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Joan of Arc: France's Young Tragic Hero

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• Part 2: Success and the End

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Map: France in 1429

Part 1: The Makings of a Hero

She was born the youngest of a family of five. Her father was a peasant farmer who had little money. She never learned to read or write. Yet in her short lifetime, she became one of history's most famous people.

Joan was born in Domremy on January 6, 1412. She was the youngest of five children. As a child, Joan played with other children but also enjoyed being alone. Like other girls, she was good at sewing and spinning. Unlike other girls, she claimed to hear "voices." She said it was the voice of angels speaking to her, and she also claimed to have seen them. She had always been especially devoted to her religion, Christianity.

She began to hear these voices in 1425, when she was 13. Three years later, she was convinced that God had spoken to her and told her to go to the service of the king, Charles VII.

The French at this time were involved in another war against the English. (The two countries had fought many wars before that time, including the Hundred Years War.)

In the current struggle, things were going badly for France. In 1428, Joan traveled to the neighbouring town of Vaucouleurs to see the king's commander there, Robert Baudricourt. This man first turned Joan away with a laugh. But the next year, when Joan correctly predicted a great French defeat outside Orleans (the Battle of the Herrings), Baudricourt was willing to listen. In fact, he let Joan go to the king himself, who was at the French city of Chinon.

Joan convinced King Charles VII of her sincerity and of her calling to help France defend itself against the English invaders. Despite the advice of most of his commanders, King Charles agreed with Joan, offering her a sword. Joan, however, spoke of a vision that she had of a great sacred sword buried in a nearby chapel. No one knew about this sword, but the king was so convinced that Joan was right that he ordered the area under the altar dug up. There was an ancient sword, just as Joan described it. Astonished, King Charles agreed to let Joan go to Orleans, where French forces were under siege. She left on April 30, 1429.

Her presence there had a swift and great effect. The English forts built to encircle the city were taken and the siege ended in an astonishing eight days. A month later, the French won again, at Patay. The following month, the French regained Troyes and then Reims. In an astounding three months, Joan of Arc had helped the French do what seemed impossible. The English were on the run.

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