Joan of Arc was born around 1412 to Jacques d’Arc and Isabelle Romée in the village of Domrémy in northeast France. She grew up on a farm and was never taught to read or write, but her mother helped Joan to establish a strong faith in the Catholic Church. While Joan was growing up on the farm, France and England were fighting in a war we now call the Hundred Years’ War. England had the advantage over France, and in 1420, a peace treaty dethroned France’s Charles of Valois, and King Henry V became ruler of both France and England. Two years later, his son, Henry VI, succeeded him. England occupied most of Northern France, which included Joan’s village of Domrémy. Residents of the Domrémy had to flee their homes.
When Joan was only 13 years old, she began to hear voices that she felt were from God. Joan believed that God was guiding her on a mission to save France from its enemies and wanted her to help make Charles the king of France. At Charles’ castle of Chinon, Joan told a private group of people about God’s message to her and vowed that she would follow his orders, and Joan promised Charles she would help him succeed the throne. She revealed things to Charles in private that only a messenger of God would know and it won his loyalty.
By the age of 16, Joan took a vow of chastity and believed her purpose was not to get married, but to serve God. Her father had attempted to arrange a marriage for Joan; fortunately, she persuaded a local court not force her into the marriage.
By that time, Joan had acquired a loyal following who believed she was the virgin chosen by God to save France. Joan lived in a local commune Vaucouleurs, but the magistrate Robert de Baudricourt didn’t think Joan was capable of helping France because she was a woman. Joan cut her hair and wore men’s clothes to disguise herself and sneaked past him to take an 11-day long journey across enemy territory to Charles’ castle in Chinon. Once Joan arrived, she vowed to Charles that she would do everything in her power to make sure he was crowned king at Reims. She requested an army to assist her to Orléans, and although generals and counselors told Charles that she wasn’t capable of leading an army, he granted Joan the request.
In March of 1429, Joan penned a letter to the enemy warning them of her plan, and the brave young woman donned all-white armor and a white horse and led her army. She was victorious, driving the Anglo-Burgundians from their bastion and forcing them to retreat across the Loire River.
After her amazing victory, word spread about Joan among the French forces. Led by Joan and her followers, Charles was escorted across enemy lines to Reims, taking the villages by force. Joan was able to make good on her promise, enabling the coronation of King Charles VII on July 14, 1429.
Joan wanted to continue fighting, and she tried to persuade the king to allow her to take Paris from the English, but King Charles VII was warned that she was becoming too powerful. Instead, Charles gave her another duty; to confront a Burgundian assault on Compiégne.
Joan took the orders and went to the town of Compiégne, but at the gates of the village, she was thrown from her horse, and the Burgundians snatched her. She was put on trial with 70 charges against her, including dressing as a man and witchcraft. During the trial, Joan was questioned repeatedly not only about the voices she claimed to hear, but why she dressed as a man. Although Charles owed his coronation to her, he did not attempt to help free her.
She had been imprisoned for a year, and under the threat of being killed, Joan was forced to sign a confession denying she received divine guidance, and because of it, she was sentenced to life in jail. Four days later, Joan heard the voices again and was found dressed as a man. The trial masters declared Joan a relapsed heretic. On May 30, 1431, Joan was taken to the market place of Rouen and burned alive at the stake. She was only 19 years old.
News of Joan of Arc spread throughout the land, and she became famous amongst the French. Twenty years later, Charles VII would finally clear her name. Pope Benedict XV made Joan of Arc a saint on May 16, 1920. Joan of Arc inspired artists and writers over the centuries and became the patron saint of France. If it hadn’t been for Joan of Arc, France might not have become the country it is today.