Pucelle
Pre-Raphealite pantng of Joan of Arc
Pre-Raphealite pantng of Joan of Arc

Character Information

Joan la Pucelle is Shakespeare’s rendition of Joan of Arc. Unlike many other depictions Shakespeare's is a comic depiction, showing Joan as less than pure and saint like. The idea of a woman leading troops into battle was still comic in Shakespeare’s time, and he presents Joan in that comic vein, though she is a better commander than the French nobles. Shakespeare also shows Joan cavorting with demons, thereby declaring her powers to be demonic, and her actions evil.

Joan in Combat

Historical Information

The following information is based on the Wikipedia Joan of Arc entry, with excerpts from the Catholic Encyclopedia entry on St. Joan of Arc written by Thurston Herbert in 1910.

Joan of Arc (c. 1412 – 30 May 1431) also known as "la Pucelle” (the Maid) was a 15th century Catholic saint, and national heroine of France. She was beatified in 1909 and lateConr canonized in 1920.
Joan of Arc has remained an important figure throughout Western culture. From Napoleon to the present, French politicians of all leanings have invoked her memory. Major writers and composers who have created works about her include Shakespeare, Voltaire, Schiller, Verdi, Tchaikovsky, Twain, and Shaw. Depictions of her continue in film, television, video games, song, and dance.

Life

Medieval depiction of Joan c.1480
Medieval depiction of Joan c.1480

Joan of Arc's parents' names were Jacques d'Arc and Isabelle Romée. They lived in Domrémy, a village which was then in the duchy of Bar (and later annexed to the province of Lorraine and renamed Domrémy-la-Pucelle). Her parents owned about 50 acres (0.2 square kilometers) of land and her father supplemented his farming work with a minor position as a village official, collecting taxes and heading the local watch. They lived in an isolated patch of northeastern territory that remained loyal to the French crown despite being surrounded by Burgundian lands. Joan was probably born on January 6th, 1412. She seems to have been the youngest of five children. While illiterate, she was skilled in sewing and spinning. The popular notion that she spent her days in the fields with the cattle and sheep is unfounded. Several local raids occurred during her childhood and on one occasion her village was burned.

Joan later testified at her trial that she experienced her first vision around 1424 at the age of 12 years when she was out alone in a field and heard voices. She had said she cried when they left as they were so beautiful. She would report that Saint Michael, Saint Catherine, and Saint Margaret told her to drive out the English and bring the Dauphin to Reims for his coronation.
At the age of 16, she asked a kinsman, Durand Lassois, to bring her to nearby Vaucouleurs where she petitioned the garrison commander, Count Robert de Baudricourt, for permission to visit the royal French court at Chinon. Baudricourt's sarcastic response did not deter her. She returned the following January and gained support from two men of standing: Jean de Metz and Bertrand de Poulengy. Under their auspices, she gained a second interview where she made a remarkable prediction about a military reversal near Orléans.

Rise

Robert de Baudricourt granted her an escort to visit Chinon after news from the front confirmed her prediction. She made the journey through hostile Burgundian territory in male disguise. Upon arriving at the royal court she impressed Charles VII during a private conference. To test her, the king had disguised himself, but she at once saluted him without hesitation amidst a group of attendants. From the beginning a strong party at the court — La Trémoille, the royal favourite, foremost among them — opposed her as a crazy visionary, but a secret sign, communicated to her by her voices, which she made known to Charles, led the king, somewhat half-heartedly, to believe in her mission. What this sign was, Joan never revealed, but it is now most commonly believed that this "secret of the king" was a doubt Charles had conceived of the legitimacy of his birth, and which Joan had been supernaturally authorized to set at rest. He then ordered background inquiries and a theological examination at Poitiers to verify her morality. During this time Charles's mother-in-law Yolande of Aragon was financing a relief expedition to Orléans. Joan petitioned for permission to travel with the army and wear the equipment of a knight. She depended on donated items for her armour, horse, sword, banner, and entourage. Her armor was said to be white. Instead of the sword the king offered her, she begged that search might be made for an ancient sword buried, as she averred, behind the altar in the chapel of Ste-Catherine-de-Fierbois. It was found in the very spot her voices indicated. There was made for her at the same time a standard bearing the words Jesus, Maria, with a picture of God the Father, and kneeling angels presenting a fleur-de-lis.

She arrived at the siege of Orléans on 29 April 1429, but Jean d'Orléans, the acting head of the Orléans ducal family, initially excluded her from war councils and failed to inform her when the army engaged the enemy. This did not prevent her from being present at most councils and battles. The extent of her actual military leadership is a subject of historical debate. Traditional historians conclude that she was a standard bearer whose primary effect was on morale. This type of analysis usually relies on the condemnation trial testimony, where she stated that she preferred her standard to her sword. Recent scholarship that focuses on the nullification trial testimony asserts that her fellow officers esteemed her as a skilled tactician and a successful strategist. In either case, historians agree that the army enjoyed remarkable success during her brief career.

Leadership

Joan's banners
Joan's banners

She defied the cautious strategy that had characterized French leadership. During the five months of siege before her arrival, the defenders of Orléans had attempted only one aggressive move and that had ended in disaster. On May 4 the French attacked and captured the outlying fortress of Saint Loup, which she followed on May 5 with a march to a second fortress called Saint Jean le Blanc. Finding it deserted, this became a bloodless victory. The next day she opposed Jean d'Orleans at a war council where she demanded another assault on the enemy. D'Orleans ordered the city gates locked to prevent another battle, but she summoned the townsmen and common soldiers and forced the mayor to unlock a gate. With the aid of only one captain she rode out and captured the fortress of Saint Augustins. That evening she learned she had been excluded from a war council where the leaders had decided to wait for reinforcements before acting again. Disregarding this decision, she insisted on assaulting the main English stronghold called "les Tourelles" on May 7. Contemporaries acknowledged her as the heroine of the engagement after she sustained an arrow wound to her neck but returned wounded to lead the final charge.

The sudden victory at Orléans led to many proposals for offensive action. The English expected an attempt to recapture Paris or an attack on Normandy. In the aftermath of the unexpected victory, she persuaded Charles VII to grant her co-command of the army with Duke John II of Alençon and gained royal permission for her plan to recapture nearby bridges along the Loire as a prelude to an advance on Reims and a coronation. Hers was a bold proposal because Reims was roughly twice as far away as Paris and deep in enemy territory.

The army recovered Jargeau on June 12, Meung-sur-Loire on June 15, then Beaugency on June 17. The Duke of Alençon agreed to all of Joan's decisions. Other commanders including Jean d'Orléans had been impressed with her performance at Orléans and became her supporters. Alençon credited her for saving his life at Jargeau, where she warned him of an imminent artillery attack. During the same battle she withstood a blow from a stone cannonball to her helmet as she climbed a scaling ladder. An expected English relief force arrived in the area on June 18 under the command of Sir John Fastolf. The battle at Patay might be compared to Agincourt in reverse. The French vanguard attacked before the English archers could finish defensive preparations. A rout ensued that devastated the main body of the English army and killed or captured most of its commanders. Fastolf escaped with a small band of soldiers and became the scapegoat for the English humiliation. The French suffered minimal losses.
The French army set out for Reims from Gien-sur-Loire on June 29 and accepted the conditional surrender of the Burgundian-held city of Auxerre on July 3. Every other town in their path returned to French allegiance without resistance. Troyes, the site of the treaty that had tried to disinherit Charles VII, capitulated after a bloodless four-day siege. The army was in short supply of food by the time it reached Troyes. A wandering friar named Brother Richard had been preaching about the end of the world at Troyes and had convinced local residents to plant beans, a crop with an early harvest. The hungry army arrived as the beans ripened.

Reims opened its gates on July 16. The coronation took place the following morning. Although Joan and the duke of Alençon urged a prompt march on Paris, the royal court pursued a negotiated truce with the duke of Burgundy. Duke Philip the Good broke the agreement, using it as a stalling tactic to reinforce the defense of Paris. The French army marched through towns near Paris during the interim and accepted more peaceful surrenders. The Duke of Bedford headed an English force and confronted the French army in a standoff on August 15. An abortive attempt on Paris was made at the end of August. Though St-Denis was occupied without opposition, the assault which was made on the city on 8 September was not seriously supported, and Joan, while heroically cheering on her men to fill the moat, was shot through the thigh with a bolt from a crossbow. The Duc d'Alençon removed her almost by force, and the assault was abandoned. The reverse unquestionably impaired Joan's prestige, and shortly afterwards, when, through Charles' political counsellors, a truce was signed with the Duke of Burgundy, she sadly laid down her arms upon the altar of St-Denis. Most historians blame French grand chamberlain Georges de la Trémoille for the political blunders that followed the coronation.

Capture

The inactivity of the following winter, mostly spent amid the worldliness and the jealousy of the Court, must have been a miserable experience for Joan. It may have been with the idea of consoling her that Charles, on 29 December, 1429, ennobled the Maid and all her family, who henceforward, from the lilies on their coat of arms, were known by the name of Du Lis. It was April before Joan was able to take the field again at the conclusion of the truce, and at Melun her voices made known to her that she would be taken prisoner before Midsummer Day. Neither was the fulfilment of this prediction long delayed. It seems that she had thrown herself into Compiègne on 24 May at sunrise to defend the town against Burgundian attack. In the evening she resolved to attempt a sortie, but her little troop of some five hundred encountered a much superior force. Her followers were driven back and retired desperately fighting. By some mistake or panic of Guillaume de Flavy, who commanded in Compiègne, the drawbridge was raised while still many of those who had made the sortie remained outside, Joan amongst the number. She was pulled down from her horse and became the prisoner of a follower of John of Luxemburg. Guillaume de Flavy has been accused of deliberate treachery, but there seems no adequate reason to suppose this. He continued to hold Compiègne resolutely for his king, while Joan's constant thought during the early months of her captivity was to escape and come to assist him in this task of defending the town.

It was customary for a captive's family to ransom a prisoner of war. Unfortunately, Joan and her family lacked the financial resources. Many historians condemn King Charles VII for failing to intervene. She attempted several escapes, on one occasion jumping from her 70 foot (21 m) tower in Vermandois to the soft earth of a dry moat, after which she was moved to the Burgundian town of Arras. The English government eventually purchased her from Duke Philip of Burgundy. Bishop Pierre Cauchon of Beauvais, an English partisan, assumed a prominent role in these negotiations and her later trial.

Trial

The trial for heresy was politically motivated. The Duke of Bedford claimed the throne of France for his nephew Henry VI. She had been responsible for the rival coronation so to condemn her was to undermine her king's legitimacy. Legal proceedings commenced on 9 January 1431 at Rouen, the seat of the English occupation government. The procedure was irregular on a number of points. In 1456, Pope Callixtus III declared her innocent of the heresy charges brought against her.

To summarize some major problems, the jurisdiction of judge Bishop Cauchon was a legal fiction. He owed his appointment to his partisan support of the English government that financed the entire trial. Clerical notary Nicolas Bailly, commissioned to collect testimony against Joan, could find no adverse evidence. Without such evidence the court lacked grounds to initiate a trial. Opening a trial anyway, the court also violated ecclesiastical law in denying her right to a legal advisor. Upon the opening of the first public examination Joan complained that those present were all partisans against her and asked for "ecclesiastics of the French side" to be invited.

The trial record demonstrates her remarkable intellect. The transcript's most famous exchange is an exercise in subtlety. "Asked if she knew she was in God's grace, she answered: 'If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me.'" The question is a scholarly trap. Church doctrine held that no one could be certain of being in God's grace. If she had answered yes, then she would have convicted herself of heresy. If she had answered no, then she would have confessed her own guilt. Notary Boisguillaume would later testify that at the moment the court heard this reply, "Those who were interrogating her were stupefied." In the twentieth century George Bernard Shaw would find this dialogue so compelling that sections of his play Saint Joan are literal translations of the trial record.
Several court functionaries later testified that significant portions of the transcript were altered in her disfavor. Many clerics served under compulsion, including the inquisitor, Jean LeMaitre, and a few even received death threats from the English. Under Inquisitorial guidelines, Joan should have been confined to an ecclesiastical prison under the supervision of female guards (i.e., nuns). Instead, the English kept her in a secular prison guarded by their own soldiers. Bishop Cauchon denied Joan's appeals to the Council of Basel and the pope, which should have stopped his proceeding. The twelve articles of accusation that summarize the court's finding contradict the already doctored court record.

A surviving example of Joan's signature
A surviving example of Joan's signature

After a courageous protest against the preacher's insulting reflections on her king, Charles VII, the accessories of the scene seem at last to have worked upon mind and body worn out by so many struggles. Her courage for once failed her. She consented to sign some sort of retraction, but what the precise terms of that retraction were will never be known. In the official record of the process a form of retraction is in inserted which is most humiliating in every particular. It is a long document which would have taken half an hour to read. What was read aloud to Joan and was signed by her must have been something quite different, for five witnesses at the rehabilitation trial, including Jean Massieu, the official who had himself read it aloud, declared that it was only a matter of a few lines. Even so, the poor victim did not sign unconditionally, but plainly declared that she only retracted in so far as it was God's will.

Execution

Heresy was a capital crime only for a repeat offense. Undoubtedly her position would now, in case of a relapse, be worse than before, for no second retractation could save her from the flames. Moreover, as one of the points upon which she had been condemned was the wearing of male apparel, a resumption of that attire would alone constitute a relapse into heresy, and this within a few days happened, owing, it was afterwards alleged, to a trap deliberately laid by her jailers with the connivance of Cauchon. Joan, either to defend her modesty from outrage, or because her women's garments were taken from her, or, perhaps, simply because she was weary of the struggle and was convinced that her enemies were determined to have her blood upon some pretext, once more put on the man's dress which had been purposely left in her way.

Eyewitnesses described the scene of the execution by burning on 30 May 1431. Tied to a tall pillar in the Vieux-Marche in Rouen, she asked two of the clergy, Fr Martin Ladvenu and Fr Isambart de la Pierre, to hold a crucifix before her. A peasant also constructed a small cross which she put in the front of her dress. After she expired, the English raked back the coals to expose her charred body so that no one could claim she had escaped alive, then burned the body twice more to reduce it to ashes and prevent any collection of relics. They cast her remains into the Seine. The executioner, Geoffroy Therage, later stated that he "…greatly feared to be damned."

Retrial

A posthumous retrial opened after the war ended. Pope Callixtus III authorized this proceeding, also known as the "nullification trial", at the request of Inquisitor-General Jean Brehal and Joan's mother Isabelle Romée. The aim of the trial was to investigate whether the trial of condemnation and its verdict had been handled justly and according to canon law. Investigations started with an inquest by clergyman Guillaume Bouille. Brehal conducted an investigation in 1452. A formal appeal followed in November, 1455. The appellate process included clergy from throughout Europe and observed standard court procedure. A panel of theologians analyzed testimony from 115 witnesses. Brehal drew up his final summary in June, 1456, which describes Joan as a martyr and implicates the late Pierre Cauchon with heresy for having convicted an innocent woman in pursuit of a secular vendetta. The court declared her innocence on 7 July 1456.

Clothing

Joan of Arc wore men's clothing between her departure from Vaucouleurs and her abjuration at Rouen. This raised theological questions in her own era and raised other questions in the twentieth century. The technical reason for her execution was a biblical clothing law. The nullification trial reversed the conviction in part because the condemnation proceeding had failed to consider the doctrinal exceptions to that stricture.

Doctrinally speaking, she was safe to disguise herself as a page during a journey through enemy territory and she was safe to wear armor during battle. The Chronique de la Pucelle states that it deterred molestation while she was camped in the field. Clergy who testified at her rehabilitation trial affirmed that she continued to wear male clothing in prison to deter molestation and rape. Preservation of chastity was another justifiable reason for crossdressing: her apparel would have slowed an assailant, and men would be less likely to think of her as a sex object in any case.
She referred the court to the Poitiers inquiry when questioned on the matter during her condemnation trial. The Poitiers record no longer survives but circumstances indicate the Poitiers clerics approved her practice. In other words, she had a mission to do a man's work so it was fitting that she dress the part. She also kept her hair cut short through her military campaigns and while in prison. Her supporters, such as the theologian Jean Gerson, defended her hairstyle, as did Inquisitor Brehal during the Rehabilitation trial.

Legacy

Several examples of the Cross of Lorraine, a symbol usual tied to Joan of Arc
Several examples of the Cross of Lorraine, a symbol usual tied to Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc became a semi-legendary figure for the next four centuries. The main sources of information about her were chronicles. Five original manuscripts of her condemnation trial surfaced in old archives during the19th century. Soon historians also located the complete records of her rehabilitation trial, which contained sworn testimony from 115 witneses, and the original French notes for the Latin condemnation trial transcript. Various contemporary letters also emerged, three of which carry the signature "Jehanne" in the unsteady hand of a person learning to write. This unusual wealth of primary source material is one reason DeVries declares, "No person of the Middle Ages, male or female, has been the subject of more study".

Joan of Arc's beatification finally came about in the year 1909 - directly following upon the passage of the 1905 French law on the Separation of the Churches and the State, at the time considered a major blow to the Catholic Church's position in French society. Her canonization followed on 16 May 1920. Her feast day is 30 May. As Saint Joan of Arc, she has become one of the most popular saints of the Roman Catholic Church.

Joan of Arc was not a feminist. She operated within a religious tradition that believed an exceptional person from any level of society might receive a divine calling. She expelled women from the French army and may have struck one stubborn camp follower with the flat of a sword. Nonetheless, some of her most significant aid came from women. King Charles VII's mother-in-law, Yolande of Aragon, confirmed Joan's virginity and financed her departure to Orléans. Joan of Luxembourg, aunt to the count of Luxembourg who held custody of her after Compiègne, alleviated her conditions of captivity and may have delayed her sale to the English. Finally, Anne of Burgundy, the duchess of Bedford and wife to the regent of England, declared Joan a virgin during pretrial inquiries. For technical reasons this prevented the court from charging her with witchcraft. Ultimately this provided part of the basis for her vindication and sainthood. From Christine de Pizan to the present, women have looked to her as a positive example of a brave and active female.

Joan of Arc has been a political symbol in France since the time of Napoleon. Liberals emphasized her humble origins. Early conservatives stressed her support of the monarchy. Later conservatives recalled her nationalism. During World War II, both the Vichy Regime and the French Resistance used her image: Vichy propaganda remembered her campaign against the English with posters that showed British warplanes bombing Rouen and the ominous caption: "They Always Return to the Scene of Their Crimes." The resistance emphasized her fight against foreign occupation and her origins in the province of Lorraine, which had fallen under Nazi control.

Three separate vessels of the French Navy have been named after her, including a helicopter carrier currently in active service. At present the controversial French far-right political party Front National holds rallies at her statues, reproduces her likeness in party publications, and uses a tricolor flame partly symbolic of her martyrdom as its emblem. This party's opponents sometimes satirize its appropriation of her image. The French civic holiday in her honor is the second Sunday of May.

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