An A-Z of the World – E. H. Gombrich on: Joan of Arc

As an aid to students, teachers and parents dealing with the challenges of home learning, we have constructed an A–Z of the World taken from E. H. Gombrich’s, A Little History of the World. Day by day, we will be sharing a bite size introduction to a historical figure, event or period – using Gombrich’s magical words – along with links to free resources, so that readers of all ages can discover more. Today, Gombrich covers Joan of Arc.


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Joan of Arc

E. H. GombrichA Norman family had conquered England in 1066, and they had been ruling England ever since. This made them nominally French and, as such, subjects of the kings of France, who could therefore claim sovereignty over England as well as France. However, when no heir was born to the French royal family, the kings of England claimed that, both as relatives and as vassals of the French kings, they should now rule France as well as England. The dispute that followed turned into a terrible struggle. It began in 1337 and lasted for more than a hundred years. The English won more and more land for themselves, conquering ever-greater parts of France – not least because the French king who was in power towards the end of this war was thick-witted and incompetent.

‘Only when the English are in England will there be peace’

But the French people did not want to be ruled by foreigners. And it was then that the miracle happened. A simple seventeen-year-old shepherdess called Joan of Arc, who felt herself called by God to the task, succeeded in persuading the French to put her at the head of an army, dressed in full armour, and the English were driven from the land. ‘Only when the English are in England will there be peace,’ she said.

But the English took their revenge. They captured her and sentenced her to death for witchcraft. And in 1431 Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. But perhaps it wasn’t so surprising that they thought she was a witch. For doesn’t it seem like magic that a simple, uneducated girl, all on her own, armed with nothing but courage and a passionate conviction, should be able to wipe out the accumulated defeats of almost a century in just two years, and bring about the crowning of her king?

Discover more A-Z blogposts here.

Free Resources to Learn More about Joan of Arc

At the time of publication, these resources were free to use (some for a limited time only, during the COVID-19 pandemic).

BBC In Our Time
The Siege of Orléans

BBC Chivalry and Betrayal: The Hundred Years War
Joan of Arc – Dr Janina Ramirez (video)

BBC The Invention Of…
France: Joan of Arc – Misha Glenny

BBC How to Invent a Country
Joan of Arc and England’s role in defining France – Misha Glenny

BBC You’re Dead To Me
Joan of Arc – Greg Jenner

BBC Things We Forgot to Remember
Joan of Arc – Michael Portillo

History.com
The Hundred Years’ War

Ducksters Education Site
Information on Joan of Arc (and other women leaders in history), for younger children

The Yale Blog
England’s Scourge, France’s Heroine: Joan of Arc at 600 – Larissa Juliet Taylor
Bringing Joan of Arc to Life: Larissa Taylor on ‘The Virgin Warrior’ and Collaborating with Ken Follett 

This page provides access to a list of free online resources. It is not intended to endorse any particular resource.


A Little History of the World

All the descriptions in this A-Z are taken from E. H. Gombrich’s A Little History of the World.

Philip Pullman described the book as, “A brilliant piece of narrative, splendidly organised, told with an energy and confidence that are enormously attractive, and suffused with all the humanity and generosity of spirit that Gombrich’s thousands of admirers came to cherish during his long and richly productive life. It’s a wonderful surprise: irresistible, in fact.”

Discover More

The Little Histories are vivid storybook introductions for the young and old alike. Inspiring and entertaining, each short book lays out our greatest subjects in deceptively simple, engaging tones. With charming and personal insights each expert gently takes the reader from ancient times to the present through bite size chapters, ideal as bedtime reading or on the journey to work. Other Little Histories available include, Philosophy, Economics, Science, Literature, Language, Religion and Poetry. More details about the whole series can be found on the Little Histories website.

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