“No person in the Middle Ages, male or female, has been the subject of more historical studies than Joan of Arc.” — Kelly Devries
“The life of Joan is such a flagrant beating of the odds that no facts sufficiently explain the course of it. She was born during one of the most corrupt, demoralized periods of French history; she is considered a religious and military hero, but she had neither religious nor military training.” —Mary Gordon
By 1429, the heir to the French throne was about to give up and flee in exile. The English and their Burgundian allies controlled huge parts of the country. With Orleans likely to fall in a not too distant future, the path was open for the English to conquer the rest of France. It looked like the game was up for him. As much as he tried, he couldn’t see any logical path to victory. But little did he know that help was on its way—a kind of help that didn’t seem to be logical, reasonable or likely. Help was coming in the form of an illiterate teenage peasant—a female at that—who was going to change his fortunes; a young woman who through sheer willpower would radically change the course of the war. She arrived at the royal court during France’s darkest hour with news that God had sent her to lift the siege of Orleans, and make sure the heir to the throne would be crowned King of France.
The young woman was Joan of Arc, and she was one of the most unusual individuals in history.
At 13 years old, her life was turned upside down when she began hearing voices and having visions of angelic figures delivering her messages. The voices told her that no one on earth—neither knight nor king—could restore the kingdom of France. No one could—no one that is… except for her.
Ok, so we have a possibly insane girl hearing voices, This is hardly the stuff that makes the history books. At best, this would be an interesting case study for the history of mental illness. But that’s not what happened here—because the girl and her voices did change the course of the Hundred Years War between France and England. The voices propelled this young woman away from the typical existence of farm girls in the 1400s, and transformed her into a force of nature who embraced a heroic and tragic destiny that was entirely beyond what anyone from her gender, social class, and age could legitimately expect.
According to logic and common sense, none of the things that happened in our story should have been able to happen. A untrained peasant leading an army of knights? A young woman succeeding where the entire French nobility had failed? What she accomplished would have been exceptional if done by an aristocratic, seasoned male leader. But it seems downright impossible for someone like her. The world she lived in was hyper patriarchal and very class conscious, so on the surface there should have been no chance whatsoever that a young peasant girl could pull it off. She belonged to the wrong gender, wrong social class, and wrong age to achieve what she dreamed of. And yet she did.
In this first episode of this four-part series, we tackle:
Joseph Campbell and the Hero’s Journey
The Passion of Joan of Arc by Carl Theodor Dreyer
How a baby’s gender caused the Hundred Years War
Black Death & pillaging mercenaries
The Mad King
John the Fearless and his political murders
The Dauphin and the bridge = Michael Corleone and the restaurant
Civil wars and English invasions
The siege at Orleans begins
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