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The authencity of Joan of Arc

  1. Jan 6, 2012 #1
    According to my newspaper, today is the traditional date of the birthday of Joan of Arc in 1412. It's generally accepted she was born in that year but the birthdate may have been chosen because today is a feast day in both the Roman and Orthodox Catholic Churches (The Epiphany). Many of the facts of her life are accepted history which is why she is such an enigmatic figure. How does an otherwise undistinguished 17 year old farm girl from eastern France suddenly gain access to the highest levels of power in France, convince them to put her in command of the French Army at Orleans and successfully lead a charge that breaks the siege and ultimately allows the Dauphin to be crowned King of France?

    Obviously there is a theological theory, but what is the alternative? This has always puzzled me. To accept the theological theory, one would have to believe God was taking sides in the so called Hundred Years War. That may be OK for the French, but does God hate the English? True they were trespassing in France and God may have been just trying to be fair. Seriously, I find it difficult to find a rational and fully satisfactory explanation for what is one of the strangest episodes in history. Here are some possibilities

    1) It's not history. It's a legend. Joan did not lead any charges. She was mentally ill and having hallucinations. Those in power used her to inspire the troops because they were desperate and it worked.

    2)Joan was very charismatic and people were very religious at that time. She really did lead that charge (and was wounded) because she was crazy. If you're crazy and reckless enough, you sometimes get extraordinary results.

    3)Joan was simply an extraordinary person; a gifted genius who was also deeply religious. She was a quick study and rapidly grasped the "art" of war. She really did lead the French Army to victory because of her skill. The English certainly saw her as a very dangerous person which is why they burned her at the stake.

    What do you think? French people please identify yourselves.

    Last edited: Jan 6, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 6, 2012 #2
    I vote for:

    4) her divine visions were real and are the true explanation for what actually happened.
  4. Jan 6, 2012 #3
    We are into areas of faith here which is to be expected for a figure like Joan of Arc, She is after all a saint according to Roman Catholic theology. I would repeat the question I posed above. Why would God take sides in this war? History is full of cases where there were "good guys" (the defenders) and the "bad guys" (the invaders) but the story here is unique as far as I know. Why no Joan of Arc type in China in 1937 or Poland in 1939 just to pick two examples? Even within the bounds of theology, I would think this is a reasonable question.

    EDIT: It's even arguable whether this was a "good guy"-"bad guy" situation. This was more of a dynastic war than a nationalistic war, although it came to be seen as the latter by this time. The English king, Henry V had dynastic claims in France based on his Plantagenet descent (through the House of Lancaster), a family which long held fiefs in France. The weakened Valois dynasty was trying to re-establish itself after the disaster at Agincourt (1415) and eventually did so thanks to the victories attributed to Joan of Arc.
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2012
  5. Jan 6, 2012 #4


    Staff: Mentor

    I think women of the time, fearlessly speaking with the authority of GOD would get the attention of the rulers especially as her notoriety makes her more politically attractive. The king might have let her have her way because if she won he won and if she lost he's still king with time to find an answer. Her visions may have been intuitive insights as to how to overcome obstacles and her determination would inspire others onward making her successful.

    Boudicaa was another example, a queen incensed by Roman brutality who led an army that challenged Rome using unusual tactics. Eventually though her cause ran into political infighting that weakened her army and they were defeated severely by a small legion of 5000 men against an army of 100,000 fighting on a field selected by the Romans. Location, location, location, if the enemy selects it they have a reason and a strong tactical advantage.


    There's another example in Chinese history of the wife of a General taking over an army with the help of her daughter-in-law and using the authority of the previous emperor (she had his staff) led and army to defend the land and save the day after her husband was killed in a prior battle and the current was ineffectual. I dont recall the details and can t find a reference but I did see the movie (spoken in mandarin with no subtitles) many years ago. In one scene she was confronted by the emperor's chief minister who told her to stand down he has the emperor's sword as authority and she bops him on the head and saying well I have the authority to say no by virtue previous emperor's dragon staff and bops him with it again.
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2012
  6. Jan 6, 2012 #5
    I agree. The Dauphin had little to lose. The situation was very desperate. Here's this girl, just 17 in 1429, who claims to speak with the authority of God. What has he got to lose? He sends her to Orleans, but she still has to convince the commanders on the scene to take the offensive. It's not clear she's really in charge, but apparently she takes matters into her own hands. She opens the main gate and leads a column of devoted troops in a charge at the English positions which are probably taken completely by surprise. There follows a string of victories leading to Reims, deep in English held territory. Here, the Dauphin can legitimately be crowned as King Charles VII. With increased prestige and momentum, the House of Valois will eventually push the English back to Calais, which remains in English hands until the next century. But the question remains, who exactly is Joan of Arc?

    EDIT: Saw the rest your post. I've posted here before on Queen Boudicca, but she was royalty as were other women who asserted power such as your Chinese example. Czarinas Elizabeth and Catherine of Russia both asserted their authority over weak and ineffectual men. But Joan of Arc was just a farmer's daughter, a teenager, a peasant with probably little education and no basis of authority except her own claims of channeling the word of God. I don't think that would work today in France or most anywhere else. It makes me wonder what some teenage farm girls might be able to do, given the chance.
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2012
  7. Jan 7, 2012 #6


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    Staff: Mentor

    This lists some of the theories of the different illnesses that might have caused her halucinations.

    http://www.nationalpost.com/news/story.html?id=18ce2b05-67d7-402a-833e-f0618da5c4e6&p=1 [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  8. Jan 7, 2012 #7
    Thanks Evo. Among the choices listed in your link, the last seems to be the most interesting. Joan grew up on a farm that was in a border area. Burgundy was a separate kingdom allied to England. If Joan's family was known to be loyal to the House of Valois, they could have been targeted. The Wiki article suggests the farm was attacked more than once. Visions associated with a kind of PTSD may have well have driven her to act in strange ways that could have possibly caused others to believe she was an inspired prophet.

    This would explain how she got access to the Dauphin, but not her remarkable success. Either she just inspired others to excel or she was naturally gifted. I didn't know that she very skillfully defended herself at her "trial" despite her lack of education and training. So it seems that my choice 3 might be the best one with an aspect of what we would call a mental disorder or illness.

    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  9. Jan 7, 2012 #8


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    Staff: Mentor

    Here's a brief biography.

    We must remember how much influence the church had over the minds and lives of people at this time.


    She was condemned and burned at the stake for cross dressing? It was the only crime she was convicted of.
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2012
  10. Jan 7, 2012 #9


    Staff: Mentor

    There was a similar hallucinatory situation in the Salem witch hunts. They believe it was caused a kind of rye bread mold related to LSD. See Wikipedia Salem witch trials last section on medical causes.
  11. Jan 7, 2012 #10


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    Gold Member

    That's a really fascinating brief biography. Thank you, Evo, for linking to that.

    At one point, it says,..."men later admitted that the English conducted the proceedings for the purposes of revenge rather than out any genuine beliefs that she was a heretic. [click here to see some of this testimony]..."

    Respectfully submitted,
  12. Jan 7, 2012 #11


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    Gold Member

    Nice biography! Cross-dressing appeared to have been her best defense against being raped. A very poor "reason" to burn a young woman alive.
  13. Jan 7, 2012 #12
    Her enemies were determined to put her to death. It's as simple as that. The whole "trial" was a charade even by the standards of the time. The Pope overturned the verdict and declared her a martyr 25 years later, according to the Wiki article I linked in the OP.

    Thanks for the biography link. In reading the biography I get the impression of a deeply religious, well informed and articulate woman who is actively involved in the command and conduct of military operations. There is nothing that really supports mental illness in this biography. Hallucinations can occur in mentally healthy individuals from ingesting hallucinogenic plant material, temporal lobe seizures, fever, extreme fatigue, sleep disorders and other conditions.
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2012
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