In the long wars between the French and English not even the Black
Prince or King Henry V gained such fame as did a young French
peasant girl, Joan of Arc.
She was born in the little village of Domrémy (dom-re-me'). Her
father had often told her of the sad condition of France--how the
country was largely in the possession of England, and how the French
king did not dare to be crowned.
And so the thought came to be ever in her mind, "How I pity my
country!" She brooded over the matter so much that by and by she
began to have visions of angels and heard strange voices, which
said to her, "Joan, you can deliver the land from the English. go
to the relief of King Charles."
At last these strange visions and voices made the young girl believe
that she had a mission from God, and she determined to try to save
When she told her father and mother of her purpose, they tried to
persuade her that the visions of angels and the voices telling her
of the divine mission were but dreams. "I tell thee, Joan," said
her father, "it is thy fancy. Thou hadst better have a kind husband
to take care of thee, and do some work to employ thy mind."
"Father, I must do what God has willed, for this is no work of my
choosing," she replied. "Mother, I would far rather sit and spin
by your side than take part in war. My mission is no dream. I
know that I have been chosen by the Lord to fulfill His purpose and
nothing can prevent me from going where He purposes to send me."
The village priest, her young companions, even the governor of the
town, all tried to stop her, but it was in vain.
To the governor she said, "I must do the work my Lord has laid out
Little by little people began to believe in her mission. At last
all stopped trying to discourage her and some who were wealthy
helped her to make the journey to the town of Chinon (she-non'),
where the French king, Charles the Seventh, was living.
When Joan arrived at Chinon, a force of French soldiers was preparing
to go to the south of France to relieve the city of Orleans which
the English were besieging.
King Charles received Joan kindly and listened to what she had to
say with deep attention. The girl spoke modestly, but with a calm
belief that she was right.
"Gracious King," she said, "my name is Joan. God has sent me to
deliver France from her enemies. You shall shortly be crowned in
the cathedral of Rheims (remz). I am to lead the soldiers you are
about to send for the relief of Orleans. So God has directed and
under my guidance victory will be theirs."
The king and his nobles talked the matter over and finally it was
decided to allow Joan to lead an army of about five thousand men
against the English at Orleans.
When she left Chinon at the head of her soldiers, in April, 1429,
she was in her eighteenth year. Mounted on a fine war-horse and
clad in white armor from head to foot, she rode along past the
cheering multitude, "seeming rather," it has been said, "of heaven
than earth." In one hand she carried an ancient sword that she
had found near the tomb of a saint, and in the other a white banner
embroidered with lilies.
The rough soldiers who were near her left off their oaths and coarse
manners, and carefully guarded her. She inspired the whole army
with courage and faith as she talked about her visions.
When she arrived at the besieged city of Orleans she fearlessly
rode round its walls, while the English soldiers looked on in
astonishment. She was able to enter Orleans, despite the efforts
of the besiegers to prevent her.
She aroused the city by her cheerful, confident words and then led
her soldiers forth to give battle to the English. Their success
was amazing. One after another the English forts were taken.
When only the strongest remained and Joan was leading the attacking
force, she received a slight wound and was carried out of the
battle to be attended by a surgeon. Her soldiers began to retreat.
"Wait," she commanded, "eat and drink and rest; for as soon as I
recover I will touch the walls with my banner and you shall enter
the fort." In a few minutes she mounted her horse again and riding
rapidly up to the fort, touched it with her banner. Her soldier
almost instantly carried it. The very next day the enemy's troops
were forced to withdraw from before the city and the siege was at
The French soldiers were jubilant at the victory and called Joan
the "Maid of Orleans." By this name she is known in history.
Her fame spread everywhere, and the English as well as the French
thought she had more than human power.
She led the French in several other battles, and again and again
her troops were victorious.
At last the English were driven far to the north of France. Then
Charles, urged by Joan, went to Rheims with twelve thousand soldiers,
and there, with splendid ceremonies, was crowned king. Joan holding
her white banner, stood near Charles during the coronation.
When the ceremony was finished, she knelt at his feet and said, "O
King, the will of God is done and my mission is over! Let me now
go home to my parents."
But the king urged her to stay a while longer, as France was not
entirely freed from the English. Joan consented, but she said, "I
hear the heavenly voices no more and I am afraid."
However she took part in an attack upon the army of the Duke of
Burgundy, but was taken prisoner by him. For a large sum of money
the duke delivered her into the hands of the English, who put her
in prison in Rouen. She lay in prison for a year, and finally
was charged with sorcery and brought to trial. It was said that
she was under the influence of the Evil One. She declared to her
judges her innocence of the charge and said, "God has always been
my guide in all that I have done. The devil has never had power
Her trial was long and tiresome. At its close she was doomed to
be burned at the stake.
So in the market-place at Rouen the English soldiers fastened her
to a stake surrounded by a great pile of fagots.
A soldier put into her hands a rough cross, which he had made from
a stick that he held. She thanked him and pressed it to her bosom.
Then a good priest, standing near the stake, read to her the prayers
for the dying, and another mounted the fagots and held towards her
a crucifix, which she clasped with both hands and kissed. When
the cruel flames burst out around her, the noble girl uttered the
word "Jesus," and expired.
A statue of her now stands on the spot where she suffered.
Among all the men of her time none did nobler work than Joan. And
hence it is that we put the story of her life among the stories
of the lives of the great MEN of the Middle Ages, although she was
only a simple peasant girl.