Portraying Joan of Arc
The image of portraying Joan of Arc shows her on a horse in a dominant stance. This photo appears to be a cover illustration to a book as it includes credits at the bottom, including illustration credit to Angela Barrett. In the photo, we see a young women, who is suited up in metal armor, which would have only been available for men of the army. In this armor, Joan sits upon a white horse with light blue reins and a matching decorated saddle. The horse appears to be mid-action, as if it were spurred. There is also evidence that this illustration was intended to depict motion due to the banner or flag that Joan is flying above her head.
This particular flag is long horizontally and appears to be white and gold with a smaller illustration of an angel or some other regal figure. Surrounding Joan on her horse seems to be a large crowd of people, probably commoners. They all seem to be reaching as if to touch Joan as she is passing through a town. This implies that there is a level of admiration within the photo towards Joan. At the same time, the goal of the crowd may not be admiration but an effort to catch her. This difference is possible because members of the crowd seem to be carrying torches which historically has been a form of protest.
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There is no context of the location this illustration was intended to represent, which could potentially help us to differentiate whether or not the crowd is acting from admiration or detestment.Background and Early LifeIn the year 1412, Joan of Arc, or in French Jeanne d’Arc, was born as the daughter of a well-off (in comparison to neighbors) peasant family in Domrémy, France. Domrémy borders Champagne and Lorraine, France. As a young girl, Joan was very individualistic and was not seen to be in community with other children in the village.
A woman who had grown up alongside Joan, Isabellette d’Epinal, stated, “We never saw her in the street, but she stayed in church, praying; she did not dance, to the point that the other youth would often talk about it,” (Pernoud). The idea of a young girl spending her free time within the walls of a church can act as proof that from a young age she was different and would live up to a different purpose than just the average “peasant girl”. Though this is not to disregard her occupations that were typical of rural peasantry, and that through “sewing and spinning she feared no woman in Rouen” (Taylor).
Joan revealed through her trial testimonies that she was baptized at the church of Domrémy and she had several grandparents, which attests to the family’s importance. The impressions that root from a woman’s dependance on priests and the church were very important in the medieval culture; it could make or break her labels of a mystic or a simply a religious woman. There existed fine lines between the work of a prophet and a heretic because of the large amount of scientific ignorance of the times.
The number of prophets were increased in the late medieval period (Barstow). Because of the extremely private nature of the experience which prophecies come about, there was not a place for male control, resulting in skepticism. Medieval women’s spirituality has proven to be consistently different than medieval men. Medieval women, especially extraordinary (mystics, nuns, prophets), emphasized the humanity of Christ and sought to bypass clerical authority (McSheffrey).
This also was a point of awakening for many women as they began to explore the role of a woman in a man’s world. For Joan, the discovery of spiritual voices began when she was only twelve or thirteen years old. Joan claimed that she saw three voices everyday, sometimes on more than once a day, and she became dependent on them (Barstow). Joan had transformed herself at the instruction of the voices. It is said that part of her choosing to avoid “typical” teenage behavior– attending village dances, becoming engaged, and choosing to pledge her virginity to her mission– were all a result of her voices.
They brought to her a “powerful and charismatic gift, a perfect belief in herself” (Barstow). This divine confidence that carried her from her humble beginnings to the front line of victorious battles on behalf of France.Her personality, distinct piety, and even the way she dressed has led to a particular interest as Joan as an individual (Barstow). Many historians believed that she was heavily influenced by her righteous mother, Isabelle Romée, who inculcated Joan within the Catholic Church.
This is all to say that Joan was born in the midst of King Charles VI’s rule who suffered bouts of insanity which happened to be during the “Lancastrian phase of the Hundred Years’ War, a dispute over the French throne that pitted france against the English and their Burgundian allies” (Ha). France as a nation did not exist at this point in time, but the France-Burgundy fighting with the English, and the English claims to the French throne, along with Joan’s deeds would make France a reality.
Impact on the Hundred Years’ War
Looking back sixty years before Joan was born, were nothing less than times of uncertainty. Besides the war, the plague of 1348-50 and its resurgence every couple of years had depleted the social and economic structures of Europe (Taylor). Up to the 1380s, thousands of laborers, peasants and serfs had begun to revolt against the oppressive rule of lords, which ultimately ended serfdom in the west. The Church too, which had heavy influence for the past thousand years, providing hope for the population for just as long, was also in desperate times.
This started when Pope Boniface VIII was facing the wrath of both his French and Italian allies after trying to revive the papal rule as early as 1303. Around 1425, the border regions experienced a series of attacks by mercenaries. There were several agreements made within smaller communities of France to agree to not cause damage within their allied communities. IIt was around this time that Domrémy was under attack and Joan began encountering the voices. She received her mission from God, gained the approval of the captain, and prepared to leave. As she prepared to leave for Vaucouleurs, Baudricourt gave Joan her first sword saying “go, go, and come what may,” (Taylor).
She was accompanied by six men and spent eleven days passing through domestic territory, mostly at night, to avoid contact with the enemy. Joan would continue to motivate them through tribulation and also encourage them to attend mass as they traveled. This seemingly small journey introduced her to a much larger world than she had ever imagined from her small village. Dressed in entirely mens armor, they arrived to Chinon, where she would have her first meeting with King Charles VII. This meeting took place in secret, which would concern the court, because this typically only occurred with his most trusted counselors, and though Charles was skeptical, he allowed the meeting to happen.
This is where Joan would share with Charles her two orders from God: “to lift the English siege of Orléans,” which had begun six months earlier, and to “lead the king to Reins for his coronation and anointing” (Taylor). This meeting could take place due to Baudricourt testifying to her miraculous crossing of enemy territories to get to the king. At this point several church-related programs would question her to try and unveil any impure motives. To the countless interrogations, her answers were non-changing and carried theological weight.
Still the court and the king wanted a sign, so she boldly agreed that “if the king gave her even a small number of troops” that she guaranteed results in Orléans (Taylor). After receiving prophecy of the sword hidden in St. Catherine, and the ‘miraculous’ discovery of the sword, Joan would be fully suited in cuirass armor and carried a standard, or flag, similar to the one we find in the illustration. This is said to be about 16 feet long and be made with white satin, painted with a fleur-de-lys, the symbol of the French kings, to display power.
Orléans was a city with approximately twenty thousand inhabitants which was located on the Loire. This appeared as the gateway to the rest of France.The French abandoned Les Tourelles and destroyed the bridge as they retreated to prevent English crossing. As Salisbury, the highly regarded English general, looked out of the window across the river to produce a plan, a canon hit his location and ultimately resulted in his death. (O’Higgins-O’Malley). This would lead to a six-month standoff between the English and French.
At this point, Joan would enter Orléans, when the Orléanais would feel defeated and afraid of the growing English power. While waiting to attack, she instilled in the locals and her troops the faith that she had carried throughout this entire journey. It is said that the bourgeoisie treated her like an angel and in response, she exhorted them to pray to God. Joan’s decisiveness and perseverance paved the way for victory at Les Tourelles. This victory occurred from the troops misunderstanding of of Joan seeing her standard in the hands of someone other than the squire, and began shouting. The troops rallied, and in a short amount of time, took the Les Tourelles.
After the victory, Joan and the half-brother of the Duke arrived to the king’s chamber and begged for Charles to “help maintain the momentum by providing more soldiers” to retake Jargeau, Meung, and Beaugency (Taylor). Within only a few months, English had been forced from these territories and had withdrawn. Due to these successes, Joan led an expedition that penetrated deep into Anglo-Burgundian territory and which culminated with Charles VII’s coronation at Reims on July, 17 1429.
This was the peak of her career because shortly after an assault on Paris failed, Joan was wounded and very distanced from the royal court. She followed this with lesser campaigns before leading a small troop to advance along the River O??se. In this campaign, the duke of Burgundy captured Joan at Compiègne on May 14, 1430 (Green). She was ransomed first to the English and then passed along to the Church to be tried. After a protracted trial, she was executed for heresy and was burned at the stake.Joan as a Female Role Model
Joan’s legend continued to grow as time continued, except she was no longer the hero. Through Shakespeare she was a clever witch, through Voltaire a maid who resisted sexual temptation for a year, and to Twain, a bonny child. We see that Joan’s popularity was revived in the nineteenth century because of Napoleon’s interest in her and his student who published five volumes relating to Joan of Arc and her successes on and off the battlefield (Taylor). In a copy of the May 17, 1920 Montreal Gazette we see the honoring of The Joan of Arc for her “spirit uniting Britain and France,” this was a result of her official canonization; for this event, almost four hundred years later, over seventy thousand people showed up to honor her piety and her victory (Cortesi).
There is difficulty in defining self-concept in those that have died, because we can only judge them from their actions, not from how they saw themselves. For many, we see a transformation in an individual that would stand to inspire many many generations of women. She began in a humble role of an “illiterate peasant girl” to “inspiration for the French Army” at the turning point of the Hundred Years’ War (Barstow). Her stature as a respected and charismatic female is also honorable. Among men and women in the French and English populations, the individuals were never indifferent to her; she succeeded in a male world, coming from merely nothing, to carrying on global fame. However, her success came with a high price, that she was, eventually, willing to pay.
The symbolic use of her story has been used for countless opposing causes over the past two centuries, and has seemingly obscured the girl who left her home with a mission she received from God. Should her honor come from her piety, her military talents, or her mantra to “go boldly!”? Larissa Taylor states that “the real story of Joan of Arc and the men in her life does not need to be exaggerated” (Taylor).
Even with today’s advanced roles of women, her accomplishments are astonishing because not only did she overcome poverty and gender stratification, she was only nineteen when she died for her political cause. To this day there is a statue of Joan that stands outside the Reims cathedral to stand as a reminder of benefits that come from religious dedication and willpower. There are historical landmarks all over France that are living reminders to women and young children that a difference can be made.
When being taught about the average medieval woman, you get biological differences that are recognized with adjectives like wet, cold, active, and child-rearing (McGlashan). They codify these differences with the limited political power, limited agency under the law, and a limited sphere of influence. Women’s virginity was prized by The Church and was expected to be a woman of value within society. Women were expected to follow covenants bona fide. The Joan of Arc denies the characteristics that define a medieval woman.
Though I cannot confirm her bodily temperature I do not think that her actions constitute a coldness in any way. She defies the codes that identify a woman’s place in society. Joan is an anomaly in fourteenth century French society. Her character led her to a vast amount of political power in comparison to any other woman of her times, and her sphere of influence was incredible compared to the population of her small village. Unfortunately, she was limited by the agency of the law, and the people would have her burned at the stake as a heretic, not the saint that she would be recognized as five hundred years later.