Joan of Arc Research Paper

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Because of her involvement in conflicts between kings of England and France during the Hundred Years War, which led to her being burnt at the stake as a heretic in 1431, Joan of Arc became a symbol for love of country, feminine independence, and Christian sanctity.

Whether considered as a French national heroine, a prototype of feminism, a political prisoner confronting established institutions, or a saint of the Roman Catholic Church, Joan of Arc is one of the most fascinating and enigmatic women of all time. Considerable controversy surrounds her brief if extraordinary career of one year on the battlefield and one year in prison.

Joan’s role in history was shaped by the Hundred Years War (1337–1453), which was essentially a dynastic conflict between the kings of France and England for the control of France. The duke of Burgundy, the most powerful of the French vassals, was allied with England. By the early fifteenth century, large areas of France had been devastated by rapacious mercenary armies employed by the rulers of both countries. In 1428 only central and southern France remained loyal to the Valois king, Charles VII (1422– 1461), and the English were besieging Orleans, the key to southern France. It was at this low point in French fortunes that Joan made her appearance.

Joan was born about 1412 in Domremy, on the frontier between Champagne and Lorraine. She referred to herself as Jeanne la Pucelle—“la pucelle” meaning “the maiden” or “the virgin”—out of the pride she took in her virginity. One of the four children of Jacques Darc, a peasant of modest means, she had a normal childhood, although she was unusually prayerful. At about thirteen, she began to hear voices, which first instructed her to lead a good life and then directed her to obtain Charles VII’s coronation in the cathedral of Reims, traditional site of royal coronations, and the expulsion of the English from French soil.

In February 1429, wearing male clothes (she claimed she found them comfortable), Joan visited Charles at his Chinon quarters. After some initial suspicion, Charles agreed to Joan’s campaign against the English and supplied her with men, money, male clothing, and a suit of white armor. With an army of about four thousand, Joan began the Orleans campaign on 29 April 1429 and by 8 May 1429 she had succeeded in lifting the siege. Whether this victory actually resulted from her brilliant military strategy and whether it really determined the eventual outcome of the Hundred Years War are debatable questions. What is clear is that Joan restored French morale; her victory was seen as a miracle. By 17 July 1429 she was able to attend Charles’s coronation in the cathedral of Reims in a ceremony that gave legitimacy to his kingship. Her fame spread rapidly, not only in France but also in many parts of Europe.

After many victories in the Loire valley, Joan wished to conquer enemy-held Paris. Contrary to the wishes of Charles and his advisers, she attacked Paris in September 1429, but strong resistance forced her to retreat and the king ordered her to abandon the campaign. Thereafter her fortunes declined precipitously. But despite the difficulty of raising money and troops as a freelance general, she continued the assault against the Anglo-Burgundian forces until she was captured at Compiegne by a Burgundian army on 23 May 1430.

The Burgundians sold her to the English, who were convinced that she was a witch. Charles VII made no attempt to rescue her and she was sent to English-held Rouen in Normandy. Between 21 February and 30 May 1431 a tribunal of the Inquisition in Rouen tried her for witchcraft and heresy. Led by Pierre Cauchon, former rector of the University of Paris and the chief judge, the theologians and lawyers who questioned her concentrated on two issues: her claim that she had been guided by the voices of St. Michael, St. Catherine (of Alexandria), and St. Margaret (of Antioch), and her use of male clothing.

The trial judges concluded that she could not have heard voices independently, that is, without the Church Militant, the official church, and that her male clothing symbolized her defiance of the Church. Twelve Articles approved by the University of Paris condemned her as “a liar, an apostate, and a heretic.” On 24 May 1431, exhausted from the long ordeal, Joan signed an abjuration. She promised never to bear arms again, never to use male clothing, and to renounce her voices. Whether she understood the paper she was signing is arguable. She was then sentenced to life imprisonment.

A few days later Joan resumed wearing male clothes, claiming that her women’s clothing had been removed, and stating the God, speaking through her voices, had been saddened by her abjuration. Her conduct and words now made her a relapsed heretic, and she was therefore burnt at the stake on 30 May 1431.

After the Hundred Years War came to an end with France having regained most of its land, Charles asked the Pope, Calixtus III (1455–1458), to authorize a new trial for Joan. The pope agreed, and a nullification trial was held in 1456. The court nullified the verdict of 1431 on the following grounds: judicial procedures had been violated in the previous trial; Joan had been given no facilities to defend herself; and the English had exerted pressure on the court.

Despite the rehabilitation of Joan in 1456, her fame grew slowly, and it was not until the nineteenth century that her image as a national heroine and saint took hold on the French mind. She was beatified in 1909 and canonized in 1920. She became a role model for love of country, feminine independence, and Christian sanctity. There are more literary, artistic, dramatic, and musical works on Joan of Arc than on any other woman in history.


  1. Allmand, C. (1998). The Hundred Years War: England and France at war c. 1300–1450. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
  2. Barrett, W. P. (Trans.). (1932). The trial of Jeanne d’Arc, translated into English from the original Latin and French documents. New York: Gotham House.
  3. Brooks, P. S. (1990). Beyond the myth: The story of Joan of Arc. New York: Harper Collins.
  4. Fraioli, D. (2002). Joan of Arc, the early debate. Woodbridge, U.K.: Boydell Press.
  5. Margolis, N. (1990). Joan of Arc in history, literature, and film. New York: Garland Publishing.
  6. Paine, A. B. (1925). Joan of Arc, maid of Orleans. New York: MacMillan.
  7. Pernoud, R., & Clin, M. V. (1999). Joan of Arc (J. D. Adams, Trans.). New York: St. Martin’s Press.
  8. Warner, M. (1981). Joan of Arc, the image of female heroism. Berkeley: University of California Press.

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