After considering Iron Age forts and the landscape local to where I live last week, I’m going to come leaping forward in time and bustling off over the Channel to consider Joan of Arc for the letter 'J'.
Because I’ve always loved the tale of Joan of Arc;
But it’s more than that.
Joan is a very real historical character. A peasant girl from rural France, an area steeped in Celtic history and tradition, who struck the fear of God into English forces and claimed the throne of France for the Dauphin. For me, she is the epitome of Celtic womanhood. Fierce, a warrior in touch with greater powers, liminal and beautiful; strong, direct and afraid of nothing.
Voices she heard from a very early age. It was in listening to the voices that Joan disguised herself a man in 1429, travelled across country to the Royal Court at Chinon and declared her self general of the Dauphin, Charles. The dauphin and his advisors thought her strange, but decided to support Joan’s claim for propaganda value. To their surprise Joan proved an excellent military strategist with a quick grasp of warfare.
At the head of her army, Joan stormed the siege of Orléans in April 1429 and defeated the English lines, lifting the siege and earning herself the moniker ‘Maid of Orléans’. She went on to win French generals to her side, and victories followed at Jargeau, Meung-sur-Loire, and Beaugency as the English were driven out of the Loire valley. At this point the French might have stopped, but it was Joan who persuaded the French to pursue the English.
On the 18th June 1429, they defeated the enemy soundly at the Battle of Patay; an engagement that might be compared to Agincourt in reverse. At Patay, 1,500 French Knights took on an English force of 5,000 (mainly archers). There were 100 French casualties compared to the loss of 2,500 English (dead, wounded or captured).
Within a year of coming to the Dauphin, Auxerre and Troyes surrendered bloodlessly and Reims opened its gates to Charles. The Dauphin was crowned Charles VII in December 1429, while Joan and her family were ennobled as a reward. A Celtic hero.
A girl who heard the voices of Saints...
In May 1430, five months after Charles VII is crowned, Joan is ambushed, captured at Compiègne by Burgundian forces allied to the English. She is moved to the English HQ at Rouen and despite several efforts by Armagnac forces to save Joan, a trial begins in January 1431.
It is a real accusation levelled by Joan's inquisitors, an accusation that shows how strong the belief of witchcraft, the Celtic Otherworld and Fae still were in society. Indeed, the fear shows real and ugly in her trial, in her subsequent execution and in what the English do to the remains of a young girl. No one can rightly claim to know where the voices Joan heard came from, or who they were. All that we can be certain of is Joan never wavers in her claim that the voices were of Saints and Angels.
In a politically motivated trial, the English aim to be rid of an unusual prisoner of war, and at the same time maximise humiliation of the enemy. They will prove Joan a fraud. It doesn’t work. Joan refuses to deny the voices and her answers to ecclesiastical questions, designed to trap and ensnare, prove intelligent, astute and indeed remarkable. Regardless, she is accused of witchcraft, heresy, is asked what knowledge she has of the Fairy Faith, and ultimately found guilty. This guilt is based largely on a use of male clothing and hairstyle, given Joan's ability to counter their questions.
On the 30th May 1431, Joan is tied to a stone pillar in Rouen. At just 19 or 20 years old, with a cross of wood tied to her dress, she is burnt at the stake. After she is dead, the coals are raked back by the English to expose the charred remains so that none might claim she escaped. Then, what's left is burnt twice more by the English at great heat. Her final remains, being mainly ash, are collected and thrown into the Seine to prevent anyone collecting them. Even in death, Joan bred fear in her enemy.
Her executioner, Geoffroy Thérage, later claimed he ‘greatly feared to be damned’.
Whether blessed by God and his saints, or in touch with the Gods of the Otherworld, Joan was truly a remarkable woman and general. To the point of death she never faltered in seeing the voices she heard as being those of the saints. Many studies have since considered her sanity. None have found the diverse characteristics needed to prove a psychological disorder. Indeed, Joan d' Arc's trial is considered so unfair its transcripts were later used to prove her innocence and canonise her in the 20th century.
A remarkable woman.
Now, in more recent times, Joan is increasingly seen as an embodiment of an ancient Celtic image of womanhood. She's a warrior, a Celtic identity submerged for centuries; since the coming of Rome and Christianity to Celtic lands. I love this image. I for one like to picture Jeanne d'Arc as a Celtic warrior, but at the same time accept her assertion of the voices being saintly.
And of the Fae..?
I choose to believe in those too.