Historical Figures: Joan of Arc

Claiming to be inspired by God, the young Joan of Arc played a key role in the Hundred Years' War. Get the facts on the girl who became a warrior and a saint.

Joan of Arc


Jehanne Darc was born in Domrémy, in northern France, in January 1412. When she was three years old, the French suffered a catastrophic defeat at Agincourt at the hands of the English king, Henry V. However Henry's death a few years later ensured that the Hundred Years' War between England and France, and the struggle for the French throne, would continue.


At the age of 12, Joan began to hear voices, which later developed into visions of angels. She claimed that God had charged her to rid France of the English. After her request to meet with the heir to the French throne (Charles of Ponthieu) was refused, it was in 1429 that she was brought before the future king and sent to be examined by senior church members at Poitiers. Exonerated from heresy, Joan then joined the (all-male) French army outside Orleans.


Regarded as a lucky talisman, Joan helped inspire the French troops to lift the siege of Orleans by the English, despite two serious wounds received during the fighting in early May. After a series of further victories in which Joan was a prominent figurehead, Charles of Ponthieu was crowned king in Reims on 17 July 1429.


After the coronation Joan took part in an unsuccessful attack on Paris in September 1429, where she suffered wounds to her leg, but other victories soon followed. The new king, Charles VII, granted Joan's family noble status to reward her for her success and devotion.


At Compiegne in May 1430 Joan was captured by French opponents who sold her to their English allies. Sentenced to death for heresy, she at first recanted her visions, but then changed her mind. Joan was burnt at the stake in Rouen on 30 May 1431. To the end she insisted that the English would be driven out of France.


Rouen and Paris were later recaptured by the French, and in 1456 the Inquisition held a retrial of Joan's case in the cathedral of Notre Dame. They found her not guilty and condemned her trial and execution. In 1909 Joan was beatified by the Pope, and she became a saint in 1920.