Monday, April 6, 2009

Why Did Joan of Arc Die?

     I have been such a sloth.  Sorry to anyone who checks here regularly for updates. 
      It might seem like a very ambitious title since this is a complex question but there are some simple reasons that are at the heart of the longer and more complicated answers.
     On the 22nd of May, 1430 John of Luxembourg lay siege to Compiegne. He captured Joan and held her for ransom.  In November of that year she was handed over to Pierre Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais, to stand trial as a heretic.  One May 28 of the following year, she was condemned as a heretic and sentenced to die.  On May 30, 1431, at the age of 18 or 19 Joan was burned at the stake.  She cried out to her Lord, "Jesus, Jesus!" until she could no longer speak.  A Parisian who kept a diary wrote that she was soon dead and the coals were racked back to show everyone that she was a woman.  She was given no dignity in death. Then the fires were started back up and her body burned to ashes.  The ashes were thrown into the Seine. 
        One of the first reasons is the ambition and greed of the Bishop of Beauvais, who sat as a judge at her trial and got her from John of Luxembourg who was holding Joan for ransom.  His advancement was tied to the English claim to the throne.  Another is that like Margery, Joan would not submit to the authority of the church.  She insisted that she heard voices and that they were miraculous and she insisted that she had the right to wear men's clothing as she was wearing them to protect her chastity.
       But, one has to wonder why, since she had done so much for the Dauphin Charles, that he did not ransom her even though he had the means and the opportunity?  One of the conditions for ransom was that Joan cease to fight against the English, something that she would not promise to do.  Another problem was that, when she attacked Compiegne, she did not do so with Charles' permission.  She was acting on her own, with her own men, not the Dauphin's army and she attacked Paris on the feast day of the virgin for which she was also condemned.
Still she did Charles a great service.
     The legitimacy of Charles VII was a concern since his father Charles VI was mentally incompetent and his mother Isabella of Bavaria had been unfaithful, but Henry VI's claim to the throne was no better since he was related to the French crown through the female line and under Salic law could not inherit.  Also Isabella had been unfaithful with her brother-in-law, Louis of Orleans,  and if he was not Charles VI's son, he was still in line for the throne. However, at the time of Joan involvement with the Valois cause, they had lost heart and the Dauphin was unsure of himself.
     What Joan did at Chinon in 1429 to convince Charles to fight the English and that his claim to the throne was supported by God is unclear.  At her trial, her account changed at first she pleaded that she had sworn not to tell but, under pressure and probably torture, she spoke.  Her voices lead her to pick out Charles in the crowd even though she had not seen him before and she revealed to him a prayer that he had secretly made and told no one about.  Also, the voices are supposed to have shown him a sign upon Joan's appearance that Charles VI was his father.  She said that the voices wanted him to raise the siege at Orleans.  This military victory accomplished gave the Valois cause new heart.
     One of the things that is said is that Joan was not a virgin.  This is only being put about by the English side to justify her murder since, if she was a virgin, her conviction as a heretic was problematic since the devil does not deal with virgins. After she was captured and brought to Paris, she was examined by the Queen of Sicily and her ladies and found to be intact. Even some of the English captors said she was a virgin, possibly to protect themselves from charges that she had been sexually assaulted in custody.
      For whatever reason that she was killed, it was a terrible to die and it failed as Charles VI entered Paris four years later.  By 1450, the English ended their struggle for France. I recommend Marina Warner's book Joan of Arc, The Image of Female Heroism for those who want to read more.


Tracy said...

Sounds as though all sides viewed her as trouble - Charles, because she didn't obey his orders but would only follow ones given to her by the voices she heard, the Church, because they didn't like the idea of the people interpreting God's words for themselves, they liked to keep it strictly hierarchical, with the Church as the intermediary, and the Bishop, who wanted the English to win.

Anonymous said...

Joan of Arc was a weirdo and a loose cannon without any doubt. It is really difficult to understand why a peasant girl started to hear "voices" and decided it was up to her to save her country, especially that the state of France at that time was nothing to be envied - the king was insane, his closest relatives quarreled over the regency, both the military and civil leadership were demoralized and discredited, the population had been decimated by the Black Death. A young girl wanted to overcome these drawbacks and she must have been either insane or dead sure of her divine guidance (the first does not exclude the second, after all).

Joan made a lot for her country but I suppose plenty of people, the king of France among them, preferred her dead than alive. Her courage and military victories gained her popularity but also made the others look very, very bad. Her trial showed that she was also quite clever: the transcript's most famous exchange is an exercise in subtlety. "Asked if she knew she was in God's grace, she answered: 'If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me.'" The question was a scholarly trap, as Church doctrine held that no one could be certain of being in God's grace. If she had answered yes, then she would have convicted herself of heresy. If she had answered no, then she would have confessed her own guilt. Such a clever woman with an aura of bravery and even sainthood could have had a lot of influence. If, for example, she had decided (or "the voices" had informed her) that France needs another king, thre days of Charles VII might have been a bit shorter (and it would serve him right).

There is also other truth : people, chosen by goods, die early.