Representation in History
Joan of Arc is a multi-faceted historical figure with centuries of opinion and scrutiny placed upon her and her agenda. Nevertheless, it is clear that the most notable and forthcoming representation in historical writings of Joan of Arc, is her depiction as a warrior. This is deduced from a multitude of heroic actions demonstrated in her short life from 1412-1431.
However, her depiction as a historical figure has been subject to change during the 4 centuries that have passed since her death. This has allowed her image to evolve, due to the implications of time in shaping historical perspectives. This is most visible in the Religious Vs Feminist representations of Joan of Arc in their portrayal of her as a religious or feminist warrior. It becomes clear that Joan of Arc’s representation as a warrior has been both, embellished and tarnished. This is consolidated by various groups, including modern day scientists and old English vs French rivalries that surface in historical writings. In this regard, historiography provides an explanation of the true extent that Joan of Arc has been represented as a “warrior” in the documentation of History throughout time and the discrepancies that surface in historical writings in order to fill an agenda, through religious, feminist and English perspectives.
The religious interpretation of Joan of Arc is critical in understanding her representation as a warrior of faith who fully embraced her divine abilities. This depiction is pivotal in sustaining an argument for the thesis, that supports the extent of Joan’s title as a religious warrior of faith. This is highlighted through historical analysis of Joan of Arc’s religious warriorship, which becomes present and is explained in Kelly Devries interpretation of her. She states, “Joan did not offer her soldiers terrestrial possessions: she offered them religious possibilities, her troops followed her with a loyalty unsurpassed by any other medieval warrior” (Devries. p.41).
This interpretation comments both on Joan of Arc’s warriorship in harmony with her religious values that amplified her faith, earning her the title of a religious warrior. Additionally, Derives historical analysis can be further strengthened in conjunction with Margret Aston’s interpretation. She notes that the French army “seemed to draw nearer to her when fighting by her side, and after her death, they remembered her military activities with a legend-building fealty”(Aston p.28). Therefore, these statements that corroborate each other, provide evidence that not only was Joan of Arc a warrior, but a warrior of faith, carrying forward with her a religious legacy. It is true, the extent that Joan truly believed her visions to be divine and the lengths she would go to for her faith, ultimately earning her, her heroic reputation. This is forthcoming in that Joan was not ignorant of the dangers that she could encounter on her 11 day journey through enemy territory from Vernchillier to Chinon, but trusted God so completely that she had no fear.
As she told Henri le Royer before their journey, “I do not fear their soldiers; my way lies open. I have my Lord with me, who will make a road for me to reach the Dauphin. I was born for this” (Joan-and-Royer-p.117). In this regard, she has been made “a hero for her devout faith” (Pius XI p.18) from Catholic interpretations as it was with this divine belief in God and her visions, that she led the French army to victory. This highlights the support that the Catholic group fosters for Joan of Arc’s warriorship as she exemplifies courage and bravery. Additionally, it is important to consider when identifying Joan of Arc’s warrior representation, her divinity claim because she cannot be depicted as a warrior of faith without the proof of her supernatural abilities.
Joan of Arc’s divinity claim was proven in a letter of initial correspondence between royal officials at Chinon and the Theologian Jacques Gelu. In Joan of Arc’s later trial she herself solidified her claim “But since God had commanded me to go, I must do it. And since God had commanded it… I went” (Trask p.151).” Even though it is established that Joan of Arc heard supernatural voices, the interpretation of this fact has been misconstrued by religious values for 4 centuries. The Catholics are more in favour of her heroism and the Protestants are predominately more in favour with the conviction of heresy, denying her of her warriorship. They believe that she could have been lying about her divine abilities or they turn to modern science, constituting for a more suitable label as a “schizophrenic”. It was documented after her capture that, her captors were “more joyous than if they had captured a king” (Taylor. p.22). This is presented from the Protestant perception and exemplifies the disjunct between the Catholic and Protestant interpretation, to deny Joan of Arc of her warriorship. As previously stated, when analysing historiography with religious influences, it is important to examine the impact of the religious mindset that was ultimately superior in the context of the 15th century.
Religion shaped morals, perspectives and values, transcending into the historical writings of the time period and evidence for the evolution of Joan of Arc’s character in the same way that religious thinking has evolved, particularly her warrior attributes. This is palpable in the analysis of Joan of Arc’s achievements as they were accounted for in a time period where the mentality was shaped in which “kingship was not a political but a spiritual matter, and the supernatural was the right order of politics”(Goldstone.p.27). “It was a world in which Joan’s military career was not at all mysterious and victory on the battle-field owed less to military strength than to God’s favour”(Roux.p.335). This religious interpretation was accounted for by the Ancient Catholic Biblical press and supports the argument that Joan of Arc was a warrior of faith as she was successful in battle “with God’s chip on her shoulder to support her divine claim by succeeding the English” (Popular History Article- Warner p.2). Ultimately, it is established that the supernatural justification of Joan of Arc’s actions has weakened as science has progressed.
Instead, Joan of Arc’s representation can now be more accurately represented in the modern world from a Feminist view as well as Religious view, however the latter, to a lesser extent, when depicting her warrior attributes. The documentation of Joan of Arc’s religious values are still relevant however, when discussing her warrior interpretation in religious historiography, as it acts as crucial evidence for the evolving perception of her character, impacted by the implications of the passage of time and its importance in shaping historical perspectives to a large extent.
Joan of Arc was subject to an anti-feminist societal construct that was placed upon her in the 15th century, yet still managed to earn the title “the first feminist” by numerous historians, including Mark Twain (p.4). This is because Joan of Arc demonstrated particularly, warrior like qualities, for example, in the Battle of Orlean 1429, when she overthrew the English enemy in the 100 years’ war. The evolution of the warrior façade that Joan of Arc has been subjected to, is due to the politicization of modern day feminism and the association of Joan of Arc’s actions with feminist qualities that have evolved and been interpreted by historians.
The feminist label is enforced with the modern perception of Joan of Arc as she has become a symbol of courage and persistence for enduring in a time period where women were only valued for domestic purposes, not for acts of heroism. Evidence for her warrior perception in the modern day is projected using her heroic image in WW1 and WW2. She was used in propaganda posters to promote the idea of women joining the war effort in the 1940’s and appeared on cheese packets to boost morale in the French army as they aimed to embody her chivalrous agenda. This illustrates the impact of the evolution of her character to portray acts of warriorship and strength to a significant extent. Joan of Arc has also been given the title “The Virgin Warrior” by Ingrid Bergman, which became a novel infusing Joan of Arc’s warrior interpretation to be undeniably present, alongside her religious beliefs, that when united, exemplified the true extent of her strength through theological studies.
Ultimately it was Joan of Arc’s innate belief in herself that conveyed her fem fatale behaviour. Keeping this in mind, the extent that Joan of Arc can be considered a warrior by Mark Twain and Ingrid Bergman, is true, but she is also subjected to the depiction of a more maiden female than warrior. In Susan Visvanathan’s representation of Joan of Arc, Joan was nothing more than a figurehead for the French army and a “holy” individual for the soldiers to look up to and lift morale. Her success in her role as figurehead was not attributed to her qualities but rather the men in the army that she supported. Susan Visvanathan also uses the title “Virgin Warrior, as does Ingrid Bergman, but focusses more on the ‘Virgin’ depiction than ‘Warrior’. In Joan’s time, it was believed that the “inviolate body of a woman was one of the holiest things possible in creation, holier than the chastity of a man” (Warner p. 24).
In this depiction, Joan of Arc is not being given credit based on her undeniable heroic qualities, rather on the superficiality of the female body which is an argument against the innate substance of Joan of Arc as a women supporting the feminist cause- and against her representation as a warrior. Consolidating this level of the superficiality of Joan of Arc is De D’Aulon, who stated that Joan of Arc was “young, beautiful and shapely” (D’Aulon.p.881). Shaw describes her as “sexually unattractive” (Shaw.p.224) which he attributes to her power repelling male desire. This description of Joan of Arc as a historical individual reveals her strength based on male desire and repulsion, not due to her warrior-like attributes. This reveals the discrepancy within the documentation of history, as historians with the same facts write different interpretations to support Joan of Arc, or deny her the feminist cause, intentionally or unintentionally, to fill their own agenda. Therefore, not only can Joan of Arc be depicted as a “warrior” in the feminist sense, defying the odds in her time period and an example for the modern day woman to endure, but has also been drawn to the evolution of her image on a superficial level, emphasising her reliance on men. This interpretation contradicts her warrior like attributes and exposes how interpretations of historians can be misconstrued to fill an agenda to support or deny Joan of Arc as an exemplary member of the feminist cause. However, the evidence weighs more to her strength and independence, carrying forward the “Joan of Arc, Feminist Warrior Legacy” in conjunction with her religious warrior legacy.
There are many interpretations of Joan of Arc to be either “heroic and noble as a symbol of French nationalism” (Huysman p.339) or a “schizophrenic fool who was naive and possessed by evil spirits” (Curry. P.49) It is in the early English Vs French rivalry where these wildly contradicting interpretations first appeared. William Shakespeare’s infamous English interpretation of Joan of Arc is the first documented depiction of her that denies her of her warrior like attributes.
This may be fuelled by the underlying Catholic Vs Protestant rivalries after Henry VIII’s reign. In this period, there was a lot of contention between the denominations. It makes sense therefore, that Shakespeare would slander a Catholic hero like Joan of Arc; by calling her a heretic and an evil witch. Shakespeare was proclaiming his own Protestantism and creating propaganda for the anti-Catholic government. Shakespeare also enforces his negative interpretation of Joan of Arc because her success was entirely dependent on overthrowing the English enemy. It is therefore true that throughout time, the warrior depiction of Joan of Arc has been tarnished by historiography written after her death, exemplified by the Shakespearean depiction of her. This is clear in his play Henry VI. Shakespearean Joan of Arc “is everything that the English hated about the real historical figure”, commented the New York Times in a popular history article (Laylor. p.2).
Although embellished, Shakespeare makes legitimate historical claims in his play, that consolidate English perspectives. The embellishment highlights the extent to which the perception of Joan of Arc was openly derogatory. For example, throughout the play, the English lords and soldiers consistently slander Joan. Lord Talbot calls her a ‘puzel’ rather than Purcell, ‘puzel’ being an old English term for a promiscuous woman. Additionally, Shakespeare alludes to the ways that she manipulated words; something that the real Joan was reported to have done throughout her life, especially at the trial just before her execution (Taylor. p.96). The English interpretation can also be understood from the documentation of her capture from the Duke of Burgundy who declared his “glee” to the Duke of Savory in a letter. “ By the pleasure of our blessed Creator, the woman called the Maid has been taken; and will be recognized, the error and mad belief of all those who became sympathetic and favourable to the deeds of this woman (Pernourd and Clin p.90).
To further consolidate this English perception against the French historian, La Perce’an Duo’, - “Joan was a highly determined warrior; never wanting to negotiate or be cautious”, (Duo.p.21). But in Henry VI Part One, it is Joan who reaches out to Burgundy and Joan who asks for help. Shakespeare’s Joan is more of a political manoeuvre general- wildly different from her historical counterpart. Therefore, it is clear that Joan of Arc has been subjected to the derogatory interpretation of her character, opposing her warrior like depiction from the English perspective, as she is presented as more politically orientated than warrior inclined. It is inherently clear that the English had an agenda to fill when depicting her character, especially Shakespeare, but it does not take away the fact that her evolution as an individual from the English perspective does not represent her warrior like qualities to the same extent as the religious, feminist or French perspectives do. This highlights how Joan of Arc’s warrior representation can be contested in historical writings, especially by the English.
Therefore it can be deduced, the extent to which Joan of Arc has been represented as a true warrior in history for both the feminist cause in the 21st century and the religious mindset of the 15th century - but not simultaneously. This is because the effects of time have shifted the pendulum of values from being religion focused, to a society where a feminist representation of Joan of Arc has become more pronounced.
This confirms the extent that Joan of Arc is in fact a warrior in the documentation of history, just in varying contexts, as societal values have shifted in time. Joan of Arc’s heroic legacy has been contested by the English perspective however, and this interpretation is open to dismissing her contributions as one of significance. This is displayed by the Shakespearean representation that contradicts the argument of Joan of Arc’s irrefutable warriorship and is embellished to fill an agenda.
To conclude, it is hard to overlook how Joan of Arc has been primarily represented as a warrior in history, despite the infiltration of the English perspective. The representations as a religious warrior of faith and a feminist symbol of strength are too extensive to dismiss. These perspectives are heightened by the weight of French historians, to emphasize the relativism in the fact that Joan of Arc was indeed deserving of the title “warrior”. Henceforth the stronger argument fortifies the representation of Joan of Arc as a transcending warrior, represented in the documentation of history to the largest extent, particularly through the religious and feminist representations.