12 Intriguing Stories Most People Never Learned About Joan of Arc

You probably know Joan of Arc as a tough-as-nails warrior maiden from France, but there's a lot more to the rags-to-riches-to-rags story of this smart soldier than just that. So who was Joan of Arc – really?

While there are plenty of surprising facts about Joan of Arc's life, the basics of her biography are these: born an illiterate peasant girl, she started hearing voices around puberty, claiming saints were speaking to her. Eventually, Joan got in touch with increasingly important people, many of whom became convinced of her sincerity, and she eventually allied with the heir to the French throne to oust the English invaders. This led to her being considered one of history's greatest female war heroes. Once she was captured by the English, Joan was jailed, forced to confess to tons of charges, and burned at the stake.

Joan of Arc's mysterious path to martyrdom and sainthood is one filled with intrigue, conspiracies, and magical portents. From the voices in her head that may or may not have been the most prescient form of mental illness in history to Merlin's prediction of her coming, Joan of Arc is one of the most intriguing figures of the Middle Ages. So, was it God? Was it magic? Or was it mental illness?

  • The Wizard Merlin Foretold Joan's Coming
    Photo: sofi01 / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

    The Wizard Merlin Foretold Joan's Coming

    Joan emerged onto the national stage at exactly the right time, seemingly fulfilling several prophecies that had been circulating that foretold of a virgin from Lorraine (the region of France where Joan hailed from) who would save France from the invading English. One such augury apparently came from the legendary wizard Merlin, who, in between helping King Arthur make big decisions, said that a maiden would come out of an ancient forest to rescue France.

    Another story told that a virtuous woman would redeem France after a “fallen woman” (AKA, France’s allegedly licentious queen, Isabeau of Bavaria, who scandalized the court with her affairs) made it the talk of the town. And then there’s the prophetess Marie of Avignon, who claimed a woman in armor would save France.

  • Did Joan Fake Her Own Death?
    Photo: sofi01 / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

    Did Joan Fake Her Own Death?

    After being burned at the stake on May 30, 1430, Joan was dead... or was she? Some scholars theorize that it was at least possible that a substitute maiden could've been burned in Joan's place, with Joan assuming a new identity after the fact. And the legacy of the Maid of Lorraine lived on, so much so that a bunch of pretenders dressed up as Joan and said "La Pucelle" was still alive. This was pretty common during this time, but one woman really stood out: Claude des Armoises. In one version of this history, Claude was a real-life wife and mother who was supported by Joan of Arc's real-life brothers. They supposedly recognized her at first sight as their sister. But she didn't last long in the role of Joan, eventually confessing her guilt. However, in the alternate version of this tale, Claude is the identity the real Joan took on after the bait and switch at the stake. 

  • She Fought Alongside A Satanist And Child Murderer
    Photo: Otto Magus / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

    She Fought Alongside A Satanist And Child Murderer

    One of Joan's most trusted and important soldiers was a guy named Gilles des Rais, who met her the first time she showed up to meet the Dauphin. He led some of her troops and aided Joan when she was injured at Orléans, but, in reality, he wasn't that great of a guy. As it turns out, de Rais was probably one of the first recorded serial killers. He was said to have been guilty of torturing, raping, and murdering hundreds of kids in a dungeon, as well as worshipping the Devil.

  • Was Joan A Secret Royal Love Child?
    Photo: Phil du Valois / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Was Joan A Secret Royal Love Child?

    Could Joan have gotten to such high office without royal help? Probably not, but some have said she had really intense kingly connections – so much so that she was actually a secret royal love child! One theory suggested Joan wasn't born a peasant girl, but she was really Charles VII's illegitimate half-sister/cousin, the child of his mother, the famously licentious Queen Isabeau of Bavaria, and her lover/his uncle, Louis, Duke of Orléans. 

    This was supposedly the reason Joan was able to pick out the Dauphin from amongst a bunch of his courtiers upon meeting him for the first time. Sadly for conspiracy theorists, this probably wasn't true. But that doesn't stop scholars from claiming it could have been the case every once in a while.

  • Joan Might Have Confessed After Being Threatened With Rape
    Photo: Mathers Museum of World Cultures / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

    Joan Might Have Confessed After Being Threatened With Rape

    After her capture by the English, Joan of Arc was charged with a host of wrong doings – witchcraft, horse theft, and cross-dressing, to name just three – but she pled not guilty to most of them. That is, until the guards depriving her of basic creature comforts threatened her with rape. According to Joan, they never carried out their horrible threat, but such a heinous act probably led to her pleading guilty to a number of her charges. Promised life imprisonment instead of death, she agreed to sign a guilty confession. But then she revoked it and consigned herself to being burned at the stake.

  • Was It Saints, Epilepsy, Or Milk Poisoning?
    Photo: sofi01 / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

    Was It Saints, Epilepsy, Or Milk Poisoning?

    When she hit puberty, Joan began to hear saints speaking to her. They told her to be pious and, eventually, to save France from the English. Modern scientists have posthumously diagnosed Joan with conditions like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or a specific kind of epilepsy to explain her hearing voices. Others have suggested she suffered from bovine tuberculosis – postulating that the consumption of unpasteurized milk could have given Joan brain lesions.