Joan of Arc, who has become famous for her role in the French victory against England in the Hundred Years War, can also be identified by her rebellion against the gender expectations of the time and the threat she posed to the powerbase of the Catholic Church as a result. Accepted as a prophet of God among the French, and as a soldier and military commander, Joan subverted the patriarchal powerbase of the Catholic Church, and it is for this reason above any other that she was executed in May 1431.
Joan of Arc was born around the year 1412 during the Hundred Years War, which by this time had been waging fitfully for almost eighty years. The village she was born in – Domremy – was situated in Eastern France, which had severely suffered as a result of the violence and plundering of the conflict.
Joan was an illiterate peasant girl, which, though insignificant in itself, has contributed to the awe inspired by her having become the turning point in the Hundred Years War. However, though recognised as a peasant, she was born of a family of importance in her district; though not rich in comparison with the wealth of the nobility, they were probably significantly better off than many.
According to Joan's testimony at her trial in 1431, Joan began hearing 'heavenly voices' at around the age of twelve. These voices told her she was to help bring Charles the dauphin to his rightful place on the throne of France. Larissa J. Taylor draws connections between this and the major skirmishes between Vaucouteurs’ forces and the Anglo-Burgundian forces that caused the villagers of Domremy and elsewhere to flee to Neufchateau (which she believes happened in the same year). Already unusually devout, Joan believed these voices were truly of God, and followed them first to Robert de Baudricourt, who commanded the garrison of the administrative centre of Vaucouleurs, in order to petition him for an escort to journey safely through hostile Burgundian territory to Charles VII the dauphin, who resided at the castle of Chinon. There existed at this time well-known prophesies of a young virgin maid from Lorraine who would save France, and it is likely that these prophesies, some of which had been directly prophesied to the dauphin Charles, gave Joan the credibility she initially needed to be granted her escort and gain an audience with Charles.
After gaining the trust of Charles, Joan went on to play an instrumental role in the French victory at Orleans and the Battle of Patay, recognisably “revers[ing] the momentum of the war.” Joan served as a symbol of God’s Divine sanction of French rule, which raised French morale significantly and demoralised the English. Joan continued on to achieve her aim of clearing a path to Reims, where Charles VII was crowned King in July 1429.
Joan was captured in May of 1430 at Compiegne when after retreating from a day of fighting with Anglo-Burgundian soldiers, Joan and only a small group of her men were trapped outside the city after Captain Guillaume Flavy ordered the drawbridge closed to prevent the approaching English and Burgundian soldiers from crossing into the city. Charles, perhaps because he was short of money, or perhaps because he felt Joan had become uncontrollable or unnecessary, refused to ransom her or help her during her subsequent trial.
The Trial was very obviously rigged against Joan, and was focused on destroying her reputation in order to reduce the level of her influence over the populace. Because much of Joan’s legitimacy came from her claim to be a virgin, the trial sought to undermine her claim to Divine appointment by representing her as sexually deviant; rumours of prostitution and immorality were spread by her accusers, questioning about whether Joan had touched or been touched by the voices she heard, and whether she had kissed them. However, the trial was not only motivated by the Church’s struggle to maintain power, but was also, more obviously, related to the English war effort. The capture of Joan was seen as a significant achievement because of her power to inspire loyalty, unity and faith in the French. Her trial was also fuelled by the need to inspire renewed confidence in the now discouraged English, who had lost every significant battle against the French since Joan of Arc had taken command.
On May 30, 1431, at nineteen years of age, Joan of Arc was executed for the crime of retracting her confession and donning male clothes after having made an oath not to. It is clear, however, that the planned outcome of the trial all along had been to execute Joan; at her rehabilitation trial it was claimed that the incident in which Joan broke her oath involved guards stealing her women’s clothing and replacing it with male clothing, leaving her until eventually she had to make the decision to wear the male clothing in order to go to the toilet, or go unclothed. Furthermore, when Joan was ill in custody, the doctors were warned that under no circumstances was Joan to “die a natural death.”
Joan of Arc was a remarkable woman who subverted the patriarchal values of her time, becoming simultaneously the most loved, respected, feared and hated woman of her time. Her Trial reveals just how significant her assuming a position of male authority was to the patriarchal powerbase, and suggests that it was for this reason that she was publically burnt at the stake in 1431. Furthermore, the fact that the Church willingly overturned her sentence and admitted her innocence just two decades after her death suggests that her execution was inherently political and considered necessary to regain English confidence and justify the decision of the Church to support the English (along with protecting the patriarchal values of the institution). By this time, Joan no longer posed a threat, and could be used for positive political purposes by the Church, which would have gained public favour by pardoning Joan. She was later canonized in 1920, thus proving to be one of the most influential and memorable female figures in history, and reinforcing the generally accepted belief that the original trial and her execution was unjust.
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 Philip Nord. ‘Catholic Church Culture in Interwar France,’ French Politics, Culture and Society, 2003; Stephanie Tarbin. ‘Pucelle De Dieu’ or ‘Wicche of Fraunce’: Fifteenth Century Perceptions of Joan of Arc’ In Venus and Mars: Engendering Love and War in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Ed. Andrew Lynch and Phillippa Maddern. Nedlands; University of W.A. Press, 1995, p124
 Tarbin, p124
 A letter written in 1429 by a counselor of the French king Charles VII, Percival de Boulainvilliers, gives the date for Joan of Arc’s birth as being the feast of the Epiphany in 1412. However, this cannot necessarily be trusted as accurate, as the entire letter portrays Joan as almost Christlike, and this date may simply be an idealistic fabrication to demonstrate her role as saviour of France. Taken from an extract of the letter as reproduced in L.J. Taylor, The Virgin Warrior: The Life and Death of Joan of Arc, p1
 The Hundred Years War began in 1337 and lasted 116 years (though it was not a single continuous period of war, but was broken up by periods of truce).
 J. M. Bennett & C.W. Hollister. Medieval Europe: A Short History 10th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., 2006, pg 352
 In the lower classes, girls were far less likely to be taught the skills of basic literacy. Their education was predominantly centered on learning how to run a household, and for peasants much. E.g. S. Bardsley, Women’s Roles in the Middle Ages, p94
 Taylor pp 6-7.
 Ibid, p21. The suggestion is that these experiences traumatized Joan and resulted in her having hallucinations based on the root cause of the skirmishes – the struggle for the throne of France. However, while a reasonable argument I have found no direct evidence to corroborate this, nor does it explain Joan’s continuous success in following the ‘voices’ instructions
 Ibid, pp 15-17
 S.W Richey, Joan of Arc: The Warrior Saint. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003, p28
 Bennett & Hollister, Medieval Europe, p352
 Taylor, The Virgin Warrior, p. 20: Marie d’Avignon, according to Taylor “the most important prophetess of her time” prophesied to Charles VII that “after her there would come a maiden who was armed and would deliver the realm of France from its enemies” This prophesy was deemed credible, and would have supported Joan of Arc’s attempts to gain access to the dauphin and complete her ‘mission.’
 Richey, p28
 Joan served in the thick of battle, providing a constant reminder to her soldiers of the God’s divine sanction and inspiring them to fight on. She also enforced strict discipline and inspired a “loyalty and camaraderie even when her actions began to conflict with those of the king and his counselors” Taylor, p. 89
 Bennett & Hollister, p352
 Taylor, p11
 Philip Nord. Catholic Church Culture in Interwar France. In: French Politics, Culture and Society, 2003. Vol. 21, Issue 3
 V. Sackville-West, Saint Joan of Arc, (Doubleday Doran, New York, 1938) p.41
 Nord, 2003; these accusations focused particularly on the claim that Joan had rebelled against her parents (which also served as evidence of her immorality and evidence against Divine sanction) to go to work in (it was implied) a brothel. Though all the priests who were called to testify against her claim to virginity did the opposite, the attempt to associate Joan with sexual deviance is clear.
 Tarbin, Pucelle de Dieu, p124
 R. Pernoud & M-V. Clin. Joan of Arc Revised and Trans. By Jeremy duQuensay Adams (New York:St. Martin’s Press, 1988)
 R. Pernoud, K.A. Porter & J.M. Cohen. ‘The Retrial of Joan of Arc: Evidence for her Vindication’ Ignatius Press, 2007, cited in D. Berents, D. De Boer & M. Warner. Joan of Arc: Reality and Myth, Uitgeverij Verloren, 1994, p.114
 Taylor, p149, my emphasis
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