Saturday, 30 June 2012

Not so much where's Joan more why Joan?

In our part of France (Southern Vienne) in most of the churches you will almost always find a statue or stain glass window of Joan of Arc. Those of you who follow our friend Jim’s loievalleyexperience daily blog will be familiar with the “where’s Joan” item when describing his church on Sunday item

Because she has become such an iconic figure discussions of her life are inevitably mired in controversy:
·         Where the voices she heard genuine or was she delusional?
·         Was she divinely inspired or a political tool of others?
·         Was she the saviour of France or merely the enemy of the English?

She genuinely believed she had been called by God (speaking through Saints Michael, Katherine and Margaret) to save France, but conversely Henry V believed that” God was on his side to restore to him to his rights and inheritance in France

To complicate matters further records on both sides of the argument must be to a great extent biased. Joan was illiterate and those who recorded her triumphs would almost certainly have played up her role, whilst the other records available, from her trial, were written by the English who were justifying their predetermined judgement.

So first a short potted history of Joan.

She was born Jehanne d’Arc (the English anglicised her name to Joan) in the far north east of France to a poor family. She was 13 when she first heard her “voices” which at first told her to be a good child. She became increasingly devout and took a vow to remain a virgin, and strenuously avoided two potential marriages. A defining moment for hers seems to be in July 1428 when a Burgundian raid on her village caused the family to flee. This left an abiding hatred of the Burgundians and their allies, by association the English.

When she was 17/18 the voices told her to go into France, aid the Dauphine and help him to be crowned King of France at Rheims. She eventually met the Dauphine at Chinon and persuaded him to enlist her help against his enemies. At the time Orleans was under siege by the English, Joan within days of her arrival managed to raise the siege. For her supporters this was a great victory which certainly gave encouragement to the French. Some accounts by English historians point out that the majority of the English forces were conscripts on contracts for only a year, and that year was nearly up. They were also located to the South of the bend of the Loire leaving their supply lines in Normandy strained. These historians also describe the lifting of the siege as  unimportant in the scheme of things. What is not in dispute is the great victory by the newly inspired French troops at Patay shortly after. Months later in 1429 the Dauphine was crowned king in Rheims.

Throughout the period she insisted in being called “La Pucelle” (the maid or the virgin). Why was this important? The hermit Marie Robine of Avignon had a vision and prophesised that a pucelle would come and save France from its enemies. Was Joan the real deal or was she aligning herself to the prophecy?
From then on Joan's influence with the King declined. She was wounded on the failed attack on Paris and was captured in the defence of Compiegne by the Burgundians who promptly sold her to the English
She was tried by an ecclesiastic court in Rouen for heresy, found guilty, unsurprisingly, and burnt at the stake on 30th May 1431. Her ashes were thrown into the Seine to avoid their becoming a shrine. Sadly she had served her purpose for Charles V and he effectively washed her hands of her by refusing to ransom her.
Subsequently her guilt on heresy was overturned in 1456 and she was canonised in 1920.

For her supporters her lifting of the siege of Orleans lifted the spirit of French Forces and changed the course of the 100 Years War which lead to England intrusion into France being left with just the port of Calais 20 years later. She was a heroine who inspired the likes of Napoleon, and even during WW1 she became an inspiration to French Troops and became their Patron even though she had not at that time been canonised.
Her detractors would point out that two years after the siege of Orleans Henry V1 was crowned King of France in Rheims and that the 100 Years War carried on for 20 years until the War of the Roses distracted the English Monarchy

So opinions of the importance of Joan depend on ones faith, patriotism and possibly from which side of the channel you hail. So heroine or heroic failure the choice is yours.