Famous Last Words
Joan of Arc
May 30, 1431
“Hold the cross high so I may see it through the flames!”
Joan of Arc (who was approximately 19 at the time of her death) had been a commander for the French army against the English until a truce was struck between the two countries. When the truce dissolved, Joan was held in England for her crimes of heresy (she claimed saints and angels instructed her to deliver France from the English) and cross dressing.
After imprisoned, Joan confessed to her crimes in exchange for life imprisonment. Some historians speculate she was unaware what she was signing, however, as she was illiterate.
Some historical accounts state Joan was raped while others report she had received rape threats from guards. Either way, she donned her military garb again as each piece was tightly fastened to the others which prevented rape; dresses would offer no security from assault. The judges took Joan resorting again to cross-dressing as a relapse into heresy and so she was condemned to die.
With her last words, she asked the cross be held high so she might look upon it as she died. After her death, officials had ash and debris from the fire removed to expose her body and to prevent rumors that she had evaded death. Her brothers, however, helped an impersonator present herself as Joan, claiming she was able to escape. The faux Joan earned fame and gifts, the real Joan was given the reputation of unstoppable, and the French people were given inspiration and hope. This imposter act only lasted from 1434 to 1440, however.