There are not many historical records from the times of Joan of Arc. It is a guess that Joan was 19 years old when she was tried for heresy in 1431. So the date of her birth is estimated as January 6, 1412. She has become a French heroine and a devout Roman Catholic saint in the years after her execution. But there are many things that people do not know about this enigmatic historic personality.
Joan of Arc’s real name was Jehanne d’Arc, Jehanne Tarc, Jehanne Romee or may be Jehanne de Vouthon but she was not popular by any of these names. Joan never hailed from a place named Arc, as was the concept of Anglicization of her father’s surname, d’Arc may signify. Jehanne grew up in a small village named Domremy in norteastern France. She was the daughter of a farmer and her mother was a devout Christian. During her ecclesiastical trial in 1431 Joan referred her name as Jehanne la Pucelle or Joan the Maid, this means she never knew her last name. She later explained that her father was Jacques d’Arc and her mother was Isabelle Romee and in her hometown daughters used the surname of their mother. In medieval France the family names were not fixed and neither were they widely used. Romee simply means a person who has made a pilgrimage to Rome. Though another source claims that Joan’s mother’s original name was Isabelle de Vouthon.
Modern scholars and doctors have diagnosed Joan of Arc with disorders such as epilepsy and schizophrenia. Joan of Arc started hearing voices and experiencing Godly visions which she interpreted as signs of God around the age of 12 or 13. During her famous trial she claimed that angels instructed her to attend the church and live piously, but when English invaded France to establish Charles VII the angels told her to help the uncrowned heir to the French throne. Joan asserted that she saw a bright light which accompanied the visions. When she heard the voices bells also rang. Based on the mentioned details many experts feel that Joan was suffering from psychiatric or neurological problems which caused such delusions or hallucinations. These medical ailments might include migraine, brain lesion or bipolar disorder. Other theories suggest that she had contracted bovine tuberculosis which causes dementia and seizures. Such a medical state was caused as she drank unpasteurized milk and tended to cattle from an early age.
It is a staggering fact that Joan of Arc never actually fought a battle or killed anyone though she is considered to be the heroine of Hundred Years’ War. She would rather accompany the men as an inspirational mascot and wave her banner in place of any weapon. She was active in outlining military strategies, proposing diplomatic solutions for the English and directing her troops. Though she remained away from the front lines yet Joan was wounded at least twice in battles. Once she took an arrow on her shoulder in the famed Orleans campaign and on another instance a crossbow bolt hit her thigh in her bid to liberate Paris.
Joan of Arc had a volatile temper. Though she was only a young peasant girl but she never hesitated in giving a verbal blast to the prestigious knights if they behaved indecently, skipped mass or dismissed any of her battle plans. Once she even accused the noble patrons as spineless for their behaviour towards the English. At her trial one Scottish soldier (Scots had teamed up with French in the Hundred Years’ War) claimed that Joan had tried to slap him for stealing meat. She also drove away the mistresses or prostitutes who travelled with the army at sword point, may be even hitting a couple. According to the transcripts of court hearings when English joked about her and asked her what languages her voices spoke she got angry and replied back that they spoke French far better than the clergy raising the question.
Another unknown fact about Joan of Arc was that she was never burned at the stake for witchcraft initially. After being captured by the English in 1430 Joan was tried by an ecclesiastical court. There were 70 charges against her ranging from sorcery to horse theft. But the charges were brought down to 12 very soon. She was offered a choice of life imprisonment if she admitted her guilt, Joan even signed on such a document confessing her sins and promising the English to change her ways. But some days later Joan put on her male attire again as she was threatened of violence and rape by the guards. She also told the judges that she heard the voices over again in her cell. These two incidences made the judges believe that Joan would never let go of her beliefs and she was sentenced to burned at the stake.