On Sunday, Joan of Arc celebrated her 600th birthday.
There were huge celebrations in France. She may have died six centuries ago, but she lives on in the spirit of an entire nation. Her name has been immortalized all over the country in street names, in village squares, on churches and on monuments. Even today, both sides of the political spectrum are locked in a battle to hijack her appeal for electoral gain.
Yet her life is shrouded in myth and mystery. How much do you know about her? Here’s a quick quiz.
I’ll start with an easy question first.
1. Which hairstyle did Joan of Arc inspire?
a. the Donald Trump comb-over
b. the bob
c. the Sarah Palin pouf
d. the buzz cut
|Photograph: Mila Zinkova|
Actually it was (b). In 1909, a Paris hairdresser created the bob, citing Joan as his inspiration. These days it’s just another hairstyle; back then it was a revolution, ending centuries of taboo against women wearing their hair short.
It became a symbol of rebellion among women in the nineteen twenties, and was adopted in the US and Britain by the ‘flappers.’ The haircut is still known in French as coupe à la Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc’s haircut)
2. Which of the following did she survive in the course of her military career?
a. a stone cannonball blow to the helmet
b. a crossbow bolt through the thigh
c. a glancing blow from a mace to her bob
d. An arrow wound to her shoulder
Her entirely military career only lasted a year but in that time she had a cannonball dropped on her head, and was shot with an arrow and a crossbolt. In each case she continued to fight on until the action was over. This was one very, very tough and courageous young woman.
She claimed to have been divinely inspired, having been visited on many occasions by the Archangel Gabriel, and Saints Catherine and Margaret. The Catholic Church now claim these two saints never existed; whether they did or they didn’t, they moved Joan to do the impossible.
Oh and in case you were wondering re (c) : As far as historians can tell, her bob was never damaged in combat.
Q3: Where was she born?
She was born in Domremy, the daughter of Jacques d’Arc and Isabelle Romée in modern day Lorraine. Her father was a farmer, who supplemented his income by collecting taxes for the king.
Her life, from the age of seventeen, is preposterous; ‘a peasant girl experiences divine visions telling her to lead the French armies against the hated English, in defiance of every limitation placed on a woman of the late Middle Ages.’ If that was your pitch for an historical fiction novel, you’d get thrown out of the publisher’s office.
Yet that’s what she did; lopped off her hair, put on armor and roused an exhausted and demoralised army into a string of victories that changed the course of the Hundreds Year War and of history. How she did it beggars belief.
4. Which of the following actresses never played Joan of Arc on the screen?
(a) Ingrid Bergman
(b) Jean Seberg
(c) Vanessa Redgrave
(d) Whoopi Goldberg
Ah-ha! You thought I was going to say Whoopi, didn’t you; in fact, Whoopi played Joan in a 2010 TV campaign for Poise adult underwear. Vanessa Redgrave was the red herring there.
5. Why was she put to death at the stake?
a. Because she was a witch
b. Because she was a heretic
c. Because she was a virgin
d. Because she voted for the Euro
Her trial was staged; the Duke of Bedford had claimed the French throne for his nephew Henry VI. Joan had given her imprimatur to his rival, Charles, so he wanted to burn her as a witch to undermine the reigning king’s legitimacy. It was a politically motivated smear campaign (How medieval. Thank God those days are behind us!)
Unfortunately, the Duchess of Bedford inconveniently confirmed that Joan was as a virgin and virgins cannot be witches (the Church’s position was that a real witch had real intercourse with the Devil.). So they had to think of something else.
Her show trial dragged on for over a year. Uneducated as she was, Joan was too smart for the best the Church could bring against her. In the end they resorted to falsifying documents, convicted her of heresy and then burned her at the stake.
Their verdict was overturned thirty years later but vindication came a little late for Joan.
No post about her would be complete without this: I think it is one of the most beautiful songs ever written, and was composed by Canada’s national treasure, Leonard Cohen. It is sung here in duet with Jennifer Warnes.
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