Joan of Arc biography
Joan of Arc, nicknamed "The Maid of Orléans," was born in 1412 in Domrémy, Bar, France. A national heroine of France, Joan of Arc led the French army to victory over the British at Orléans, at age 18. Captured a year later, Joan was burned by the English and their French collaborators as a heretic. She was canonized as a Roman Catholic saint 500 years later, on May 16, 1920.
In 1412 (on January 6, according to some sources), Joan of Arc was born into the French peasant class to devoutly religious parents in the village of Domremy. Beginning around age 12, she heard voices: those of St. Michael, St. Catherine, and St. Margaret. She also possessed many characteristics common to her contemporary female visionaries, who were a notable fixture of her time—extreme piety, claims of direct communication with the saints, and a reliance on individual experience, as opposed to that found through the institutions of the church, of the presence of God.
As history would prove, beyond these traits, she also possessed remarkable mental and physical courage.
The crown of France during Joan’s time was in dispute between the dauphin, Charles (later Charles VII), and the English king, Henry VI. Henry's armies were occupying much of the northern part of the kingdom with the Burgundians (loyal to the Duke of Burgundy and allied to the English), and the dauphin's state was more tenuous yet, since, five years after his father's death, he still had not been crowned king of France.
Joan's village was on the frontier between the two factions, and villagers had already had to abandon their homes. Led by the voices of the saints, in May 1428 Joan traveled to Vaucouleurs, where she asked for permission to join the dauphin and his cause. She and her visions were promptly dismissed, and the 16-year-old Joan went home. The next year, undeterred, she returned.
That April, the dauphin provided Joan with several military men, and she was joined in her fight by her brothers Jean and Pierre. Her standard was painted with an image of Christ in judgment, and the banner she would carry into battle bore the name of Jesus. When questioned about the sword she would wield, Joan said that it would be discovered in the church of Sainte-Catherine-de-Fierbois, and one was indeed found there.
Her ensuing strategy was underpinned with rejecting the guarded, nonaggressive strategy that characterized French leadership during the war before her arrival. The cautious approach clearly had not been effective, and Joan sought to change the approach and the tide of the war.
On May 4, led by Joan, the French attacked and captured the fortress of Saint Loup, and the next day Joan led a march to a second fortress called Saint Jean le Blanc.
Soon in front of the war council, Joan demanded another offensive, but she was rebuked and the city gates locked to prevent her from launching an attack. But Joan and a group of soldiers and townsmen unbolted the gate, and she led a charge against the main English stronghold of Les Tourelles on May 7. During the siege, Joan was shot through the neck with an arrow, but she quickly returned to the fight, her unstoppable spirit bolstering the French resolve until the English capitulated.
The subsequent victory at Orléans led the French army to reconsider and embrace further aggressive moves, while Joan urged Charles to hurry to Reims to be crowned.
With Joan leading several detachments of troops, and traveling with the dauphin, the French army took several cities before arriving in Reims, where Charles was crowned on July 17. Joan was at the coronation, and after the ceremony she knelt before Charles and called him her king for the first time.
Joan soon urged King Charles to besiege Paris, an English stronghold, and the French assault on Paris ensued on September 8. Joan received a wound to the leg from a crossbow, but she continued the fight. The following morning, however, she received a royal order to withdraw.