Everyone believed Joan of Arc had been executed in 1431. So why, five years later, did a woman claiming to be Joan show up in northern France?
The date: 30 May 1431.
The day Joan of Arc died.
She was burned at the stake – three times, just to be sure.
Then her ashes were dumped into the river Seine in Rouen, France.
Thousands witnessed the execution of Joan, the would-be saviour of the French, murdered for all to see.
Or was she..?
The story of Joan of Arc – the teenage peasant who claimed to have been sent by God to save the Kingdom of France – was well-known.
The country was being torn apart by a bitter civil war.
Joan’s side, the Armagnacs, believed Charles VII was the rightful King.
The other side, the Burgundians, felt the title belonged to Henry VI, King of England.
In February 1429, Joan had turned up at Charles VII’s court.
God had sent her, she claimed. And it was her destiny to lead Charles VII to victory.
Charles allowed the 17-year-old to put on a suit of armour and lead part of his army into battle.
Then English had captured her.
And the English didn’t believe she’d been sent by God.
They believed she’d been sent by the Devil and that she was a witch. So, on that day at the end of May 1431, she was burned at the stake.
Then, five years later, in 1436, a woman claiming to be Joan showed up in Metz, northeast of France.
No one believed her. So Joan’s family was sent for.
Her brothers Jean and Pierre confirmed it.
She was Joan of Arc.
Joan met with the aristocrats and knights from the court of Charles VII – even the soldiers she’d fought alongside.
All agreed she was indeed Joan of Arc.
But how had Joan survived being burned at the stake?
Someone else had been burned in her place.
Even an English chronicler had expressed his doubts five years before, at the time of the execution.
They burned her publicly, he’d written. Or another woman like her.
It seemed too good to be true. The woman who’d become a hero to the French – who’d go on to be the subject of 20,000 books, 50 films and even video games – had returned.
Some said French soldiers had helped her escape and replaced her with a criminal. Others said English soldiers had rescured her, feeling sorry for the teenager.
But now Joan of Arc was back. And she was starting to performing magic tricks…
Johannes Nider was visiting France at the time. He wrote how he’d seen Joan tear up a big cloth which, in the sight of all, she’d restored to its original state. Then, she’d grabbed a glass and thrown it against the wall so that smashed. But she’d brought it back to an undamaged condition.
Later that year, in November, she reappeared and married a French noble, Robert des Armoises.
The rest of her life would have been happy, had it not been for a meeting with the French King Charles VII – the very man she’d fought for.
He said that in 1429 Joan of Arc had told him a secret from God. Now, he asked her to repeat it.
She wouldn’t. Or couldn’t.
This Joan of Arc was proved to be a fraud. She confessed, and the King made her apologise publicly.
Fraudulent ‘Joan’ went back to her husband and lived out her days as Claude des Armoises, until her death in 1449.
And there, the story would have ended, if not for historian and scholar, Albert Bayert.
In 1907, examining handwriting left by Claude des Armoises and comparing it with Joan’s writing from before 1431, he found they were identical.
There was no way Claude could have known how to write just like Joan…
So was Claude actually Joan of Arc? And if so, why had she refused to confirm her identity by repeating that secret to the King? Why had she confessed to being a fraud?
Had Claude been protecting someone? Or had she died in 1431 only to be resurrected, Christ-like, 5 years later?
The answers, it seems, are now lost to history – scattered and irretrievable. Like those ashes washed away in the Seine forever…
On 16 May 1920, Joan of Arc was canonized – declared a Saint by the Catholic Church. This can only take place after the subject has performed four recognised miracles. Joan’s first three miracles occurred in the early 1900s when three nuns were cured of leg ulcers and cancer after praying to her. The fourth took place on 22 August 1909 when she answered the prayers of Thérèse Belin, who was dying from peritoneal and pulmonary tuberculosis.