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Joan of Arc

Capture and Martyrdom

In Sept., 1429, Joan unsuccessfully besieged Paris. The following spring she went to relieve Compiègne, but she was captured by the Burgundians and sold to the English, who were eager to destroy her influence by putting her to death. Charles VII made no attempt to secure her freedom. In order to escape responsibility, the English turned her over to the ecclesiastical court at Rouen. She was tried for heresy and witchcraft before Pierre Cauchon and other French clerics who supported the English.

Probably her most serious crime was the claim of direct inspiration from God; in the eyes of the court this refusal to accept the church hierarchy constituted heresy. Throughout the lengthy trial and imprisonment she bravely fought her inquisitors. Only at the end of the trial, when Joan was sentenced to be turned over to a secular court, did she recant. She was condemned to life imprisonment. Shortly afterward, however, she retracted her abjuration, was turned over to the secular court as a relapsed heretic, and was burned at the stake (May 30, 1431) in Rouen. Charles VII made tardy recognition of her services by a rehabilitation trial in 1456 that annulled the proceedings of the original trial.

Joan was beatified in 1909 and canonized in 1920 (feast: May 30). Her career lent itself to numerous legends, and she has been represented in many paintings and statues. In literature and music she appears notably, though not always accurately, in works by many eminent writers and composers.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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