Fierce Female of the Week: Joan of Arc

In lieu of my recent trip to France, I want to feature a French Fierce Female that many of you have probably heard of! This week our Fierce Female is none other than Joan of Arc, also known as Jeanne d’Arc, and Saint Joan of Arc.

Joan grew up in a relatively normal household during the early 1400s, and her family held no significant place within the community. It was the time of the Hundred Years War, and Joan and her family were adamant believers in the French Dauphin, Charles VII of France, and his claim to the throne – however they were surrounded by many neighbouring villages that did not hold this view.

Joan was barely 13 when she had a vision of three Saints who told her she was to aide the Dauphin to victory, and from that moment onwards Joan did not give up in her quest to do exactly that. Joan travelled to court often to convince the soldiers that she was destined by God to bring the change they sought, yet it took multiple visits, not to mention a prophecy given to her by God that predicted the outcome of an ongoing battle, which significantly helped her cause.

In order for Joan to travel even further to meet with the Dauphin, she had to hide her identity and cut her hair to look like a boy, and wear boys clothing. She disguised herself – which was seen as a sin by many – and was able to meet with the Dauphin, who was convinced of her vision and agreed to take Joan to battle. It is important to note that Joan asked permission from the Dauphin to wear the men’s armour and clothing, and in receiving that permission would have acquitted her of any apparent “wrongdoing” that she was later accused of.

The battle Joan was about to enter was based strongly on religion, and as such the Dauphin and his confidants sought to confirm Joan’s honour, faith, and true intent, as they did not want those who opposed the Dauphin to see any potential win as something that was related to sorcery or the like. Once her genuinity was proven, and the Church approved, Joan set off to battle and led her army to Victory at Orléans. It has been a hot topic of discussion about whether or not Joan held a sword herself or simply gave the tactical advice to the army and rode in and lead the charge without wielding a sword. Through the many battles Joan participated in and led, France came to see a Truce with England. Joan was rewarded by the Dauphin, who became the King of France.

Once the battles had seemingly ceased, the English-backing Frenchmen in Northern France came for Joan in the form of accusation of heresy. Joan was a devout Catholic, who prized her faith over anything else, and was appalled at the accusation. During her trial, many rules were broken to ensure that Joan was convicted, including but not limited to not allowing Joan to have a lawyer speak on her behalf. This was a considerate difficulty for Joan, as despite her many attributes, she was illiterate, and would therefore not be able to understand what was given to her to read or sign during the trial.

Throughout the trial Joan maintained her faith and did not doubt herself for a moment, much to the frustration of the opposition. It was said that after her initial trial, another rule was broken, and instead of being held in a Catholic prison watched over by other women – the majority of which were Nuns – Joan was instead placed into a prison with many male guards, and it was referred to as a non-religious prison. This was a significant problem because the imprisonment of women was not to be done with male guards for fear of rape, and was something Joan fought for and prevented during her imprisonment. Regardless of the many evident rules that were broken during Joan’s trial, she was sentenced to death, and was to be burned alive.

The ghastly sight of Joan being burned took place three times to be sure that she was truly dead, and that there was nothing left of her, as despite her young age, the English were terrified of her, and some worried that they were to be rebuked by God for burning Joan. Though she was long dead, it was said that the many things she advised the military leaders to do were continued and, once the war was completely over, a posthumous trial was held for Joan, with her mother taking the stand on her behalf to clear the name of her daughter.

The second trial was more successful than Joan’s initial trial, and the verdict went in her favour. Though Joan was no longer living, her name had been cleared by the Pope and the collection of religious leaders who had gathered to make judgement on the initial outcome of the previous trial. Moreover, in the years following the trail, Joan was canonized and made a symbol within the Catholic church for being a martyr for the faith. Joan was a figure of triumph for women during that time, as well as for the Catholic church, and remains to this day a symbol of faith and strength for many.

Though I initially intended on visiting Rouen, the site of Joan’s death, to visit her memorial while I was in France, we ran out of time. But there were so many different things throughout France that I saw that memorialized her, like paintings in the Louvre, and statues throughout different parts of France which was so cool to see! Joan inspired many people in her day, and continues to inspire people even now.