Joanna of Wantzenau
Timeline: The Kalmar Union

Joanna of Wantzenau
Portrait of Joanna of Wantzenau

Lesser Knight of the Holy Roman Empire
February 23, 1430 - October 5, 1449

Successor Joanna II Wantzenau
Born April, 1412
Domremy, Duchy of Bar
Died October 5, 1449
Outside of Litomerice, Bohemia
Profession Mystic, Soldier, Landowner

Born into a poor Barrese farming family in April 1412 Joanna would go on to inspire the Imperial troops fighting French occupation and then turn her efforts to fighting the Hussites in Bohemia. Rewarded with various lands for her efforts her family would go on to found the territory of Hordt. Although deeply religious she was often denounced as heretical, and by the end of her short life she was largely tolerant of the Hussite faith.

In 1412 The Duchy of Bar was on the frontier of the francophone Imperial states. Long desired by France, which had largely been shut out of Northern Francia, it was effectively annexed in 1413 after its duke was declared insane. The Luxembourg Emperor Charles II had inherited a war with France from his predecessor and opposed France's claim on Bar but was also in the midst of war with Bavaria. While Anglia and Arles attempted to continue the French War in a largely ineffectual way Imperial troops were further stretched by the outbreak of the Hussite Wars in 1419. The absence of any real ability to oppose France meant the ducal family had, by 1421, fled to Swabia and were rapidly losing support.

In 1424 Joanna reported to her parents that she has had visions of saints who tell her to expel the French out of Bar and help the young Duke reclaim his duchy. While they tell her to keep her beliefs quiet she became deeply religious and fanatically anti-French.

By 1428 she was trying to gain access to the Ducal family in exile in Nancy, eventually succeeding in 1429 after predicting the defeat of Lorraine at the Battle of Remiremont. She was subsequently snuck out of Bar by sympathetic soldiers across French held territory to the Decapole city of Selestat. There she met with Isabella, Duchess of Lorraine, whom she impressed with tales of her visions. And on the Duchess's indulgence, wearing donated knight's armour, she led a Lorraine army to break the siege of Saverne.

At the head of the army, often as standard bearer, but also directing tactics and troop movement, she led the Lorrainers to victory after victory over the French forces. The army commanders praised her as a sound strategist, decisive where they might have chosen over-cautious tactics. By October Bar had been evacuated by French forces and Charles was installed as the rightful reigning duke.

'She is good at raising the morale of the troops but little use at taking cities'- Count Frederich of Anhalt.

Duke Charles ennobled her and Lorraine gave her a small parcel of land on the Rhine at Wantzenau. Worried that any further involvement on her part would damage the reputation of the Duchy they then advised her to leave the war to the generals and settle down on her land. The French had already denounced her a witch and even on the Imperial side she was close to being denounced as heretical. Joanna acquiesced to their demands and spent the next year personally organising the refurbishment of the Wantzenau church and dictating (she had no schooling and was illiterate) letters to the Hussites urging them to return to Catholicism.

In 1431 Joanna met with Emperor Sigismund as he passed down the Rhine to Mulhouse on his way to receive Burgundian peace envoys and negotiate with the Swiss. She predicted the failure of the Hussite crusade at Domazlice but the end of the Bar war following a massive victory at Troyes. After receiving news of both events Sigismund granted her several small pieces of land in Bohemia, principally around the town of Litomerice, and urged her to go to 'assist' the armies in Bohemia. He hoped she would rally the peasantry into support of the catholic forces. However, arriving in Bohemia she split the remaining crusade forces into Papal and 'Wantzenau' camps. Meanwhile, her uncompromising Catholicism went some way to heal the split between the moderate Utraquists and the radical Taborites who united to drive her out of the region.

Unfamiliar with the infantry and gunpowder based nature of Hussite tactics Joanna's forces were ejected from Bohemia and she was captured at the siege of Meissen. Sigismund refused to pay her ransom, angry at the way she misread the political situation and potentially lost him the Bohemian crown. Wantzenau was confiscated as are her other lands (but they were under Taborite occupation anyway). Meanwhile the anti-pope Marinus III declared her heretical.

Held for three and a half years under house arrest in Prague castle she had long discussions with the Hussite scholar Kristan of Prachatice, and by the end of her imprisonment she was fluent in Czech and, while still firmly Catholic, was at least sympathetic to the Utraquist version of the faith.

Released from prison as the Utraquists gained the upper hand in Prague, Joanna was given token command of a small Catholic/Utraquist force. Ignoring directions to quietly secure the Duchy of Sorbia, she directed it against the Polish who had been using Taborites as auxiliaries during their war against Prussia. A Taborite force was annihilated at Jantar on the Baltic, then Joanna's forces, swollen with Pomerelian pikemen, narrowly avoided the Polish royal army looking for her. Leading them back into Sorbia, she directed the relief of two sieges before engaging a Polish army at Otyn. The victory there starved the Taborites of support from their brethren in Poland.

She was wounded at the Battle of Michalovce in 1436 but was present at the Battle of Jesenek which finally destroyed Taborite forces two years later. She was probably put in charge of the Catholic infantry there. Reconciled with Emperor Matthew at the peace treaty signing at Jihlava he reinvested her with Wantzenau and her Czech lands.

Joanna spent most of the remainder of her life in relative poverty, trying to improve her estates after the devastation of the war, treating the farmers on them as friends and brothers, and urging neighbouring lords to do the same. In 1444 she married Nicolas of Sany and they had a daughter, Joanna.

She died at the age of 37 in October 1449. Her Wantzenau land was donated to the local abbey. Her Bohemian land was held by Nicholas of Sany until their daughter's majority. The rumour that she converted to Utraquism on her death bed is widely believed throughout Bohemia.

Another rumour circulated later involving a letter to the pope she dictated on her death bed (she remained illiterate) with three predictions; 1) the rise of the Schmalkaldic League and their victory at Mulberg, 2) the assassination of Pope Honorius VII, and a third yet to occur.

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