Assignment One: Joan of Arc and Social Change

Burkhardt, Jacquie


In the early 15th century, the 100 Years War was still raging between England and France. France had suffered many defeats and was continuing to lose until inspiration from a young girl. Joan of Arc was a peasant who claimed she heard divine voices instructing her to assist the rightful King of France, Charles VII, in winning the war. All likelihoods were against her as she had no title and was a woman. Yet she defied all odds persuading the regional governor to allow her contact with the king and to grant her a small party of men to lead. As she traveled to ensure that Charles VII was crowned in 1429, her troops achieved several victories over the English. Joan continued to become more instrumental in the war effort and was granted further responsibilities. Charles VII, becoming jealous of her power, demanded she lead the siege on Orleans, a near impossible endeavor. Joan and her men fought valiantly and almost succeed in taking the city. However the Anglo-Burgundians betrayed Joan in 1430 and took her to the English held city of Rouen. In 1431 Joan was tried by the English for witchcraft, dressing as a man and heresy. She was found guilty and burned at the stake. The 100 year war ended in 1453 with the defeat of the English.

Joan of Arc brought about a lot of changes in 15th Century French society. She was an agent to the normal social structure. Women almost never participated in war or battles and were given very little responsibilities outside of the home. Joan of Arc changed these norms by eliciting cultural change in the expectations of women. Women still struggled to find anything close to equality outside the home but Joan encouraged women to try and men to consider that women might be able to do more. Joan also helped to elicit an ideological change. Many of the French people doubted their abilities to beat the English and reacquire their land.  The many victories battles led by Joan inspired the people of France. She prompted a new sense of pride and nationalism and hope for the future of France. Joan is a historical figure unlike any other, when all possible factors were against her (sex, class and state of her country) she did what no other person dreamed of doing and defied them all. Her actions in the 100 year war had a ripple effect that created new social norms and ended the war.