Amazingly, a girl of only nineteen changed a nation’s history. Joan of Arc had arguably the greatest impact on the Hundred Year’s War of any other person or event. Her impact was even greater than the superior technology of the English. Joan of Arc’s impact on the outcome of the Hundred Year’s War was not only military, but also religiously, inspirationally, and patriotically.
When the Hundred Year’s War began, it was fought amid France and England over the control of French land. For a time, it looked as if it would be an English victory. That all changed with one young maiden. Saint Joan of Arc altered the path of the entire war, changing the destiny of France. Without this iron-willed teenage girl, the Hundred Year’s War would have ensured the termination of France as it was then known.
Joan ignited a turning point in the war for France. Her spark inspired both the soldiers and the French peasants alike. Creating a patriotic and religious fire to defend their country in everyone with whom her path crossed. She proved to the people that the English were not, in fact, invincible at the Siege of Orleans.
Joan gave the troops a focus and a deep purpose from God. She inspired and gave new breath to the countrymen of France. Under the persuasion of Joan, Charles VII was coronated. “Though an illiterate adolescent girl, she humbled the greatest military power of the age [England], and gave her country a king to lead them out of bondage.” (Bonta)
Seventy years into the Hundred Year’s War, in a small kingdom that straddled the border between French and English territory, a baby girl, destined to save France, was born. At age thirteen, young Joan began to hear the voices of and receive visions from Saint Michael, Saint Catherine, and Saint Margaret. Through the visions and the voices, Joan believed that God was speaking to her, instructing her. The Saints urged Joan to meet with the Daulphin, gain his confidence, and assist in the liberation of France. Joan deeply believed that God wanted her to do this and that she must do this. Joan told people that her mission was “To rescue France. And it is appointed that I shall do it. For no one else in the world, neither kings, nor dukes, nor any other, can recover the kingdom of France, and there is no help but in me.” (Alden,75) After years of persistent badgering, Charles VII granted Joan command over 4,000 men.
The English triumph in the Hundred Year’s War appeared to be endless. The English military was technologically superior to that of the French.. The English longbow had a farther range than the French crossbow. The longbow line of attack allowed the English to defeat powerfully built French armies. The French suffered a major defeat in Agincourt in 1415. Using their new strategy, the English force of 5,000 wiped the floor with the French force of 40,000. (Bonta) The English had been attacking the city of Orleans for eighteen months when Joan and her small army arrived. The French forces were ready to surrender to the English assailants, but Joan compelled them to carry on. (Bonta)
Joan changed the pattern of success to favor the French. She led her small army to repeal the siege of Orleans, and she was successful. The siege of Orleans marked the first victory for France in decades. This first victory was the start of many more to come under Joan of Arc. She helped to overcome the “English reputation for invincibility in battle and unwavering resolution in the prosecution of sieges.” (Neilands,157) The French army and people were under the impression that England could not be beat; they saw the English as an insurmountable foe. No matter how hard they tried or the amount of faith they possessed, the French did not believe that they could defeat the English. Destroying this train of thought would be crucial to Joan’s success in winning this war. If the French could not fathom the idea of being able to win the war, they would be unable to win the war. After her first battle, Joan was well on her way to prove that France could fight back
After the Battle of Orleans, Joan and her army went on to defeat the English in surrounding cities. “Jargeau, Meung, and Beaugency fell in rapid succession” to Joan’s forces. (Bonta) Joan’s greatest conquest was Patay on June 18,1429. Two-thousand English were left dead on the battlefield and two hundred were taken prisoner. There were few French casualties. Joan was winning more battles, proving that France could defeat the English. “The news of the Maid’s success spread rapidly across France; the campaign of Orleans was the first English reversal in decades, and seriously tarnished the veneer of English invincibility.” (Bonta)
Before Joan of Arc came along, the French soldiers “lacked the confidence to challenge English armies, and therefore left themselves no opportunity to win a victory.” (Neillands,155) The wave of triumph under the command of Joan of Arc gave the French soldiers the confidence and focus they needed to win battles. A successful army can not second guess themselves; they must retain confidence. She was out to restore the confidence that would be vital if the French had any hope of winning this war.
Joan was winning over more and more Frenchmen, convincing them to believe in God and in themselves. The faith of this young girl inspired even the most battle-hearty soldiers to allow God to enter their lives. Joan provided the soldiers a reason from God to fight and to win. Joan of Arc “insisted on Godly conduct of her men.” She removed distractions from the military camps such as prostitutes and profanity. Joan invited priests to follow the army and live in the camps to encourage her men to pray and sing psalms. Joan made each and everyone of her men feel like they were completing God’s work; they all believed deeply in her cause. (Bonta)
One of the soldiers that Joan’s faith had inspired to reform was the famous French General La Hire. La Hire was known for being warlike and blasphemous. He surprised the masses when he began to take orders from Joan, and in turn the God. (Bonta)
On the front lines, Joan would call her men to attack by exclaiming “Go forward boldly in the name of God!” (Alden) She taught the soldiers to “let go and let God.” They began to slowly regain the momentum they once had at the start of the war.The endless succession of defeat was buried deep in the French soldier’s soul. Joan needed to change the direction of the rotation the war was taking “and the soldiers’ belief in divine intervention did the trick.” (Neillands157) Joan’s faith in God and the Saints helped spark the fire behind the French victories to come
In addition to the English possessing more efficient weapon, Joan encountered another setback towards the English artillery. England no longer depended on the nobles and knights to fight. Anyone could use a longbow, so the number of peasants joining the fight increased the number of the English forces. (Mortimer)
In turn, Joan needed to inspire the commoner and not just the common soldier. The fact that a man of position and power was even considering listening to Joan was significant. In this time period, the lower class was not taken seriously. Especially a young girl of the working class. Joan was simply a commoner, and she reminded the peasants that they could also help change the world. She renewed a lost sense of hope in peace. “In Jeanne, people saw the hand of God, fulfilling all of their hopes; hopes of an end to this interminable war, the final expulsion of the English and the Free Companies, and the creation of a France in which they, too, might have some share in the future peace and prosperity.” (Neillands, 253) This renewal of faith was important because it provided the average peasant with a purpose. They too wanted to fight for France’s freedom. They, too wanted to fulfill the will of God. The involvement of peasants and nationalism put France and England on a level playing field. Now, both countries did not need to rely solely on the noble class to fight. As long as the commoners served under a productive leader, such as Joan, they could help win the war.
Besides the losses on the battlefield, France fell victim to chavauchees. Chavauchees were massive raids of the French countryside. Entire villages were ransacked. Hundreds of people were killed, and the women were raped. French homes were looted for costly assets, then burned to the ground. (Bonta) The chavauchees coupled with the Black Death left the people of France vulnerable. The French people were unwilling to fight for anything except their survival.
The motivation Joan provided the lower class actually gave France a boost ahead of the English, in some respects. The English soldiers were fighting on foreign soil in order to secure control over foreign lands. The English had nothing to deeply believe in or be passionate about. Where as the French peasants were fighting for their homes and for their God. Fighting for God and one’s homeland provided the French with a greater purpose than the English.
Joan faced yet another road block as the English parliament gained more power. The English kingdoms were coming together under one ruler; England was becoming a unified nation. As a result, people became proud and wanted to fight not for their feudal lord, but for the King of England. (Bonta) France, on the other hand, consisted of several kingdoms with mixed alliances. The French kingdoms of Burgundy, Aquitaine, Maine, and Gascony were loyal to England. The English prevented the French ruler, Charles VII from formally being named King. Without a ruler in the seat of the crown, France had no stable political body to lead her.
Joan was determined to provide her homeland with an official king to lead them out of English captivity. Joan got her chance following the Battle of Patay, when the English gave ground, fleeing to Paris. “Now Jeanne, having done the work, having got herself wounded, having inspired the citizens of [Charles’] own town of Orleans, having rid that important city of that protracted siege, Jeanne, having turned herself into the popular heroine of France, Jeanne, that bother, that nuisance, was coming back to ask [Charles VII] to go and get himself crowned at Reims.” (Sackville-West, 201) Reims was located in the heart of enemy territory. Entering enemy territory to be coronated, disregarding the Treaty of Troyes, would be the ultimate sign to the French people that a stable France awaited them in the future. Joan was convinced that the coronation of Charles VII would give France the boost it needed to win the Hundred Years War. Charles was reluctant, but agreed in a compromise with Joan. They would take control of all of the cities on the way to Reims. (Sackville-West, 201)
Shortly after the coronation of Charles VII, Joan was captured by the Burgundians. She was handed into the custody of the Spanish Inquisition, where she was tried and burned at stake for being a heretic. “While Joan of Arc’s mortal mission came to a tragic end, the seed she planted with her courage and conviction lived on.” (Bonta)
As King, Charles VII made peace with the English ally of Burgundy. Charles and Phillip the Good of Burgundy signed the Treaty of Arras. The new allies retook Paris in 1440. In 1449, Normandy was liberated with a allied force of 30,000 troops. On April 15, 1450, King Charles finally forced the English out of France at Forminguy The battle left 4,000 English casualties, the worst defeat since the start of the war. Even after she was martyred, the man Joan helped gain total power eventually liberated France.
The Hundred Years War had been devastating the French countryside for seventy years, when “a girl came riding out of the east and within one short summer, sent the English on a retreat which continued until they were expelled from the kingdom, years after her death.” (Neillands, 152) “The tidings spread that a young girl has come who was appointed of God to save France. The common people flocked in crowds to look at her and speak with her, and her fair young loveliness won the half of their belief, and her deep earnestness and transparent sincerity won the other half.” (Alden)
Joan of Arc laid down the blueprint for French success. She helped changed the attitude of many Franks and continues to inspire patriots today. Joan, at nineteen years old, changed the outcome of a major war. She gave her country a leader, gave the soldiers a purpose, and gave France a hope. She began to win battles for France and began win back confidence and faith in the hearts of Frenchmen. Joan of Arc, martyred her country and God, was France’s first true patriot. If Joan would have chosen to ignore her visions, France may still be under English dictate.
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