Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Joan of Arc

One of the Patron Saints of France
Also known as 'The Maid of Orleans,' Joan of Arc became a Saint posthumously-- 489 years after being burnt at the stake. As quick as she rose to fame at the tender age of 17, her downfall and ultimately death came just as quick-- died at the age of 19 years. Having lived in a male dominated society, to get anywhere, people had to be a man, and a rich one for that matter. Yet, Joan was neither of the prerequisites and ended up marking her name in history-- against all odds-- as a military leader. She certainly exemplifies the principle 'nothing is unachievable.'

So how did she changed the course of her country's history: leading armies and all?

Before her fame, she was just a farm girl known as Jeanne Darc of Domremy, France. Despite her brilliance and independence, her parents, Jacques Darc and Isabelle Romee, expected nothing of her. This was because being peasants, she would probably stay in that little village for the rest of her life, married to some farmer.

Note: During the Hundred Years of War, the political drama must have seemed fairly remote in provincial Domremy. Still, fear of being raided by the English, the future of Domremy was bleak.

One day, at the age of approximately 13, Joan started hearing voices. She kept it a big secret since it would had sounded ridiculous if she were to confess it to anyone. The voices, coming from Archangel Saint Michael, Saint Catherine, and Saint Margaret, had told her the same thing: help the King of France fight the enemies and crown Dauphin Charles in Rheims (a place for coronation). For years, she had been arguing with these 'voices' about the impossible task they have assigned her. Sometimes, she would even speculate if these voices were genuine or if she were hearing voices from the Devil. Yet, at the age of 16, she gave in to this 'reckless adventure.'

According to her voice, she would have to ask the local Armagnac captain for help. To no surprise, her request to see the Dauphin was rejected. Her parents soon got worried of her eccentric behaviour and opted to expedite her marriage. However, she soon got her way to persuade the captain and thus, was off to meet Dauphin Charles.

In theory, Dauphin Charles was supposed to be the most powerful man in France, with him being king after his mad father's death, Charles VI. Accused of murdering his uncle (which was his mother's extramarital affair), John the Fearless, Queen Isabeau of Bavaria stripped his rights to the throne and gave it to an infant (Henry VI, King of England and enemy of France) via the Treaty of Troyes. Hence, the idea of the maid's help seemed comforting to Charles, although not convincing. By the time they had met, Joan had been urging Charles to gather an army to save Orleans, then go to Rheims and have him crowned as the rightful King of France. After much protests, verification (he had to be sure that she was not a witch), and reluctance, Dauphin Charles obliged. His second thoughts were because the nature of this mission itself was highly risky and impractical: Orleans was as good as gone (the English had been besieging Orleans for months, but to no avail in capturing this military heart of France) and Rheims was right in the middle of enemy territory.

Lo and behold! The English were defeated and Orleans was free from the siege at last! Joan of Arc's miraculous victory made her known throughout France as "The Maid of Orleans." Next, her top priority was to get Dauphin Charles properly coronated (with battles along the way). A few months later, Dauphin Charles was crowned at Rheims cathedral and became King Charles VII. As far as the high spirited Joan was concerned, her next stop was to attack her enemies in Paris. Little did she know that after her two important "missions," things would have gotten worse for Joan. Charles VII soon became fed up of her and planned on making a treaty with the Burgundians (one of France's enemies) in secrecy. After all, it was not viable to defeat both the English and the Burgundians-- even with the maid's help.

As it turned out, the attack on Paris was a disaster. Some people believed that her past victories and Charles' s coronation at Rheims had gotten her carried away. It was for once that her voices hadn't told her to attack Paris-- but she did. Also, it was her practice to never attack on a Holy Day-- but she rashly done so on a special Holy Day in honour of the Virgin Mary. Her utterly disastrous attack only proved to the people that even Joan couldn't guarantee victory. Since then, the King finally had the reason to more or less ban her from fighting.

The King knew that Joan was getting bored and frustrated. Hence, he gave her a "treat" during the winter. Joan was allowed to fight one more battle for him. It was against the English and soon, during the fight, was cornered along with just five other French soldiers. Somehow, she and her men fought their way out of this perilous situation and everyone called it the Victory of Angels, thinking that she was back to her old self again. They widely believed that her miraculous escape was with the help of the "fifty thousand invisible soldiers" she claimed to be with. Ironically, the French army was defeated the following day, and Joan did not manage to recapture Le Charite from the English. With another serious defeat, it was definite that Charles didn't want her-- or anyone-- fighting. After all, money was scarce and war causes money.

Joan hadn't heard much from her voices recently and she was getting tired of the no-action-game. She was not allowed near the King's army and his captains, so decided to act on her own. Soon, (in complete secrecy) she had a small army of her own, consisting of soldiers with mercenary motives (Charles VII was flat broke). One day, Joan discovered that some of her soldiers had smuggled some women into their camp. Out of anger, she chased them off and broke her 'mystical' sword she had found in a church. When Charles discovered this, he was upset with Joan and told her that it was unwise to use such a sacred object on an unworthy one such as a girl's bottom. Still, with her 'sacred' sword smashed, everyone thought that it was a bad sign. What makes matters worse was, she stole the man's sword. It seems that Joan's attitude towards fighting has changed and everyone began to be worried.

Finally, after a long time, Joan started hearing her voices again. This time, however, it was about her being captured.

In spite of what her voices had told her, Joan was ready for action when King Charles VII gave her his backing when the truce between him and Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy was broken. Alas, she had been caught by the Burgundians and was now a prisoner. After a long time, Philip the Good finally made the decision to hand the prisoner to the English-- her biggest enemy.

Locked in prison for months, Joan was upset to realize that King Charles hadn't bothered to save her and was terrified to realize that she had been sold to the English. Apparently, she had heard her voices again which warned her 'not to jump.' Probably out of devastation, she then tried to commit suicide by jumping from a tower-- and survived the fall. Suicide was a sin. Since then, she had guards in her cell just so she didn't do anything stupid.

Joan was on trial for heresy and was interrogated with questions which are in fact, sheer nonsense. The English were trying to spot her loopholes and prove that she was no hero but a witch. Much to their dismay, Joan was wittier than they thought. The trials dragged on with no concrete proof to perish her once and for all. Bishop Cauchon even resorted to cheating and acted cunningly, just so he could expose her lies and finish her. With dirtier tricks and new tactics continuously showing up, Joan was convicted in an injustice manner. The tired Joan was only human after all.

Her head was shaven and was forced to wear a dress. Everyone was invited to jeer at her and she was accused as a heretic. To the terrified, exhausted, and wounded Joan, the abusive crowds were too much to take. Exhausted from months of terrifying imprisonment, and weeks of gruelling questioning, she was asked to sign a paper she couldn't even read if she wanted to put it all to an end (she was illiterate). In such a state, she probably didn't even cared what it had said-- as long as it was over.

The paper probably said that she admitted about being wrong because her sentence was life imprisonment. The English could not burn her if she confessed her sins (which she wasn't aware of). Bishop Cauchon refused to move her from the English prison she loathed so much to the less harsh ones from the Church. After a few days, Joan started wearing men's clothes again. It was probably due to the guards' habits for replacing her clothes with men's. As soon as Cauchon heard that she had been wearing men's clothes again, he went straight to her cell. Joan told him that she felt safer wearing men's clothes as she was with prison guards. She also bluntly said that her voices were upset with her and if she'd said they weren't real, she'd regretted it. He probably pretended to be sorry when listening to those stories. This was because as he prompted for answers, her words would went against her.

Finito. She was to be burnt at the stake. She was accused to returning to her witchcraft and her old ways. A paper hat was put on her bald head with a label that said: heretic, etc. She was dragged to a stake and chained to it, while she cried in horror. An English soldier/peasant gave pity on her and constructed a cross made out of sticks. She put it infront of her dress and soon, on May 30th 1431, the 19 year old girl was gone. The English raked back the coals to expose her charred body, to ensure that nobody could claim she escaped alive. She was then reduced to ashes which were dumped in the River Seine.

Years after Joan's death, King Charles VII had been a highly successful king. Joan's mother, who had been living in Orleans, requested for a retrial to clear her daughter's name. King Charles was in favor of this because he didn't like the thought that he was coronated with the help of a witch. They soon saw that it was all a set up and Joan was after all innocent. The church declared Joan of Arc to be a Venerable in 1903 and in 1920, she was made a saint.

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