Joan of Arc
A Military Appreciation
Stephen W. Richey
© 2000 Stephen Richey All Rights Reserved
Pour Jehanne La Pucelle,
que j’aime de tout mon coeur
Joan of Arc -- the seventeen-year-old peasant girl, who, as she said herself, "did not know ‘A’ from ‘B’, " but who, in a year and a month, crowned a reluctant king, rallied a broken people, reversed the course of a great war, and shoved history into a new path --what are we to make of her? The people who came after her in the five centuries since her death tried to make everything of her: demonic fanatic, spiritual mystic, naive and tragically ill-used tool of the powerful, creator and icon of modern popular nationalism, adored heroine, saint. She insisted, even when threatened with torture and faced with death by fire, that she was guided by voices from God. Voices or no voices, her achievements leave anyone who knows her story shaking his head in amazed wonder.’
Joan was born into a poor common family in the peasant village of Domrémy in the French province of Lorraine in 1412. She grew up a simple but unusually devout farm child during the height of the Hundred Years’ War. Disaster after disaster befell her native France -- the English invaders and their Burgundian allies conquered and occupied the northern half of France including Paris. Dauphin Charles VII, the rightful but un-crowned king of France, set up the remnants of his royal court at the town of Chinon. From here, this weak monarch of questionable competence tried to rule over the unoccupied rump of France. Starting in May, 1428, Joan, claiming that God was directing her through the saints, repeatedly approached the regional governor demanding that he send her to Charles at Chinon. She insisted that it was her divinely ordered mission to take charge of the French army, defeat the English, and escort Charles to Rheims to have him properly crowned king. In October 1428, the English and Burgundians began their siege of the city of Orléans, their last obstacle before overrunning the rest of France. In February 1429, the governor finally relented to Joan and sent her to Chinon with a small escort. Upon arriving at Chinon, she presented herself to Charles with her hair cut short and wearing a man’s clothes, though she made it clear to all that she was in fact a girl. By April, she persuaded Charles to provide her with a horse, a suit of armor, and weapons, and to place her at the head of the army marching to rescue Orléans. Upon arriving at Orléans, she proceeded to lead the army in an astounding series of victories that reversed the tide of the war. She was seventeen years old. In July 1429, she led the army and the timid Charles deep into English-occupied territory to the great cathedral at Rheims where France’s kings had been crowned for generations. With Joan in armor at his side, Charles received the crown. After thus becoming fully king, Charles sought to undercut Joan’s influence in any way he could. To Joan’s rage, he opened negotiations with the English and Burgundians and disbanded the army while much of France was still under hostile occupation. Joan continued to make war on her own as the independent captain of a small band of mercenaries. It was in this capacity that she was taken prisoner by enemy soldiers at the Siege of Compiègne in May, 1430. A church court of English-sponsored clerics convicted her of heresy and she died at the stake in May, 1431, at the age of nineteen. Charles resumed military operations and succeeded in driving the English from France by 1453, thus winning the Hundred Years’ War. In 1456, the Church revoked Joan’s conviction for heresy and proclaimed that she had been a good Christian and Catholic. The Church canonized her as a saint in 1920.2
Whatever people since Joan's time have tried to make of her, one thing remains unassailably true: her impact on history, all the political, ideological, and social changes that she knowingly or unknowingly jump-started, derive from her success in the realm of action. Everything in her legacy flows from her being in a shining suit of armor, astride a great war-horse, brandishing her banner and shouting "Follow me!" to an army of soldiers who adored her. She was a military leader. But what kind of military leader was she? Was she nothing more than a charismatic, but naive, inspirational mascot who was cynically used by the real military leaders to rally their demoralized troops? Or was she a true commander who made decisions and gave orders? Respectfully setting aside voices from God for the moment, how did an illiterate seventeen-year-old peasant girl with no military training lead an army that had known nothing but humiliation and defeat to sudden, repeated, and decisive victories?
Before attempting to answer how Joan did what she did as a military leader, it is first necessary to reach a conclusion as to what she did. Modern scholars disagree on the "what" before they even get to the "how." Edouard Perroy, in his book The Hundred Years War, implies that Joan was nothing but an inspirational figurehead, a sort of all-army "cheerleader."3 Frances Gies, in her Joan of Arc: The Legend and the Reality, specifically cites Perroy in order to take issue with him. She maintains that Joan was a true war captain who listened and spoke in war councils, who advocated courses of action, and who made decisions and gave orders.4
Any attempt to find where the truth lies between the poles of Perroy and Gies must of course return to the firsthand sources. In the case of Joan of Arc, scholars are richly blessed by the great volume and detail of the accounts of Joan by those who knew her personally -- accounts that have been kept scrupulously intact to this day. Most of what we know about Joan comes from the transcripts of her two trials. In 1431, Joan, at that time a prisoner of war of her English enemies, was subjected to a Church trial for heresy. The trial was a political sham, conducted by turncoat French clerics who were partisans of the English and who were dependent on English support to maintain their privileged positions. To no one’s surprise, they found Joan guilty and condemned her to her death at the stake, The complete original transcript of her trial, including her own account of her life, still exists, in good condition, at French archives in our own time. In 1455, twenty-four years after Joan’s death, the Church reopened her case by giving her a posthumous retrial. In various inquiries preceding and during the retrial, 115 witnesses who had known Joan answered questions about her.5 The court recorded their testimonies in hundreds of pages of writing that we have in our possession, fully intact, today. The witnesses included people from all backgrounds including peasants who were childhood friends of Joan, lords and ladies who had known her at the royal court, and, most importantly for the present purpose, soldiers who had gone into battle at Joan’s side. The retrial, besides nullifying Joan’s conviction for heresy and opening the way for her eventual canonization, provided scholars of subsequent generations with more firsthand source material about Joan than exists for almost any other historical figure who lived prior to her time. Perhaps less reliable than the transcripts of the retrial, but still valuable, are the various chronicles that were penned during or shortly after Joan’s lifetime and which are still in existence in various archives.
The military men who dealt intimately with Joan on a daily basis during her campaigns and whose reminiscences were recorded in the documents of the retrial were several. The two highest-ranking of them were Jean, Count of Dunois, (the illegitimate half-brother of the Duke of Orléans, hence titled "Bastard of Orléans") and Jean, Duke of Alençon, a kinsman of the Dauphin and eventual (thanks to Joan) King of France, Charles VII. In the vague and imprecise military organization of late medieval France, Dunois and d’Alençon may be understood as Joan’s co-commanders of the army at war. Other witnesses were members of Joan’s personal entourage. Jean d’Aulon was her squire while young Louis de Coutes was her page. Jean Pasquerel was her personal priest and confessor. Two other soldiers who testified about Joan were close companions of hers from the very beginning of her quest. They were the knight Jean de Metz (also known as Jean de Novelonpont) and the squire Bertrand de Poulengy.6
The firsthand sources make clear that the most obvious and stunning impact of Joan’s leadership was the way in which her charismatic personality hauled the morale of the often-defeated French army up from the pit of cynicism and despair to a fevered high of renewed enthusiasm and collective ardor for battle. Conversely, once her reputation for bringing victory to the French became established, her presence infected the heretofore invincible English with doubt and fear. Dunois testified as follows about Joan’s impact from the moment she delivered her ultimatum to the English army besieging Orleans:
... and I swear that the English, two hundred of whom had previously been sufficient to rout eight hundred or a thousand of the royal army, from that moment became so powerless that four or five hundred soldiers and men at arms could fight against what seemed to be the whole force of England.7
Jean de Wavrin was a Burgundian officer who fought against Joan as an ally of the English. He wrote a chronicle titled Recueil de chroniques et anchiennes istoires de Ia Grant Bretaigne a present nominee Engleterre.8 He stated that "By renown of Joan the Maid, the courage of the English was much impaired and fallen off. They saw... their fortune turn its wheel sharply against them. . by the undertakings of the Maid..."9 Two high-ranking English military leaders, the Duke of Bedford and the Duke of Gloucester, felt compelled to issue written orders disciplining English soldiers who had deserted out of terror of Joan’s apparent -— to them —— use of sorcery.’10
Joan had to start with the little things and work up to the big things in her drive to restore the fighting spirit of the French. When she first joined the army, she did not have any official rank or authority. Though she was resplendent astride her horse in her new armor, carrying her new banner that she had made to her order, she was, at that point, merely under the escort of the officers who had real powers of command. However, she immediately set about making the force of her personality felt throughout the army in terms of both morals and morale. She continued to stress the importance of righteous conduct of the soldiers throughout her career. As Pasquerel, de Coutes, d’Alençon and others testified, she exhorted the soldiers to become faithful in making confession and attending mass, she drove prostitutes from camp brandishing her sword, and she fiercely scolded both common soldiers and great nobles for their foul language. To their own amazement, hardened warriors of all ranks meekly submitted to her will in these matters.11 George Bernard Shaw was correct when he wrote in the preface to his play Saint Joan that what may seem to be nothing more than mere prudery on Joan’s part was in fact a vital component of restoring the ability of the French army to fight well. Soldiers of all ranks had become so cynical, so demoralized by alternating periods of defeat and inaction, that they were ready to accept any measures that would restore a modicum of their self-respect. Joan’s exhortations on little points such as attending mass and not blaspheming were the necessary first steps in rebuilding the men’s spirits.12
From the moment she first rode onto a battlefield, Joan went far beyond being merely the tireless good conscience of the army. From the moment she first laid eyes on her country’s English enemies, she aroused the will of her soldiers to fight. Joan was a fine and forceful speaker but her ability to inspire the French soldiers stemmed from her leading them into battle in the most literal sense possible. She was in the front rank of every assault that she ordered to be launched. The fighting men who knew her testified to this repeatedly. D’Aulon recounted that at the battle fought outside the English fort of the Augustins, near Orléans, the French were withdrawing unmolested back to Orléans when the English suddenly appeared to attempt a surprise attack on the rear of the French column. Joan arrived on the scene just at that moment, accompanied by the French mercenary captain La Hire. Both of them were on horseback, armed with lances. Joan, with only La Hire at her side, immediately and impetuously leveled her lance and charged headlong at the English. D’Aulon said that she and La Hire struck the first blows at the enemy. The French knights and common soldiers, stung to action by Joan’s example, turned about and swept the English from the field. They went on to storm the Augustins that day, giving Joan another victory.13 (Sadly for historians, La Hire died before Joan’s retrial began. His testimony would have been invaluable.)14
D’Alençon testified that during the assault on the walled town of Jargeau, Joan was one of the first to mount a scaling ladder set against the wall, shouting encouragement to her men as she did so. During earlier fighting in the outskirts of Jargeau, said d’Alençon, the French were being pushed back until Joan rode up, brandishing her banner, and led the men forward to successfully renew the attack.15 Joan herself stated at her trial for heresy that she was the first to set a scaling ladder against the wall of the English fort of the Tourelles, outside of Orléans.16 Even Georges Chastellain, a chronicler of the Burgundians, the French faction allied to the English who fought against Joan, was moved to praise her courage and personal example. During the hasty French retreat from a Burgundian ambush outside of Compiègne, Joan, in the last moments before she was taken prisoner, stayed behind with the rear guard so that her men could make good their escape. Chastellain recorded that she, "passing the nature of women, took all the brunt, and took great pains to save her company, remaining behind as captain and bravest of her troop.,,17 Within minutes, Joan was bodily pulled off her horse by swarming Burgundian soldiers. It is remarkable that the chronicler of her foes would accord her such honor in his account of her last battle.
Even if Joan’s military role was nothing more than that of a "cheerleader" she was a cheerleader of superb tenacity and fortitude. As overlapping testimonies by Dunois, d’Aulon, de Coutes, and Pasquerel relate, she was shot through her shoulder by an English arrow at the Tourelles outside Orléans.18 D’Alençon described how she was hit on her helmet by a thrown stone at Jargeau.19 D’Alençon’s personal chronicler, Perceval de Cagny, recorded that she was shot through her thigh by another arrow at Paris.20 In every case, she had her wounds treated in rudimentary fashion and returned to battle with greater ardor than ever, within a few hours if not immediately. At the Tourelles the French became disheartened and the English emboldened when they saw Joan, conspicuous with her plain but shining armor and large banner, hit with the arrow and evacuated from the field. But when both sides saw Joan return to the front ranks a short time later with her wound stanched, waving her banner with her good arm and shouting for one more effort, the morale of the French soared while that of the English plummeted. Dunois testified that the moment she returned to the fight "the English trembled with terror; and the King’s men regained their courage."21 De Coutes said that the English "were terrified... In that last attack there was no defense put up by the English side."22
Intangible moral factors are of consummate importance on the field of battle. The soldiers’ will to fight, or the lack of it, often means more than numbers, weapons technology, or tactics in determining the outcome. Joan’s moral impact in favor of the French and against the English was immediate and blatant. Her effect on the soldiers who could see her or hear her was obvious.
Equally obvious and equally important was Joan’s moral impact on the French people of all social classes and both sexes. Wittingly or unwittingly, she helped to create a French national consciousness that had never existed before. To her own discomfort, during her lifetime and at the same time as her military victories, she became the center of a personality cult that embraced all France.
Joan was a low-born peasant who rose, apparently with God’s help, to the heights of power and prestige in the space of a few weeks, thereby making a mockery of centuries of ingrained notions of feudal privilege. As such, she instantly became the focus of frenzied adoration by the masses of her fellow peasants. The chronicle known as the Journal of the Siege of Orléans, written within a generation of Joan’s death, asserts that when she first entered the city of Orléans to begin her campaign to break the English siege, the people were "making such rejoicing as if they had seen God descend in their midst;. And there was marvelous crowd and press to touch her or the horse upon which she was."23 At Joan’s retrial, Jean Barbin, a Doctor in Law serving the French Parliament, quoted a Master Pierre de Versailles who said that when Joan visited the town of Loches "the people seized her horse by the legs and kissed her hands and feet."24 A noblewoman named Marguerite La Touroulde testified that when Joan had been her house guest for a period of several days, "women came to my house.. . bringing holy objects for her to touch."25
Joan, commendably, was made uncomfortable by this sort of adulation as these same pieces of testimony make clear. De Versailles said that Joan told him that she was counting on God to help her protect herself from being made into an idol.26 La Touroulde gave an indication of Joan’s sharp wit when she said that Joan had told her with a laugh, referring to the holy objects brought by the women, "You touch them! They will be as good from your touch as from mine."27 Joan’s displeasure at her own personality cult notwithstanding, it was a fact that during her public career of a year and a month, ordinary people all over France revered her as a living saint and priests said masses in her honor before their congregations. They did the same with redoubled ardor during the year of her captivity.28
The power of Joan’s hold on the devotion of the peasantry went far beyond mere displays of enthusiasm and piety. She incited the masses to take action and fight for a country that, thanks to her, they were beginning to consider their own. In parts of France occupied by the English, the previously docile peasants rose up in partisan resistance warfare as word of Joan’s exploits spread.29 In those parts of France under the rule of the Dauphin and eventual King, Charles VII, peasants came in droves, of their own volition, to join an army that ostensibly belonged to Charles but that in its soul belonged to Joan. Popular eagerness to fight for France became so acute that a force of peasants attempted to storm the walls of Jargeau even before Joan arrived with the army. The peasants were routed, but when Joan came on the scene, so did victory.30
Almost certainly unintentionally, Joan had the effect of starting the beginning of the end of the passionless, chess-game-like political relationships of feudalism. She was the first spark of the French common people’s emotional loyalty -- not loyalty to their privileged feudal lords who ruled over peasants and land as personal property -- but rather, loyalty to their idea of a nation that they, the common people, could call their own. She turned what had been a dry dynastic squabble that left the common people unmoved except for their own suffering into a passionately popular war of national liberation.
Modern-day scholar Edward A. Lucie-Smith, in his psychological biography Joan of Arc, asserts that this unprecedented swell of popular national enthusiasm alarmed Charles and his circle of high-born, scheming, manipulative court advisors.31 Until Joan put the crown on Charles’ head, he needed her. After she had placed the crown securely on his head, he and his palace circle saw her, and the peasant mass loyalty she inspired, as threats to their privileged positions. Feudal privilege depends for its survival on the peasants passively accepting that they and the land, are, in effect, the personal property of the nobility. But, because of Joan, the peasants began to sense that the soil of fair France belonged to them and not to the nobles. Even though nobles and peasants alike were French and ostensibly shared the goal of driving out the English, Charles and the soft nobles of his court could easily come to see Joan, and the excessive patriotism of the masses who were devoted to her, as a greater threat than the English. Lucie-Smith implies that this was one reason among several that, after Charles’ coronation, Charles and his advisors sought to thwart and undercut Joan in every way they could, even though she was sincerely attempting to carry on the war in their behalf. His fear of Joan may have been one reason among several that Charles locked his victorious army in inaction while he pursued barren negotiations with the English and Burgundians and why he ordered the army disbanded when there was still so much English-occupied French soil to take back by force of arms.
If the soft political nobles of the royal court feared and loathed Joan, the stalwart warrior nobles who formed the leadership and striking power of the army adored her and gave their loyalty to her with an ardor that equaled that of the peasants. Great fighting nobles such as Dunois and d’Alençon stood at the front of such men. Lesser ranking fighting nobles of all degrees came to follow Joan’s banner with burning enthusiasm. Perceval de Cagny wrote in his chronicle that Charles had no money to pay the army --nonetheless, nobles and commoners of all ranks "did not refuse to go with and serve him for that journey in the Maid’s company, saying that wheresoever she went they would go, ."32 A young French knight named Guy de Laval wrote a letter home to his mother saying that in the army "nor ever did men go with a better will to a task than they go to this one." He went on to tell his mother to sell and mortgage his lands if need be to raise troops for the cause.33 Clearly, Joan’s moral inspiration turned an army of sullen professional mercenaries into a cross-social class army of crusaders.
Joan’s moral impact, both in arousing the will of the French soldiers -- of all social ranks -- to fight, and in igniting the first blaze of patriotic national feeling in the French people, was the one quality of hers that did the most to change history. In a few days at Orléans, she inverted what had been the established moral order on the battlefields of the Hundred Years’ War. She made an army of habitual losers believe in themselves as winners. For the French army with Joan, the belief in victory and the fact of victory became mutually reinforcing. Renewed belief in victory brought with it a new will to fight and the will to fight brought the first victories -- and those victories stoked ever hotter will to fight. Only the folly of Charles in freezing his victorious army in place while he carried on fruitless negotiations, only his shortsightedness in disbanding his army at the height of its power, broke the cycle of belief and victory that Joan had started.
Joan’s military role as an inspirational creator of the will to fight is obvious and indisputable. Establishing to what degree she was more than just a "super cheerleader" --to what degree she was a true commander who made decisions and gave orders concerning the strategic and tactical conduct of the war -- is much more problematic. What complicates this question is that the French army of Joan’s day had nothing that modem military professionals would call a chain of command. Whether it was a case of strategic decisions made at the royal court, or of tactical decisions made in a tent in the field, decisions seem to have been made in an extremely loose committee fashion with the most forceful speaker present able to make his or her view carry the others along.34 These ad hoc "committees," to use a modern term, could consist of the Dauphin-King and a mix of more or less coequal court nobles, warrior nobles, captains of independent bands -- and a new, unprecedented, explosive factor in the person of Joan. As before, the testimony given in Joan’s retrial must be the foundation of any effort to grasp the truth of the situation.
In the retrial, Simon Charles, who served as President of the Chamber of Accounts to Dauphin and King Charles VII, and who accompanied the army in the field, testified that "Joan was very simple in all her actions, except in the conduct of war, in which she was altogether an expert."35 A knight named Thibault d’Armagnac stated
Except in matters of war, she was simple and innocent. But in the leading and drawing up of armies and in the conduct of war, in disposing an army for battle and haranguing the soldiers, she behaved like the most experienced captain in all the world, like one with a whole lifetime of experience. 36
In everything that she did, apart from the conduct of the war, Joan was young and simple; but in the conduct of war she was most skillful, both in carrying a lance herself, in drawing up the army in battle order, and in placing the artillery. And everyone was astonished that she acted with such prudence and clear-sightedness in military matters, as cleverly as some great captain with twenty or thirty years experience; and especially in the placing of artillery, for in that she acquitted herself magnificently.37
These general comments find backing in specific instances of Joan’s words and deeds. During the series of battles that Joan participated in to break the English siege of Orléans, it was Dunois who held the ultimate authority of command. Nonetheless, Joan made herself into a loud and forceful voice in the conduct of operations. When she arrived outside the city with the relief army behind her on April 28, 1429, Dunois rode out from the city, passed through the gap in the still incomplete English encirclement, and met Joan face to face. Dunois testified that Joan became livid when she realized that, following Dunois’ orders, she and the relief army had arrived at the city on the side of the Loire River that was away from the main English forces. Joan had been hot to launch an immediate attack on the English and she felt that Dunois had deceived her by having her army approach from the direction it did. Dunois recalled that Joan immediately burst out at him "In God’s name, the counsel of the Lord God is wiser and surer than yours. You thought you had deceived me but it is you who have deceived yourselves, for I am bringing you better help than ever you got from any soldier or any city. It is the help of the King of Heaven."38 As was to become commonplace, Joan ascribed the source of her strategic and tactical insights to divine guidance. Whether Joan was sincere in this or merely used the claim of divine guidance as a means to win the credibility that an illiterate peasant girl could never command on her own is something that must forever remain unknown.
After this rough beginning Joan accompanied Dunois back into Orléans on April 29. The people of the city gave her the rapturous welcome previously described. Over the next few days, she and Dunois quickly overcame any ill-feeling between them and established a close relationship that would last for as long as they made war together.
Dunois continued his testimony saying that as eager as Joan was to get into the fight, she still insisted on sending a letter of ultimatum to the English, demanding that they lift their siege or suffer the consequences.39 Joan sent the English another ultimatum on May 5 which Pasquerel quoted in his testimony for the retrial. She declared that "the King of Heaven orders and commands you through me, Joan the Maid, to leave your fortresses and return to your country, and if you do not so I shall make an uproar that will be perpetually remembered" (emphasis mine).40 Joan took this tone in many of the pieces of correspondence that she dictated to scribes and had sent to the powerful, both friends and enemies. Obviously, she had no doubts about the power of her own authority, even if, early in the game at Orléans, her friends and enemies were still trying to figure out what to make of her.
Joan’s activities over the next few days at Orléans can be gleaned from various pieces of retrial testimony and the chronicles. She spent May 2, 1429, riding her horse around the city to make a personal survey of the English positions -- just as any responsible commander would.41 As described by d’Aulon and de Coutes in their testimony, Joan participated in her first battle on May 4. Astride her horse, banner in hand, she rallied the French troops in their successful attack to capture the English fort at Saint Loup, just to the east of Orléans. That Joan had not yet been fully integrated into the command system is clear from the fact that this attack was initiated without her knowledge. She had to hasten from her living quarters, where she had been taking a nap, to join the attack after it had already started.42 Pasquerel testified that Joan commanded that there be no fighting on May 5 because it was the Feast of the Ascension and that she was obeyed.43
The chronicler Jean Chartier claimed that also on May 5, the French military leadership in Orléans, headed by Dunois, held a council of war without inviting Joan. They decided to launch a diversionary attack on one side of the Loire River and a main attack on the other. They agreed that Joan would go with the diversionary attack but not be told of the main attack. Then they sent for Joan to tell her only as much of the plan as they wanted her to know. According to Chartier, Joan heard them out and then, intuitively figuring out that she was being used, went into one of her classic rages. Dunois pacified her by revealing the whole plan to her44 From that moment, it became standard procedure that Joan would always be at the forefront of whatever was the main attack on any given day of battle. The day after this stormy war council, May 6, Joan and Captain La Hire had the leading parts in the French assault that took the English fort of the Augustins. 45
May 7 was Joan’s great day of destiny, it was on this day that she played the decisive role in capturing the most important of the English forts that encircled Orléans --the Tourelles. According to the testimony of Simon Charles, the official French commanders in Orléans had decided against launching any attack that day. Joan achieved her ascendancy over them by forcing events to unfold her way. In his testimony. Simon Charles repeated the story that had been told to him by Raoul de Gaucourt, one of the highest ranking warrior nobles serving France. De Gaucourt had positioned himself at one of the gates of the city to prevent any French troops from going out to make an unauthorized attack. Then Joan showed up, cased in her armor, astride her horse, and with a throng of soldiers, both noble and common, behind her. By de Gaucourt’s own account, Joan upbraided him as "a wicked man" and angrily told him "Whether you like it or not, the soldiers will charge, and they will win as they have done in other places." In the modem idiom, an armed peasant girl with the people behind her told a mighty noble of the realm to lead, follow, or get out of the way. Fearing for his life, de Gaucourt stood aside and Joan led the army out of the city.46
D’Aulon testified that once she was outside the city, she summoned the French leadership to come to her for a war council .47 The decision of this council was to attack the Tourelles immediately. It was during this attack that Joan famously took an English arrow through her shoulder -- and after the arrow was pulled out, returned to the fight to lead the final frenzied assault that stormed the Tourelles. (Dunois related that he had wanted to break off the attack, but that Joan persuaded him to make one more supreme effort.48) Joan returned in triumph to Orléans with an army that was truly on its way to becoming her army.
Dunois testified about what happened the next day. His testimony is amplified by the accounts in the Journal of the Siege of Orléans and in the Chronicle of the Maid.49 The English abandoned their remaining forts around Orléans and drew their now reunified army up in battle order to fight a climactic struggle in the open field. Joan and Dunois led the French army out of the city and drew it up in battle order facing the English. According to all the accounts, Joan forbade the French from making an attack to initiate battle because it was Sunday. The English also refrained from attacking. The two armies glared at each other from opposite sides of the field for an hour without coming to blows. Eventually, the English turned about and marched away. The French let them go with some harassing pursuit by a small force under La Hire.
Edward Lucie-Smith, in his book Joan of Arc, rightly suggests that there was more than piety to Joan’s and Dunois’ decision to forgo a final clash of arms at Orléans.50 The English army in front of them was a unified whole that was no longer split up into small detachments in forts ringing the city. The English were completely ready to meet a French attack. They were drawn up in their favorite formation of rows of longbowmen fronted with a barrier of sharpened stakes planted in the ground. This was the fighting technique with which the English had slaughtered French armies at Crécy, Agincourt, and other places over the years. The great weakness of this technique was that it was purely defensive in nature. The success of this standard English formation depended totally on the French being bold enough (read "arrogantly stupid enough") to charge straight into it. For decades, the French had been precisely so bold. But Dunois was an intelligent man with recent and hideous memories of what it was like to charge such a position and Joan was a fast and intuitive learner.51 Between them, Joan and Dunois would have none of it. Between them, they must have known that the English, with a long supply line behind them and a formed French army in front of them, could not have their rows of longbowmen stand there forever. Dunois and Joan did what they needed to do to win. They waited.
Regardless of what form her tactical reasoning took on the final day at Orléans, Joan "had done it." Orléans was saved. The myth of English invincibility was shattered. The fortunes of the Hundred Years’ War would tip back and forth for years to come, but the decisive and irrevocable turning point was Joan’s week of glory at Orléans.
The French high command was almost as discomfited by Joan’s sudden and astounding reversal of the course of the war as the English. In the days immediately following Joan’s unexpected success, the Dauphin Charles dithered at the royal castle at Loches, holding interminable discussions with his civilian advisors about what to do next -- and frittering away precious time as he did so. Dunois arrived at Loches with Joan to urge immediate and aggressive action. Dunois testified about what happened. Joan knocked on the door of the Dauphin’s council chamber, then bust through the door, got on her knees before the Dauphin, and exhorted him to march on Rheims with her to receive his crown. When one of the civilian advisors asked her about the source of her opinion, she went into a rapture describing how voices from God were urging her on. Dunois went on to say that the military leadership of France favored re-conquering Normandy before making the extremely risky thrust deep into English-held territory to get to Rheims. Joan countered saying that it was essential to crown Charles as quickly as possible, because, once he was thus symbolically legitimized as the true king of France, "the power of his enemies would decline continually until finally they would be powerless.. " In taking this position, Joan displayed an intuitive but sure grasp of how politics, public symbolism, and military action had to be integrated in formulating grand strategy. Dunois affirmed in his testimony that the leadership embraced Joan’s opinion.52 An illiterate seventeen-year-old peasant girl was now dominating the national policy decisions of France.53
Joan and the army set off for their next campaign. They would eliminate the remaining English forces along the Loire River and then drive on Rheims with the Dauphin in tow. This time, d’Alençon would hold the ultimate responsibility of command in the field. However, the Journal of the Siege of Orléans asserts that the Dauphin "placed the Maid in [d’Alençon’s] company, commanding him expressly to behave and act entirely at her advice."54 Regardless of how true this statement is, d’Alençon and Joan made a happy and brilliantly successful team. From June 12 to June 18, 1429, they stormed the English positions at Jargeau, Meung, and Beaugency and annihilated a large English army at the open-field Battle of Patay.55
D’Alençon testified that at Jargeau, Joan continued in her usual role of being out front, waving her banner and shouting encouragement to the soldiers -- unfazed by a thrown stone that glanced off her helmet.56 At Patay, however, Joan was angry that the captains compelled her to march with the rearguard.57 She did not arrive on the battlefield until the fight was almost over.
There is no way to gauge to what extent, if any, Joan was involved in the tactical details of arranging the troops on the ground in these struggles -- but her influence over general strategy was paramount. Perceval de Cagny, d’Alençon’s personal chronicler and a witness to many of these events, recorded that on June 14, Joan called d’Alençon to her side. She then told him ‘Tomorrow after dinner I want to go to Meung. Have the company ready to leave at that hour."58 D’Alençon did as he was told, and cheerfully, so far as can be determined. As the crisis at Patay approached, the French high command, as usual, was in a dither about what to do. As usual, they consulted Joan, and as usual she carried them along with her judgment to take the most aggressive course and seek battle. Also as usual, she expressed her opinion in rhetorical flights. D’Alençon testified that she cried out "In God’s name, we must fight them. If they were hanging in the clouds we should get them. For God has sent them to us for us to punish them."59 Dunois recalled that she loudly said "See that you all have good spurs!" When she was asked if this meant that they should retreat, she hotly replied no, they would need good spurs to chase after a fleeing enemy.60 Their spines thus stiffened, the French went on to win their greatest victory to that point in the war.
After the decisive triumph at Patay, it was time to get Charles to Rheims.61 Joan and her co-commanders set out at the head of the army. The Dauphin Charles became a prisoner of the success of his own subjects. The crisis of the march on Rheims came when the city of Troyes closed its gates in the faces of Joan, the Dauphin, and the army. Troyes became the apogee of Joan’s career as a true battle commander. Troyes was strongly defended and the supply situation of the army was tenuous. After several days of dithering by Charles, Joan once more had to burst into a royal war council to demand immediate aggressive action. "For in God’s name, within three days I will lead you into the city of Troyes by love, force, courage,... "was how Dunois recalled her exhortation to battle. ‘Then," continued Dunois,
the Maid immediately went over with the King’s army, and pitched her camp alongside the moat. The positions she took up were so admirable that even the two or three most famous and experienced captains would not have made as good a plan of battle. Indeed, the work that she did that night was so effective that the next day the bishop and citizens of the city offered their allegiance to the King, in fear and trembling.62
Jean Chartier claimed in his chronicle that Joan took charge of placing the big cannons to aim them at the walls.63 Simon Charles, that observant royal court bureaucrat, was present at these events. He testified that it was Joan who gave the orders to make bundles of tree branches with which to fill in the moat and Joan who gave the order to commence the attack -- then the city surrendered in terror without a fight.64 This is the clearest case we have to show that a teenage peasant girl was the true commander of the royal army of France.
The march to Rheims continued and on July 17, 1429, Charles felt the crown come to rest on his head while the warrior girl who put it there stood behind him, magnificent in her shining armor.
In one of the bitterest tragedies of history, the day Charles received the crown, he started to knock the legs out from underneath the people whose courage had brought him to the crown.65 The moment was perfect for an immediate march on Paris to take back France’s capital. The English and Burgundians were in panicked disarray and the city was weakly defended. Instead, Charles immobilized the army and Joan while he entered into negotiations with the enemies of his people and his country. Weeks dragged by while the English and Burgundians used the negotiations as a cover to massively reinforce the garrison of Paris and to refurbish the city walls. Joan and d’Alençon could only seethe in fury. On August 14, they led the French in an inconclusive confrontation with a large Anglo-Burgundian army at Montepilloy. At last, on September 8, weeks after the moment had passed, Charles allowed his champions to attack Paris. Joan suffered her first repulse, made even more bitter by the arrow shot through her thigh. Now, Charles’ conduct descended to treason. Joan and d’Alençon had hoped to renew the attack from a different direction by crossing a timber bridge over the Seine that d’Alençon had ordered built for just that purpose. Their rage and disgust must have been total when they found that the bridge had been secretly demolished on Charles’ orders. Charles ordered a retreat back to the territory that had always been his and on September 21, he disbanded the great army with which Joan, Dunois, d’Alençon and the rest had saved France.66 Joan and her loving circle of co-commanders went their ways, never to see each other again.
Charles conferring titles of nobility on Joan and her family did little to make her feel better.67 She continued to carry on the war -- only now, she was just one independent captain among many, commanding a little army of mostly non-French mercenaries. Her influence on grand strategy had sunk to nil, but her tactical autonomy increased.68 She continued to manifest the skills of a true military commander. For example, just before she laid siege to the town of La Cherité that November, she dictated a letter to the citizens of the town of Riom that contained thoroughly practical requests for various kinds of supplies. (The authentic original letter is still held in an archive in France.)69 But the old magic was gone for Joan. Her mercenary band could not give her the same loving loyalty that her great army, drawn from the best of all France, once had. Ahead of Joan lay the ever-darkening road to capture, torment, and martyrdom.
The cumulative testimony of her comrades-in-arms shows that Joan was no mere inspirational figurehead. She was repeatedly present when key decisions were being made in councils of war and she repeatedly forced those decisions to reflect her expressed will. To what extent her strategic and tactical opinions were the product of her own rational military calculations or were the product of her belief in otherworldly inspiration can never be known. Still... One may attempt to draw the organizational chart of the French high command however one chooses but the fact is that Joan was the ultimate driving power behind every aggressive move the French army made.
Given that so much of our understanding of Joan is based on the testimony given at her retrial, it is necessary to address the question of just how truthful the testimony was. Charles VII had a vested interest in the Church clearing the name of the girl to whom, in the prevailing view, he owed his crown. Thus, there would have been pressure on those testifying at Joan’s retrial to remember her in a favorable light. However, it probably was beyond the means of a king to forcibly yet covertly orchestrate the testimony of 115 witnesses who represented all social classes and who were questioned over a period of several years in widely separated regions of France. There is just enough variation in overlapping pieces of testimony to show that while the people testifying saw the same events, they were not reciting some contrived scenario that had been forced on them.
D’Alençon and Dunois were the two most important witnesses so far as establishing Joan’s role as a military leader was concerned. Significantly, d’Alençon detested Charles and was in fact involved in a failed plot against him some years after Joan died. D’Alençon would be arrested for treason less than a month after he gave his testimony about Joan. (Sadly, d’Alençon and Dunois would be on opposite sides of this failed coup attempt -- it would be Dunois who would arrest d’Alençon on Charles’ orders.)70 D’Alençon’s hatred for Charles meant that he was hardly in a mood to cooperate with Charles by saying good things about Joan just to enhance Charles’ legitimacy as king. D’Alençon must have been motivated to praise Joan’s skills as a military leader by a sincere sense of admiration for his long-dead friend.
Finally, it is a standard characteristic of the warrior nobility of any culture to possess a large measure of egotism. Dunois, d’Alençon, and all the rest would not have been exceptions to this rule. Why would men such as that have made up stories that exaggerated the role of a seventeen-year-old peasant girl telling them what to do? The very improbability of them saying what they did leads one to believe that they were saying things that were remarkable but true.
* * *
Making herself the guiding torch of inspiration for the army and the people and, in her own way, commanding the army in war -- this is what Joan did. But how did she do it? What was it about her that enabled her to do what she did?
First of all, Joan had to possess an innate genius that enabled her, an illiterate teenage farm girl, to quickly learn what she had to learn to deal as an equal with royalty, bookish clerics, and trained soldiers of high rank. Just as innate genius enabled Mozart to compose symphonies as a child, innate genius enabled Joan to shape the destiny of an army and a nation. Coupled with this genius there had to be phenomenal force of will. Her genius enabled her to quickly master the rudiments of military leadership despite her absolute lack of formal training. Her force of will empowered her, a peasant girl, to browbeat royal officials into granting her an audience with the Dauphin Charles VII -- and, having won that audience, to persuade Charles to place her at the head of his army with a horse, a suit of armor, a sword, a banner, and an entourage of her own.
If intellect and willpower are qualities that can be inherited, than we can see Joan’s capacities foreshadowed in her parents. Jacques d’Arc was a farming peasant in the village of Domrémy -- but among the village peasants he was first among equals. He commanded such respect among his neighbors that he served in several official roles in the affairs of the village. It was he whom they chose to represent the village to the regional military governor -- the same regional governor Joan was to badger for an escort to Charles at the beginning of her quest.71 Jacques, with a personal initiative that was unusual in a peasant, petitioned for, and obtained, the right for his neighbors to take shelter in an abandoned nearby castle whenever brigand bands and warring forces of the Hundred Years’ War threatened the village.72 Jacques was thus a man of notable intelligence, responsibility, and enterprise among the peasantry. He died in sorrow the same year his daughter died at the stake.73
Joan’s mother, Isabelle, was a woman of superb character. She showed what she was made of after Joan’s death. An illiterate peasant woman, she spent twenty-four years traveling France, beating on the doors of the mighty, to demand a posthumous retrial for her daughter. Her pleas for justice eventually reached the Pope in Rome and she lived to see her long struggle rewarded with Joan’s exoneration. If the potential for greatness can be passed in the genes from parents to child, or if it can be developed in a child by parental example, then Joan was well-served in both her parents.74
High intelligence under stress is necessary in a military leader. The strongest unambiguous evidence of Joan’s s amazing powers of mind comes from the transcripts of her trial for heresy. From January to May 1431, over sixty of the most learned clerics in English-occupied France subjected her to an almost daily barrage of questioning. Illiterate Joan had no one to represent her or speak for her but herself. After being pushed to mental exhaustion in court each day, she was pushed to physical and emotional exhaustion each night by sadistic prison guards who mocked her and sexually molested her.75
The learned clerics sought to trap Joan with trick questions of theology so that her own answers would condemn her. The illiterate peasant answered with such consistent brilliance that she made the clerics look like fools. She forced the mastermind of these odious proceedings, Bishop Cauchon, to move the trial from public chambers to closed chambers. Amazingly, Joan’s superb answers found their way into the official record thanks to court scribes who sympathized with her.76 These pages, still intact in the archives today, are Joan’s self-portrait.
For example, Joan was asked if the saints who she claimed appeared to her hated the English. The trick in this question was that if Joan said "yes," she would be claiming that saints of the Church hated a people, who, in 1431, were still every bit as Catholic as the French. If she said "no," then she would destroy the credibility of her own mission to make war on the English. Joan adroitly answered of her saints ‘They love that which God loves and hate that which God hates."77 In another instance, she was asked if she was or was not in God’s grace. If she said that she was, the clerics were ready to hound her for the sin of presuming to know God’s mind. If she said that she was not, she condemned herself. She replied, speaking of being in God’s grace, "If I am not, may God bring me to it; if I am, may God keep me in it." The brilliance of this answer stunned the court.78 At still another point, she refused to answer a question because, she said, she had already answered the same question a week before. The scribe instantly said that she was mistaken. Joan challenged him to search back through the pages of the trial record. The scribe did so -- and Joan was proven right. With a spunk that was incredible under the circumstances, she jokingly told the scribe that if he made such a mistake again, she would pull his ears.79
Joan’s brilliance at her trial does not have a direct bearing on her skill as a military commander. Still, the ability to think quickly and creatively under conditions of horrific stress is essential in a successful leader of forces in battle. Joan’s conduct at her trial proves that she had gray matter in abundance to quickly master the rudiments of the art of war with no prior training
D’Alençon’s testimony (supported by Jean Chartier’s chronicle) that Joan was "magnificent" in placing the artillery may be misleading to people with no military experience.80 Magnificence in "placing" the artillery is not the same thing as magnificence in operating the artillery. A modern-day general does not need to know the complex "switchology" of operating the ballistic computer of a state-of-the-art tank. The specially trained crewmen of the tank are paid to have that skill. The general only needs to know the capabilities and limitations of that tank in doing damage to the enemy as he moves and places that tank, like a chess piece, on the chessboard of the battlefield. Likewise, Joan did not need to learn the technical minutiae of how to mix gunpowder for her artillery. Rather, she quickly had to grasp how the big guns should be positioned on the battlefield to do the most damage to the enemy -- for example, by shooting at the corners of square castle towers and at the center of round castle towers.81 Joan had the innate intellect to rapidly acquire the moves of a battlefield chess master.
Joan’s ability to forcefully articulate what had to be done in the crisis of war was one of her great leadership attributes. Her stated conviction that God was guiding her had a hard-edged practicality to it that she expressed in a powerful way. She understood perfectly that God’s guidance was not to be confused with God’s doing the work. Before the Dauphin Charles gave his final approval for Joan to place herself at the head of the army, he had her questioned by a panel of learned clerics in Poitiers to ascertain whether she was, as she claimed, the virtuous instrument of God’s will or a deceitful force of evil. Seguin Seguin was a professor of theology who was on the panel at Poitiers. Years later, he gave his testimony at the retrial. He stated that one of the examining clerics at Poitiers had said to Joan that if God wanted to deliver the people of France from their troubles, there was no need of soldiers. Joan replied "In God’s name, the soldiers will fight and God will give them the victory." This answer pleased the assembled clerics.82 D’Alençon testified that he had had his doubts about the haste with which Joan ordered the assault on Jargeau. She gently reproved him with the words "Do not have doubts.... Act, and God will act."83 Joan’s understanding that God’s guidance had to be coupled with human deeds provided fodder for her cutting wit. D’Alençon described one of the many times when the army leadership was divided over whether or not to attack immediately. Urging the bolder course as always, Joan "said that if she were not sure that God was conducting their campaign, she would rather keep her sheep than expose herself to dangers like these."84 Joan’s ability to forcefully express the view that God was on the side of the French but that the French had to earn God’s help by their own exertion was yet one more aspect of her character that enabled her to pull the army along behind her.
The informal and ad hoc "committee" nature of the French military high command worked to Joan’s advantage. In a system such as that, forceful eloquence and strong character counted for more in councils of war than formal factors of rank and position.85 Joan’s era was a time when people of all social classes, even high-ranking military leaders sitting in war councils, were marked by intense religious faith. Joan’s apparent direct connection to God, seemingly confirmed by her unexpected yet repeated victories, must have added immensely to her power to persuade.86 Her gift for simple but powerful rhetoric only magnified what her cohorts wanted to believe was her divine authority. Even those few members of Joan’s war councils who lacked faith themselves must have known that it was the religious faith that the masses of soldiers had in her mission that empowered the army to fight so well. Such non-believers as existed in French councils of war would still have feared to tamper with a proven formula for victory. Time after time, Joan took full advantage of all these factors to alternately plead, cajole, argue, exhort -- and inspire --her nominal superiors to adopt her preferred course of action.
Beyond her intellect that enabled her to quickly acquire rudimentary skills of command, beyond her incredible force of will that empowered her to surmount all obstacles, Joan had innate qualities about her that made thousands of armed men want to follow her. The military has always been a man’s subculture regardless of the era and locale in question. Yet Joan, a young woman, was able to force her way into the boys-only club of the French military of her day and then to make that club her own. How did she manage to overturn the established order of military culture?
Men in military elites are jealously protective of their own elite status. They construct a daunting series of tests, both formal and informal, that anyone wishing to join their number must pass. In this, the warrior nobility of medieval France was a military elite like any other in history. Joan’s ability to join this elite should have been crippled three times over -- she was hardly more than a child, she was a peasant, and she was female. It is one of the miracles of her career that she was able to transcend these handicaps to become not only accepted but admired by the French warrior nobility of her day.87
The qualities that the members of a warrior elite demand in a new member are physical prowess, a willingness to cheerfully endure harsh living conditions, and above all, physical courage of a sublime degree, which entails, among other things, carrying on in one’s duties heedless of one’s own wounds. All these qualities must be conspicuously displayed. Given Joan’s triple handicap of her youth, social class, and sex, she had to display these qualities in awesome measure to win acceptance. As her various warrior comrades testified, she passed all these tests in grand fashion.
D’Alençon testified that the day after he first met Joan, he saw her astride a borrowed horse, practicing jousting with a lance at a target. He was so impressed by her natural ability that he gave her a fine horse as a gift.88 The young knight Guy de Laval wrote glowingly about Joan’s equestrian skills in a letter he wrote home to his mother.89 Marguerite La Touroulde was, obviously, not a warrior herself, but she was keenly observant of the impression Joan made on military men. She testified "I have seen her ride a horse and wield a lance as well as the finest soldier, and the soldiers themselves were most astonished by this."90 Throughout her military career, Joan displayed amazing stamina in wearing a heavy suit of armor and keeping the saddle all day, day after day, sometimes even sleeping through the night in her armor. D’Alençon noted with approval that through the long weeks of her campaigns she "slept on the straw" as any soldier would without the least complaint.91
If there was a single event that clinched Joan’s place as an admired equal member of the warrior elite of France, it was when she took an English arrow through her shoulder at Orléans -- and after the arrow was pulled out, returned to the forefront of the fight with redoubled ardor. Hundreds of men saw her take that arrow and hundreds of men saw her come back, a bloodstain at her shoulder, her good arm waving her banner, her voice carrying over the din, shouting for one more assault. At that sublime moment she became forever their Maid and they became forever her soldiers. There is a still extant chronicle called The Life of Guillaume de Gamaches. De Gamaches was a French knight who served in the defense of Orléans. According to The Life, when Joan first arrived in the city, de Gamaches called her "a little saucebox of low birth" in her presence and threatened to furl his banner rather than follow her. Mere days later, at the moment Joan was wounded, de Gamaches was one of the first to rush to her and stand over her to protect her. Speaking a deep apology, he offered his horse to carry her to safety.92 Joan had what it took to make the most haughty warrior nobleman accept and then admire her.
After a military female has displayed the strength and courage to win the acceptance and respect of her male peers, the fact that she is a female may become an asset rather than a liability to her. When a military female has shown herself good enough to be "one of the guys," and, if she retains a spirited, cheery, yet compassionate, sort of feminine charm, the "guys" may find the juxtaposition of her masculine and feminine traits all the more endearing. Multiple pieces of evidence demonstrate that Joan had precisely that kind of charm.
A French government official named Perceval de Boulainvilliers, who met Joan, wrote a letter describing her to the Duke of Milan. The letter described the mixture of masculine and feminine traits that fascinated and charmed de Boulainvilliers and innumerable other men who knew Joan:
This Maid has a certain elegance. She has a virile bearing, speaks little, shows an admirable prudence in all her words. She has a pretty, woman’s voice, eats little, drinks very little wine; she enjoys riding a horse and takes pleasure in fine arms, greatly likes the company of noble fighting men, detests numerous assemblies and meetings, readily sheds copious tears, has a cheerful face; she bears the weight and burden of armor incredibly well, to such a point that she has remained fully armed during six days and nights.93
Before battle, Joan was ferocious in councils of war as she constantly demanded that the army attack. During battle, she was ferocious as she placed herself at the head of every assault, heedless of danger and her own wounds. But after battle, the little girl in her came out as she spent as much time weeping over the English dead as the French. In the aftermath of the Battle of Patay, she even held a dying English soldier’s head in her lap to hear his confession and comfort him as he died.94 To the warrior men of her inner circle, the cycle of her conflicting moods must have been exhausting -- and endearing. She was strong and fierce when her men wanted a warrior comrade who was strong and fierce. She was gentle and kind when they most needed to be near a woman who was gentle and kind.
Frances Gies, in her Joan of Arc: The Legend and the Reality, further describes the natural charm that drew fighting men to the Maid. Gies asserts that low-born peasant girl Joan had the cheerful boldness to address the great noble d’Alençon with the familiar "tu" form rather than the formal "vous" form as would have been appropriate. Joan also, says Gies, kept up a "playful" rapport with d’Alençon, calling him her "gentle duke" and "pretty duke."95 D’Alençon, by his own testimony, was enraptured by Joan from the moment he met her and her informal playfulness must have been part of what charmed him. The squire Gobert Thibault testified that when he first met Joan, "she tapped me on the shoulder, saying that she would like to have a few men of my sort with her."96 It is easy to visualize Thibault blushing crimson -- and being charmed out of his boots. In his often-cited letter to his mother, Guy de Laval gushed in his adoring descriptions of Joan. He wrote, "I went to her lodging to see her; she sent for wine and told me that she would soon have me drinking in Paris. This seems a thing divine by her deeds, and also from seeing and hearing her."97 Clearly, Joan was no somber, otherworldly little waif of a mystic. She had a bravado, a charm, a winning manner, that, combined with her proven strength and courage, made hardened fighting men adore her at the same time they respected her.
Joan’s female sexuality inevitably became part of the chemistry that drew men to her -- but in a way that was the opposite of the norm. Her squire d’Aulon helped her into her armor every day that she was in the field and it was he who dressed her wounds. He testified that he often saw her naked legs and breasts and that". . . she was a young girl, beautiful and shapely. ..’ D’Alençon said ". .. I slept with Joan and the soldiers ‘on the straw,’ and sometimes I saw Joan get ready for the night, and sometimes I looked at her breasts, which were beautiful." Yet -- all of Joan’s men -- Jean de Metz, Bertrand de Poulengy, d’Alençon, d’Aulon, Thibault; the men who slept on the ground beside her and saw her in her lovely nakedness, were adamant that they never felt carnal lust for her. Thibault elaborated that while they sometimes felt a carnal urge for Joan, they "never dared give way to it.." They saw a saintly goodness in her and it was shame that prevented them from making advances on her. They felt an exalted pure love for her that they could not bear to sully with carnal words much less deeds.98
De Metz testified that though he slept on the ground right next to Joan he "was in such awe of her that I would not have dared go near her; and I tell you on my oath that I never had any desire or carnal feelings for her." Yet, only a little bit later in his testimony, he proclaimed "... I was on fire with what she said, and with a love for her which was, as I believe, a divine love." Jean Barbin testified that "The soldiers considered her a saint, "99 It is no great stretch to suggest that: When young men encounter a beautiful woman who has won their respect to an extraordinary degree, their usual sexual lust may become sublimated into a devotion and loyalty that is passionate but chaste. Joan had the power to make thousands of armed men love her, not as an object of romantic desire but as the living focus of their hunger to serve a higher cause. Whenever Joan rose in her stirrups to shout "Let all who love me -- follow me!"100 over all the din, she was exploiting a special relationship between leader and led that is unique in all history. Ultimately, it was this astonishing ability of Joan’s to make an army of soldiers chastely love her-- to the point that they would willingly face death in battle for her -- that empowered her to bodily shove history into a new path.
Finally, it must be admitted, there were more prosaic reasons for Joan winning her ascendancy over people and events. It was a simple matter of the cliché about being in the right place at the right time coming true. Joan was lucky in that the conditions of her time and place gave her the opening to do what she did.
After years of one humiliating defeat after another, both the military and civil leadership of France were demoralized and discredited. When the Dauphin Charles granted Joan’s urgent request to be equipped for war and placed at the head of his army, his decision must have been based in large part on the knowledge that every orthodox, every rational, option had been tried and had failed. Only a regime in the final straits of desperation would pay any heed to an illiterate farm girl who claimed that voices from God were instructing her to take charge of her country’s army and lead it to victory.
Many French people of the time believed that the legendary Merlin had prophesied that a maiden from Lorraine would one day save France in its most desperate hour. This belief, sincerely held by the masses of people Joan was coming to help, strengthened her cause.101
Joan was lucky in that the nature of armies and war in her time helped to magnify the effect of her style of inspirational leadership. The army she led contained only a few thousand men, not hundreds of thousands or millions as became the rule in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Her soldiers went into battle standing shoulder to shoulder in packed masses, not spread out to mitigate the effects of modern machine guns and high explosive. Her battles were fought out on battlefields that could be covered by a few football fields -- as opposed to modem battles being fought across dozens of miles of Normandy beaches or hundreds of miles of Iraqi desert. All this meant that Joan’s heroic inspirational exertions -- her charging ahead brandishing her huge banner, her shouting encouragement -- were seen and heard by the majority of her men at the exact instant that she was charging and shouting. The effect of her inspirational conduct was both palpable and instantaneous for her men. A modern-day general can only make inspirational speeches to his entire army via an assortment of electronic media -- and most of his soldiers will probably only hear recorded versions of the speech after the battle is over. Any modem-day general who leaves his headquarters to put on a display of physical courage will be seen by only a tiny and insignificant percentage of his men. The story of his brave display will only seep slowly through the rest of his army. Joan was fortunate that the nature of armies and the nature of battle in her day ensured that her style of leadership would have the greatest possible impact.
Just as the conditions of her time magnified Joan’s acts and words of inspiration, so too did existing conditions help her overcome her lack of formal military training. Armies of her day were vastly simpler than what they have become today. The war machine of the early fifteenth century contained far fewer and far simpler moving parts than the war machine of any subsequent century. Moving and placing units of a few hundred foot-mobile pikemen and archers and a few hundred horse-mounted knights, plus a few very simple cannons -- all of them supplied from horse-drawn wagons -- is one thing. Moving and placing units of tens of thousands of soldiers equipped with dozens of different types of complex rifles, machine guns, cannons, tanks, personnel carriers, helicopters, mines, antiaircraft missiles, radar sets, and so forth -- all of it sustained by computer-based logistical systems of staggering size and complexity -- is quite another matter. In Joan’s day, a brilliant military amateur did not have an impossible amount of ground to cover in order to catch up with her professional comrades-in-arms. Today, a brilliant military amateur is merely someone who has the potential to do well as he or she progresses through the intense and protracted technical training required to turn him or her into a military professional. So far as mastering even the rudiments of the art of war is concerned, Joan could only have done what she did in the medieval period in which she lived.
Joan was also lucky in the men who became her intimate comrades in leading the army. Her coterie of co-commanders -- d’Alençon, Dunois, La Hire, de Xaintrailles -- represented a younger generation of French military leaders who realized that they had to do something different to overturn years of French battlefield defeat and humiliation. They were men who had already won some minor successes before Joan arrived.102 They were men who were willing to give her a chance whereas the previous generation of French military leaders, whose arrogance and incompetence had led to ruin at English hands, might well have scorned her. Joan’s moral inspiration, force of will, and peasant outsider’s pragmatic drive to do what worked were the catalyst these men needed to make their efforts attain their fullest effect.
It was in her first battles around the besieged French city of Orléans that Joan worked her first seeming miracles of military leadership. These miracles seem a bit less miraculous in that the English inadvertently helped Joan at Orléans by the faulty way in which they deployed their forces. The English grouped their men at Orléans in small packets in forts -- the Augustins, the Tourelles, and others -- that were spread around the city out of supporting distance of each other. This left the English vulnerable to a French counteroffensive. The English took up such a deployment simply because they did not have enough men to set up a continuous line of troops completely encircling the city. They were willing to employ this less than ideal method because of their confidence in their own invincibility and their confidence that the French lacked the will to come out of the walls of Orléans to fight them.103 The French high command and soldiers at Orléans could have done what Joan did at any time before she arrived but, as the English knew, they lacked the will to do so. Joan had to give the French the will to fight before they did make the attacks that they always could have made.
* * *
Genius, force of will, the ability to make thousands of soldiers follow her out of love, fortuitous circumstances -- all these things enabled Joan to do what she did. And yet. .. Every analysis of Joan must end with the admission that there is something about her that will be forever beyond our grasp. The facts of what she did seem beyond dispute. The how of what she did can never quite be adequately explained in purely rational terms. It is insurmountably true that there are some things about her that we can contemplate in awe, but that we cannot fully comprehend. She is the greatest "go figure" case in all of history. As Katherine Anne Porter wrote in her foreword to Régine Pernoud’s The Retrial of loan of Arc, "She is unique, and a mystery, and as you read about her and think about her life, you are led up to a threshold beyond which she eludes you, you cannot cross it"104 Whether Joan’s leadership role was that of an inspirational mascot or a true battle commander or something in between, whether she was propelled by her own will and genius or was in fact guided by some force beyond material explanation, one thing will always be clear. Joan was exactly what she needed to be to bring her people victory.
1. It is a useful device to begin an essay on Joan by listing all the various ways that different people with different agendas have chosen to view her over the centuries. Though our lists are different, Kelly DeVries uses this technique to good effect to open his essay "A Woman as Leader of Men: Joan of Arc’s Military Career," in Fresh Verdicts on Joan of Arc, ed. Bonnie Wheeler and Charles T. Wood (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc. 1996), 3.
2. A summary of Joan’s career can be distilled from any of the dozensof available biographies of her. Three of the best are: Frances Gies, Joan of Arc: The Legend and theReality (New York: Harper & Row, 1981), Edward A. Lucie-Smith, Joan of Arc (New York: W. W. Norton, 1977), and V. Sackville-West, Saint Joan of Arc, revised edition(London: Michael Joseph LTD, 1948).
3. Edouard Perroy, The Hundred Years War, trans. W. B. Wells (New York: Capricorn Books, 1%5), 283.
4. Gies, 83-88.
5. Régine Pernoud and Marie-Véronique Clin, Joan of Arc: Her Story trans. and revised by Jeremy duQuesnay Adams (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999), (hereafter cited as "Pernoud and Clin"), 139 and 157.
6. Régine Pernoud, The Retrial of Joan of Arc: The Evidence at the Trial For Her Rehabilitation, 1450-1456, trans. J. M. Cohen, with a foreword by Katherine Anne Porter (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1955), (hereafter cited as "Pernoud, Retrial"), 85, 90, 118-119, 134-135, 142-143, 154, and 159-160.
7. Ibid., 123.
8. Nadia Margolis, Joan of Arc in History, Literature, and Film (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1990), 69-70.
9. Régine Pernoud, Joan of Arc By Herself and Her Witnesses trans. Edward Hyams (New York: Scarborough House, 1982), (hereafter cited as "Pernoud, Witnesses"), 112.
10. Ibid., 100; and Pernoud, Retrial, 118.
11. Pernoud, Retrial, 107, 132, 142, 158-159, and 163-164; Sackville-West, 143; and Lucie-Smith, 97.
12. George Bernard Shaw, Saint Joan. (New York: Brentano’s, 1924), xxxiii-xxxiv.
13. Pernoud, Retrial, 149-150.
14. Ibid., 120.
15. Ibid., 138-140.
18. Pernoud, Retrial, 123, 152, 157, and 166.
19. Ibid., 140.
20. Pernoud, Witnesses, 137.
21. Pernoud, Retrial, 123.
22. Ibid., 157.
23. Pernoud, Witnesses, 83-84.
24. Pernoud, Retrial, 103.
25. Ibid., 111.
26. ibid., 103.
27. Ibid., 111.
28. Lucie-Smith, 182-184 and 218.
29. Pernoud and Clin, 76 and 82-83; Pernoud, Witnesses, 147; and R. Earnest Dupuy and Trevor N. Dupuy, The Harper Encyclopedia of Military History, Fourth Edition(New York: HarperCollins, 1993), 452.
30. Lucie-Smith, 130 and 183.
31. Ibid., 147; also Pernoud and Clin, 79.
32. Pernoud, Witnesses, 120.
33. Ibid., 111; and Lucie-Smith, 129.
34. Gies, 85.
35. Pernoud, Retrial, 97.
36. Ibid., 108.
37. Ibid., 142.
38. Sackville-West, 144-149; and Pernoud, Retrial, 121.
39. Pernoud, Retrial, 122-123; and Sackville-West, 153-156.
40. Ibid., 165 and 165 respectively in both books; also, Pernoud and Clin,
41. Sackville-West, 158; and Gies, 73-74.
42. Sackville-West, 159-163; and Pernoud, Retrial, 147-148 and 156.
43. Ibid., 163 and 164 respectively.
44. Sackville-West, 163-165; and Lucie-Smith, 109-110.
45. Sackville-West, 165-167; and Pernoud, Retrial, 148-150.
46. Pernoud, Retrial, 97-98; and Gies, 78-79, relate the incident with de Gaucourt; Sackville-West tells the story of the entire "Day of the Tourelles" in detail, 168- 174.
47. Pernoud, Retrial, 150; and Lucie-Smith, 117.
48. Pernoud, Retrial, 123.
49. Ibid., 124; Sackville-West, 177-178; Gies, 81-82; and Lucie-Smith, 122-124.
50. Lucie-Smith, 123; also, Gies makes the same argument, 81-82.
51. Pernoud and Clin, 228-229. The previous February, Dunois had been wounded in the fruitless assaults the French had made on a prepared English position at the disastrous Battle of Rouvray, also known as ‘The Battle of the Herrings."
52. Pernoud, Retrial, 125-126; and Sackville-West, 178-180.
53. Pernoud, Witnesses, 108-110.
54. Gies, 89-90.
55. The narrative of Joan’s career from the assault on Jargeau through and including the Battle of Patay is found in Sackville-West, 181-190; Gies, 92-100; and Lucie-Smith, 130-147.
56. Pernoud, Retrial, 138-140.
57. Ibid., 158; and Lucie-Smith, 142.
58. Gies, 94.
59. Pernoud, Retrial, 141.
60. Ibid., 125.
61. The narrative of Joan’s career from the start of the march on Rheims through and including Charles’ coronation is found in Sackville-West, 192-199; Gies, 104-112; and Lucie-Smith, 148-164.
62. Pernoud, Retrial, 126-127.
63. Lucie-Smith, 155, endnote number fifty-one.
64. Pernoud, Retrial, 98.
65. The narrative of Joan’s career from Charles’ coronation through and including the disbanding of the army is found in Sackville-West, 199-209; Gies, 113-128; and Lucie-Smith, 165-184.
66. Pernoud, Witnesses, 141.
67. Sackville-West, 2 19-220; and Pernoud and Clin, 81.
68. Pernoud and Clin, 84-85; and Lucie-Smith, 189 and 196.
69. Pernoud and Clin, 81 and 256-257.
70. Ibid., 173; and Pernoud, Retrial, 135.
71. Sackville-West, 32-33.
72. Gies, 20.
73. Sackville-West, 34.
74. Ibid., 33-35.
75. Gies presents a minutely detailed narrative of Joan’s trial for heresy, 152-224; Pernoud and Clin offer capsule biographies of twenty-five of her judges, 206-2 17. After Bishop Cauchon ordered the trial moved from public to closed chambers, the number of clerics actually present at each session was far fewer than the original sixty or so.
76. Pernoud, Retrial, 45-50.
77. W. S. Scott, Jeanne d’Arc (London: Harrap, 1974), 134; and Pernoud, Witnesses, 174.
78. Scott, 134-135; Lucie-Smith, 239; Gies, 166; and Pernoud, Witnesses, 183-
79. Gies, 160; and Pernoud, Witnesses, 193-194.
80. Pernoud, Retrial, 142; and Lucie-Smith, 155, endnote number fifty-one.
81. Joseph Jobé, ed., Guns: An Illustrated History of Artillery (New York:
Crescent Books, 1971), 41. This book never mentions Joan, but it does offer a primer on some of the basic artillery techniques of the late Middle Ages with which Joan very probably became acquainted.
82. Pernoud, Retrial, 101.
83. Ibid., 139.
84. Ibid., 138.
85. Gies, 85.
86. Gervase Phillips, Admissions Tutor, Historical Studies, Department of History and Economic History, The Manchester Metropolitan University, electronic mail message to the author, August 5, 1999.
87. From this point on, my argument is admittedly speculative-- but not totally. I served for twenty years as a soldier in the gender-integrated United States Army of the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. 1 fully acknowledge the risks inherent in trying to read anecdotal evidence from the present into the past. But -- I was a keen observer of how many men and a few women interact in a military subculture and I think this gives me at least a glimmer of the chemistry that existed between Joan and her cohorts.
88. Pernoud, Retrial, 136.
89. Pernoud, Witnesses, 112.
90. Pernoud, Retrial, 111.
91. ibid., 142.
92. Sackville-West, 154 and 170-171.
93. Pernoud, Witnesses, 98-99.
94. Pernoud, Retrial, 158, 164 and 166-167; and Sackville-West, 20 and 189-190.
95. Gies, 93; also see Pernoud, Retrial, 134-135.
96. Pernoud, Retrial, 105.
97. Pernoud, Witnesses, 111-112.
98. These comments by Joan’s intimates concerning Joan’s sexuality and their responses to it are all from Pernoud, Retrial. The pages containing the relevant testimony of each of these men is as follows: de Metz, 87; de Poulengy, 9 1-92; D’Alençon, 142; d’Aulon, 154; and Thibault, 107.
99. Ibid., 87 and 103.
100. Lucie-Smith, 116; and Jay Williams, Joan of Arc (New York: American Heritage/Harper and Row, 1963), 56.
101. Williams, 14.
102. Pernoud and Clin present capsule biographies of these four comrades of Joan on pages 172-173, 180-181, 187-188, and 206 respectively.
103. Charles Oman, A History of the Art of War in the Middle Ages, 2d. ed., vol. 2,1278-1485, (reprint, New York: Burt Franklin), 393-394. (The original printing was by an unnamed firm in 1924. Page references are to the reprint edition.)
104. Katherine Anne Porter’s foreword to Pernoud’s Retrial, viii.
The transcripts of Joan’s heresy trial and her retrial and the old chronicles have not been translated into English in their entirety, but extensive excerpts of the most crucial passages have been translated and are easily found in several current works. It is these excerpts that I used to establish the foundation of facts about Joan’s career upon which I built the superstructure of my own interpretation.
I list and describe the works I used to write this paper below. Two of the books by Régine Pernoud, Joan of Arc By Herself and Her Witnesses, and The Retrial of Joan of Arc give their reader massive excerpts from the trial transcripts and the chronicles quoted
en bloc. These two books provided me with the great bulk of the factual foundation of this paper. The other works listed, inevitably, also contain dozens and hundreds of quotations from the trial transcripts and chronicles, but only as a sprinkling mixed into any given author’s own words.
Bernard Shaw, George. Saint Joan. New York: Brentano’s, 1924.
Bernard Shaw’s preface to his play is almost half as long as the play itself. The preface consists of one of the best essays ever written that dares to try to bring Joan’s personality back to life. 1 found his observation that Joan’s prudishness had military value most helpful.
DeVries, Kelly. "A Woman as Leader of Men: Joan of Arc’s Military Career." In Fresh Verdicts on Joan of Arc, ed. Bonnie Wheeler and Charles T. Wood, 3-18. New
York: Garland Publishing, Inc. 1996.
My essay, like DeVries’, begins by listing the different ways Joan has been portrayed by different people with different agendas over the past five centuries. My list is different. DeVries’ topic is essentially the same as my own and we are nearly identical in the quotations we choose to cite. However, I conducted my analysis and reached my conclusions independently of DeVries.
Dupuy, R. Earnest and Trevor N. Dupuy. The Harper Encyclopedia of Military History, Fourth Edition. New York: HarperCollins, 1993.
This massive volume that presents the military history of the entire world gives Joan three pages out of 1654. In these three pages, the authors stress Joan’s importance in igniting French nationalism and partisan warfare.
Gies, Frances. Joan of Arc: The Legend and the Reality. New York: Harper & Row, 1981.
This is probably the most dispassionate and analytical of recent general biographies of Joan. In it, Gies offers a long meditation on Joan’s military leadership role that greatly influenced me and that served as my starting point. I confirmed her views to my own satisfaction by going back to the original testimonies in Joan’s retrial.
Jobé, Joseph, ed. Guns: An Illustrated History of Artillery. New York: Crescent Books, 1971.
This book instructed me in one of the fine points of late medieval cannon aiming technique when attacking castles.
Lucie-Smith, Edward A. Joan of Arc. New York: W. W. Norton, 1977.
This book is an example of "psychological" biography but, notwithstanding this, it still does a thorough job of rehashing all the standard stories about the standard episodes of Joan’s life that have become so familiar. What I found most useful was Lucie-Smith’s analysis of the popular nationalism that Joan aroused and how Charles VII saw this as a threat. In contrast to my opinions about Sackville-West’s interpretations (see next page), I agree with Lucie-Smith on why Joan made some of the battlefield moves she did, such as refusing to attack the deployed English field army on the last day at Orléans.
Margolis, Nadia. Joan of Arc in History, Literature, and Film. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1990.
This massive annotated bibliography that lists 1516 works concerning Joan that have been produced over the last five centuries is simply indispensable for the Joan scholar.
Oman, Charles. A History of the Art of War in the Middle Ages. 2d. ed. Vol. 2, 12 78-.1485. Reprint, New York: Burt Franklin. (The original printing was by an unnamed firm in 1924. Page references are to the reprint edition.)
This classic tome pays due homage to Joan. As is typical of British authors of the last hundred years, Oman champions Joan at the expense of his own English forebears. As sincere as he is in his admiration of Joan, he is rightly careful to point out that English mistakes made a large contribution to her successes on the battlefield.
Pernoud, Régine. Joan of Arc By Herself and Her Witnesses. Translated by Edward Hyams. New York: Scarborough House, 1982.
Pernoud, who died in 1998, remains the dominant figure in scholarship about Joan of Arc since World War II. This book consists of innumerable and lengthy quotations taken from Joan’s trial and retrial, from contemporary or nearly contemporary chronicles, and from letters and other documents by people who knew Joan. Along with the book listed immediately below, this book provided the essential basis of documentary evidence for this paper.
This book consists almost entirely of massive block excerpts from the original transcript of Joan’s retrial. Pernoud writes connective and explanatory tissue between the excerpts and she offers a narrative of the conduct of the retrial. Katherine Anne Porter’s foreword to this book includes a brief but fine meditation on the difficulty of fully understanding Joan’s life. This book and the one listed immediately above formed the foundation of source material for this paper.
This book was primarily useful to me as a source of background information such as the composition and conduct of Joan’s two trials, the involvement of d’Alençon and Dunois in the plot against Charles VII, and so forth. This book also contains full translated texts of every letter that Joan dictated to her scribes and then had sent to the recipients.
Perroy, Edouard. The Hundred Years War. Translated by W. 13. Wells. New York:
Capricorn Books, 1965.
This book is the definitive treatment of the Hundred Years’ War as a whole. Surprisingly, Perroy, a Frenchman, seems a good deal less than enraptured by Joan. He admits that her impact was vital, but he qualifies this admission to such an extent that it seems grudging.
Phillips, Gervase. Electronic mail message to the author, August 5, 1999.
Dr. Phillips, who is the Admissions Tutor of the Department of History and Economic History of the Manchester Metropolitan University, possesses special expertise in the field of medieval warfare. ln the course of our electronic mail conversation about military practices during Joan’s era, Dr. Phillips reminded me that during an era when many high-ranking military men held deep religious beliefs, such men would have been predisposed to accept Joan as at least the spiritual leader of the army.
Sackville-West, V. Saint Joan of Arc. Revised edition. London: Michael Joseph LTD, 1948.
Though seriously dated, this book remains the standard and most thorough general biography of Joan available in English. As such, all the standard scenes and anecdotes of Joan’s life that have entered the common currency are presented in this book in their greatest detail. Still, her rendition of these famous stories is based on the same trial transcripts and old chronicles that are so ably excerpted and presented by Pemoud. Sackville-West provides a depth of detail about Joan’s family that other works lack and the day by day chronology of Joan’s career that she provides at the end of her book is a Godsend. Yet, I still have strenuous disagreements with Sackville-West’s analysis of some of Joan’s battlefield moves. For example, she opines that Joan’s refusal to attack the fully deployed English field army on the last day at Orléans was based solely on the fact that it was Sunday and that this decision was a mistake. I agree with Lucie-Smith (see previous page) that Joan and Dunois were at least partly motivated by a desire to not attack an English army that was clearly ready for them and that was set up in the Englishmen’s favorite formation with which they had defeated the French so many times before.
Scott, W. S. Jeanne d’Arc. London: Harrap, 1974.
This book is an academically respectable but highly compressed narrative of Joan’s life. Its main value to me was to confirm me ln my opinion that Joan’s answers at her trial form the best proof we have of her natural genius.
Williams, Jay. Joan of Arc. New York: American Heritage/Harper and Row, 1963. While lavishly illustrated, this work is essentially a derivative popular biography.