Declared a saint patroness of France in 1922, Joan of Arc was a military commander leading France to victory over the English and their French allies, the Burgundians in the Hundred Years’ War. Daughter of peasants, at a young age Joan began to hear voices, which she determined had been sent by God, encouraging her to rise up against the Burgundian rule established in the city of Orléans, and save France by installing Charles VII as its rightful king. Following the divine guidance, at the age of sixteen Joan turned to Robert de Baudricourt, the captain of the Armagnac garrison established in Vaucouleurs, to provide her an armed escort to Chinon, where the Dauphin was, since she would have to cross hostile territory defended by the enemy front. Almost a year later, approximately on February 13, 1429, Baudricourt finally granted Joan her an escort to meet the uncrowned king.

With her hair cut short and dressed in men’s clothes, Joan of Arc crossed enemy territory to Chinon. By that time, she had already gathered a group of followers who believed her to be the virgin who, according to a popular prophecy, was destined to save France. However, the Dauphin, who had yet to meet the girl, had his doubts about that. Therefore, upon her arrival, Joan was subjected to tests and interrogation, as those close to Charles feared that she intended to kill the King. According to the legend, Joan proved them wrong by identifying Charles, dressed incognito, in a crowd of members of his court, despite never having seen him before. She walked up to the true King, bowed and said, “Lord Dauphin, I have come to lead your armies to victory.” She then persuaded him to give her an army to lead to Orléans, that had been under siege from the English for 8 months at that time. After having had Joan go through a theological examination, as advised by his counselors, to verify her morality, Charles granted her request and placed a sword and a white banner in her hands.

It is believed that presence of Joan of Arc at Orléans changed the pattern of the siege. She was an active participant at councils of the army commanders, who often listened to what she had to say, believing in the divine origin of her advice. Under its white banner, the army of 4,000 Frenchmen defeated the English in battle, breaking the siege of Orléans on May 8, 1429. After the victory, Joan persuaded the Dauphin to strategically start a campaign on the Loire river to lead the army to the city of Rouen, since the English expected an attempt to reconquer Paris or an attack on Normandy.

Joan contributed to the victory of the French in the battle of Jargeau on June 12, 1429, aided her army in recapturing Meung-Sur-Loire on June 15, and finally, in achieving their third victory in Beaugency on the 17th of June. One day after the last battle, Joan urged the Armagnacs to pursue the English army to Patay, where the French suffered minimal losses.

About a month after the victory in Orléans, Joan of Arc and her followers escorted Charles VII to the city of Reims where on July 7, 1429, he was crowned King of France. Joan’s success and Charles’ coronation restored the French’s hopes of freeing themselves from British rule, bringing about a turning point in the war.

In the spring of 1430, Joan of Arc continued the military campaign in an attempt to liberate the city of Compiègne, but was captured by the Burgundians, who kept her imprisoned until 1431, when she was convicted of heresy and witchcraft, and burned alive at the stake at the age of 19. In her trial, led entirely by pro-English and Burgundian clerics, Joan was ordered to answer to some 70 charges against her, including witchcraft, heresy and cross-dressing. In the fifteenth century, dressing in men’s clothes was considered unacceptable for women, as was Joan’s habit of riding alone with a troop of male soldiers, a fact that was used to question her virginity, which was believed to be the greatest virtue of women in medieval France. Moreover, her claims of hearing divine voices, and the fact that Joan had given her military mission a religious character, saying that God chose her to led her army to victory, were used by the English to discredit the young woman, in an attempt to demonstrate that she was in fact acting under the devil’s guidance.

A modest and illiterate peasant, Joan became a martyr and a national heroine of France.  In 1456, the Catholic Church began to review her trial, and Joan of Arc was judged innocent of the crimes of heresy and witchcraft. About 500 years after her death, she was rehabilitated and canonized by Pope Benedict XV, who beatified her as St. Joan of Arc on May 9, 1920.

More than just a French patriotic symbol, Joan is an embodiment of strength and endurance, a woman who stood firm in her beliefs and convictions at a time when patriarchy dictated the rules. She was and still is an example for many women who struggle daily for their rights.

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