Famous Dead Person of the Week: Joan of Arc
Name: Joan of Arc
Life: Sometime in 1412 – May 30, 1431
Occupation: Peasant, revolutionary, martyr, saint
Why She’s Famous: Profiled in one of the best Wishbone episodes of my youth.
Fun Fact: Once attempted to escape prison by jumping off a 70-foot high tower into a dry moat; did not work.
Pretty much any time someone runs through a list of women that changed the world – which I’m sure happens to you all the time – Joan of Arc’s name gets mentioned. If you struggle long enough, you can remember hearing her name in history class back in the day: claiming that God was on her side, she helped France win several crucial victories in the Hundred Years War, ultimately winning French independence. Sadly, she was captured and sold to the English who, presumably mad since her actions lost them control of France, tried her as a heretic and burned her at the stake.
There are two ways to look at everything (not just this case; I mean everything in the entire world, but that’s for another day): analytically and cynically. Having come out on the wrong side of a few battles and lost control of the French throne, I suppose the perturbed English were within their medieval rights to kill the heroine of France. As far as I can tell, that was a perfectly reasonable conclusion to come to back in the Middle Ages – lose, get mad, burn someone at the stake, justify murder on trumped up charges. Heck, some variation of that probably goes on still today.
At the same time, I can see how the English may have been a little overeager on this one. Back in the day, women were considered inferior – not “You shouldn’t get a raise” inferior, but “You should sleep out in the shed with the goats” inferior. So maybe England – a good ol’ boys club if there ever was one – decided to save some face by capturing, convicting and killing the woman (gasp!) that had the audacity to defy the English. To the English, it was sort of a “Get back in the kitchen, missy” moment. Don’t worry Joan; the good ol’ USofA had your back a few hundred years later.
To France’s credit, not everyone would’ve rallied behind an illiterate farm girl in the 15th century, although getting beaten like a rented mule for seventy years makes people less reticent to go against normal procedures. I seriously can’t believe I just gave France credit for anything.
Still, you don’t get to be a martyr without dying so on May 30 1431 Joan of Arc was burned at the stake after a comical trial and imprisonment that makes our own judicial system look stupendously well-run. Highlights: no lawyer, only tried by Englishmen, forced to sign a document she didn’t understand (think we’ve all been there), forced to wear dudes clothing to avoid being raped in prison which led to a second heresy conviction and her eventual execution.
Like everyone in the Middle Ages she was nominated for and received sainthood, which I’m sure was of great comfort to her remains. She was also given a posthumous retrial, which just goes to show that even courts in the 1500s were willing to waste money on stupid things.