Words in bold are linked to a glossary at the end of this story, to
help readers to understand them.
This is the story of Joan of Arc,
a famous and brave woman who lived hundreds of years ago, in France. I
have carefully researched Joan's life and this story is the result of
Joan of Arc saw strange visions
and believed that she was special, and could see religious saints.
Nowadays, most people would think Joan was a little bit crazy. But Joan
lived at a time when the world was very different from today. Hundreds
of years ago people were much more superstitious, and many believed
what she said. Whether Joan was crazy or not, her courageous actions
and her belief in her king and country meant that even though she lived
long ago, people still remember her. Many books have been written about
her. Movies and television series have also been made about her. Read
on and find out more about this fascinating person.
Almost six hundred years ago, at the beginning of the fifteenth
century, the country of France was in the middle of a terrible conflict
that would later be known as "The Hundred Years War", because it lasted
Three powerful rulers were
involved in the war. They were:
- King Charles the Seventh,
the king of France
- The English Duke of Bedford,
who was regent
for his young nephew, King Henry the Sixth
- The Duke of Burgundy, ruler
of a province, or state, in France.
Each man thought that they were
the rightful ruler of France, and their armies fought many battles
because of this. The country was torn apart, and the French people were
In January, 1412, a baby girl was born in France. Her name was Joan of
Arc, or Jeanne d' Arc in her own language. She grew up in a little
cottage in the French village of Domrémy and like most children
in those days, she didn't go to school. Instead, Joan helped her family
to care for their cattle and sheep, and assisted with other chores such
as spinning and sewing. Everyone in the village loved Joan, because she
was a kind and gentle girl who was always willing to help anyone in
Joan and her famiily followed the
Roman Catholic faith, as most people in France did at that time. Their
cottage was right next to the village church and Joan loved to pray
there. She prayed so often that sometimes her friends would tease her
about it, telling her that she was too pious. Joan didn't listen to
them because she believed very strongly in her religion.
When Joan was thirteen, she began
to see visions. A strange vision suddenly appeared to her, while she
was outside in her garden. At first she was very frightened, but the
vision spoke kindly to her and she came to believe that she was seeing
Catholic saints. She thought that she was seeing Saint Michael. Saint
Catherine and Saint Margaret soon joined him. Joan often heard their
voices, telling her what to do. Joan truly believed that the visions
she saw and the voices she heard were real.
The saints told Joan that one day
she must set out on a special mission from God. She was destined to go
into battle for the French king, who some still called the dauphin, or
prince, as he hadn't been able to be crowned because of the terrible
war. Joan was to save France from its enemies - the armies of England
and Burgundy, who had joined forces to try to take France for their
own. Joan told no one of
what she had been told. She kept her "holy mission" a secret...
When she was sixteen, Joan knew it
was time to leave her home and go the the French King Charles. She
decided to tell her uncle, Durand Laxart, about her secret mission. He
believed her story and agreed to take Joan to the nearby French town of
Valcoulers. One of King Charles' captains lived there and she hoped to
persuade him to give her an official escort of soldiers, to travel with
her to the king.
Joan arrived in Valcoulers and had
a meeting with Captian Robert de Baudricourt. She told him that she was
sent from God to help King Charles win back his country. At first, the
captain thought she was crazy. He laughed at her and sent her away.
Unlike Joan's uncle, he didn't believe her story at all. Joan had to
wait impatiently in the town, hoping to somehow convince him that she
was telling the truth!
While Joan was waiting for Robert
de Baudricourt to agree to help her, she cut off her long hair and
began to wear men's clothing. This was a scandalous thing to do in
those days. Back then, all women wore long dresses - never trousers or
other men's clothes. And back then, there were no jeans. However, Joan
knew that she couldn't go to war in a long dress. Many people in the
town of Valcoulers had heard her Joan's story by this time. They'd come
to know her and they believed in her mission to save the kingdom. So
they had some men's clothes specially made for her.
Captain Robert de Baudricourt saw
how the people of Valcoulers took Joan to their hearts and slowly, he
came to think that she might be telling the truth - that maybe God
really had charged her with saving the kingdom of France for King
Charles. He talked with her again and finally agreed to give her an
escort of six men, to take her to the king's castle at the town of
As Joan and her little party of
soldiers rode out of Valcoulers he said,
"Go, and come what may."
Joan and her escort travelled
through enemy territory and completed the dangerous journey to Chinon
in eleven days. King Charles agreed to speak with her about her mission
but first he decided to test this young peasant girl, to see if she was
When Joan entered the great hall of his castle, King Charles hid behind
his courtiers, disguised as a nobleman. Though she had never
seen him before (most peasants in country villages never even saw a
picture of their king in those days), she instantly recognised him and
came to kneel at his feet.
Everyone was amazed.
Joan also told the king a secret about himself that nobody else could
have known. To this day we don't know what she said, but it convinced
King Charles that she was telling the truth about her mission. However,
to make absolutely sure and please his advisors, he sent Joan to be
interviewed by a panel of church leaders. At the end of the interviews,
they all agreed that she had been sent by God to save France.
Joan believed that the first part of her mission was to lead an army
into battle against the English, for the beautiful and famous French
city of Orléans. In those long-ago times many cities had high
walls built around them, for protection against enemies. At
Orléans English soldiers had surrounded these walls, bombarding
the city with heavy rocks and trying to get inside. They were laying siege
to the city and Joan wanted to raise the siege, so that its people
could once again live in peace.
Before she went to war, Joan had a
special flag, or standard,
made. It hung on the end of a long pole, so that she could carry it
into battle and her soldiers would be able to see it, and rally around
it. Her standard was white and had an image of Jesus Christ on it, as
well as the Latin words "Jhesus Maria", which mean "Jesus Mary", as
befitted her religious beliefs. Joan also sent a horseman to a chapel
she had prayed at on the way to the town of Chinon, telling him he
would find a sword with five crosses on its blade, buried behind the
altar there. The sword was just where she said it would be. We
will never know how she really knew it was there - perhaps someone at
the chapel told her about it. At the time, Joan explained that her
saints had told her where to find it. Lastly, King Charles had a
beautiful new suit of armour made for Joan, to protect her when she
went into battle.
Riding a magnificent destrier, or
war-horse, Joan set off for Orléans at the front of her army.
Several brave army captains travelled with her, together with a group
of priests. There were also wagon loads of food, to feed the French
soldiers and the besieged townspeople of Orléans. By this
time, Joan was known as Jeanne la Pucelle, or Joan the Maid. Her fame
was spreading across the whole of France...
A great battle was fought for the
city of Orléans and after four days, Joan and her army defeated
their English enemies. She had proved herself a very brave soldier -
even after she was injured when an arrow pierced her chest, she rode
back into battle, waving her standard and encouraging her French
soldiers on to victory. Orléans was very happy to be free again,
and the townspeople cheered as Joan and her captains rode triumphantly
through the city.
Leaving the city of Orléans
as soon as she could, Joan travelled back to see King Charles. She
wanted him to go straight to the traditional crowning place of French
kings, the city of Reims, but first he asked her to rescue some of the
other towns that his enemies had taken from him.
Joan set out with her army again,
fighting through town after town for King Charles. The English army
began to retreat and finally, the two armies met and
fought a terrible battle at a place called Patay. As Joan had
predicted, the French army won. Many English soldiers were killed,
while others ran away.
At last King Charles agreed to
travel to Reims and he was crowned Charles the Seventh in July, 1429,
in a special ceremony at the cathedral there. Joan wa allowed to stand
beside him with her standard in her hand, as recognition for the part
she had played in helping him to regain some of the country of France
from his enemies. She wept with joy at his feet after his coronation, telling him that the pleasure of God
had been fuliflled. This she truly believed.
Joan now wanted to fight for
Paris, the capital city of France, which was in enemy hands. She knew
that if the French army moved quickly, it could win a battle for the
city. However, King Charles decided to wait, and try to organise a truce with one of his enemies, the Duke of
Burgundy. The king thought that he might be able to regain more of his
country without a fight, but Joan knew he was being fooled by his
Some weeks passed before the king
agreed to let Joan and her army attack Paris. Becuase of the delay,
their enemies had plenty of time to prepare for their arrival and the
French army could not win the battle. Joan was wounded in the leg and
after a few days, King Charles ordered the army to retreat. This was
the first battle that had been lost since Joan had come to help him win
back his country. Suddenly, people began to wonder if she really had
been sent by God after all...
Things went very badly for Joan,
from this time on. In May the next year, she and a small army were
fighting some enemy soldiers who were trying to invade a little town
called Compiègne when suddenly, she was pulled from her horse
and captured by the Duke of Burgundy's soliders! She became their
prisoner on 23 May 1430.
Joan was kept in a tower at the
castle of Beaulieu-lès Fontains, which still stands in France
today. She bravely tried to escape by locking her guards in a tower,
but her attempt failed and she was soon taken to another more secure
prison, in the castle of Beaurevoir. Here she tried to escape by
jumping from a very high window and was knocked unconsious in the fall.
Poor Joan managed to survive, only to remain a prisoner.
After Joan was captured, King
Charles didn't do anything to help her, even though she had done so
much for him. He could have sent an army to try to rescue her, or
offered to buy her freedom by paying a ransom, which was what happened
to many prisoners of war in those days (especially if their families
were rich). It seems as though he just didn't care about her any more. In early December, the Burgundians sold
Joan to her English enemies for a large sum of money.
The English leaders were afraid of
Joan's ability to inspire the French people to fight bravely against
them, and they wanted to discredit her. They accused her of being a sorceress and a heretic, and paid the ransom for her so she
could be brought to trial for her supposed crimes. They accused Joan of
the crimes, knowing that in those days, they were punishable by death.
Heretics were usually burnt at the stake...
Joan was taken to a terrible
prison in the tower of a castle at a place in France called Rouen. She
spent a miserable christmas waiting for her trial to begin, and we can
only imagine what it must have been like for her. She was a helpless
young woman who was held in chains. Her jailers were English soldiers
who hated her. They were very cruel to poor Joan.
When Joan's trial began, she faced
a large panel of men who were on the side of the English. She was
questioned many times about the saints who she said spoke to her, and
the reasons she wore men's clothes, and many other things. Joan
answered all the panel's questions well. She refused to tell lies to
satisfy her enemies, even when she was threatened with torture. Some
people began to feel sorry for her, but her main prosecutor, the Bishop of Beauvais, did not. He
was being paid by the English leaders and desperately wanted to see
Joan proven guilty.
When all the questions at Joan's
trial had been asked, her prosecutors agreed that she was guilty of
heresy, saying that she had lied about the visions she claimed
she saw, and the voices she said she heard, amongst other things. Joan
was about to be burnt at the stake, so she signed a statement saying
she was sorry for the things she'd supposedly done wrong, and promisng
that she would wear women's clothes from then on. This meant that she
would serve a long prison sentence, instead of being burnt. The English
were very angry, as they wanted to get rid of her once and for all.
They sent her back to the prison in disgust.
A few days later, Joan suddenly
began wearing men's clothes again. There is a story that her dress was
taken from her and only men's clothing was left in her cell, but we
will never know the exact truth of what happened. When they found out
what Joan had done, the Bishop of Beauvais and his friends came to her
cell and said that she had broken one of her promises. They called her
a "relapsed heretic" and decided to have her burnt at the stake as soon
On 30 May 1431, Joan was taken to
the marketplace in the town of Rouen and tied to a stake on top of a
wooden platform. A large fire was lit underneath it and Joan soon died.
Many who witnessed Joan's death felt very bad about it. They suddenly
realised that they had seen a good and innocent peurson executed.
Joan of Arc was never forgotten by
the people of France. Although she was not alive to see it, the Hundred
Years War ended and King Charles won the rest of his kingdom
back, just as she'd hoped he would. Almost twenty years after Joan's
death, the king decided to ask for her trial to be re-opened by the Pope, in Rome. This
happened and in July, 1456, the original verdict
was overturned. It was now said that Joan was not guilty of her
Joan of Arc was such a remarkable
person that even after more than five hundred years, people still
remember her and write about her. There are many questions about her
life that will never be answered. Why did she think she saw Catholic
Saints? Why did she think she had to save France for King Charles? We
will never know, but what we do know is that Joan gave up her life as a
simple village girl to go into battle for the king of France. She did
what she truly believed was right for her king and country, and many
people in those days believed in her. In the end, she lost her life for
what she did.
In 1920, Joan of Arc was canonised
by the Catholic church. She is now Saint Joan of Arc - a saint, just
like those she was once so sure she spoke with.
Footnote: For those of you who
Melbourne, Australia, a beautiful statue of Joan of Arc can be seen
standing outside the State Library of Victoria, in the city. Next time
you're passing, take a look and think of the true story behind the
surrounded by an enemy who is attacking people or a place and cutting
off their supplies,
usually during a time of war
crowning ceremony of a king or queen
to destroy everyone's belief in a person, or the things they are saying
- to make it seem
that they are not
truthful or honest
a person who rejects the beliefs of their
surrounding people or a place and cutting off their supplies, and
a person from a wealthy and respected family, such as lords and ladies
very religious, someone who practises their religion very strictly
the leader, or head, of the Roman Catholic church
in law, a person whose job it is to run a court and in Joan's case,
decide if a prisoner
is innocent or guilty
raise the siege to end
an attack on a place or people, usually during a time of war
a person who rules in place of a king or queen, if the king or queen is
too sick, or young,
or unable for some other reason to run their kingdom
when an army leaves, or withdraws from an area, usually because they
have been beaten
an evil person who uses supernatural powers, such as a witch (in Joan's
time, all witches
were considered evil)
a special flag with a symbol or symbols on it, carried into battle by
in law, the outcome of a trial - "guilty" or "not guilty"
2009: Heather Hammonds
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