Joan of Arc: A Faithful Heroine not a Heretic

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Joan of Arc, referred to as “The Maid of Orleans” was born in 1412 in Domremy, Bar, France. She was an ordinary peasant who grew up tending cattle, and learned piety and domestic skills from her mother, Isabelle. She had never been too far away from home either. Martyr, Saint and Military Leader were few titles people alluded her of, while others believed that she was divinely appointed by God to lead France to victory in its longstanding war against England. Pertaining to that, at the age of 13, she made a bold claim that she was hearing some voices sent by God, to give her a mission of significant importance of saving France by expelling its enemies and restoring Charles VII as its rightful king. Joan also claimed that her visions were allegedly intervened by St. Michael and St. Catherine which designated her as the saviour of France. In the midst of the Hundred Years' War, there were two rival claimants to the French crown. One was Henry VI, the young king of England, whose forces were in alliance with the Burgundians, in control of the entire north of France, including Reims itself. The other was Charles VII, king by rightful descent albeit a weak figure, confined to the region round Bourges.

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What is also noteworthy about Joan was that, although she did not have any formal military training, she managed to persuade the beleaguered crowned prince, Charles of Valois, to allow her to lead the French army to the city of Orleans. As a result, she garnered several winning battles over the English and the Burgundians.

 

The War

Why then was Joan able to convince the people that she was the chosen one to save France? Firstly, she attempted to seek an audience with the Dauphin, Prince Charles VII, eldest son of the King of France. When questioned, she quoted the prophecy of that time, “Have you not heard that France would be lost by a woman and be restored by a virgin from the Lorraine borderlands?” Isabeau of Bavaria, the Dauphin’s mother, was thought to be the woman who lost France when she readily accepted the demands of the English and had no faith in the royal family of France and its people. What also eventually cemented the Dauphin’s trust in her divinity was when she was able to identify him in a crowd, even while he was disguised as an official.

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Joan’s existence could not have been more timely, when Charles was desperate for any means to defend his remaining lands. Owing to the fact that in 1415, France had been embroiled in a civil war and within this political division, this had caused a faction that was against Charles VII becoming the King of France. Joan’s promise to lift the siege in Orleans was an answer to Charles’ prayers. As seen from the image above, Orleans guards the remaining French territories. The dwindling morale of the French craved a spark of hope and unprecedented leadership, which was initiated by Joan. Such disunion allowed the English to invade France and control most of its Northern territories.

In battles, Joan of Arc had tactical prowess in that the aggressive approach; attacking rather than defending, allowed her to gain numerous victories against the English. It is also important to note that in the mid-fifteenth century, military technology was going through a transition, switching from the usual means of using traditional knights, swords and crossbows to cannons and gunpowder. Her superior skill in using cannons and avoiding enemy cannons in each of her battles also played a pivotal role in her victories.

Furthermore, she had the influence of her soldiers’ conduct by means of strict banning of prostitutes following the army and forbade swearing. This was unsurprising for Joan, due to her origins of being sent by the saints, which ensured holy ways to be kept in the army. The French army also gained great inspiration and courage through her bravery and perseverance in battles. As the French incurred substantial casualties and demoralising retreats, Joan still pressed on with the attacks and even returned to the front-lines. Her presence also encouraged her troops and frightened her enemies, which was one of the leading reasons for her victories.

 

Joan’s Trial

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Despite Joan having numerous victories, she was captured on May 1430 at Compiegne by Jean de Luxembourg of Burgundian, and was referred to the English for official trial for heresy. Under such circumstance, the only authority that was able to judge her was the Church. However, the civil authorities supposedly had the decision to determine the eventual outcome of the trial. The presiding judge was Cauchon of Beauvais, who was one of the Bishop of the French church of Beauvais, along with other French assessors. However, as he was associated with the Burgundian faction which was on the side of the English, it depicted the trial as being biased and one-sided, despite the judge’s requirement to be non-partisan. Thus, Joan had no way to defend herself as she was also coerced into committing her deeds as a means to please the English authorities.

On further examination on Joan’s trial of heresy, she initially claimed to have received visions and voices as divinely inspired by God Himself. This was in stark contrast to the accusations from the English; that she was sinning against God and that her deeds were entirely based on demonic manifestations. Yet, such signs were foretelling of the imminent threat that France was undergoing, which led her to successfully convince Charles VII to allow her to lead his army and eventually aided him in his coronation, in spite of his initial scepticism. Even so, while Joan was continuously interrogated by the authorities, she was adamant for all her signs to be divinely intervened and nothing to that of heretical. Also, with regards to her conduct, she confessed her sins to the friars regularly, adhering to the statutes of the Church, as well as to realign their moral conduct, in the aspects of abstaining from vices and looting, for instance. Thus, all these showed of her innocence. Lastly, given her unique role as a lady in leading a troop of males, which was peculiar in those days, she was influential in ensuring the victory of several battles, as she even managed to redirect these troops’ faith back to God. Being an ordinary peasant as she was, she only did according to the signs she received from God. So how is it that she deserved such a sentence for being a heretic? Also, due to her position as a female ‘heroine figure’ and her controversial visions along with voices she allegedly claimed to have received, it became a political foothold that led her to be trialled.  She also maintained her innocence throughout her trial, and this was further validated much later as she was even posthumously canonised as a Saint in 1920 by the Roman Catholic Church after in-depth examination of her trial. Without her intervention, the French would not have been able to resist against the English. Otherwise, she would not have been heralded as a heroine figure after so many centuries. Her legacy, still lives on even till this day.