Sainte Jeanne d'Arc
Saint Joan of Arc

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Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc) is a national heroine of France known as la mère de la nation française - the mother of the French nation. 

She was a country-girl, born in Domrémy, northern France, around the year 1412.  

Joan was the youngest of five children.  She had three brothers and a sister.   

D'Arc was the family surname.  

This is a photo of the house where she was born and lived.


 The town of Domrémy is in the région of France known as Grand Est.  The full name of the town is Domrémy-la-Pucelle.
 

During Joan's lifetime, the English and their allies - the Burgundians - were invading and occupying areas of northern France.  It was the latter stage of la Guerre de Cent Ans - the Hundred Years' War (1337 - 1453).

It must have been very frightening for everyone living in this area of France.

When Joan was about twelve years old, she began to experience visions and to hear the voices of Saint Margaret, Saint Catherine of Alexandria and the Archangel Michael.   They told her to visit the heir to the French throne (le dauphin Charles) and to lead him to the cathedral of Reims so that he could be crowned King of France.   The voices also told her "to throw the English out of France" - bouter les Anglais hors de France.

The cathedral of Reims - la cathédrale de Reims - was the official venue for the coronation of the Kings of France, but the ceremony (known as le sacre du roi) could not take place because that area of France was in enemy hands: it was occupied by the English in alliance with the Burgundians.   

Below is a painting by Eugène Thirion, depicting the Archangel Michael speaking to Joan

During the next four years, the voices continued to speak to Joan.  It was always the same messages that she heard.

It was decided that Joan should visit the dauphin Charles, in order to give him the messages.  She travelled to his castle in Chinon, accompanied by guards.  It took eleven days to arrive there.  Joan was sixteen years old.

She must have felt very nervous going to a royal palace to speak to such important people!  She had only ever experienced a simple life in the countryside.

She introduced herself as Jeanne la Pucelle (Joan the Maiden) and informed le dauphin Charles that God commanded him to travel to Reims for his coronation. 

Charles and Joan also had a private meeting where Joan told him a secret message that has never been revealed.   

After tests and discussions, Charles decided to take the young girl seriously.   He agreed to let her lead his army against the English soldiers who had seized the city of Orléans. 

A suit of armour was made for Joan.  A special war banner was created for her.  The banner was decorated with the words "Jesus, Maria" in large, golden letters.  Joan also carried a sword but declared that she would never use it, preferring to hold her banner on the battle field.  She said:

"I loved my banner forty times more than my sword."

In those days, it was almost unimaginable that a woman, especially a teenage girl, could fight as a soldier.  It must have seemed impossible that she could actually lead the army into battle!   All the tough warriors who were experienced in the battle field now had to obey her commands!

So, with the consent of le dauphin Charles, Joan led the French army into battle to take control of Orléans and they won!   As a result, the dauphin was able to travel through enemy territory to the city of Reims for his coronation as Charles VII, King of France.  This historic, royal journey towards Reims is called la Chevauchée vers Reims and it was thanks to Joan of Arc.

Now it really did seem that Joan was telling the truth about the voices and their messages!   

In gratitude, the newly-crowned King Charles VII granted a coat of arms to Joan and her family.

It had a blue background, a golden sword, two lilies and a crown.  He also gave Joan's family a noble surname - Du Lys.

Here you can see an image of the document dated 1429 that bestowed nobility upon the family.

This manuscript has the reference number: Manuscrit français 5524 de la Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris – folio 142 

This is a portrait of Joan (painted around 1485) dressed as a soldier.  It is kept at le Centre Historique des Archives Nationales in Paris. 

You can also see her signature. 

This painting portrays Joan of Arc at the coronation of Charles VII.  She is carrying her war banner.  When asked why she had her banner with her at the ceremony, she replied -


Il avait été à la peine, c'était bien raison qu'il fût à l'honneur.
It had been present during the hard struggle, it was right that it should be present at the moment of honour.

The painting is known as Jeanne d’Arc au sacre du roi Charles VII, dans la cathédrale de Reims.  It was painted in 1854 by French artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and it is visible at le Musée du Louvre, Paris.

Eventually, Joan's luck changed.  Following a period of around two years of successful campaigns, she was captured by the enemies called the Burgundians who were working in alliance with the English.  After being held prisoner by the Burgundians, she was sold and handed over to the English soldiers based in the city of Rouen

During her captivity, she tried to escape several times.  On one occasion, she was climbing down from the top of a tower using pieces of fabric tied together but she fell and was injured.  
 
The English accused her of witchcraft, of dressing as a man and of heresy.   The fact that she wore men's clothes was considered her greatest crime!

During the days of her trial, Joan was asked about the voices that had commanded her to lead the French army against the English.  When she was asked about the voice of Saint Margaret, Joan replied -

Cette voix est belle et douce et humble, et elle parle français.
This voice is beautiful and sweet and humble and speaks in French.

Then the question was asked -

Sainte Marguerite ne parle donc pas anglais?
So does Saint Margaret not speak English?

Joan replied - Comment parlerait-elle anglais, puisqu'elle n'est pas du parti des Anglais?
How could she speak English when she is not on the side of the English?


Joan died on 30 May 1431, following the guilty verdict of her trial.  This date is her feast day - meaning that every year, on 30 May, she is remembered.  A church has been built in Rouen on the very spot where Joan died.


She was canonised (made a saint) in 1920 by Pope Benedict XV.   Saint Joan of Arc is the protector of France, soldiers, captives, martyrs, prisoners and those who are ridiculed for their faith.  She is also known as The Maid of Orléans or La Pucelle in French, meaning 'the maiden.'
 

This is a sketch of Jeanne d'Arc.  It is the earliest known image of her.  It is believed to have been drawn during her lifetime in 1429 by Clément de Fauquembergue. She carries her army's banner in one hand and her sword in the other hand. 
 


This is a famous painting of the inquisition of Joan of Arc after her capture. 

This painting, by Paul Delaroche, can be seen at le Musée des Beaux Arts in Rouen.

 

Joan's motto was - Messire Dieu premier servi - meaning - Lord God first served.

 Joan of Arc's symbols are a sword, a banner and armour. 

In 1429, during Joan's lifetime, a poet called Christine de Pizan wrote a long poem about her.  The poem is called Le Ditié de Jehanne d'Arc.  It is written in praise of Joan's amazing strength, dedication and loyalty to France.  It gives a fantastic insight into how Joan was considered by the French people at the time.  It is rather like a news report from the year 1429!

 


Here is an extract (in old French):

Une fillete de XVI ans
A little girl of 16 years
(N’est-ce pas chose fors nature?)
(Is this not something out of the ordinary?)
A qui armes ne sont pesans,
To whom the weapons are not heavy
Ains semble que sa norriture
So it would seem that her upbringing
Y soit, tant y est fort et dure!
Is the reason for her being so strong and tough!
Et devant elle vont fuyant
And before her they go fleeing
Les ennemis, ne nul n’y dure.
The enemies, not even one can stand up to her. 
Elle fait ce, mains yeulx voiant
She does this, in full view of everyone.

Et d’eulx va France descombrant,
And they are driven out of France
En recouvrant chasteaulx et villes.
Whilst castles and towns are taken back.
Jamais force ne fu si grant,
Never before has there been such a great strength
Soient ou à cens ou à miles!
Even in hundreds or thousands of men!
Et de noz gens preux et abiles
And for our brave and able men
Elle est principal chevetaine.
She is the captain.
Tel force n’ot Hector n’Achilles!
Neither Hector nor Achilles had such strength!
Mais tout ce fait Dieu, qui la menne.
But all of this is done by God who leads her.

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