I recently read Joan of Arc: A History by Helen Castor, originally published in 2014. I have always been fascinated with the historical figure of Joan of Arc. I found this book to be extremely well researched and refreshingly objective, despite it being a challenging read. Here are eight quotes from the book that particularly stood out to me.
She is, famously, a protean icon: a hero to nationalists, monarchists, liberals, socialists, the right, the left, Catholics, Protestants, traditionalists, feminists, Vichy and the Resistance.
And then, on 23 February, just eleven days after the massacre at Rouvray, a little band of six armed men arrived, dusty from the road, at the great castle of Chinon. With them rode a girl, dressed as a boy, her dark hair cut short. Her name was Joan, and she had come with a message from God.
That evening, the king rode through the gates of Reims while crowds cried ‘Noël!’ in welcome. The cheers were politic, but their meaning was inscrutable; after so many years of conflict it was impossible to distinguish between expressions of relief and fear, between enthusiasm and exhaustion.
She had been an exceptional leader in an exceptional moment – a miraculous anomaly who, by the will of heaven, had transformed the landscape in which she stood. She knew that God was with her, and how much work still lay ahead. But what if those around her believed the moment of miracles had passed?
Even for Joan, there was a familiarity, by now, to the workings of the military machine. The noise was deafening. The roar of the Armagnac cannon was answered by artillery blasts from the walls above; whenever a Parisian gunner struck his target, the screams of mutilated horses and men added a nerve-shredding counterpoint to the shouts of the soldiers who toiled in the moat, hurling bundles of wood into the standing water at the bottom in an attempt to build a makeshift pathway to the foot of the walls.
If she had truly been sent by God, she would not wear men’s clothes in contravention of God’s law and the Church’s teaching. The nature of her supposed mission was no excuse for this abomination since no ‘greater’ good could ever justify sin – and in any case women were forbidden to fight, just as they were forbidden to preach, to teach, to administer the sacraments, and all other duties that belonged to men.
What had been right in 1431 in English Rouen – to secure the girl’s salvation by persuading her to abjure her heresy and embrace the loving counsel of the Church – was wrong twenty-five years later, in a kingdom from which God had driven the English with their tails between their legs.
For those in search of Joan herself, the surviving documents produced by these tribunals present a double challenge. Though their purpose may be clear, their rules of engagement – articles of inquiry, for example, glimpsed only through the responses they elicit – can be disconcertingly elusive. And the difficulty of interpreting the information they contain is compounded by the shockingly vivid presence of a girl who, through the unforeseeable effect of her own unyielding conviction, had achieved what should, for someone of her sex and class, have been impossible. Her forceful charisma is palpable in the transcript of the trial that condemned her to a heretic’s death. When dazzlingly displayed through the differently partisan judgment which annulled that verdict, it transformed the Maid into a legend, an icon and a saint.