Jehanne by Isabel Robertson (Adelphi Press, E19.95) Fleur Dorrell
"SHE is a true Christian her soul will surely go to heaven. All those who have conspired against her will be damned. We are lost! We have burned a saint!" said Mr Tressart, Secretary of the King of England.
This is a novel that radically challenges the traditional ideas of Joan of Arc's origins, her life and the nature of her death (14(1-1431).
Robertson maintains that Joan of Arc's trial by the French ecclesiastical courts was basically an inquisition. Even more significant is her theory that "Jehanne". as she called herself. was not burnt at the stake but was replaced by a helpless victim from an asylum. This stance is held because Joan of Arc was believed to be of royal birth and this type of death would therefore have been unacceptable.
Joan of Arc's mother was apparently Queen Isabella of France, who produced bastard twins by Louis Duc d'Orleans. The boy died stillborn and Joan was hidden by being fostered with peasants from the Bois Chenu. Hence one of her names being "la Pucelle" bastard daughter of royalty. She ultimately fulfilled the prophecy that said a young girl from the Bois Chenu would save the kingdom of France.
The trial was a farce, says Robertson, with the court determined to convict her as a witch in order to appease the English. Yet in 1449 Charles VII of France ordered proceedings leading to the "Trial of Rehabilitation". The posthumous debate of 1455 reveals many insights into the way that Joan of Arc was treated, misconstrued and wrongly convicted.
This novel rigorously explores how deeply religious "Jehanne" was, her strong will and determination to overcome the most complex and frightening of situations and her ability to lead an army! At 13 Joan states that she had visions from St Michael, St Catherine and St Margaret it was these that implemented her struggles with France.
When Henry VI of England had been crowned King of France in 1422 and when the English began their siege of Orleans in 1428, Joan was convinced that the saints had called her to drive away the enemy and conduct the French Dauphin to be crowned at Rheims Cathedral, Roberston tells us how with endless arguing she finally convinced the Dauphin of her mission. In male attire and with a special sword found in a specified church, Joan led the French troops to victory at Orleans; and sat beside Charles VII at his coronation in July 1429.
However, her mission failed when, in not being given sufficient troops, she was then taken prisoner by the Burgundians in May 1430, who sold her to the English six months later. The English apparently did not want to execute her until she had been defamed by the French peasants and troops, who already regarded her as a heroine and saint.
Joan was tried on 12 charges of sorcery, wantonness (in cutting her hair and wearing men's clothes) and blasphemy for thinking she was directly responsible to God and not the Church. This is all contested by Robertson and is the reason for her dispute over Joan of Arc being condemned to the stake.
Joan's recantation of her alleged sins provides yet another mysterious issue with which to confuse the whole problem, but Robertson's unravelling is unique, if controversial. However, Joan of Arc was officially declared innocent in 1456 and was canonised in 1920.