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JOAN OF ARC: The Early Years

INTRODUCTION

Jeanne d’Arc, commonly known as Joan of Arc, was a female heroine during the fifteenth century who helped resolve turmoil that troubled both the Catholic Church and the country of France. Believed to have been born and baptized in 1412 , Joan developed a strong relationship with God, and at a very young age this helped her guide French armies and give hope to village people across the country. Joan’s relationship with God seemed to be much deeper than other’s relationships with the Lord at this this time. It is estimated that around the year 1424, when Joan was 12 or 13, she saw her first visions of Angels , sent to her from God. The messages that Joan received from these Angels were very unusual, especially for someone of her age and gender at this time. The visions guided and instructed her to take on a role within society and the church that many, even herself, did not expect. At the instruction of these voices, Joan left her home village to help fight and lead the French against the English, while also fighting with the goal to return the crown to the Dauphin Charles. However, Joan’s battle and mission did not end when Charles took the throne, Joan was captured in 1430 and sold to the English for 10,000 pounds. After an ecclesiastical trial, Joan was sentenced to death, and burned at the stake in 1431. This was still not the end of Joan’s reign, in 1456, her trial was reviewed and overturned, while still later, in 1920 Joan was eventually declared a Saint in 1920.

HUNDRED YEARS’ WAR

Before the birth of Joan of Arc, France had already been “in a state of intermittent war,” concerning Anglo-French conflicts and territorial disputes with England. This war later became known as The Hundred Years’ War. Under the reign of Charles VI, who suffered from terms of insanity, there was much civil conflict within France between the House of Orléans and Duke of Burgundy. The conflict within France itself attributed to England’s ability to re-conquer lost territories. In 1420, Joan was estimated to be eight years old, the “mad” King, Charles VI signed the Treaty of Troy’s, declaring Henry V the heir to the throne. The signing of this treaty removed Charles’ son, the dauphin, from royal succession. This was after the dauphin Charles’ mother, Isabelle, made statements that he was not the legitimate son of King Charles VI. The removal of Charles from the path to the crown ended up being one of the driving forces in Joan’s spiritual and military journey.

The country of France was not only experiencing conflict with England, but conflict within their own country, as well as conflict within the papacy. At a time of turmoil, a young girl was brought into the world and as people would soon find out, this young girl would help bring an end to such civil and international conflict.

CHILDHOOD

Joan was born to Jacques d’Arc and wife Isabelle Romée on January 6, 1412, “in a small stone-and-rubble house next to the village church” , in the small village of Domremy. When asked at her trial, who baptized her, she responded “Master Jean Minet to the best of my belief.” In regards to her family, there are conflicting statements of whether Joan had two or three brothers , however it is agreed upon that Joan had only one sister, Catherine. Joan shared a room with her sister in their small home, while her brothers slept in an adjoining room. Joan’s home being made of stone, rather than wood, guides beliefs that Joan’s family was one of the more successful families in town. It is also been recorded that Joan’s father, Jacques, was one of the leaders in the Domremy. He helped in the collection of taxes and was “also head of the village watch, seeing to the safety of the peasants and their livestock in times of enemy raids.”

The small village of Domremy was the border between the provinces of Champagne and Lorraine. Given the size of Domremy, Joan and the people “must have had little or no knowledge of the latest trends in the theological thought and of the shifting papal loyalties of princes and cardinals.” However, this lack of knowledge due to minimal timely communication did not reduce Joan’s ability to prove her knowledge and ability to guide others. Joan was able to use knowledge from her visions to prove to elders and men of importance that she could help the Dauphin Charles gain the crown. As a young child, Joan spent much of her time playing with other village children, while also spending time alone in meadows and pastures along the Meuse River. Many of the people interviewed for her trials recalled that she was a dutiful, helpful and pious girl. One childhood playmate, Simonin Musiner said, “I know that (Joan) was good, simple, pious, fearing God and his saints; she went often and of her own will to church and to sacred places, caring for the sick and giving alms to the poor; this I saw myself, for when I was a child I myself was sick and Joan came to comfort me.” Statements also accounted that Joan was known to always be willing to help her family, and do her daily chores. Still others remembered Joan as a “good, simple, sweet natured girl” who “worked gladly” and went to church gladly and often.” The accounts that many had of Joan when she was a child, points to the type of person she was both before and after the visions began. Joan had a kind, yet strong heart, and was not intimidated to do as God requested, when other girls her age most likely would have.

Many children and villagers in Domremy often visited a well-known tree that was known as “The Ladies’ Tree” or “Fairies’ Tree”. It was believed by some that Fairies occupied the tree and that the large Beech tree had special powers of healing and youthfulness. Many children, including Joan would play at this tree, and make necklaces of flowers, leaving them on the tree. Many of the village children enjoyed dancing and singing around the tree, Joan stated during her trial that “I do not know whether, since I reached the age of discretion, I ever danced around about this tree; I may have danced their with the children but I sang there more than I danced.” The importance of the dancing and singing around the tree was very present during Joan’s trial. Those interrogating her tried to name Joan as a witch, and hoped that this tree would serve as evidence that even as a young child she has taken part in magical or supernatural activities with Fairies. However Joan was very persistent that she herself did not believe in the Fairies existence, nor that the tree held special powers.

RELIGION

Although Joan became known for her spiritual and religious importance, she had not grown up with an in-depth catholic education. It seemed that as Joan grew in age, it was her own independent decision to become more acquainted and present within the church. Much of her initial religious education and upbringing came directly from her mother. Her “formal training was rudimentary; she tells us she learned her Pater Noster (Lord’s Prayer) from her mother” as well as the Hail Mary and the Apostles’ Creed. Although Joan did not have a deep education, many people accounted her loyalty to God and the church, for “everyone who spoke of Joan mentioned her great religious fervor.” Many people, including, Dominique Jacob, who was a priest of a nearby parish, and Jean Waterin, recalled that Joan would often go down to her knees, appearing to pray, every time she would hear the Church bells. Joan loved these church bells, and would anxiously wait to hear them each day. Perrin Dappier, the churchwarden of Domremy said he would often see Joan go to church and confess often, and when he “did not rings the bells for Compline, Joan would catch me and scold me, saying that I had not done well; and she even promised to give me some wool if I would be punctual in ringing for Compline.”

Joan’s initial relationship with God seemed to be a normal relationship that many villagers had at this time – attending church, praying, and confessing. However, this relationship soon became much more personal and deeper than Joan had expected. In the year 1424, Joan had her first encounter with Angel’s that were sent from God, who carried the message that she was, “be a good girl, God will help you.” This was the start of Joan’s growth as a strong and spiritual individual. As Joan continued to age, she grew closer to God, creating a stronger relationship with him than many others.

VISIONS

This first vision that Joan had in 1424, was around the time of noon, while she was in her fathers garden. During her trial, Joan touched on her first vision, “I heard the voice on my right, in the direction of the church, and rarely do I hear it without a light.” Saint Michael the Archangel was the first angel who appeared and spoke to her. When asked at her trial how she knew it was Saint Michael, she replied “I knew it by his speech and by the languages of the Angels, I believe firmly they were angels.” When he first appeared to her, Saint Michael told Joan that two more angels would come to her, Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret, and that she should act on their advice. He continued to tell her that they would lead and advise her, and instructed her to believe and follow their sayings, because it was the order of God. Joan knew it was unusual to hear voices and see visions, and in result was frightened after the first instance. However, because she believed this was the working of God, and trusted Saint Michael, Joan did not tell anyone, not even her Priest, or her parents. In addition to hearing their voices, Joan was able to see and touch the figures of the Saints and the Angels that appeared to her. Joan began to hear the voices more often – daily and at times even three times a day, sometimes more. The voices that Joan heard, gave her courage and conviction She began to spend less time with other children and more time alone, in the pastures or in church. This did not always please her parents because at times she would spend time in the meadows, in front of a figure of the Virgin Mary, instead of completing her chores. As many reported, Joan would indeed kneel down upon hearing the Church bells, however, this was not just to pray. It was later revealed by Joan that she would especially hear the voices during the ringing of the bells, and while kneeling; she was in fact listening to the voices. Joan did not have much preparation for the visions and voices that she began experiencing, the only being, her observations of Saint’s pictures and statues as a child, but she still understood and acted on the messages she given.

Although the voices initially gave Joan “spiritual advice and guidance concerning prayer and behavior, ” they evolved and the messages became more clear and direct. Following the instructions of the voices, Joan made many changes that included refusing an engagement, promising her virginity and cutting her hair short. The voices began to instruct Joan in concerns with the turmoil in France and conflict surrounding the crown. The growth and change that Joan gained after her visions was startling, “from illiterate peasant girl to inspiration for the French army at a turning point in the Hundred Years’ War.”

The voices that Joan heard, were urging her to “do things that common sense would find impossible…they urged her to risk her life to leave home, to become a soldier, to engage in war, to risk her life and lead men into battle to crown a king.”

Joan learned to yield a sword, ride horseback and began dressing in knights clothing. The messages began to tell her that she was, “chosen by God to go to the rescue of the Dauphin Charles and the Kingdom of France.” Joan’s visions had much focus on Dauphin Charles d’ Orleans; they told her that he was especially loved by God. Joan was instructed that in order to rescue the exiled Dauphin, she must go to Vancouleurs and “get help from the Governor, Robert de Baudricourt.” She was also to rescue the Dauphins’ besieged town on Orléans, in the Journal of the Siege of Orléans it was said that, “she had been sent by God to raise the siege of the city.” Although the messages became more direct and detailed, they concerned “chiefly herself, her missions, the king, the duke Charles d’Orléans…” It was clear to Joan that there was great importance in these messages, that were sent by God. The vast attention that God placed on Charles d’Orléans, and the crown, helped influence Joan to act on her visions.

Although Joan did not tell anyone about her visions, she was not the only own who foresaw her military involvement. One evening her father actually had a dream that Joan would go away with military men, this brought fear to her father. After awaking from this dream, her father told her brothers that, “truly, if I knew that that must happen which I fear in the matter of my daughter, I had rather drowned her and if you do not do it I would drown her myself.” However, Joan did still not reveal her visions or her intended journey to her father or family. As the conflicts between France and England escalated, and “reports of enemy activity became more alarming”, Joan’s visions became more frequent. Eventually Joan decided to leave Domremy, and go to Vancouleurs, although her family did not want her to leave, she was able to provide an ulterior motive for this journey. Joan had a cousin who lived in Vancouleurs, so she told her family that the intention of her travels were to go and help care for his wife, as she was a new mother.

It was 1428, when Joan left Domremy, for Vancouleurs, with the goal of enlisting the help of Robert de Baudicourt. She embarked on this journey with the belief that the messages were the word of God and that she must obey his word. During her trial, she said that she was told during her visions that, “no one in the world (besides herself) can recover the kingdom of France; there is no succor to be expected save from me…because my Lord wills that I should do it.” When Joan did end up reaching Vancouleurs, she was dressed in a normal, peasant girl dress and approached the Governor, asking him to send a message for her. She asked him to send a message to the dauphin, from her, stating that she would lead him to be crowned. However, as expected, he turned her away and sent her home without obeying her request. Joan did return to Domremy, however her visions did not halt.

Joan’s visions continued to instruct her to continue her journey and to return to the Governor, so Joan decided to return in the winter with high hopes. Her visions began to also provide her with information concerning battles that she would not have been able to gain from other sources because of the immediate timing of her knowledge. On February 12, 1429, Joan was especially affected by the information in her vision. On this day, she pushed into the Baudricourt’s chambers and exclaimed, “You have done ill to delay in sending me! This very day, near Orleans, a great disaster has taken place!” The Governor was not immediately influenced by this statement and still did not obey Joan’s wishes. It was a few days later that the Governor realized the power that this young woman had. It was then that he learned about the Battle of Herrings that had indeed taken place on February 12th, it was then that he knew that she would have had no way of knowing this except by supernatural means. He initially feared that Joan may be a witch, so he sent a priest to meet with her and try and learn if she was a witch or indeed a messenger of the word of God. Joan exhibited great humility in the presence of the priest, convincing him that she was not a witch. After this was relayed to the governor, he did listen to Joan’s initial request, and sent word the dauphin. The Governor helped Joan prepare for her journey to Chinon. Joan left Vaucouleurs for Chinon on February 23, 1429. This action and persistence was the start of Joan’s military involvement and actions. The visions that Joan had, helped lead “her into the central places of masculine power, where she performed as an active mystic, serving as both catalyst and instigator in the political life of her era.”

LATER YEARS

Joan met Dauphin Charles in Chinon and informed him of her visions and the messages from God. She told the Dauphin that she was indeed sent to Chinon by God and that she was to help him raise the siege of Orléans, crown him the King of France, and drive the English off the French soil. When the Dauphin asked how he could know Joan was truthfully relaying messages from God, she responded to him privately, and immediately Charles trusted her. Joan left Chinon to raise the siege of Orléans, and saw victory in just one week. After more successful battles, and leading a dedicated army of men, Joan was able to see another request from God become a reality.

In 1429, just five months after Joan originally left Domremy, Charles was crowned King. Although this please Joan, she had not successfully executed all of God’s commands. She had yet to finish defeating the English, so she continued to battle for France, with the hopes of halting the English troops. During a battle at Melun, Joan claimed that she was told by the voices, “Daughter of God, you will (soon) be captured.” Although she believed this would be her fate, Joan did not cease her military action. It was a few weeks later, at the battle of Margny, that English soldiers captured Joan. When the French attacked, the English were ready with a fast counter attack – raising a drawbridge and trapping Joan and a few other French soldiers.

Joan’s capture did not come as a surprise to her. After Charles was crowned King, he had stopped listening and following Joan’s guidance, and did not come to her aid. In 1431, Joan was summoned to the Ecclesiastical court, to be tried under the presence of Chief Judge Pierre Cauchon, who was known as an enemy of King Charles. Joan’s trial lasted for five months. During this time she was under much scrutiny for all actions and experiences she had had in her young life. Joan sat patiently for this time, and answered questions honestly. The court was unable to accuse her of crimes but searched for any small detail they could use against her, this included dancing around “The Fairies’ Tree” as a child, with the hopes that this pinned her as a witch. Although Joan was not tortured while in prison, she suffered greatly. At one point, Joan did admit that she had sinned, and was read a document that stated this, however, she could not read and was mislead into signing a document saying that her voices were from the devil. Resulting from the signing of this document, she was sentenced to death. On May 30, 1431, Joan was placed on a platform in front of a large crowd in Rouen. She was burned to death at the stake on this day.

Joan’s death was not the end of her trial however. Many French people did not believe that Joan was guilty of any crimes and that her death and trial were executed unlawfully. Her mother was very persistent and was able to convince Pope Callixtus III to order a retrial. The intention of this trial was to investigate the legitimacy of the trial and conclude if it was conducted according to canon law. In 1456 it was concluded that it was the trial was not lawful, and Joan was declared a martyr. Joan’s story did not end there, she was declared Venerable in 1903, beatified in 1909, and finally, named a Saint in 1920.

CONCLUSION

Saint Joan of Arc was a female heroin, and believed messenger of God, who was able to help a country in turmoil gain power and a denied dauphin gain back his rightful crown. At a young age, Joan expressed her bravery, confidence and trust in God. She was blessed with visions sent by God, and was able to use this power for good. She was able to use her courage and magical abilities to lead, and gain allegiance from strangers and entire towns and cities. Joan fought feverishly to act on the word of God and bring success to his requests. Although Joan was faced with people who doubted her, ignored her, and accused her of crimes, she continued to be faithful to her God, and died in his honor. Saint Joan of Arc died as a martyr at the young age of nineteen, after successfully helping France win military victories and King Charles gain back the crown.

History


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