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Joan of Arc

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Sometime around 1412, Joan of Arc was born in Domremy, France. It was a small village, and Joan grew up in a peasant family. Although she was known for her skill and her hard work, she seemed fairly ordinary except for her extreme piousness. In 1425, around age 13, Joan started hearing "voices" which she claimed were the voices of Saint Catherine, Saint Margaret, and Saint Michael. She said these voices commanded her to aid the Dauphin, Charles, in his fight against England and Burgundy, and to see him crowned as the King of France at Reims. Reims was the traditional location where French kings were crowned. But because Reims was in English hands, Charles had not been able to hold a coronation ceremony yet, though his father had been dead for years.

When Joan went to Vaucouleurs to offer her aid, she was initially laughed away. In February of 1429, however, she was granted an audience with the Dauphin. He was superstitious and in dire straits in his battle against the English and Burgundians, so he sent her with a contingent of troops to aid in the Siege of Orleans, a long stalemate in which the English had surrounded the city of Orleans with fortresses. Joan followed sudden commands from her voices and stumbled upon a battle between English and French forces. Rallying the French troops, she drove the English out of fort after fort, decisively ending the siege and earning herself popularity throughout France as the miraculous "Maid of Orleans."

After subsequently defeating the English again at the Battle of Patay, Joan brought Charles to Reims, where he was officially crowned King Charles VII on July 17. On the way from Reims, Joan and the Duke of Alencon suggested that the French attempt to take English-controlled Paris. But after a promising first day of fighting, Charles called off the assault on Paris; he was running low on funds. He recalled the army south and disbanded much of it. Charles then named Joan and her family to French nobility, in thanks for Joan's services to France.

Joan continued to fight for Charles's interests, but her luck had run out. In May of 1430, while holding off Burgundian troops at the Battle of Compiegne so the French townspeople could flee, Joan was captured by John of Luxembourg. Joan was so popular and such a valuable symbol to the pro-Charles side (the Armagnacs) that the English and Burgundians knew killing her immediately would cause an outrage and create a martyr. Instead, they enlisted the church to discredit her first.

After two escape attempts, including a leap from sixty-foot tower, Joan came to trial under Bishop Pierre Cauchon for suspected heresy and witchcraft. Cauchon, who continually tried to make her admit that she had invented the voices, found her guilty of heresy. Before being handed over to secular authorities, Joan signed an abjuration admitting that her previous statements had been lies. But after a few days, she said she hadn't meant the abjuration, and she was sentenced to burn at the stake. Only nineteen, Joan was burned on May 30, 1431.

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