Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Joan of Arc, the Church, and the Papacy, 1429-1920*

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Joan of Arc, the Church, and the Papacy, 1429-1920*

Article excerpt

In modern times, Joan of Arc has been depicted as a victim of the medieval Church, a saint who has been used to justify various and opposing ideologies, or a feminist icon. The author argues against oversimplifications, for Joan lived in a political world of intrigue, court factions, and complex dynastic relationships that provided the backdrop for her military successes and the cause of her downfall. In her own time, Joan was viewed not as a saint, but first and foremost as a soldier and leader fighting for the French cause.

Keywords: Charles VII, King; Jeanne d'Arc, Sainte; Joan of Arc, Saint; Orléans

On this 600th anniversary of the birth of Joan of Arc, probably the most famous figure in medieval history, I would like to reevaluate her life and afterlife. "Everyone knows" that Joan of Arc was burned by the Church and later deemed a saint by it. Two quotations demonstrate the disparity of views. In a postmodern critique, Françoise Meltzer contends that "the Church has no power to contain or control her; she must be excised. . . . In condemning Joan, the Church Militant asserts and demonstrates its power."1 Pope Benedict XV declared at her canonization in 1920 that Joan represented "a most brilliantly shining light of the Church Triumphant."2 I will argue against the first notion and at least challenge Joan's qualifications as a saint in the second, relying on four sets of documents: the 1431 trial record, the 1450-56 nullification testimonies of more than 100 witnesses from Joan's childhood through her battles and the trial, Pope Pius II's 1461 commentary, and the arguments made by the Devil's Advocates in the beatification proceedings of 1869-1909. In my extensive research on Joan, I have come to admire the strength of character, bold leadership, and native intelligence that guided her through the minefields of court life, warfare, and hostile interrogations. But after she defeated the English in several major battles, Joan became the singular focus of their anger and fear. A specific, English-controlled church court executed Joan for political and military reasons, although it couched its decision in religious language. Moreover, her behaviors and actions in her own time- and how she was viewed then- were very different from the St. Joan of the modern world.

The complexity of Joan's relationship with churchmen and others became evident as soon as she arrived at the court of the future Charles VII in 1429. Joan likely came to the notice of the court as a result of the intrigues of the dauphin's powerful mother-in-law, Queen Yolande of Aragon, whose son, René of Anjou, was raised in the household of Charles II, duke of Lorraine. Among the few facts we know from before Joan's departure from Domremy and Vaucouleurs is that it was only after meeting with the duke that she was finally given leave to proceed to Chinon to present her mission to the dauphin, Charles. On her arrival in February 1429, some of those at the castle laughed; others called her cra2y; and yet others saw a potential means to stall further English and Burgundian incursions into Armagnac (French) territory.

Joan encountered enemies in a court divided. On the one side were Yolande's followers and, on the other, Charles's chief advisersGeorges de la Trémo'flle and Regnault de Chartres, archbishop of Reims and chancellor of France. Both counselors believed from the beginning that sending a peasant girl to war was preposterous. In any case, the French leadership was not about to send an untried girl into battle, even as a figurehead. So she was sent quietly to Poitiers for the first of many examinations in her short public career. For the next three weeks, at least eighteen churchmen interrogated Joan. Regnault de Chartres presided; and the questioners included the inquisitor of Toulouse, at least three Dominicans, bishops, professors of theology, and canon lawyers.3 Unfortunately, we have only the conclusions of the Poitiers examination. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.