Feminist Courage in the 15th Century

Joan of Arc was born into the world on 6 January 1412 to Jacques and Isabelle d’Arc in the village of Domremy of eastern France. At the time Joan of Arc was born into the world, the truce between France and England was still in effect. However, an internal war had erupted between two factions of the French Royal family, which would enable the English to invade more easily.

One side of the French Royal family, known as the Orleanist and Armagnac faction, was led by Count Bernard VII of Armagnac and Duke Charles of Orleans. Their rivals, known to the world as the Burgundians, were led by Duke John-the-fearless of Burgundy. As the French remained divided, diplomats failed to extend the truce with England. King Henry V promptly invaded France in August 1415 and defeated the Armagnac-dominated French army at the Battle of Agincourt on the twenty-fifth of October. In 1417, the English returned and gradually started conquering northern France and gaining the support of Burgundy in 1420. The new Burgundian Duke, Philip III, agreed to recognize Henry V as the legal heir to the French throne while rejecting the rival claim of the rightful successor, Charles of Ponthieu. Charles of Ponthieu was the last heir of he Valois dynasty which had ruled France since 1328.

At the age of twelve, Joan began to experience visions which she described as both verbal communication as well as visible figures of saints and angels which she could see and touch. Her own testimony as well as a Royal document say that on at least two occasions specific other persons could see the same figures. Joan identified these visions as St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. Margaret of Antioch, the Archangel Michael, Gabriel, and other large groups of angels. The Archangel Michael, was the only vision with definite relevance to the military situation as he had been chosen in 1422 as one of the patron saints of the French Royal army and as a patron of the fortified island of Mont-Saint-Michel.

It was at this moment that an unexpected turn of event began to unfold. Joan of Arc said that for some time, prior to 1428, the saints in her visions had been urging her to go to France and drive out the English and Burgundians. They explained to Joan that God supported Charles’ claim to the throne, supported Orleans’ captive overlord Duke Charles of Orleans, and had taken pity on the French population for the suffering they had endured during the war. When Baudricourt received confirmation of the predicted defeat, he promptly arranged for an armed escort to bring Joan through enemy territory to Chinon. Her escorts dressed Joan in male clothing, which would offer an added measure of security. Eleven days later, Joan of Arc arrived at Chinon and was brought into Charles’ presence. She was able to convince Charles,’ however, he wanted her to be examined by a group of theologians in order to test her orthodoxy.

After providing Joan with a suit of armor that was made exactly for her body, they brought her to the army at Blois, which was approximately 35 miles southwest of Orleans. Her arrival had brought forth reformation to the soldiers; requiring them to go to church and confession, give up swearing, and refrain from looting and harassing the civilian population. Men who would otherwise have refused to serve Charles’ defeated cause now began to volunteer for the campaign, as word that a saint was now at the head of the army began to change minds.

On May 4, Joan and her troops made it to Orleans. Within a few hours of their arrival, an assault was launched against an English-held fortified church called Saint Loup. The position was carried after Joan rode up with her banner, encouraging the troops up and over the ramparts. The English causalities totaled 114 dead and 40 captured. The French troops were sent over a pontoon bridge around nine in the morning, and induced the English to abandon St-Jean-le-Blanc without a fight. The fortress was then stormed and overrun with few losses. This placed Les Tourelles within striking range: during the course of the next morning’s assault, Joan herself was wounded by an arrow while helping the soldiers set up a scaling ladder. She returned to the field near dusk in order to encourage the demoralized troops to one final effort which met with success. Orleans was the English high-water mark: never again would they come so close to achieving a final victory against Charles, who would soon be anointed as King Charles VII.

After a minor action at La-Charite-sur-Loire in November and December, Joan traveled to Compiegne the following April to help defend the city against an English and Burgundian siege. A skirmish on 23 May 1430 led to her capture, when her force attempted to attack the Burgundian’s camp at Margny. When she ordered a retreat into the nearby fortifications of Compiegne after the advance of an additional force of 6,000 Burgunidans, she assumed the place of honor as the last to leave the field.


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1 Comment

  1. Sara: While you have all the biography necessary for a report on Joan of Arc (some of which is suspiciously close to other website bios)…you do not make the connection to courage-or how you see her as an emblem of courage…that is the point of this exercise. Focus your attention more on word-less on canned bio.


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