This post was originally published on March 28, 2011.
By Kathleen Guthrie Woods
Joan of Arc has been known by many names, including Jeanne d’Arc, the Maid of Orléans, and Saint Joan. Born in 1412, this illiterate peasant girl rose to fame when she stepped in to lead the French army during the Hundred Years’ War, an ongoing struggle between the British and French over who could claim and hold the French throne. Here are a few highlights of her life:
- When she was 12 years old, she had her first Divine vision when Saint Michael, Saint Catherine, and Saint Margaret came to her in her family’s field and told her to help kick the British invaders out of the country. She later revealed her father had “dreamed [she] would go off with men-of-arms” and, he told her brothers, “in truth, if I thought this thing would happen which I have dreamed about my daughter, I would want you to drown her; and if you would not, I would drown her myself.” She soon left home—without first asking her father’s permission.
- At 16, she presented herself to military leaders, won them over with a prophesy of victory, and got herself appointed as head of an army that was near defeat.
- Under God’s guidance, Joan led the French army in significant victories. She earned the respect of her troops when she was shot in the neck with an arrow—and in another battle was hit in the helmet with a stone cannonball—and continued to lead.
- Her success on the battlefield made it possible for Charles VII to take the throne.
- Then she was captured, sold to the British, and imprisoned when Charles VII refused to pay her ransom. She was tried for heresy in a church court. “Everything I have done is at God’s command,” Joan testified, yet she was convicted, condemned, and burned at the stake. She was 19 at the time of her death.
- Twenty-five years later, the Catholic Church reversed her sentence and made her a martyr. She was canonized in 1920 as a patron saint of France, as well as for military personnel, prisoners, and the Women’s Army Corps.
By 1750, average life expectancy in France was 25, which means it was even less 300 years earlier. Had she followed a traditional path, Joan would have spent her brief life working hard, marrying young, and giving birth to a number of children, of whom maybe half would survive infancy.
But no one called her maman. Instead, Joan mothered an army, aided an ungrateful boy-king, and saved her country.
Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She’s finding inspiration in the stories of many of our “cheroes” (heroes who are childfree) as we celebrate National Women’s History Month.