Joan Of Arc Was Burned at The Stake, France’s favourite saint was martyred by her English foes, who ordered her remains to be cast into the Seine. Now scientists believe they have established the facts surrounding her execution Catholic saint, national icon and one of the world’s most famous military leaders, Joan of Arc has been a subject of fascination for the French for almost six centuries. Now academics believe they are close to proving that controversial relics are actually those of the real-life Maid of Orleans.
Much is unknown about the life of the warrior. Facts have often been mixed with myth and theory. But what is generally agreed is that Joan’s body was burnt three times by the English and ashes from the foot of the pyre were supposedly discovered in 1867, lurking in the Paris loft of an apothecary .
French scientists, who have been studying those ashes, confirmed yesterday that a piece of cloth found among the remains may have been a fragment of Joan of Arc’s gown. A new series of DNA tests of bones and tissue found among the ashes is expected to confirm that they belong to a female.
These initial discoveries suggest recent controversial claims surrounding the death of Joan of Arc are wrong. One theory, put forward by Ukrainian anthropologist Sergey Gorbenko, suggested Joan was not even burnt at the stake but lived to the age of 57. Another theory is that she was a man.
But the initial discoveries by forensic anthropologist Philippe Charlier, the project’s leader, indicate that the standard version of Joan of Arc’s death – by being burnt as a witch by the English – appears to be right, although the research has added intriguing detail to the story of her execution. Further tests were needed, said Charlier.
Tests on one bone found in the relics showed it was the femur of a cat. The discovery tallies with the medieval practice of throwing a black cat on a witch’s pyre so as to appease the devil, according to Charlier. ‘However, this femur is not burnt – it just looks it – so maybe we are just dealing with a passing cat,’ he said.
Charlier said the most exciting discovery by his 18-strong team at the Hôpital Raymond Poincare near Paris was in the carbon-dating of the piece of cloth. ‘It is linen of high quality and we can confirm that it dates from the 15th century. It could have been a robe or a bag.’
According to historians, Joan of Arc was 19 when she was burnt at the stake in Rouen by the English on 30 May, 1431. She died of smoke inhalation. The Cardinal of Winchester is recorded as having ordered her to be burnt a second time. Her organs still survived this fire, so a third burning was ordered to destroy the body completely. Her cinders and debris were to be thrown into the Seine.
However, in 1867 ashes that were said to include remains of Joan of Arc were found in the Paris loft of an apothecary. These were transferred to a museum in Chinon where they are still kept.
Charlier said his team’s findings were preliminary and that work would continue at least until February next year. He added that he expected his team would be able to establish that the Chinon remains belonged to ‘a female juvenile who was burnt several times at short intervals’. Charlier said pieces of wood among the relics, as well as the quality and age of the linen cloth should allow his team to date them within a 30-year range of accuracy and establish which region of France they are from.
‘We are getting closer. Even though burning witches was a fairly common practice in those days, it is not as though 1,000 women were burnt three times in Rouen in 1431. It is also helpful for us – in terms of determining whether the relics are fakes or not – that the cult that has grown up around Joan of Arc is relatively recent. No one took much notice of her for the preceding 400 years. So there aren’t dozens of boxes of relics kicking around, all claiming to be hers.’
Charlier came to prominence last year when he ascertained that Agnes Sorel, the favourite of King Charles VII, died from mercury poisoning. He took an interest in Joan of Arc because her presumed remains were stored in the same Chinon museum as those of Sorel.
An illiterate farm girl from Lorraine in eastern France, Joan of Arc disguised herself as a man in her campaigns. During her battles against the English and armies of the Duke of Burgundy, Joan was said to hear voices from a trio of saints telling her to deliver France from her enemies. She was finally captured and sold to the English, who had her tried for witchcraft in Rouen.
Joan of Arc was declared a saint in 1920. During the Second World War, both Vichy France and the French resistance claimed Joan of Arc as a national symbol for their cause.