We write about “savoring the ordinary”. We also like to share when ordinary people do extraordinary things. Today is the birthday of Joan of Arc. She is quite the example of what happens when an ordinary person steps out to do something extra-extraordinary.

This French maid was born around 1410 into a peasant family and literally rose to help France drive out the English. She was not taught to read or write, but her pious mother instilled in her a deep love for the Catholic Church and its teachings. At the time, France had long been torn apart by a bitter conflict with England (later known as the Hundred Years’ War), in which England had gained the upper hand. A peace treaty in 1420 disinherited the French crown prince, Charles of Valois, amid accusations of his illegitimacy, and King Henry V was made ruler of both England and France. His son, Henry VI, succeeded him in 1422. Along with its French allies (led by Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy), England occupied much of northern France, and many in Joan’s village, Domrémy, were forced to abandon their homes under threat of invasion.

In a private audience at his castle at Chinon, Joan of Arc won the future Charles VII over by supposedly revealing information that only a messenger from God could know; the details of this conversation are unknown.

At the age of 13, Joan began to hear voices

Joan was convinced that these voices had been sent by God to give her a mission of overwhelming importance: to save France by driving out the British, and have Charles crowned as king. Joan felt an important part of her calling was to take a vow of chastity, so when her father tried to arrange a marriage for her, she convinced the local officials that she should not be forced to marry.


Joan of arc on horse

Joan’s assault on Orleans in May 1429

Joan’s journey began around May 1428, when she went to Vancouleurs, that was a nearby community that was loyal to and supported Charles. Of course the local magistrate, Robert de Baudricourt was totally dismissive, but Joan remained persistant and finally had a small group of followers who truly believed in her calling and in her claim to be the virgin that was described in a popular prophecy to arrive to save France. After Baudricourt finally relented, it is when Joan famously cropped all her hair off and dressed in men’s clothes so she could travel safely across enemy territory to Chinon, which is the location of the crown prince’s palace.

Joan promised Charles she would see him crowned king at Reims, the traditional site of French royal investiture, and asked him to give her an army to lead to Orléans, then under siege from the English. Against the advice of most of his counselors and generals, Charles granted her request, and Joan set off for Orléans in March of 1429 dressed in white armor and riding a white horse. After sending off a defiant letter to the enemy, Joan led several French assaults against them, driving the Anglo-Burgundians from their bastion and forcing their retreat across the Loire River.


After such a miraculous victory, Joan’s reputation spread far and wide among French forces. She and her followers escorted Charles across enemy territory to Reims, taking towns that resisted by force and enabling his coronation as King Charles VII in July 1429. Joan argued that the French should press their advantage with an attempt to retake Paris, but Charles wavered, even as his favorite at court, Georges de La Trémoille, warned him that Joan was becoming too powerful. The Anglo-Burgundians were able to fortify their positions in Paris, and turned back an attack led by Joan in September.

In the spring of 1430, the king ordered Joan to confront a Burgundian assault on Compiégne. In her effort to defend the town and its inhabitants, she was thrown from her horse, and was left outside the town’s gates as they closed. The Burgundians took her captive, and brought her amid much fanfare to the castle of Bouvreuil, occupied by the English commander at Rouen.


In the trial that followed, Joan was ordered to answer to some 70 charges against her, including witchcraft, heresy and dressing like a man. The Anglo-Burgundians were aiming to get rid of the young leader as well as discredit Charles, who owed his coronation to her. In attempting to distance himself from an accused heretic and witch, the French king made no attempt to negotiate Joan’s release.

In May 1431, after a year in captivity and under threat of death, Joan relented and signed a confession denying that she had ever received divine guidance. Several days later, however, she defied orders by again donning men’s clothes, and authorities pronounced her death sentence. On the morning of May 30, at the age of 19, Joan was taken to the old market place of Rouen and burned at the stake. Her fame only increased after her death, however, and 20 years later a new trial ordered by Charles VII cleared her name. Long before Pope Benedict XV canonized her in 1920, Joan of Arc had attained mythic stature, inspiring numerous works of art and literature over the centuries and becoming the patron saint of France.

Are you Inspired or Intimidated?

There’s a lot to be taken for this story.

  • One person can have a huge impact.
  • You’re never too young (or too old) to accomplish great things.
  • Girls can do anything.