By 1428 the Hundred Years War had been raging, on and off, for 91 years and France was not faring well. Most of its northern vicinity had been claimed by English forces and because Rheims, the traditional place where France’s king was crowned, was in the area that had been taken the Dauphin, Charles VII, remained uncrowned. Times were tough and any hope of turning the tide, even something as far-fetched as a peasant girl hearing voices, was a chance worth taking.
She was just a teenager in 1428 when she had a vision of bright light and heard the voices of three saints speaking to her. They told her that she would save the town of Orleans from the English forces who had laid siege to it and she would help the dauphin, Charles VII, to become crowned king of France. First, she was told, she was to take herself to Robert De Baudricourt, the captain of the royal garrison at Vaucouleurs.
And so Joan, who would later become known as Joan D’Arc or Joan of Arc, began her military career.
With an apparent absolute confidence in what she was doing, Joan did as the voices had commanded and went to Robert De Baudricourt. Before long, one of Robert De Baudricourt’s knights, Jean De Metz, agreed to take Joan to Charles VII, but getting to that interview would have to wait until after Joan was subjected to an exorcism to rid her of any evil spirits. There was also a journey to be made when the Duke of Lorraine, who was dying, requested to meet her. While the trip to see the Duke of Lorraine was a delay it gave her the benefit of the opportunity to prove herself to the men charged with accompanying her. By the end of that trip at least one of the men escorting her, Jean De Metz, had become firmly convinced that Joan had been sent by God.
When Joan was finally allowed to appear before Charles VII and present the mission that the voices had given her. It was a bold claim for anyone, let alone a young girl with no military training, and one can’t blame Charles VII for having a trial period in which Joan was scrutinized by high ranking church officials to judge her. During that trial period, Joan was examined to prove that she was a virgin, which was apparently important because they believed that if she wasn’t a virgin she might have been a witch. In the end, Joan passed the examination as was given the title of Chef De Guerre along with armor, a squire, pages, heralds, and a sword.
Despite the sword she’d been given, Joan attested at her subsequent trial that she had never once taken a life. Instead, her greatest weapon appears to have been her ability to inspire the troops under her command. She could, with a speech or simply by being present, raise moral and encourage her people on to a victory. Despite that, Joan didn’t seem doesn’t seem to have had any hesitation about riding into battle with her men.
In April of 1429, with singing priests marching before her and 4,000 soldiers at her command, Joan rode to Orleans and to her first battle. The English forces had Orleans nearly surrounded, but Joan’s people managed to get in though the one place that the English didn’t guard as well as they guarded the rest of the area around Orleans, the eastern Burgundy Gate. When Joan rode in to Orleans she roused the townsfolk’s spirits and she did the same for her soldiers when she rode into battle to take the Church of St. Loup which sat outside the city gate and was a vulnerable point for the English. After the victory and taking back the Church of St. Loup Joan’s people would do the same to Les Tournelles, a fortress that guarded one of the entrances to Orleans. During that battle Joan was shot in the shoulder with an arrow, but even that didn’t stop her. Rather than letting them stop the battle because of her injury, Joan prayed before she rode to the moat surrounding Les Tournelles and shouted to her people that when the wind blew the flag towards the rampart the fortress would be won. That battle, too, was won and, with Orleans under the control of the French, English forces to the west of Orleans retreated.
Onward, she went, to the next battle.
As Joan had completed the first task given to her by the voices she was on to the second. She needed to pave a safe road for Charles VII to get to Rheims for his consecration. In order to accomplish that, Joan went with a force under the command of the Duke of Alencon to do battle on the north bank of the river Loire where they intended retake the towns of Meung, Beaugency, and Jargeau. It was essential that they take control of those areas as that would make a safe path for Charles VII to get to Rheims. Joan’s people were victorious in those battles and in 1429, Charles VII was consecrated in Rheims.
Finally, Joan had completed the entire mission given to her by the voices in her vision.
Her military career didn’t stop there. In 1430, in the midst of a battle, she was captured and sold to the English for 1000,000 francs. For the sake of discrediting King Charles VII, Joan was put on trial for a great many charges that included heresy and wearing men’s clothes. Even though Joan had fought so fiercely to have him crowned and even stood by his side at his coronation, Charles VII did nothing to try and save Joan’s life.
With poise and pride, Joan suffered through her trial and never renounced her divine experience and the mission they’d given her. However, one source stated that Joan signed a confession in order to save her life, but that shortly afterwards, when she told the judges that the voices had spoken to her, again, she was convicted of being a relapsed heretic and was executed in May 1431 (Cohen).
Even after her death, Joan continued to have an effect on the war. Her death appears to have helped France because her execution made the English soldiers fear that they were responsible for the death of a saint while the French soldiers were even more motivated to win.
And most remarkable of all is that the time it took for Joan to go from having a vision to suffering a tragic death by fire was a mere three years.