Joan of Arc, (January 6, 1412 - May 30, 1431) Jeanne d'Arc in French, also called the Maid of Orléans, is a national heroine of France and saint of the Catholic Church. During the Hundred Years' War she led the French against the English and was ultimately captured and executed.
Jehanne Darc (the d'Arc spelling is a later variant) was born in Domremy, Lorraine to a peasant family during the Hundred Years' War between France and England. The northern parts of France were occupied by the English, who were allied with the Burgundians. France had not had a crowned king since the death of Charles VI in 1422. Although Charles VI had left an heir, the Dauphin Charles, the crown of France had instead passed to the infant King Henry VI of England. This was the result of the Treaty of Troyes signed by Charles VI and England's Henry V in 1420 in an attempt to end the Hundred Years' War and a repetition of the tremendous loss of life that had occurred at the Battle of Agincourt. According to the terms of the treaty, Henry was married to Catherine, daughter of Charles VI; upon Charles' death, the crown would pass to their issue, uniting the two kingdoms. This essentially removed the Dauphin from the line of succession, but was opposed by many French nobles.
Jeanne claimed to hear the voices of Saint Michael the Archangel, St. Catherine, and St. Margaret telling her to free France and return the Dauphin to the throne. As a 16 year old girl, she travelled to a nearby town and asked to join the Dauphin's forces. She was rejected but returned one year later, and was then allowed to visit the dauphin Charles at Chinon. Wearing men's clothes (which she would do from then on for the rest of her life), she travelled to Chinon. She was able to pick out Charles, who had hidden himself among his courtiers, and told him about her mission. After having her interrogated by church authorities, he agreed to her plan of freeing Orléans, which was under siege by the English.
Her brothers joined her, and she was equipped with armor and a white banner with the fleur-de-lis on it. With her piety, confidence and enthusiasm, she was able to inspire the dispirited French soldiers and forced the English to raise the siege of Orléans in 1429. After this celebrated victory on May 9 of that year, she became known as the Maid of Orleans. After another victorious battle against the English, she persuaded Charles to march on Reims; he was crowned King Charles VII there in her presence on July 17, 1429.
Next, Jeanne tried to convince the king to win back Paris from the Burgundians, but he hesitated. Later, Jeanne did lead an attack on Paris, but it had to be abandoned. In an effort to free another town, Compiègne, she was captured on May 23, 1430 by the Burgundians. She tried to escape twice (the second time by jumping from a 20 meters tall tower) and was eventually sold to Pierre Cauchon, the Bishop of Beauvais who was allied with the English.
She was accused of heresy and put on trial at the Inquisition in Rouen on February 21, 1431; her insistence of direct communication with God through voices was interpreted as disobedience to the Church. Her "suicide attempt" of jumping from the tower as well as her cross-dressing were also cited in the trial. In the trial, she claimed never having killed anybody: she only carried the standard during battles. She was made to promise to stop dressing as a man. Against the standard process rules, she was kept in a prison guarded by English soldiers, instead of the bishopric prison. Possibly to protect herself, she dressed again as a man, hence she was considered a relapse, falling again in the sin.
When she was shown the torture instruments, she said that she intended to simply retract afterwards everything she would admit under torture. Her judges decided against torture. After the University of Paris was consulted and confirmed her guilt, she was convicted and turned over to the secular arm for execution.
In an apparent effort to save her life, she recanted and signed a statement admitting that she had lied about the voices and accepting the authority of the church. Two days later however, she retracted that admission. On May 30, 1431, while being burned to death at Rouen, she repeatedly shouted "Jesus". After she had died, the flames were put out and her partly charred body was shown to the crowd, in order to prove that she was indeed a woman. Then the body was completely burned.
After Charles gained Rouen, a second trial, decreed by Pope Callixtus III after a petition by Jeanne d'Arc's family, resulted in nullification of her conviction on July 7, 1456. Eventually, the Roman Catholic church canonized her as a saint on May 16, 1920.
The figure of Jeanne d'Arc has fascinated writers throughout the ages. The best known plays, offering widely differing interpretations of her life, were written by Shakespeare (Henry VI), Schiller (The Maid of Orleans), George Bernard Shaw (Saint Joan), Jean Anouilh (L'Alouette) and Bertolt Brecht (Saint Joan of the Stockyards). Samuel Clemens wrote a fictional biography of Joan of Arc under the pen-name of Sieur Louis de Conte, forgoing his usual pen name of Mark Twain.
The right-wing French party Front National has used the image of Jeanne as a symbol of French nationalism.