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This edited article about France originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 886 published on 13 January 1979.
Most people have heard of Joan of Arc. Her story has been told so often that it is sometimes difficult to believe that she existed.
But Joan did exist. She was born on 6th January, 1412, in a little village in Eastern France.
When Joan was 16, she began hearing the voices of saints who told her she had been sent to deliver France from the English. At that time, France and England were involved in fighting each other for the right to rule France.
This was a complicated dispute, because the king of England had some claim to the French throne.
Disobeying her parents, Joan walked 40 kilometres across bandit-infested countryside to tell the local lord of her mission. He was so impressed by her saintliness that he sent her to the Dauphin (the heir to the French throne).
Her first test came when the Dauphin, whom Joan had never seen, hid himself among his courtiers. Nevertheless, Joan walked straight up to him.
Next, the highest authorities of the Church questioned her to see if she had been sent by God as she claimed. Joan steadfastly maintained that she would give them proof at Orleans.
From then on the story becomes quite astonishing.
She was given a suit of armour, a sword and a white horse. On 14th April, 1429, this peasant girl from an obscure village, led the French army to Orleans, under siege by the English for more than six months.
Inspired by her leadership, the French army forced the English to retreat and the siege was lifted – but not without Joan receiving an arrow in the shoulder.
The victory confirmed everyone’s belief that Joan really had been sent by God. For the next six months, Joan virtually became the commander of the French army and led it in a series of victories.
However, a year after the victory at Orleans, tragedy struck: Joan was captured at Compiegne, in north-eastern France.
The English could have executed her, but this would not have discredited her in the eyes of the French, who had come to believe in Joan’s divine mission.
She was therefore taken to Rouen and made to stand trial on several charges, ranging from heresy to witchcraft. It was an unfair trial; Joan was found guilty and sentenced to death by burning.
On 30th May, 1431, Jeanne d’Arc, the Maid of Orleans, was burned in the Old Market in Rouen. Twenty years later, the Pope found her not guilty of heresy – but it was not until this century that the Catholic Church admitted that she had been sent by God and made her a saint.