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Joan of Arc: The Girl Who Changed the Course of History

Joan of Arc, also known as Jeanne d’Arc, is one of the most iconic figures in history. She was a young French peasant girl who became a national heroine and martyr in the 15th century. Her story has been told and retold countless times in literature, art, film, and popular culture, making her a symbol of courage, conviction, and inspiration.

Early Life

Joan was born in Domrémy, a small village in northeastern France, in 1412. She was the daughter of Jacques d’Arc, a farmer and minor official, and Isabelle Romée. Her childhood was spent working on the farm and tending to the animals. She was also deeply religious and spent much of her time praying and attending church.

Image Credit: World Encyclopedia

At the age of 13, Joan began to experience visions of saints and angels, who told her that she was chosen by God to save France from its enemies. She saw herself as a messenger of God and felt a strong sense of duty to fulfill this mission.

The Hundred Years’ War

At the time of Joan’s visions, France was in a state of turmoil. The country was embroiled in a bitter conflict with England known as the Hundred Years’ War. The English had occupied large parts of France, including the important city of Rouen, and were threatening to take over the entire country.

In 1428, Joan decided to seek out the Dauphin, Charles VII, who was the heir to the French throne but had not yet been crowned king. She believed that he was the only person who could help her fulfill her mission. With the help of a small group of supporters, Joan made her way to the Dauphin’s court at Chinon.

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The Dauphin was initially skeptical of Joan’s claims, but she convinced him of her sincerity by predicting a military victory and offering to lead his troops into battle. She also underwent a rigorous examination by theologians and clergy, who concluded that she was indeed a messenger of God.

The Campaigns

Joan was given command of a small army and set out to break the English siege of Orléans, a city on the Loire River. She arrived there in April 1429 and immediately began to inspire and motivate the troops. She led several successful attacks on the English fortifications, and the siege was lifted in May.

Joan went on to win several more battles against the English, including the decisive Battle of Patay in June 1429. This victory opened up the way for the Dauphin to be crowned King Charles VII at Reims, the traditional site of French coronations.

Capture and Trial

Despite her military success, Joan’s political enemies began to plot against her. In 1430, she was captured by the Burgundians, who were allies of the English. They sold her to the English, who put her on trial for heresy and witchcraft.

Image Credit: Encyclopedia Britannica

Joan’s trial was a farce. She was subjected to intense questioning and was not allowed to have legal counsel. She was accused of dressing like a man, which was seen as a violation of traditional gender roles, and of claiming to have heard voices from God, which was considered heresy.

Despite her eloquent defense, Joan was found guilty and sentenced to death. She was burned at the stake on May 30, 1431, in Rouen.

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Joan’s death was a tragedy, but it did not mark the end of her story. In the centuries that followed, she became a symbol of French nationalism and a model of female courage and leadership.

In 1909, Joan was canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church. She was also declared a national heroine of France, and her feast day is celebrated on 30 May.