Joan of Arc was a French peasant who led French troops against England in the Hundred Years' War. This lesson provides a brief description of her life and actions in the war against England.
Who Was Joan of Arc?
Joan of Arc was a Frenchwoman born around January of 1412. She was born a peasant but became a hero to the French. Joan's father was a farmer. She couldn't read or write. She experienced a fairly normal childhood. However, as she grew older her life changed.
Around 1425, Joan claimed she began to hear voices or see visions. She would later claim that her visions were of angels and saints that would offer her counsel. Included in her visions were St. Catherine, St. Margaret, and the archangels Michael and Gabriel. These visions would eventually lead her to come to the aid of the king who was at war with England.
The Hundred Years' War
Joan was born amidst a war between England and France. This war was called the Hundred Years' War. The Hundred Years' War began in 1337 and ended in 1453. The war began when English King Edward, son of the late King of France's sister, claimed he should inherit the French throne but was unable to do so because his cousin Philip ended up becoming the French king. Philip's France began attacking Edward's English territories within its borders, so Edward started the war to keep control of England's lands in France.
During the early part of the war, England dominated France. It wasn't until Joan joined the battle that France began to experience major victories. In 1429, after an examination by high-ranking Catholic clergy, Joan convinced the king to allow her to accompany an army to Orleans. She arrived dressed in men's battle attire. She immediately began to reform the troops by requiring them to go to church and to confession. She disallowed swearing and looting and harassment of the civilians in the area.
She and her troops took one English fortress after another. The victories at Orleans were due to an aggressive attacking behavior not typical of French commanders. As French troops attacked the English at a church named Saint Loup, she rallied them by carrying a French banner. Although she placed herself in danger, it is thought she generally took this role rather than fighting with a weapon.
After the church was under French control, they went on to take other English strongholds. Joan led the troops to overcome a monastery named Bastille des Augustins that controlled a south approach to two English strongholds, Les Tourelles and part of the Orleans bridge. The English were overrun and abandoned these posts. After this victory, France went on to reclaim other areas under English command.
With Joan's help, the French fought another victorious battle called the Battle at Patay. French troops attacked an English relief force before their longbowmen were prepared. Joan attempted to take control of Paris but was wounded. After this, a truce was signed with the Duke of Burgundy to keep a temporary peace between France and England.
At the conclusion of the truce, Joan had another vision that she would be taken prisoner. This prediction came true when she was captured on May 24, 1430, defending a town against an English attack. She was severely outnumbered. She was captured and ransomed to the English.
After her capture, Joan was placed on trial for heresy at a series of hearings between February and March in 1431. She was held at the Castle of Rouen. Many accounts relay that she was denied a fair trial. The trial was held in several hearings that ranged from February 21 to late March in 1431. These trials were supposed to hold testimonies of witnesses. The verdict would be based on the testimonies. However, Joan was the only witness allowed to testify at her trial.
Many involved in the trial may have attempted to manipulate her into incriminating herself. Accounts of the trial say that Joan asked several times to be tried in front of nonpartisan judges and to appeal to the Pope, but these requests were not granted. Charges of witchcraft were brought against her, accusing her of using a magical banner, but these charges were dismissed. The direction she received from archangels and saints was discredited as advice from demons.
She was held in a secular prison with male guards. At this time, it was against scripture for women to wear men's clothing. Joan, dressed in men's attire, was accused of heresy. Upon her request, she was provided with a dress, but it was stolen from her. She was faced with the choice to either remain nude or resume wearing her men's clothing. Reports say that her guards attempted to rape her multiple times.
When she chose to dress in her men's attire again, she was again accused of heresy. At this time, she was found guilty of the crime and sentenced to execution. She was burned at the stake on May 30, 1431. Accounts of her execution say that many involved in the trial cried openly at her execution. She asked for a cross and a sympathetic soldier made a small one for her out of wood. Those involved in the execution spoke sometimes that they feared God's wrath for their actions.
The War Ends
The war ended several years after Joan's execution. Slowly, England lost control over their territories in France. France gained full control of Paris in 1436 and Normandy in 1450. The war came to an end when all other English territories came under French control except for Calais, which remained under England's control until 1558.
Joan of Arc was a French peasant who said she was told by angels and saints to help lead the French to victory in the Hundred Years' War. She helped defeat England several times but was captured and executed for heresy. The war continued for a short time after her death but ultimately ended with most English territories coming under French control.
After you have watched this lesson, you should be prepared to describe Joan of Arc's role in the Hundred Years' War and her subsequent trial and execution.