Joan of Arc: Her Mission

Guest Article written by: Samia Chebbah

Place du vieux
Place Du Vieux Marché Rouen where Joan of Arc died

Hello everyone, my name is Samia, I live in Rouen, Normandy in France where Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake on Wednesday 30th May, 1431, at the age of 19. We know she was 13 when she heard voices from three saints, Saint Michael, Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret. Apparently, God sent them to her to tell her that she would be the one who would save France, drive the English out of the country and last but not least, have King Charles VII crowned at Reims Cathedral on July 17, 1429. Although Charles was the legitimate heir of his father, Charles VI of France, he was not allowed to become king of France. Indeed, the signature of the Treaty of Troyes in May 1420 between the King of France and Henry V of England gave the throne of France to the king of England who was going to marry the princess Catherine of Valois, Charles VI’s daughter.[1] That left little hope to Charles to become king one day. His only luck was that both his father and Henry V died in 1422.

After this brief recap, let’s go back to Joan of Arc’s story which was short but full of mystery.  The even more mystical part of it is that it is said that centuries before she was born, soothsayers said they foresaw her mission.

The most popular versions are those of Merlin, the famous enchanter and Marie d’Avignon. It is even said that Joan herself envisioned her own death.

Let’s start with Merlin. His prophecies are collected in Prophecii Merlini by Geoffrey Monmouth[2] in the 12th century. Monmouth’s life is not well documented and historians often use words such as ”traditionally”.[3] This is understandable since at that period, the accounts were oral. It was often based on hearsay. Some also said that some parts of the collection were invented.[4]

Apparently, Merlin foresaw two things. First of all, he said ”ex nemore Canuto eliminabitur puella” meaning ”from Le Bois Chenu, a maiden will come” He also said ”Descendet virgo dorsum sagitarii et flores virgineos obscurabit.” meaning ” she will ride down the back of the Sagittarius”.[5] Le Bois Chenu was a wood which belonged to Joan’s father, Jack of Arc and the Sagittarius, reminded of the shape the English archers.[6] In this imagination of Joan of Arc riding down the english archers, one can understand that she will succeed in defeating the English. Since Merlin is a legendary figure. Can we believe it? Indeed, in my research, he existed either in literature and some he truly existed because of the prophecies.  Some even said that he descended from the Devil.[7] His very existence is as mysterious as how it was possible that in 1429 a young girl was allowed to wear an armor to fight and to top it all, have a king crowned! But there must be some truth in it because how could Geoffrey Monmouth relate the prophecies?

cross (3)
Cross in Memory of Joan of Arc, Place du Vieux Marché

Closer to Joan of Arc’s lifetime, Marie Robine, also known as Marie of Avignon (in the south of France) because she settled down in this city, was considered insane. Her predictions started when she was cured from paralysis.[8] In total, she had 12 visions which are collected in Marie Robine’s Book of Revelations. It is said that she told King Charles VI of France, father of the future Charles VII, that ”she had a vision where she could see numerous arms. She feared that she had to use them but she was told that they were meant for another maiden that would come after her.”[9] It is even said that Charles VII himself might have remembered the conversation between his father and Marie Robine.[10]The account was oral, based on hearsay and related during the revision of Joan of Arc’s trial in 1456 that gave way to a rehabilitation[11]. To this extent, we cannot be sure of the veracity of the facts. What is more, I have found a source that contradicted the fact that Marie Robine foresaw Joan of Arc. Indeed, the historian Noël Valois makes it clear that after reading The Book of Revelations, he had found no mention to the Joan of Arc episode.[12]

The white sign, the very place where she died

Joan of Arc herself foresaw her mission. She supposedly knew that the Dauphin Charles would eventually be restored. She also predicted that the English would be defeated and driven out of France, except for those who would die there. She gave the very localization of Charles Martel’s Sword inside the Church of Fierbois. Eventually, she asked the voices if she would be burnt at the stake.[13]

The white sign, the very place where she died
The white sign, the very place where she died

The question of the sword is essential since it was that very one that Jeanne D’Arc used to fight. Charles Martel was a descendant of Charlemagne (King of the France in 8th century).[14] Martel defeated the Arabs in Poitiers in 732 and gave his sword to the said church. The voices supposedly told Joan about where she would find it and fight with it herself.[15]

Other soothsayers were said to have foreseen Joan of Arc. Among them, Pierre de MonteAlcino, St Bede the Vulnerable, Jean de Montalcin, Euglide of Hungary. They are mentioned but little is known about what was said exactly.

Interesting fact:

Satue JA (2)
Photo Copyright: Samia Chebbah

During her trial for heresy and witchcraft, which started on February 24th 1431, Joan of Arc was asked to dress like a woman and to deny that God gave her the mission to save France. She did not until May 24th when the Bishop of Beauvais Pierre Cauchon decided to stage her execution. In fact, Joan of Arc carried on saying that she would not stop fighting and wearing men clothes as long as God did not stop her.[16] Everything was done in due form during the fake execution episode for even the executioner, Geoffroy Thérage, was present. That was cruel but seemed to work on Joan. Indeed, she accepted to wear women’s clothing again and her death sentence was commuted into a life sentence.[17] A source explains the reason why Pierre Cauchon did not accept Joan of Arc’s mission to crown Charles VII. In fact, the bishop was a counsellor of the King of England, Henry V. In fact, on May 21st 1420, King Charles VI of France signed the Treaty of Troyes, an alliance with England through the marriage of Catherine of Valois (his daughter) and King Henry V of England[18]. That Treaty stipulated that Henry V would become King of France after Charles VI’s death, even though the latter had an heir, Charles. So If Charles VII really was the king of France, that meant that Joan of Arc’s mission (saving France and have the Dauphin crowned) were legitimate.[19] The life sentence also dissatisfied the English. Unfortunately, Joan of Arc returned to her old habits of wearing men clothes and was sentenced to death again.[20] It is said that the executioner, Geoffrroy Tthérage, was moved by the death of Joan of Arc ”and feared that God would never forgive him for he did.”[21]

NB : Most of the sources are in french, if you are interested and need more explanation about this article, I will gladly help you.
[1]https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trait%C3%A9_de_Troyes
[2]http://medievales.revues.org/5513
[3]http://www.britannia.com/history/arthur/geofmon.html
[4]http://www.britannia.com/history/arthur/geofmon.html
[5]http://channelconscience.unblog.fr/2012/10/30/propheties-du-moyen-age-2eme-partie/
[6]https://medievales.revues.org/5800#ftn28
[7]https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merlin
[8]https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_Robine
[9]http://www.persee.fr/doc/mefr_0223-5110_1986_num_98_1_2857
[10]Liocourt, de, Ferdinant. La Mission de Jeanne D’Arc, Volume 2. Source Internet
[11]  I visited the Historial Jeanne D’arc in Rouen which is mostly about the revision of her trial. I was told that       Charles VII needed that revision because she was the reason why he was king and she was sentenced to death because she was said to be a witch. In order to legitimate his title, he needed her to be rehabilitated.
[12]Valois, Noël. Jeanne D’Arc et la Prophétie de Marie Robine. Source Internet.
[13]https://archive.org/stream/lavraiejeanneda03ayrogoog#page/n527/mode/2up
[14]http://www.history.com/topics/charlemagne
[15]http://www.jeannedomremy.fr/S_ChinonRouen/fierbois.htm
[16]Les Mini Larousse. Jeanne D’Arc. Editions Larousse, 2012.
[17]Les Mini Larousse. Jeanne D’Arc. Editions Larousse, 2012.
[18]http://www.larousse.fr/encyclopedie/divers/trait%C3%A9_de_Troyes/147556
[19]http://www.histoire-normandie.fr/le-proces-de-jeanne-darc-le-role-de-pierre-cauchon
[20]Les Mini Larousse. Jeanne D’Arc. Editions Larousse, 2012.
[21]http://www.brogilbert.org/joan-arc/6jofa_ordeal.HTM

About the Author: Samia Chebbah

SnHLuCicI live in France and french is my mother tongue. I am in love with the History of England ! Whenever I go there, visiting castles is my top priority ! My favourite period is the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance. So it came as no surprise that when I had to decide the dissertation topic for my Master’s Degree, the English monarchy was my first choice. And so I talked about the ennoblement of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII’s race for supremacy. I am very curious and always have to make some researches when I learn about a new historical event! I have found it to be very enriching to do so because it always leads to another fact. This is the magic of history I guess!

Catherine of Valois: Family History with Mental Illness

catherine-of-valois-family-history-withmental-illness

Catherine of Valois, daughter of King Charles VI of France and Isabelle of Bavaria was born into royalty at the royal palace of the Hôtel Saint-Pol in Paris on 27 October 1401.

Catherine’s father was called, “Charles the Mad” because of his bouts with mental illness.  Through my research I’ve discovered that he is not the only family member with mental illness. There were more – it’s almost alarming and mostly surprising that she did not suffer from it herself.

Catherine’s father, Charles VI was mentally ill, he is believed to have suffered from schizophrenia, Charles experienced delusions, believing he was made of glass or denying he had a wife and children. He ran from room to room until he collapsed from exhaustion, declaring that his enemies were upon him. Charles’ illness is believed to have been later inherited by his grandson, Henry VI of England. Charles’ ancestors were closely related. His mother, the French Princess, Joan of Bourbon (1338-1377) was slightly unstable, as were her brother, Louis, Duke of Bourbon, her father and grandfather, she suffered a complete nervous breakdown in 1373 after the birth of her seventh child.” ¹

In general, medieval Europeans allowed the mentally ill their freedom, as long as they were not dangerous to others. With that being said there were often times when the mentally ill were labeled as witches or said to be possessed by demons.



I’m not sure how they treated Charles VI for his illness but it is known that common “remedies” were: Bleeding of the humors, exorcism, shaving a cross on the head of the “infected” person and having them drink ice-cold water.

Did the royal family understand that this was something that was genetic? Obviously it was passed down through the generations. Some were spared but some of the unlucky ones had a very confusing and difficult life. Did Catherine of Valois understand that when she had a child that it was possible this child could also carry this family “curse?”

The early years for Catherine of Valois were not as rich and glamorous as one might expect of a royal family. She was the tenth child of her parents and at the time France was in chaos due to her father’s bouts of insanity.² This left an opening for other countries, like England, to fight for throne of France.

In 1405, Henry IV of England had suffered the first of many debilitating illnesses. In pain, and clearly unable to rule his nation he ceded power to his council, which included his son, Henry, also known as “Hal.” Over the final years of King Henry’s reign it is believed there was tension between the king and his son. It is said that when the king lay dying his young son took the crown from his head. Still alive, Henry IV asked his son what right he had to the crown since it had been won in blood and not received through a divinely blessed hereditary line. Hal replied, “As you have kept the crown by the sword, so will I keep it while my life lasts.

Henry V

In early July 1415 the now reigning King Henry V declared his intention to fight for the throne of France. He claimed it through his lineage to Edward III – his great-grandfather. Edward III’s mother was the daughter of the French king Philip IV. Henry V saw this as his right to France since the French king, Charles VI, was widely known to have bouts of madness and was unable to rule his own country.

England advanced upon France and captured Harfleur, then marched to Calais. He defeated the french at Agincourt with his army outnumbered (6,000 vs. 20,000) and then returned to London where he was acclaimed as King Henry V of England and France by his subjects as he rode through the streets of London.

From 1417 – 1419 there was a second campaign on France and Henry captured Caen and Rouen, capital of Normandy. At this point France had suffered many losses and the remaining leaders were ready to come to an agreement with Henry V.

The Treaty of Troyes in 1420 brought together Catherine of Valois and Henry V. The Treaty of Troyes was an agreement that King Henry V (of England) and his heirs would inherit the throne of France (instead of Charles’ son, the Dauphin) upon the death of King Charles VI of France. It was signed on 21 May 1420 after Henry’s successful military campaign in France. ³

Marriage of Catherine & Henry V
Marriage of Catherine & Henry V

Henry V thought Catherine was a beautiful young woman and it wasn’t long after their marriage that she gave birth to a son – Henry on 6 December 1421 at Windsor. This son, and prince, would soon inherit the throne…as an infant. On 31 August 1422, as Henry V lay dying of dysentery (or cancer, depending on what you read) he appointed his brothers as regents of his domains.

Catherine, now dowager queen was nearly 21 years old upon the death of her husband. Her father, King Charles VI died a few months after her husband which left her son to also inherit the throne of France, per the Treaty of Troyes. Catherine doted on young Henry during his early years.

Since the dowager queen was so young Parliament passed a bill (1427-1428) which set forth the provision that if Catherine remarried without the king’s consent her husband would forfeit his lands and possessions. Any children of said marriage would not suffer punishment. The king’s consent was contingent upon his having attained his majority. At that time, the king was only six years old.

Young Henry would be crowned King of England when he was eight years old – in 1429. Catherine continued to live in her son’s household so she could care for the young king. This was also beneficial to the council because they could keep a watchful eye on the dowager queen.

Henry Vl
Henry VI

Eventually Catherine started a secret relationship with Owen Tudor while living at Leeds Castle.[1] Owen was the keeper of Catherine’s wardrobe. Legend says that Owen caught the Queen’s eye when she saw him swimming, or that he tripped and fell into her lap when dancing.



No documentation has survived of Catherine’s marriage to Owen Tudor.  Owen and Catherine produced at least five children in all. Edmund, Jasper and Owen Tudor were all born away from court. My research has also unearthed that they may have had two daughters (Tacinda & Margaret), however I have been unable to confirm those reports.

Towards the end of the summer of 1436, while pregnant with her fifth child rumours of the Queen’s secret marriage appear to have reached the Duke of Gloucester. Upon further investigation the truth of the matter was revealed and the Duke acted swiftly and decisively. We are told that, ‘the high spirit of the Duke of Gloucester could not brook her marriage. Neither the beauty of Tudor’s person nor his genealogy, descended from Cadwallader Kings, could shield him or the Queen from sharp persecution as soon as the match was discovered.’ The Queen’s household was dissolved with immediate effect. Catherine was parted from her children the eldest of whom were sent to live with Catherine de la Pole, sister of the Earl of Suffolk, Owen was confined to Newgate and Catherine was sent to Bermondsey Abbey.

By this time the heavily pregnant Queen was gravely ill and deeply distressed by this enforced separation from her husband and children. Not long after entering Bermondsey she gave birth to a daughter, christened Margaret, who died shortly after her birth. Overcome by illness and trauma it appears the Queen never recovered. Even the ‘tablet of gold, weighing thirteen ounces on which was a crucifix set with pearls and sapphires’ an elaborate token of remembrance sent to Bermondsey from her son, Henry VI failed to revive her spirits. On 3rd January 1437, Catherine of Valois, Queen of England died a broken woman. – Source of Quote: Britannia 

When Henry VI came of age it is said that he never forgave his uncle, Duke of Gloucester for the harsh treatment his mother had experienced. Henry subsequently knighted his stepfather Owen, made him Warden of Forestries, and appointed him a Deputy Lord Lieutenant.

Mental illness once again crept into this family when Henry VI went into a catatonic state, August 1453, Henry experienced some kind of mental breakdown and became completely unresponsive to everything that was going on around him for more than a year. During this time his queen, Margaret of Anjou gave birth to a son, Prince Edward and Henry failed to respond to his birth.

It seems Henry inherited this condition from his grandfather, Charles VI of France. I’m curious if his son, Edward was also inflicted by this awful hereditary disease. Unfortunately we’ll never know - his life was cut short when he was killed at the Battle of Tewkesbury when he was only 17 years old.

Sources/References:

¹ - http://www.englishmonarchs.co.uk/plantagenet_36.html  (paragraph 2)
² - http://www.britannia.com/history/biographies/catherine_valois.html
³ - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Troyes
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Royal Britain, by Charles Phillips (pages 82-87)
Kings and Queens of Great Britain, David Soud