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); H. Castor, Joan of Arc: A History (2015).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Joan of Arc: Selected full-text books and articles

The Trial of Joan of Arc By Daniel Hobbins Harvard University Press, 2005
The Interrogation of Joan of Arc By Karen Sullivan University of Minnesota Press, 1999
Joan of Arc at the University By Mary Elizabeth Tallon Marquette University Press, 1997
The Battle for Joan By Brown, Frederick The Hudson Review, Vol. 65, No. 3, Autumn 2012
Joan of Arc, the Church, and the Papacy, 1429-1920* By Taylor, Larissa Juliet The Catholic Historical Review, Vol. 98, No. 2, April 2012
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
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
Keeping Up with the Joans: The Maid of Orleans in Literature and Film By Richards, Sylvie F West Virginia University Philological Papers, Vol. 46, Fall 2000
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