Joan of Arc

Excerpt from Chapter 15 of Christ’s Faithful Servants, copyright 2023

. . . The Girl Commander. In 1429, Joan, at age seventeen, was put in charge of a French army—at least symbolically—which had been sent to relieve the town of Orleans, a strategic key to the region. The English had besieged the city for seven months by the time of Joan’s arrival. Considered the gateway to southern France, the city’s capture might have caused widespread defections among those nobles still loyal to Charles [Charles VII, French King].

Joan insisted that her soldiers behave morally, and encouraged them to have faith in God. Despite her lack of military training, Joan’s bravery, faith, and determination turned the tide of the battle, and of the war. In one key battle she returned to the battlefield after being shot with an arrow through the neck and shoulder. (Interestingly, she knew she would be wounded at Orleans at least two weeks before it occurred.) Urged on by her voices, she led the French to victory, forcing the English to withdraw on May 8th, after three days of fighting. Seizing the initiative, Joan aggressively exhorted her military commanders to attack, and won decisive victories at nearby Jargeau and Patay, destroying English power in the region south of Paris.

Joan now led Charles VII to Reims—where French kings were traditionally crowned by the Church—to officially become king of France. Towns all along their route switched allegiance from Burgundy to France, and Charles’ stature grew immensely. However, after the coronation, friction developed between Joan and her king. She wanted to immediately march on Paris, but Charles delayed, seeking to win Burgundy away from England through diplomacy. The delay proved fatal to her plans. When the attack upon Paris finally came, the English were ready and repulsed it. Joan was wounded again, shot by an arrow in the thigh. Charles quickly called off the attack and withdrew his army to the south.

Captivity. After a few further victories, Joan was captured by the Burgundians on May 23, 1430, while attempting to relieve the siege of the town of Compiègne.[1] So far as we know, Charles and the French made no effort to rescue or ransom her, although either may have been possible while she remained in Burgundian custody.[2]By November, Joan had been sold to the English and was on her way to the town of Rouen, in northern France, where the English put her on trial for heresy.[3] This trial would be her most difficult test—and perhaps her finest moment. . . .

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[1]. After entering the city secretly and at night, Joan led a French attack from the city which was repulsed. As her troops retreated, she was thrown from her horse and the city gates were closed before she could reenter. Joan and a few others were trapped outside the city and captured.

[2]. When first captured, Joan became a prisoner of John of Luxembourg, who was loyal to the Duke of Burgundy. John treated her well and initially resisted English efforts to obtain custody of her. When persuasion and bribery failed, the English brought economic pressure upon John by placing an embargo on trade with Flanders (Belgium), the source of most of his income. This induced him to accept the English bribe and deliver Joan into English hands.

[3]. To counter the many con men and charlatans who duped the populace with claims of magical or supernatural powers, the Church had decreed that any claim to divine inspiration was a heresy punishable by death. Obviously, Joan’s voices were such a claim. In addition, the Church claimed the authority to act as final arbiter of the validity of any claim of divine inspiration, and thus maintained that it had the right to judge whether or not Joan’s voices were from God. Joan, supremely confident in her divine calling, would not concede the Church’s authority to so act, and this too was considered heresy.