Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Friday, 4 December 2009

The other Joan of Arc

In 1871, a fresco representing two medallions with the portrait of a man and a woman were discovered on the 15th century mantle piece in the dining room of the Château de Jaulny. For centuries they had been hidden under the stucco. It was the mayor of the village who told the owners about their existence. Apparently they had been hidden by his great-great grandfather on the eve of the French Revolution, following the instructions of Monsieur des Armoises, the former owner of the castle.

A cosy, bright room in the 'Château de Jaulny'. Did Joan of Arc sleep here?

The portraits are said to represent Joan of Arc and her husband Robert des Armoises, an ancestor of the 19th ‘Monsieur’. At the time, the discovery didn’t really surprise the villagers as, since the end of the middle ages, the figure of Joan of Arc had always been closely linked to the history and the traditions of their village.

According to the official history books Joan of Arc was the daughter of Pierre d’Arc, a poor farmer who lived in Domrémy, in the southern Lorraine region. The house where she was supposedly born still exists and is open to the public. At a young age and being very religious, she claimed to have heard voices telling her that she had been chosen to liberate France from the English.

To make a long story short, when Joan went to see the French dauphin in Chinon he agreed to give her an army, which she led to victory by breaking the siege of Orléans in 1429. This turned out to be the turning point in the 100 year war between the French and the English. She also managed to liberate the city of Reims. Unfortunately, in an attempt to liberate Paris in 1430, Joan was captured by the soldiers of the Duke of Burgundy, who sold her to the English. She was charged with heresy and witchcraft, and burned on the stake in Rouen on May 30th, 1431.

So far the official story! But according to Monsieur des Armoises and the 19th century mayor of Jaulny, Joan was saved at the last moment and someone else was executed in her place. She fled to Jaulny, where she married Robert des Armoises. She took his name but never shared his bed. The marriage was only meant to prevent her enemies from finding her. She died of old age and was buried in the village of Pulligny sur Madon, in the Meurthe-et-Moselle department. In the local church lies a 15th century tombstone of which the name and date have been clumsily removed in the 18th century. There is a very reasonable chance that it is Joan of Arc’s grave.

This seems too fantastic to be true, and yet there are many indications that Joan was not who the history books pretend. There is no doubt about her existence or her accomplishments. But it’s her ancestry that is put in doubt. As the daughter of a poor farmer she could never have acquired the military and fighting skills to successfully lead an army into battle. And she wouldn’t have had the means to buy a horse and armour. Only a woman of nobility with a rich father would have had access to this.

Then why Joan of Arc, a remarkable woman of noble birth who had done great things for France in the 15th century, was described as a deeply religious and poor farmer’s daughter? And who was responsible for this?

Today we would say that Joan of Arc was given a facelift and a complete ‘makeover’ by the powerful and well respected 18th century clergy. At that time, the French people were very poor and oppressed by the ever richer and demanding nobility. In order to unite them and provoke a Revolution, a national symbolic hero of humble origin with whom they could easily identify themselves, was needed. This gave birth to the myth of the ‘Maid of Orléans’. Inspired by her great deeds, the French peasants raised their shovels and pick axes against the oppressing nobility, sending many of them to the guillotine, where they underwent the same faith as their heroin: a violent and untimely death. Without this moral support, the peasants would have lacked the courage and motivation to revolt against the nobility. It certainly wouldn’t have helped if they had known that Joan was a noble woman herself!

You think this story is sacrilege? Then take a look at the website of the Château de Jaulny and the many books that have been written about the ‘Other Joan of Arc’. Or just drop in at the Château and ask your hostess to tell you all about it. Her story makes a lot of sense and is very convincing, believe me!



Nadege said...

Thank you Martine! This is a fascinating story.

chm said...

I had very vaguely known about this once but didn't pay much attention to it at the time.
Last night I spent hours googling Jeanne des Armoises et al. and couldn't quit. Thank you for this fascinating information and story.

Carolyn said...

Fascinating. Like chm, I spent a while googling, but my aim was to find out if Joan was more than inspirational, if she was also a military strategist and tactician.

chm said...

Carolyn, if you can read and understand French, here are two very interesting link that might answer some of your questions.
The first one gives you, also, a number of links on different aspects of Joan of Arc's life and death.
The second one gives some information, true or hypothetical, on JoA.

These are the two I was looking at last night. LOL

Leon and Sue Sims said...

I'm fascinated with Joan of Arc history, especially after seeing the magnificent statue of her on charging horseback at Chinon.
On our return home I googled, read, watched movies, etc, even the awfully boring 1928 silent French version "the passion of joan of arc".
There was a TV version as well that held my attention.
Enjoy this new slant on J of A.

ladybird said...

Nadege, I 'm glad you've enjoyed it.

chm, I had a feeling that you would like the challenge of finding out more about it :). Thanks for the two links too!

Carolyn, Apparently this post provoked a lot of googling activity. Thank you for taking an interest.

Leon, Being an avid Joan of Arc fan, did you visit Domrémy? Next to the house where she was supposedly born, is an information centre that explains all about her life and where the theory of the 'other Joan fo Arc' is also explored and documented. Maybe during your next trip to France?

Ken Broadhurst said...

Yes, thanks Martine, that is really interesting. Now I want to take a trip to the Lorraine region and see all these places. So many things to see, and so little time and money! Thanks for taking me there.

ladybird said...

Ken, It's one of those 'insolite' stories that few people know about, yet they are so fascinating. I warmly recommend a trip to 'La Lorraine'. You won't be disappointed.

The Beaver said...

Merci Martine and Merci cher "cousin" for the story and the links. I am always interested to find how things really happen through history,

ladybird said...

Hi The Beaver, Welcome to my blog and thank you for your comment. History can be fascinating and it's nice to share these little 'discoveries' with others.