In 1412, a daughter Jeanne was born to Jacques d’Arc a wealthy peasant farmer with around fifty acres of land, and his wife in Domremy, in the Lorraine/Champagne border region of France. Popular legend has the family being poor, but the records of their frequent assistance to the needy in the area tell a different tale, that they were quite rich by the standards of the day for their class.
At the age of 13, Joan’s family were forced to flee their home to the neighbouring town of Neufchateau when the Anglo-Burgundian army entered Domremy to pillage, and laid waste to the homes of the residents. To stay would have meant certain rape at the very least, for Joan and her mother, and death for the family. The village was destroyed, the cattle taken and the church burned.
During her exile in Neufchateau, Joan famously heard the voices, later attributed by her to Saints Margaret, Catherin and Michael, which told her that she must be the one to rid France of the English and put the ousted Dauphin Charles back on to the throne of France. After three years of hearing these commands from God, she told her parents she was going to visit her cousin who was about to give birth, and Joan and her brother set off to see a wealthy Nobleman Robert de Baudricourt, who not surprisingly thought Joan was quite mad and ordered his servants to get rid of her.
Local legend was luckily on Joan’s side. There had been a prophecy made by one Marie D’Avignon circulating for some time that a ‘virgin from the borders of Lorraine’ would deliver France from the enemy. Joan most certainly would have known of this prophecy, most other people did and took this as the sign they had been waiting for.
Bowing to the pressure of so many of the people, de Baudricourt reluctantly raised an armed escort to accompany Joan to Chinon, 500 kilometres away, where the Dauphin was exiled. As Joan and her escort made their way there, her entourage grew, expanded by jubilant citizens and soldiers wanting to join her cause. The Dauphin, son of Charles VI ‘The Mad’ received word that his saviour was on her way, and possibly mistrustful of anyone who claimed to be driven by voices in their head, holed himself up in the Chateau and forced Joan and her followers to remain outside for two days.
On hearing that Joan had arrived, a guard was heard to salaciously call “A Virgin eh? God grant me one night with her and she will be a Virgin no more.” Joan remained calm and proclaimed the man ought not to be so ready to blaspheme the Lord when he was so close to death, at which he fell in the moat and drowned, (Rumours that he may have been “assisted” remain unconfirmed) which didn’t harm Joan’s claim that she was sent by God.
Reluctantly, Joan was eventually permitted entry by the Dauphin, and after vigorous questioning and an intimate inspection, was confirmed to be both virtuous and religiously pious. A test was conducted to assure that she was indeed divinely sent, whereby she was introduced into a room full of courtiers and a false ‘dauphin’ introduced to her as Charles. Joan promptly ignored this imposter, picked out the true Dauphin and fell to her knees, embracing his legs and proclaiming “Sweet King”.
After being given a suit of armour, and an army of 4000 men, Joan was given orders to lead them towards Orleans where the English had laid siege for six long months. But even now, there was mistrust, Joan was commanded to journey by the South Bank in order to accompany boats carrying provisions for the besieged residents and army. The English were encamped on the North Bank. Despite being unable to engage the enemy immediately, Joan made the mission a success and was marched in triumph through the streets, where her pennant accidentally caught fire. Joan doused the flames immediately, which only served to add to her divinity.
The English having heard the tale of this mythical angel warrior were completely shocked to finally be confronted by her, and fled. Similar successes occurred in three further sieged areas including that of Orleans. Joan was victorious, the English were retreating, and the Maid of Orleans commanded her rightful Sovereign to Reims where she intended to have him crowned as the rightful King of France. Although concerned about the circumstances surrounding his return to the throne, and the fear that it could come back to cause him political issues, the Dauphin reluctantly agreed, and his coronation took place on 17th July 1429 in Reims Cathedral.
Backed by public support and with his armies riding the wave of success brought about by Joan’s apparent triumphs, the English were losing ground fast, and France was slowly being liberated. The Dauphin was joyous. The one exception being the bug-bear of a virgin warrior angel, standing behind his throne in her white armour, as though she belonged there……