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Joan of Arc (French, Jeanne d'Arc), born ca.1412, was a French peasant girl who led the French army against the English during the Hundred Years' War. Called the Maid of Orleans, she is a French national heroine and patron saint.

When Joan was about 13 years old she began to hear "voices" (which she later identified as those of Saint Catherine, Saint Margaret, and Saint Michael) that gave her the mission of liberating France from English domination. She kept the messages secret for about 5 years, and only in 1429 did she leave her home in Domremy, Champagne, and travel with an escort to the court of the dauphin, later King Charles VII, who had been deprived of his rights as heir to the French throne by the Treaty of Troyes of 1420. At that time the English were besieging Orleans. After a group of theologians tested her, Charles was persuaded to reassemble his troops and place them under Joan's command in an expedition to relieve the city. In 8 days during May 1429, she lifted the siege that had lain on Orleans for 8 months. In June 1429, Joan and her troops were able to break through to Reims, where she persuaded Charles to hold his coronation. The relief of Orleans and the crowning of the dauphin revived French hopes.

Against Joan's advice, a period of military inactivity followed, but in the spring of 1430, Joan resumed her campaigns. In May, while attempting to relieve Compiegne, she was captured by the Burgundians, who sold her to the English. The latter, who wanted her executed but were reluctant to accept the responsibility for such an action, turned her over to a church court in Rouen. There she was tried on charges of heresy and witchcraft, and the judges declared her visions diabolical. After months of interrogation Joan was tricked into admission of guilt. She soon retracted her confession, however, and was condemned as a relapsed heretic. On May 30, 1431, she was burned at the stake in Rouen. When French fortunes were finally restored, Joan was rehabilitated in a formal trial (1456) called for by Charles VII, who had done nothing to save her while she was alive.

Joan of Arc has been the subject of much art and literature. There are monuments to her memory in many French cities and towns. In Rouen, a statue stands on the spot in the marketplace where she was executed. She was canonized in 1920. Feast day: May 30.

Thomas E. Morrissey, Associate Professor of History, State University College, Fredonia, N.Y.
Source: The New Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, Release #9, ©1997
Bibliography: Barstow, Anne, Joan of Arc (1986); Lucie-Smith, Edward, Joan of Arc (1977); Michelet, Jules, Joan of Arc, trans. by A. Guerard (1957); Pernoud, Regine, Joan of Arc by Herself and Her Witnesses (1969); Sackville-West, Victoria, Saint Joan of Arc (1936; repr. 1991); Wood, Richard, Joan of Arc and Richard III (1988).

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