The real Joan of Arc

Helen Castor endeavours to isolate the fact from the fiction in the tumultuous, tragic story of a French national icon...

A portrait of Joan of Arc,

Joan of Arc is a historical name to conjure with, her image instantly, vividly recognisable across a distance of half a millennium. Her tale is both profoundly familiar and endlessly startling: the peasant girl sent by God to save France, dressed in armour as though she were a man; the maid who rescued Orléans and led her king to be crowned at Reims; the martyr who became a legend – and later a saint – when she was burned at the stake by the English enemy.

We know her story so well because of the survival of two remarkable caches of documents. Her case was heard in court twice over: one trial, in 1431, condemned her to death as a heretic, and the other, completed 25 years later, cleared her name. In the transcripts we hear first-hand testimony from Joan, her family and her friends. What could be more revealing?

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