Joan of Arc

Jeanne d’Arc is a very important figure to the French people.  She is known to us as Joan of Arc, she is also called The Maid of Orleans.  She is considered a heroine to the French and is also a Roman catholic saint.  She was born to a peasant family in the north-east of France in 1412.  She lived a short life, she was captured, tried and later killed by the English forces during the Hundred Year’s War. In 1337, the Hundred Year’s War began as an inheritance dispute for the French throne.  The fighting took place mainly in France, the English war tactics were devastating to the already struggling French economy.  The population in France was still very low due to the Black Death plague.  Merchants also had very little chance to trade with foreign markets. The British Army was very close to establishing a dual monarchy with the English firmly in control.  The French army had not had a battle victory in years.  The king who was ruling France at the time was Charles VI (Charles the Mad) and he suffered bouts of insanity that made him often unable to rule.  His brother, Louis, Duke of Orleans (led the Armagnac faction) and his cousin, John the Fearless Duke of Burgundy (headed the Burgundy faction) fought over the regency and the guardianship of the children.  This led to factions forming in the French nobility, with everyone taking sides.  Henry V of England took advantage of this and invaded France in 1415.  In 1418, the Burgundians took Paris and massacred the court of Armagnacs, throwing France fully into civil war. In 1420, Charles the Mad at disinherited his son Charles VII (Charles the Victorious), claiming he was the product of his mother’s affair.  In 1422, Charles the Mad died. Charles VII, assumed the title as heir to the throne at the age of 14, after all 4 of his brothers had died.  This was not with out controversy, and this caused more splits among the French.  Those that supported Charles VII, the English and Henry V’s claim to the throne, and the claim of a cousin, Charles, Duke of Orleans. Things were beginning to look pretty hopeless for Dauphin (prince). The Burgundies signed a treaty supporting the English.  Joan of Arc entered the picture and demanded that she be taken to the Dauphin.  She claimed that vision of angels and saints had given her a divine mission.  She arrived to see him 4 March 1429.  Charles VII had to test Joan, so he disgusted himself amount the court, she was able to identify him immediately.  After other tests and investigations into her character were made, she was given abutter challenge.  She accompanied the troops and they were able to force the English army to lift the siege at Orleans which effectively turned the tide of the war.  Charles was crowned king of France in July of 1429.  Joan was later captured by the Burgundians at the siege of Compiegne. She made several attempts to escape, one time jumping down 70ft into a dry moat.  After this attempt she was moved and then transferred to the British.  The Armagnacs made several attempts to rescue her from the British, who held her in Rouen, but they were never successful. Her trail began 9 January 1431 in Rouen.  It has been ruled an illegal trial with many major problems by in inquest of the trial 25 years later.  The Bishop in charged lacked jurisdiction, the low standard of evidence used violated inquisitorial rules.  The notary that was directed to collected testimony against her could not find adverse evidence, which should have meant that she was not taken to trial.  The court also did not allow her to have a legal advisor.  The church also required that trials were to be judged by impartial or a blanked group of clerics, this was also violated as the court was stacked with pro-English clergy.  Joan apparently noted this and asked (and was denied) to have French clergy to be present as well.  It was also reported that some of the clergy that took place were treated when they refused to cooperate. The trial records are apparently pretty amazing.  Joan was a peasant girl who was illiterate and could barely sign her own name.  Her answers astonished the eye-witnesses at the trial.  She was obviously a very smart woman who was able to evade the theological pitfalls that the tribunal tried to use to entrap her.

“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.'”[68] The question is a scholarly trap. Church doctrine held that no one could be certain of being in God’s grace. If she had answered yes, then she would have been charged with heresy. If she had answered no, then she would have confessed her own guilt. Notary Boisguillaume later testified that at the moment the court heard this reply, “Those who were interrogating her were stupefied.–“Saint Joan”. Penguin Classics, Reissue edition (2001). ISBN 0-14-043791-6

Court functionaries later testified that portions of the transcript were altered to not be in her favor.  She was denied appeals to the Council of Basel and the Pope.  She was held in a secular prison instead of a proper ecclesiastical prison (with female guards).  As an illiterate person she was threatened with immediate execution to sign a document that she did not understand. What was Joan really charged with?  Hersey.  Heresy was a capital crime only for a repeat offense.  Her repeat offense?  Cross-dressing.  She dressed as a man for many reasons.  She was on the battle field carrying the banner for the French army.  She needed the protection of the armor.  Also the military clothing gave her more protection from rape. It has been suggested that her threat of rape was more from the English then it was from her own countryman.  She went back to wearing the military clothing while in prision.  It is not clear if it was because there was a rape attempt by an English lord or if it was because that was the only clothing she was given. Joan was found guilty and burned at the stake 30 May 1431.  Her body was thrice burned and all her remains thrown into the Seine. The Hundred Years’ War continued 22 after her death.  Between Joan’s efforts to turn the tide of the war for France and the fact that Henry V died and left an infant son to inherit the throne, the English fumbled a bit.  The English grown was ruled by a regent, and the regent died when the prince was only 10.  Henry VI became the youngest kind to rule, subsequently his leadership was a bit weak and helped lead to the end of the war. In 1874, the French government commissioned a statue of her to be out up in Place de Place des Prymaids, located very close to the Louvre.  It is also very close to where she was wounded when she tried and failed to take Paris. IMG_3057 In 1452 a nullification trail was started by Joan’s mother. A formal appeal was made in 1455. Joan was vindicated and called a martyr.  The nullification trial reversed her conviction and she was claimed innocent in 1456.  The Bishop who was in charge of the trial was implicated with heresy.  She was beautified in 1909 and canonized 6 May 1920.

The people who came after her in the five centuries since her death tried to make everything of her: demonic fanatic, spiritual mystic, naive and tragically ill-used tool of the powerful, creator and icon of modern popular nationalism, adored heroine, saint. She insisted, even when threatened with torture and faced with death by fire, that she was guided by voices from God. Voices or no voices, her achievements leave anyone who knows her story shaking his head in amazed wonder.

—Stephen Richey

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