Fearless women of history

Although the low conditions of women’s lives in the past, history is full of heroines.

Today we’ll talk about “The Maid of Orléans”, martyr, saint, and military leader Joan of Arc, who led the French army to victory over the English during the Hundred Years’ War, by acting under divine guidance. Captured a year later, Joan was burned at the stake as a heretic by the English and their French collaborators. She was canonized as a Roman Catholic saint more than 500 years later, on May 16, 1920.

But let’s follow her story step by step.

Joan of Arc was born in 1412, in Domremy, France, in a family of poor farmers Jacques d’ Arc and his wife, Isabelle, also known as Romée, from whom Joan learned piety and domestic skills; she also became quite skilled as a seamstress.

She was an ordinary girl from the lower society who claimed to have mystical visions, at the age of 12/13, that encouraged her to lead a pious life; they became more vivid, with the presence of St. Michael and St. Catherine designating her as the savior of France sent by God.

She initially ran away from home and by the time everyone had heard of her, the captain Baudricourt sent her to the Dauphin of France giving her a horse, a sword, and a man’s suit.

At court everyone thought she was crazy but, after questioning her for months, Giovanna was considered a good and pious girl and therefore it was worth the risk, she was truly sent by God. She was prepared to lead the army: France was depending on the girl’s sword. The assault on Orleans was successful and on 16 July 1429 the Dauphin was crowned with the name of Charles VII of France; in spring Giovanna will be captured by the enemies.

The King was unsure what to do. Still not convinced of Joan’s divine inspiration, he distanced himself and made no attempt to have her released. Though Joan’s actions were against the English occupation army, she was charged with witchcraft, heresy, and guilty for dressing like a man. How can this be considered a crime?

The whole process was recorded but, in reality, there was a very serious mistake: it is always necessary to notify the accused of the charges while the judges did not do it in order to deceive her and subsequently accuse her of something she would have said, but Joan was more cunning than them. She more than once denied her abjuration but when she found herself in the square in front of the stake, she decided to admit that she was wrong. She was jailed for life, but two days later she dressed again in men’s clothes and for this, she was sentenced to death.

On the morning of May 30, 1431, she was taken to the marketplace in Rouen and burned at the stake, before an estimated crowd of 10,000 people. She was 19 years old. One legend surrounding the event tells of how her heart survived the fire unaffected.

Well she can of course be considered a fearless woman, moved by divine inspirations, who was fundamental for the France victory…unfortunately her story is an example of how man’s cruelty is often stronger than heroism. Despite that, we can be delighted that she is, still, today, remembered by everyone and, especially, recognized for her strength and values.

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Salvina Mallemaci


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