On this day in 1412 the French Saint and national heroine Joan of Arc was born at Domremy, Eastern France.
After convincing the King of her sincerity, she led the French army to spectacular victories against the English, until she was captured and taken to Rouen. She was tried on a charge of heresy and condemned to be burned at the stake. The trial was manifestly unjust and much of the argument concerned her cross-dressing, though she wore men’s clothes and armour at certain times for two very good reasons – to protect herself in battle and to protect herself from rape in the camps (a very real danger).
Joan did not use weapons in battle but carried a banner and was wounded several times. She died bravely in the marketplace at Rouen holding a cross made for her by an English soldier. She was only nineteen – in two short years the Maid of Orleans had changed the fortunes of France. A posthumous retrial in 1452, declared her innocent and a martyr.
This is Joan speaking in Shakespeare’s play King Henry VI:
Dauphin, I am by birth a shepherd’s daughter,
My wit untrain’d in any kind of art.
Heaven and our Lady gracious hath it pleas’d
To shine on my contemptible estate:
Lo! Whilst I waited on my tender lambs,
And to sun’s parching heat display’d my cheeks,
God’s mother deigned to appear to me;
And, in a vision full of majesty,
Will’d me to leave my base vocation,
And free my country from calamity.
Her aid she promis’d, and assur’d success:
In complete glory she reveal’d herself;
And, whereas I was black and swart before,
With those clear rays which she infus’d on me,
That beauty am I bless’d with, which you see.”
Today I reflect on those who overcome fear because they knew that they were doing right.