Joan of Arc … Jeanne d’Arc … Was she a he … ?

Today, Friday, January 6, France commemorates the birth of Joan of Arc – Jeanne d’Arc – born 600 years ago, in 1412. It is said that the reason the French and the English nations do not like one another is because of Joan of Arc. And Napoleon thrown in too to make matters worse. Oddly, […]

Joan of Arc on the stake for heresy

Today, Friday, January 6, France commemorates the birth of Joan of Arc – Jeanne d’Arc – born 600 years ago, in 1412.

It is said that the reason the French and the English nations do not like one another is because of Joan of Arc. And Napoleon thrown in too to make matters worse. Oddly, there is not such great love and admiration here in France for the latter as there is for Joan. The extreme right-wing political party – Front Nationale has even adopted her as their very own.

The image I have of Joan of Arc dates from my school days: a girl with close-cropped hair and dressed in a suit of armor. And she’s sitting on a horse and holding a lance. Then, when I came to live in Paris, I learned that she might not have been a girl, but a boy. And this story has surfaced regularly, and right now, on the eve of the commemoration of her birth, it is more virulent than ever before.

Briefly, Joan was born of Isabelle Romée and Jacques d’Arc, wealthy peasants in Domrémy, today named Domrémy-la-Pucelle, a village in north-east France, in the region of what is now Lorraine, but was then the Duchy of Bar. (Only 155 people live in the village today.) The Hundred Years’ War (a series of wars between different French and English royal houses for the thrones of France and England) was raging at the time of her birth, with Charles VI, monarch of France and Henry V that of England.

As Joan would claim later, she began having visions when she was 12 years old. The visions were of saints who she recognized from holy pictures as Saint Michael (Michel), Saint Catherine of Alexandria (Catherine d’Alexandrie) and Saint Margaret (Marguerite d’Antioche). They told her to drive the English out of France and to tell the Dauphin of France (heir to the throne) to come to Rheims to be crowned King. She eventually gained an audience with a duke at the Dauphin’s court where she made a prediction about a future victory for his army which then came true. It was this prediction which then won her an audience with the Dauphin himself, and, as she had to pass through battle fields to get to him, she donned men’s clothing. It was more convenient she claimed if she were to wear men’s clothing: She was to get there on horseback. However, from then on she no longer wore skirts or dresses.

At that meeting Joan asked the Dauphin to be allowed to lead his army against the English, which, low and behold, he agreed to. At first she succeeded in driving the English back, but eventually, with the complicity of a French dukedom, she was captured and sold to the victorious English. Put on trial for heresy, because she claimed that God himself was talking to her, she was burned on the stake on May 30, 1431. She donned a dress for the execution and legend has it that after the burning, the English exposed her charred body to the crowds and then burnt the remains yet again until only ashes were left. The ashes were thrown into the River Seine. She was 19 years old. According to the Church she had made a vow of virginity to God; it was a vow that she kept and therefore she died as a Maid of Heaven. Here in France, she’s referred to as Jeanne la Pucelle – Joan the Maid or Joan the Virgin.

In full battle gear

She died knowing that she had succeeded in her quest for a French monarch to rule France because the Dauphin was crowned as Charles VII on July 17, 1429. (He ruled until 1461.)

In 1456 – 25 years after her death and 5 years after that of Charles VII – after a hearing that lasted many months and which was conducted by a papal commission appointed by Pope Calixtus III, she was pronounced innocent of heresy and declared a martyr of the Catholic Church. Then, in 1909 – 478 years after her death – Pope Pius X beatified her in a ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, and in 1920 – 498 years after her death – Pope Benedict XV, again in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, canonized her. Today, she is one of the patron saints of France. (The others are: Saint Denis, Saint Martin of Tours, Saint Louis IX and Saint Theresa of Lisieux.

The current debate about Joan’s gender has been stirred by a book – Jeanne d’Arc, le stratagème – written by François Ruggieri, the French historian and movie producer. Due to a lively media debate about Joan’s gender, there is a rush for the book which was published in April 2011 and its sales has increased so that it has gone from a 44,379 ranking on Amazon.fr a week ago, to a 11,295 presently which makes it a best seller.

Ruggieri, who admits to a particular love for the 15th century, has told interviewers that, over time, he’s been asking himself how come, in that time of famine, theft and rape, could a young virgin girl have been left to guard a flock of sheep all on her own. He therefore began to research the issue and came to the conclusion that the official story of Joan Arc had no solid foundation.

“But,” he says, “one does not of course touch Joan of Arc!”

He did so all the same.

In his book he writes that Jacques d’Arc, Joan’s father rented a château – the castle of Bourlemont – near to Domrémy. Describing Jacques d’Arc as a simple peasant, he wonders how he could have afforded to have rented a castle. He also wonders where and how Joan had learned to ride a horse. And how she had been able to speak French as it was spoken at the Royal Court, and how she could have known how to use arms.

As he also writes in his book, there exists no record of the registration of the birth of someone named Jeanne d’Arc in the Domrémy region. There is even no historically-proven date for her birth. He points out that in 1909 when Pope Pius X beatified her, he cited her birth as at the end of 1407. But at her canonization in 1920, Pope Benedict XV gave the year of her birth as 1412 – the beginning of 1412.

Therefore, claims Ruggieri, there was no girl named Jeanne born in Domrémy to the couple Isabelle and Jacques d’Arc either at the end of 1407 or at the beginning of 1412 – or around those years.

But, if Joan never existed, who was it who was pretending to be her? Who was it who was leading the King’s army?

A story which has been told for a couple of centuries is this:

On November 10, 1407 (note this falls in with the time Pope Pius X had given) Queen Isabeau of Bavaria, spouse of King Charles VI (1368-1422), gave birth to a love child named Philippe, fathered by her brother-in-law Duke Louis d’Orléans. The child however died within a few hours of his birth and was buried as Philippe d’Orléans in the Basilica of Saint Denis, north of Paris. (The basilica has been the burial place of French kings since the 10th century.) Louis d’Orléans died three weeks after his son: he was assassinated by a member of a rival Royal House. I am not going to go deeper into this because it is complicated, but on Charles VI’s death, his Dauphin (heir) Charles ascended to the thrown as Charles VII, which was possible because of Joan.

The story continues that baby Philippe did not die, but Queen Isabeau, fearing that her ‘bastard’ son would be assassinated, as indeed he father was three weeks later, had him whisked off by coach in the middle of the night to a village which was the property of the Royal household, and there, the child was handed over into the care of a couple to be brought up as their offspring. The village was Domrémy. The surrogate parents were related to one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting. The latter’s name was Jeanne from the village of Arc (Joan from Arc) and the surrogate parents in Domrémy were her relatives. They were Isabelle and Jacques d’Arc. The story continues that the grateful Queen Isabeau handsomely compensated Isabelle and Jacques for bringing up her son, and even gave them the Castle of Bourlemont so that the boy would not grow up in a peasant’s hut.

Whether this is fact or fable we do not of course know, but the story continues that in 1793, during the French Revolution, when the royal tombs in the Basilica of Saint Denis were pillaged, the tomb of Philippe d’Orléans was empty. (You will not find him listed on any Royal family tree.)

Here I must point out that in 1819 a police chief (préfet), one Pierre Caze, wrote the book La Vérité sur Jeanne d’Arc, ou Éclaircissemens sur son Origine, in which he claimed that Isabeau of Bavaria and Louis d’Orléans did have a love child – a girl – born on November 10, 1407, who was brought up in Domrémy by Isabelle and Jacques d’Arc as their own child. And that that girl was Jeanne d’Arc.

So, what was the gender of the child Queen Isabeau had given birth to and who Isabelle and Jacques d’Arc had brought up? Was it a girl named Jeanne or a boy named Philippe? Whichever one it was, there are historians who believe that King Charles VII had listened to him or her because he knew that he was speaking to his half-brother – or his half-sister.

Will we ever know? Yes, it is not impossible. There are a few charred bones in the museum in the town of Chinon, which are said to be those of Joan. A DNA reading of the bones may not tell us who they belonged to, but it would be able to tell us whether they were those of a male or female.

There was a witness to Joan’s femininity. The witness though did not himself view her naked body, but knew that the Dauphin had asked his grandmother and several other women from the Royal Court to examine her intimately, and that they had no doubt that she was female because she had female sex organs.

This witness was Jean d’Aulon. The Dauphin had appointed the latter to see that no harm befell Joan, and he was therefore her bodyguard, but also chief squire of her household. He supplied a written testimony for Pope Calixtus’s ordered examination of Joan’s authenticity and rehabilitation – the Rehabilitation Trial, which is also known as the Nullification Trial, which opened on November 7, 1455. In his very long handwritten Déposition which opens with a statement as to his role in Joan’s life – “… I was a knight in the service of the Dauphin who assigned me to the Maid’s household as chief-squire. In this capacity I was in charge of her stables and the procurement of supplied. I also served as secretary and head of the Maid’s household …” He then not only stated that she was female, but also that she did hear the voices of saints and of God and was accomplishing his mission. He also stated that he had overheard some women say that they never say Joan menstruate. His claims were though not substantiated by anyone else at the trial.

This brings us to the question whether Joan had suffered from “testicular feminization syndrome” also known as “complete androgen insensitivity syndrome” which I admit I’ve never heard of but which is described on medical sites on the Web as follows: The complete androgen insensitivity syndrome is usually detected at puberty when a girl should but does not begin to menstruate. Many of the girls with the syndrome have no pubic or axillary (armpit) hair. They have luxuriant scalp hair without temporal (male-pattern) balding. They are sterile and cannot bear children.

I will allow the 20th century English writer, Vita Sackville-West, a lesbian, to have the last word. In her book Saint Joan of Arc she states that Joan was a lesbian. She came to that conclusion from the testimony of another witness at the trial, one Simon Beaucroix, who had known Joan. Beaucroix wrote in his testimony: “Joan slept always with young girls, she did not like to sleep with old women.”

Marilyn Z. Tomlins

4 Responses to “Joan of Arc … Jeanne d’Arc … Was she a he … ?”

  1. 4
    Marilyn Z. Tomlins Says:

    Thank you Michael for your comment. I do not know about these bones found by Sergei A. Gorbenko, but now that you’ve told me, I will look into it.

  2. 3
    Michael Monikowski Says:

    Bones that were supposed to have been “relics” of Joan are fakes, this has long been established. I would rather focus on those bones of a woman of over 40, with deformations suggesting she frequently rode a horse and wore armour and had large hands – the woman found in the crypt of Jean d’Aulon next to the crypt of Louis XI in Clery – St. Andre. They were found there in 2001 by Sergei. A. Gorbenko, the Ukrainian anthropologist and expert in facial reconstruction. Was it Claude des Armoises or someone else?
    At least those bones are real…

  3. 2
    Marilyn Z. Tomlins Says:

    Would be, yes!

  4. 1
    bernard Says:

    would nt it be supperb to actually travel back in time to truly know

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