You’ve probably heard of Joan of Arc. But did you know she was a real person? That’s right; in the 1400s, Joan helped France defeat England in the Hundred Years War. While historians don’t always agree on her exact role, no one can deny that Joan of Arc was extremely influential on the course of French history.
2 Joan was born around 1412 in Domremy, a town in northeastern France. Not much is known about her early life, but according to her own testimony, when she was a young teenager she began to see visions of saints. These saints told her it was her destiny to help the future Charles VII claim the French crown and defeat the English. Many people thought Joan was crazy, but she didn’t care. She found a way to gain an audience with Charles and impressed him with her conviction that she was divinely inspired. At this time, with the English winning battle after battle, Charles was a desperate man, and he agreed to let Joan join his army, which was defending the city of Orleans against a siege.
3 Joan’s arrival at Orleans either caused or coincided with the shifting of momentum on the battlefield from English to French arms. French troops captured an English-held fort, and many came to credit Joan for the victory. A severe wound to her neck and shoulder area, inflicted by an arrow, attested to her direct participation in the attack. The English retreated from Orleans the next day, and Joan was well on her way to becoming a national hero.
4 Fortunately, Joan survived the wound she incurred at Orleans. Enthralled by her inspirational capacity, other French military leaders convinced Charles to go on the offensive. After quickly taking back the Loire Valley, the French defeated the English at the Battle of Patay, where French knights slaughtered approximately 2500 English archers. Soon Joan, the French army, and Charles arrived at Reims, where Charles was crowned king. Joan had fulfilled her promise to Charles.
5 Joan still felt, however, that her divine mission had not yet been completed. Less than a year after Charles’ coronation, she helped lead an attack on some Burgundians, members of a faction allied with the English. Tragically, she was captured, and the Burgundians sold her to the English, who immediately tried her for heresy and witchcraft. Of course, they had no intention of giving her a fair trial. Quickly convicted, Joan was burned at the stake on May 30, 1431. She was only nineteen years old.
6 The English might have exacted a measure of revenge, but they could never eradicate Joan’s enormous influence. Although the Hundred Years War would continue for more than two decades after Joan’s death, the English would never regain the momentum. After the Battle of Castillon in 1453, the English were expelled from all of France, except for Calais. Charles VII would remain King of France until his death in 1461, and the legitimacy of his dynasty would go unchallenged. He had certainly come a long way since before he met Joan, when he was too timid to even have himself crowned.
7 Historians dispute how much control Joan actually had over the French army. It might be an exaggeration to contend that she ever commanded it, since noble knights usually had the final say on strategic decisions. Still, it would be a mistake to underestimate her influence. Since they saw her as divinely inspired and appreciated her ability to improve the troops’ morale, the other leaders of the army relied heavily on her for advice and, as her wound attests, counted on her to lead from the front. Joan has long been regarded as a French national hero, and the reputation is justified. Everyone can agree that France would be a much different place today with her.