In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Joan of Arc

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Reference Works
  • Biographies
  • Family and Childhood
  • King, Courtiers, Comrades, and Foes
  • Regional Studies
  • Physical and Mental State
  • Myth and Legend

Renaissance and Reformation Joan of Arc
Larissa Taylor
  • LAST REVIEWED: 03 May 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0124


Joan of Arc was born the daughter of well-off peasants in 1412 in Domremy on the frontier of France, Burgundy, and the Holy Roman Empire. After the disastrous French defeat by King Henry V at the battle of Agincourt in 1415 and the taking of Rouen and Paris by allied English and Burgundian forces, Queen Isabeau of Bavaria signed the Treaty of Troyes in 1420, disinheriting the dauphin Charles in favor of Henry V and his heirs by marriage to Catherine, Charles’s sister. Before Henry died unexpectedly in 1422, leaving the throne to his infant son Henry (VI), French morale had been nearly destroyed. Henry V’s brother, John, Duke of Bedford, governed as regent while Charles remained in his castles in the Loire. The English siege of Orléans that began in the autumn of 1428 portended ill for French dynastic hopes, for, if the city fell, the English could have consolidated their control over much of France. In this context, at age sixteen, Joan first left home seeking support from the captain of Vaucouleurs for her mission to “save France.” Joan claimed inspiration by the voice of God, although some then and now believe that the king’s mother-in-law, Yolande of Aragon, was the force behind Joan’s success. After interviews with the captain and the Duke of Lorraine, and after successfully fighting a marriage contract arranged by her parents, Joan embarked for Chinon. After tests of her theological purity and virginity, Joan was armed and outfitted as a soldier and sent to Orléans. Within a week after her arrival on 29 April, the siege was lifted. Further successful battles, in which Joan took a leadership role and proved remarkably adept in matters of war, pushed the English back from the Loire Valley to their base in Paris. In July 1429 Joan and her large, energized army led the dauphin to his coronation as Charles VII at Reims. Joan wanted to pursue the fight and laid siege to Paris in September 1429. But, the heavily fortified capital could not be taken, and Charles quickly called off the siege. Joan was then sent on minor missions as the king and his courtiers worked on a truce with Burgundy. Joan, not comprehending its political necessity, went off on her own, becoming an increasing liability to the king. Still, when the truce expired, Charles sent her into battle once more. At Compiègne in May 1430, a vassal of the Duke of Burgundy captured Joan. Several months later, she was sold to the English for 10,000 crowns. After a grueling five-month trial, Joan was executed on 30 May 1431 as a heretic, schismatic, idolator, and apostate. Twenty-five years after her death, the papacy opened proceedings into the conduct of the original trial, which was declared null and void. Until the 19th century, the historical Joan of Arc was largely forgotten, except by the city of Orléans. As a result of historical research by Jules Michelet and his student Jules Quicherat, Joan became a symbol for France. In 1869 the bishop of Orléans began the process toward beatification. Joan of Arc was declared blessed in 1909, and her canonization followed in 1920.

General Overviews

Although historians have studied the Hundred Years War extensively, studies of France in the 15th century are much less abundant. Beaune 1991 offers insights into Joan’s role in creating a French identity, although the author’s outlook is nationalistic and religious. Wright 1998 gives an excellent introduction to the state of the French countryside and how the war affected peasants. Potter and Doyle 2003 offers an overview of France in the late Middle Ages, while Fraioli 2005 provides the best general account of Joan of Arc and her time during the Hundred Years War. The best studies of the war are Curry 2003 and Allmand 1988, but these are not limited to those listed here.

  • Allmand, Christopher. The Hundred Years War: England and France at War, c. 1300–c.1450. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139167789

    A short, readable introduction to the narrative of the Hundred Years War, military techniques, and a comparative study of France and England.

  • Beaune, Colette. The Birth of an Ideology: Myths and Symbols of Nation in Late-Medieval France. Translated by Susan Ross Huston and Fredric L. Cheyette. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.

    One of the few books in French or English to focus on France in the 15th century on a scale that goes beyond the Hundred Years War. Beaune’s analysis is rich in a study of the ideas that helped shape “France” and the symbols that created it.

  • Curry, Anne. The Hundred Years War. 2d ed. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

    This revised classic is a concise and up-to-date introduction to the different phases of the war. Along with her other scholarly books, including a recent study of the battle of Agincourt, Curry’s work is the result of painstaking research that sometimes challenges conventional wisdom.

  • Fraioli, Deborah A. Joan of Arc and the Hundred Years War. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2005.

    Easily the best essay study of Joan of Arc and the Hundred Years War. One of the premier Johannine scholars, Fraioli brings that knowledge to a readable study and chronology that analyzes primary sources and provides short biographies of key figures.

  • Potter, David, and William Doyle, eds. France in the Later Middle Ages, 1200–1500. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

    An excellent collection of articles by leading historians of France, especially those trained in the new historiography of the past decades. Covers every aspect of medieval France from daily life to war to governance and economics.

  • Wright, Nicholas. Knights and Peasants: The Hundred Years War in the French Countryside. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell & Brewer, 1998.

    Study of the interaction between different classes of society in France showing that for the peasantry, the Hundred Years War was not about great battles but rather pillaging. While peasants were usually the victims, village solidarity often provided some defense. Argues convincingly that the Hundred Years War was as much a state of chronic instability as an Anglo-French power struggle.

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