Ben D. Kennedy is the Poet Laureate of PoliticalPoet.com
where he has written extensively about life in America
through his beautiful and thought provoking poems like: A Place Known as America,
Duty Honor Country, and Rebel Yell! Ben
is also the author of Why is America So FAT? a critically acclaimed book
dealing with the fraud and corruption of the healthcare system and the
FDA. For more information, please
consult www.MaidofHeaven.com or www.PoliticalPoet.com
“People have asked me why I chose to write about Saint Joan
since it seems to some a departure from my normal American based writings.
There is much that I can say about how the lessons learned from Saint Joan's
life are very relevant to today's American citizen, but the real reason I wrote
about her is ultimately much more personal. I find myself feeling similar to
the way a great American writer of the nineteenth century felt. Mark Twain,
after finishing his own biography about Saint Joan of Arc, said that: ‘Possibly the book may not sell, but that is nothing-it was
written for love.’
I originally intended to just publish Maid of Heaven at
PoliticalPoet.com, but, since it turned out so much better than I had hoped, I
decided a book would be the best way to share it with as many people as
What are these spiritual truths that you have learned? There are many
important lessons that can be learned from her life
but there are two spiritual truths that I leaned from her that have made a
great difference for me personally. God helps those who help themselves is
something I was told was not true because these exact
words are not in the Bible. When Church
scholars first examined Saint Joan, she was asked why
she needed an army if God desired to deliver the French people. I quoted her reply in Maid of Heaven because
it is so simple and yet so profound: “In
Gods name, the soldiers will fight and He will grant victory.” The priests examining her looked at each
other amazed at her perfect response saying it was just that way in the story
of David where David had the faith to go out and fight
Goliath and trust God to give him victory. I think this is a very important lesson for
people to learn. I am constantly hearing
people say they are praying for our country, which is good, but it takes more
than prayer. Joan teaches us that we
need to also take action and trust God to give us the victory.
The other spiritual truth that has meant a lot to me relates to the first in that if we want to be blessed by
God with victory then we should want to be completely on God’s side by
eliminating the things in our lives that displease Him. When Saint Joan first took command of the
French army, she told them that if they wanted to be aided
by God then they were going to have to become the army of God. She ordered them to begin going to mass
regularly and eliminate the usual carnal pursuits that have plagued all armies
like profanity, gambling and prostitution.
This was no small order because the core of the French army consisted of
mercenaries who considered such pursuits as much a part of soldiering as
fighting. Many of the leaders in the
army later commented that it was a great miracle that the men and the officers
did obey her and that the nature of the army completely changed. What also completely changed was that after almost
100 years of losing the French army started winning.
Are there others
lessons to be learned from her life or is this just a
story for Christians? This is a
story for everyone and I have already been amazed at the response I have
received from a wide range of people. We
all face some of the same struggles she faced and would like
to be able to handle them with the same courage and dignity in which she
handled her struggles. The
lessons to be learned from her life can help anyone,
which is why I think she inspires so many people.
accurate is it? Maid of Heaven is
extremely historically accurate. I
worked from the best biographies available which I list at the end in the
Bibliography. I feel when writing about a historical
figure I have a duty to portray them as close as possible to the way they were
based on the historical record. In the
case of Saint Joan, her life is the best documented of anybody in history not
from our modern times.
Why is her life so well documented? The Catholic Church officially examined her
life three different times. First,
before she was given command of the French army the
King asked the Church to examine her.
For three weeks, they questioned her about herself and her motives. The also sent their agents back to her village
of Domremy for a report on her from
the people who knew her best. She was
only 17 at the time but she was able to amaze the priests who examined her with
her answers. At the end of this
examination, the Church proclaimed that they had tested her according to the
requirements of scripture and affirmed her mission from God. The written record of this examination was lost
or destroyed but the testimony of the people involved in the examination
remains to give historical evidence about why she did what she did.
The second time her life was examined
was when she was put on trial by the part of the Church controlled by the
English. To me this is some of the best
historical evidence because this examination was conducted by her enemies who
were trying to destroy her reputation before they killed her. Fortunately for
history, the head recorder refused to alter the record, even though he was
threatened with death to change it, so we have an accurate record of what was
said at her trial. This trial record has
proved invaluable to historians because it is extremely in-depth and touches on
just about every aspect of her life.
The third time her life was examined
began about 20 years after she died when Charles VII, the King she had crowned,
decided he would clear the record. He
asked the Church to again examine her life and the
trial that the English had conducted.
This last examination may have been the most thorough of all since it
took place over a period of 6 years and included testimony from witnesses that
had known her throughout her life. The
hearings took place at several cities and included people from all walks of life.
Friends who had known her as a child, knights who had fought with her,
and most of the surviving priests who had been involved in the trial conducted
by the English. As with the trial
records, some of the most convincing testimony comes from those who had been
her enemies who at this point in time had great remorse for being a part of her
trial and execution.
What about the quotes
you include, are they also historically accurate? Most of them are the exact quotes that
she was recorded as saying, translated, of course,
into English. There are a couple in Maid
of Heaven that I had to paraphrase but even those I made as close as possible
to what she actually did say. I have
always felt that one of the best ways to learn history is to read what people
who were there actually said. That way
you are getting the history straight from the source. The other part I like about using actual
quotes is it allows the personality of the person to come through which gives
you the best idea of who they really were.
In the case of Saint Joan, her quotes are simple amazing in terms of the
wisdom they contain and the wonderful person that shines through as you read
Do you really believe
that she communicated with God’s Angels?
Actually, it was one angel, the archangel Michael,
and two Saints, Margaret and Catherine who
were both martyrs. Yes, I do
believe that she communicated with them because she said she did and so did the
people closest to her. I also think it is the only logical explanation to explain
how she was able to accomplish all that she did. Only God could take an uneducated country
girl and turn her into one of the greatest military commanders in the history
of the World. This is my opinion, of
course, but it becomes clear when you study the history that virtually everyone
who lived during her time believed the same thing, including her enemies.
Not everyone believes
as you do. Some say she was just crazy.
Crazy people do not behave the way she behaved or accomplish what she
was able to accomplish. There have been
numerous mental-health professionals who have examined her case and none have
correlated the way she is documented to have behaved
as being consistent with any serious mental illness. My own father was on the faculty of the University
of Louisville’s medical school for
over 30 years in the department of psychiatry and he certainly does not think
she suffered from any mental illness
Was Joan really in
command of the Army, or was she just a figurehead as some have argued? I do not know of any reputable historian who
has tried to say such a thing because there is no historical evidence to back
it up. The actual
quotes by the men who fought under her make it very clear that she was in
supreme command of the French army.
The Duke of Alencon served as the highest-ranking commander under her
and he also made it clear that she was the supreme
commander. Saint Joan actually commanded
in a manner very similar to another great general I have spent many hours studying: Robert E.
Lee. Both were brilliant strategists who
allowed their subordinate commanders a great deal of discretion in how they
conducted the fighting of the battle.
Saint Joan actually engaged in more hands on leadership than Lee since
she personally led the charge on many occasions. The bottom line on this comparison is that if
you are going to say that Saint Joan was not in complete command then you might
as well say the same thing about Lee; which would be
ludicrous. (For an example of Joan's great Leadership Read BDK paper about the Battle of Patay)
What were her
greatest military victories? The battles
of Orleans and Patay are considered among the greatest victories in the history
of warfare. Orleans
was remarkable because it turned the tied of a war that had been going on for almost
100 years that the French were about to lose.
The city of Orleans was the last great city that the French held and it
had been under siege by the English for almost 7 months and was about to
fall. Saint Joan went there and, in only
three days of fighting, reclaimed the strongest fort the English possessed
which caused them to lift their siege and retreat. The battle has been compared to other key
turning point battles like: Marathon, Stalingrad,
Patay was remarkable because of the overwhelming margin of
victory that she achieved in the battle.
The French suffered few losses while the English army was
annihilated with losses in the thousands. Patay is often compared with Agincourt
and described as a mirror image, which is ironic since it was Agincourt
that had pushed France
to the edge of defeat necessitating the miracle that she provided. Many of the renowned great generals in
history never had so overwhelming a victory as Saint Joan had at Patay.
Why was she defeated
at Paris? It is hard enough to fight the enemy
and win but when you also have to fight treacherous people that are supposed to
be on your own side it becomes impossible.
This is what finally caught up with Saint Joan at Paris. If Charles had allowed Saint Joan to
immediately march upon Paris after
his coronation then she would have easily captured the city. But Charles was
being influenced by corrupt advisors who were most likely paid off by the
English or the Burgundians to keep Charles from being more aggressive. I think by this point in time the English
realized they could not beat her with military power alone so they started
using political maneuvering to stop her.
Saint Joan still could have won at Paris
if Charles had given her full support but for whatever reason he chose not to
which doomed her at Paris.
Did Charles betray
her then? He certainly did not show
her the same loyalty that she showed to him.
The main thing to learn and remember about Charles is that he was very
selfish and his foremost priority was always his own survival. Years later when
his own son began to have military success Charles quickly removed him from
command fearing he would become too popular.
I think it is his selfishness more than anything else that caused him to
make bad decisions that resulted in the defeat at Paris
and ultimately in the capture and execution of Saint Joan.
How was she captured? She had predicted when she first
started that she would only last about a year but I
think she was hoping she would be killed in battle. She was
told by her Voices several months before her capture that she would be
captured but they did not tell her when or where. She later said that if she had known the
exact time she would not have gone into battle but she also said: “Nevertheless I would have obeyed the command
in the end, whatever the outcome.” The
way she submitted to God’s will here probably impresses me more than anything
else she ever did. She had to have
incredible faith and courage knowing what she would most likely face in the
hands of her enemies.
How long was she a
prisoner? About a year total. First, she was a prisoner of the Burgundians
who were the French that were politically allied with
the English. She was
probably not treated too badly by the Burgundians while they held her prisoner. During this period, she also had hope that
she would be rescued or ransomed, a common practice in
her day. After about six months, she was sold to the English who transferred her to Rouen
for her trial. During this period she was always guarded by English soldiers who treated her roughly.
So the English
actually bought her?
The Duke of Bedford, who was the King of England’s uncle, and who
was the real power behind the young King, paid the Burgundian lord whose forces
captured her 10,000 francs to get her under English control. As soon as she had been
captured, Bedford began
scheming with Church leaders loyal to the English to develop a way to put her
on trial for witchcraft. Bedford
knew he could not just kill her but he also had to destroy the great reputation
she had gained and he thought that killing her under the auspices of the Church
would accomplish this. How wrong he was.
Why was Joan of Arc burned at the stake? It was completely political and most reputable
historians accurately refer to it as murder.
The English had been fighting the French for almost 100 years and were
just about to win the War, which would have given them control of all of France. Suddenly this young girl shows up saying she is sent from God and the War completely turns around. The English leaders hated her and believed
that if they could just get rid of her that could resume winning. The Duke of Bedford, the overall English
leader, made a deal with the part of the Church loyal to England
to put her on trial for heresy so that it would ultimately look like the Church
killed her instead of the English.
How long did her
trial last? Including the
preliminaries it was about 4 or 5 months during which
she lived in a prison cell chained up and guarded by rough English
soldiers. The English put pressure on
Cauchon, the bishop in charge of the trial, to speed things up but Cauchon
wanted to create a legal basis for killing her, probably to protect himself
with the Church. The difficulty that he
had in doing so is seen in the records from the
trial. I don’t think Cauchon expected
her to do as well as she did in defending herself against his handpicked judges
so he used every trick he could to concoct charges against her. When this trial was overturned and nullified
by the Church twenty years later it was Cauchon who
was accused of heresy for his part and Saint Joan who was declared to be a
she actually raped before she
was executed? I
really hope that she was not raped because it was bad enough everything else
that they did to her. The truth is that
no one really knows for sure but we do have the statement from Saint Joan
herself just before she was executed that seems to indicate that she was not
raped: “Alas, that my body, clean and whole, and never corrupted, must today to
ashes be turned.” She was definitely
threatened with rape and she had stated to one of the priests who frequently
visited her in prison that a great English lord had tried to rape her but I don’t know of any reputable historian who thinks she was
When did Joan become a
Saint? She officially became a Saint
of the Catholic Church in 1920 but I think almost all of the people who knew
her looked at her as a Saint when she was alive. When I wrote Maid of Heaven, I decided the
most convincing proof of her saintliness came from those who were her enemies
and who took part in her execution. The
recorded history contains the instances I refer to where her executioner and an
English soldier both suffered great remorse for taking part because they said
they had burned a saint. The
overwhelming consensus among the hostile crowd that witnessed the execution was
also the same. As I have said before,
some of the most compelling historical evidence is when someone’s enemies say
something positive about a person and Saint Joan’s enemies made it clear that
they believed she was a Saint.
Do you like any of
the movies that have been made about Joan of Arc? Most of the recent ones I have seen are
not historically accurate. Some are
better than others.
The best I have seen from a historical standpoint is the classic film
with Ingrid Bergman by Victor Fleming.
It is not perfect but it stays true to the story for the most part. On the other hand, the recent movie The
Messenger is horrible from a historical standpoint. I think The Messenger is an example of what happens when you try
to explain the life of Saint Joan apart from God, which of course is the
politically correct thing that moviemakers try to do these days. It just cannot be done;
at least not accurately, because, as I have referred to previously, the
statements of those who knew her best said the only explanation for her great
accomplishments had to be God.
Why aren’t the movies more historically accurate since her life
is, as you say, is so well documented? We
live in an age in America
where there is a great effort to remove God from everything. Because Saint Joan is
such a hero to so many she can’t be ignored so I think the politically correct
crowd has instead tried to change her history to suit their own agenda. Ultimately, I think seeing all of the recent
distortions is part of my motivation for writing Maid
of Heaven so that people will be able to easily read a poem about Saint Joan
and learn the truth.
Born about January
Won her first military victory at Orleans on May 8, 1429.
Won her greatest victory at Patay on June 18, 1429.
Crowned Charles VII at Reims on July 17, 1429.
Captured at Compiegne on May 23 1430.
30, 1431 in Rouen at the age of 19.
Officially canonized as a Saint in 1920 by Pope Benedict XV.
the youngest person in history to command the armies of a nation at only 17.
Mark Twain, the
famous writer said about her: “She was perhaps the only entirely unselfish
person whose name has a place in profane history.”
said about her: “Joan was a being so
uplifted from the ordinary run of mankind that she finds no equal in a thousand