Joan of Arc, otherwise known in French as ‘Jeanne d’Arc’ is a historical French heroine and a woman who changed the face of France, and of French history. Often nicknamed the ‘Maid of Orleans’, d’Arc was a woman who led uprisings in a time when men ruled for the most part and l’Hexagon was at war with the English. Now a canonised saint, here’s a quick guide to following in the footsteps on the trail of Joan of Arc in France…
A brief history of Joan of Arc
Prior to her involvement in the Hundred Year War, Jeanne d’Arc was a regular girl from the French countryside whose parents made their living from the land. As a devout Christian, she regularly worshipped in her local church and attended services on a weekly basis. Born sometime in 1412 (she was unsure as to her exact birthday, but may have been born on the 6th January), she died at aged just 19 years old on May 30th, 1431.
From a young age, Jeanne d’Arc said that she received visions from God, as well as several saints, and felt that she was being compelled to lead a French army against the English during the Hundred Year War. Two of the Saints Joan of Arc said she communicated with were Catherine of Alexandria and St. Margaret of Antioch, both of whom were women who refused to obey the orders of men.
A small patch of countryside just a few kilometres from her hometown of Domremy is where she would go to contemplate. Now, an ornate basilica constructed in her honour now sits on site. Joan of Arc was incredibly gifted in the art of persuasion and so in March of 1429, she made her way to the Loire Valley, together with an older relative.
Once among the grand châteaux which still populate the countryside of the Loire Valley to this day, she somehow managed to swing an audience with King of the time, Charles VI. So persuasive was she, that eventually, aged just 17, she ended up leading an army to victory against the English in Orleans. For the following two years, she would lead army after army to military victory…
On the historical trail of Joan of Arc in France
Domremy, Vosges, Grand-Est
Joan of Arc was born in a small, yet tightly knit community to the South of Paris which has since been renamed Domrémy-la-Pucelle (Dómremy of the Maiden) in honour of d’Arc. Located in the Vosges department of the Grand-Est region of France, today you can still visit the very house where Jeanne d’Arc was born, as well as the church where she regularly attended church services.
A mass is still held in the Catholic place of worship on a weekly basis. Elsewhere in the village, there’s a museum chronicling the life of Jeanne d’Arc as well as her many military achievements. Other things to see and do in Domremy include countryside walks and taking trips to other quaint towns in the Vosges.
Provins, Île de France
The pretty former medieval city of Provins is now a large town in the Île de France region and is an easy day trip from Paris. As the city was incredibly important during medieval times, Joan of Arc travelled through the French settlement at least once. A highly devout woman, she attended mass in the basilica during her travels and a small plaque to the exterior of the entrance commemorates this occasion.
Senlis, Oise, Hauts-de-France
Throughout France, there are plenty of memorials, plaques, and dedications to the now canonised Joan of Arc. During her lifetime, she crisscrossed l’Hexagon while partaking in various military campaigns and leading the armies she led to countless victories.
Within the stunning Senlis cathedral, you’ll find a plaque dedicated to the memory of Joan of Arc. Just a few kilometres outside of Senlis, on the plains of Senlis, is the site of a field where Joan of Arc led an army to victory against the Duke of Bedford.
Read more: A brief guide to the pretty town of Senlis.
Compiegne, Oise, Hauts-de-France
In a small town not far from the medieval city of Senlis, Joan of Arc was captured by rebellious Burgundian armies, who at that time were collaborating with the English while she was helping to defend the town from the aforementioned armies. The reward for her capture was 10,000 Livre tournois (a currency used during the Middle Ages).
Read more: 10 French Towns near Paris worth visiting.
Just one simple small plaque on the side of Auxerre cathedral announces that ‘yes,’ Joan of Arc once passed through the city. As the capital of the Yonne department and one of the largest cities in Burgundy, it should come as no surprise that there are plenty of things to do and even more attractions to see when it comes to Auxerre. But what you may not know is that Jeanne d’Arc actually passed through the Burgundian city twice.
The first was en route between Vaucouleurs to go to Chinon when she stopped at the Etienne Cathedral to attend mass, while her second visit to the city was markedly more difficult. During her voyage towards Reims, Joan of Arc was walking the route with King Charles VII when the residents of Auxerre refused to let them into the walled city. They only relented when offered money!
Now the capital of the Normandy region of France, Rouen is an ancient city characterised by its countless timber-framed houses, ancient churches, and endless maze of cobbled lanes. The city is worthy of a visit on any trip through Northern France and if you’re looking to follow the trail of Joan of Arc in France, then you definitely have to head to Rouen, where d’Arc’s trial took place.
During the trial of Jeanne d’Arc, she was accused of many things by the English and corroborating Burgundian armies, including of witchcraft and heresy. The trial was overseen by the Duke of Bedford and the Earl of Warwick, two prominent political figures of the time.
On the 30th May 1431, it’s alleged that Joan of Arc was executed, though plenty of later reports suggest (and we can only hope) that she managed to get away to safety. That being said, many eyewitness accounts say that d’Arc was burned at the stake following a largely unfair trial before her body was burned multiple times (to prevent relics being created) and her ashes thrown in the Seine.
Just twenty years following her untimely death and execution, a retrial of Joan of Arc was held. She was found innocent of all charges. In 1920, Joan of Arc was canonised and has since become a symbol of freedom in France. Now, tens of thousands of works have been written about her and she is remembered as having had an unwavering faith and a belief in France…
Sens, Bourgogne Franche-Comte
Located to the South of Paris, the pretty town of Sens has little by way of attractions and instead is more popular among French tourists. Home to a cathedral where Thomas a Becket once sought refuge, you can easily see the best of the town over the course of a day or two. During Joan of Arc’s travels through France, she passed through Sens. Today, a small plaque remembers this in the heart of the city.