MAID OF FRANCE
What human words can make you realize such a life as this, a life on the borderline between human and celestial nature? That nature should be free of human weakness is more than can be expected from mankind, but these women fell short of the angelic and unmaterial only in so far as they appeared in bodily form, were contained in a human frame and were dependent on the organs of sense. Saint Gregory of NYSSA,
De Vita Sanctae Macrinuel
When the body of Joan of Arc was burned and her ashes gathered up and scattered into the first reaches of the Seine estuary at Rouen on 30 May, 1431 its lineaments were blotted from the collective memory. The very body of Joan of Arc was freed from the bonds tied by information and was released to inhabit the wider universe where the imagination is mistress of knowledge. She passed from the condition of the knowable to the condition of the all-imaginable; since then, her destroyed body in the pyre and her scattered handful of dust have acted as powerful stimulants to the creative faculty of the human mind that finds in historical figures the reflection and confirmation of its best and worst desires and fears.
There is no record of what Joan of Arc looked like. The colour of her eyes, the colour of her hair, her height, her weight, her smile, none of it is described until later. The face of the heroine is blank; her physical presence unknown. From the days when she was alive, all we know of her body is that she was about nineteen in 1431; as she told her examiners at the trial, that she had a light, feminine voice and that on the day of her death at Rouen, she was shown to the crowd to be a woman, because many feared she was a demon or a phantom. The Bourgeois de Paris, an anonymous Parisian who kept an invaluable record of life under the Anglo-Burgundian regime, wrote:
She was soon dead and her clothes all burned. Then the fire was raked back, and her naked body shown to all the people and all the secrets that could or should belong to a woman, to take away any doubts from people’s minds. When they had stared long enough at her dead body bound to the stake, the executioner got a big fire going again round her poor carcass which was soon burned, both flesh and bone reduced to ashes. The only picture of Joan that survives from her lifetime is a doodle in the margin of the records kept by Clement de Fauquemberghe, clerk of the Parlement of Paris, beside his entry reporting the defeat of the English at Orleans. It is a stiff, unskilled, rather remote sketch of a girl holding a pennon in her right hand, with her left on the hilt of a sword. Her hair is long, wavy and swept off her forehead and temples to flow over her bared nape down her back. Her dress is scooped above her bust, which the artist has rendered generously. The initials JHS, the medieval monogram for the Holy Name of Jesus, can be seen on the first fold of the banner. She is drawn in profile, with a stern, small mouth and a roman nose . But the Parisian recorder had not seen Joan.
We know that Joan was painted from life and that medals were struck with her image to celebrate her victories. Her interrogators at the trial attempted to prove that she had allowed herself to become the object of a cult and encouraged her image to be used to propagate it. No contemporary image done from life survives today, though three carved and helmeted stone heads, now in Orleans, London and Boston, have all been thought at one time to be portraits of Joan of Arc. None is authenticated any longer.
The epoch was concerned with inner significance and its expression in emblematic forms, as in the language of chivalric blazonry. But it was also the great prelude to Renaissance portraiture. As J. H. Huizinga has pointed out, Jan van Eyck, court painter to the duke of Burgundy, Philip the Good, was in Arras in the autumn of 1430, at the same time as Joan, and could have painted her with that same intensity of characterization that has made the face of the merchant Arnolfini one of the most famous faces in Europe. If we knew her with the particularity and the insight that Jan van Eyck would have brought to the task, prejudice, wishful thinking and prior assumptions would not have played to freely with her figure. As it is, Joan was already, in her lifetime, slipping away into a world of emblems, of personified abstractions. Previous modes of thought tugged on her individual person so powerfully that she could not withstand it; she, the figure of valour and strength, gave way before the assault of combined forces raised through the centuries to deal with the definition of femaleness. When we feel we are approaching what was peculiar to the girl called Joan of Arc, we are very often in a tangle wood of preconception and convention.
The only certain aspect of her physical being that emerges from the trial and the rehabilitation is that Joan of Arc was a virgin. She told her questioners in 1431 that since she first heard her voices at the age of thirteen, she had vowed not to marry, and she had resolved to remain a maid as long as her voices were pleased. She volunteered this information: chastity was the touchstone of female virtue; it was widely believed that the devil could not have commerce with a virgin. She angrily refuted the accusation that she had ever been about to marry and told her judges clearly that the ecclesiastical court in Toul had rightly vindicated her of a charge of breach of promise brought against her. So the examiners at Rouen did not press the subject, but preferred to insinuate that Joan had led a disorderly life, following soldiers like any barrack-room trull.
In the rehabilitation hearings, the issue of Joan’s virginity gains much greater definition. Yet most of the witnesses were not specifically asked about it. Only in Lorraine, where Charles’s investigators summoned the villagers of Domremy to prompt their memories of events forty-odd years before, did they ask an open question about Joan’s conduct as a young girl. The trial lawyers had alleged that Joan had lived like a camp follower with soldiers in an inn at Neufchateau. The Domremy witnesses were asked if her mother and father had been with her throughout this period. Otherwise, the prepared questionnaires issued to the witnesses were principally concerned with establishing the illegal conduct of the Rouen trial, for the main aim of Joan’s rehabilitation was to prove that its condemnation of her as a heretic was invalid, not on her account, but on Charles’s in order to clear him of taint by association. Yet, time and time again, the testimony digresses from this major purpose to tell of Joan’s specific virtue of chastity.
Miracles were expected of her: Joan herself registers either her surprise or her displeasure. Her strong words about the baby at Lagny, that he was “black as her tunic” before he changed colour, show that the incident had moved her deeply; she also tells the story more freely and clearly than others at her trial. But when asked about the cult surrounding her, she makes a distinction between the crowds desires and her own. Simon Beaucroix, one of Joan’s companions at arms, said at her vindication: “Joan was very upset and most displeased when some good women came to greet her, and showed her signs of adoration. This annoyed her.”
It must have distressed her greatly. Joan had not set out to be a miracle worker; she had claimed she had a political mission in France that God had given her to fulfill. But the fourfold mission-the raising of the siege of Orleans, the crowning of the king, the liberation of the duke of Orleans and the delivery of France from the English-had nothing to do with prodigies of raising from the dead or finding lost cups. The prophecies she made remain strictly within the narrow political sphere of the war with England, with the exception of her conviction that her voices would deliver her from captivity. She foretold the retreat of the English from the whole of France within seven years. (Charles’s triumphal entry into Rouen, the English stronghold in Normandy, took place in 1449; but Paris was recovered in 1436, near enough fulfilling Joan’s words of 1431); she knew beforehand that she would be wounded above her breast, at the battle for Orleans; and her voices had revealed to her that she would be taken. “Contrasted to the copious spouting of predictions of medieval prophets, Joan is extremely restrained. Even her account of the finding of the sword of Saint Catherine of Fierbois is sober, unadorned by the supernatural ornament given it by her friends.
Joan often rejected the role of living saint refusing to perform in the manner expected, with cures or fortune-telling. Her public career as a seer was inaugurated before she left for Chinon, when a summons came from the sick duke of Lorraine, Charles, and she traveled to Nancy to see him. But her refusal to bother herself with his future shows she spurned the prophetic role. She only wanted his military support.
This type of discrepancy, between Joan’s ambition on the one hand and the typecasting of those who showed a friendly interest in her on the other, appears throughout her story. For instance, seers like Catherine of Siena and Bridget of Sweden, as well as lesser preachers whose names are not so well known to us, made it their business to pronounce on the papal schism. Division, as we have seen was their forcing-ground and their main sustenance. Joan was again identified with this type of prophet, and again the mistake was not of her seeking, was of no interest to her, and placed her in great danger.
Once Joan had become famous, Jean, count of Armagnac, wrote her letters asking her which pope should command his allegiance. On 22, August 1429, Joan dispatched an answer to him from Compiegne. In it, she said she was too busy with the war to find out at the moment, but as soon as she reached Paris, he should get in touch with her again and she would let him know. She dictated it in great haste just as she was mounting her horse, she said at her trial, and if she had not let the messenger go, he would have been thrown in the water and not by her; one imagines a camp preparing for attack. She temporized, and it plunged her in terrible trouble. The orthodox Christian world in 1429 recognized without question Pope Martin V in Rome. Yet Joan, who purported to know things directly from God, inadvertently threw doubt on this by her deferred answer to the count of Armagnac.
Joan’s invulnerability to wounds, to bloodletting itself, terrified the English, On 7 May at Orleans, during the storming of the fort on the bridge, Les Tourelles, she was wounded in the breast by an arrow from a crossbow. Her soldiers suggested magic charms. She refused, using instead a poultice of lard and olive oil. As she said with some pride at her trial, in spite of the wound, she did not give up working, and within a fortnight she was healed. When the English defenders saw her rise again, unharmed apparently by the arrow, and continue fighting as eagerly and as tirelessly as before, their courage died. This moment marks the turn of the tide of the battle, according to Dunois:
Joan was wounded by an arrow which penetrated her flesh, between her neck and her shoulder for a depth of six inches. Despite this, she did not retire from the battle and took no remedy against the wound… I was going to break off, and intended the army to retire into the city. Then the Maid came up to me an requested me to wait a little longer. Thereupon she mounted her horse and herself retired into a vineyard at some distance from the crowd of men; and in the vineyard she remained at prayer for the space of eight minutes. When she came back, she immediately picked up her standard and took up her position on the edge of the ditch. The moment she was there the English trembled with terror. Imperviousness to pain is always uncanny: in horror stories and films to this day, such powers of insensibility are often given to disciples of the fiend. In Joan’s case, the uncanniness was increased by her foreknowledge; her chaplain, giving evidence in 1456, reported that she had told him on the eve of the battle of Les Tourelles, “Tomorrow blood will flow on my body from a wound above my breast.” At her trial, when she asked if she really had known beforehand, she replied, “indeed I did….I told the king about it”. But she denied that she had promised her soldiers that she would assume sacrificially all the wounds of the day in order to spare them.
However, the fact that the judges even articulated such a question reveals their credulity and their absorption with her powers. The English side believed in Joan the Maid more than the French. If they had not, they would not have tried her judicially at such expense; in August 1430, a special tax was levied by the Estates of Normandy to raise 120,000 livres, of which 10,000 was set aside for the price of Joan’s purchase from Louis of Luxembourg, her captor. If the French had continued to have a similar faith and dread of her, they would have tried harder to get her back, either by ransom or by force. Dunois attempted a skirmish outside Compiégne soon after her capture and seems to have proposed extending the war in Normandy later, perhaps with intent to rescue her. But the chronicler, Antonio Motosini, writing to his Italian patrons at the time, is the only contemporary writer to report that Charles VII threatened reprisals against English prisoners in order to soften Joan’s treatment. Otherwise the documents yield nothing about Charles’s reaction to Joan’s loss. There was apparently no attempt, on the part of the French, to raise a ransom for her. This suggest, hard as it may seem, that Charles and his advisors were disillusioned enough to tolerate her condemnation as a heretic.
What we know of Joan’s voices comes from her replies, as one hostile leading question after another drubbed them out of her; we know nothing independently of that trial. No other witness’s evidence, neither at the trial of vindication nor elsewhere, ever describes in Joan’s words the form of her leading inspiration. One extant description, which dates from before the trial, is a letter from Perceval de Boulainvilliers, seneschal of Berry and a recruiting officer for the Lombard and Scottish auxiliary soldiers in the French army – in short, an important courtier in Charles VII’s circle. On 21 June 1429, just over a month after the relief of Orleans, Perceval wrote to the duke of Milan, to whom he was connected by marriage, and reported on the recent, brilliant reversal of English fortunes in France. Joan the Puccelle was sent from God, he tells the duke, and then describes, in elegant terms and some detail, the circumstances of her birth and her arrival at court.
According to this first account of Joan’s voices, she was running footraces with her friends in the fields of Domremy when a certain youth appeared and told her to hurry home to help her mother. She did so, but her mother denied sending the messenger. When Joan returned to her friends in the fields, a shining cloud came down before her eyes and a voice speaking out of the cloud told her: “Joan, you must lead another life and perform wondrous deeds; for you are she whom the King of Heavens has chosen to bring reparation to the kingdom of France and help and protection to King Charles.” But when the voice had finished speaking, the cloud vanished, and Joan was left “stupefied by so many marvels.”
Boulainvilliers’s letter is the formal epistle of a learned and practiced courtier: as we shall see later, he drew from classical authors to flesh out his story, not from any want of veracity, but according to the epistolary conventions of his day. What is noteworthy, however, about his description of Joan’s voices-and he repeats that the apparitions continued in like manner-is that he did not give them any physical substance or personal identity. After the siege of Orleans, the character of her inspiration was recognized to be divine, but nothing more precise than a disembodied voice emanating from a cloud was known to a high placed courtier. On the other hand, Dunois, who fought alongside Joan in the Loire campaign and possibly knew her better than most, gave evidence at the rehabilitation of 1456 that differs completely from Bouainvilliers’s account and, unexpectedly, from Joan’s own story. Dunois deposed: “This young girl swore that she had had a vision in which Saint Louis and Charlemagne prayed God for the safety of the king and of this city (Orleans.) Patron saints of France both great and holy kings, Louis and Charlemagne were apt to the task, but the discrepancy between them and Joan’s trial saints-Michael, Catherine and Margaret-is not explained. Of course, Louis and Charlemagne could have appeared in addition; or perhaps Joan adapted her counsel to suit Dunois, a French champion himself. Whatever the reason, Dubois’s account still shows that, before the trial, Joan did not speak of her voices in the same terms as she used during it.
Guy de Cailly, who had hosted Joan in his castle near Checy on her first trip to Orleans and who had fought with her at the battle of Les Tourelles, was ennobled at her specific request in June that year. In the letters granting his title, the king declared that Joan had told him that Guy has also shared in her visions. These were of angels, who were not named. To commemorate this privilege, the Cailly were allowed to blazon angles’ heads, with wings, on their coat of arms. This, continued Charles, was the closest approximation what Guy, and therefore Joan, had seen.
By the fourth session of her trial, when the questioning about her voices was resumed for the third time, Joan began to show signs of desperation. Finally, after several more questions, she referred her judges to her earlier examination of Poitiers. Thence forward, she tried this stratagem again and again: “it is written down in the register at Poitiers’’ and “send to Poitiers where I was examined before” are phases that recur frequently as, feeling more and more at bay, she tried to elude her judges. Her stratagem has great pathos; that she could even hope that the English and their French supporters in Rouen, the capital of English administration in France, would be willing to consult (let alone give credence to) the evidence of a tribunal presided over by their opponents reveals the breadth of her political naiveté. What her reference to Poitiers does reveal, however, is that she spoke there of her voices. Yet the courtier Boulainvilliers does not characterize her experience in terms that correspond in any way to her later descriptions in her trial. The proceedings at Poitiers may have been kept secret. But this does not seem likely, as her virginity, her birth, family, early life, her spotless conduct, her test of virginity are all mentioned by other witnesses from that period. The discrepancy argues rather that the voices were not known to be specific saints to the people surrounding Charles and Joan in her heyday as the French champion. Except for Dunois, none of her comrades-in-arms who give evidence at the rehabilitation trial mentions the identity of her voices-not D’Alengon, not D’Aulon-nor does one of the priests, Sequin de Sequin, who saw her and spoke with her at Poitiers. For them, Joan was guided by her counsel (the word she preferred) and this counsel came from God. Her friends, it seems, were satisfied with this much. They relied on more substantive means, like her victories, to corroborate her divine vocation; when those failed, Joan’s voice continued to mean as little to them as it had in the beginning.
To her enemies, the issue was very different. It appears from the records of the trial that they were obsessed with determining the extent of Joan’s sensual experience of her voices, the extent of her bodily contact with them, the nature of their physical manifestation. If they could not prove her pollution by association with earthly beings, they would through her tangible experience of the other world. Joan was their plaything, she was lured into a gin she did not even understand to be there, which bit into her deeper and deeper as she struggled to express her truth in a language that she could not fully master and would yet be intelligible to her questioners. As they were adept in branches of learning she hardly knew by name, she took her lead from them, borrowed their images to render explicit and ineffable. The trap into which they prodded her closed inexorably.
When Joan first spoke of her counsel, at her second public session on 22 February, she was open, almost talkative. Undaunted in the presence of forty-seven judges and assessors, she declared that at the age of thirteen she had heard a voice. It was summer, toward the hour of noon and she was in her father’s garden. The voice came from the direction of the village church, and she seldom heard it without a light, a “great light.” It seemed to her a “digna vox,” a worthy voice; and the third time she heard it, she knew it was an angel’s. Further on, she describe how the angel instructed her, helped her find the king, but when her judges interrupted her story to ask again if she saw a light, she retorted: “Pass on to the next question.” When they asked if it was an angel, she was again peremptory: “Spare me that. Continue.” At this early stage, she was not yet cornered. She also asserted, as we have seen that Charles himself had had “revelations and apparititions, too,” and that “her party knew the voice was sent to her by God, and they saw and knew the voice too, and … the king and several others, including the duke of Bourbon heard and saw them.” She claimed not exclusive privilege, therefore, but a form of divine guidance available to others. Yet by this stage, the single voice of the garden had already divided and become plural.
At her third public session, two days later, her cross-examiner, Cauchon’s assistant, ̀̀̀examiner, Chauchon’s assistant, Beaupére, asked her if her voice had touched her to wake her and if she knelt down to give thanks. Already Joan’s experience is being maneuvered into a world of concrete sensation. When pressed as to whether the voice was an angel’s or a saint’s, she still refused to specify: “This voice comes from God; I believe I do not tell you everything about it and I am more afraid of failing the voices by saying what is displeasing to them than of answering you.” Again, the ambiguity: was the voice singular or plural? When asked again about the light, she gave an answer that is a model of mystical description: “The light comes in the name of the voice.” Teresa of Avila, a visionary with much greater mastery of theology and language than Joan, wrote a hundred years later that the highest kind of prayer was when the vision was not seen with the eyes of the body, but clearly seen and felt nevertheless: “He appears to the soul by a knowledge brighter than the sun.” She wrote that the experience-which she did not consider a vision-was a little similar to the knowledge that someone is there in the dark, or to the blind man’s sense of a presence, except that this analogy did not suffice, as the material senses are not in use at all. The light is known, not apprehended:
It is not a dazzling radiance but a soft whiteness and infused radiance, which causes the eyes great delight and never tires them, nor are they tired by the brilliance which confronts them as they look on this divine beauty. The brightness and light that appear before the gaze are so different from those of earth that the sun’s rays seem quite dim by comparison, and afterwards we never feel like opening our eyes again. It is as if we were to look at a very clear stream running over a crystal bed, in which the sun was reflected, and then to turn to a very muddy brook, with an earthy bottom, running beneath a clouded sky. Not that the sun or anything like sunlight enters into the vision; on the contrary, its light seems the natural light, and the light of this world appears artificial. Though Teresa denied that perception of this grace involved the senses, she could not, as extraordinarily articulate as she was, express the phenomenon without recourse to the use of the senses-the eyes, the ears. This limitation, which is in effect a limitation of language itself, was the trap set for Joan. If Joan had said she had not seen or heard voices, she would have seemed to deny them, to be an imposter; but grappling with the semantic problems strained her mental resources beyond endurance. She had no training in the imagery of mysticism, no knowledge of theological niceties, to distinguish between, empirical and mystical knowledge, as Teresa later struggled to do, was indeed beyond her. Her canniness made her avoid at first the snares her judges laid for her. But soon she was to find herself committed to literalism and precision about her experiences in a way that had never been necessary when she had described them to her friends.
Her dictum that “the light comes in the name of the voice” cuts across the sensuous boundaries of ordinary empirical knowledge, and beyond that Joan would not disclose more: “I will not tell you everything….This voice is good and worthy and I am not bound to answer you. “She then added that she would like the points she did not answer to be given to her in writing, a sign that she sensed the questioning was already becoming dangerously perplexing for her. Beaupèreignored her request and persisted: did the voice have eyes? At this, the first gentle push into the theological maze where she would be finally lost, Joan, as yet unvanquished and mettlesome, replied, “You will not learn that yet,” and quoted that motto from her childhood: “Men are sometimes hanged for telling the truth.” When Beaupè̀̀telling the truth.” When Beaupère insisted, she countered that she wished everyone could hear her voice as well as she did. Again she abrogated a claim to exclusive graces. Beaupère reverted to another line of questioning.
Joan’s dress formed the subject of no less than five charges, so although we know nothing of Joan’s appearance, we have detailed information about her clothes. The charge declared:
The said Jeanne put off and entirely abandoned woman’s clothes, with her hair cropped short and round in the fashion of young men, she wore shirt, breeches, doublet, with hose joined together, long and fastened to the said doublet by twenty points, long leggings laced on the outside, a short mantle reaching to the knee, or thereabouts, a close-cut cap, tight-fitting boots or buskins, long spurs, sword, dagger, breastplate, lance and other arms in the style of a man-at-arms.
The thirteenth article in the charges continued in similar vein, inveighing against her for attributing unholy commands to God Himself and for often dressing “in rich and sumptuous habits, precious stuffs and cloth of gold and furs”:
Not only did she wear short tunics, but she dressed herself in tabards and garment open at the sides, besides the matter is notorious since when she was captured she was wearing a surcoat cloak of cloth of gold, open on all sides, a cap on her head, and her hair cropped round in man’s style. And in general, having cast aside all womanly decency, not only to the scorn of feminine modesty, but also of well instructed men, she had worn the apparel and garments of most dissolute men, and, in addition, had some weapons of defense.” The accusation breaks down in three parts: the unwomanliness and immodesty of her costume; the luxury of her state; the carrying of arms. Her transvestism offended; it was a potent strategy for change, as Fronton-du-Duc noticed when he poised his heroine on the edge of “a new life,” symbolized by her donning the garments of men.
At the trial, Joan’s questioners returned to the subject of her dress with as much persistence as they had used about her voices, and Joan proved again in return as intransigent and as niggardly with information. On 22 February, she told the story of how she had set out from Vaucouleurs for Chinon, in the “habit of a man,” carrying a sword Robert de Baudricourt had given her, with a knight and a squire and four servants in her suite. But when Beaupère asked her, several times, why had she put on male dress, she baulked. She would not divulge who had advised it; she would not pass the responsibility for it on to anyone else. In her next reply, she added that “it was altogether necessary to change her clothes.” But neither at this point in the trial nor at any other time, until the very end, did she specifically give a practical reason. She never said she had done it to live, with greater safety among soldiers, to preserve her chastity, or to ride a horse. No pragmatic explanation was ever offered by Joan herself until after the trial, when she had resumed her male dress in prison. Then she said that if she was not to be transferred to a more seemly ecclesiastical prison, a prison gracieuse with women to attend her, as was her right, but was to be kept under the same unruly English guards, it was better for her to live dressed as a man.
Her tenacity to her dress beforehand had different roots. The second time she was asked if she wanted a woman’s dress, she answered: “Give me one. I will take it and go: otherwise I shall not have it and am content with this, since it pleases God that I wear it.”12 Her clothes were connected in her mind with her mission and held there an exalted place, above a mere practical measure. At the fourth public session, she made her famous answer: “The dress is a small, nay the least thing.” But Joan can hardly have meant this when she clung so fiercely to the costume. Her reply must have been a clumsy attempt to lead her accusers away from a crucial and sensitive area, for she added immediately, “that she had put it on at the command of God and his angels, as she had done in all things.” She insisted on this-that her motive for the dress was the gratification of God-three times. The subject again came up in the sixth session, the last in public. Joan was at her most recalcitrant. Had her voices asked her to wear her costume? “I do not recall.” Had the clerks at Poitiers questioned her about it? “I do not recall.” Had the queen, Marie d’Anjou, sometimes asked her to change her costume? “That is not in your case, replied Joan.
Had she been asked to change when she was a prisoner at the castle of Beaurevoir? Yes, thedemoiselle of Luxembourg, the aged aunt of John, Joan’s keeper, and his wife, the lady of Beaurevoir, offered her a new dress or the cloth to make a new one. But she told them she could not accept because she did not have God’s permission. As we have seen, she added, becoming almost voluble, that if she had, she would rather have changed at the request of those two ladies than of anyone else in France, except the queen. At the second session in prison, she explicitly denied that Baudricourt had suggested her change of clothing. She had done it of her own accord and not at the request of any man alive. It was at this point, when pressed further on the subject, that Joan made her pure protestation of faith in her voices, “Everything good that I have done, I have done at the command of my voices.” She thus implied that they had ordered her. But she added quickly that she could not elaborate further about her dress not until tomorrow when she would have been advised. She remained defiant when the judges pressed her to admit it was wrong. If she were free, she would do exactly as she had done, all over again, for it seemed to her that France had benefited greatly by it. She was not questioned further in the following session, as she had expected; and in the charges the turncoat Baudricourt is exonerated: he gave her male dress at her request, it says, cum magna abominatione, “with the greatest repugnance.”
Twice more, Joan was interrogated about her dress. She was bribed with the offer of Mass and communion if she would reassume female clothes. She was ambiguous in her answers. She first bargained over several exchanges for the right to hear Mass: “Promise me that I may hear Mass if I wear a woman’s dress and I will answer you.” Her examiner promised. Joan then prevaricated, saying she had promised the king not to change. But then, changing course swiftly and ordering her accusers to make her “a long dress reaching down to the ground without a train,” she said. “Then, on my return, I will put on once again the dress I have.” She was playing for time. When the examiner tried to compel her to answer, one way or the other, she snapped back: “Give me such a dress as the daughters of your bourgeois wear…with a long surcoat and a hood.” She continued to plead for her Mass, but proved incapable at making the simple switch of clothing. So she never heard Mass, the dress was not, it seems a trifle. The final draft of the charges reduced Joan’s shilly-shallying to a clear statement: “The said Catherine and Margaret instituted this woman in the name of God to take and wear a man’s clothes; and she had worn them and sill wears them, stubbornly obeying the said command to such an extent that this woman had declared she would rather die than relinquish these clothes.
Joan laid claim to her independence in a much more fundamental way before she met Robert de Baudricourt. At the age of sixteen or seventeen, she broke with her parents, exactly as described in the hagiographics of transvestite saints. She refused to marry the man they had chosen for her. She told the story under La Fontaine’s examination, in the afternoon of the second closed session in prison, and it appears in most revealing form, buried in the middle of her account of how she decided not to tell her parents about her visions. In the morning, she had announced that she had told only the king and Robert de Baudricourt about her voices. Although they had not stopped her telling others, she had feared to do so, in case her enemies, the Burgundians, heard and prevented her journey. But, she added, she feared especially that her father would forbid her to go. Her cross-examiner immediately asked, was it right for her to contravene the fourth commandment and leave without her parents’ consent? Joan answered that she had always obeyed them, in everything except her departure, and that she had since written to explain, and they had forgiven her. Pressed on the point, she said that as God had commanded to leave, she would have done so “even if she had a hundred fathers and mothers and had been a king’s daughter.” Interrogated further, she added that her voices had not forbidden her to tell her parents, except that the knowledge would have caused them pain; “But as for herself, should would not have told them for anything in the world.” Already, her conviction rings keenly, with a touch of pain, or even desperation, as she remembers how tightly she hugged her purpose to herself.
In the afternoon, she revealed why La Fountain asked her about the dreams it was said her father had had about her before she left home. The phrasing is revealing: either Joan’s father or Joan herself must have been the primary source. It is unlikely Joan’s father would have boasted of such dreams; it is more probable that Joan herself would have nursed the knowledge and spread it, in order to justify her unifilial secrecy, for it must have been a harsh memory. She described to La Fountain that “when she was still at home with her mother and father, “her mother told her that her father said he had dreamed that “Joan his daughter would leave with men-at-arms. Her mother and father took great pains, Joan continued, to keep her and held her in great subjection; and she obeyed them in everything, except in the case at Toul about the marriage. “Also, she went on telling her prosecutors that her father had also said to her brothers: “Indeed, if I thought that it would come to pass as I fear regarding my daughter, I should like you to drown her, and if you did not do so, I would drown her myself.” “(Her) father and mother practically lost their minds when (she) left for the fortified town of Vaucouleurs,” Joan admitted.
The simple words tell a dark story of anger and incomprehension, defiance and pain, in which the refusal to marry is mixed up with the desire to leave on her mission; together they provoke a murderous rage in her father. It was immediately after telling this that Joan snapped that she assumed male dress “by herself of her own accord and not at the request of nay man alive.” The atmosphere of the D’Arc household at Domremy was worlds away from the edifying family cosiness applauded by Joan’s hagiographers. Joan was, in fact, a run away.
One of the strangest saints in the transvestite group is Saint Uncumber; and her legend uncovers the deepest meaning of the saints who adopted male dress. Uncumber was born Wilgefortis, virgo fortis, “the strong virgin,” and she was one of the septuplet children of a king – of Portugal in some versions, called Lusitania in others. He wished her to marry another pagan, the king of Sicily. Like most of the saints in the group, Wilgefortis was pledged to a life of virginity. In despair at the proposed match, she prayed to Christ to help her keep her vow, and immediately a long silky moustache and beard grew to disfigure her. When the king of Sicily saw his bride, he declined. Wilgefortis’s father in the mortal rage characteristic of patriarchs in these legends, had his daughter crucified. Wilgefortis’s story spread throughout Europe, for perhaps it touched a widespread need before the age of easy divorce. She became known as a different kind of redeemer, the redeemer of women from men.
When Joan was first told by her voices that she must leave her native village and raise the siege of Orleans, that she must go to Vancouleurs and find Robert de Baudricourt, who would give her men to accompany her, her first response was that “she was a poor maid, knowing nothing of riding or fighting.” A horse seemed indispensable to Joan for the art of war, but quite beyond her reach. Yet horses, the first necessity for a knight, came Joan’s way quite easily. Her first was bought for her by her cousin Durand Laxart. With a colleague, Jacques Alain of Vaucouleurs, Durand Laxart paid twelve francs for her horse; the money was reimbursed by Robert de Baudricourt later. A second horse soon followed, very probably a finer specimen than the twelve franc nag. As we have seen, the duke of Lorraine, Charles I, demanded Joan in audience. He was sick and hoped she might cure him Joan rode to Nancy under safe-conduct and said that she wanted to go to France. She refused to discuss his health with the duke, telling him only that if he gave her his son for her companion and men to follow her, she would pray for him. According to one local witness at the rehabilitation, who remembered the story of Joan’s meeting with the duke, he then gave her a black horse. Joan herself does not say so. But it is highly significant that Joan requested the heir to the duchy of Lorraine to accompany her. For the “son” she demanded was René of Anjou, aged twenty in 1429. He was also the duke of Bar, the fief in which Domremy stood; and therefore, had vows of fealty been exchanged, he was Joan’s local suzerain and she his vassal. René was married to the duke of Lorraine’s daughter and had been adopted his heir that very year in March, news that Joan would very likely have heard. His mother was Yolande of Anjou, major influence of the Angevin party at court and a spur in Charles’s flagging ambitions. Since she had married her daughter Marie to Charles and wished to see her as queen of France, these were identical with her own. At every point, René of Anjou stood in a vital connexion to the world of feudal relations which Joan was poised to conquer for a time, and when she requested his services, she showed her natural business-like instinct for success in these matters. René did not, however, join her until after her glory, at Provins, on 3 August 1429. If Joan had arrived at Chinon in the company of the Dauphin’s brother-in-law, she knew she would have had no problem of access.
Joan was terse with her judges when she described her first retinue; she had a knight, a squire and four servants when she set out from Vaucouleurs. Twenty-seven years later, these men themselves were more forthcoming when they remembered the enterprise in which they had been so suddenly involved. Jean de Novelompont and Bertrand de Poulengy were the first men-at-arms to pledge themselves to Joan, and very proud they were of it later; they were also the first to bear the expense of that first journey to Chinon.
THE VINDICATION Now we begin to understand the old motto Noblesse Oblige. Noblesse means having the gift of power, the natural or sacred power. And having such power obliges a man to act with fearlessness and generosity, responsible for his acts to God…Some men must be noble, or life is an ash-heap.
Movements in European History After her capture, Joan was forgotten by her party by commission, not omission. She was deeply embarrassing to them: a champion held on suspicion of heresy. The only person whose voice we hear raised on her behalf that year is that of Jacques Gélu, archbishop of Embrun. He had formerly defended her transvestism; and in 1430, he wrote to Charles, enjoining him to recover Joan at all cost. To neglect her fate would be “culpably ungrateful.” Yet no ransom attempt was made, in an age when ransoms were the custom. Joan would have vanished from the triumphant story of the Valois recovery in France if it had not been for two mighty social forces: political necessity and family feelings. In her case, these were intertwined because Charles had given Joan an enduring mark of his esteem, which sealed his approval and created a faction deeply interested in rescuing her name. This seal was the coat of arms granted to Joan’s brothers, permitting them the noble name of “du Lyes.”
After their sister’s death, the family did not retreat into oblivion, but attempted and succeeded in capitalizing on her exploits in a number of shrewd, ambitious and not entirely honest stratagems, some of which they originated, others they accepted for the greater contending advantages of church and state. Shadowy but self-serving. Pierre and Jean and Isabelle in particular have not come down to us wrapped in the same glow of sincerity and truthfulness as their marvelous Joan.
Pierre and Jean joined Joan in Tours after her success at Chinon and Poitiers, Jacques, Joan’s father, came to Rheims for the coronation. Pierre was fighting with her at Compiégne and was taken prisoner at the same time. He was soon ransomed though, either with his wife’s dowry or with an advance from a knight called Philiberr de Bréey; it was raised against revenues from the bailiwick of Chaumont, which Charles levied and for which, in freedom Pierre became responsible. When the duke of Orleans was himself ransomed in 1440, he rewarded the brother of his city’s liberator with an island, the Ile aux Boeuls lying midstream in the Loire. There Pierre lived as a chatelaine, a member of the duke’s chivalric order of the porcupine. Jean made a career for himself, too, as provost of Vaucouleurs, captain of Chartres and again provost of Vaucouleurs until 1468. Isabelle Romée left Lorraine to live in Orleans where her daughter’s memory was honored, on a pension from the burghers. Yet their loyalty to her successes was not matched by comparable feelings in Joan herself.
The first time she mentioned them at her trial was in reply to the questioning about the whereabouts of her holy sword. She said she thought her brothers had everything she owned, all her goods, her horses, her sword and other things, worth in all more than twelve thousand écus. She returned to this when she was being questioned about her retinue. Again, she mentioned the sum of ten to twelve thousand écus and added that for the purposes of waging war, it amounted to very little. She said that her brothers had it, but added with asperity that everything she possessed rightly belonged to the king.
Inferring hostility from this comment might be exaggerated, if other remarks about her brothers did not reveal Joan felt exploited. Joan had exchanged her birthright as a peasant for an independent career in a just war; she shows continual annoyance and no pleasure in her father’s and brothers’ appearance on her trail. They had thought of drowning her, after all, and there are no signs they helped her in any way before she became successful.