• Imagining History

Who was Joan of Arc? - A Beginners Guide

Updated: Apr 22

Dear reader, what follows is the life story of Joan of Arc. Get ready, the events you are about to discover are so unbelievable that they must be true.


In 1412, when Joan of Arc was born in Domremy, large chunks of France were ruled by England. During the Hundred Year War (fun fact – despite its name the war actually lasted for 116 years. I guess calling it the Hundred and Sixteen Year War wouldn’t have been very catchy) England, under the leadership of Henry V, had taken over swathes of France until a peace treaty brought a temporary end to the fighting and chilled everyone out for a bit in 1420.


This didn’t last for long though, fast forward to 1428 and the English forces were laying siege to the city of Orléans. Things were not looking good for the French, who were surrounded and outgunned. But then who should rock up to save the day? Joan of Arc, that’s who!

Since the age of 12, Joan had been experiencing visions of angels and saints. One day, the saints told her that Charles VII, the uncrowned King, should be in charge of France and that it was up to her to make it happen. So, at the age of 17, Joan was able to convince Charles that he should let her go and stop the siege of Orléans.


Siege of Orléans by Martial d'Auvergne

Let’s think this through. The future king of France meets a teenager, probably a bit spotty and greasy as teenagers tend to be (apologies to any teenagers reading this but a) it’s true and b) we’ve all been spotty greasy teenagers at some point in our lives, we feel your pain). On top of that, this particular teenager wants to go and lift a siege but has no military training and no experience in war. Despite all the many reasonable reasons to say no, the sheer charm and potent personality of Joan of Arc convinces Charles to say yes. If that weren’t impressive enough, he also makes her custom plate armour (well, I doubt he made it himself, he’s a king, he’d probably have got someone else to make it for her and then claimed all the credit) and gives her a sword and a banner (like a big flag to let everyone know she’s Joan of Arc).


Milla Jovovich as Joan of Arc from the 1999 film. Courtesy of Columbia Pictures.

The thing is, Charles’ gamble pays off. Joan of Arc goes to Domremy and convinces all the army commanders to listen to her. She then inspires the French troops to a feat of ludicrous heroism by leading them in a counterattack against the English. Joan was even shot by an arrow in the neck but that didn’t stop her from re-joining the fray, waving her banner, being awesome, and leading her forces to victory.


King Charles is crowned. You can see Joan of Arc on the right hand side.

Just like that, Joan of Arc, a peasant girl, had come out of nowhere to help defeat a seemingly undefeatable force. She did it all without even swinging her weapon, she simply held aloft her banner and inspired her countryman.

Joan wasn’t done though, she then led Charles and his army to Reims in order for Charles to be crowned. The French smashed through every army that tried to stop them. Joan assembled the army, directed artillery, and planned tactics. Where did she get all these crazy mad military skills from? She was leading armies at the age of 18 and bossing people around twice her age – it’s kind of unbelievable!



Joan is captured. By Eugène Lenepveu.

Joan saw to it that Charles made it to Reims and became King of France. She knew then that she had carried out God’s will. Joan kept on doing her thing, leading troops and being heroic, until she was captured by the English on 23rd May 1430. Joan attempted to escape several times, even leaping from a tower that was 21 meters in height. This is ridiculously high and would be like jumping off four giraffes stacked on top of each other. It’s not like she jumped into a pool of water either, as she leaped into a dry moat!


Sadly, Joan of Arc was unable to free herself and was finally executed on the 30th of May 1431. She was only 19 years old. Yet despite her young age, she had burnt a life so bright that it is still remembered to this day.