In 1425, at about 13 years old, Jeanne d’Arc, a peasant girl from Domrémy, France, heard divine voices for the first time. They urged her to fight for France, which had been captured by England during the Hundred Years’ War, in hopes of returning ownership of the country to its rightful heir, the exiled Charles Valois, son of Charles VI.
Three years later, the girl—who we, of course, know now as Joan of Arc—traveled over 300 miles, an 11-day trek crossing enemy lines, to Valois’ temporary court in Chinon, as the English had taken over Paris. She cut her hair and dressed in men’s clothes to avoid inevitable assault if she was dressed as a woman.
Divine voices told d’Arc if she fought against the English, she would also be able to see Valois’ coronation. After heavy examination, she convinced Valois and his court of these obtainable successes as well. On April 29, 1429, in white armor on a white horse, she was sent with troops to Orléans in the north, which had been occupied by the British. As promised, after successful battles she returned the city to French ownership on May 8, hailed as The Maid of Orléans. D’Arc led French troops to victory for another five weeks, including the capture of Reims, where French kings had historically been throned, with the would-be king himself in tow. Eventually Valois was coronated there in July 1429.
But her victories soon faded. In hopes of seizing Paris, she was captured by the Anglo-Burgundians then sold to the English. The English, skeptical of d’Arc’s divine interventions, charged her with some 70 crimes, including heresy, witchcraft, and dressing like a man. She was largely put on trial for English political gains, as a means to both discredit her and the French throne, which she had willed into continuation.
D’Arc refused to confess to their allegations, and on trial was declared a heretic and a liar. Dressing like a man in particular had also been deemed perverse and evil. Shown the stake where she was to be burned, she recanted, possibly in fear, and promised to give herself over to the church’s authority, start dressing like a woman, and accept life imprisonment. But before a final visit from the Bishop of Beauvais, Pierre Cauchon, she changed her mind.
“When, and why, did you revert to dressing as a man?” Cauchon asked her on May 28, 1431. He had hoped to execute her for his own political gain, and found in her clothing choice a reason. “I have done this on my own free will,” she replied. D’Arc felt urged by divine voices admonishing her for her fear-induced weakness, and agreed with their criticism.“Nobody has forced me; I prefer the apparel of a man to that of a woman.”
She was executed two days later. The English hoped she would vanish from social consciousness, but her relentlessness in the face of death bound her first to French memory, then that of the rest of the world, forever. Canonized in 1920, she became a patron saint of France.
Her visage became a constant motif of literature and the arts, especially fashion. It’s said Saint Joan was the unofficial inspiration behind the 2017 Met Gala for the “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination” exhibition. CR star Zendaya in particular arrived in full Joan-inspired Versace regalia. And there’s also Joan’s impact on collections of brands or designers like Alexander McQueen (Fall/Winter 2007 and 2011 quickly come to mind) and Jean Paul Gaultier, among countless others.
Despite her tragedy in death, Joan became an icon of uncompromising faith. Her memory lives on in clothing, a medium that led to her death, perpetually honoring her sacrifice for what she believed in.END
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