She has been called a saint, a heretic, and "a diamond among pebbles." But who was this illiterate French peasant girl born in 1412, who in 15 months changed the history of western Europe and became, according to one historian, "the most widely known of all medieval women"?
Joan's father was the most prosperous farmer in the small French village of Domremy. She spun wool and gathered the harvest, a typical life interrupted only by occasional encounters with soldiers from the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453), the lingering conflict between France and England. Once English soldiers burned the village church; two other times Joan herded the livestock to safety from their marauding invasions.
One summer when Joan was about 13, she was working in her father's garden when she suddenly saw a bright light and heard a voice. The voice called her "Joan the Maid" and told her to live a virtuous life.
Voices came more often and gave instructions: Joan was to save France and help the dauphin (France's rightful heir) be crowned. Joan questioned how she could possibly accomplish these astounding feats. The voices said God would be with her.
God's messenger in armor
It would take nearly nine months to convince her hearers that she was divinely chosen to help France. With knights at her side, she rode over 300 milesacross enemy territory, at nightto tell the dauphin, Charles, of her plans.
Charles was unsure whether to receive her, so when Joan entered the 70-foot-long hall, filled with dozens of courtiers, the dauphin was not on his throne. Instead, dressed like the others, he mingled with the crowd. Somehow, Joan walked directly to him.1