Joan of Arc (Jeanne d’Arc)
Maid of Orleans
French Heroine and Martyr
1412 – 1431 A.D.
Joan of Arc, or Jeanne d’Arc, the Maid of Orleans, a French heroine and martyr. She was born in the village of Domremy, close to the border of Alsace, where her father Jacques d’Arc worked his small farm, and her mother Ishambeau was noted for her fine embroidery and needle work.
In 1424 a part of France was held by the English in favor of Henry VI, and the northern part, with Paris as its centre, was utterly lost to the uncrowned French King Charles VII, while the lands sound of the Loire, to which Orleans was the key, were fast slipping from his uncertain grasp. It was from the farthest corner of France that the deliverer came. When the Maid was twelve years of age, she first heard the mysterious “Voices” which were to play so important a part in her career.
She was sitting in the garden at her work, when suddenly there came a light “such aas she had never seen before.” And out of the light a Voice spoke, the voice of an angel as she firmly believed, and the wondering girl heard the words: “Jeanne, you must go to the help of the King of France, and it is you who shall give him back his kingdom.” During the next four years the Voices spoke to her again and again, saying: “You must go to the Dauphin to make him to be crowned King.”
In January, 1429, Jeanne started on her journey, accompanied by a few followers, who believe in her mission, and who had provided her with a boy’s dress, a suit of armor, a sword, and a horse. When at length she reached Chinon, there was a delay of two days before the careless, pleasure-seaking Dauphin would grant her an audience. Summoned at last to the great Chamber, filled to overflowing with richly dressed nobles, Jeanne in her travel-stained boy’s garb, walked straight up to the Dauphin and delivered her message: “My prince, I am Jeanne the Maid. The King of Heaven has sent me to conduct you to Rheims that you may be crowned – if you will.” Charles VII was a poor creature, infirm of purpose, but it is probable that he was stirred by those simple, convincing words, and though the ecclesiastics and the military commanders were against her, she was, after many delays, given a small army, with which she began the march to Orleans.
The city had been holding out against the English beleaguers, but with no hope of success, for the English were too strong; and now came this young peasant girl who had never seen a siege in her life. At the head of her little army, her banner always gleaming in the forefront of the battle, she attacks the English, and after eight days of fighting, she drives the enemy from the south bank of the river, with Orleans, the key of Southern France, safe after a siege of seven long months. Then with town after town falling before her victorious banner, she leads the way to Rheims, where on July 17, 1429, the great event for which she toiled takes place, and Charles is crowned King of France.
And now, her work accomplished, Jeanne begs to be sent back to her mother and the home in little Domremy, but they will not let her go, and from that moment is dated her failure and her fall. The Voices no longer speak to her, months of inaction follow, the Burgundians are in league with the English, Jeanne gives battle to them, but her good fortune has deserted her, and the Maid is taken prisoner. Her Burgundian captors sell her to the English, and in the whole of France not a blow is struck, not a voice raised on her behalf.
The English took her to Rouen, and placed her, until her trial, in an iron cage, where she was never free from the watch of the course soldiers. When the unjust trial began, charged with heresy and witchcraft, she defended herself bravely but without avail, and was condemned to be burnt at the stake.
This deed was enacted in the city of Rouen on May 31, 1431, and as the flames rose up and curled around the white and trembling figure of the Maid, she cried: “My Voices were of God! They hae not deceived me!”
Her ashes were thrown into the waters of the Seine, but the English soldiers went to their camp muttering in fear – “We are lost! We have burned a Saint!”
The pathetic story of this valiant girl has been made the subject of drama and poetry, which history records her courage and unselfishness, the cruelty of her enemies, and the ingratitude of her countrymen.
Reference: Famous Women; An Outline of Feminine Achievement Through the Ages With Life Stories of Five Hundred Noted Women By Joseph Adelman. Copyright, 1926 by Ellis M. Lonow Company.