A Woman as Leader of Men: Joan of Arc’s Military Career
By Kelly DeVries
Fresh Verdicts on Joan of Arc, edited by Bonnie Wheeler and Charles Wood (Garland, 1996)
Abstract: Joan did not offer her soldiers territorial possessions; she offered them religious possibilities, even salvation. Though she was radically different from other contemporary military leaders, her troops followed her with a loyalty unsurpassed by any other late-medieval captain.
Introduction: No person of the Middle Ages, male or female, has been the subject of more study than Joan of Arc. She has been portrayed as saint, heretic, religious zealot, seer, demented teenager, protofeminist, aristocratic wanna-be, savior of France, “turner-of-tide” of the Hundred Years War, and even Marxist liberator. And yet in all of these analyses, few words have been devoted to her capabilities as a military leader, despite this being the central reason for her fame or infamy.
Born in Domremy, in Lorraine, on January 6, 1412, of comparatively wealthy peasant parents, she led a normal life until the fall of 1428, when she approached the castle of Vaucouleurs with her now famous tale of heaving hard heavenly voices. Their message, spoken to her in the wind and in the village church bells since childhood, was that she was to seek out the dauphin of France, Charles, and that he would give her an army with which she would deliver France from its English occupiers.
Why Robert de Baudricourt, the castellan at Vaucouleurs, did not turn her away or place her in the “insanity wing” of the local hospital is one the great mysteries of history, surpassed only by the mystery of why later at Chinon, the dauphin, having been introduced to Joan by Robert de Baudricourt, actually provided her with the desired army.