On May 30, 1431, nineteen-year-old Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. The charge? Witchcraft.
In 1429, an illiterate peasant girl residing in the tiny city of Domremy, France, began a relentless pursuit to gain an audience with the heir to the French throne, Charles VII. How she managed it is a story in itself and will not be dealt with here. That she received it, is, of course, documented fact. Her mission, she said, was twofold: First, to end the Hundred Years War thereby freeing France from the yoke of England; and second, to ensure that Charles VII was crowned king of France, thereby allowing him to rightfully ascend the throne.
Toward that aim, she was given command of the military might of an entire nation, and after almost one hundred years of constant defeat and humiliation, the cowardly and hopelessly outnumbered armies of France were, as if by magic, transformed into a military machine, steamrolling mercilessly over anything that stood in its path. Seasoned officers, with twenty and thirty years field experience, unquestioningly obeyed the orders of a child. The rampant criminal element which pervaded her troops-men who had never in their lives paid heed to anyone’s orders but their own-loyally obeyed the orders of Joan of Arc .
Then, when she deemed the time was right, Joan, almost by force, took the sniveling Charles by the hand, and accompanied by her armies, escorted him through still heavily-occupied France to the city of Rheims where he was crowned the king of France. Not a drop of blood was spilled along the way as a dozen or more English-held cities, one after the next, surrendered to the child.
Two months it took her to all but end a war that had gone on for close to a century.
At various points during her two years in the limelight, Joan of Arc demonstrated a knowledge of the law which enabled her to run rings around the most learned legal minds of the day. Additionally, she argued theology with the highest order of the clergy Charles VII could throw at her leaving them in a state of bewilderment and with no choice but to bow to her claim that she had been sent from God. And on the battlefield, her savvy military know-how left the generals under her command in a constant state of wonderment, as her innovative strategies brought them victory upon victory upon victory.
Then, for political reasons too involved to delve into here, she was betrayed by a traitor hidden deep within the ranks of the king’s entourage. A trap was set resulting in Joan’s capture. For a year she lay starved and beaten in a dungeon, her wrists and ankles fettered by close and heavy chains. ‘Why?’ I hear you roar, was there no attempt to rescue her? How could an entire nation be so ungrateful as to allow their savior to be treated thus? And at the hands of those very oppressors from whom she had so recently freed them? Alas, that was the way of the French. Joan of Arc was the only source of courage they had ever known, and with her gone from their midst, the peoples of France reverted to their cowardly ways; an act of bravery would have been as difficult for them to perform as setting sail for, and actually reaching, the Constellation of Orion.
My gentle reader, should you doubt my words, then hear these: The last two years of Joan of Arc’s life are the best documented of any person in history. Not once, but twice. And both times, under oath. The first was at the Trial of Condemnation at which the finger of a rigged jury pointed the way to the burning stake. The second-the Trial of Rehabilitation-occurred twenty years later, wherein scores of witnesses who had known her personally told the story. This time, and with no rigged jury anywhere in sight, the bravest, purest, and most tenacious soul who ever lived was cleared of all charges.
And just as Jesus on the cross forgave his executioners, so too, Joan of Arc , with the flames licking at her ankles, forgave hers. But unlike Jesus who asked, “Father, why hast thou forsaken me?” Joan of Arc’s faith in God never wavered for an instant.