Five centuries ago, history burned Joan of Arc at stake for heresy. Today, she is admired as the girl martyr, soldier and saint who changed the world with her faith. In logical consideration, to arrive at a just estimate of a renowned man’s character, one must judge it by the standards of his time. But the character of Joan of Arc is unique. Judged by any of them, judged by all of them, it is still flawless; it is still ideally perfect. It is however insolent, if not preposterous to judge her without discerning her faith, the conditions of her time, her gallantry and maidenhood.
For to dispose of one is to curtail the whole, and what difference would that make to the false judgment bestowed to her in that stake almost five centuries ago. The Peculiarity that Towered her Time When we reflect that her century was the wickedest, most brutal, the rottenest in history since the darkest age, we are lost in wonder at the miracle of such a product from such a soil. In Georges Rouault depiction of her in 1951, the French painter pictured a brilliant, monumental figure that is astride in a colourful horse and who towered any landscape of her times.
Joan of Arc, a mere child in years, ignorant, unlettered, a poor village girl unknown and without influence, found a nation lying in chains, helpless and hopeless under an alien domination…, their King cowed and preparing to fly the country; and she laid her hand upon this nation, this corpse, and it rose and followed her. She might be young and surrounded by enemies yet she faced a continuous cross-examination by learned and powerful men of the church and she answered their questions with dignity, wry humor and intelligence.
She was no simpleton, no unsuspecting tool in someone else’s hands. Did not the Archbishop Regnault himself insist that “she would not take advice, but would follow her will”? (Williams 1963, 144) But nothing could top the fact that among the world’s biographies, ‘it is the only story of a human life which comes under oath’, the only one which comes to us from the witness-stand. Witnesses questioned by the Tribunal reached 115, including her village neighbors who knew her since childhood and who much preferred to call her Jhenette or Joannie (Little Joan).
The Voice and the Saint She was 13 when she first heard the ‘voices’ as she called them. She was in her father’s garden when there was a great light beside her, and out of the light spoke a voice which she thought was the Archangel Michael (Williamson 1985, 168). Joan later identified two other voices; Saint Margaret of Antioch and Catherine of Alexandria. On Donald Spoto’s ‘The Mysterious Life of the Heretic Who Became a Saint’, he defended ‘the voice’ as Joan’s realistic picture rather than today’s modern world bias.
He stressed for example, that Joan of Arc was a product of a time when ‘faith was a fact of life’, thus added his frustration to the modern medicine’s explanation of possible epilepsy, hallucination and other mental maladies. Joan heard these voices whenever she was alone and through time, these became more detailed. Psychologists witness this case today as indicative to hallucination, a condition that can be triggered by trauma. Even in the burning scaffold, in the great black clouds of smoke her voice was heard in a cry of triumph: “Yes, my Voices were of God” (Alden 1924, 257).
What greater way to end a life of torment than to torment the spectators of your innocence? The Girl Soldier Louis Kossuth was quoted saying this “unique and imposing distinction. Since the writing of human history began, Joan of Arc is the only person of either sex, who has ever held supreme command of the military forces of a nation at the age of seventeen. The work wrought by Joan of Arc may fairly be regarded as ranking any recorded in history, when one considers the conditions under which it was undertaken, the obstacles in the way and the means of her disposal.
Caesar, who is a soldier himself, carried conquest far but he did it with the trained and confident veterans of Rome. Napoleon swept away the disciplined armies of Europe but he was a trained soldier as well. But Joan was a girl skilled not on crusades, but on sewing and spinning. It is a popular idea that she spent her childhood in the pastures, along with the sheep and cattle and was never afraid of any girl when it comes to sewing and spinning, which she said, she learned from her mother.
In order to understand the heroism of the maiden from Domremy, we must go back to the critical condition of the Hundred Years War and how the English fortunes declined in the appearance of Joan of Arc. The real obstacles to the survival of France from the English were the smallness of the army which they were to bring to the field, their pride of their language and the danger of their nationality under the kingship of a foreigner. Joan arrived to fan that little spark of hope and let it burn with vivid flame steadily through the centuries.
Her love of country was more than a sentiment – it was a passion. She was the genius of patriotism – she was patriotism embodied, concreted, made flesh and palpable to the touch and visible to the eye. It is noted that the royal council wanted her to fight for its own greedy purposes. In her fight in the rebelling district of Loire, her squire D’ Aulon found Joan standing at the edge of the moat of the town with no more than a dozen men around her. When he asked what she was doing, she pulled off her steel cap and looked about “I am not alone, there are fifty thousand of my folk with me.
I will not leave this spot until the town is taken”. The moat was bridged and before the day ended the town had fallen (Wohl, 104). Indeed she was strong willed for she never ceased trying to achieve her purpose, even though to do so she had to drag along with her the whole of France, from the commonest soldier to the King himself. Many historians have described Joan as a genius. But one man, Pierre champion, analyzed her legend differently. He wrote of Joan: “She is entirely human – and never was humanity greater. ” This is perhaps the truest of the epitaphs that have been written of her.
The Maiden of Orleans Wohl said, history without saints is all warfare…, from time to time, God points the way He wants things done. This fighter, this saint…, was a girl. Imagine a girl of seventeen, without knowledge of war tactics, unlettered, yet was able to convince and crown the Dauphin and won a number of resistances. If this isn’t a mad miracle of some sort, this is indeed enough to let generations to come, gasp in total awe. Joan of Arc lived and died in the time when France was ruled by the feudal system, when women were limited only to house and farm duties.
A woman was rarely shown without her distaff, a short staff with a mass of wool tied to the end (Williams, 1963). It is indeed a remarkable feat only a divine intervention could prove possible. Even, many historians put much prominence to her clothing in their accounts. Alden stressed that being dressed in man’s clothes proved significant in her attempt to be believed by the Dauphin or the men in general. To be one like them is indeed an edge to be likely accepted and respected.
According to a testimony during the Rehabilitation trial, she excused herself for having resumed the masculine attire for it afforded her protection, but the guards paid no heed to her plea. This has nothing to do with either sex. This is plain martyrdom. Although, conjectures of her being a lesbian has been widely argued by some historians, and even put her virginity in question – it is of no doubt that these trifling arguments still cannot spurn the fact that Joan of Arc was way ahead of her time if not, had ever conquered her time and will remain the monumental figure of women for centuries more to come.
The Legend of Joan of Arc The maid was dead. But what Joan had achieved could not be stamped out, nor could her memory be eliminated easily as her body had been burned. It took 22 years after her death for the English to be driven out of France. That time (1455), with the court under French crown and with loyal Frenchmen sitting in judgment, Joan’s family brought the formal action. Historians describe the moving scene that took place at Notre Dame in Paris on that November day when her aged mother, presented her claim that Joan had been unjustly punished.
The judges agreed to reopen the case. In pleading that Joan’s reputation be cleared, the d’Arc family was acting on the counsel of King Charles’ advisers. The new trial called the Rehabilitation which was testified by her friends, priests, townsfolk, knights and even her squire d”Aulon, answered many of the questions that had puzzled people about Joan. Yet two significant questions remained unanswered – then as well as now. Who was she? What was she? For the past centuries, historians and theologians have searched vainly for answers.
The Unsolved Puzzle It has been said for example that Joan’s was a typical case of hysteria and that her visions were brought on by neurosis, even insanity. It has been argued that she was a true mystic; indeed she was beatified by the Catholic Church in 1909 and finally admitted to the catalogue of saints in 1920. Some scholars have insisted that Joan was but a tool of certain clerics, others that she was the tool of certain anticlerical noblemen. Still others have demeaned her as a simpleton who became a kind of good luck symbol.
And there were even some scholars who say that she was the queen of a secret cult of witches whose ritual prescribed that she be burned to death, her ashes scattered abroad. On Charles Action of Inaction He remained outside the proceedings, however, for the sake of relations between England and France and the Church. Bringing about the investigation was a small gift indeed from the King to the girl who had given him his crown. He had not felt an obligation to defend her before; now that his land was free and he felt secure, he tried to make amends for his former inaction.
The young King was never one to act firmly or decisively and he could not change no matter how hard Joan put heart into him. The belief that peaceful diplomacy could settle all that was still unresolved reinforced his desire to fight no more. Since burgundy seemed willing to negotiate, why antagonize him by provoking more warfare? That thought seemed to be foremost in Charles’ mind (Sadlier 1901, 103). Historians like Alden and Twain however argued that Charles, whom Joan crowned, stood supine and indifferent.
And that, the very reason to why he urged the Rehabilitation was due to the tormenting account in history that he, Charles VII, was crowned by the glory of a witch proven by the priests to have been in league with Satan. Therefore, of what value or authority was such a kingship as that? Of no value at all; no nation could afford to allow such a king to remain on the throne. ***** Her life has attracted writers in all genres. Her life and death has inspired generations of men and women to believe, too see and to fight.
She reminds us that the first thing we need if we want to win through is faith (Wohl, p 7). In her time, many French, in whose hearts the sentiment of patriotism had been awakened by the passion of her martyrdom. The Catholics, seeing her suffering and death, were aroused in sympathy and appealed to the faith they held in common with her. She was dead as a martyr to the king (Sadlier 1901, 258). But how many women or Catholics or martyrs were burned in the stakes in history? Some were written but countless were forgotten.
Yet, the story of the maiden who heard a voice at her father’s garden remained to generate admiration and piety from whoever who knows the name – Joan of Arc. References Alden, Francois Jean. Personal Recollections by the Sieur Louis de Conte. Harper and Brothers Publishers, vol 1, New York, USA. 1924 de Wohl, Louis. St. Joan The Girl Soldier. USA: Ignatius Press. 2002 Sadlier, Agnes. The Story of Her Life and Death. Philadelphia. 1901 Williams, Jay. Joan of Arc. New York: American Heritage Publishing Co. Inc. ,. 1963 Williamson, Hugh R. A Children’s Book of Saints. London: Treasure Press, 1985.