Who was Joan of Arc: history, battles, trial and death of the “warrior saint”

Joan of Arc, French heroine nicknamed “Maid of Orleans”, was one of the main protagonists of the Hundred Years' War, fought between France and England in the 14th and 15th centuries, and contributed with his deeds to reviving his country. Giovanna, a young illiterate peasant driven by strong religious exaltation, fought alongside the French armies, inciting them to fight in the name of God and giving them strong motivation. He took part in many battles, including those for the liberation of Orleansand Reims, but in 1430 it was captured by enemies. She was accused of witchcraft and tried for heresy burned at the stake in 1431. The maid, as she was nicknamed, was rehabilitated by an ecclesiastical court a few years later and has since become a myth for all French people. Furthermore, the Catholic Church had it in 1920 proclaimed a saint.

Youth and historical context of Joan of Arc

The context in which the story of Joan of Arc takes place is the Hundred Years' War, the conflict between the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of France which lasted, with some interruptions, from 1337 to 1453. The war had broken out for various causes, mainly because the English royal family of Plantagenet claimed the throne of France, being related to the French dynasty of Valois. The conflict developed in various phases and, after an interruption, resumed in 1415 due to the outbreak of a “civil” war between two powerful French families: the House of Orléans (the Armagnacs) and that of Burgundy (the Burgundians). The alliance of the Burgundians with England caused the resumption of the Anglo-French war and in 1415 France suffered a severe defeat in battle of Agincourt.

France in 1429: blue, territories controlled by the French monarchy; pink, territories occupied by England; dark pink, Burgundian territories.

Joan of Arc (Jeanne d'Arc) was born on 6 January 1412 in the village of Domremy, in eastern France. He belonged to a peasant family and was illiterate. At 13, according to what she herself said, she started having mystical visions: the Archangel Michael, Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret would have encouraged her to fight against the invaders. Joan took a vow of chastity (she will therefore be nicknamed the maid, i.e. the virgin) and decided to take part in the fight against the Anglo-Burgundians, who at that time controlled a large portion of French territory. Giovanna was intent on liberate the city of Orléanssurrounded by the English, and to allow the king Charles VII of Valoisto be crowned in the Reims cathedral, as tradition dictated. Until then the coronation had been impossible because Reims was occupied by the enemy.

The meeting with Charles VII

In 1429 Giovanna he presented himself to Charles VII to the castle of Chinon and revealed to him the mission with which, according to him, she had been invested by God. Charles, after having her questioned by commissions of priests, was convinced of her sincerity, perhaps considering her a somewhat exalted peasant, who however could be useful to his cause. So he accepted that accompanied, without official duties, the French army sent to liberate Orléans.

Portrait of Charles VII

The liberation of Orleans

Joan soon became a very popular figure among the French troops. She rode wearing white armor and holding the sword in one hand and one in the other banner depicting God blessing the lily of France. He imposed strict religious discipline on the soldiers, driving away the prostitutes who followed the army and forbidding blasphemy.

Joan arrived near Orléans when the city was about to fall and met Jean de Dunois, known as the Bastard of Orleans (because he was the illegitimate son of Duke Louis I), who commanded the defense. Having entered the city walls, the maiden galvanized the inhabitants and encouraged the army, which in May managed to repel the English assault and liberate the city.

Joan at the siege of Orleans
Joan at the walls of Orléans

Joan's subsequent campaigns and the conquest of Reims

Joan and the Bastard of Orléans continued the war and in June inflicted a severe defeat on the English in Battle of Patay. Joan, however, was not satisfied and she, together with Charles VII, put herself at the head of an army to liberate Reims, occupied by the Burgundians. The “army of consecration”, as the expeditionary force was nicknamed, conquered the cities of Auxerre and Troyes and on 17 July entered Reims triumphantly. Carlo could finally be crowned in the cathedral.

Joanna at the coronation of Charles VII

The capture of Joan of Arc

After the conquest of Reims, the attitude of the French monarchy towards Joan began to change. The maiden continued to incite the soldiers to fight, but the king and some of the nobles intended to follow a more prudent strategy. In the first months of 1430 Giovanna put herself at the head of some groups of volunteer soldiers and in May she arrived near Compiègne, which was besieged by the enemy. On the 23rd, while he was trying to enter the city, it was captured by the Burgundians. Perhaps the capture was made possible by the betrayal of the French governor of Compiègne, William of Flavy, but the hypothesis has never been proven.

The trial and death

The Burgundians held Joan prisoner until November and later surrendered her to their English allies. Charles VII was not interested in her fate and the young woman was accused of witchcraft and subjected to a trial for heresy. At first he did not deny his actions, but later, under pressure, he promised that he would never again take up arms against England. She was sentenced to life in prison, but a few days later he reneged on his promises, saying he had abjured it without understanding. She was therefore sentenced to death and the 30 May 1431when he was only 19 years old, was put on the stake in the square of Rouen.

The Rouen fire
The Rouen fire

The myth and canonization of Joan of Arc

The Hundred Years' War ended in 1453 with the victory for France. The English were forced to leave French territory, retaining only the stronghold of Calais.

A few years later Giovanna's transformation into a myth began. There process review, held between 1455 and 1456 with authorization from Pope Callixtus III, ended with the complete rehabilitation of the maiden. At the end of the nineteenth century, on the initiative of the bishop of Orléans, the practices for canonizationwhich ended in 1920, when Pope Benedict she proclaimed a saint. Giovanna also became in France a heroinealthough the figure has been interpreted differently depending on the periods.

But why was the maid so important? Basically, because she had offered to the French a perspective and a motivation. Thanks to her, a “normal” war between feudal armies had transformed, at least within certain limits, into one popular war of liberation: in the 1400s national sentiment in its modern form did not yet exist, but Giovanna, presenting the anti-English struggle as a duty required by Godhad succeeded in encouraging the French to fight against the enemy.

Lucrezia Borgia cover