Joan of Arc, a village girl from the Vosges, was born about 1412; burnt for
heresy, witchcraft, and sorcery in 1431; rehabilitated after a fashion in 1456; designated
Venerable in 1904; declared Blessed in 1908; and finally canonized in 1920. She is also
one of the most notable Warrior Saints in the Christian calendar. Though a professed and
most pious Catholic, and the projector of a Crusade against Hussites, she was in fact one
of the first Protestant martyrs. She was also one of the first apostles of Nationalism,
and the first French practitioner of Napoleonic realism in warfare as distinguished from the
sporting ransom-gambling chivalry of her time. She was the pioneer of rational dressing for
women, and like Queen Christina of Sweden two centuries later, ... disguised themselves as men
to serve as soldiers and sailors, she refused to accept the specific woman's lot, and
dressed and fought and lived as men did.
From the Author's Preface to George Bernard Shaw's play, Saint Joan (1924).
The above biographic summary (which was plagiarized and passed off by a student as his/her own work) has received some criticism and commentary. See below.
Revisions suggested by HYWwebsite@aol.com
1999, August 12
I would respectfully point out that the brief article on Joan of Arc in the
Women's History section is inaccurate on almost every count:
- She was actually born in Domrčmy-de-Greux (now called Domrčmy-la-Pucelle), on the border between the Duchy of Lorraine and the Duchy of Bar; the Vosges mountains are some 60 miles away.
- As even the article itself admits, she was a devout Catholic, not a Protestant - and yet it goes on to declare (in the same sentence) that she was a "Protestant martyr".
- Portraying her as a "nationalist" is an anachronism: she used the term "France" in its feudal rather than national sense (no different than anyone else in that era), and she never, to my knowledge, expressed any sentiment which could be interpreted as "nationalism". You could argue that her campaigns helped _foster_ a spirit of proto-nationalism, but she herself doesn't seem to have been a nationalist in any meaningful sense of the word.
- Her only contribution to "Napoleonic realism" in warfare was a solid common-sense approach to things, and she never rejected the "sporting ransom-gambling chivalry of her time": on the contrary, she told her judges at the trial that she was hoping to capture enough English nobles to ransom Duke Charles d'Orlčans.
- She was not "the pioneer of rational dressing for women": it had long been standard procedure in that era for decent women to adopt a disguise whenever necessary to protect their virtue (the medieval Church promoted this practice, and Joan of Arc herself was initially provided with a disguise by the citizens of Vaucouleurs, who took up a collection to provide her with something to wear). Judge Cauchon went into hysterics over this issue at the trial in 1431, but then he also tried to claim that praying before images of the saints was an act of "heresy" even though the Church promoted this practice as well (_most_ devout Catholics pray before images of the saints to ask their intercession). Such absurd charges led the Inquisition to nullify the original verdict on July 7, 1456, citing "fraud... and manifest errors of fact and law".
- She did not "refuse to accept the specific woman's lot": on the contrary, she told Jean de Metz that she would rather "stay home with my poor mother and do the spinning" than go off with an army; and she boasted to her judges that she could rival any woman with a needle and spindle. It was not terribly unusual for women (namely noble women) in that era to be given titular command of an army, as Joan of Arc was: this was never a uniquely "male thing", nor was the wearing of armor a uniquely male practice (a number of other women besides Joan of Arc wore a feminine version of plate armor during the same war). The feudal system required this, rather than discouraging it: Joan of Arc was unusual only in the sense that she was a commoner and a religious visionary rather than a noble (although she and her family were granted noble status on December 29, 1429, about halfway through her military campaigns).
- She testified that she never fought, saying that she preferred to carry her standard into battle rather than a weapon, and she never killed anyone. She was wounded three times (twice by projectiles and once when she stepped on a caltrop) while encouraging her troops forward, but she did not actually fight, nor was it in her nature to fight: the surviving eyewitness accounts constantly describe her weeping even when enemy commanders such as Glasdale were killed in battle. Being a compassionate person, she seems to have hated combat; although, this never stopped her from pushing for more campaigns. At any rate, I thought the above points needed to be made.
Revisions suggested by Martin Belforte
1999, August 20
To the authors:
You are painfully mistaken when you assert that St. Joan of Arc was a protestant martyr and a feminist pioneer. She was, as you say, a professed and devout Catholic. She was burned by corrupt English political and ecclesiastical authorities that baselessly accused her of heresy and witchcraft. The reigning pope at the time never condoned the mock trial and execution of St. Joan of Arc, nor did Rome ever recognize her as a heretic. On the contrary, St. Joan of Arc always publicly professed to believe in the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, with Rome never declaring the contrary.
As for being a feminist pioneer, St. Joan of Arc simply obeyed the messages she received from St. Catherine and St. Michael, which was to free Northern France from the Hussites and (most importantly) restore the French throne to the Dauphin. The reasons for her posing as a man and later assuming military leadership was to accomplish the mission to which she had been entrusted . There is no evidence whatsoever of any revolutionary feminist ideas motivating her actions.
It's regrettable that you have received false information about St. Joan of Arc's life. I would be interested to know where you received this information about her alleged protestantism and feminism.
For a truly objective account of St. Joan of Arc's life I would read Butler's Lives of the Saints. I find it to be very reliable.
Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to comment.
Comment by Christina
Lafferty, Fellow, The George Washington University
1999, September 30
Please leave this site up. Its stunning inaccuracies provide an excellent example to the students to whom I wish to demonstrate the dangers of believing everything on the web as fact.
Comment by Jessica Douglas
1999, October 6
Although I am only 13 years old, I do have a very good knowledge of St Joan
of Arc as I have researched her at hours on end. I am not writing this to
criticise or acknowledge any of the information given but I do think that people
such as those who have web-sites on St Joan should try their hardest to make
people more aware of what St Joan has done.
She was a magnificent woman (despite the fact that she barely had a chance to become one) and should be recognized as that. When I began researching her for a project I did as a gifted-student, I was alarmed at the way most of my peers did not even know who St Joan of Arc was.
I just hope that in the near future, that people such as yourselves who do have a great knowledge of her, will make people more aware of her doings just as I will strive to do.
Comment by Kimberly
Barnes, Undergraduate of History, Univ. of Oregon
2001, May 16 comment on a few things. Several people have criticized the sites definition of Joan as a protestant martyr: not only was she a devout Catholic she died almost 100 years before Martin Luther's actions of 1517 and therefore would never have heard of Protestantism (unless all challenges to the Church was called such--I thought they were simply referred to as heretical groups). However, I wonder if the author meant that she is perceived as a martyr by Protestants--that could be more or less true I suppose (Shaw thought so). Also, although she was originally accused of witchcraft (which is my area of interest) she was sentenced as a heretic only. It is also noteworthy for those who wish to de-emphasize her style of dress that her accusers listed cross-dressing (they didn't state it that way, of course) as the first charge against her. Although I am a lowly undergraduate of history I would like to remind all that a look into a primary source such as the transcripts of her interrogation at Rouen may be most illuminating.
The biographical paragraph was originally posted in 1998. The plagiarism was only detected in 2004 by Rachel Robinson, then correctly attributed to Shaw.
For more information on Joan, go to joaninfo.html!
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Copyright © MMIIII Prof. Pavlac's Women's History Resource Site
Original Posting: 1998 February
Last Revision: 7 July 2006