Analysis on a brief excerpt from the Transcript of the Trial of Joan of Arc —
There are two primary reasons demonstrated in this excerpt why the actions and arguments of Joan of Arc condemned her in the eyes of her judges: her insistence on following the rules she claimed God set out for her and her defiance of her corporeal, female body and the cultural ties that came with it. Of course, there are other reasons and my claim is not to ignore their importance or deny their presence, but for the purpose of this brief essay and the excerpt that has been provided, those are the primary reasons I will explain.
First of all, Joan proved herself to be infuriatingly ‘virtuous’. If the voices she heard told her to do things the papacy approved of (e.g. staying in her lane), she would be a model medieval Christian. Unfortunately for her, the angels were countercultural, encouraging her to break all social norms and do incredible things. If the voices she heard were truly coming from God, His saints, or His angels, the voice of God supposedly guiding the Pope was wrong. Who would peasants believe? The man with a tall hat who bought his seat in the Vatican, or the sixteen-year-old girl from nowhere leading battles and crowning kings? After the Babylonian captivity, the authority of the Pope was in question; Joan of Arc threatening it further was helpful neither to the religious nor the political authority of Europe. If the Pope was the person who legitimizes rulers, children, marriages, everything— and the Pope was wrong— the entire foundations of society would crash down around everyone’s metaphorical ears.
Joan was not just the savior of France, she was her embarrassment. A peasant girl running around in men’s clothes and armor would have been ludicrous as is, but if she became the figurehead of a nation? To admit that France needed Joan would have been too humbling for the nobility to bear. And then, there was the whole issue of God ordering her to wear men’s clothes— a direct contradiction of papal policy— but we have already discussed her threat to the Church. No, everything Joan was was an affront (and a painful necessity) to the force of polite society France was becoming. What authority did a duke have if one of his subjects was acting in such a way? Noblemen hated it, but could not really say anything without denying her contributions, and to do so would cause all sorts of chaos. Letting the English burn her was a conundrum easily solved.
During the Hundred Years War, numerous things occurred and changed the trajectory of Anglo-French relations— not to mention Europe itself— forever. One such thing, had it not gone the way it did, would have created a very different world than the one in which we live. Jeanne d’Arc was a force of nature that threatened the very foundations of society itself, claiming that everything she did was by God’s command, and though she condemned herself in numerous ways, those demonstrated in the given passage can be summed up in her affront to the gentry of France and— more importantly— her overt contradiction of the papacy.
Image credit: J. William Fosdick, Adoration of St. Joan of Arc, 1896, fire etched wood relief, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of William T. Evans, 1910.9.8