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Why was cross-dressing the only crime Joan of Arc was charged with?


Victory and Arrest
Joan of Arc led troops in the siege of Orleans.
Joan of Arc led troops in the siege of Orleans.
©istockphoto/wynnter

Before heading into battle, La Pucelle, or "the Maid," as she became known to the French, needed prop­er armor and weaponry. Legend holds that when it came time to provide Joan with a sword, her attendant voices told her to look behind the altar of the church Sainte-Catherine-de-Fierbois. There, the voices said, she would find a rusted sword with five crosses engraved on it. Sure enough, the men sent to fetch the sword found it and wiped the rust off with remarkable ease. In May 1429, armed with her mystical sword, Joan of Arc led her troops to victory in Orléans after a nine-day battle. By July 17, the French had pushed the English forces into retreat in Normandy, and the dauphin was crowned Charles VII, King of France.

With England still occupying northern provinces and Burgundy unsettled, the conflict wasn't entirely resolved. In 1430, Charles VII wished to broker a truce with England to end the fighting, but Joan of Arc didn't support that plan. The following spring, Joan of Arc led a group of soldiers into the northern province of Artois, where the English had revamped their occupation [source: Chamberlin]. Outnumbered, Joan of Arc attempted to retreat but was arrested in the process. Charles VII did nothing to rescue her, and the Maid of Orléans was delivered into English captivity. She was imprisoned in the town of Rouen, the English capital in Normandy.

Instead of being treated as a prisoner of war, Joan of Arc was handed over to an Inquisition tribunal. The primary orchestrator of Joan of Arc's Inquisition trial was Pierre Cauchon, the Bishop of Beauvais. Joan had captured the Beauvais province during her military conquests, which fueled Cauchon's vendetta against her [source: Chamberlin]. He and a group of theologians at the University of Paris wished to try her for heresy. If they could successfully condemn her of that, it would discredit Charles VII's ability to rule and allow the English to claim the throne.

The preliminary heresy investigation began in January 1431. Guarded by coarse English guards, Joan of Arc grew increasingly concerned about her safety in prison. For that reason, she continued to wear men's clothing to deter any sexual advances [source: Pernoud and Clin].


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