Joan Of Arc Statue No. 4
The Joan of Arc statue in Washington DC's Meridian Hill Park is one of four castings of an 1889 Paul Dubois statue of the same name. The original is now in the Musée Paul-Dubois-Alfred Boucher in Nogent-sur-Seine, France. Washington DC's version is the only one outside France, and also the only one to have gone without a sword for 33 years.
The statues feature French heroine, Joan of Arc, riding a horse in full armour, visor open, head turned towards the sky. In her left hand she holds the horse's reigns, in her right a sword. Or at least it's supposed to be a sword.
Washington DC's Joan of Arc statue had her sword stolen in 1978. More than a quarter of a century passed before she was finally given a new one in 2011. That's longer than Joan's own lifetime.
The Woman Behind The Joan Of Arc Statue
The plinth below the statue is engraved with the word 'LIBERATRICE', or 'liberator' in English, and that's exactly what the real-life Joan was: a liberator.
She was born a French peasant in 1412, midway through the Hundred Years' War between France and England. At the time the two countries were enjoying a rare period of peace, but this was soon to end.
King Henry IV of England was fatally ill. When he died he was succeeded by his 26 year old son, Henry V. Charles VI of France was mentally ill, reportedly suffering from delusions he was made of glass. It was a tumultuous time for both countries and, when Charles denied young Henry V's claims to French territory, tensions came to ahead.
In 1415, Henry V sailed across the Channel with a force of about 10,500 men. Once again, full-scale war broke out. Joan of Arc was just 3 years old. She would never see peace again.
The next 10 years saw the English invaders sweep across the North of France. Paris fell, along with both kings. Henry V died first, in August 1422, and Charles VI followed just 2 months after. The war raged on between their two sons. Charles' heir, Charles VII, was 19 and needed to reclaim his throne. England's new king, Henry VI ,was just nine months old.
Joan Of Arc Arrives On The Scene
Despite having a king for a baby, the English were still in advantageous position. Under the stewardship of the Duke of Bedford they pressed on with their invasion. By 1928 they had made it as far south as Orléans. Here, Joan of Arc emerged and the the tide began to change.
Having experienced visions telling her to help Charles recover his throne she sought an audience with him. On the third time of asking he accepted. She spoke to him and, after some convincing, decided to send her with the relief army to the front line. She was 17 years old.
The relief forces arrived in Orléans on April 29th, 1429, Joan of Arc with them. By then, the English siege of the city had gone on for over six months. Nine days later it was lifted.
Joan of Arc gained a reputation during the fighting, one she went on to burnish during the subsequent Loire campaign. This culminated in a decisive victory against the English in the Battle of Patay. Soon after, in November 1429, Charles VII was crowned king of France, Joan of Arc by his side.
This marked a turning point in the war and paved the way to French victory in 1453. Joan however did not live long enough to see this.
Joan The Martyr
1429 ended with Joan and her family being turned into noblemen. 1430 began with her being captured by the Burgandians, an ally of England. She tried to escape numerous times but to no avail. The English paid for her to be transferred into their hands.
In 1431 she was tried for heresy. She performed well in court, forcing her captors to resort to desperate measures. At one point they even held a vote as to whether or not to torture her. She was a political threat who claimed angels said Charles had a divine right to the French throne. The trial was a foregone conclusion. Guilty.
She was sentenced to either repentance or death. She refused to renounce her visions. On May 30th, 1431, she was burnt at the stake.
When the war was finally over Pope Callixtus II nullified the trial's guilty verdict. Joan is remembered now as a martyr and, since the French Revolution, has been adopted as a national symbol of France. She was canonized in 1920 and declared the country's second patron saint.
Washington DC's Joan of Arc statue was installed in 1922 to celebrate the friendship between France and the US. It was regarded as 'the finest equestrian statue of modern times' by the art community of the time, a fitting tribute to a 19 year old woman who gave everything to try to free her country from an oppressive invading force.
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