Joan of Arc (c. 1412 – 30 May 1431) is a patron saint of France. She is known for her involvement in the siege of Orleans and her determination to secure the coronation of Charles VII of France amidst the Hundred Years' War. By asserting divine guidance as her driving force, Joan became a remarkable military leader, transcending traditional gender roles and earning widespread recognition as the saviour of France.
Joan of Arc was born around 1412 in Domrémy, a village in north-eastern France. She was the youngest of five children born to Jacques d'Arc and Isabelle Romée. Joan grew up in a devout Catholic household and was known for her piety from an early age. Back at that time, France was at war with England, where the latter held a significant advantage. This conflict came later to be known as the Hundred Years’ War. Amid the war, the French crown prince, Charles of Valois, faced disinheritance on allegations of his illegitimacy, paving the way for King Henry V of England to assume control over both England and France.
Following the passing of the English monarch, his son Henry VI ascended to the throne in 1422. Under his rule, the English forces occupied substantial portions of northern France. As a result, many in Joan’s village were forced to abandon their homes under threat of invasion. A few years later, when she was 13, Joan began experiencing visions of Saint Michael, Saint Catherine, and Saint Margaret, who spoke to her and urged her to drive the English out of France. Firmly believing in her divine mission, Joan embraced a vow of chastity and resolved to crown Charles as the rightful king of France.
Motivated by her visions, Joan began to rally local nobles to support her cause. In May 1428, she made her way to Vaucouleurs, a nearby stronghold of those loyal to Charles, where she captivated a small crowd of followers who saw her as the destined saviour of France. Then, Joan travelled across enemy territory to Chinon, the residence of the crown prince. There, she vowed to Charles that she would ensure his coronation as the rightful king at Reims, the traditional site of French royal investiture. Eventually, Joan succeeded in gaining Charles' support and was entrusted with leading the French army to liberate the besieged city of Orleans, which was under English control.
In March 1429, Joan, wearing a white armour and riding a white horse, set off to Orleans. She led several assaults against the English, eventually forcing their retreat from the city. This miraculous victory was a turning point in the Hundred Years’ War and propelled Joan's renown throughout France. Accompanied by her followers, she safely escorted Charles through hostile territories to Reims, capturing resistant towns along the way and facilitating his coronation as King Charles VII in July 1429.
Over the next several months, she continued to lead the French army to victory in several other battles, including the Battle of Patay. However, in the spring of 1430, she was captured while trying to confront an assault by the Anglo-Burgundians on Compiegne. Soon afterwards, Joan was accused of heresy, witchcraft and dressing like a man, among other charges, and put on trial. In order to distance himself from an accused heretic, Charles VII did not attempt to negotiate her release. On the morning of May 30, 1431, at the age of 19, Joan was taken to the old marketplace of Rouen and burned at the stake.
Joan's execution, far from extinguishing her legacy, only served to amplify her fame. Two decades later, a new trial, ordered by Charles VII himself, vindicated her name and cleared her of all charges. Her bravery and unwavering dedication to her cause solidified her status as a national hero in France and earned her admiration beyond its borders. Her remarkable story has been immortalized in countless works of art, including paintings, sculptures, and films, making her an enduring and iconic figure.
Her image has come to symbolize French nationalism and the spirit of resistance against foreign occupation. In 1909, she was beatified in the Notre Dame Cathedral by Pope Pius X. Within the cathedral, a statue of Joan of Arc pays tribute to her legacy. Then, on May 16, 1920, Pope Benedict XV canonized her as a saint, bestowing upon her the highest honour within the Catholic Church. It is important to note that Joan's canonization emphasized her status as a Virgin, as she had been executed due to her private revelations and not specifically for her faith in Christ.