Joan of Arc was a peasant girl who became a freedom-fighter for the French crown during the Hundred Years’ War.
"Joan of Arc at the Coronation of Charles VII", by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, 1854 / Wikipedia
Joan was born in the northeastern French village of Domrémy in around 1412, to peasant parents. At this time, the Hundred Years’ War between England and two French factions (the royal Armagnac faction and the Burgundy faction) was raging, as they battled over the ownership of the French throne.
From the beginning of the war in 1337, fighting broke out periodically in France, leaving the Armagnac faction, which represented the French crown, decidedly on the back foot due to the English’s economy-destroying fighting tactics, and the remaining population depletion from the Black Death of the mid-1300s.
During her early life, Joan’s home village was loyal to the crown, and its inhabitants experienced several raids, as well as the village being burnt down at one stage. At around the age of 13, Joan claimed to see visions of various saints, such as Saint Catherine of Alexandria, Saint Margaret, and most notably, the archangel Michael, in her father’s garden. She said they instructed her to oust the English and restore the French throne by supporting the Dauphin Charles VII of the Armagnac faction.
By the time she was 16, after seeing many more of these visions, Joan’s accurate predictions about the ongoing Battle of Rouvray convinced members of the royal court to take Joan to meet with Charles. He was impressed by her celestial foresight,and agreed to allow her to travel (and ultimately fight) with the French army. She first appeared at Orléans in 1429, a city which had been under siege for months, where her presence was largely credited with the fact that the siege ended just nine days after her appearance. This victory, at a time when the French were on their knees, brought a change in attitude for the crown’s army, and led to several resultant victories soon afterwards.
"Siege of Orléans (1429) / Vigiles de Charles VII, 15th century by Martial d'Auvergne" / Wikipedia
Joan was encouraged to attend many more important campaigns, and even led and advised on the military strategy for these. Along the way, she narrowly escaped death several times, despite suffering injuries, and also seemingly saved and protected those around her, cementing her reputation of being a good omen from God. Ultimately these many victories resulted in the English retreating, and the coronation of Charles VII at Reims in July 1429, despite continuing fighting.
"Joan of Arc's Death at the Stake",
Hermann Stilke (1843) / Wikipedia
Following a short truce with the English, in May 1430, Joan was captured by English-allied nobles, while trying to ambush a Burgundian camp. Despite several attempts to escape, and efforts by the Armagnacs to rescue her, Joan was eventually put on trial for heresy and cross-dressing by the English, largely because of her religiously-motivated involvement in the war, and the fact that she frequently dressed as a male soldier while on campaigns. Following a biased trial, Joan was found guilty, and executed by being burned at the stake in May 1431, at the age of 19.
In the late 15th Century, following her death, Joan’s trial was re-examined by Pope Callixtus III. The examinations’ findings revealed that Joan had been unjustly executed, and she was therefore declared a Catholic martyr by the church. By the late 19th century, Joan’s actions in the Hundred Years War were highly celebrated, and, due to her bravery and religious foresight, she was canonized as a saint by Pope Benedict VX in 1920.