On May 30, 1431, 19-year-old Joan of Arc was executed by being burned at the stake. Although it is often said that she was burned for witchcraft, her prosecutors could not make the charge stick. The conviction that sent her to the stake was heresy.
Every year, France celebrates Joan’s life with festivities throughout the country in the month of May, chiefly in four places: Domrémy, the village of her birth, Orleans, where she ended the English siege that threatened to open the way to France south of the Loire, Reims, where she led her Dauphin to be crowned, and Rouen, the site of her cruel imprisonment, trial and death.
No one knows for certain when Joan was born. The traditional date is January 6, 1412. Her military career was brief but dazzling. After her victory at Orleans, she drove the English from the Loire Valley and led the uncrowned Charles VII through enemy-held territory to be crowned at Rheims Cathedral. Her next victory might have been the taking of Paris, but her efforts there were sabotaged by behind-the-scenes political maneuvering between her newly-crowned king and his kinsman, the powerful Duke Philip of Burgundy.
Joan’s story has inspired creative writers from 1429 until the present century. One of the first feature films ever made (1898) had Joan as its subject. References to Joan abound, even in U.S. police dramas. I recall one of the idealistic ADAs on Law and Order being referred to as “St. Joan of One Police Plaza.”
Joan of Arc’s feast day is May 30. She was not canonized as a saint of the Catholic Church until 1920. That event, like her death, was motivated by political interests.
Want to know more about Joan of Arc, the facts of her life and some of the cinematic treatments of it? Check out A Joan for All Seasons: Joan of Arc in History and the Movies.