Joan of Arc was born to peasant parents in the French village of Domremy in the early fifteenth-century. As a teenager, Joan repeatedly claimed that she heard the voices of numerous saints who prophesied that she would lead a great French army against the English.
Joan was vigorously questioned in order to determine if she was a heretic or not, yet her responses were so clever that the judges were astonished, truly believing that Joan was indeed favoured by God. We must remember that Joan was illiterate and uneducated, yet somehow capable to give sophisticated and erudite responses!
Joan certainly fulfilled her prophecy and led French troops into battle. It seemed as though Joan was a capable and effective leader, inspiring her troops with her saintliness. However, her stint as leader did not last long, and Joan was eventually arrested and sold to the English for 10,000 livres (Williamson). Joan was imprisoned and gradually grew weak and sickly in her cell. She believed that she was dying, and called for a priest to perform communion. However, her pleas were ignored by her jailers, who continued to interrogate and torture Joan to try to get her to admit that she was a heretic.
By the 23rd of May 1431, Joan was finally declared as a heretic by theologians at the University of Paris. She was marched to a field where a stake had been erected and was informed of her imminent execution. Joan was only nineteen, still sickly, and undoubtedly terrified. Despite this, Joan stubbornly (and bravely) stood her ground and told her jailers that she was only carrying out the duty of God.
Joan was thrown back into prison and was repeatedly threatened into confessing her sins. She was reportedly tortured and assaulted, yet she still did not confess. Her judges were, by this point, so irritated that they called for her execution to occur on the 30th of May. In response to her death sentence, a French bishop was recorded to have celebrated, stating, “make good cheer, the thing is done!” (The History Geeks).
On the 30th May 1430, Joan of Arc was forced to walk barefoot to the stake. Joan reportedly grew hysterical, and cried that she would prefer to be beheaded a dozen times than to die by flames. Apparently, one soldier took pity on Joan and handed her a tiny wooden crucifix to keep close to her heart. Crowds of witnesses apparently began to cry and kneel, praying for Joan’s soul as she was tied to the stake. As the kindling was lit, witnesses heard Joan repeatedly call out for Christ, until she slumped forward unconsciously, perhaps passed out from heatstroke or smoke inhalation. After the flames had ceased, her bones were ordered to be burned for a second time in order to stop relic-hunters from taking souvenirs. Joan’s ashes were thrown into the Seine.
As the ashes were cleared from the area, those who were involved in Joan’s trial apparently felt guilty and remorseful. Just twenty years after her death, the verdict of Joan’s trials were reversed, and in 1920 she was canonised as a saint.
Williamson, A., ‘Biography of Joan of Arc’, Joan of Arc Archive (joan-of-arc.org).
The History Geeks, ‘The Burning of Joan of Arc’ (facebook.com).