Joan of Arc Archive

Joan of Arc's Life - Brief Overview

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An online collection of information, both general and scholarly, concerning Joan of Arc [Jehanne d'Arc or Darc in medieval French]; including biographies, trial excerpts and commentary, letters and other such documents. English translations and transcriptions of the original languages are provided.
The following is a brief biography of Joan of Arc. More detailed information, translations of source documents, and other such material can be found here

Joan of Arc ("Jeanne d'Arc" in modern French; "Jehanne Darc" in medieval French) was born circa 6 January 1412 in the village of Domremy, France, during the series of conflicts which we now call the Hundred Years War.

The English launched a new invasion in 1415 at a time when the French were divided into hostile "Armagnac" and "Burgundian" factions, a situation which would be an important factor during Joan of Arc's campaigns and trial. The Armagnacs were originally led by the Duke of Orleans and Count of Armagnac before becoming linked with the uncrowned "Dauphin" (claimant to the throne), who would be anointed as Charles VII with Joan of Arc's help. The Burgundians were supporters of the Duke of Burgundy, who allied himself with the English in 1420. Joan would later be captured by pro-Burgundian troops and put on trial by pro-English and Burgundian clergy.

Joan said that around the summer of 1424 she began receiving visions of the Archangel Michael, St Catherine [of Alexandria], St. Margaret [of Antioch], and occasionally others such as the Archangel Gabriel. She said these visions ordered her to lift the siege of Orleans on behalf of its captive Duke and to bring the Dauphin to Rheims for his coronation.

Military Campaigns

In February 1429 she convinced Lord Robert de Baudricourt to provide an escort of soldiers to bring her to the Royal Court at Chinon. After an eleven-day journey through enemy-held territory, she was allowed to present her case to the Dauphin Charles. He was encouraged by her words but sent her to the city of Poitiers to be examined by a group of high-ranking clergy, including the Archbishop of Rheims, the Inquisitor of Toulouse, several Bishops, and a number of prominent theologians. They told Charles that "nothing improper has been found in her, only good, humility, chastity, piety, propriety, simplicity."

This approval prompted Charles to allow her to accompany an army to Orleans. She arrived on April 29th. Her troops took the English fortress built around the Church of St. Loup on May 4th, followed by the fortress of the Augustinians on May 6th, followed by Les Tourelles on the 7th. The English cancelled the siege the next day. This victory was followed by the capture of Jargeau on June 12th, the bridge at Meung-sur-Loire on the 15th, and the town of Beaugency on the 17th. The next day witnessed a larger victory when the English lost over half their field army near Patay on June 18th.

These events opened the way for a campaign designed to bring Charles VII to Rheims, the traditional site of Royal coronations. After accepting the surrender of the city of Troyes and other towns along the way, the army entered Rheims on July 16th. The coronation took place the following day.

At this point the Royal government negotiated a fifteen-day truce with the Duke of Burgundy, followed by a four-month truce concluded on August 21st which served little purpose other than to prevent the Royal army from seizing additional locations at this crucial time.

The army did attempt an unsuccessful attack against English-held Paris on September 8th, during which Joan was wounded by a crossbow arrow. Charles decided to abandon the campaign immediately afterward and ordered the troops to return to the Loire Valley. The army was disbanded on September 21st.

Joan of Arc took part in a brief campaign that autumn during which Royal troops captured the town of St-Pierre-le-Moutier on November 4 and then unsuccessfully tried to besiege La-Charite-sur-Loire in late November and early December.

During the winter she resided at various Royal estates, then returned to the field the following spring. She received little direct support from the Royal government, which was still hoping to establish a permanent peace. This may be the context for a letter she dictated to a scribe on 23 March 1430, in which she threatens to lead a crusading army against the Hussites unless they "return to the Catholic Faith and the original Light". [See Joan of Arc's Letter to the Hussites for a translation of the full text]

At Lagny-sur-Marne in April 1430, Joan accompanied an army which defeated a small force led by a pro-English mercenary named Franquet d'Arras.

She was then spurred to more desperate action when the Duke of Burgundy launched a campaign against the city of Compiegne, which had refused to place itself under his jurisdiction as required by the terms of the treaty established the previous August. Joan was present when a small Armagnac force tried to capture the bridge at Pont-l'Eveque c. May 16th in order to sever Burgundy's line of supply. This attack failed.

As the Burgundian army laid siege to Compiegne itself, Joan made a fateful decision to go to the city's aid despite having predicted that she would be captured "before St. John's Day" (June 24th).

She brought a small number of troops into Compiegne on the morning of May 23rd. Later that day she was present during an attack against the Burgundian camp at Margny north of the besieged city. Burgundian troops which were concealed behind the Mont-de-Clairoix hill suddenly emerged and forced her soldiers to retreat, then surrounded her small group when the nearest drawbridge leading into Compiegne was shut, thereby blocking her only route of escape. She refused to surrender until a Burgundian archer rode up behind her and pulled her off her horse. Lionel of Wandomme, a member of John of Luxembourg's contingent, pushed his way through the crowd and convinced her to surrender to him.

After spending four months imprisoned in the chateau of Beaurevoir, Joan was transferred to the English in exchange for 10,000 livres to compensate the Burgundians for the ransom money they were being asked to forego.
She was brought to Rouen, the headquarters of the English army in Normandy. English government documents provide information about the process of selecting the tribunal members - chosen from a group of clergy who had supported them in the past - and the payments issued to finance the trial [click here to see a summary of some of these records]. The English appointed Pierre Cauchon to serve as the judge, since Cauchon had long served as an advisor to the English occupation government. Many members of the tribunal later admitted that the English ordered them to convict Joan on "any pretense that could be devised" and the transcript was falsified on a number of crucial points [click here to see some of this testimony].

Although Inquisitorial procedure required female prisoners to be guarded by nuns rather than male guards in order to reduce the likelihood of rape, Joan was held in a secular fortress and guarded by English soldiers. According to several eyewitnesses, she said these soldiers attempted to rape her on a number of occasions, prevented mainly by the fact that she "securely laced and tied" her soldiers' outfit, which had dozens of thick cords that allowed her to tie together the long hip-boots, hosen and tunic, unlike a dress which would have left her vulnerable. The judge ignored this context in order to claim that her actions violated the prohibition against cross-dressing, although the medieval Church granted an exemption in such cases of necessity. The eyewitnesses said that Joan asked to be placed in a Church prison with women (nuns) to guard her so she could safely wear a dress; but Cauchon refused.

The trial hearings lasted from February 21st through the end of March 1431. No witnesses were called, violating the normal Inquisitorial requirement that any fact needed to be confirmed by at least two witnesses. The tribunal members later admitted that the court therefore resorted to trying to trick Joan into saying something that could be used against her. Standard Inquisitorial rules also required trials to be conducted by a balanced or neutral group of clergy, another rule that was violated in this case. Eyewitnesses said Joan repeatedly objected to the pro-English nature of the tribunal and asked to be brought before either the Pope or a neutral group of clergy. This created another key issue during the trial: the judge claimed she refused to submit to the Church because she refused to accept a pro-English tribunal, which misrepresents her statements and distorts medieval theology. Medieval doctrine held that a partisan tribunal would automatically nullify the trial [click here for more information about this issue].

Since English soldiers had developed the belief that Joan was defeating them through black magic, the tribunal attempted to link her to witchcraft by alleging that she had used her banner to work magic or had used various other methods such as pouring wax on the heads of small children, but the witchcraft charge was essentially dropped before the final set of accusations were written on April 5th.

There were at least four (unsuccessful) rescue attempts conducted by units of Charles VII's army, one of which reached within a few miles of Rouen before being defeated. This seems to have led the English government to put pressure on Cauchon to quickly finish the trial. On May 24 Cauchon brought her to Saint-Ouen cemetery and threatened her with immediate execution unless she agreed to sign a confession and give up the soldiers' clothing she was relying on as a protection against rape. She agreed to a short confession, which the eyewitnesses said was later replaced with a longer, more damaging one without her knowledge. She was given a dress to wear. According to three eyewitnesses, "a great English lord" attempted to rape her, evidently in an attempt to scare her into returning to the soldiers' clothing that had been deliberately left in her cell. The bailiff said the guards finally took away her dress and left her nothing else to wear except the soldiers' outfit. Joan and the guards argued "until noon", but she finally put on the forbidden clothing and was then promptly displayed to the judge. Cauchon pronounced her a "relapsed heretic", condemned her to death, then left her cell exclaiming "Farewell, be of good cheer, it is done!" to English commanders waiting outside.

On the morning of May 30th she was brought to the Old Market square in Rouen and tied to a pillar that was set so high that the executioner, Geoffroy Therage, complained that he couldn't reach her to quickly stab her through the heart as was the common practice. She asked for a cross, which was provided by one of the tribunal members, Friar Martin Ladvenu. She told him to hold it in front of her as the flames rose. Several eyewitnesses said that she repeatedly screamed "in a loud voice the holy name of Jesus, and implored and invoked without ceasing the aid of the saints of Paradise". After screaming "Jesus!" one last time, she went limp.

The executioner said shortly afterward that "he had a great fear of being damned, [as] he had burned a saint."

Rouen was finally retaken by Charles VII in November 1449, which allowed an investigation into the trial. The first stage was conducted by a clergyman named Guillaume Bouille in March 1450, followed by a more thorough investigation by the Inquisitor-General, Jean Brehal, in May 1452, then a full appellate trial from November 1455 to July 1456. A total of 115 witnesses were questioned by a group of inquisitors and bishops, leading the appellate court to overturn the verdict on 7 July 1456. The ruling described Joan as a "martyr" who had been convicted by a corrupt tribunal dominated by a secular government. The Inquisitor-General denounced the tribunal for "manifest malice against the Roman [Catholic] Church, and indeed heresy". In the 16th century the Catholic League used her image on their banners. She was later beatified in 1909 and canonized in 1920, shortly after a renewal of public interest during World War I when Allied soldiers had carried her image into battle.

Available At This Site:

  • Short Biography - A concise summary of Joan of Arc's life.
  • Long Biography - A book-length biography.
  • Trial Information - Issues concerning the Condemnation Trial and posthumous appeal (Rehabilitation), including excerpts from the testimony.
  • Letters - Translations / transcriptions of the surviving letters dictated to scribes by Joan of Arc.
  • Articles - Information on specialized topics.
  • Reviews - Book and film reviews.
  • Search & Index - Topical index and search option.
  • Links - Lists of links dealing with Joan of Arc or her time period.
  • About - About this site and its author.
  • Citation Information - How to cite this website as a source.

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Most recent site revision: 30 May 2019



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