When most of us were 16, we were worried about who might take us (or not take us as the case may be) to Homecoming. We fretted over our hair. And, when deciding on our first jobs, voluntarily going into war wasn’t on any of the lists.
But Joan of Arc was not just any 16 year old girl. Having claimed visions since she was 13, this uneducated peasant farmer’s daughter staunchly held to her convictions until her death at the age of 19.
Her trial was one of the greatest mistrials of justice complete with falsified records, threats to tribunal members, and a profound lack of evidence. Her downfall, though, was not her siding with the French but a charge of heresy. In that time, heresy was a capital crime but only for a repeat offense. Therefore, a repeat offense of “cross dressing” was arranged by the court.
Rather than being kept in an ecclesiastical prison, which was the norm and would have afforded her the benefit of being guarded by women, Joan was instead housed in an English secular prison where she was guarded by men. While there, she was known to wear “men’s dress”, which was actually traditional military attire, and it is thought that this was because it allowed her a type of fitted clothing that made it more difficult for her to be raped. During the course of her trial, she was forced at one point to wear a dress, however, whether by her own choice or because her dress was taken from her, she returned to the men’s clothing that she had previously worn, and the court seized upon that as a repeat offense of cross dressing, thus allowing them to charge her with heresy.
After she was burned at the stake at the age of 19, she was posthumously found to be innocent and subsequently canonized by the Catholic Church. From there she has become the stuff of legends. Her faith in her cause and her steadfastness of belief to the very end is remarkable. She knew in her soul what her destiny was so fear was absent. We should all be so convinced of our paths.