Jeanne d’Arc – taking the myth out of France’s heroine

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres’ famous work of art Joan of Arc at the Coronation of Charles VII

Jeanne’s visions convinced her she was on a mission from God, and – as Samantha David discovers – the 15th-century Maid of Orléans guided the French king from the edge of defeat to the brink of victory

Jeanne d’Arc was born into a farming family around January 6, 1412, in the remote agricultural village of Domrémy in what is now Vosges, in eastern France.

The Hundred Years’ War had been rumbling since 1337. Although she was born during a period of relative peace, conflict resumed in 1415, when the English King Henry V invaded France. Young Jeanne must have grown up amid regular talk of who was fighting who and how the War was going.

“Context is important,” said Olivier Bouzy, an expert on Jeanne d’Arc. “At that time, people believed in God, but also in elves, monsters, demons, and prophets.

“Things that are fairytales to us were reality to people then.

“It was an irrational world, without scientific explanation. People thought that everything, even the death of a bird, was God’s will because God was all powerful.

“Jeanne was functionally illiterate; she was taught her prayers by her mother and went to church services conducted by a provincial priest, but probably picked up a very hazy, albeit committed, version of the Catholic faith.”

To many peasants, Europe seemed to have been at war forever. The royal families of England and France were so intertwined that The Hundred Years’ war was essentially a ...

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