A Maid at the Stake

Jeanne d'ArcBorn in the early years of the fifteenth century, the French peasant girl Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc) had been hearing heavenly voices since she was thirteen years old. In 1429, she put on man’s clothing and travelled to the royal court at Chinon. At the time, France was troubled by the Hundred Year’s War between the great houses of Valois and Plantagenet – the kings of England – which both laid claim to the French throne. Jeanne managed to secure a meeting with the Valois crown prince Charles and, remarkably, persuaded him to let her lead an assault to break the English siege of Orléans.

Gaining a splendid victory, the “Maid of Orléans” became an inspiring religious and military leader for the French troops. Her subsequent conquest of Reims allowed the crown prince to be crowned as Charles VII at Notre-Dame cathedral. However, Jeanne was later captured and fell into the hands of the English, who put her on trial for heresy and cross-dressing. As the minutes show, the trial was heavily biased against the accused and, unsurprisingly, ended with her condemnation and burning at the stake.

Allegedly, the English showed her charred remains to the audience to take away any doubt that she had perished. Thus they sought to undermine the prestige of an important French icon and, indirectly, the prestige of the Valois king. However, Jeanne was rehabilitated in a posthumous trial and would eventually be made a saint by the Catholic Church.

Literature

• W.P. Barrett, The Trial of Joan of Arc (New York 1932)
• Régine Pernoud (transl. E. Hymans), Joan of Arc by Herself and Her Witnesses (London 1994)
• Colette Beaune, Jeanne d’Arc (Paris 2004)

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