Gary’s account is informative and correct. Here’s some more information, including some background info:
England and France had been at war for a long time (the Hundreds Year War). England was decisively winning, having taken much French territory and winning every battle. Their captured territory included the city of Reims,which is where French kings were traditionally crowned. This effectively prevented the French prince and heir, Charles-7, from becoming king.
The French waged an “old fashioned” war with mounted heavy knights, while the English deployed many “modern” longbow archers whose arrows could pierce armor and kill knights (and their mounts) at distance.
After receiving visions by two saints and the Archangel Michael, she approached the dauphin (next in succession, but uncrowned) prince and asked to lead the French army to recover the conquered regions and allow him to be crowned king.
She was an illiterate, sixteen or seventeen-year-old peasant girl, and she wanted to command the French army. Ha ha ha. But she took the prince aside and told him something secretly (we do not know what it was), and he reversed his decision and put her in charge (I’m leaving a LOT out here - this took two years, and a trial for witchcraft (she was vindicated), before she won her request).
The French Generals (one of whom was nicknamed “Satan”) thought Charles intended her to only be a figurehead for the troops to rally around. But she insisted she was in charge, and effectively took control of the French Army. Charles had appointed her “General-in-Chief of armies” and not just a figurehead, and she brought that authority to bear upon the French generals, who VERY reluctantly accepted the orders of the Prince/King. But they still thought they could control Joan. After all, they were trained military veteran generals. Joan would be putty in their hands.
Guided by her visions, she led the Army to an astonishing victory at Orléans. Against the ardent advice of her generals, she immediately attacked the city after they refused to surrender, and won a decisive victory against a fortified and vastly superior force.
This is one of several consecutive decisive victories (of an army that had not won a victory in a very long time), including the recapture of the city of Reims, allowing the prince to be crowned King. After that, she continued to reclaim captured territory in a “bloodless march,” in which the English occupiers surrendered immediately upon hearing of Joan’s advance.
Joan had fulfilled all that her visions told her to do. But she was on a roll, and did not wish to stop there. Alas, her forces lost a battle, and Joan was injured and captured, and held in Marguy by Burgundian troops (allied with England). In those days, it was typical for a “high value” capture to be ransomed. The Burgundians (in northern France) held Joan for nearly six months, demanding a ransom of 61,125 francs to return her to her people. Everybody expected Charles-7 to pay the ransom - after all, he has been crowned king by Joan’s military victories. It was a high price, but not completely unreasonable. Yet, Charles, for reasons unknown, shamefully refused to pay the ransom.
The English, however, were willing to pay to get their hands on the woman who had defeated them so badly. So the Burgundians sold her to the English for a handsome (but not as high) price.
The English did not have any real problem with Joan’s military victories. Had she simply led her troops to victory, the English would have little reason to complain. Strange things happen in warfare. It would have been unusual for a woman to command troops, but
nothing else would have really bothered them.
THE PROBLEM THAT THE ENGLISH HAD was that Joan had attributed her astonishing success to visitations and instructions by two Saints and an Archangel. Both England and France were Catholic, but if Joan’s claims were true, it would mean that GOD was taking sides with the French. If her visions were true, GOD HIMSELF had orchestrated the decisive English defeats (of an unconquered and fortified veteran army against a feckless, defeated enemy attacking from an undefended open field).
It seemed obvious to everyone, both English and French, that such a victory could not have possibly been attained without some sort of supernatural assistance. The French attributed it to God, but the English attributed it to Satan. The English believed that Joan’s supernatural visitors were really demons in disguise, and that Satan himself had engineered the defeat of so many English forces, using Joan as a tool of his ambition.
They put her to many trials, at which she astonished these learned theologians by her shrewd replies. They finally decided to obtain a confession through torture. This horrified her so much that, in a moment of weakness, she recanted her testimony regarding the visions. She was thus spared execution.
But this also meant she was transferred from a Church jail to a regular jail. Church jails were reserved for those facing charges of heresy, and they were administered in a morally upright fashion (for the time). In a regular jail, however, women could be subject to all sorts of abuses, often including rape. Shortly after being transferred to the regular jail, she reasserted her claims of saintly visions and consented to execution. Some people theorize that she had actually been raped, and this prompted her action, while others think that the threat of rape was enough to prompt her action. The Church considers her a virgin, and there is no decisive historical evidence to the contrary.