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19.09.16 Orgelfinger, Joan of Arc in the English Imagination

19.09.16 Orgelfinger, Joan of Arc in the English Imagination

All those interested in Joan of Arc will celebrate this groundbreaking new study on English attitudes to the French heroine. Beginning with a discussion of the 1923 warrior statue of Joan in Winchester Cathedral near the tomb of her erstwhile enemy, Henry Beaufort, Orgelfinger suggests that the memorial "would seem to place a period on a centuries-long evolution of English opinion" (3). But she argues against this simplistic interpretation of Joan as a transformation from a subject of demonization to a symbol of devotion, claiming instead that there was never one English view of Joan, but many competing narratives.

Orgelfinger first explores whether Joan encountered Englishmen before Orléans and what she might have known of England. In the process, she teases out what Joan thought about "France." Like her contemporaries, Joan probably conceived of both in terms of the English and the French. The author argues that Joan rarely spoke harshly of or to the English, except for the warning in her most famous letter and in two references to them as godons. Here I disagree with Orgelfinger's characterization that English slurs against Joan by the English did not "turn her defiance to hatred or her innate compassionate to enmity" (30). If "profane or insulting words were not [in Joan's vocabulary]" (34), why then did she scold her page for not alerting her that the Bastard of Orléans had begun an assault without her, shouting: "Bloody boy, you did not tell me the blood of France had been spilled!" [1] This issue is debatable, although based on her actions in battle and her sarcasm and threats at trial, I believe Joan despised her English foes.

Orgelfinger then traces how sparse accounts in the fifteenth century associated Joan with domestic upheaval, not surprising in view of the ending of the Hundred Years' War and beginning of the Wars of the Roses. The increasing availability of French accounts as well as the nullification proceedings led some Englishmen to see Joan differently from how Bedford had judged her [as a disciple and limb of the fiend], but the earliest chronicles challenged Joan's military role and suggested the French victories resulted from the death of the Earl of Salisbury. Ironically, many credited Jean, duc d'Alençon, who could not fight at Orléans as a condition of his release from captivity after the battle of Verneuil, with lifting the siege.

Other chronicles claimed Joan had lost her virginity and become pregnant. Critiques of the English Queen Marguerite of Anjou, sometimes dubbed the She-Wolf of France, may have inspired such writers, as they tried to separate out (approved) military roles of earlier English queens/viragos from their identities as sexual beings. Linking Joan with Maguerite allowed them to claim English superiority. Although Polydore Vergil's chronicle is both sympathetic and coherent, Joan's place in it is small. But John Speed, writing under Elizabeth I, did not demote Joan to a figurehead, admitting that the English might have spared her if they had "'not found it necessary to deface the opinion which the French...had conceived of her'" (61). In the 200 years after her execution, Joan went from 'witch' to 'wench,' 'strumpet,' to 'mayden of God,' and Martiall maide' to 'Medean Virago'" (62). England, recovering from the disasters of the fifteenth century, began revising its history under a queen who frequently employed martial language.

Orgelfinger then examines Joan's role in the Querelle des femmes, which involved both attacks on and defenses of women. While some Tudor writers tried to fit Joan into a diabolical model, positive examples emerged as well. One of the most interesting analyses comes from minister Peter Heylyn (d. 1662), who imagined Joan as cunning but not devilish, comparing her to an Amazon and calling her a "Noble Captain." Heylyn, with French and English sources in hand, developed a real admiration for Joan. Astutely, he ascribed her execution to John, Duke of Bedford, saying "when the ill-starred heroine fell into his hands, [he] took away her life, in order to stigmatize her memory with sorcery and to destroy the reputation she had acquired among the French" (73). In these years, Joan's image was reconstructed for good or ill, recalling past accusations against her while formulating with new defenses. Thomas Heywood'sGynakeion of 1624 extols Joan's military leadership, credits her with Charles' coronation, and laments her betrayal. He was the first English writer to place her in a chapter on English viragos, but as the English Civil War was about to begin in 1641, he modified his views, referring to her as a sorceress. Civil discord also influenced Thomas Fuller in his 1642 Holy and Profane State. Fuller dismissed the idea that Joan had been a military leader, recognizing only her ability to rally the troops. More aggrieved by her Catholicism than her deeds, Fuller withheld judgment about her fate, suggesting a novel punishment that would have been preferable to the cruelty of her judges: she should have been made a laundress! [2]

Orgelfinger then turns to the religious and political threats facing England, often perceived to be the result of female rule. Scottish theologian John Knox had set the tone in 1558 with his publication of The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, aimed at Mary Tudor, Marie de Guise, and her daughter, the future Mary Queen of Scots. The latter, who grew up in France and was briefly its queen, was not only a "Frenchwoman" to many, but also a scheming sexual enchantress who lured men into open rebellion. At the same time, the reissuance of Ralph Holinshed's Chronicle again brought a satanic Joan to the fore. Threads tying Catholicism to witchcraft, female power, and sexuality marked a world turned upside down. In I Henry VI, Joan and the Queen of Scots merge, with Alençon recoiling from Joan, saying that "women are shrewd tempters with their tongues." Joan curses as she exits the stage, declaring: "May never glorious sun reflex his beams/Upon the country where you make abode" (107). Accompanying images portrayed Joan in long hair with flowing skirts at the same time that her speech was increasingly bowdlerized.

From the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries, knowledge of Joan permeated popular culture and history. The idea of a female warrior in male clothing became eroticized and transgressive to many, intensifying male fears about women's sexuality. But Mary Astell countered in 1705: "'The Men being the Historians, they seldom condescend to record the great and good Actions of Women; and when they take notice of them...[say that] such Women acted above their Sex... . That they were not Women who did those Great Actions, but that they were Men in Petticoats!'" (130). David Hume's History of Englandbecame the standard historiographical work, but his disdain for religious mysticism limited his ability to understand Joan. While he noted her accomplishments in battle and at trial, he attributed her success to "wish fulfillment"--an ability to inspire others.

Hester Thrale Piozzi ushered in a new phase in 1801 with Retrospection, a series of anecdotes offering moral lessons to women and children. Piozzi's "transient glance" at Joan ignores her clothing, the trial, and the nullification, labeling her death a "French lynching" (149). Other female biographers situated "women's place" squarely in the domestic and spiritual realms, with some emphasizing Joan's supposed desire to return home. Such was Felicia Hemans, "defender of hearth and home," who "'implies that Joan chose wrongly in prioritizing political action over family security'" (156). [3] In an era of revolution, a female warrior was frightening.

In the Afterword, Orgelfinger briefly examines Joan after World War I, as a saint and a symbol of British/French unity. She contrasts the stained-glass windows of Leicester Cathedral with the statue at Winchester that began the book. At Leicester, Saint Joan represents womanhood and protection of children. It also reminds us, especially in the field of women's studies, that history is by no means always progressive. Both sets of images, Orgelfinger convincingly demonstrates, show the enduring ambivalence of the English about the legacy of Joan of Arc. I have highlighted only a few excerpts from the many examples the author provides in this excellent survey. It is a book that will be welcomed by all scholars and students of Joan of Arc.



1. Pierre Duparc, Procès en nullité et de la condamnation de Jeanne d'Arc (Paris: C. Klincksieck, 1986), IV:83.

2. One wonders if this idea might have been inspired by the pretender Lambert Simnel, who claimed during the reign of Henry VII to be one of the "princes in the Tower." After his failed rebellion, the king set him to work in his kitchens.

3. Karen Laird, "Adapting the Saints: Romantic Hagiography in Felicia Hemans's Records of Women," Women's Writing 20:4 (2013), 502.