I'm currently traveling through France, and am feeling so inspired by everything I've seen! The history of this marvelous country comes alive at every turn, and I've been soaking it all in. I recently visited Chinon, and was enthralled by what I learned about Joan of Arc during my stay there. Talk about a fearless woman warrior! Joan has always fascinated me, but immersing myself in her story here has made me fall in love with her all over again. She's the patron saint of France, and her legend is still very much alive here. Today, I wanted to share her story, one of the most mysterious and tragic tales in the whole of French history. Maybe even world history ...
Imagine being 12 years old and seeing visions of saints and angels. Now imagine those saints and angels kept telling you that your destiny was to save your country in the name of God. This was precisely what happened to Joan of Arc, a young woman whose bravery would change the course of world history before she'd even reached her eighteenth birthday.
Joan was born in northeastern France in 1412 during a series of ongoing military clashes with the English called the Hundred Years War. By the time she was 10 years old, she'd seen dozens of her own neighbors thrown out of their homes by the invading English forces. They even burned her hometown to the ground at one point. Joan's family was incredibly poor and although Joan couldn't read or write, her mother taught her to adore and trust God.
That adoration and trust began to take strange forms as Joan grew older.
Around the age of 12, Joan began having visions of holy figures. She saw and spoke with St. Catherine, St. Margaret, and the Archangel Michael. In her first few visions, these holy figures simply urged her to lead a pious life dedicated to God. But over time, they became more vivid and specific. By the time she was 16, the angels and saints in Joan's visions had convinced her that France's fate was in her hands.
Around this time, the French throne was in dispute. Both Charles of France and the English king Henry VI claimed to be France's rightful ruler. Through her visions, St. Michael and St. Catherine told Joan that she had been chosen as the savior of France and that she must find a way to meet with Charles. It was her destiny to lead French forces to beat the English and install him as king. As she traveled through the country, the French people heard her story and rallied around her. There was a prophecy that a virgin girl would save France, and both Joan and her supporters believed that she was the chosen one. Some of them began to follow her everywhere she went.
After a six-month campaign to get permission to visit Charles, Joan finally persuaded his guards that she was the real deal. She cut her hair short and dressed in men’s clothes for her 11-day trek to Chinon, convinced that her visions were finally coming true.
When she arrived, though, Charles hesitated. Some of his advisors urged him to meet with this passionate girl, but others were convinced she was a fraud. Maybe even a traitor. So Charles decided to put her to a test. He granted her an audience, but disguised himself and hid among the members of his court. She picked him out almost immediately, having never seen him before! After that, he agreed to speak with her privately.
During this talk, Joan proved herself by repeating to Charles the words of a prayer he'd made in private, something only God could have heard. After she'd sworn she would see him crowned king at Reims, Charles gifted Joan a suit of armor and a horse, and asked her to accompany the French army to Orléans, the site of an English siege. Joan arrived, she fought valiantly, and after months of stagnation the French finally began to win. Joan's presence had turned the tables on the invaders. At the age of 17 and with no military training, Joan fought like a true warrior and helped her army drive the English out of Orléans.
Shortly after, Charles was crowned King Charles VII, just as Joan and predicted.
Defeat and capture
Joan was elated that she'd been able to make her visions into reality, but wanted to continue to serve her king. Paris had been captured by enemies to the crown, and she was eager to re-take it. Although King Charles wasn't wild about the idea, Joan bravely led the charge herself, her passion and faith driving her actions.
But she was unable to capture the city. And this was the beginning of the end for her ...
Several months later, the king ordered Joan to fight the traitorous French Burgundians in Compiégne. As she was attempting to defend the town and its people, she was thrown from her horse, and her own troops abandoned her outside the town’s gates as they closed.
Then the Burgundians took Joan captive.
Then King Charles lost faith in her. He left her to rot in the Burgundian prison for months without attempting to free her.
Joan's supporters made several attempts to rescue her, but all of them failed. Eventually, she was exchanged for 10,000 livres to the English. Well aware that the French people adored Joan and saw her as a messenger from God, the English decided to make an example of her. They charged her with 70 crimes, including witchcraft, heresy, and dressing like a man (illegal at that time). To make matters worse, many French officials sided against Joan and chose to oversee her trial.
She'd been abandoned by her king, accused of betraying her beloved God, and turned on by some of her own countrymen.
Her trial dragged on for more than a year.
She was interrogated dozens of times, threatened with rape and torture, and yet she remained calm and stuck to her claim of innocence through it all. Since one of her crimes was dressing as a man, she was forced to wear traditional women's dresses during the trial … but she rebelled and found ways to sneak men's clothes into her cell so she could wear them proudly! Joan's courage could not be snuffed out, and she held her head high no matter how many times her inquisitors tried to beat her down. She believed in herself, stayed true to her own heart, and was a rebel to the core.
Finally, on May 29, 1431, Joan of Arc was convicted of heresy. The next day, she was burned at the stake in front of a crowd of 10,000 people, many of them weeping for their beloved virgin savior.
Decades later, King Charles VII ordered an investigation into her trial, cleared her name of all charges, and declared her a martyr. In 1920 she was canonized as a saint, and is now the valiant and adored patron saint of France.
Although Joan of Arc was inspired by her visions of angels and saints, she isn't merely a religious icon in her native France; she's a national symbol of independence. Her unquenchable love for her country and her drive to follow her heart are her legacy. Even today, her actions inspire women in France and all over the world to stand up and fight for their personal freedoms.
Sticking to your beliefs in the face of criticism is hard enough, but actually fighting for your beliefs takes a special kind of courage. Joan of Arc felt called to fight for France, and she listened to her warrior's heart until the very end. Her heroic actions helped install a king, save hundreds of lives, and alter her country's history.
Even now, nearly 600 years later, Joan call on all of us to dig deep into our cores and summon our ferocious woman warrior selves.