Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc, Fr. Jeanne D'Arc (zhän därk), 1412?–31, French saint and national heroine, called the Maid of Orléans; daughter of a farmer of Domrémy on the border of Champagne and Lorraine.

Inspiration and Leadership

At a young age she began to hear "voices" —those of St. Michael, St. Catherine, and St. Margaret. When she was about 16, the voices exhorted her to bear aid to the dauphin, later King Charles VII, then kept from the throne by the English in the Hundred Years War. Joan won the aid of Robert de Baudricourt, captain of the dauphin's forces in Vaucouleurs, in obtaining an interview with the dauphin. She made the journey in male attire, with six companions. Meeting the dauphin at Chinon castle, she conquered his skepticism as to her divine mission. She was examined by theologians at Poitiers, and afterward she was furnished with troops by Charles.

Her leadership provided spirit and morale more than military prowess. In May, 1429, she succeeded in raising the siege of Orléans, and in June she took other English posts on the Loire and defeated the English at Patay. After considerable persuasion the dauphin agreed to be crowned at Reims; Joan stood near him at his coronation. This was the pinnacle of her fortunes.

Capture and Martyrdom

In Sept., 1429, Joan unsuccessfully besieged Paris. The following spring she went to relieve Compiègne, but she was captured by the Burgundians and sold to the English, who were eager to destroy her influence by putting her to death. Charles VII made no attempt to secure her freedom. In order to escape responsibility, the English turned her over to the ecclesiastical court at Rouen. She was tried for heresy and witchcraft before Pierre Cauchon and other French clerics who supported the English.

Probably her most serious crime was the claim of direct inspiration from God; in the eyes of the court this refusal to accept the church hierarchy constituted heresy. Throughout the lengthy trial and imprisonment she bravely fought her inquisitors. Only at the end of the trial, when Joan was sentenced to be turned over to a secular court, did she recant. She was condemned to life imprisonment. Shortly afterward, however, she retracted her abjuration, was turned over to the secular court as a relapsed heretic, and was burned at the stake (May 30, 1431) in Rouen. Charles VII made tardy recognition of her services by a rehabilitation trial in 1456 that annulled the proceedings of the original trial.

Joan was beatified in 1909 and canonized in 1920 (feast: May 30). Her career lent itself to numerous legends, and she has been represented in many paintings and statues. In literature and music she appears notably, though not always accurately, in works by many eminent writers and composers.


Among her biographies, the best known is that of J. Michelet (tr. 1957). See also biographies by A. Lang (1908) and V. Sackville-West (1936); translations of the trial records by W. P. Barrett (1932 ed.) and W. S. Scott (1950); R. Pernoud, The Retrial of Joan of Arc (tr. 1955) and Joan of Arc by Herself and Her Witnesses (tr. 1966); C. W. Lightbody, The Judgements of Joan (1961); H. Guillemin, Joan, Maid of Orleans (1973); M. Gordon, Joan of Arc (2000).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2016, The Columbia University Press.

Joan of Arc: Selected full-text books and articles

FREE! Joan of Arc By Francis C. Lowell Houghton Mifflin, 1896
Joan of Arc at the University By Mary Elizabeth Tallon Marquette University Press, 1997
The London Chronicles of the Fifteenth Century: A Revolution in English Writing By Mary-Rose McLaren D.S. Brewer, 2002
Librarian’s tip: "The Representation of Joan of Arc" begins on p. 85
Saint Joan of Arc By V. Sackville-West Doubleday, Doran, 1938
FREE! Jeanne D'Arc: Her Life and Death By Oliphant G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1896
France: A Modern History By Albert Guérard University of Michigan Press, 1959
Librarian’s tip: "Joan of Arc" begins on p. 108
FREE! The History of Medieval Europe By Lynn Thorndike; James T. Shotwell Houghton Mifflin, 1917
Librarian’s tip: Chap. XXVII "The Hundred Years War"
The Later Middle Ages, 1272-1485 By George Holmes Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1962
Librarian’s tip: "English Power in France" begins in p. 204
The Hundred Years War: A Wider Focus By L. J. Andrew Villalon; Donald J. Kagay Brill, 2005
Librarian’s tip: "Just War, Joan of Arc, and the Politics of Salvation" begins on p. 365
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