A French noblewoman arranged Joan of Arc’s miraculous career.
So argues popular historian Goldstone (The Lady Queen: The Notorious Reign of Joanna I, Queen of Naples, Jerusalem, and Sicily, 2009, etc.), who contends that Yolande of Aragon was deeply influenced by The Romance of Melusine, the story of a fairy aiding a young nobleman that she took as a blueprint for what needed to be done to goad France’s indecisive Charles VII into battle against English invaders. The author presents no hard evidence that Yolande even read the book, but Joan of Arc’s short life is nicely contextualized within the story of Yolande’s astute maneuvers among the shifting political currents of the Hundred Years War. It’s particularly valuable since there is no biography in English of this remarkable woman, thrown into the thick of European politics by her marriage to Louis II, a member of the French royal family who was also King of Sicily. Yolande administered her husband’s French possessions while he was consolidating his claim to Sicily, and she saw that her family’s security and prosperity depended on bolstering the resolve of Charles VII. Goldstone strongly suggests that Yolande was responsible for the prophecy that began to circulate around this time—“France, ruined by a woman, would be restored by a virgin from the marches of Lorraine”—though she’s too conscientious a historian to state outright that the prophecy prompted Joan’s hearing divine voices. It’s possible that Yolande smoothed Joan’s path to Charles and encouraged his acceptance of her as literally heaven-sent, though again there’s no hard proof. Nonetheless, Goldstone’s vivid retelling of Joan’s astounding victories and her capture and martyrdom by the English is as gripping as ever, and she brings Yolande back into the narrative following Joan’s death in 1431 to spur Charles to a truce with the powerful duke of Burgundy, which ultimately led to the French victory.
Readers don’t have to buy the shaky premise to enjoy this knowledgeable and accessible account of a turning point in French history.