Sometimes called Joan the Maid, the Maid of Orleans, or in French, La Pucelle, Joan of Arc is one of France’s most prominent heroines. She played a key role in helping France to defeat its English oppressors late in the Hundred Years’ War. Leading her army into battle and planning strategies that would help them to win, Joan boosted French morale among the jaded and hopeless French soldiers. Ultimately, this helped France to achieve its final victory.
Following her capture and execution, Joan was remembered fondly by the French people and eventually canonized by the Pope of the Catholic Church. Check out these 10 facts about her that you’ll learn in France.
10 She Didn’t Actually Know Her Last Name
Joan of Arc’s real name surprises most people. A lot of people believe that Joan of Arc’s last name was Arc. But in reality, Joan did not know her own last name. She referred to herself as Jehanne la Pucelle, which translates in English to Joan the Maid. Interestingly, her first name Joan is actually the English version of the name Jehanne.
Joan couldn’t write, but she could sign her name, which she always did as Jehanne. That is the feminine version of John. Even today in France, Joan is known as Jehanne.
9 She Was Illiterate And Had No Battle Experience
Despite being one of France’s most iconic figures, Joan of Arc was actually illiterate. She couldn’t read or write, other than to sign her name, and was born in the village of Domremy to a tenant farmer. As a child, she was taught the values of the Catholic Church rather than reading and writing.
Joan was later known for her warfare contributions, but she actually had no battle experience as a child. She never really participated in combat with the army, and instead outlined strategies that the French troops had to follow. At times, she also led them into battle.
8 She Believed God Had Sent Her To Save France
Joan of Arc changed the course of French history by removing the country’s enemies from their land and implementing Charles as the rightful ruler. In her mind, she was able to do all of this because God had sent her to save the country. By the age of 13, she began hearing voices which she attributed to God, letting her know about the mission to save France.
When she met with the future Charles VII, she revealed private information that the king determined only a true messenger of God could know. To this day, nobody knows exactly what she said to win over the king.
7 She Rejected An Arranged Marriage
Some view Joan of Arc as a strong feminist icon, mostly because she did not allow her patriarchal society to dictate how she acted and what she wore. When she was 16, just three years before her death, her father tried to arrange a marriage for her. But she rejected it, convincing a local court that she should not be forced into the marriage against her will.
Had Joan of Arc been forced to submit to the will of a husband, she may never have achieved what she did and had such a long-lasting impact on France.
6 She Dressed In Men’s Clothes
While acting as a military leader, Joan also decided to dress in men’s clothes rather than in traditional feminine garments. She also cut her hair short into a masculine style. The modern bob haircut, which was created in Paris in 1909, was actually inspired by Joan.
Cross-dressing still stirs controversy in some parts of the world today, so you can imagine how problematic this was in Joan’s time. Ultimately, it was her choice to dress as a man that resulted in her being sentenced to death, rather than her involvement with the army.
5 She Was Arrested On Numerous Charges
When she was finally captured by the enemy in 1430, she was arrested on more than 70 charges. Among these were horse theft, sorcery, and dressing as a man. She was also accused of being a heretic, despite maintaining that she was sent by God.
While being held by the English, Joan signed a contract admitting that she had worn men’s clothing. Today, some historians actually believe that Joan did not know what she was signing because she was illiterate. Ultimately, she was found guilty of heresy and burned at the stake.
4 She Was Held Captive In A Military Prison
Before her execution, Joan was held captive in a military prison. Though she could have been held in a church prison where the conditions would have been a lot less brutal, she was instead held in a military prison where she was threatened with assault.
To protect herself from sexual assault while in prison, she dressed like a soldier and tightened her clothes tightly to her body with lots of cords. This was the final nail in Joan’s proverbial coffin, as she was then executed for the heresy of dressing like a man.
3 One Legend States That Her Heart Survived Being Burned At The Stake
Joan of Arc was found guilty of heresy on May 29, 1431. The very next morning, she was burned at the stake in the marketplace of Rouen, a town in English-occupied Normandy. Some 10,000 people turned up the watch the spectacle.
One legend claims that Joan’s heart, protected by God, survived the fire. However, historical accounts suggest that she was burned three times and then her ashes were scattered in the River Seine. The three burnings were to ensure that nobody could take any souvenirs from the execution.
2 20 Years After Her Death, Her Name Was Cleared
Though Charles VII had the chance to defend Joan of Arc during her captivity, he did not want to associate himself with someone who was accused of being a witch and a heretic. And so he did not interfere with her execution or take the chance to save her life. 20 years after her death, though, he finally stepped in.
He ordered a new trial to take place which cleared her name of heresy. This provided the foundations for France to start holding the memory of Joan with such reverence.
1 She Is The Patron Saint Of France
Today, Joan of Arc isn’t just remembered as a key figure in the history of France. She is actually the country’s patron saint, serving as a source of inspiration for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. She was canonized as a saint by Pope Benedict XV in 1920.
But long before the 20thcentury, the people of France held Joan in high esteem, remembering her courageous acts and sacrifice so that France could be free from its English-Burgundian oppressors. The peasant girl who became a military leader, a martyr and then a saint remains a symbol of freedom and faith in France and all over the world today.