1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Joan of Arc

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JOAN OF ARC, more properly Jeanneton Darc, afterwards known in France as Jeanne d'Arc[1] (1411-1431), the “Maid of Orleans,” was born between 1410 and 1412, the daughter of Jacques Darc, peasant proprietor, of Domremy, a small village in the Vosges, partly in Champagne and partly in Lorraine, and of his wife Isabeau, of the village of Vouthon, who from having made a pilgrimage to Rome had received the usual surname of Romée. Although her parents were in easy circumstances, Joan never learned to read or write, and received her sole religious instruction from her mother, who taught her to recite the Pater Noster, Ave Maria, and Credo. She sometimes guarded her father's flocks, but at her trial in 1431 she strongly resented being referred to as a shepherd girl. In all household work she was specially proficient, her skill in the use of the needle not being excelled (she said) by that of any matron even of Rouen. In her childhood she was noted for her abounding physical energy; but her vivacity, so far from being tainted by any coarse or unfeminine trait, was the direct outcome of an abnormally sensitive nervous temperament. Towards her parents her conduct was uniformly exemplary, and the charm of her unselfish kindness made her a favourite in the village. As she grew to womanhood she became inclined to silence, and spent much of her time in solitude and prayer. She repelled all attempts of the young men of her acquaintance to win her favour; and while active in the performance of her duties, and apparently finding her life quite congenial, inwardly she was engrossed with thoughts reaching far beyond the circle of her daily concerns.

At this time, through the alliance and support of Philip of Burgundy, the English had extended their conquest over the whole of France north of the Loire in addition to their possession of Guienne; and while the infant Henry VI. of England had in 1422 been proclaimed king of France at his father's grave at St Denis, Charles the dauphin (still uncrowned) was forced to watch the slow dismemberment of his kingdom. Isabella, the dauphin's mother, had favoured Henry V. of England, the husband of her daughter Catherine; and under Charles VI. a visionary named Marie d'Avignon declared that France was being ruined by a woman and would be restored by an armed virgin from the marches of Lorraine. To what extent this idea worked in Joan's mind is doubtful. In Geoffrey of Monmouth's tract, De prophetiis Merlini, there is a reference to an ancient prophecy of the enchanter Merlin concerning a virgin ex nemore canuto, and it appears that this nemus canutum had been identified in folk-lore with the oak wood of Domremy. Joan's knowledge of the prophecy does not, however, appear till 1429; and already before that, from 1424, according to her account at her trial, she had become imbued with a sense of having a mission to free France from the English. She heard the voices of St Michael, St Catherine and St Margaret urging her on. In May 1428 she tried to obtain from Robert de Baudricourt, governor of Vaucouleurs, an introduction to the dauphin, saying that God would send him aid, but she was rebuffed. When, however, in September the English (under the earl of Salisbury) invested Orleans, the key to the south of France, she renewed her efforts with Baudricourt, her mission being to relieve Orleans and crown the dauphin at Reims. By persistent importunity, the effect of which was increased by the simplicity of her demeanour and her calm assurance of success, she at last prevailed on the governor to grant her request; and in February 1429, accompanied by six men-at-arms, she set out on her perilous journey to the court of the dauphin at Chinon. At first Charles refused to see her, but popular feeling in her favour induced his advisers to persuade him after three days to grant her an interview. She is said to have persuaded him of the divine character of her commission by discovering him though disguised in the crowd of his courtiers, and by reassuring him regarding his secret doubts as to his legitimacy. And Charles was impressed by her knowledge of a secret prayer, which (he told Dunois) could only be known to God and himself. Accordingly, after a commission of doctors had reported that they had found in her nothing of evil or contrary to the Catholic faith, and a council of matrons had reported on her Chastity, she was permitted to set forth with an army of 4000 or 5000 men designed for the relief of Orleans. At the head of the army she rode clothed in a coat of mail, armed with an ancient sword, said to be that with which Charles Martel had vanquished the Saracens, the hiding-place of which, under the altar of the parish church of the village of Ste Catherine de Fierbois, the “voices” had revealed to her; she carried a white standard of her own design embroidered with lilies, and having on the one side the image of God seated on the clouds and holding the world in His hand, and on the other a representation of the Annunciation. Joan succeeded in entering Orleans on the 29th of April 1429,and through the vigorous and unremitting sallies of the French the English gradually became so discouraged that on the 8th of May they raised the siege. It is admitted that her extraordinary pluck and sense of leadership were responsible for this result. In a single week (June 12 to 19), by the capture of Jargeau and Beaugency, followed by the great victory of Patay, where Talbot was taken prisoner, the English were driven beyond the Loire. With some difficulty the dauphin was then persuaded to set out towards Reims, which he, entered with an army of 12,000 men on the 16th of July, Troyes having yielded on the way. On the following day, holding the sacred banner, Joan stood beside Charles at his Coronation in the cathedral.

The king then entered into negotiations with a view to detaching Burgundy from the English cause. Joan, at his importunity, remained with the army, but the king played her false when she attempted the capture of Paris; and after a failure on the 8th of September, when Joan was wounded[2] his troops were disbanded. Joan went into Normandy to assist the duke of Alencon, but in December returned to the court, and on the 29th she and her family were ennobled with the surname of du Lis. Unconsoled by such honours, she rode away from the court in March, to assist in the defence of Compiégne against the duke of Burgundy; and on the 24th of May she led an unsuccessful sortie against the besiegers, when she was surrounded and taken prisoner. Charles, partly perhaps on account of his natural indolence, partly on account of the intrigues at the court, made no effort to effect her ransom, and never showed any sign of interest in her fate. By means of negotiations instigated and prosecuted with great perseverance by the university of Paris and the Inquisition, and through the persistent scheming of Pierre Cauchon, the bishop of Beauvais-a Burgundian partisan, who, chased from his own see, hoped to obtain the archbishopric of Rouen—she was sold in November by John of Luxemburg and Burgundy to the English, who on the 3rd of January 1431, at the instance of the university of Paris, delivered her over to the Inquisition for trial. After a public examination, begun on the 9th of January and lasting six days, and another conducted in the prison, she was, on the 20th of March, publicly accused as a heretic and witch, and, being in the end found guilty, she made her submission at the scaffold on the 24th of May, and received pardon. She was still, however, the prisoner of the English, and, having been induced by those who had her in charge to resume her male clothes, she was on this account judged to have relapsed, was sentenced to death, and burned at the stake on the streets of Rouen on the 30th of May 1431. In 1436 an impostor appeared, professing to be Joan of Arc escaped from the flames, who succeeded in inducing many people to believe in her statement, but afterwards confessed her imposture. The sentence passed on Joan of Arc was revoked by the pope on the 7th of July 1456, and since then it has been the custom of Catholic writers to uphold the reality of her divine inspiration.

During the latter part of the 19th century a popular cult of the Maid of Orleans sprang up in France, being greatly stimulated by the clerical party, which desired to advertise, in the person of this national heroine, the intimate union between patriotism and the Catholic faith, and for this purpose ardently desired her enrolment among the Saints. On the 27th of January 1894 solemn approval was given by Pope Leo XIII., and in February 1903 a formal proposal was entered for her canonization. The Feast of the Epiphany (Jan. 6), 1904 was made the occasion for a public declaration by Pope Pius X. that she was entitled to the designation Venerable. On the 13th of December 1908 the decree of beatification was published in the Consistory Hall of the Vatican.

As an historical figure, it is impossible to dogmatize concerning the personality of Joan of Arc. The modern clerical view has to some extent provoked what appears, in Anatole France's learned account, ably presented as it is, to be a retaliation, in regarding her as a clerical tool in her own day. But her character was in any case exceptional. She undoubtedly nerved the French at a critical time, and inspired an army of laggards and pillagers with a fanatical enthusiasm, comparable with that of Cromwell's Puritans. Moreover, as regards her genuine military qualities we have the testimony of Dunois and d'Alençon; and Captain Marin, in his Jeanne d'Arc, tacticien et stratégiste (1891), takes a high view of her achievements. The nobility of her purpose and the genuineness of her belief in her mission, combined with her purity of character and simple patriotism, stand clear. As to her “supranormal” faculties, a matter concerning which belief largely depends on the point of view, it is to be remarked that Quicherat, a freethinker wholly devoid of clerical influences, admits them (Aperçus nouveaux, 1850), saying that the evidence is as good as for any facts in her history. See also A. Lang on “the voices” in Proc. Soc. Psychical Research, vol. xi.

Authorities.—For bibliography see Le Livre d'or de Jeanne d'Arc (1894), and A. Molinier, Sources de l'histoire de France (1904). Until the 19th century the history of joan of Arc was almost entirely neglected; Voltaire's scurrilous satire La Pucelle, while indicative of the attitude of his time, may be compared with the very fair praises in the Encyclopédie. The first attempt at a study of the sources was that of L'Averdy in 1790, published in the third volume of Mémoires of the Academy of Inscriptions, which served as the base for all lives until J. Quicherat's great work, Le Proces de Jeanne d'Arc (1841-1849), a collection of the texts so full and so vivid that they reveal the character and life of the heroine with great distinctness. Michelet's sketch of her work in his Histoire de France, one of the best sections of the history, is hardly more vivid than these sources, upon which all the later biographies (notably that of H. A. Wallon, 1860) are based. See also A. Marty, L'Histoire de Jeanne d'Arc d'après des documents originaux, with introduction by M. Sepet (1907); P. H. Dunand, Jeanne d'Arc et l'église (1908); and especially Andrew Lang, The Maid of France (1908). The Vie de Jeanne d'Arc, by Anatole France (2 vols., 1908), is brilliant and erudite, but in some respects open to charges of inaccuracy and prejudice in its handling of the sources (see the criticism by Andrew Lang in The Times, Lit. Suppl., May 28, 1908). The attempt to establish the reality of the “revelations” and consequently to obtain the canonization of Joan of Arc led the Catholic part in France to publish lives (such as Sepet's, 1869) in support of their claims. Excellent works worth special mention are: Siméon Luce, Jeanne d'Arc à Domremy; L. Jarry, L'Armée anglaise au siège d'0rleans (1892); J. J. Bourassé, Miracles de Madame Sainte Kathérine de Fierbois (1858, trans. by A. Lang); Boucher de Molandon and A. de Beaucorps, L'Armée anglaise vaincue par Jeanne d'Arc (1892); R. P. Agroles, S. J., La Vraie Jeanne d'Arc. For the “false Pucelle” see A. Lang's article in his Valet's Tragedy (1903). Of the numerous dramas and poems of which Joan of Arc has been the subject, mention can only be made of Die Jungfrau von Orleans of Schiller, and of the Joan of Arc of Southey. A drama in verse by Jules Barbier was set to music by C. Gounod (1873). (J. T. S.*; H. Ch.)


  1. In the act of ennoblement the name is spelt Day, due probably to the peculiar pronunciation. It has been disputed whether the name was written originally d'Arc or Darc. It is beyond doubt that the father of Joan was not of noble origin, but Bouteiller suggests that at that period the apostrophe did not indicate nobility. Her mother, it may be noted, is called “de Vouthon.”
  2. The Porte St Honoré where Joan was wounded stood where the Comédie Française now stands.