MYTHS AND DISTORTIONS
JOAN OF ARC
A reprint of an essay by the Saint Joan of Arc Anti-Defamation League
"For history - let us not forget this - is an exact science regulated by scientific method. We cannot accept a mere supposition unsupported by any document." - Régine Pernoud, historian and Joan of Arc biographer.
"In taking notes of the case, I was often rebuked by my lord of Beauvais, and by the judges, who tried to compel me to write things down according to their interpretation and not as Joan meant them." - Father Guillaume Manchon, chief notary at Joan's trial in 1431.
Joan of Arc has always been the target of libelous distortions and propaganda from the first moment she came before Judge Cauchon in Rouen, a trend which has continued throughout the subsequent centuries; but the situation has become particularly grim in recent decades with the rise of "intellectual nihilism" (aka "Postmodernism"), an anti-intellectual movement which has been embraced by a small but influential subset of modern academics. Under Postmodernism, standards of scholarship have been eroded to the point that many of the "theories" being produced today are nothing but fiction, invented for the sole purpose of furthering an agenda without the slightest grain of credible evidence to back them up.
Coupled with this dishonest trend is a lingering set of innocent misconceptions about Joan of Arc and her era which, while basically harmless, nevertheless should be corrected. Below are some of these myths, with the evidence against them summarized on this page:
It's still erroneously believed that Joan of Arc was tried and convicted by the Inquisition with the blessing of the Catholic Church, even though the main judge, Pierre Cauchon, was not a member of the Inquisition, and the only representative of the Inquisition to preside at the trial (a Vice-Inquisitor named Jean LeMaistre) was induced to attend after being threatened by the English. LeMaistre seems to have felt that the trial was illegal from the beginning, a position with which his fellow Inquisitor Jean Bréhal wholeheartedly agreed when the case was appealed and came up for a retrial about 20 years after her death (from 1450-1456), leading the Church to overturn the original conviction.
Cauchon himself did not even have the legal jurisdiction to try the case under canon law, and his own notaries (the clergymen Guillaume Manchon, Guillaume Colles de Boisguillaume, and Nicolas Tacquel, who served as clerks at the trial) accused him and the English of fraud, bias, and intimidation, as did several of the clergy who were chosen to serve as assessors. One of these was imprisoned for speaking out against the dishonest tactics which were being used against Joan of Arc, and another was told that he'd be thrown into the Seine unless he kept his mouth shut.
In short, the trial was a political maneuver engineered by the English with the help of a mere handful of pro-English clergy such as Cauchon and d'Estivet, rather than a valid ecclesiastic trial with the backing of the Church as a whole. Most of the clergy, in fact, backed Joan of Arc, whom the Church scholars at Poitiers had declared a true Catholic before she even set off on her military campaigns.
It's commonly believed that Joan of Arc "violated the norms" of her society by being given titular command of an army and wearing "male" armor, even though there were actually a number of women who led armies and/or wore armor during that era, including Countess Jeanne de Penthièvre, Marcia Ordelaffi, Jeanne de Belleville, Lady de Châtillon and Countess Jeanne de Montfort. Such women were fulfilling their societal roles under the laws of feudalism rather than "breaking the rules".
In an era in which political power was vested in the hands of aristocratic families, noble women were expected and required to lead, either directly or symbolically, their family's forces if their husband or son were unavailable, and the armor they wore was quite feminine, by definition (plate armor had to be precisely contoured to the shape of the wearer's body, with predictable results; and this can be seen in a surviving image of Joan of Arc's armor at the Abbey of St. Denis. Armor was not viewed as exclusively "male" in that era, any more than a bullet-proof vest is exclusively "male".
Like Joan of Arc, these other women generally had no more than nominal command of their armies (with experienced captains providing most of the direct leadership, although the Countess of Montfort and Jeanne de Belleville took a more direct role). From a cultural standpoint, Joan of Arc would have been unusual mainly in the sense that she wasn't of noble birth and was not granted noble status until December 29, 1429, about halfway through her military campaigns.
While we're at it: she was probably the mildest of the many women who took part in the Hundred Years War: her own testimony makes it clear that she did not see a combat role for herself (she said that she carried her banner into battle rather than a weapon, adding that she had never killed anyone). The retrial testimony of her former comrades revealed that she wept constantly over the deaths of troops on both sides. Women such as Jeanne de Belleville (known as "the bloody lionness") were far less compassionate.
It has become trendy in recent decades to portray her as a "transvestite", even though her own statements (as found in the record of the first trial and as quoted by at least three witnesses who testified at the re-trial) clearly indicate that she wore male attire as a desperate measure to protect herself against the many rape attempts that she endured in prison, (and which she was always in danger of facing while in enemy territory), not as a "fashion preference". She wore a dress whenever there was no such danger (i.e., during the entire previous 17 years of her life prior to embarking on her campaigns), and she told her judges that she would wear a dress in prison as well if they transferred her to a Church prison (in which case she would be guarded by nuns rather than abusive male guards). Additionally, she begged the court to allow her to be buried in a "long woman's shift" if death should occur while in prison, since she was afraid that she might end up being buried in her boyish outfit and this evidently was not a terribly pleasant thought for her (hardly the position which would be taken by a transvestite).
In the end, she seems to have been forced into resuming male attire when the guards took away her dress (based on the deposition of a witness at the 2nd trial), and this was then used as a dishonest pretext for condemning her. These were the circumstances under which she was induced to wear male clothing. The people who claim otherwise are simply distorting the facts, either by credulously accepting the accusations made against her (even though these accusations were soundly proved false when the case was retried), or by deliberately taking some of her comments out of context (such as her statement that she "preferred" male clothing under the circumstances, for the reasons explained above; a statement which is sometimes distorted and taken to mean that she "preferred" male clothing, period, which is obviously not what she meant). It is truly stunning, and depressing, to see Judge Cauchon's distortions of her words being trotted out yet again after all these years.
She is also now being portrayed as a "pagan shaman" or "Wiccan", etc, despite the enormous evidence to the contrary (including dozens of quotations from she herself and dozens of witness depositions proving her devotion to the Catholic faith). There is not a single modicum of evidence to indicate that she was a member of some sort of "witch cult" or that she otherwise subscribed to any pagan faith, nor was she even accused of being a member of an organized group (the charges of "witchcraft" were based on Cauchon's claim that she was involved with little magical "fairies", not Wiccans, along with the additional charge that she viewed her flag and other items as "magical").
Those who subscribe to the "Wiccan cult" theory have been forced to base their views on wild supposition, being unable to even cite Cauchon's charges as "evidence". In any event, Joan of Arc herself expressed contempt for pagan practices, and it's been pointed out that her answers to the questions about items such as mandrakes showed not only contempt for such things, but also revealed that she knew nothing about how they were actually used by pagans.
An even more baffling misconception is the notion that she was a lesbian, despite the fact that this accusation was never even included in the 70 articles against her. If you read through these charges, you won't find the slightest mention of this issue at all, nor will you find mention of it anywhere in the testimony (Cauchon accused her of a great number of things, but lesbianism was not one of them). It is hard to fathom where anyone got the idea that she was accused of this, nor why they would believe it, even if she had been accused of it. There is not the slightest hint of any lesbian tendencies anywhere in the evidence. Even many lesbian writers have admitted this.
In the same vein, she is also painted as a "whore" who allegedly sold her body to men, even though this is entirely contradicted by the medical examination which was ordered by the English themselves and conducted under the guidance of Anne de Burgundy, conclusively proving her virginity even to her enemies. Cauchon himself was forced to accept this, and all of the sex-related charges were quietly dropped (they appear in the original list of 70 articles, but not the final 12 articles).
The only "evidence" to the contrary is, we are told, supposedly found in "secret documents", the standard tactic used by those who have no credible information to back up their theory. If such "secret documents" exist at all, then they are contradicted by (and therefore almost certainly debunked by) the authenticated documents, long-accepted and thoroughly validated by historians, which prove her virginity. Another, more innocent, misconception is the notion that Joan of Arc was a "feminist", a label which is not only an anachronism but is also called into question by her own comments, which seem to indicate that she preferred sewing, weaving, and other "womanly duties"; and she boasted that she could rival any woman with a needle and spindle.
When asked why she wasn't doing such "womanly duties" in late 1429 and early 1430, she merely replied (with her usual matter-of-factness) that there were an abundant number of other women who were already doing such tasks. These comments would not seem to reflect a "feminist philosophy" (a feminist would presumably call for an end to such roles for women rather than embracing them with such enthusiasm... surely, I can't picture Gloria Steinem boasting about her prowess at household chores).
Nor does she seem to have been a "tomboy" as a child: as even Victoria Sackville-West points out, she was probably closer to the opposite extreme, having been inordinately quiet and always "busy with her duster" (to paraphrase the above author) . Some would say that this is somehow incompatible with her later activities; but if you look at the women in the modern U.S. or Israeli militaries, very few of them fit the "tomboy" stereotype, either. And at least those women enthusiastically chose their career, whereas Joan of Arc was reluctant to take on a military role at all, telling Jean de Metz that, in her own vivid words: "I would rather stay at home with my poor mother and do the spinning". She was a courageous heroine, but nevertheless a rather reluctant heroine.
Lately, the members of the MTV generation have adopted the notion that she was a "rebellious teen", even though the witness testimony clearly shows her to have been an unusually obedient teenager except when sneaking off to visit some of the local churches (which probably doesn't exactly fit into the category of "teen rebellion").
Cauchon tried to claim that she had "driven her parents out of their wits" when she embarked on her mission without their consent. However, even his own trial notaries refused to let this distortion go unchallenged, and it is also contradicted by the retrial testimony.
Among the older myths is the notion that she was the illegitimate daughter of Duke Charles d'Orléans, a theory which was originally invented to try to prove that she was not actually a commoner (since it was once felt that a lowly, base-born member of the Third Estate could not possibly accomplish anything worthwhile). These monarchists decided that she must have had Royal Blood flowing in her veins in order to be as effective as she was (a rather odd assertion to make, given the incompetence and insanity which plagued so many members of the French Royal family during this period).
At any rate, those who subscribed to this notion hit upon the idea that she must have been the lost baby of the Orléans family who died shortly after birth in 1407, ignoring the fact that this baby was: 1) named Philippe; 2) was born 5 years earlier than Joan of Arc; and 3) there are records showing that the baby did, in fact, die shortly after birth.
In modern times, this theory has been dredged up repeatedly to serve various agendas; mostly, it seems, to satisfy the "conspiracy theory" believers, since the modern version of the theory often involves an elaborate (and wildly implausible) government-engineered plot in which Charles d'Orléans' daughter is whisked away to Domrémy where she is secretly coached by members of the Royal family and eventually led through her military campaigns and finally - at the last moment before her execution - allowed to escape through a secret passageway to safety (or something like that; the specifics tend to vary from one author to the next). There has never been a shred of evidence to back up any of the convoluted elements of this story, aside from the usual claims that there are -- yes, wait for it -- "secret documents" hidden somewhere which allegedly prove the theory (there apparently being no verifiable documents to back up the idea).
Another myth is the notion that she was a "protestant leader". This assertion is amply contradicted by the historical evidence, which clearly proves that she was a devout Catholic who actually had a note sent to the members of an early Protestant group called the Hussites warning that she would launch a crusade against them if they didn't return to the Catholic faith. The only members of the Catholic Church she ever opposed were the pro-English clergy such as Pierre Cauchon and his cohorts, as these men were determined to ruin her for political reasons.
At her trial she said at several points that she would submit herself to the judgment of the Pope or the Council of Basle, since these were non-partisan representatives of the Church. Nowhere in the record is there the slightest indication that she subscribed to any Protestant beliefs.