’s court came from the Duke of Alencon, who ultimately persuaded the Dauphin to take Joan up on her offer. In April, at Tours, the Dauphin gave Joan command of a small military unit, essentially giving her the military power of a knight. She even had her own squire, Jean of Aulon, and her own crest and banner, which were to remain inspirational symbols to the Dauphin’s forces over the next two years. Regarding her sword, Joan’s “voices” told her that a magical and holy sword would be found in the Church of Saint Catherine of Fierbois. Indeed, a sword was found there, and was given to Joan. Although it is unclear exactly how many men Joan commanded, their numbers likely totaled several hundred.On April 27, 1429, Joan set out from Blois to reinforce the Dauphin’s troops at the Siege of Orleans. Orleans had been under siege by the English since 1428. Joan and another of the Dauphin’s commanders named La Hire reached Orleans on April 29, 1429. La Hire said to wait for all the reinforcements to arrive, and Joan initially obeyed, until she heard a new command from her “voices.”

Commentary

By 1427, five years after his father had died and he had taken over the reign, Charles still had not been officially crowned. For this reason Joan continued to call him the “Dauphin” (the name for the heir apparent to the French throne). The traditional coronation place for French kings, where the container of sacred anointing oil was stored, was the Cathedral at Reims. Reims, however, was controlled by the allied armies of England and Burgundy, who dominated Northern France in this period of the Hundred Years’ War. The coronation seems to have been a much bigger issue for Joan than for most other people. The majority of the nation already called Charles “King Charles VII”. But it was in following her obsession that Joan became a national symbol, helping to unify France and ending of the Siege of Orleans.Joan’s white lies to her parents regarding her reasons for departing from Reims contrasts with the traditional view of Joan as the perfect and pure heroine. Here we see her as a willful daughter resisting her parents’ authority and deceptively sneaking away from home to go on an adventure. Moreover, after taking up arms, Joan began to make herself out in the most colorful and expensive male garb she could find, contrary to the standard view of her as the simple Christian warrior. Was this the result of vanity, or was she considering how best to make a fearsome figure, a more powerful political impact?The Dauphin initially hesitated to receive Joan, whom he initially suspected was crazy. Still, the Dauphin was desperate for help and although his advisors disagreed over whether or not to hear Joan, he eventually relented. Certainly he was a bit frightened of the strange young woman, whose stories seemed to suggest witchcraft. Fortunately for his own sake, however, the Dauphin decided to use Joan as best he could. For her part, Joan, although several years younger than the Dauphin, considered him so helpless as to compare him to a “child” who needed her protection.


Relief of Orleans

Summary

During the march to Orleans, Joan never took her armor off. She was not used to it, and wearing the hot and heavy armor greatly tired her out. On the evening May 4, 1429, Joan was resting outside Orleans as she waited for all the French reinforcements to arrive. Suddenly, her voices spoke to her and she saw a vision that told her she had to attack the English immediately. She leapt up, and told everyone to prepare for an attack. Quickly strapping on her armor and mounting her horse, she raced to the east. Although she had little way of knowing that there would be a battle taking place at this place and time, there was in fact an engagement in progress: French forces were attacking one of the English forts around Orleans. Once Joan arrived on the scene, the French rallied to her dynamic presence and took the fort. It was a decisive victory for Joan, and seemed to justify her strange behavior as divinely guided.

On May 6, Joan led an attack on another English fort. This time, the English retreated to a stronger position. Joan and La Hire defeated the English at this stronger position as well. La Hire had a lame leg and preferred horseback to riding. He was an extravagant soldier of fortune who was not very religious and who cursed often. For Joan, however, he was willing to clean up his act. It is somewhat humorous to imagine how the blaspheming and cutthroat La Hire got along with the ultra-pious Joan of Arc. This odd match was a successful one, however, as they achieved victory after victory. And La Hire was not the only soldier Joan “cleaned up”; she encouraged all her men to give up prostitutes, gambling, drinking and swearing, believing that God would help pious soldiers more than dissolute ones. Perhaps this strategy of morality worked, for on May 7, Joan led yet another successful French attack on the Les Tourelles, a fort controlled by the English. Although Joan was wounded by a crossbow shot to her neck, she continued fighting bravely and inspired the French to win yet another remarkable victory over the English. The rejoicing Orleans threw a feast in Joan’s honor. The “Maid of Orleans,” as she was now called, surprised everyone by taking only some bread and some watered-down wine for a modest dinner, and then going to bed early.

Another important commander in Joan’s army was Gilles de Rais. He would later garner infamy for killing numerous children, and the legendary “Bluebeard” character would be based on him. Traditional accounts depict Joan and de Rais as mortal enemies, diametrically opposed opposites. Certainly the two weren’t kindred spirits, but despite Gilles de Rais’s later atrocities, there is little evidence that there was a particular animosity between the two.

On May 9, Joan quickly rode to Tours to tell the Dauphin of his victories at Orleans. She urged him to hurry to Reims for his coronation. There was some delay in this, however, due both to Charles’s hesitancy and to the fact that the way to Reims was not entirely freed of obstacles: English forces were camped in the towns around the Loire. Joan quickly dispensed of these, however, assisted by the Duke of Alencon; afterwards, the Duke would always be one of Joan’s biggest supporters.

Commentary

The Siege of Orleans which Joan had come to relieve had been going on for quite some time when she arrived. The English had built a series of forts around Orleans in an effort to prevent anyone from leaving the city, and to prevent trade and communication from entering it, cutting the city off from the parts of France loyal to the Dauphin. It was these forts that Joan now attacked. Joan’s victory constituted a critical turning point in the Hundred Years’ War. Orleans had seemed doomed: 7,000 English and Burgundians were arrayed against only 2,500 French defenders and thus Joan’s relief effort took victory right out of the hands of the English. However, the triumph, however decisive, was in fact quite disorganized and haphazard, and its success probably owed more to luck than strategy. Indeed, Joan’s strength never lay in her strategic thinking: her power came from her ability to inspire the French troops to fight to their full potential.

When Joan suddenly decided to ride east with her army on May 4, she could not have known that she would encounter a battle in progress. She may have simply had good luck. However, everyone on the Dauphin’s side considered Joan to have been guided by the hand of God, while the English and Burgundians quickly concluded that her good fortune was the result of witchcraft. Her reputation among France’s enemies was not helped by the fact that she constantly dictated harassing letters that she then had sent to the English. Already, the English were spreading rumors that Joan was a witch and the French military successes were the result of her evil magic. Most likely high-level English commanders did not really believe this, but it made good anti-French propaganda.

When the French realized that the English were retreating from the Siege of Orleans, most commanders wanted to pursue them. Joan, however, refused to allow pursuit because it was Sunday. Thus, tactical advantage was sacrificed to her extreme piety. While many commanders felt they were losing a great opportunity, Joan argued that if they rested on the Sabbath, God would repay them with more victories and glories later. Although in a very strict sense this decision did represent a missed opportunity to strike at the English, it probably did have a positive effect on the French armies morale: they were now very inspired by Joan’s piety and felt that it gave them a special power to win. The fact was, as long as the French armies felt that Joan’s presence gave them a special power, it did. The increased enthusiasm and bravery brought by her presence gave them a deadlier fighting force.

Having ended the long stalemate at the Siege of Orleans, Joan now became extremely popular with both the army and the French people. Increasingly, commanders looked to this teenage girl to give orders, and eagerly followed these. Not everyone instantly worshipped Joan, however: Charles’s advisors were quite suspicious of her, and envied her growing popularity and power. Many of Charles’s advisors sought to undermine Joan’s plans and counseled the Dauphin to wait a while before setting out to Reims to be crowned and anointed.


The Battle of Patay

Summary

After some delay following Orleans, Joan managed to convince the Dauphin to travel to Reims for his coronation ceremony. One major contingent of English troops, at Patay, remained to be dealt with before Charles could march unimpeded to Reims.

On June 18, 1429, French and English forces met at the Battle of Patay. Joan promised that it would be the Dauphin’s greatest victory yet. In fact, unlike Orleans, the English had a very poor position to defend at Patay. La Hire’s contingent was able to attack the deadly English longbow archers before they were in position. As a result, England lost 500 of its best archers and really had no hope in the battle. Seeing La Hire’s attack on the valuable archers, a group of English soldiers made a quick counterattack, but to no avail: the English were forced to flee the field or be destroyed. Without cover from their archers, and with all of the English leaders long gone on their galloping horses, the English footmen were systematically mowed down and massacred by the French army. Ultimately, about 2,000 English troops died at Patay, while only a handful of Frenchmen lost their lives.

Thus the French completely routed the English for the first time in years. And coming so soon after Orleans, the English embarrassment at Patay was another impressive victory for Joan. Joan ordered the Duke of Alencon to ride through Orleans announcing that she would be taking the king to Reims soon for his coronation. The people of Patay now decorated the city in the Dauphin’s honor, as they expected the Dauphin to make a triumphal visit to the city. And they celebrated even when Charles failed to make his appearance: the Dauphin, indecisive as always, was holding another meeting on whether or not to go to Reims. Furthermore, he worried as to whether he should endanger his wife by bringing her to the coronation ceremony. Ultimately, he left her behind in safety.

Commentary

After the Siege of Orleans, and especially after the Battle of Patay, Joan had acquired a tremendous amount of honor, power, and fame. Moreover, the previously skeptical Dauphin became increasingly grateful to her, and was more and more willing to grant whatever she asked. She was dangerous because she was so popular with the masses of soldiers, and the Dauphin’s jealous court realized that she was growing so powerful because of her support within the population that no one could control her. While the Dauphin knew that going to Reims would be difficult, he increasingly tended to do what Joan said and believed that she would be able to protect him. The Battle of Patay helped clear the Dauphin’s path to his coronation in Reims. When the English fled, they left behind many valuable supplies greatly enjoyed by the French army and even the surrounding French townspeople who looted the English supplies. Joan and the Duke of Alencon, increasingly at her side now, questioned the captured English commander of the longbow archers.

The location of the English near Patay was discovered when a stag ran through their hidden camp. It caused such a noisy commotion that nearby French scouts easily pinpointed the English location, giving the French the benefit of a surprise attack. One of the things the Hundred Years’ War proved was the decisive impact of good archers in battle. The English longbowmen were famous for their deadly accuracy, and their presence always greatly helped the English. When La Hire decimated the English archers at Patay, this alone was almost enough to ensure French victory. Indeed, at Patay more than at Orleans, it was mostly the leadership of commanders like La Hire, and not that of Joan herself, that won the day; Joan seemed to serve as a good luck charm, but she was not the one responsible for the French army’s clever tactics. Nonetheless, Joan started to unrealistically take full credit for the victories in the letters she dictated at this time, and by this point the French eagerly believed her claims.

Joan arrived late to the battle of Patay, and was shocked by the gruesome scene there. The French troops were essentially butchering the fleeing English, and Joan did her best to console several English soldiers as they died, praying with them and receiving their confessions. This shows how compassionate Joan could be, how little zest she had for battle in itself.

After the battle, Joan traveled to Charles’s camp and continued to encourage him to come to Reims for his coronation ceremony. Charles told Joan to stop worrying so much about him. Playing her protective, motherly role, Joan would not listen, and assured him that she would soon see him crowned. Charles, initially exuberant about Joan’s successes, was starting to realize the difficulty she presented: since she was so beloved by the public, in fact more beloved than he, Charles feared that the “Maid of Orleans” might increase her power to do whatever she wanted without fear of reproach. Furthermore, Joan was creating such a positive image for the French army that she was inspiring thousands to enlist. The French army had grown to 12,000, and Charles was unable to pay all these soldiers’ salaries. The last thing he wanted was thousands of disgruntled soldiers upset at him and fiercely loyal to Joan. The jealousy and distrust of Joan shown by Charles’s counselors was now beginning to impact him. Joan was clearly becoming too popular for her own good. However, giving the large size of the army and its fanatical loyalty to Joan, Charles could not sensibly resist going to Reims, for to do so would have greatly outraged the army–and to incur an army’s wrath is never good politics.


Joan Sees the Dauphin Crowned

Summary

On June 25, 1429, the French army was stationed at Gien. There the Dauphin sent out letters summoning the nobles to his coronation ceremony at Reims. Joan also dictated some letters, including one to Philip the Good, the Duke of Burgundy, asking him to end his alliance with the English and return to the French side. On June 29, the Dauphin, escorted by the French army, began its march to Reims. Along the way, Joan sent letters out to the people of Troyes, promising that if they surrendered to the Dauphin’s forces, they would be pardoned. The people of Troyes sent out a friar, Brother Richard, to assess Joan and tell the town what he thought. Brother Richard greatly liked Joan, but the people of Troyes nevertheless remained loyal to England. After a brief attack by the large French army, however, they quickly surrendered. Unlike previous battles, Joan actually did help organize this attack strategically, and she proved to be able to grasp some of the finer points of military leadership and organization quite quickly. Entering Troyes, Joan and Charles rode side-by-side.

 

After a series of small engagements, the Dauphin’s army finally reached Reims on July 16. Charles and his troops entered the city without a struggle. On July 17, the Dauphin’s coronation took place in Reims, realizing Joan’s dream. Joan, with her banner, stood in triumph in the coronation hall as the king was crowned and anointed with holy oil. After the ceremony, Charles was officially the Dauphin no longer, but Charles VII, King of France. Joan quickly knelt before her new king, moving many witnesses at the coronation to tears. She felt immense pride at having completed her primary mission of seeing the Dauphin crowned.

After the coronation, Joan continued to write the Duke of Burgundy, asking him to end his alliance with the British. On July 20, King Charles VII left Reims to parade around the area with his army for the next month. An attack on English-controlled Paris seemed within French grasp, but ultimately Charles decided to retreat to a safer position near the Loire. Joan was horrified by the retreat, as she knew that many towns that had only just manifested their French loyalty would now be abandoned to the English and the Burgundians.

On August 14, the French and English armies engaged in a minor skirmish near Senlis. Although Joan charged up waving her banner, no major battle occurred and no major victory was achieved. On August 28, Burgundy agreed to a four- month treaty with France, giving the appearance that Joan’s successes had forced him to rethink his alliance with England. In fact, however, the duke was just stalling.

Commentary

Brother Richard, the friar of Troyes who was sent out to examine Joan, was initially suspicious of the girl, throwing holy water on her to see what would happen. Brother Richard had something of a problematic past himself. Having preached that the Antichrist was already born, he had become unpopular in Paris among the religious elite, so he had left for the less prominent location of Troyes. Richard was impressed with Joan, and told the people of Troyes that she was a saint. Ultimately, although Troyes did not immediately surrender to the French and open its gates, partially out of fear that the French would use it as a garrison, Joan and Richard would become friends. Richard was probably the closest friend Joan had during this time. He accompanied Joan on the journey to Reims, took her frequent confessions, and even helped her hold up her banner during the long coronation ceremony. However, because of Brother Richard’s problematic past and his reputation for collecting female visionaries and religious mystics as friends, Joan’s friendship with this rather unorthodox cleric (some even thought he was a sorcerer) would prove a liability to Joan in her later trial.

When Joan and Charles marched through the streets after Troyes, it was Joan who drew the most attention. According to legend, some people even claimed to see white butterflies fluttering around her banner. As soon as the French forces arrived in Reims, they had to move fast to complete the coronation: Reims was in a weak position, surrounded by English and Burgundian territory, and it seemed susceptible to attack at any time. In fact, getting Charles crowned was strategically dangerous. Thus from a practical military perspective, Joan’s obsession with getting Charles crowned at Reims was a mistake, as it exposed him to attack. However, the symbolic value of the coronation inspired the French for years to fight on for their king.


Paris Attacked

Summary

While Charles VII wanted to hurry south from Reims to safety, Joan felt it was crucial that the French take the opportunity to recapture English- controlled Paris. Around August 26, 1429, Joan and the Duke of Alencon began organizing an attack on Paris, and hurried ahead without the indecisive Charles to prepare for the attack. On September 7, Charles arrived on the outskirts of Paris. The next day the French assault on Paris began. Joan ran right up on the Paris earthworks, demanding that the Parisians surrender to their rightful king. Even after being shot in the thigh with a crossbow bolt, she continued calling her troops forward. The attack came close to succeeding, but in the end a retreat was necessary. The first day of the attack went very well, and during the fight it often seemed that the French were very close to overrunning the walls. At this rate, it looked as if Paris might be taken in a matter of days or weeks.

The day after the attack on Paris, Joan and the Duke of Alencon wanted to continue fighting and attack again. Joan even claimed that her “voices” were telling her to continue attacking. Charles, ever cautious and lacking money to pay the troops, took the near-victory as a defeat and ordered a retreat from Paris. Joan and Alencon were slow to obey orders, but the rest of the commanders withdrew their disheartened forces rapidly. The attack on Paris, which had seemed so promising, had stalled out. The army returned to Gien, and on September 22, Charles had the French army disbanded and sent most of the military commanders home. Charles, whose coffers were running low, could not afford to pay the troops. Of all the military commanders, only Joan remained with the king, always encouraging him to be kind and generous to the poor.

In October of 1429, Joan led a small force to take control of the town of Saint- Pierre-le-Moutier. She then engineered a siege of Le Charite-sur-Loire that went poorly. After a month, her troops ran out of supplies and they had to give up. Joan would never again have a military victory.

Commentary

Paris had nearly 100,000 inhabitants, and was then the largest city in Europe. But the number of men comprising both the English-Burgundian force and the French force was dramatically smaller. Thus whoever won the support of the Parisians would also win the battle. Charles hoped that Joan’s charisma would encourage the people’s revolt against the English; when it became clear that this was not to be, Charles quickly gave up. He did not want a long, drawn-out siege of Paris.

Many prostitutes followed the French army hoping for work when the army stopped marching and made camp. This upset Joan greatly, who often attempted to chase the prostitutes away. Before the siege of Paris, she rode after one and smacked her with the flat of her sword. The sword, which had been found in the Church of Saint Catherine of Fierbois and was considered magical and lucky, shattered. The destruction of the sword upset everyone, who considered it to be a bad omen, and negative feelings about the Paris campaign in general were beginning to increase. Charles, who was especially superstitious, took the sword-breaking incident to mean that the attack on Paris was doomed. Regardless of whether the sword was magical or not, this expectation became a self-fulfilling prophecy, since French soldiers were now more willing to flee in battle, figuring France had lost its luck anyway. Ironically, Joan’s victories had a similar effect: the French troops were starting to think they would always win, regardless of how hard they fought, and became complacent. Thus, Joan’s reputation came to be her undoing. Even though the French made a strong showing during the attack on Paris, the fact that it wasn’t an instantaneous rout, as the French soldiers had become accustomed to, led them to interpret a near-victory as a defeat.

Even before the attack on Paris, Charles had wanted to turn back. He was afraid to be so far away from the regions solidly under his control. However, the English position in the area made it difficult to turn back, so he continued the march to join the main force Paris, though ordering a retreat very quickly once he got there. In the attack on Paris, Joan was still famous for always winning. Charles’s forces hoped that her very presence would cause a pro-Charles revolt in Paris. Certainly, Joan’s presence was a major morale boost for Charles’s army and a cause for concern among the English defending Paris. Joan always encouraged her troops masterfully, and even when she was shot in the thigh at Paris she continued to call her forces forward.

After the battle of Paris, Charles increasingly hoped a peace could be negotiated with Burgundy, removing the need for expensive battles. He even found a clairvoyant who prophesied that Burgundy and France would make peace. Joan, however, assured Charles that the peace would come only after further warfare. Indeed, her previous letters to him, demanding his surrender, had met with no success. The Duke of Burgundy, who considered Charles to be responsible for the death of his forefathers, would not easily negotiate a peace with France.


Battle at Compiegne

Summary

After Paris and Joan’s failed siege of La Charite-sur-Loire, Joan’s career went rapidly downhill, though in December of 1429 the thankful King Charles VII promoted Joan, her parents, and her brothers to noble status. In 1430, the Duke of Burgundy threatened Champagne and Brie, and Joan promised Charles she would protect the regions. Thus, she left Charles’s side to fight the Burgundian forces at the ill-fated Battle of Compiegne. Joan was accompanied only by her brother Pierre, her squire Jean de Aulon, and a few soldiers. Nonetheless, when she reached Compiegne on May 14, 1430, Joan’s very presence helped greatly to rally the people there, giving them new hope against the Burgundian threat. Joan then accompanied Renaud, the archbishop of Reims, southward before returning to Compiegne.

 

Upon her return, Joan was surprised to find the city under siege from a leader allied with England, John of Luxembourg. Luxembourg was the Duke of Burgundy’s most capable captain, so Joan was up against a formidable opponent. Joan managed to sneak into the city secretly, past John’s guards, and led several brave attempts to repel the Burgundian forces. Totally outmanned, the city of Compiegne fell to John of Luxembourg’s army. Joan led forces to hold off John’s soldiers while the citizens escaped. In the process, Luxembourg’s men captured Joan, an even more valuable prize than the city itself: Joan had found her army’s escape route cut off by the British army, which had lain in waiting, and as the French made a final attempt to flee, an archer pulled Joan off her horse and onto the ground. After her capture, Joan immediately swore to her captors that she would do nothing that would betray Charles VII.

Archbishop Renaud, a clergyman on Charles’s side, told everyone that Joan’s capture was her own fault, and that ignoring Charles’s orders had gotten her into her present crisis: and indeed, Charles had been thinking of surrendering Compiegne to the Duke of Burgundy anyway in hopes of appeasing him. But the people of Compiegne had refused to give up and be ruled by Burgundy; thus Joan wasn’t the one who had disobeyed orders; she had merely aided a town that, out of loyalty to the king and France, was unwilling to abide by Charles’s wishes. Ultimately, Compiegne’s loyalty to France so offended the Duke of Burgundy that he became even closer with his English allies.

Commentary

The failure to take Paris had marked the beginning of Joan’s downfall. Her luck now continued to go downhill, and she would win no more battles. Still, the common people always rallied under her banner. Indeed, in Campiegne she proved her devotion to the people of France by standing boldly against the British in order to allow the people of the city to make their escape. Charles was increasingly frightened by her immense popularity with the people, who were already venerating her as a saint. Charles’s advisors had turned against Joan a long time before; now the King himself began to think he would be better off without her interference. Joan, now given a fully independent command, proved unable to win victory at Compiegne, and her strategy was disorganized and wavering. This showed that, although an extremely valuable asset to the French military in terms of her ability to boost morale, as a lone commander she was not militarily gifted–or even all that militarily competent. This was not surprising, given that she had no formal training in the art of war, nor any real experience. Joan made several bad decisions at Compiegne, including marching hr troops through the night to get there. Exhausted, the troops wanted to rest upon arrival, but Joan only gave them a few hours before beginning an attack against John of Luxembourg’s forces. Thus the contest was doomed from the start, for the enemy not only had more energy, but they also had more men. Some have pointed out that the first attack did take the Burgundians by surprise, and thus represented some good strategy. However, the immediate attack did not turn the tide of the battle against the British and it was extremely hard on Joan’s troops, who had little fight left in them after the first engagements.

According to legend, before the Battle of Compiegne Joan started making predictions that her end was near. Although this may very well be an embellishment added to the story for dramatic effect, perhaps Joan did sense that, with her men ever less motivated and Charles increasingly against her, she could not maintain her privileged position much longer.

At the time, when an army captured anyone as important as Joan, they would ransom the person. Joan, however, was a special case, and was not ransomed. Joan hoped she would die quickly, because she greatly feared torture and imprisonment, especially a long imprisonment. Some stories say that when she was captured, she pretended to be a man until she was found out. This story is unlikely. Joan’s crest was well known and she dressed in very colorful, fine clothing. She was not hard to pick out in a crowd and her description was now famous throughout France. Burgundy was extremely excited by Joan’s capture, and he immediately wrote a letter to commemorate his success. Very soon, the clergy at the University of Paris (remember, Paris was then mostly pro-English) let it be known that they wished to interrogate Joan, whom English propaganda had long associated with witchcraft.

 


Imprisonment and Trial

Summary

The Duke of Burgundy was ecstatic that he had finally captured the woman who had caused him and his English allies so much trouble. He put Joan and her squire Jean de Aulon in a cell in his castle at Vermandois. After Joan made an escape attempt, Burgundy thought it best to move her to a more northern castle, farther from French lines. At this castle, Joan made an even more daring escape attempt, leaping sixty feet from the top of her prison tower into the moat. Although knocked unconscious and much bruised from this escape attempt, Joan was not seriously hurt. Burgundy then transferred Joan to a more secure location in Arras.

 

On May 25, 1430, news reached Paris that Joan had been captured. The University of Paris, which was then pro-English, suggested that Joan be turned over to clergymen for inquisition. Pierre Cauchon, the Bishop of Beauvais, would lead the interrogation, since Joan had been captured in his diocese. On January 3, 1431, Joan was transferred into Cauchon’s control for a price of 10,000 francs. She was brought to trial at Rouen, which was then controlled by England’s Earl of Warwick.

On January 13, 1431, Joan’s trial began; she was tried by the Church (not the State.) Bishop Cauchon and the vice inquisitor of France served as the judges. First, they took statements from various people regarding Joan’s reputation as a witch. Joan seemed to meet the standard description: she behaved strangely, she heard mysterious “voices” in her head, she liked to go off by herself for long periods of time, she had unusually good luck, and she usually wore men’s clothing. (Indeed, not only had she assumed men’s clothing; she had assumed a man’s duties and “manly” characteristics, bravely commanding armies and advising male authority figures and even the King himself. Thus in being called a “witch,” Joan joined a series of women throughout history who suffered this label for their attempts to transcend traditional gender roles.) On February 21, 1431, Joan herself was summoned before the court. While she did swear to tell the truth, Joan often refused to say anything when she was asked questions which might reveal anything about Charles VII. The original 70 heresy charges shrunk to only 12, and Joan, who had been imprisoned in dank cells for months, now became ill. This worried Burgundy, who wanted to make sure she didn’t die before the court could prove she was a witch. Although she feared she was dying, Joan refused to change her statements. Soon, she was allowed to receive communion and to make confessions. On May 23, 1431, the court prepared to transfer her back to secular authorities.

Commentary

Joan was initially treated well by her captors. John of Luxembourg showed her considerable kindness during his period as her warden. And, although her later jailers were less friendly, they never threatened her life. Why didn’t they execute this dangerous woman immediately? They knew that if they simply executed Joan, they would create a martyr for France, and thus create an even more powerful political symbol for the French people to rally behind as they fought against the English. By putting her on trial for witchcraft and heresy, the English-Burgundian forces had a much craftier plan. Most of the leaders didn’t really care if she really was a witch or not. Instead, they wanted to undermine her importance with the French people before executing her. Then they would be free to kill her (presumably for religious crimes) without supplying the French with a martyr. They figured that no one would want to side with a convicted witch, so they were happy to turn Joan over to pro-English ecclesiastical forces. Furthermore, by painting Joan as a witch, they would also cast doubt on Charles VII’s wisdom as a ruler, suggesting that he had been controlled by a witch in recent years. The way the English-Burgundian allies used the Church to discredit Joan of Arc before killing her shows just how direct and powerful a role religion played in European politics during the 15th century.

During her trial, Joan suffered quite harsh treatment. She wasn’t even allowed to attend mass before her trial, one of the few things the ultra-pious Joan begged for. Since Joan had made escape attempts in the past, Bishop Cauchon had her chained to a wooden block, and posted guards who always kept an eye on her.

The fact that Joan constantly refused to talk about matters relating to Charles greatly upset her judges, who formulated 70 charges of heresy against her in a single month. They said her claim to hear divine voices constituted blasphemy. They accused her of claiming to follow the direct command of God from these voices in order to go against the Church itself. They said she indecently wore men’s clothes, and falsely claimed to be assured of salvation. They even accused her of a sinful suicide attempt, arguing that she could not have leapt from the sixty-foot tower and truly expected to live. Throughout her questioning on these charges, Joan gave such skillfully evasive answers. When she refused to change her answers at their promptings, her captors became increasingly frustrated, and they threatened her with torture. But Joan stood so adamantly by her story that the court decided that torture would be useless, and in the end the majority of the charges were dropped. Only twelve remained.

 


Execution

Summary

On May 24, 1431, Joan’s sentence was read. After her trial at the ecclesiastic hands of the Bishop Pierre Cauchon, Joan was to be turned over to the secular power of the Burgundians and English. Joan begged for an appeal to Pope, but her judges refused. Afraid of what would happen to her in English and Burgundian hands, Joan relented and signed an abjuration in which she admitted her crimes. This infuriated the English. Joan had foiled their plan by admitting her guilt, so now she would remain under ecclesiastical authority and not be killed. The English desperately wanted her dead and did not know what to do. Joan, however, did not stand by her abjuration long: after signing the document, Joan was returned to prison to remain there indefinitely; in prison, Joan said she was visited by her voices, condemning her capitulation. Joan now said her abjuration was a mistake, that she had not meant it. (After signing her abjuration, Joan put a cross next to her name [the signature still survives]. Some hypothesize that this was a signal that she did not seriously mean what she signed.) The Church judges called this a “relapse,” and on May 29 they handed her over to the secular authorities that she so feared.

 

When Joan learned of the method of her execution, she was distraught, telling her jailers that she would much rather be beheaded than burned, but no one was listening. Before her death, a guard of English soldiers, who laughed at her as she made her frantic, last minute prayers, surrounded the weeping Joan. One English soldier took pity on the nineteen-year-old girl and handed her a hastily made wooden cross moments before she was tied to the stake. She kissed it and put it into her bosom. During her burning, a Dominican friar consoled her by holding up a crucifix for her to gaze upon as she died. Even as she was burned, Joan did not recant. To the end, she continued to claim that the voices she had heard all her life were divine in nature. She called on her three favorite saints for help as she burned. Right before she lost consciousness, she yelled out: “Jesus!”

Commentary

Although most of the authorities involved in Joan’s case seemed more politically than religiously motivated, Bishop Pierre Cauchon did display a concern for Joan’s soul. For all his cruelty to Joan, he did allow her to make confession and receive communion after the abjuration and even after the relapse, and he spent considerable effort trying to get her to admit that she made up the voices that she heard. It seems that unlike the conniving English and Burgundian leaders, Cauchon genuinely believed Joan to be guilty of heresy and her soul to be in danger.

In later years, as Joan’s legend grew, the executioner would claim that Joan’s heart had resisted the flames, and had been found intact among the ashes. The same executioner was said to have confessed to his friends and family that he feared he was eternally damned for burning a holy woman. Even in death, Joan continued to maintain a powerful hold over people’s imaginations. In 1450, Charles VII came to Rouen and demanded an investigation into Joan’s tragic execution, resulting in the immense amount of source material now available on Joan’s life and death. Later, Pope Calixtus III annulled Cauchon’s 1431 verdict declaring Joan a heretic, and on May 16, 1920, Pope Benedict XV made Joan of Arc a saint. In June of that year, the French Parliament declared a national holiday in Joan’s honor.

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