Against the backdrop of the bitter Hundred Years War, Saint Joan of Arc completed her novitiate and took her first vows to become a nun. Daughter of moderately wealthy farmer and local magistrate Jacques d’Arc, Joan had been a pious and upstanding girl. Around the age of 12 in 1424, she began claiming visions from God. In a field, she saw Saint Catherine (patron of girls), Saint Margaret (patron of peasantry and suffering), and Saint Michael (patron of war) stand before her and tell her to end the English domination of France, particularly by orchestrating the crowning of the Dauphin and reviving French nationalism. Four years later, she asked to go to the remnants of the French court, but her every request was denied, particularly by Count Robert de Baudricourt, leader of the local garrison who literally laughed at her. Discouraged, Joan returned home and decided to forget warfare.
Through temporary peaces, ongoing warfare, and even the Black Death, the Hundred Years War continued to roll onward. England made its greatest success at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356, where Edward’s army, outnumbered nearly three-to-one, defeated the French and even captured King John II. Mercenaries on either side ravaged the countryside already bled out by heavy taxation, leading to peasant uprisings such as the Jacquerie, which had to be suppressed violently. Afterward, the French began to reassemble, gradually taking back lands taken by the English. Irish rebellion, the Peasants’ Revolt against poll tax, and courtly intrigue with the death of Richard II slowed the English war effort, and the French faced their own problems as a civil war broke out between the House of Burgundy and the House of Armagnac, led by the French king, Charles VI who supported the antipope of the Western Schism.
The entire region of France was thusly split and split again by varying loyalties. There seemed no rational way of sorting out the political difficulties except through killing the opposition. The English took up an alliance with Burgundy, whose head John the Fearless had been assassinated while under King Charles’ protection, deepening the rift between the French. Burgundy insisted that Charles was illegitimate, and England hoped to use the division to firmly conquer France.
Joan wished to aid the French war effort, but her exclusion seemed final, and instead she turned toward aiding the national spirit through the Church. The French, meanwhile, pieced together an expedition in 1429 to lift the siege of Orleans and capitalize on the death of English King Henry V in 1422. Though it is questionable what impact an untrained girl could have had to change it, the expedition was a catastrophe. While the French initially made great impact on the English forces, the English stand at the fort of St. Loup turned back the tide. French troops, disheartened by the seemingly unbreakable English hold on France, retreated and suffered great causalities. The new English king, Henry VI, did not seem to have the heart to continue the bitter wars as his forefathers had, giving over rule increasingly to regents and his Burgundian allies.
Finally, in 1453, the war came to an end with a divided France. England faced bankruptcy and an empire that it could not afford to control. Instead, it sold much of its southerly holdings to Burgundy, who established their own kingdom in the north, creating a buffer between England and France proper, which stretched from Chinon southward. The two French kingdoms would routinely fight wars, finding themselves on either side of international conflicts in the coming centuries: the English Wars of the Roses, colonial wars among the Spanish, Dutch, and English, and the Republican War of 1789-95.
Through all of them, nuns of the famous Order of Joan would aid both sides with food and care, encouraging French cooperation and brotherhood. Visions of reunification, however, would not become realized, even after the toppling of communist south France in 1990.
In reality, Joan persevered her way though to the Dauphin and even passed a theological inquiry, gaining the support of French looking for a prophet of deliverance. She was instrumental in victory at Orleans, which gave Charles VII a militaristic upper hand and encouraged his coronation in 1429. Joan became captured at Margny in 1430 by Burgundians while leading the rear guard and covering retreat. She was sold to England, who put her on trial for witchcraft and burned her May 31, 1431. In 1456, she would be given a posthumous retrial and found innocent, then beatified in 1909 and finally canonized in 1920 as a patron of France.