Jeanne d’Arc (hereafter referred to by her English name, Joan of Arc) was born circa 1412 to devout Catholic parents in the small village of Domrémy, France. At a time when virtually all women were expected to spend their lives sewing, milking goats, and having children, she instead would turn the tide of a century-long war and fundamentally change the course of world history.
Because Joan of Arc’s life was so deeply intertwined with the events of the Hundred Years’ War, a brief time line of the conflict is necessary to understand her actions and motives. The Hundred Years’ War (actually, a series of wars that would last 116 years) began in 1337 as an inheritance dispute between France and Britain over the French monarchy.
In 1066, the Norman king William the Conqueror took over England but also retained his claim to the French throne.1 Many generations later, in 1328, King Charles IV of France died. This meant that, according to a longstanding treaty, William’s descendant, Edward III, would accede to the throne in the absence of a more legitimate French heir—or so the English thought.2 Instead, France crowned Philip VI king, effectively ignoring the treaty from England’s perspective. An enraged Edward invaded France in 1337, but the conflict remained unresolved in 1360. By then, both countries were tired of war, for the time being, so France offered Edward a large chunk of land in the north in exchange for relinquishing his claim to the French throne, and he accepted.
In 1380, France crowned Charles VI, who was quite insane (he believed that his body was literally made of glass). He was such an incompetent ruler that in 1407, the French Houses of Orléans and Burgundy began fighting one another, each seeking to replace Charles with one of their own.
In 1413, one year after Joan’s birth, Henry V was crowned king of England. In yet another attempt to take the French throne for England, he tried to marry one of Charles’s daughters. Charles refused, and the two countries went to war yet again. In 1420, the French House of Burgundy officially allied with England and enlisted the aid of Charles’s wife, Isabeau of Bavaria, to convince him to sign the Treaty of Troyes, which positioned Henry to inherit the French throne upon Charles’s death.3 However, both kings died at nearly the same time, Henry dying shortly before Charles, meaning that his ten-month-old son, Henry VI, was officially the king of both countries. . . .