JAnne of Arc is a key figure in the history of France, even if his role in the events of the Hundred Years War was ultimately secondary, at least compared to Charles VII, true winner of the English well after the death of the Maid of Orleans. His myth has been maintained since its end at the stake by a number of more or less reasonable and credible theories, on its origins, its supports, or even the reality of its death. Heroic and mythical figure in the history of France, Joan of Arc has been the subject of numerous political recoveries and has been an inexhaustible source of inspiration for literature and the arts.
Joan of Arc - One biography
In addition to a gigantic bibliography (which crushes all the other great figures of the Middle Ages, Charlemagne and Saint Louis included), the story of Joan of Arc has given rise to a number of different interpretations and recoveries, and this since the 15th century , until our days. It therefore seems more interesting, after quickly reviewing his classic biography, to take an interest in his historiographical fate.
If we stick to what most serious historians agree, Jeanne would have been born on January 6, 1412 (even if other dates are also put forward), in Domrémy, a village dependent on Vaucouleurs, so close of the Empire. From a relatively wealthy family of laborers, reputed to be pious at a very young age, Joan heard her first voices in 1425. Saint Michael, Saint Catherine and Saint Marguerite, venerated in the country of Bar, enjoined her to go to the Dauphin Charles for the to help "kick" the English out of France.
At the time, prophets and prophetesses abound, but Charles VII finally agreed to receive her in March 1429. On the advice of the Duke of Alençon, who believed in Joan's divine mission, he ordered a double examination of the young girl. : medical (to check if she is a virgin as she claims), and theological (are her beliefs orthodox?). Jeanne successfully passes both tests. Even if he does not seem to have completely yielded to the very voluntary messianism of the Maid, the king listens to those around him and agrees to send them to raise the siege of Orleans. Joan would have predicted a victory, just like the coronation of Charles and the resumption of Paris. The siege of Orleans was effectively lifted on May 8, 1429, despite Joan's unorthodox "tactics" which left certain French captains doubtful. Other victories followed, such as the Battle of Patay (June 18, 1429), and Jeanne persuaded the king to cross the lands of the Burgundian enemy to be crowned in the cathedral of Reims. It was done on July 17, 1429.
Things then get complicated for Jeanne. Her failure in front of Paris, where she was injured, undermined the reality of her prophecies, and Charles VII gradually turned away from her, influenced by Georges de la Trémoille. Even though Jeanne and her family were ennobled at the end of 1429, she soon inherited only minor missions, and was finally sent to Compiègne on May 23, 1430. On May 23, she fell into a trap, and was finally sold to the English. After a very political trial led by Pierre Cauchon, Joan of Arc was burned alive for heresy, relapse and idolatry on May 30, 1431. The King of France never really tried to get her back. The ashes of the Maid are scattered in the Seine to avoid a cult. It missed.
An immediate myth?
One of the peculiarities of Joan of Arc is that she triggered passions during her lifetime. Indeed, she is on the one hand celebrated by Jean de Gerson or Christine de Pisan, and on the other accused of being a witch by the English (the Duke of Bedford in the lead) and the Burgundians. She is thus named "the whore of the Armagnacs" (Robert Baudricourt, captain of his original chatellenie, is of the Armagnac party).
The English quickly understood the symbolic potential of the Maid and that is why they did not hesitate to buy her from Jean de Luxembourg, and send her to Rouen, the capital of occupied France. The fact of making believe in a religious trial, when it is above all a political trial is intended to follow the same logic to, in addition to the Joan myth, touch the legitimacy of its sovereign, Charles VII. But this trial, like the scattering of the ashes, does not prevent the myth from growing, on the contrary. The absence of a body is the perfect pretext for the thesis of a very living Joan after this disastrous May 30, 1431; thus, three false Jeanne appeared between 1436 and 1460, and it would seem that this is still sufficient today for some to attest to her "non-death" in Rouen ...
The king knows perfectly how to take advantage of the myth of the one who allowed his coronation, and therefore established his legitimacy. He ordered a rehabilitation trial in the 1450s, and managed to replace the Jeanne episode in a war against a foreign state, breaking with the theme of the Armagnacs / Burgundian civil war, the reconciliation between the two parties having been recorded in Treaty of Arras (1435). But if Jeanne was still celebrated by François Villon or in the Mysteries (a theatrical genre) at the end of the 15th century, the death of Charles VII slowly made her fall into oblivion. And the modern age is not the perfect time to celebrate a medieval prophetess ...
Joan of Arc, "idiot" and "pious deceit"
Admittedly, Joan was recovered for a time in the 16th century by the Ligueurs, but her image deteriorated with the Renaissance, and even more so with the Enlightenment, periods not very pleasant with all that is “Middle Ages”.
For Du Bellay, she is only an instrument of the court, while Gérard de Haillan goes so far as to question his chastity. The most violent, however, are the philosophers of the Enlightenment; thus, Voltaire sees in her only an "unhappy idiot", at the same time victim of the king and of the Church, while Montesquieu sees it only "pious deceit". In fact, it was not until the 19th century that Joan returned, not in the odor of sanctity, but as a popular icon.
The myth of Joan resurfaced thanks to the historiographical revival of the 19th century, as well as to Romanticism, much more open to medieval and "Gothic" themes than the Enlightenment.
The most characteristic example is obviously Jules Michelet who, in 1856, wrote in his inimitable style: "Let us always remember, French, that our homeland was born from the heart of a woman, from her tenderness and from her tears, from the blood she shed for us". Joan of Arc is the people, both simple and courageous. The Maid is then one of the most powerful instruments in the construction of the Republican national myth and novel. The prophetess who became a secular icon, who would have believed her?
From Joan of Arc the Saint ...
It is a disciple of Michelet, Jules Quicherat, who indirectly pushes the Church to reclaim Jeanne. Indeed, anticlerical historian, he rediscovers first-hand sources and publishes them during the 1840s. In his preface, Quicherat “charges” King Charles VII, accused of having abandoned the young woman, just like the Church, an accomplice . Wasn't she burned for heresy? Two Catholic historians try to recover Joan, drawing inspiration from the work of the German Guido Görres (The Maid of Orleans, 1834). First of all Henri Wallon who, in 1860, published his Jeanne D'Arc. He insists on the young woman's piety, but at the same time concedes that she has indeed been abandoned; for him, Joan is a saint and a martyr. Wallon made contact with Monsignor Dupanloup to work for the canonization of the Maid. Bishop of Orleans, Félix Dupanloup acts in a context of dechristianization and crisis of faith, he knows that the Church needs strong symbols. In 1869, he officially called for canonization in a panegyric in honor of the Maid.
The political context of the second half of the 19th century also played a large part in the recovery of Joan of Arc by Catholics, even though she was still a popular and republican icon. The first turning point came in 1878, on the anniversary of Voltaire's centenary. Whoever had so despised this "idiot" of Joan, and the Church more broadly, is obviously hated by Catholics. In reaction to the philosopher's celebration, the Duchess of Chevreuse calls on the women of France to lay wreaths of flowers at the feet of the statue of Joan of Arc, Place des Pyramides.
Anti-clerical Republicans do not intend to abandon the Republican icon and call for a counter-demonstration. In the end, neither took place, both prohibited by the prefecture. But this is the first milestone in this reappropriation of Joan by Catholics, especially fundamentalists. Others followed, during the Boulangist crisis of the 1880s, then during the Dreyfus affair (1898), which saw the emergence of a nationalist right which also wanted its Jeanne. The last decisive step is the Pope's reaction: he agrees to reopen his trial in 1894; then Joan of Arc was beatified in 1909 and canonized in 1920. The Maid was (definitively?) taken over by the Catholics, and even more so by the nationalist right and the far right.
... to the nationalist heroine
The twentieth century, and for the moment the twenty-first century, see Joan gradually abandoned by the Republic, and celebrated by the nationalists, then the far right. La Pucelle is drowned in a mixture of nationalism, anti-parliamentarism, royalism and Catholic fundamentalism, mixed with anti-Semitism. For the far right, Joan is the mythical figure opposed to the Jew, especially after the Dreyfus affair. She must be the one who saves order and traditions, but also the army. In 1939, a postcard celebrating the 500th anniversary of the liberation of Orleans was stamped with "Joan of Arc against the Jews." Obviously, the Vichy regime also appropriated the icon.
The end of the 40s seems to see a return of Jeanne in the republican bosom: both De Gaulle and the Communist Party celebrate her a time after the war. But the effect wears off, and it was not until the 1980s that the Maid reappeared as a national symbol, and especially nationalist, when Jean-Marie Le Pen decided to celebrate her again in 1988. Nevertheless, even if the left protests, the character of Joan of Arc gradually becomes a secondary figure in the history of France; it is barely mentioned in school curricula, and even historians don't really tear themselves up about it anymore.
Joan of Arc was a myth during her lifetime, and was immediately the stake of political and religious recoveries, which did not facilitate the work of the historians. It is therefore difficult to know who Joan really was, but it now seems clear that her role was secondary in the events of the Hundred Years War. It was actually after that it took on real importance. Even if it arouses less passions than before, the more or less eccentric theories that regularly come out about it show that it still arouses some public interest.
- B. Bove, The time of the Hundred Years War (1328-1453), Belin, 2010.
- G. Minois, The Hundred Years' War, Tempus, 2016.
- C. Gauvard, France in the Middle Ages from the 5th to the 15th century, PUF, 2001.
- C. Beaune, Joan of Arc, truths and legends, Tempus, 2012.
- Joan of Arc, fiction by Victor Fleming, with Ingrid Bergman, Francis L. Sullivan ... Long Restored Version, 2016.
- Joan of Arc, fiction by Luc Besson, with Milla Jovovich, Dustin Hoffman, Tchéky Karyo ... Gaumont, 2009.