Jeanne D’Arc, St. (St. Joan of Arc) (ca.
1412–1431)
Joan was born Jeanette, with the surname Arc or Romée, in
the village of Domrémy, on the border of Champagne and Lorraine,
on January 15, 1412. In documents of her time she is
known as Jeanne.
She was taught to spin and sew but not to read or write, these
accomplishments being unnecessary to people in her station of
life. Her parents were devout, and she was brought up piously.
Her nature was gentle, modest, and religious, but with no physical
weakness or morbidity. On the contrary, she was exceptionally
strong, as her later history shows.
At or about age 13 she began to experience what modern
psychology calls ‘‘auditory hallucinations.’’ In other words, she
heard voices (usually accompanied by a bright light) when no
visible person was present. This is a symptom that occasionally
presages a mental disorder, but no insanity developed in
Jeanne d’Arc. She was startled at first, but continuation of the
experience led to familiarity and trust. The voices gave good
counsel of a commonplace nature, for example, that she ‘‘must
be a good girl and go often to church.’’
Soon, however, she began to have visions. She saw St. Michael,
St. Catharine, and St. Margaret and was given instructions
as to her mission. She eventually made her way to the dauphin,
put herself at the head of 6,000 men, and advanced to the
relief of Orleans, which was surrounded by the victorious English.
After a fortnight of hard fighting the siege was raised and
the enemy driven off. The tide of war turned, and in three
months the dauphin was crowned king at Rheims as Charles
VII.
At this point Jeanne felt that her mission was accomplished,
but her wish to return to her family was overruled by the king
and the archbishop. She took part in further fighting against
the allied English and Burgundian forces, showing great bravery
and tactical skill. In November 1430, however, in a desperate
sally from Compiégne (which was besieged by the duke of
Burgundy), she fell into the enemy’s hands and was sold to the
English and thrown into a dungeon at their headquarters in
Rouen.
After a year’s imprisonment she was brought to trial before
the bishop of Beauvais in an ecclesiastical court. The charges
were heresy and sorcery. Learned doctors of the church and
subtle lawyers did their best to entangle the simple girl in their
dialectical webs, but she showed remarkable power in keeping
to her affirmations and avoiding heretical statements. ‘‘God
has always been my Lord in all that I have done,’’ she repeated.
But the trial was only a sham, for her fate was already decided.
She was condemned to the stake. To the end she solemnly
affirmed the reality of her ‘‘voices’’ and the truth of her depositions.
Her last word, as the smoke and flame rolled round her,
was ‘‘Jesus.’’ Said an English soldier, awestruck by the manner
of her passing, ‘‘We are lost; we have burned a saint.’’ The idea
was corroborated in popular opinion by events that followed,
for speedy death (as if by Heaven’s anger) overtook her judges
and accusers. Inspired by her example and claims, and helped
by dissension and weakening on the side of the enemy, the
French took heart once more and the English were all but
swept out of the country.
Jeanne’s family was rewarded by ennoblement, under the
name De Lys. Twenty-five years after her death, the pope acceded
to a petition that the trial by which Jeanne was condemned
should be reexamined. The judgment was reversed
and her innocence was established and proclaimed.
The life of the Maid of Orleans presents a problem that orthodox
science cannot solve. She was a simple peasant girl with
no ambitions. She rebelled pathetically against her mission,
saying, ‘‘I had far rather rest and spin by my mother’s side, for
this is no work of my choosing, but I must go and do it, for my
Lord wills it.’’ She cannot be dismissed on the ‘‘simple idiot’’
theory of Voltaire, for her genius in war and her aptitude in
repartee undoubtedly prove exceptional mental powers, unschooled
though she was. She cannot be dismissed as a mere
hysteric, for her health and strength were superb.
It is on record that a man of science said to an abbot, ‘‘Come
to the Salpêtrière Hospital [the refuge for elderly, poor, and insane
patients in Paris] and I will show you twenty Jeannes
d’Arc.’’ To which the abbot responded, ‘‘Has one of them given
us back Alsace and Lorraine’’
Although Jeanne delivered France and her importance in
history is great, it is arguable that her mission and her actions
were the outcome of merely subjective hallucinations induced
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by the brooding of her religious and patriotic mind on the woes
of her country. The army, being ignorant and superstitious,
would have readily believed in the supernatural nature of her
mission, resulting in great energy and valor—soldiers fight well
when they feel that Providence is on their side. So goes the
most common theory in explaining the facts surrounding the
life of St. Joan. But it is not fully satisfactory.
How was it possible that this simple, untutored peasant girl
could persuade not only the soldiers, but also the dauphin of
France and the court of her divine appointment How did she
come to be given the command of an army It seems improbable
that a post of such responsibility and power would be given
to an ignorant girl of 18 on the mere strength of her own claim
to inspiration.
Although the materialistic school of historians conveniently
ignores or belittles it, there is strong evidence to support the
idea that Jeanne gave the dauphin some proof of her possession
of supernormal faculties. In fact, the evidence is so strong
that Andrew Lang, not known for unsupported statements,
called it ‘‘unimpeachable.’’ Among other curious things,
Jeanne seems to have repeated to Charles the words of a prayer
that he had said mentally, and she also made some kind of clairvoyant
discovery of a sword hidden behind the altar of the Fierbois
church. Johann Schiller’s magnificent dramatic poem ‘‘Die
Jungfrau von Orleans’’ (1801), although not historically correct
in some details, is positive on these points concerning clairvoyance
and mindreading.
There is also evidence that Jeanne was connected with
fairies, which were also part of witchcraft beliefs. Not far from
Domrémy was a tree called ‘‘the Fairies’ Tree’’ beside a spring
said to cure fevers. The wife of the local mayor stated that it had
been said that ‘‘Jeanne received her mission at the tree of the
fairy-ladies’’ and that St. Katharine and St. Margaret came and
spoke to her at the spring beside the fairies’ tree. During
Jeanne’s trial the fourth article of accusation was that Jeanne
was not instructed in her youth in the primitive faith, but was
imbued by certain old women in the use of witchcraft, divination,
and other superstitious works or magic arts. Jeanne herself,
according the accusation, had said she heard from her
godmother and other people about visions and apparitions of
fairies.
Moreover, Pierronne, a follower of Jeanne d’Arc, was
burned at the stake as a witch. She stated on oath that God appeared
to her in human form and spoke to her as a friend, and
that he was clothed in a scarlet cap and a long white robe.
It has been suggested that the voices heard by Jeanne may
have been those of human beings rather than Christian saints,
and Jeanne herself stated, ‘‘Those of my party know well that
the Voice had been sent to me from God, they have seen and
known this Voice. My king and many others have also heard
and seen the Voices which came to me. . . . I saw him [St. Michael]
with my bodily eyes as well as I see you.’’ Jeanne’s references
to ‘‘the King of Heaven’’ in the original Latin and French
were translated with a Christian bias as ‘‘Our Lord,’’ and ‘‘my
Lord’’ was translated as ‘‘Our Saviour.’’ The scholar Margaret
A. Murray in her book The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921)
also suggests that if Jeanne was a member of a Dianic [witch]
cult, the wearing of male clothing may have been for Jeanne an
outward sign of that faith, hence the importance attached to it.
In another book, The God of the Witches (1931), Murray examines
the tradition that Jeanne was not actually burned at the
stake but survived for a number of years afterward. The
Chronique de Metz states, ‘‘Then she was sent to the city of Rouen
in Normandy, and there was placed on a scaffold and burned
in a fire, so it was said, but since then was found to be the contrary.’’
Some of the evidence for this view had been cited earlier
by Andrew Lang in his essay ‘‘The False Jeanne d’Arc’’ in his
book The Valet’s Tragedy and Other Studies (1903).
The period between the trial at Rouen and the Trial of Rehabilitation
(1452–56) is crucial. In 1436, five years after the
Rouen trial, the herald-at-arms and Jeanne’s brother Jean du
Lys announced officially in Orleans that Jeanne was still alive.
The city accounts record that on Sunday, August 6, Jean du Lys,
brother of ‘‘Jehane la Pucelle’’ [Jeanne the Maid] was in Orleans
with letters from his sister to the king. In July 1439 Jeanne’s
brothers were in Orleans with their sister, now married to the
sieur des Armoises (or Harmoises), and the city council presented
Jeanne des Armoises with 210 pounds ‘‘for the good that
she did to the said town during the siege of 1429.’’ Accounts are
also recorded of the wine merchant and draper who supplied
Jeanne with wine and clothing. Her own mother was in Orleans
at the time. Moreover, the masses that had been celebrated in
Orleans for the repose of Jeanne’s soul were discontinued after
her mother’s visit.
It is not conclusive that this Jeanne was an impostor (as Andrew
Lang believed), and it seems unlikely that many people
in Orleans, including Jeanne’s own brothers, could have been
deceived. The riddle of conflicting evidence of burning at the
stake or substantiated appearances years later has never been
satisfactorily resolved. Many such questions remain unresolved,
in spite of various books, mainly by French writers, dealing with
the issue.
Early French books on the subject include La Survivance et
le Mariage de Jeanne D’Arc, by Grillot de Givry and La Legende
Detruite Indications pour essayer de suivre l’histoire de Jeanne d’Arc,
by Paraf-Javal (1929). More recently another French writer,
Pierre de Sermoise, published Jeanne d’Arc et la Mandragore
(1983), which has revived the claim that the veiled woman
burned at the stake in the marketplace was a prisoner condemned
to death as a witch, substituting for France’s national
heroine.
More speculative is the conclusion of American biologist
Robert Greenblatt (reported in 1983) that Jeanne was really a
man. It was also claimed that two midwives who had examined
Jeanne to establish her virginity were astonished to find that
she had not reached puberty. In 1994, Jeanne d’Arc’s suit of
armor was thought to have been discovered by a Parisian antiques
dealer. Not only did the suit fit his 14-year-old daughter’s
body, but where it was damaged seemed to match where
it was believed to be the saint was wounded. Even in the twentyfirst
century Jeanne d’Arc remains a popular subject for articles,
books and a popular character for television programs and
movies.
Sources
Barstow, Anne Llewellyn. Joan of Arc Heretic, Mystic, Shaman.
Lewiston, N.Y. Edwin Mellen Press, 1986.
Marglis, Nadia. Joan of Arc in History, Literature, and Film A
Select Bibliography. New York Garland Publishing, 1990.