HISTORY OF JOAN OF ARC
Insistent voices: AD 1428-1429
A sixteen-year-old peasant girl, growing up and tending the cattle at Domrémy, has for some years been hearing voices. She sometimes sees the speakers, and recognizes them as St Michael, St Catherine and St Margaret. But in this winter of 1428-9 they have been giving her a very specific instruction. She must raise the siege of Orléans so that the king of France, Charles VII, can go to Reims to be anointed in the cathedral.
The girl is Jeanne Darc, known in English as Joan of Arc. Her voices reflect a shrewd political perception which no one but she, it seems, has appreciated.
This perception relates to the common people’s idea of their king. Thanks to a long tradition, much fostered in the previous century by Charles V, it is believed that each French king acquires a divine quality once he is anointed with the sacred oil from the Sainte Ampoule at Reims.
At present, in the middle of the Hundred Years’ War, there are two rival claimants to the French crown. One is Henry VI, the young king of England, whose forces – in alliance with the Burgundians – control the entire north of France, including Reims itself. The other is Charles VII, king by rightful descent but a weak figure, confined to the region round Bourges.
Neither of these claimants has been anointed – Henry VI because he is a child of seven in England, Charles VII because he cannot get to Reims.
Joan sees with the clarity of passionate faith that if Charles can fight his way to Reims to be consecrated, France will have a king again. This becomes her mission. But first she must reach Charles himself. Dressed in a man’s clothes, with six male companions, she travels for eleven days to Chinon. It is two more days before her request to see Charles VII is granted. (He is often still referred to as the dauphin at this stage; he has been crowned at Poitiers in 1422, but Joan does not yet consider him a proper king). (more…)