Joan of Arc: Teenage Warrior and Saint

Joan of Arc was still a teenager when she appealed to her local lord to meet with Charles and fight to put him on the French throne. The lord didn’t decide to help Joan right away. Eventually, however, he gave in and sent Joan to see the Dauphin Charles. When she finally met Charles, she told him, “I bring you news from God, that our Lord will give you back your kingdom, bringing you to be crowned at Rheims, and driving out your enemies…Do you set me bravely to work, and I will raise the siege of Orleans.” Charles had her tested by churchmen to decide if her voices were real and if she could really help him take the throne. She convinced the priests that her instructions came from God, and Charles agreed to prepare Joan for battle. Once again, Joan found herself in a position that few medieval women ever had—leader of an army.

As Joan got ready for battle, she wore men’s clothes and was fitted for a suit of armor. She didn’t care if people gossiped about the way she dressed because even as a child she did what she thought was right. Now she believed the right thing was to help the French city of Orleans, which was surrounded by English troops.

She marched to Orleans with a force of 4,000 men. Though others thought her strange, her troops respected her because she traveled for miles with them and never complained. She arrived with her troops in April 1429. She met with Count Jean de Dunois, the defender of Orleans. Together, they won small skirmishes with the English outside the city before attacking English forces that surrounded Orleans. Though wounded by an arrow, Joan continued to urge her troops on. She shouted to them “Courage! Do not fall back: in a little the place will be yours.” Once again she was correct and English forces marched away from the city.

After a few more French victories, Joan accompanied Charles to Rheims, the city where French kings were crowned. On July 17, 1429, with Joan at his side, Charles VII became king of France. It was a triumphant moment for Joan, whose voices proved to be correct; however, she desired to drive the English out of France completely. She disagreed with Charles that English allies, the Burgundians, could be trusted to make peace. She led her men to an area around Paris, which was held by the English. Although she managed to convince some of the townspeople to pledge their loyalty to Charles, the voices that had always promised good things now warned her that she would be captured.

While trying to attack another city near Paris, Joan was taken prisoner by the Burgundians. After spending months in prison, the Burgundians sent Joan to the English for her trial. The churchmen conducting the trial were sympathetic to the English and did not want Joan to go free so she could inspire her countrymen to fight again. They accused her of being a heretic, which meant that her religious beliefs went against the wishes of the church. Joan was convicted and sentenced to be burned in the marketplace in the town of Rouen. When Joan of Arc died, a bystander correctly observed, “we are lost; we have burned a saint.”

The Making of a Warrior: The Childhood of Joan of Arc

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.