Joan of Arc (French: Jeanne d'Arc ) (14121431), a French national heroine and a saint of the Roman Catholic church. Obeying what she believed were heavenly voices, she led the French to victory against English occupation forces during the Hundred Years' War. Though condemned as a witch by a church court and burned at the stake when only 19 years old, she became a symbol of French unification and eventually was canonized as a saint.

Joan of ArcJoan of Arc is a French national heroine and saint of the Roman Catholic church.

Joan's story has inspired many literary works. Among these are Voltaire's poem La Pucelle d'Orlans (The Maid of Orleans, 1738); Schiller's tragedy Die Jungfrau von Orleans (The Maid of Orleans, 1801); Mark Twain's historical romance Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1896); and George Bernard Shaw's play Saint Joan (1922).

The Maid of Orleans

Joan was born in the village of Domremy on the Meuse River in northeastern France. Her father, Jacques d'Arc, was a well-to-do and devout peasant. Joan never learned to read or write, but she had natural shrewdness. At an early age she was skilled in such arts as spinning and sewing.

Joan grew up in troubled times. In 1422 both King Henry V of England and King Charles VI of France died. Under the terms of a treaty signed at Troyes in 1420, Henry was to succeed Charles as king of France. Accordingly, the English claimed that Henry's infant son, Henry VI, was king of France. The duke of Bedford, uncle of and regent for Henry VI, occupied northeastern France to enforce the young king's claim. The Burgundians, who had urged the treaty upon the incompetent Charles, sided with the English.

When she was 13, Joan began to hear voices of various saints directing her to go to the dauphin, son of Charles VI, to help him secure the throne of France. The people of Domremy had remained loyal to the French royal house. Joan persuaded the local commander to take her through the English lines to see the dauphin at Chinon. There, according to one story, she at once recognized him, even though he was disguised. This was taken as proof of her divine mission. Further assurance was given when she passed an examination before an ecclesiastical court at Poitiers.

Joan was permitted to lead an army sent to raise the siege of Orleans. She was victorious there and elsewhere. Clad in armor and flying her own standard, she and her army of 12,000 escorted the dauphin to Reims. In the cathedral there he was crowned King Charles VII of France on July 17, 1429.

Charles soon lost his enthusiasm for fighting the English. Though Joan yearned to return to Domremy, she thought it her patriotic duty to carry on the war. In May, 1430, she was captured by the Burgundians at Compiegne. Charles refused to ransom her, and she was sold to the English. They arranged an ecclesiastical trial before the pro-English bishop of Beauvais.

During the trial, Joan insisted that she was responsible only to the voices directed to her by God. I know not whether God loves the English or hates them, she said, but I know they will be thrown out of the kingdom of France. Induced to make a confession she later repudiated, she was condemned as a witch and heretic and handed over to the civil authorities. She was burned at the stake in Rouen.

To the French people, Joan became a martyr whose death brought about their unification. In 1456, after the English had left, the repentant Charles VII was instrumental in having her case reopened. An ecclesiastical court at Rouen vindicated her. The Roman Catholic church declared her a saint in 1920. Her feast day is May 30.