When most historians write about Joan of Arc, they tell us about her achievements, but don’t focus much on her childhood. Yet her childhood experiences contributed to the brave warrior she later became.
Joan was born around January 1412 to a farmer and his wife in northeastern France. Both of Joan’s parents, Jacques and Isabelle, earned the respect of the village of Domremy. Joan’s father was the local sergeant with a reputation for fairness. Villagers admired Isabelle because she completed a religious pilgrimage to Rome. Bad roads and bands of robbers made traveling in the Middle Ages dangerous for anyone, but especially for women. Considering her reputation, it is not surprising that Isabelle raised at least one adventurous daughter.
Most children during the Middle Ages did not go to school. As a farmer’s daughter, Joan learned to spin wool and do household chores from her mother. Sometimes she helped her father with the livestock. The most important lessons Joan learned were her prayers. She later said, “From my mother I learned ‘Our Father,’ ‘Hail Mary,’ and ‘I believe.’ And my teaching in my faith I had from her and no one else.”
The religious instruction she received from her mother made a great impact on Joan. Other children in the village played games when they finished their chores, but Joan usually went to church instead. She liked to visit the village’s shrine of the Virgin Mary and she prayed a lot. Her friends teased her about going to church so much, but Joan didn’t mind. Even as a girl, Joan decided to do whatever she thought she should without worrying about other people’s opinions.
The simple life Joan had as a farmer’s daughter changed in 1425 when some English foot soldiers and their allies, the Burgundians, attacked her village. Joan’s family was spared, but much of the village was set on fire. Domremy lay in an area of France that both the English and French wanted to control. At the time, the English were winning most of the skirmishes while the French Dauphin [heir to throne] Charles was pushed aside.
Soon after the raid, Joan started to hear voices that she believed came from Catholic saints. She said when she first heard the voices, she “was terrified.” At first, St. Michael told her only to be good and pray. Eventually, however, St. Catherine and St. Margaret also spoke to her and they told her to do something medieval women never did. They said that she must “go to succor [help] the King of France” by “raising a siege.” She protested that she was only a girl who knew nothing about warfare, but the voices insisted. Determined to listen to God’s will and help her country, Joan decided to visit her local lord. She needed to convince him to give her soldiers so she could plan her siege and restore the French king to power.