lunes, 30 de mayo de 2011

Joan of Arc is burned at the stake

At Rouen in English-controlled Normandy, Joan of Arc, the peasant girl who became the saviour of France, is burned at the stake for heresy.

Joan was born in 1412, the daughter of a tenant farmer at Domremy, on the borders of the duchies of Bar and Lorraine. In 1415, the Hundred Years War between England and France entered a crucial phase when the young King Henry V of England invaded France and won a series of decisive victories against the forces of King Charles VI. By the time of Henry's death in August 1422, the English and their French-Burgundian allies controlled Aquitaine and most of northern France, including Paris. Charles VI, long incapacitated, died one month later, and his son, Charles, regent from 1418, prepared to take the throne. However, Reims, the traditional city of French coronation, was held by the Anglo-Burgundians, and the Dauphin (heir apparent to the French throne) remained uncrowned. Meanwhile, King Henry VI of England, the infant son of Henry V and Catherine of Valois, the daughter of Charles VI, was proclaimed king of France by the English.

Joan's village of Domremy lay on the frontier between the France of the Dauphin and that of the Anglo-Burgundians. In the midst of this unstable environment, Joan began hearing "voices" of three Christian saints – St. Michael, St. Catherine, and St. Margaret. When she was about 16, these voices exhorted her to aid the Dauphin in capturing Reims and therefore the French throne. In May 1428, she travelled to Vaucouleurs, a stronghold of the Dauphin, and told the captain of the garrison of her visions. Disbelieving the young peasant girl, he sent her home. In January 1429, she returned, and the captain, impressed by her piety and determination, agreed to allow her passage to the Dauphin at Chinon.

Dressed in men's clothes and accompanied by six soldiers, she reached the Dauphin's castle at Chinon in February 1429 and was granted an audience. Charles hid himself among his courtiers, but Joan immediately picked him out and informed him of her divine mission. For several weeks, Charles had Joan questioned by theologians at Poitiers, who concluded that, given his desperate straits, the Dauphin would be well-advised to make use of this strange and charismatic girl.

Charles furnished her with a small army, and on 27 April 1429, she set out for Orleans, besieged by the English since October 1428. On 29 April, as a French sortie distracted the English troops on the west side of Orleans, Joan entered unopposed by its eastern gate. She brought greatly needed supplies and reinforcements and inspired the French to a passionate resistance. She personally led the charge in several battles and on 7 May was struck by an arrow. After quickly dressing her wound, she returned to the fight, and the French won the day. On 8 May, the English retreated from Orleans.

During the next five weeks, Joan and the French commanders led the French into a string of stunning victories over the English. On 16 July, the royal army reached Reims, which opened its gates to Joan and the Dauphin. The next day, Charles VII was crowned king of France, with Joan standing nearby holding up her standard: an image of Christ in judgment. After the ceremony, she knelt before Charles, joyously calling him king for the first time.

On 8 September, the king and Joan attacked Paris. During the battle, Joan carried her standard up to the earthworks and called on the Parisians to surrender the city to the king of France. She was wounded but continued to rally the king's troops until Charles ordered an end to the unsuccessful siege. That year, she led several more small campaigns, capturing the town of Saint-Pierre-le-Moitier. In December, Charles ennobled Joan, her parents, and her brothers.

In May 1430, the Burgundians laid siege to Compiegne, and Joan stole into the town under the cover of darkness to aid in its defence. On 23 May, while leading a sortie against the Burgundians, she was captured. The Burgundians sold her to the English, and in March 1431 she went on trial before ecclesiastical authorities in Rouen on charges of heresy. Her most serious crime, according to the tribunal, was her rejection of church authority in favour of direct inspiration from God. After refusing to submit to the church, her sentence was read on 24 May: she was to be turned over to secular authorities and executed. Reacting with horror to the pronouncement, Joan agreed to recant and was condemned instead to perpetual imprisonment.

Ordered to put on women's clothes, she obeyed, but a few days later the judges went to her cell and found her dressed again in male attire. Questioned, she told them that St. Catherine and St. Margaret had reproached her for giving in to the church against their will. She was found to be a relapsed heretic and on 29 May was ordered to be handed over to secular officials. On 30 May, Joan, 19 years old, was burned at the stake at the Place du Vieux-Marche in Rouen. Before the pyre was lit, she instructed a priest to hold high a crucifix for her to see and to shout out prayers loud enough to be heard above the roar of the flames.

As a source of military inspiration, Joan of Arc helped turn the Hundred Years War firmly in France's favour. By 1453, Charles VII had reconquered all of France except for Calais, which the English relinquished in 1558. In 1920, Joan of Arc, one of the great heroes of French history, was recognised as a Christian saint by the Roman Catholic Church. Her feast day is 30 May.

(Domrémy, Francia, 1412 - Ruán, id., 1431) Santa y heroína francesa. Nacida en el seno de una familia campesina acomodada, la infancia de Juana de Arco transcurrió durante el sangriento conflicto enmarcado en la guerra de los Cien Años que enfrentó al delfín Carlos, primogénito de Carlos VI de Francia, con Enrique VI de Inglaterra por el trono francés, y que provocó la ocupación de buena parte del norte de Francia por las tropas inglesas y borgoñonas.
A los trece años, Juana de Arco confesó haber visto a san Miguel, a santa Catalina y a santa Margarita y declaró que sus voces la exhortaban a llevar una vida devota y piadosa. Unos años más tarde, se sintió llamada por Dios a una misión que no parecía al alcance de una campesina analfabeta: dirigir el ejército francés, coronar como rey al delfín en Reims y expulsar a los ingleses del país.
En 1428 viajó hasta Vaucouleurs con la intención de unirse a las tropas del príncipe Carlos, pero fue rechazada. A los pocos meses, el asedio de Orleans por los ingleses agravó la delicada situación francesa y obligó al delfín a refugiarse en Chinon, localidad a la que acudió Juana, con una escolta facilitada por Roberto de Baudricourt, para informar a Carlos acerca del carácter de su misión.

Éste, no sin haberla hecho examinar por varios teólogos, accedió al fin a confiarle el mando de un ejército de cinco mil hombres, con el que Juana de Arco consiguió derrotar a los ingleses y levantar el cerco de Orleans, el 8 de mayo de 1429. A continuación, realizó una serie de campañas victoriosas que franquearon al delfín el camino hacia Reims y permitieron su coronación como Carlos VII de Francia (17 de julio de 1429).
Acabado su cometido, Juana de Arco dejó de oír sus voces interiores y pidió permiso para volver a casa, pero ante la insistencia de quienes le pedían que se quedara, continuó combatiendo, primero en el infructuoso ataque contra París de septiembre de 1429, y luego en el asedio de Compiègne, donde fue capturada por los borgoñones el 24 de mayo de 1430. 

Entregada a los ingleses, Juana de Arco fue trasladada a Ruán y juzgada por un tribunal eclesiástico acusada de brujería, con el argumento de que las voces que le hablaban procedían del diablo, con lo cual se pretendía presentar a Carlos VII como seguidor de una bruja para desprestigiarlo. Tras un proceso inquisitorial de tres meses, fue declarada culpable de herejía y hechicería; pese a que ella había defendido siempre su inocencia, acabó por retractarse de sus afirmaciones, y ello permitió conmutar la sentencia de muerte inicial por la de cadena perpetua.
Días más tarde, sin embargo, recusó la abjuración y reafirmó el origen divino de las voces que oía, por lo que, condenada a la hoguera, fue ejecutada el 30 de mayo de 1431 en la plaza del mercado viejo de Ruán. Durante unos años, corrió el rumor de que no había muerto quemada en la hoguera, ya que habría sido sustituida por otra muchacha, para casarse posteriormente con Roberto des Armoises. En 1456, Juana de Arco fue rehabilitada solemnemente por el papa Calixto III, a instancias de Carlos VII, quien promovió la revisión del proceso. Considerada una mártir y convertida en el símbolo de la unidad francesa, fue beatificada en 1909 y canonizada en 1920, año en que Francia la proclamó su patrona.

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