Posted by Art Of Legend India [dot] Com On 1:56 AM
While Van Eyck was fulfilling a delicate commission to paint a likeness of the Portuguese princess Isabella, so that Philip of Burgundy could decide whether or not to marry her, a young French girl was embarking on a military career which would tip the balance of power between France and England.
As the New Year, 1429, dawned, France was in a turmoil. The French crown was claimed for the English boy king, Henry VI; and the claim seemed likely to be made good. Leaving their Burgundian allies to guard the north-east, the English were pressing south and had besieged the important town of Orleans. The French had become demoralized by a string of English victories, and the dauphin, Charles (last Charles VII), was still uncrowned; his legitimacy was in doubt and he was only recognized as king south of the Loire. But the next few months were to see one of the most remarkable phenomena of the late Middle Ages, the brief but spectacular career of Joan of Arc, whose convictions changed history.
In January, 1429, Joan was 17 years old, a simple farmer's daughter from the village of Domremy in Lorraine. But from the age of 13 she had seen visions and heard voices she identified as the Archangel Michael and Saints Catherine and Margaret. Her voices told her that it was her mission to lead France to victory and see Charles crowned at Reims.
The previous summer, in 1428, she had tried to persuade the local French captain at Vaucouleurs, 12 miles away, to help her in her mission. The captain did little, and when the news of the siege of Orleans came through, she dressed in men's clothes, had her hair cut short and, in January, 1429, set off to find the dauphin herself. Early in March, she presented herself at the Chateau of Chinon, where she proved immediately that she was either heaven-sent or extremely intelligent. For Charles had told one of his courtiers to take his place on the throne before Joan entered the room, but she had no trouble in picking out the true king at first sight which may or may not have had something to do with his notoriously unprepossessing appearance. At any rate, Charles was won over, and after a thorough investigation into her religious credentials, Joan was given a suit of white armour, a black charger and her own banner and pennon, and sent to Tours to join the army. Joan is said to have supplied her own sword, miraculously indicating the spot where one lay buried behind an altar.
Whether inspired or simply fanatical, Joan had immense charisma and even greater courage. Where she led, the soldiers of France would follow. She was absolutely convinced that God was on the side of France. The three letters she dictated and sent to her enemies reflect her confidence 'You Englishmen, who have no right in the kingdom of France the King of Heaven commands you by me, Joan the Maid, to leave your strong-holds and return to your own country!'. By May, the French had driven the English besiegers from Orleans and, as the French overran the English bastilles, it was Joan who planted the first scaling ladder. A series of brilliant victories followed. With the enemy badly shaken, Joan spurred on the dilatory Charles to enter Reims, and in July he was finally crowned in the Cathedral with 'the Maid of Orleans' standing by his side.
By the end of the year, Joan's run of success began to falter and in the autumn she was wounded in the thigh with an arrow though her fellow soldiers had to drag her by force from the battlefield. But she remained an enormous inspiration to the French and when the English captured her the following year they tried desperately to have her discredited with a show trial, before allowing her to be burned at the stake as a dangerous and influential heretic.
The English dislike of Joan was understandable. At the beginning of 1429, they were poised to overrun all France. By December, they had been pushed back into the region round Paris and the alliance with Burgundy was less sound than it had been before the maid intervened.
Writer – Marshall Cavendish