The national heroine of France and the internationally renowned champion of French struggle against England, the official Catholic saint and the legend of the Middle Ages, Joan of Arc (ca. 1412–1431) lived in a tough period in the history of European states, when a Hundred Years’ War set the two major states at loggerheads. Besides the English occupancy of French territories, in the mid-1410s the French camp was not that homogenous either.
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The two competing groups were the Armagnacs and the Burgundians: the former were loyal to the Dauphin, the future Charles VII, who reclaimed his throne with Joan’s help; the latter supported the Duke of Burgundy who associated himself with the English in 1420.
Born in the village of Domrémy to the family of a landowner, at the age of twelve Joan claimed that she was getting visions of Archangel Gabriel, Archangel Michael, St Catherine, and St Margaret, who were telling her to fight the English out of the country and bring the Dauphin to Rheims for his coronation.
Only after a second attempt did the sceptical garrison commander, Robert de Baudricourt, admit her to the royal court at Chinon. Disguised as a male, Joan stole through the hostile Burgundian territory and appeared before Charles VII. He was gracious to her ideas but insisted on her investigation by a group of church dignitaries. Their approval granted, Joan was allowed to accompany the French troops to beleaguered Orleans.
In the sphere of battleship, Joan of Arc truly revolutionized the course of events. Before her participation in the military campaigns, the French warship style was characterized by extreme lameness and lack of action: during almost half a year before Joan’s arrival to Orleans the defending troops had undertaken only one attempt of attack and suffered a disgraceful defeat. Joan’s vision of the military process was by far more active and aggressive.
Having arrived at the siege of Orleans on 29 April 1429, Joan inspired soldiers to rush to the attack already on the 4 and 5 May. Resulting from these actions were two captured fortresses, Saint Loup and Saint Jean le Blanc, the latter being actually deserted and thus constituting a practically bloodless victory.
Joan did not stop however: the next day at a war council she demanded that another attack should be undertaken against the enemy. Despite Jean d’Orleans’ protest and his order to lock the city gates to prevent military action, Joan assembled a number of common soldiers and citizens and commanded them to successfully capture the fortress of Saint Augustins.
Excluded from the war council for her ‘reckless’ behavior, she still continued inspiring the army for action. As a result of these victories, Charles VII entrusted her with co-command of the army together with the Duke of Alençon leading the French to advance on Rheims. With minimal losses, the French army conquered the terrain on their way and on 16 July 1429 Rheims opened doors to Charles VII who was crowned the next day.
During the subsequent month Joan actively participated and was several times wounded in the French campaigns for recapturing Paris. In a desperate attempt to aid Compiegne besieged by the Burgundian army, Joan committed a tactic mistake and on 23 May 1430 was captured by the Burgundians.
Surprisingly enough, King Charles VII never interfered or bought her out. After several attempts at escape from captivity, Joan was sold to the English by Duke Philip of Burgundy. Since Joan played a key role in Charles’ VII coronation instead of his rival for the throne, Henry VI, the English were interested in her trial and execution for political reasons.
They charged her with heresy for wearing male attire, and although Joan demonstrated remarkable intellect when answering the tricky questions of the prosecution, she was condemned to death. On 30 May 1431 Joan of Arc was publicly burnt in Rouen, to become the world’s legend of a patriotic champion.