The 8th Historical Clinicopathological Conference

The Maid of Orleans

Joan of Arc was born at Domremy in what is now Lorraine around 1412. At a young age she began to hear voices from God. When she was about 16, the voices exhorted her to bear aid to the dauphin, Charles of Ponthieu (later King Charles Vll), who was kept from the throne by the English and their Burgundian allies in the Hundred Years War. Joan won the aid of Robert de Baudricourt, captain of the dauphin’s forces in Vaucouleurs, in obtaining an interview with the dauphin. Meeting the dauphin at Chinon castle, she conquered his skepticism as to her divine mission. After gaining approval of the Church scholars at Poitiers in March of 1429, she was granted titular command of an army which quickly lifted the siege of Orleans on May 8, 1429, captured Jargeau, Meungsur-Loire, and Beaugency in mid-June, and defeated an English army at Patay. After accepting the surrender of Troyes and other towns, the army escorted Charles to Rheims for his coronation on July 17. Joan stood near the dauphin during the ceremony.

Two months later, in September, Joan made an unsuccessful attack on Paris, followed by the successful capture of St-Pierre-le-Moutier in November. As a reward for her service, Charles VII granted Joan and her family noble status in December 1429. She returned to the battlefield the following year, despite predicting her own defeat. Captured by the Burgundians at Compiegne on May 23, 1430, Joan was sold to the English for 10,000 livres and placed on trial in Rouen by a select group of pro-English clergy. Perhaps the most serious crime alleged by her captors was the claim of direct inspiration from God. In the eyes of the court, this refusal to accept the church hierarchy constituted heresy. Throughout the lengthy trial and imprisonment, she steadfastly resisted her inquisitors. During this time, Charles made no attempt to secure her freedom though it is not clear that he would have been successful if he had done so. Only at the end of the trial, when Joan was threatened to be turned over to a secular court, did she recant and was condemned to life imprisonment. Shortly afterward, however, she retracted her abjuration and was handed over to the secular court as a relapsed heretic. On May 30, 1431, she was burned at the stake.

Charles VII made tardy recognition of her services through a rehabilitation trial in 1456 that annulled the proceedings of the 1431 trial. The presiding inquisitor ruled that the original trial had been tainted by fraud, illegal procedures, and intimidation of both the defendant and many of the clergy who had taken part in the trial. She was portrayed as a martyr. Joan was beatified on April 1909 and canonized as a saint on May 16, 1920.