Joan of Arc statue by Paul Dubois, Meridian Hill Park (Washington, D.C.)
On May 30, 1431, a young French woman, barely 19 years old, was burned at the stake in Rouen. Why does the story of Joan of Arc’s short life continue to live on in our history?
Joan was born in a small French village during the 100 Years’ War between England and France. Believing a divine power was guiding her, she convinced France’s uncrowned King Charles VII to place her in charge of an army. Her troops were victorious in Orléans and elsewhere, leading to Charles’ coronation in Rheims. But in May 1430, Joan was captured in battle, condemned by Church authorities as a relapsed heretic, and put to death at the stake. But Joan’s story was far from over. A retrial, held in 1455-56, nullified the original verdict. The Catholic Church declared Joan venerable in 1904, beatified her in 1909, and canonized her in 1920. Is Joan then a saint of the Church or the mother of a nation? Why does she continue to capture our imagination?
Kevin J. Harty, medievalist and popular-culture scholar, examines the many facets and complexities of Joan of Arc’s life and legend in a fascinating talk highlighted by examples of works of art, music, literature, advertisements, and film and television inspired by the Maid of Orléans.
Harty is professor and former longtime chair of English at La Salle University in Philadelphia. His most recent book is Medieval Women on Film (2021).
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