On 6th March 1429 Joan of Arc finally achieved her ambition of being accepted as the person who would serve her king and lead him to victory.
The situation for Charles VII was desperate. Much of France was under the control of England and her Burgundian allies. The city of Orleans was under siege, and Rheims, in the cathedral of which French kings were traditionally crowned, was in English hands. Charles had taken refuge in the castle at Chinon, where he held court.
Joan, a peasant girl who claimed that she had had visions of saints who told her to lead an army against the enemies of France, had not found it easy to get anyone to believe her – perhaps not surprisingly.
Her first attempt had been in April 1428, when the captain of the garrison at Vaucouleurs had told 16-year-old Joan not to waste his time. However, when she returned the following year she impressed the captain with her sincerity and piety and he sent her with an escort of six armed men on an 11-day journey through occupied territory to Chinon.
She arrived on 4th March, telling the courtiers who received her that her God-given mission was to raise the siege of Orleans and conduct the king to Rheims for his coronation.
The king refused to see her for two days, but then – so the story goes – devised a cunning plan to test her sincerity. If her quest was indeed a “mission from God” she would have no problem in knowing who he was, even though they had never met before, or so he reckoned. He therefore disguised himself among his courtiers, but Joan had no trouble in picking him out immediately and bowing before him.
Whether or not one believes this tale, the rest is, as they say, history. Joan was able to fulfil both her promises within four months. The army she led to Orleans forced the English to lift the siege on 8th May and Charles was crowned at Rheims on 17th July.
© John Welford