Monday, May 29, 2006
Joan of Arc Executed, May 30, 1431
Today in 1431, Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in Rouen, France. In death, she became an inspiration to a nation under foreign occupation and remains today a symbol of devout faith and strength under duress.
Joan was born in 1412 in Domremy, France. While she was still a young girl, the Hundred Years War turned against the French as Henry V of England invaded France and drove Charles VI’s army from the northern part of the country; even Paris was occupied. The French king died barely a month later, leaving his son Charles the throne. However, the the title of King had become nothing more than a promise, since the coronation city of Reims was held by the English and their Burgundian allies. To make matters worse, Henry V’s son, who was an infant at the time, was declared the King of France.
In her early teens, Joan began to hear voices. According to her, these voices belonged to three saints: St. Catherine, St. Margaret and St. Michael. They told her that she must contact Charles, the rightful heir to the French throne, and help him capture Reims so he could be properly crowned. She visited a local garrison commander and told him of her visions; she was promptly sent home. She returned less than a year later with the same story about her visions, at which time the captain sent a small group of soldiers to escort Joan to Chinon, where Charles was living. It was at this time that Joan began wearing men’s clothes, a habit that would later become a major issue.
Arriving at Chinon, Joan was granted an audience with Charles, who was curious about the bold young woman. But instead of meeting with her directly, he stood in with the rest of the attendants so as to not stand out. Upon entering the room Joan, who had never seen Charles, walked directly to him and told him of her divinely-delivered instructions. Joan was questioned by local theologians who, in the end, made a political decision by telling Charles that it would be a good move to have the young girl as a public ally.
Over the next four months, the French army won several important victories against the English. Joan led several charges and was wounded by an arrow, but dressed her own wound and returned to the battle. On July 16, the French army liberated Reims. The next day, Charles VII was crowned as the true King of France.
In September, Joan was involved in a French attack on Paris. She was once again wounded, but did not leave the battle until the unsuccessful siege was called off and the army retreated. Joan participated in several other campaigns that year, all of them successful to varying degrees. At the end of the year, the new king granted Joan’s entire family royal titles.
On May 23, 1431, Joan was captured during a battle against the Burgundians. She was sold to the English, who put her on trial for heresy. The charge against her was that she had rejected Church authority by claiming direct communication from saints. She refused to recant her claims, at which point the ecclesiastical authorities told her that she would be turned over to local authorities and executed. Offering to recall her statements, she was instead given a sentence of life in prison. She was also ordered to wear women’s clothing.
Barely a week later, Joan was discovered wearing men’s clothing again. She told her captors that St. Catherine and St. Margaret were unhappy with her for recanting her statements in exchange for a lighter sentence. With this statement, Joan signed her own death warrant. She was handed over to civilian authorities on May 30, who immediately burned her at the stake. She was 19.
Joan of Arc’s martyrdom became a source of inspiration for the French army. Within 22 years, Charles VII’s forces had reclaimed all of France with the exception of the port city of Calais.
The Roman Catholic Church canonized Joan of Arc in 1920. Today is her feast day.