With some figures in church history, you know exactly where they stand. You could put a white hat on them—they’re the good guys. With other figures in church history, you again know exactly where they stand: on the other side. You could put a black hat on them—they’re the bad guys. And then there are those figures in church history that we are not quite sure what to do with.
Joan of Arc fits into the third category. Joan was a very colorful person, not only in church history but in history in general. She was a farmer, born in a small town in France in 1412, 105 years before Martin Luther posed his Ninety-Five Theses. This was at the height of the latter Middle Ages, and Joan was every bit a woman of her times. She was illiterate, like most people at the time, but she was raised in a very pious home and she was a very pious individual.
Now, we need to back up and take a look at the bigger picture. The Hundred Years’ War was going on between England and France; it concerned the succession of the throne of France. Henry V of England was victorious and was recognized as heir apparent to the French throne. However, he soon died and was succeeded by his infant son Henry VI. The English began to take territory in northern France and to move into the villages there. Many of the residents of Joan’s village fled.
In 1425, when she was 13, Joan started having visions. She claimed that she was told to save France from the oppressive English king and to restore the throne to a Frenchman. Three years later, at the age of 16, she started gathering supporters, and she even got the attention of the prince of France, the future Charles VII. Charles met with her and agreed to equip her with an army. Joan set off into battle, and she was successful. She drove the English forces from Orléans, and as a result, Charles was able to be secure the throne of France.
But that wasn’t good enough for Joan. She wanted to rid all of France of the English, and at this point she lost Charles’ support. The tables turned, and her forces were defeated in 1430. She was taken captive and held prisoner for a year. In 1431, she initially recanted of her assertions against England and of the heresy of which she was accused. But then she received a vision saying that her recantation was wrong, and she once again reaffirmed her assertions and her calling before God. Well, this was enough for her to be taken and burned at the stake. And May 30, 1431, Joan of Arc’s young life came to an end.