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Joan of Arc: A More Detailed Look

A historical researcher sets the record, uh, straight, about Joan of Arc

Contributed by:
Allen Williamson
Joan of Arc Library

As a historical researcher who has translated a number of the documents related to the life of Joan of Arc, I wanted to respond to your inclusion of her in your Historical Calendar (entry for May 30th), which states that the charges against her, quote, "included cross-dressing and inappropriate relationships with women."

Both points need to be commented on:

1) I have read and translated the Condemnation Trial transcript from one of the original manuscripts (MS Lat 1119 at La Bibliothèque de l'Assemblée Nationale) and no such charge of lesbian activity or any other "inappropriate relationships with women" appears anywhere in the transcript. You won't find it in either set of articles containing the accusations, nor in the record of the hearings: they initially tried to accuse her of having sex with _men_ (until it was proven she was a virgin), but not with women. The only possible "romantic interests" described in any of the documents were as follows: 1) a young man from her home village proposed marriage to her, apparently in 1428, based on his view that she had promised to marry him; and 2) her squire and bodyguard, Jean d'Aulon, said that she "particularly loved an honorable man whom she knew to be of chaste habits." If anything, this would seemingly indicate that she was heterosexual; but certainly there's nothing to remotely imply that she was homosexual.

2) On the subject of her "cross-dressing": the version of this subject given in the Condemnation Trial transcript is, like so many other things in that transcript, thoroughly contradicted by the eyewitness accounts and the quotes from Joan found in the numerous other manuscripts available. There were five witnesses at the posthumous Rehabilitation trial (Guillaume Manchon, Pierre Cusquel, Jean Massieu, Isambart de la Pierre, and Martin Ladvenu, all of whom had previously taken part in her Condemnation Trial) who quoted her as saying that she had to wear her soldiers' clothing in prison and keep the pants and tunic "firmly laced and tied" together (as could be done with that type of clothing, unlike a dress) because her guards had tried to rape her on several occasions. This reason for her behavior was, like so many other things, deliberately edited out of the Condemnation Trial transcript (along with her submission to the Pope and Council of Basle, etc), again according to the witnesses. Her "relapse" (i.e., her return to male clothing after adopting a dress) was the result of two events: 1) Martin Ladvenu quoted her as saying that a "great English lord" had tried to rape her while she was wearing her dress (and therefore left unprotected), a point which was confirmed by other eyewitnesses; and 2) Jean Massieu added that the guards had removed her outer garments from her room during the night and left her a sack containing nothing but her old male clothing; she then argued with the guards "until noon", but they refused to bring back her female clothes. At some point after this the judges were conveniently brought in to view her "relapse".

We also have eyewitness accounts on the subject of her wearing such clothing during her military campaigns, prior to the trial: two of the men who escorted her to Chinon, Jean de Metz and Bertrand de Poulegny, testified that they were the ones who first brought up the idea of dressing her as a soldier or page, as was common procedure whenever a woman was being brought through dangerous territory (mainly to serve as a disguise if her group was captured by mercenaries or criminals). The medieval Church allowed an exemption in such cases of necessity (see Aquinas' "Summa Theologica" and other such works of medieval theology), a point which was deliberately ignored by her pro-English judges in order to provide an excuse for convicting her.

It's always discouraging to see people perpetuating, whether intentionally or not, the distortions promoted by the men who cruelly put her to death. I can only hope that you'll be kind enough to remove such information: if you really want more entries for the historical calendar, I can supply you with some.


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