Saint Joan of Arc, a Modern Day Hero for All

By Joan Arnold

 

The Hundred Years’ War lasted longer than the name suggests. It actually lasted from 1338 to 1453, a total of 115 years. In 1328, the last Captain king of France died. No descendant lived to inherit the throne. King Edward III of England sent an army to enforce his own claims to the French crown. Thus the great war began. Since the English had control of half of France, the French did not have high hopes of a victory. However, in 1428, heavenly voices called upon a young girl in the Lorraine Valley to save France and have the Dauphin Charles VII crowned king. Jeanne D’Arc, or Joan of Arc, became the hero France needed to save their desperate country. She led the French army to a glorious victory at Orléans. Joan’s brilliant leadership during the Battle of Orléans boosted her countrymen’s self-esteem, enabling them to end the Hundred Years’ War in their favor.

 

Before Joan could go to Orleans, she had to get permission to lead an army from Charles VII in Chinon. Located on the Loire River, Chinon housed the ever-weak Charles VII during the war. Charles VII, a coward, fled to Chinon after his father Charles VI died in 1422. In 1429, Joan rode boldly into Chinon to meet the Dauphin, (another title used by Charles meaning the uncrowned heir to the French throne). Before she entered his throne room, Charles VII hid himself among the lords and ladies. Even so, Joan recognized the Dauphin among the crowded hall. She went straight to him and delivered the message she traveled half of France for (Pernoud 23): God had called upon her to deliver France from English control. Joan confidently told the Dauphin "Do not distress yourself over the English, for I will combat them in any place I find them"(Rankin 18). But Charles wanted a definite sign not just her word. Friar Jean Pasquerel told her judges later that "Joan had told him a certain secret that no one knew or could know except God…" (qtd. in Pernoud 23). The religious sisters tested her to verify her claim as a virgin maid from Domrémy. After overcoming opposition from churchmen and courtiers, the dauphin gave Joan a small army with which she raised the siege of Orléans on May 8, 1429 ("St."). Since Joan had a lot of confidence in herself, the weak dauphin grew to have confidence in her and himself.

 

Charles VII sent Joan of Arc to Orléans first. She arrived at Orléans on April 28, 1429, but did not enter the city until April 29. The news of a relief army comforted the distressed people. On May 1,

"The people of Orléans had such great desire to see Joan the Maid that they almost broke down the gate of her lodging in order to see her . . . there were so many people in the streets . . . that she was scarcely able to pass, for the people could not have their fill of seeing her" (Pernoud 42).

 

The next day, Joan rallied her troops outside the Saint Loupe Gate. On the side of the Saint-Loupe Gate, "the English were readying themselves for an active defense when Joan arrived before them, and as soon as the French saw Joan, they began to raise a shout, and took the Bastille and fortress" (Pernoud 44). The French, stimulated by the extraordinary victory at the Saint-Loupe Gate, had difficulties controlling their high spirits (Pernoud 49). The skirmish at Saint-Loupe Gate commenced the beginning of the English downfall not only at Orléans, but also for the entire country of France. The complete battle of Orléans took place between Oct 29, 1428, and May 8, 1429. She recaptured the city of Orléans in just10 days. The French fought long and hard at least eight months for Orléans. "The French, universally judged to be utterly defeated, had risen and countered the greatest military effort of their conquerors … and this feat was credited to a young girl of sixteen or seventeen" (Pernoud 55).

The dauphin’s coronation at Reims concluded her career in the military. As Joan told Charles at their first meeting, her Lord called upon her to do two things. The first, to recapture the city of Orléans from the English. And the second, to see Charles VII crowned rightful king of France. On May 8, 1429, Joan completed her first mission. In June 1429, Joan captured the English forts at Jargeau on the twelfth, Beaugency on the seventeenth, and Patay on the eighteenth. The fall of these cities led the way for Charles’ coronation at Reims (Evans 2). After the victory at Patay, Joan convinced the hesitant dauphin to march deep within enemy territory to Reims (Pernoud 53). Charles VII became the king of France on July 17, 1429, at the cathedral of Reims. During the coronation, Joan of Arc stood quietly by his side holding her battle standard. By standing near the dauphin at his coronation, she completed her two missions.

Joan’s leadership on the battlefield made the English’s eyes fill with fear before her and her troops like never before. In order to win at Orléans, Joan had to organize the troops to her liking so that they thought purely in both heart and mind. She made them go to Mass and confession before a battle. And "to complete the work of purification, Joan made the soldiers get rid of their campfollowers", (Lucie-Smith 89) or their prostitutes. Joan "had the ability to get soldiers and captains to listen to her and do as she wanted them to do," (Russell 2-3) something a woman could not generally do during this time period. She achieved this through her self-confidence, determination, and courage (Russell 2-3). However, evidence indicates that Joan acted more a figurehead than a field commander (Banfield 2). Joan’s inspirational actions also helped the French come together to recapture the city of Orléans. " . . . Joan acted as if the voices were real" (Robert 11). Her inspiration for the battles most likely came from her heavenly voices. "Those whom she led to victory believed that she was inspired of God, and the English, not denying her inspiration, believed that it was of the Devil" (Colby). According to Schlesinger, Joan of Arc liberated and empowered her followers (II).

 

Joan succeeded because she easily commanded their dedication and boosted the nation’s confidence on and off the battlefield. The citizens of France knew of an old legend about a maid that would come and save France in their time of need. The legend communicated to the people that a young maid would come from the Lorraine Valley (Roberts 25). Joan’s hometown, Domrémy, rests in the Lorraine Valley. The people believed the legend spoken about Joan; consequently, their trust in her grew. Joan’s medieval society also shaped the image people now see her as. The society had certain rules and regulations about how women should conduct themselves. Joan acted against these restrictions and nobody knew exactly how to punish such an atrocity to the system. "Rarely did any peasant, especially a girl, challenge authority or society’s rules" (Roberts). Joan, also good on the battlefield, outsmarted the English military commanders known for their exceptional military prowess. And even though she acted more as a figurehead than a field commander, Joan designed new military tactics for the French commanders to use. "Joan [had] already acquired the ease with weapons necessary for a warrior" (Pernoud 27). A fellow commander and admirer by the name of Aleçon signaled out Joan’s grasp of artillery. He said that Joan had "acquitted herself magnificently" in the placing of artillery (qtd. In Russell 2). Joan united the French so that they worked together to succeed together. "With Joan came the sense of nationalism for the French" (Russell 3). Napoleon Bonaparte even noted that Joan aided the French revitalization during important battles. "The illustrious Joan of Arc proved that there is no miracle which French genius cannot work in circumstances where national independence is threatened . . . " (qtd. in Guérin 117). Joan succeeded because of her military prowess and the support of her fellow citizens.

 

Joan’s renown control during the Battle of Orléans stirred loyalty within the French creating more longing by them to unite France under a French King. The Dauphin Charles VII grew in his confidence in her and her calling. Then, once she reached Orléans, the citizens there desired to see her so much they surrounded her. She concluded the battle within ten days of her arrival, a feat the French failed to do in eight months. After the coronation of King Charles VII, the French grew to have complete confidence in her and ignited their sense of nationalism that won the war. Her guidance united French citizens everywhere. For the first time during the war the French actually believed they could win against the unbelievably strong English. They steadfastly supported her field decisions that led to her victory in all her battles. For that reason, Joan of Arc became the heroine of the Hundred Years’ War and the inspiration of many people to come.

 

Works Cited

Banfield, Susan. Joan of Arc, World Leaders Past and Present. New York: Chelsea House Publ., 1985.

Colby, Charles W., ed. "Medieval Sourcebook: The Trial of Joan of Arc, 1431." Selections from the Sources of English History, 55 BC — AD 1832. (London: Longmans, Green, 1920), p113-117. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/joanofarc. Oct. 17, 200.

Evans, Dean Lee. "Joan of Arc (Jeanne D’Arc)." http://www.therussells.net/papers/joan. Nov. 12, 2000.

Guérin, André, and Jack Palmer White. Operation Shepherdess: The Mystery of Joan of Arc. London: Heinemann Ltd., 1961.

Lucie-Smith, Edward. Joan of Arc. New York: W.W. Norton Company Inc., 1976.

Pernoud, Régine, and Marie Veronique Clin. Joan of Arc, Her Story. Jeremy du Quesnay Adams, trans. and rev. Bonnie Wheeler, ed. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998.

Rankin, Daniel, and Claire Quintal, trans. The 1st Biography of Joan of Arc. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 1964.

Roberts, Jeremy. Saint Joan of Arc. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications Co., 2000.

Russell, Christopher. "The Creativity of Joan of Arc." http://www.therussells.net/papers/joan. Oct. 17, 2000.

Schlesinger, Arthur M., Jr. Introduction. Joan of Arc. By Susan Banfield. New York: Chelsea House Publ., 1985


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Virginia Frohlick
stjoan@nmia.com