joan of arc

A painting of Joan of Arc on horseback.

When I asked people about the topic of Girl Soldiers one of the first names they responded with was Joan of Arc. She is one of the most well-known women in history who achieved a somewhat notorious reputation, all before dying at the age of 19.

There is no specific date for Joan’s birth but historians believe it was around the year 1412. She grew up in a village in the northeast of France; her family did not have much money and she did not receive any type of education. Around the age of 13 she began hearing voices; she believed that it was God telling her that she should save France from its enemies (at the time France was engaged in the Hundred Years War with England). When she turned 16 she wanted to visit the French Royal Court but her request was denied by the local garrison commander (Robert du Baudricourt). She did however manage to get a number of supporters to believe her claim that she was the virgin who was going to save France and eventually her request was granted.

They set off on their journey which Joan made wearing men’s clothes. She also cropped her hair short. It is unknown what she told Charles VII when she arrived but she impressed him enough that he gave her an army and sent to her to Orléans which at the time was under English siege. She led the army into a successful battle which ended with the English retreating. This victory earned her overnight acclaim throughout France and Charles gave her more armies to lead. In 1430 while heading into battle she was thrown from her horse and taken hostage by the Anglo-Burgundians who proceeded to carry out a trial that aimed to discredit Joan.

She was accused of practicing witchcraft, dressing like a man and heresy. Initially Joan denied the accusations but after one year in captivity she relented and admitted that she had not heard voices from God – she was sentenced to death. At the age of 19 Joan was burned at the stake. It took 20 years but Charles VII eventually cleared her name following a new trial, she also became the patron saint of France as well as being canonised by Pope Benedict XV in 1920.

-Michelle O’Brien
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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