Joan of Arc
Joan of Arc was born in 1412 in Domremy, Champagne. This was towards the end of the Hundred Years' War, a long conflict against the English, in which France lost the alliance of Burgundy when their Duke was murdered French loyalists. Domremy had opted to remain loyal to King Charles.
Jaques d'Arc, Joan's father, was a peasant farmer and Joan was the youngest of five children. Accounts describe her as a pious child, who spent much time in church and immersed herself in prayer.
At around the age of 13, Joan received her first vision, one summer day in her father's garden. She described a blaze of light accompanying it and identified St. Michael, who told her that she would be visited by Saints Catherine and Margaret. They later appeared revealing her mission, that she must deliver the French from the English, win back Orleans, and see Charles VII crowned at Reims. She left Domremy for the nearby city of Vaucouleurs, with her uncle. There, she was to convince the town's captain, Sir Robert de Baudricourt, of her mission and request an escort to Chinon. At their first meeting, in May of 1428, de Baudricourt refused to believe her. Eventually Baudricourt agreed to send her to Chinon after she described a French defeat accurately in a battle known as the "Day of the Herrings." A courier confirmed her report and she was assigned an escort of six men. Joan arrived at Chinon in March, seeking an audience with King Charles , which was granted as he was overwhelmed by her passion and conviction. Remarkably, this young peasant girl was, as a consequence, given control of an army and, within a year, Joan of Arc had led the French army to victories at Orleans, Patay and Troyes. Many other towns were also liberated from English control and it allowed a triumphal entry for the coronation of King Charles VII on 17 July 1429.
For her exploits and leadership, Joan of Arc and her family were granted noble status. She also won the hearts of the French soldiers who looked up to her as an mythical leader. However, a year later, Joan was captured by the Burgundian forces at Compiegne and sold to the English. Her trial is well documented and provides a revealing insight into her character and destiny. The English and members of the French clergy decided to put her on trial for witchcraft. In many ways it was a show trial with the result cleverly orchestrated.The leading clergy member, Pierre Cauchon, was a staunch supporter of the British and hated Joan of Arc for her miraculous revival of French national pride. However, another interpretation is that he felt obliged to save Joan's Immortal soul from damnation for the claims she was making.
The trial was held in public, a very testing experience for Joan, but her responses were much sharper than her prosecutors expected. She produced some strong rebuts, gaining her public sympathy. For example, the prosecution tried very hard to get her to blaspheme. She was asked, "Do you know if you are in the grace of God?"
"If I am not, may God place me there; if I am, may God so keep me. I should be the saddest in all the world if I knew that I were not in the grace of God. But if I were in a state of sin, do you think the Voice would come to me? "
Eventually, the trial was continued behind closed doors. It appears Joan was threatened with torture and as expected, found guilty and condemned to death by burning at the stake. Faced with such an overwhelming ordeal Joan broke down and confessed. However a week later she regained her strength and recanted her confession. She was able to face her ordeal with dignity. It is said that over 10,000 people came to see her execution by burning. Her ashes were scattered in the Seine. 26 years later the English were finally driven from Rouen and in a later inquest she was declared to be officially innocent and was officially designated to be a martyr. She was canonized a saint in 1920 and remains the patron saint of France. Joan of Arc made a remarkable achievement in her life of 19 years and her feast day is May 30th.