French national treasure, Joan of Arc was burned at the stake as a heretic despite a prolific career on the battlefield.
Fact was she’d been a visionary leader, quite literally – her actions were governed and dictated by visions from God plus other martyrs. Indeed word got around that a saint was heading up the French army and the people liked the sound of those odds and joined in their droves.
Or maybe it was the thought of 17-year-old eye candy that reeled them in.
But old Joanie was no pushover and if they thought life would be relaxed under her womanly leadership, boy were they wrong. She kicked serious soldier arse, ridding the camps of prostitutes and swearing, barring them from looting and pillaging civilian camps, instead encouraging them to go to church.
By all accounts they were in a bit if a state so she came along and drilled them into shape just in time. It was 1428 and they were on the brink of a crucial set-to with England amid the 100 Years’ War, which would have made or broken access to the Loire – their stronghold. And they needed all the help they could get against what had been a pretty successful opposition in the shape of Henry V. But he’d died in 1421 and his son was not as effective, so it was time to fight back.
Cue Joanie, whose appointment really paid off. Her leadership skills were blinding and she managed to give the Valois army the much-needed upper-hand against an increasingly embattled Burgundy. For France was leaderless and there was a power struggle for the throne. Burgundy was batting for the opposition, having teamed up with the Plantagenet Henries from England who were descended from Anjou blood. And in the blue corner was the House of Valois, which claimed pure-bred accession. Joan was for the latter, headed up by Charles of Ponthieu, who was to become Charles VII of France.
Joan proved a real powerhouse on the battlefield and she managed to secure Orleans back from the English. Sadly those round the mediating table were not empowered with the same gumption – they pretty much sold themselves down the river to Burgundy, despite Joan having them on the run.
Well, that was the beginning of the end really. Also they declared a 15-day truce so Charles VII could be crowned. But this just bought Burgundy and the English time to regroup. During September 1429, the demise of Joan’s army was more or less in the bag. They had advanced even as far as Paris when she was injured during battle. The king and his advisors ordered a defensive position and even destroyed a bridge. The army then retreated back to the Loire and they even went as far as to disband.
But Joan didn’t have a bar of it – she wasn’t about to give up so easily, despite the fact that, at Easter, she foresaw her own capture in 1430. And she was right – she and her small band of rallied troops were penned in just outside Compeigne where they were forced to surrender.
Charles offered to pay a ransom and all sorts to try and secure her safe return, but the Duke of Burgundy knew that would be a huge mistake. So she was left to stew for four months before they handed her over to the English, who wasted no time in sending her to trial in Rouen, during February and March of 1431.
Dressed to kill
There they threw all sorts of muck at her including witchcraft, but nothing stuck, so desperate times called for nothing short of ridiculous measures. She was sentenced to death for…cross dressing. Yep, you read right – she was had up on charges of dressing like a man. Indeed they even stripped her of her dress, forcing her to wear men’s clothes to cover her modesty. But that was her undoing, because it is said to have cemented her heretical tendencies.
Strapped to a stake, she was left to slow roast, and despite her saintly demeanour she certainly wasn’t above feeling the acutely excruciating pain and is said to have ‘screamed’ for Jesus. Not that it did her any good – she was burned alive on this day in 1431.
And all this took place in the space of two years and Joan was just 19 when she died.
The 100 Years’ War lasted another 20-odd years, and was finally crushed mainly because a very young and very green Henry VI had taken over where Henry V left off. He didn’t have the experience to see it through and the French won the day. And that was quick compared to Joan’s sainthood, which took virtually five centuries to secure. The Maid of Orleans was finally beatified in 1909.
Joan’s life has been replayed on the big screen on several occasions but our favourites are Milla Jovovich in Joan Of Arc: The Messenger and Jane Wiedlin (you know, her off The Go-Go’s) in Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
Also on this day
30 May 1922 – Hyram Thompson
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