• Dec 13, 2019

An Arc Family Timeline

by Laura Brueckner

Below are key points in the story of Joan and her family. Note: even among authorities, some dates (and the motivations of some figures) are contested. This is unsurprising, since different political factions were hard at work spinning the teenaged Joan’s life into a story - a story that fed into each party’s agenda - even as she was still living it.

1337 - France, England, and the territories of Burgundy enter the Hundred Years’ War. The war has many causes, including the need for national unity (England, rife with internal factionalism) and an interrupted royal line (France, where the king has died, and the widowed queen has disinherited the Dauphin, the king’s oldest living son).

1375 - Jacques Arc is born at Ceffonds, France - about 50 miles from Vouthon where, two years later, Isabelle is born. They marry and settle in Domrémy, a tiny village on the eastern border of France where it meets the Holy Roman Empire. Lands controlled by the Duke of Burgundy lie to the south. 

c. 1412/13 - Isabelle gives birth to a daughter, Jehanne (Joan), the fourth of five children. Preceded by older siblings Jacqemin, Jean, and Catherine, Joan is soon joined by younger brother Pierre. The family resides on 40 acres and runs a large flock of sheep. 

c. 1424 - Joan, aged 13 and already a target of local gossip for her piety, has her first holy encounter. While in her father’s garden, a light appears to her, and a voice “sent from God” encourages her to be good and go to church often. Over the next four years, as she will later testify, the voices and glowing figures become distinct - St. Catherine, St. Margaret, and the Archangel Michael. They speak to her several times a day, and begin urging her to install the disinherited Dauphin on the throne of France. 

July 1428 - Soldiers from Burgundy ride north into Domrémy, forcing its residents - including the Arc family - to flee for their lives, seeking refuge in a nearby town. They survive and return; others are not so lucky. 

October 1428 - The English lay siege to the French walled city of Orléans, 230 miles to the west of Domrémy. As the city struggles, Joan’s visions begin to urge her to gather an army and lift the siege, as well as crowning the Dauphin.

January 1429 - Sixteen-year-old Joan persuades her parents, Isabelle and Jacques, to let her visit relatives in a nearby village. Once there, Joan convinces her cousin Durand that her holy visions are genuine, and convinces him to take her to the commander of the nearby town of Vaucouleurs, in hopes of being sent to the Dauphin. The town’s commander resists at first, but, upon hearing Joan describe her holy mission (and after subjecting her to extensive tests of spiritual and physical purity), he lends her a small escort to travel 320 miles to Chinon and the court of the disinherited prince.

March 1429 - Joan arrives at the Dauphin’s court. Advisors administer weeks of focused (and intrusive) tests of her virtue, which she passes. The Dauphin agrees to give Joan troops to break the English siege; if successful, he knows that victory at Orléans will re-energize the demoralized French army, and also provide evidence that God was on his side, strengthening his claim to the throne of France. 

May 1429 - Nine days after Joan joins the French forces at Orléans, on the south bank of the  Loire River, the French forces (plus various civilian militias who assemble to follow Joan) break the siege at Orléans. Joan is struck by an arrow in the shoulder but survives; the episode spawns legends and further endears her to her troops.

July 1429 - Joan travels with the Dauphin to the cathedral at Reims, and attends the coronation where he is crowned King Charles VII. The mission given to Joan by her saints is complete.

1430 - Although her divinely-inspired mission is over, Joan continues to lead military campaigns, aiming to capture Paris. Forces loyal to Burgundy capture her instead, at Compiègne, and sell her to the English for 20,000 pounds. The English turn Joan over to the Church for an Inquisition trial for heresy. England knows that a conviction will destroy Joan’s claim to be the handmaiden of God, demoralize the French army afresh, and undermine both the divine and legal authority of King Charles VII, as a king who owed his throne to a heretic (and therefore a heretic himself). 

January 1431 - Joan is transferred to Rouen, and her heresy trial begins. The Inquisition procedures, helmed by Burgundy supporter Bishop Pierre Cauchon, involve over 100 Catholic bishops, theologians, scholars of canon law, and clergymen. Her conviction is a political necessity for England and therefore a quietly foregone conclusion; Cauchon urges her to recant (leading to a life sentence and spiritual salvation) rather than persist (leading to execution and damnation). Throughout, Joan’s responses to the Inquisitors’ interrogation remain clear, concrete, and often defiant. Her trial records, distributed internationally by Cauchon, provide modern scholars with the most detailed view of any trial of the Middle Ages.

May 1431 - Joan is burnt at the stake in the marketplace at Rouen. Her father, Jacques Arc, dies - reportedly of grief. 

1435 - English control of the region falters. France and Burgundy become allies. By 1453, the French have driven the English almost entirely out of France. 

1453 - The Hundred Years’ War ends. 

1455 - Pope Calixtus III officially opens an inquest to clear Joan’s name. The proceedings open with Joan’s mother, Isabelle, reading her petition to the assembled authorities to redress the slander and destruction of her daughter’s life. One hundred and fifteen witnesses testify at the new proceedings, including Dunois (whose forces broke the Siege of Orléans with Joan), friends from Domrémy, soldiers who had followed her, and priests from the original trial. The following July, the Catholic Church officially nullifies Joan’s condemnation, and burns a paper copy of her original trial proceedings in the market square at Rouen.