Loches dungeon (click to enlarge)

Loches dungeon (click to enlarge)

Right in the middle of the town of Loches there is a castle. And right in the middle of the castle is a marble stone indicating the room where, in 1429, Joan of Arc begged Charles VII to man up and go to Reims to get crowned.

I had vague notions of Joan of Arc, but going to the picturesque town of Loches, about a half hour northeast of here, made me want to know more. The castle there, built next to a monastery dating back to 500 A.D., had housed kings of France from 1205. We bought a ticket and went inside, admiring giant fireplaces and four big rooms that led one to another so there could be windows on both sides.

But about Joan of Arc. Guided by voices and saintly apparitions since the age of twelve, the teenager from northeastern France persistently knocked down barriers en route to the king. Without using any social media whatsoever, she impressed one courtier after another with her confidence and her charisma. She also had a knack knowing the outcome of battles in the 100 Years’ War before the actual news reached court. Divinely inspired knowledge or good guesses? Prophet or just plain pest? Nobody was quite sure. She sure was persistent, though.

Once she pestered her way up to see Charles, (the uncrowned heir to the French throne) she convinced him that the French should be more aggressive about chasing the British out of Northern France. Charles was more or less waiting to see whether he or England’s Henry VI would get to be king. This seems like odd behavior for a teenaged girl. Why did anybody listen to her? Apparently, France was at its collective wit’s end. They had tried everything else to get rid of the British. If this girl claimed to be acting on divine imperatives, well, maybe she was.

(Click any image to enlarge)

After a few masterful predictions, Joan convinced Charles let her go to Orleans for the next big battle in April 1429. History gets fuzzy here: was she an assigned leader of men, or was she bringing bread and bandages on a relief mission? In any case, she broke into strategy meetings uninvited and advised the military leaders on what to do next. Barred and locked out, she got up a splinter group of warriors and charged in. An arrow through the neck didn’t stop her. Orleans reverted to the French after nine days, just as Joan had predicted. She was seventeen. The French were inspired to keep fighting until they got the whole country back.

On June 3, Joan appeared in Loches at the castle, ready to lead Charles to his coronation in Reims, where crownings were held at the time. A year later, still warmongering, she was captured by the English and burned at the stake in Rouen for heresy and cross dressing. (They couldn’t prove the heresy, but the cross dressing was obvious.) Five hundred years later, she was declared a saint.

The official royal lodge at Loches is accompanied by the 10th Century monastery church of St. Ours (St. Bear). A ways down the street, still within the medieval walls, we toured a giant keep, or donjon, which was first a royal guesthouse and then a prison, complete with torture chamber. It was much bigger than the royal residence. We roamed freely up and down treacherous spiral staircases, examining the wall scratchings of prisoners warding off ennui.

Nearly frozen by tons of cold stone and exhausted by endless staircases, we finally left the castle in search of French onion soup. Foiled again. Both restaurants that were open had finished serving by 3 pm on a Sunday. But there is always a boulangerie open somewhere, and a split ham and cheese croissant was quite enough for the way home.


Aerial view of Loches dungeon at top by Lieven Smits – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons