Joan of Arc

The teenage girl who helped lead a French army to victory

Joan of Arc knew nothing but war. Her country of France had been fighting England for about 75 years when she was born around 1412. But when she was 16, even though she was poor and living at a time when women did not fight in the military—and certainly did not lead men—Joan came to believe that God had chosen her to lead her country to victory during what’s now known as the Hundred Years War.

By 1428, England controlled much of France, and the French king no longer ruled. So Joan persuaded a local government leader to escort her through English-held territory to meet with and convince King Charles VII to let her lead his armies and help him regain the throne. Legend has it that Joan knew details about the king that no one else did, and he came to believe her claim that God had chosen her to lead.

The king ordered the army to take back the city of Orléans, accompanied by 17-year-old Joan. She cropped her hair short like a man’s, donned a suit of white armor, and successfully helped French troops to victory in March 1429, even after being wounded in battle. King Charles then took back his crown a few months later. At the ceremony, Joan was at his side.

A few months later, though, Joan was captured in battle and held captive for more than a year. She was accused of witchcraft and the crime of dressing as a man. Not wanting to threaten his newly returned crown, the king didn’t come to Joan’s aid, and in 1431, when she was just 19, she was burned at the stake.

But beloved by France, she was officially cleared of her crimes 20 years later and became a Catholic saint in 1920. Today Joan of Arc remains the patron saint of France and a symbol of national pride.