Joan of Arc was a young farm girl living in France in the early 1400s, near the end of the Hundred Years’ War. At only 13 years old, she claimed to have a vision from God that she would lead the French army to victory against England. She later took part in several battles that seemed to confirm the truth of her claims. However, Joan was executed as a heretic by the Catholic Church—the same church that later elevated her to sainthood. Joan of Arc has since been the subject of many artists and writers, and her story, which is remarkable, has been told in several films.
Joan was the daughter of a man named Jacques d’Arc and his wife, who were farmers living in eastern France. Joan’s family was loyal to the crown, though they lived in an area of France that was populated mainly with Burgundians, who were loyal to the king’s cousin, John the Fearless. France was in turmoil because of conflicts within the royal family, and the country had been split into warring factions. In 1415, Henry V of England took advantage of this turmoil and invaded. In 1424, Joan of Arc claimed to have a vision from God. She said that the archangel Michael, Saint Catherine, and Saint Margaret appeared to her in her father’s garden and told her that the fate of the kingdom rested upon her. The figures in the vision told Joan that she had to drive the English out of France and secure the crown of the Dauphin, Charles VII.
In an astonishing procession of events, Joan went to a commander of the French army and asked for permission to visit the royal French court to deliver her message. She was so convinced of the veracity of her vision that she was not deterred by the commander’s disbelief. She told the court of a military plan that the leaders of the army felt she could only have known by divine revelation, and they began to take her seriously. Over the next several years, Joan of Arc was present at a variety of victorious battles, most notably a siege that ended only nine days after her arrival. Soon, Charles VII rose to the throne.
Joan of Arc was a controversial figure, even in her own lifetime. Some said her visions were from God, and others said they were from demons. Though the king and his armies took great care to test her abilities and character, charges of “cross-dressing” were brought against her because she had disguised herself as a man in battle. This destroyed her reputation as a good Christian, and she was tried as a heretic by the Roman Catholic Church and burned at the stake. She was only 19.
Twenty-five years after her execution, Pope Callixtus III reexamined the case against her, found that the charges were faulty, and proclaimed her an innocent martyr and a saint. Joan of Arc is now one of nine patron saints of France.