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Rouen Cathedral
photo by
G. Wilson

Jeanne d'Arc
Peter Paul Rubens c. 1620

The home in which Jeanne d'Arc was born and grew up. In its yard she received her first visions.

It is located in the small village of Domremy, later named Domremy-la-Pucellel, where Joan lived until she set forth on her military mission. The home is now a national monment open for the public. The lintel above the front door shows the coat of arms of Louis XI, son of Charles VII. who declared the house a religious and historical site following Joan's 'rehabilitaion trial'after 1450.

Joan's brief but bold appearance on history's stage undoubtedly makes her the best-known female figure of the Middle Ages. The reason: her bizarre role as a military mademoiselle leading troops in the field of battle, the existence of voluminous records of two legal processes involving her trial, Joan's own words in reply to her judges and her tragic, anguished end despite her extraordinary contribuiton to king and country.

Rouen landmark
Le Gros Horlage
photo by
G. Wilson

Narrow Rouen Street
photo by
G. Wilson

15th & 16th Century Rouen Buildings
Near Site of Joan's Burning
photo by
G. Wilson

La Pucelle
The Maid
Jeanne d'Arc

With the English occupying Paris and large parts of the country, French daring and dauntlessness were at low ebb. Their Dauphin was listless and languid as were his ministers. In 1428 the Dauphin's cause seemed bleak. The English appeared invincible, their victories proof that God was with them. The Dauphinists' most horrible handicap was the character of their king-to-be. He was a weak, graceless degenerate. Stunted and puny, he had a blank face with scared, shifty, sleepy eye, that peered out from either side of a big, long nose. He was afflicted with strange fears, like entering strange houses and never crossing a wooden bridge. He left governing to his greedy favourites who instead of fighting the English, fought among themselves.

The country needed confidence and courage and who could have guessed it would be inflamed to fight in a male-dominated, upper-class world of secular and ecclesiastical authority, by a teenaged-peasant, shepherd girl. In 1428 an illiterate, shepherdess named Joan of Arc, declared she had been called by God to save king and country by expelling the English. Hardly anything is known of this young woman warrior, summoned to save her king and country by three saints - .Saint Michael, Saint Catherine, and Saint Margaret. She was a headstrong, impatient, obstinate teenager - 17 at the time she raised the siege of Orleans in 1429 - whose passion and persuasive powers convinced and inspired others.

Joan tends the flock of sheep.
19th Century Fresco

No drawing exists of Joan, but an outline sketched at the bottom of a document. Even the armour attributed to her is unauthenticated. Joan was born in Domremy in the province of Lorraine. It was devastated by the Hundred Years' War, a dynastic duel with England that began in 1337. The conflict comprised a series of destructive wars lasting from 1337 to 1453 over a long-standing dispute regarding the relationship between the crown of France and several rich feudal principalities held by England within France's territory.

At Chinon Castle overlooking the Loire River, Joan first met Charles VII and offered him
"The help of the King of Heaven."

The castle in Touraine was a residence of the Dauphin of France in the early 15th century, when Touraine was virtually the only territory left to him in France, the rest being occupied by the Burgundians or the English. In 1429 the little, dark-haired, 18-year old, Joan arrived at the castle accompanied by six knights. She advanced timidly into the large room illuminated by 50 torches and filled with 300 richly-dressed courtiers among whom was the dissimulated dauphin. Joan's task: find the dauphin. She distinguished the true Charles VII at once and went right to him. Because she had recognized the royal and he had satisfied himself that she was pure in body and spirit, he acceded to her urging to declare himself king and raise an army to liberate France. This virgin-warrior was an excellent figurehead for France and besides, a doubting-Dauphin had little to lose.

Jeanne d'Arc in Armour Before Orleans
by Jules-Eugene Lenepveu
(French Neo-Classical Painter (1819-1898)

The hour required a leader that combined the old religious faith and a force known as patriotism. It found one in Joan, whom he voices of God commanded her to rescue the country from foreign tyrants. She responded by raising the siege of Orleons and delivered the city in May 1429.

Joan - Warrior, Saint, Teenager - leading the charge carrying her signature white standard (20th century oil painting)

Jeanne d'Arc at the Coronation of Charles VII at the cathedral of Reims
by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

On the wave of that wondrous victory, she carried the Dauphin to Rheims and the sacred ceremony of coronation two months later. Joan stood near him throughout the ceremony, holding her white banner and afterwords she was the first to address him as King.

Jeanne d'Arc at Reims
by Jules-Eugene Lenepveu
(French Neo-Classical Painter (1819-1898)

The coronation of Charles VII did wonders for his morale and this country's cause. French militarry morale was reinspired, for how could the army possibly lose, if God was against the English.

Rheims Cathedral
Coronation Church of the Kings of France

Construction of this cathedral began in 1211 and was finished by the end of the 13th century. This church is the culmination of the French Gothic and owes its cruciform plan to its purpose as the coronation church of the kings of France. Its existence was engendered by the religious fervour of the twelfth century, something manifested in another way in the Crusades.

Rheims Cathedral

Gothic interior and Rose window. A sense of immensity has been achieved within that is both solemn and regal.

Here's Jeanne!

Joan of Arc's appearance resulted in a slow decline in English successes. Their nobles became distracted by factional fighting under their infant King Henry VI, who was only nine years of age in 1430. The 'witch' who bewitched them had to be destroyed. Time was not on Joan's side. Her good fortune lasted only three years.

A final image of Joan as a warrior was described by a Burgundian chronicler. "She mounted her horse armed as would a man, adorned with a doublet of rich cloth-of-gold over her breastplate. She rode a handsome, very proud, grey courser and displayed herself in armor and her bearing as a captain would have done... and in that array with her standard raised high and fluttering in the wind and well accompanied by many men, she sallied forth from the city about four hours past midday."

Jeanne d'Arc On The Road To Victory

Having recovered from a serious injury she received during her attack on the city of Paris in September 1429, Joan escaped from her eenforced captivity at the hands of the king of Chinon, she made her way to Compiegne, then under attack by Burgundians. Fearing they would be overwhelmed, many of Joan's followers commenced a hasty retreat into Compiegne. During the skirmish with Burgundian forces outside the walls of Compiegne, Joan was knocked from her horse and captured. Some historians say she was deliberately locked out of town by its governor, but apparently this was not the case.


Statue of Joan of Arc in Compiegne

It was explained later that the captain at the gate seeing a great many Burgundians and Englishmen approaching to cross the bridge and enter the city, raised the drawbridge and closed the gate. Left outside to face the enemy flood were a few men and the Maid. Subsequently, another reason was given for her seeming abandonment. Some of the French captains found it insulting to suggest their victories resulted from the leadership of a young, village virgin. Such jealously justified leaving her to fend for herself. Such suggestions led chroniclers to conclude that a French officer acted treasonously when he ordered the gate to the city, closed.

As a result, Joan was manhandled from her mount by a Burgundian soldier. Nevertheless, it was widely believed that Joan could still not be captured and kept in captivity because her power was too great. God would guide and protect her and see to her escape.

Charles VII

Neither Charles VII, nor his nobles, made any effort to save her. The British railed at the royals. "You call yourself a King, consorting with a disorderly and disgraced woman wearing the dress of a man.!" Shamed by their foe for fighting with a female leader, they were reluctant to ransom the Maid, so great was their embarrassment at having been led to victory by a village girl.

The Burgundians and English were ecstatic and "more joyous than if they had captured five hundred combatants." Joan's death was considered essential by the English, because she claimed to have been moved to act by God. If her claim was not disavowed, it would have meant that the final Arbiter of all affairs had decided against the English domination of France. Curses and catcalls were heaped upon this sorcercess soldier, whose sexual perversity was wearing male dress, "a thing displeasing and abominable to God."

King Henry VI called her a "Foul fiend of France and hag of all despite." .

A London chronicler followed with, "ffalse witche"

Drawing of Joan done by a Burgundian chronicler at the time of her capture.

Warrior Joan

Taken prisoner by Burgundians at Compiegne on 23 May 1430, Joan did not reach Rouen, the appointed place of her trial, until Christmas Eve of that year. The intervening time was taken up with negotiations for her ultimate purchase price of 10,000 pounds, which the English eventually paid the Burgundians.

Jeanne d'Arc in Prison in Rouen
by Pierre Henri Revoil

Joan's show trial, presided over by the Burgundian bishop of Beauvais and attended by a panel of assessors, all of whom were French. It lasted from February 24 to March 17 1431. The charge was that this "false soothsayer" had rejected the authority of the Church in claiming a personal revelation from God, in prophesying, in signing her letters with the names of Christ and the Virgin and in asserting she was assured of salvation. She held firm through the long days of questioning, neither denying her messages nor blaming her monarch for her plight. Among the many question put to Jeanne during her trial were the following.
Q. Which do you care for most, your banner or yoiur sword? A.Better, forty times better, my banner than my sword.
Q. In what likeness did St. Michael appear to you? A. I did not see a crown: I know nothing of his dress.
Q. Was he naked? A. Do you think God has not the wherewithal to clothe him?
Q. Does God hate the English? A. Of the love or hate God may have for the English or of what He will do for their souls, I know nothing, but I know quite well that they will be put out of France, except those who die there, and that God will send victory to the Franch against the English.


Lesser charges included wearing male dress - "a thing displeasing and abominable to God," and her insistence that the saints spoke French not English. After much bullying, trickery and misrepresentation, the lawyers trapped her and she was found guilty and sentenced to be burned at the stake. The University of Paris was asked for a legal opinion and they concurred that she was guilty of heresy due to her unorthodox religious belief.She recanted but later abjured her recantation and as a twice condemned heretic could then be handed over to the secular authorities for punishment. When she heard the manner of her death, she cried out and pleaded to be beheaded.

On 30 May, 1431, Joan was led to the Old Marketplace. The site of her incineration was filled with hundreds of men-at-arm in case they were needed to contain the crowd. English hands seized her and pushed her to the waiting stake and faggots. She was hoisted upon the plaster stake that was built so high, the executioner had trouble reaching her. A tall paper hat like a mitre was set upon her head bearing the words "Heretic, relapsed apostate, idolatress."

Jeanne's Last Hour
19th century painting.

As she was bound to the stake, she cried out:

"Ah, Rouen, J'ay grant pour que tu ayes a souffrir de ma mort." She continued all the while to praise God and the saints while lamenting devoutly.

Jeanne d'Arc at the Stake

Jeanne d'Arc being tied at the stake.
from Vigiles de Charles VLL by Martiat d'Auvergne, 1484.

She called for a cross and an Englishman made her one from the end of a stick which she took and kissed. Friar Isambard de La Pierre went to find in the nearby church of Saint-Sauveur a cross "to hold elevated right above her eyes up to the moment of death, so that the cross on which God hung during his life could be continuously in her sight."

"My voices were of God, they have not deceived me." she cried as the flames crackled and rose about her. She called out loudly and repeatedly upon Jesus. Scarcely an eye was dry among those who looked on. Even her judges wept The last word she cried in a high voice as she died was, "Jesus." Horror at the havoc was widespread. "We are lost, we have killed a saint," cried King Henry's secretary.

Jeanne suffocated from the smoke. The fire failed to burn her heart and entrails, a sign then considered to signify a miracle. One historial source stated that in spite of all the "oil, sulphur and fuel" used, the entrails and her heart "could not be reduced to ashes," After a third incinceration, nothing but ashes remained and these were thrown into the River Seine.

"Joan of Arc, without a tomb and without a portrait, you who knew that the grave of heroes is the heart of the living."
These words were spoken by Andre Malraux when he dedicated the complex 1964.

Richard Beauchamp (1382-1439)
The individual responsible for the burning of Joan of Arc.
[Beauchamp was governor as well of the Castle in which Joan was kept during her trial.
He was also guardian of the Young English King Henry VI,
Earl of Warwick,
Count of Aumale
Captain of Rouen and of many other French Cities

The Cross Marks Site of Burning of Jeanne d'Arc in Rouen
photo by
G. Wilson

Charles made no move whatsoever to save her, his memory marred forever by this shameful failure even to attempt to free his faithful follower. King Charles had serious, second thoughts, however, about his seeming indifference to her death. He belatedly believed he had to rectify his reluctance to act twenty years after the fact in 1456 and sought to rehabilitate her reputation by ordering an inquiry into the trial. It resulted in the Papacy annulling the sentence. This decision required that a cross by erected at the site of the stake, which today towers over the square.

Stainless Steel Marker at the Site of the Immolation of Jeanne d'Arc in Rouen
photo by

Stainless Steel Marker at the Site of Burning of Jeanne d'Arc in Rouen
photo by
G. Wilson

Two stainless steel markers record the place of Joan's death. Near the same spot, a public pillory once stood, where numerous nefarious folk were executed and/or exposed for public humiliation. Its remnants are still there. Restoration work on the old square subsequently disclosed the ruins of Saint Sauveur's Church which was destroyed in 1833.

The statue of Jeanne d'Arc by Real del Sarte, dates from 1926.
It is located in a niche of the
Saint Joan of Arc Church
situated in the Old Market Square.
photo by
G. Wilson

Saint Joan of Arc Church
located in the Old Market Square.
photo by
G. Wilson

Ceiling of Saint Joan of Arc Church
photo by
G. Wilson

Stained Glass Window of Saint Joan of Arc Church depicting the Bridge from which Joan's heart and entrails were thrown into the Seine River
photo by
G. Wilson

Stained Glass Windows of Saint Joan of Arc Church
photo by
G. Wilson

Legend has it that 19-year-old Joan of Arc's remains were scattered in the Seine River. However, a fragment of rib bone and some skin covered in a black substance, as well as a cat's femur and a fragment of cloth were reportedly found at the site by an unidentified person. The cat's femur was thought to confuse matters, because it lent weight to the notion of a hoax or a fake relic. Other historians say that throwing a cat or another animal representing the devil onto a pyre is credible, for cats or other animals representing the devil could have been thrown into pyres in medieval times. These remnants were conserved by an apothecary until 1867 amd then turned over to the archdiocese of Tours. The remains are conserved at a museum of the Association of Friends of Old Chinon and are one of the Roman Catholic church's most precious relics. Joan was burned at the stake after a trial by church officials for heresy and witchcraft, but she was rehablilitated by the Roman Catholic Church a quarter century after her death. She was beatified in 1909 and canonized a saint by Pope Benedict XV in 1920. In 1909, scientists declared it "highly probable" that the remains were Joan of Arc's.

Fast forward to 2006.

Given developments in genetic technology in recent years, researchers at Garches, France, decided to try again. A team of French experts planned a series of tests on the remnants to determine whether Joan of Arc's supposed remains - a rib bone and some skin - may indeed have belonged to the 15th-century French heroine.

The rib bone measuring 15 centimetres, which is "remarkably well preserved is wrapped in a blackish substance," Subsequent testing revealed that the substance was not "carbonized remains, but vegetable and mineral debris, something that rather resembles embalming substance, It could be that these are human remains of the 15th century, subjected to a sort of embalming or protection as happened when relics were manipulated, But we know, in any event, that Joan of Arc was not embalmed. The fragment of linen from the 15th century wasn't burned. It was dyed,"

The scientist stressed that full results are not yet in, such as carbon-14 dating and additional genetic tests to determine the sex of the individual, and of the cat."We will first have to assure that this rib corresponds with a 19-year old woman with DNA testing used to determine the sex." The team of experts will also subject the bone to other tests to determine its exact age and to build up "a body of presumptions to show as well as possible, if it was Jaon of Arc's," he said. He added: "We won't be able to say, 'Yes this is Joan of Arc', but within six months we will able to say if these remains belong to a female of 19 years old whose body was burned three times in Rouen in 1431."

Fast forward to 6 January 2012

"The politicians' appropriation of history."

PARIS - President Nicolas Sarkozy and far-right leader Marine Le Pen this week embark on a tug-of-love over the French patron saint Joan of Arc, a surprise player in the upcoming presidential election. The two leaders are to stage rival celebrations of the 600th anniversary of the birth of the 15th-century Catholic martyr who has been appropriated by the far-right partly for her booting out of medieval English "immigrants." The teenage peasant led the French army against the English after experiencing religious visions and was later burned at the stake, but her broad appeal to French of all political colours has ensured her immortality. Joan's struggle against the English and Burgundians on behalf of the French crown has often served as an inspiration in patriotic causes. She is regularly wheeled out as a symbol of French unity, alongside such Gallic icons as general Charles de Gaulle or Vercingetorix, who defied the Romans like a real-life Asterix.

Her broad appeal is key: French Catholics see in her a saint, nationalists see her as a royalist warrior who kicked out the English, while Socialists can hail her humble origins, although she was the daughter of a landowner. Centre-right leader Sarkozy, who will face a strong challenge from Le Pen when he stands for re-election in April, has seized upon the anniversary to make his own pilgrimage to locations associated with her life. On Friday, 6 January 2012, he will visit her birthplace in Domremy-la-Pucelle in the Vosges mountains of eastern France and nearby Vaucouleurs, which she is said to have visited on her way to meet king Charles VII.The following day, the National Front (FN) - including leader Marine Le Pen and her father, party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen - will stage a rally in central Paris at the base of a statue of the saint.

In his movie, Joan of Arc, Cecil B DeMille introduced Joan as, "The girl patriot who fought with men, was loved by men and killed by men, yet retained the heart of a woman". Fans of the warrior at 16, a saint at 19, Joan - or Jeanne - are throughout the world today , 6 January, 2012 , celebrating the 600th anniversary of her birth. Her frail figure in armour, carved in marble and stone, graces the streets of New Orleans, Washington, Paris, Montreal, among a hundred other cities. Ingres painted her; Verdi, Liszt, Tchaikovsky and Honeger wrote operas dedicated to her. In theatre, the farmer's daughter inspired Von Schiller, George Bernard Shaw, Bertold Brecht, Paul Claudel and Jean Anouilh. For good measure, let us not forget to mention Leonard Cohen as he huskily sings, "Joan of Arc"

"I love your solitude, I love your pride, my cold and lonesome heroine".


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