Joan of Arc rode 3,000 miles on horseback, study finds

Joan of Arc, a historical figure shrouded in mystique and valour, is often celebrated for her unwavering faith and military prowess. However, one aspect of her remarkable story that often goes unnoticed is her exceptional skill as an equestrian.

A new article by Scott Manning examines how Joan travelled 3,000 miles (nearly 5000 kilometres) between February 1429 and December 1430, a remarkable feat for a medieval warrior, let alone a teenage girl. Manning details the evidence for this and what it reveals about the ‘Maid of Orléans’.


Born in 1412, Joan was a peasant girl who claimed divine guidance and was inspired by visions of saints. She led the French army to several key victories, most notably breaking the Siege of Orléans in 1429, which bolstered French morale and paved the way for the coronation of Charles VII. Despite her military successes, Joan was captured by the Burgundians, sold to the English, and subjected to a politically motivated trial for heresy. Found guilty, she was executed by burning at the stake in Rouen in 1431.

Joan of Arc’s capture at Compiègne. Miniature from Les Vigiles de Charles VII, BnF, fr. 5054, f. 60v.

Our first evidence of Joan riding on horseback comes from January 1429 when she met Duke Charles II of Lorraine. One eyewitness claims the duke gave her a black horse, which she used to travel to Chinon for a meeting with the French king. This journey was over 270 miles, which took 11 days with Joan and her party travelling by night to avoid enemy forces. From then we have many accounts of Joan riding on horseback.


“Joan of Arc’s equestrian skills were impressive because she learned them so quickly,” Manning tells “Most knights and squires of the day spent their adolescence training with horses. However, there is no evidence Joan’s family owned horses and the earliest evidence we have of her riding a horse is when she is 17 years old. Within five months, she was riding long distances in full armor while also carrying her standard, jousting, charging, and riding wounded.”

The article delves into Joan of Arc’s experiences on horseback, shedding light on her proficiency and the pivotal role it played in her campaigns during the Hundred Years War. Manning relates some of the events that took place at the Siege of Orléans:

In just over a week, Joan’s exploits on horseback included marching and manoeuvring in an excited crowd, riding out to protect the flank of troops, using multiple horses, including one she commandeered, crossing a river with her horse by boat, receiving a wound during a dismount, and, finally, riding while wounded from an arrow. Yet, Joan’s understanding of horses did not stop there. A letter dated 8 June 1429, from the town of Selles, a month after the lifting of the siege, records how two noble brothers were amazed when Joan encountered “a great black charger” that “would not allow her to mount.” She instructed that the horse be led to a cross in front of a church and “there she mounted without him moving, as if he had been tied.”

We have many more accounts of Joan’s exploits on horseback after her victory at Orléans, up to 23 May 1430, when she was surrounded by Burgundian soldiers and captured after being dragged from her horse. There was still more travel for Joan, being taken from city to city before arriving at Rouen at the end of the year where she was tried for heresy. Indeed, one of the charges against her was horseback riding.


“During Joan of Arc’s military career, she spent considerable time in the saddle, always in full armor,” Manning says. “She was said to rarely dismount while on campaign, and her body paid the price. One of the examinations during her captivity revealed saddle sores, a modern term used by equestrian athletes. These are injuries to the buttocks that start out as acne, but can develop into abscesses if unaddressed and exasperated. Saddle sores, of course, worsen that more you keep riding. These injuries on Joan were discovered roughly seven months after she was captured, which meant that even though she has stopped exasperating the injury, she had still not fully healed.

“There is no record of Joan complaining about the pain, which suggests a level of endurance uncommon in the average soldier. It is unclear how long she could have kept up campaigning at the same intensity she did prior to her capture, but she likely would have persisted.”

Equestrian statue of Jeanne d’Arc by Paul Dubois – Wikimedia Commons

The article goes on to detail the many depictions of Joan of Arc on horseback, starting with drawings in medieval manuscripts. During the 19th century it became fashionable for statues of Joan to feature her on horseback, and that image of Joan persists to today. Manning writes:


Joan had ridden more than 3,000 miles to her final destination in Rouen, but she continued to ride over the next 600 years in histories, commentaries, art, live performances, and film. Even being ultimately torn from her horse at Compiègne could not diminish this image. Today, she still rides in bronze throughout cities across three continents, and any future depictions of Joan of Arc will continue to represent this teenager as a mounted saint on horseback.

The article, “3000 Miles to Rouen: Joan of Arc on Horseback,” by Scott Manning, appears in Saints and Sinners on Horseback, edited by Miriam A. Bibby. You can learn more about the book by visiting the publisher’s website or

Scott Manning is an independent scholar and historian, and the author of Joan of Arc: A Reference Guide to Her Life and Works. Click here to view his website.

Top Image: Miniature depicting Jeanne d’Arc from The Lives of Famous Women, by Jean Pichore (1506, Musée Dobrée, Nantes, France) – Wikimedia Commons