Joan of Arc was canonised on May 16, 1920, 101 years ago.

Nighttime in Orleans with Joabn of Arc statue klit up in front of neo-classical buildings
Joan of Arc Statue © Christophe Mouton

She was born, in c. 1412, in Domrémy in Lorraine to a peasant family. She led the Valois French to victory against the combined English and the Burgundians at the besieged city of Orléans during the Hundred Years War. Her victory on May 8 1429 was stunning. The relief army’s success paved the way for Charles VII to be consecrated King in Reims.

But betrayed by the French and English allies she was handed over to the English on May 23, 1430. She was tried by a court that was thoroughly illegal, presided over by an English stooge. She was burnt at the stake on May 30 1431 in Rouen, Normandy, aged just 19.

In 1456, Pope Callixtus III ordered a retrial which declared the conviction null and void and confirmed her martyrdom.  

Joan of Arc was canonised 600 years later.

siege of Orléans in old manuscript with walls of city on left and Frenchon left with bows and arrows.
Siege of Orléans Public domain

Saintly Martyr or Political Creature?

Throughout history, she has been used by both right and left politicians as the epitome of French patriotism. Napoleon declared her as a national symbol of France in 1803. Charles de Gaulle took the Cross of Lorraine which she carried on her coat-of-arms as the symbol of the French Resistance.

I knew all this, but in patches. Then I read an article by Ben Macintyre published in the Times on Saturday May 9. It pulls no punches about her, describing the Maid of Orléans as a ‘canny and ruthless politician, with a taste for luxury but little grasp of military strategy’. But, as he wrote, she was also ‘framed by the English’. Having written that ‘she was wrongly convicted by a corrupt tribunal manipulated by the English government’, he suggest the English government should admit this as a miscarriage of justice by the English.

It’s an interesting and off-the-wall suggestion that makes you realise how relevant history, even far distant history, is to us today. 

Loire River banks of Orleans at night with lit up houses on banks reflected in blue waters plus trees
River banks at Orléans © Christophe Mouton/Loiret Tourisme

I was interested in the article as I’ve just written one on Orléans, a city which I love. I went there as a 16-year old on a school exchange.

But that’s for another time.