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French Women & Feminists in History: A Resource Guide

Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc. 1851. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

When Joan of Arc (1412-1431) or in French Jeanne D'Arc, was a child the territory where she lived— Domremy-la -Pucell — like much of France, was under the control of the English. The future king of France himself, Charles VII was somewhat in doubt of his claim to the throne. Seemingly as much as two thirds of France as we know it today was unsure of the legitimate ruler. This unstable period known as the Hundred Years' War was marked by near constant warfare between France and England. Joan, who heard voices from God telling her to save France, was allowed a visit with the future king. Upon entering the room it is said she was able to locate him, unmarked, among his courtiers. How remarkable that a young "maid" of 17 would not only have the conviction that Charles VII must be crowned king, but had the passion, determination and some might say, delusional courage, to cut her hair, don armor and lead men into battle and regain the city of Orléans. Through stubborn diplomacy, and as an inspiring leader in battle, she paved the way for Charles to be crowned King at Reims (pronounced raans). While Charles VII successfully claim his right to the throne, Joan was captured by the British and burned at the stake as a heretic.

The infamous trial of Jeanne d'Arc illustrates the precarious position of women who defied the expectations of their place in society. One of the most courageous women of French history, she was ultimately used and abandoned after her purpose had been served. She was captured and burned at the stake as a heretic (charges also included witchcraft and violating divine law by dressing like a man) by the British and their Burgundian allies. The King, wary of his precarious position did nothing to intervene.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Joan of Arc's story is how women can be both revered and feared in equal measure. Crass soldiers are said to have been unable to swear in her presence. She was both commanding and serene. And yet the Church condemned her as an "excommunicated heretic, a liar, a seducer, pernicious...and contemptuous of God." (Parton, James, Daughters of Genius [N.P, 1897],148). How can the same woman be branded as a heretic in 1431 and canonized as a Saint in 1905? This has been a question scholars have debated for centuries but to the French people, Jeanne d'Arc, is revered as the patron saint of France, and countless celebrations take place every year honoring her bravery and sacrifice for the nation.

For digitized sources on women of this time period see Digitized Sources: Medieval Women.

You can identify additional material by searching the Library of Congress Online Catalog using the following heading:

Joan, of Arc, Saint, 1412-1431--In literature

Print & Digital Resources

The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are included when available.