JOAN OF ARC by Helen Castor


A History
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A fresh attempt to put young, willful Joan the Maid squarely back at the center of the French-English drama of early- to mid-15th-century France.

If readers can wade through the mystifying details of the struggle for supremacy between the Burgundians (allied to the English and King Henry V) and the Armagnacs (devoted to Charles of Valois), a reward awaits when Joan finally appears midway in British author Castor’s (She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth, 2010, etc.) historical account. Deciding which side God was on seemed to be the order of the day, and after their humiliating defeat by the English at Agincourt in 1415, the French were hard-pressed to understand why God had chosen the aggressive English invaders to punish them for some unspecified sin. Indeed, Joan was not the first female visionary to appear to advocate for the cause of France. Both Marie Robine (d. 1399) and Jeanne-Marie de Maillé (1331-1414) had broadcast their visions to urge an end to schism. Joan, an illiterate shepherdess at age 16, had left her home village to set out on a mission to speak with the dauphin, housed at Chinon. Her astonishing claims to have been instructed by God to raise an army and drive the English from France so that Charles could be properly crowned required some testing of her integrity, including her virginity. Her adoption of male clothing seemed both an aid in riding and waging war and a way to thwart the sexual advances of men, which plagued her constantly up until her imprisonment. Her victories at Orleans, Jargeau, Patay and Meung, sending the English fleeing in confusion, galvanized the soldiers and townspeople, while her capture at Compiègne suddenly indicated that God had forsaken her. Castor carefully combs the record of her interrogation then and rehabilitation 25 years later.

An unorthodox yet erudite and elegant biography of this “massive star.”

Pub Date: May 19th, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-06-238439-3
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2015


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