Did Joan of Arc have to be a woman? Contemporary and later perspectives on her gender

Did Joan of Arc have to be a woman? Contemporary and later perspectives on her gender

By Kelly DeVries

Interpreting the Middle Ages: Essays on Medievalism, ed. Susan J. Ridyard, Sewanee Medieval Studies no. 13 (Sewanee, Tennessee: University of the South, 2005)

Introduction: The only trustworthy drawing of Joan of Arc made during her lifetime has often been reproduced. Yet, to those of us who study the fifteenth-century French military saint, this portrait is actually a disappointment. In the margins of the journal of the Parlement of Paris, which he was responsible for keeping, the greffier (or scribe) of that Parlement, Clément de Fauquembergue, depicts a woman clothed in a long-sleeved, scoop-necked dress with a presumably floor-length pleated skirt attached at mid-thigh (presumably floor-length, as the illustration does not portray Joan’s complete body). Her hair is lengthy and unbound. The outfit and method of wearing the hair is not unusual for a woman of the time. The problem, however, resides in the fact that what prompted Fauquembergue to draw his portrait was not the reporting of a royal gala or some other social event, but a military defeat along the Loire River—a defeat at least in the view of this Anglo-Burgundian-controlled bureaucrat. Joan of Arc had just raised the English siege of Orléans. Of course, she had done this with a number of other leaders and soldiers of the French army, but Fauquembergue’s perception of the defeat of his forces at Orléans was that Joan was responsible for the French victory — and this article discusses perception, not “history.” Fauquembergue’s account which accompanies the drawing records Joan’s military deed, not her femininity:

On Tuesday, the tenth day of May, it was reported and publicly said in Paris that on the previous Sunday, the men of the dauphin in great number, after many skirmishes continually undertaken by force of arms, entered the boulevard that William Glasdale and other captains with English men-at-arms held on behalf of the king, along with the tower at the end of the bridge of Orléans [the Tourelles], from the other side of the Loire. And on that day, the other captains and men-at-arms holding the siege and the boule- vards along the Loire around the city of Orléans, left from these boulevards and raised their siege in order to go to the aid of Glasdale and his companions and to combat the enemy, who had in their companies a maid all alone holding a banner between the two enemy forces, so it was said.

Therefore, Fauquembergue’s drawing is deceptive. Joan’s military leadership is recognized in the text, but the drawing’s lone nod towards that same military leadership is the depiction of her wearing a sword and carrying a banner. These are the only accurate parts of the illustration, although they are not entirely accurate in detail. Joan did not wear her clothing or her hair as depicted. Indeed, to those who served and fought with her, the fact that she was a woman, while certainly recognizable, may not have been very important. But it certainly is important today. This article seeks to investigate the reasons for the change and, also, when it occurred.

Click here to read this article from Loyola University of Maryland