Throughout much of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the English fought the French, claiming France. The English had the upper hand of it until Joan of Arc appeared. In fact, the dauphin (who became Charles VII) had not even been crowned at Reims, the traditional site of French coronations, when Joan came to him.
A simple and pious peasant girl who wove and spun, Joan saw heavenly beings and heard their voices. She understood that deliverance would come to France through her. The voices sent her to the nearest French bastion, but her pleas were ignored. Eventually, Joan convinced local authorities. One thing led to another. She picked the disguised dauphin out of a crowd of courtiers and made prophecies (which were recorded in a letter written from Lyons on April 22, 1429). These came true.
One of her predictions was that she would save Orleans. Orleans, crucial to the defense of France, was besieged by the English. Joan sent letters of defiance to them. On this day, April 29, 1429, a rapid march brought Joan of Arc with her French forces to the city. It was the turning point of the One Hundred Year's War. The English retreated the next day, but as it was Sunday, Joan forbid the French to pursue them. Within a few days, the English garrisons around Orleans had all been captured. Joan was wounded in the fighting, which was also as she had predicted.
The irresolute dauphin had to be coaxed into action. Joan convinced him to undertake various moves, which he did half-heartedly. A dramatic French victory at Pasay opened the way for Charles to retake Reims. Again Joan had difficulty convincing him to carry through with the logical step of having himself crowned, but he finally did. Then she knelt before him and called him king.
The voices told her she had less than a year left for her work. Frustrating months they proved to be, too. The king and his advisors lacked the boldness to pursue the advantages Joan had gained. A feeble attempt to retake Paris failed. Not long afterward, Joan was captured by the English, who brought charges of witchcraft against her. Determined to find grounds for executing her, they did not allow her any legal counsel and loosed a pack of high-powered theologians on her (although some Englishmen, to their credit, urged mercy).
As could be expected with such a stacked trial, she was convicted. In a terrified moment she recanted with the caveat that she did so only as far as it was God's will. Quickly she regained her courage and did not waver again, even when brought to the stake. She asked that a crucifix be held before her face, and called upon the name of Jesus as long as breath remained in her. Subsequent inquiries exonerated her and the pope officially canonized her as a saint in 1920.
- Fuller, Thomas. "The Life of Joan of Arc." The Holy State and the Profane State, volume II. New York: Columbia University Press, 1938; p. 372ff.
- "Joan of Arc, St." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
- Pernoud, Régine. Joan of Arc: her story; translated and revised by Jeremy duQuesnay Adams; edited by Bonnie Wheeler. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998.
- Thurston, Herbert. "St. Joan of Arc." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.
- Twain, Mark. Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc. Various editions. [fictional account].
- Various encyclopedia and web articles.
Last updated May, 2007.