The history of Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc) is undoubtedly a colorful one. She was born in 1412, the daughter of a family of pious Catholics who raised her in their faith.
Claiming to have seen visions from angels, she would go on to become a military leader acting under divine guidance. Her convictions were so strong and eloquent, she would become a martyr for her cause and capture the imagination of French.
Even today, centuries after her death, her name remains instantly recognizable not just in France but all around the world. Let’s check out a few facts about what made Saint Joan of Arc so famous, shall we? Allons-y!
1. She was born in the village of Domrémy.
She was born in Domrémy in the Vosges department of France in 1412, to a farmer and his wife. It is believed that she was the youngest, with at least 3 older brothers named Jacquemin, Pierre, and Jean, as well as a sister named Catherine.
Her family is believed to have owned about 50 acres and her father occupied a position as a village official so she was not as poor as some accounts would have you believe.
The village of Domrémy was renamed Domrémy-la-Pucelle in her honor, and her family home is now a museum.
2. Her real name is a mystery.
Joan of Arc is an anglicization of the French Jeanne d’Arc, but that is not actually her last name. To be clear, her family was not from any place called “Arc”, and indeed no such village exists.
It is possible that her name was Jehanne Darc or Jehanne Tarc, after her father, as apostrophies were not used in the 15th century.
But at the time, last names were not standardized, and it is possible that her name was Jehanne Romée, after the last name of her mother. Historians know this because Joan of Arc testified at her trial that the custom in her native region was for girls to use their mothers’ surname.
3. Her nickname became “the Maid of Orleans”.
Joan of Arc referred to herself as la Pucelle, which became la Pucelle d’Orléans (“the maid from Orléans“) after her death.
At the time, young girls were referred to as pucelle which referred to young unmarried women and virgins.
The town of Orleans was added to her nickname as it is here that she had one of her most famous victories leading the French troops victoriously against the English armies, to lift the siege of Orleans. (Orleans is over 230 miles (366 km) away from her native Domrémy, she is not from the area.)
4. She began having visions at the age of 13.
Joan testifies that when she was at the age of 13, around 1425. She identified the figures she saw as Archangel Saint Michael surrounded by angels who she said appeared to her in her father’s garden.
She said she continued to see visions of Saint Michael the rest of her life, as well as Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret. Her visions were said to guide her and give her direction on instructing her how to support the French King Charles VII against the English.
5. Her arrival would mark a turning point in the 100 year war.
Dating back to 1337, the Hundred Year War between France and England was in full force by the time Joan was born. The war had begun when French King Philip le Bel died, as did all his sons, and his only daughter Isabella was married to the English King.
With the English Kings (the House of Plantagenet) claiming the French throne through Isabella, and the other claimants from the French royal House of Valois, the war was about who would wear the crown of France.
When Joan of Arc entered the war with her visions, she effectively turned a territorial war into a religious war, convinced by the divine nature of her mission.
6. She was only 17-years-old when she caught the attention of the King.
Jeanne d’Arc arrived in the French court at 17 years-old, dressed as a male soldier and made a strong impression on the French King Charles VII.
He was not sure he believed her, but at the time his armies were rapidly weakening. The French King sent Joan on a series of battles, during which Joan was able to lead the French army to victory.
She would continue to wear men’s clothing including armour, although she herself rarely fought herself, most often carrying banners.
7. She would win the Siege of Orleans and seal her reputation.
After the French army had a disastrous battle and defeat at Agincourt against the English, it was Joan of Arc who would seize the mantle and lead the French troops.
At the time the north of France was held by the English, while the south was loyal to the French King. The Siege of Orleans where the English were trying to take the town would last 7 months.
It is here that one of Joan’s best-known miracles was reported to have taken place here. While she and her army were trying to get to Orleans, it is believed that the wind and the water currents suddenly reversed, allowing them to head to Orleans undercover.
Prophecies of a young girl coming to save the day had been rampant at the time, with Joan fulfilling that promise.
Once Joan arrived in Orleans, she galvanized the townspeople and distributed food and money to get them on her side. She then coordinated the soldiers to lay traps and defeat the English.
8. She had the King crowned in Reims.
Her victory at the siege of Orleans along with several other victories would allow the French King Charles VII to go to Reims and be crowned there.
Reims was the historical seat where French Kings were crowned and this coronation gave him much legitimacy. A subsequent coronation in 1431 at Notre Dame de Paris by the English King Henry VI (who was 10-years-old at the time) would not have the same impact.
9. She fought alongside the Scottish Auld Alliance.
The French King sent Joan on a series of battles, along with the Scots with whom the French had formed the Auld Alliance.
Legend has it that there were bagpipers to accompany her, playing Hey Tuttie Tatie that was supposedly also played for Robert the Bruce towards the battle at Bannockburn.
10. She unsuccessfully laid siege to Paris.
Joan of Arc would lead the French army and the Scottish Auld Alliance to lay siege to Paris in 1429.
The Siege would not last long, with Joan of Arc wounded just outside the Porte Saint-Honoré (today Rue Saint Honoré), the westernmost fortified entrance of the city walls, near the Louvre.
11. She was captured and put on trial by a group of French nobles, not the English.
On 23 May 1430, she was captured in Compiègne in the North of France by a group of French nobles from Burgundy, who were allied with the English.
They held her for several months in a dungeon in Rouen Castle, which is really just a tower known the Tour Jeanne d’Arc. She should have been held in an ecclesiastical prison under the supervision of female guards (i.e., nuns). Instead, she was kept her in a secular prison guarded by male own soldiers.
The French King Charles VII was not overly convinced by her claims of visions and did not try to negotiate for her freedom, abandoning her to her fate.
12. She was found guilty of cross-dressing and heresy
She put on trial by the pro-English bishop Pierre Cauchon, with the support of the English Duke of Bedford and the Earl of Warwick.
She was initially charged with 70 counts, including witchcraft and heresy, which is about holding religious beliefs that go against the accepted beliefs of the church.
Because heresy was only a capital crime for repeated offences, she was charged with cross-dressing which was much easier to prove. At the time, young women dressed as men on occasion to escape sexual assault, so it is understandable why Joan dressed as a soldier, given the company she kept.
Well-spoken and eloquent, it is the answers that she gave during her trial that really made her famous. Far from being illiterate, she was able to avoid the verbal traps set for her by her judges, and continued to claim her innocence.
Her trial was described as so “unfair” that the trial transcripts were later used as evidence to canonize her.
13. She was burnt at the stage at the age of 19.
After being declared guilty, she was burned at the stake on 30 May 1431 in Rouen, dying at about 19 years-old.
Her body twice more after her death, to reduce it to ashes and prevent any collection of relics. Her remains were then cast into the nearby Seine River.
The 100-year-war would continue for 22 years after her death, with the French King Charles VII using the impetus and righteousness of cause that Joan of Arc provided him.
14. There is a small statue of her in Rouen where she died.
In Rouen, a discreet statue of her is placed on the side of Église Sainte-Jeanne-d’Arc to mark the spot where she was burned at the stake for heresy.
The church is a surprisingly modern building that has only been there since 1979, next to Rouen’s Old Market Square.
On one side in the corner, you will find a small statue of Joan marking the exact spot where she died.
15. After her death, there were several Jeanne d’Arcs pretending to be her.
In the years after her death, several women would show up and claim to be her, having escaped the flames.
Even two of her brothers Pierre and (Petit) Jean would go along with it, pretending to “recognize” one woman named Claude as their “Jeanne” in the village of La-Grange-aux-Ormes.
16. She was recognized as a symbol of France by Napoleon Bonaparte.
17. She was declared a martyr and canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church.
In 1456, an inquisitorial court authorized by Catholic Pope Callixtus III examined the trial and pronounced her innocent, along with declaring her a martyr.
However, it was not until 1920 that she was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church.
18. Scholars have put her visions down to schizophrenia or neurological problems.
In recent years, given the writings available of that time, a number of scholars attempted to explain her visions in psychiatric or neurological terms as possibly being symptoms of epilepsy, migraines, or schizophrenia.
19. Her court records are kept at the Assemblée Nationale.
The library at France’s Assemblée Nationale in Paris holds many classical treasures and important documents in French history dating back to the ages.
One of the most important documents there is the 15th-century court process of Jeanne d’Arc, kept in a safe on the premises. It is only open to visitors and researchers on special occasions.
20. She inspired the bob haircut.
In 1909, a Polish-born hairdresser named Antoni Cierplikowski who went by the nickname Monsieur Antoine de Paris, came up with the bob cut inspired by Joan of Arc.
He was a celebrity stylist based in Paris, and one of the city’s most sought-after hairdressers. And thus the bob cut was born.
21. Her image has been usurped by the ultra-right in France.
Unfortunately, these days Joan of Arc’s legacy has been usurped by the ultra-right movement in France.
Joan’s advocacy of fighting the English has been reinterpreted into the idea of keeping foreigners out of France by political groups like the Front National, who also advocate leaving the European Union.
This has led to her image being co-opted by the ultra-right populists, and today is she is no longer as widely viewed as a symbol of France.
If you enjoyed that article, you may like to read more about other famous figures in France. A bientôt!