On this day in 1431, Joan of Arc met her untimely end when she was burned at the stake for heresy at the age of 19. Considered today to be a heroine of France, The Maid of Orleans is one of the most iconic figures of the Hundred Years War and arguably one of the most famous martyrs in history.
Born to a peasant family in North-East France in 1412, from the age of 12 Joan spoke of her ‘visions’ that were telling her to support Charles (later King Charles VII) and recover France from English domination in the later stages of the Hundred Years War. She claimed that she had a direct connection with the Saints Michael, Catherine and Margaret. At the age of 17, she rallied to Charles’ cause in the war and requested to join him. In return, he provided her with several military men and along with two of her brothers, Jean and Pierre, she led a small French army and won a huge victory at Orleans in April/May 1429, despite having had an arrow shot through her neck.
The following month saw Charles’ coronation as King, a ceremony of which Joan was in attendance. A truce with England was reached, but this didn’t last long and in May 1430, she traveled to Compiegne to help defend the city against an English and Burgundian siege. In a skirmish, she was captured and imprisoned by the Burgundians. After numerous escape attempts, she was put on trial for heresy as well as one of 70 crimes, including claiming divine authority for herself, only to be found guilty despite there being no evidence against her. On 30 May 1431, Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, her charred remains burned further to reduce them to a state of ash, and her remains were thrown into the River Seine. It is said that 10,000 people witnessed her death.
In 1455, a retrial was granted to investigate whether the circumstances surrounding her interrogation and execution had been fair. The following year, a report was published that determined the late Pierre Cauchon to have convicted an innocent women in his pursuit of a secular vendetta. Joan of Arc was declared innocent and a martyr on 7 June 1456. In 1920, she was canonised and made a Patron Saint of France.