Joan of Arc, a familiar name in late medieval history; her military exploits in saving France from the English are legendary, but the question remains, what was she really like? Can we discover her personality and learn something more from historical records on this subject?
Living in the midst of the Hundred Years War, the two contending sides were:
•The English, aided by the French Burgundians, of whom Joan once said in her trial, “I only knew one Burgundian and I could have wished his head cut off-however, only if it please God”
•The remainder of France’s citizens and nobility
She held her own very well for having no formal education. During one day of her inquiry, after her capture, one of the clergy asked her if she wasn’t being disobedient to her parents when she left them behind and traveled with the army. She persistently declared “…Since God commanded it, had I a hundred fathers and a hundred mothers, had I been a King’s daughter, I should have departed.
She was loyal to a fault, and encouraged an ambivalent Dauphin that it was time to claim his throne. “I tell thee… that thou art true heir of France…”
Her compassion transferred into the field also, once when she saw a fellow Frenchman leading away some English prisoners, he struck one of the Englishmen so hard on the head, that they left him for dead. Upset and angry she alighted from her horse, and knelt down next to the dying Englishman. Cradling his head in her hand, she heard his final confession and consoled him in his pain. She cried easily when soldiers died without confession or the last rites. She also sent away the followers of the armies, the women of ill-repute. She explained her decision saying, “…it was for those sins that God allowed a war to be lost” To her, things were simple, she believed in being good, and in doing good.
At one point she was counseled that the nearby city under siege was well provided for and that all of the military leaders at the time believed that they should not try to take the city because their numbers were few, that they would wait for a better time to do so. Angry at their lack of faith in her counsel, not being included, she replied “You have been at your counsel, and I at mine, and I know that my Lord’s counsel will be accomplished and will prevail and that your counsel will perish.”
When struck by an arrow, she cried. When the English replied to her letters that demanded their surrender with taunts of being a whore, and a “Cow girl”, she cried. When soldiers were killed on the field, she cried. She had the tender heart of a young 17 year old girl.
In one case several women carrying various religious articles came and asked Joan to touch them, believing her touch would bless them. Joan laughed and told them, “Touch them yourselves; they will be as good from your touch as they are from mine!”
At the beginning of her leadership near the city of Orleans, the generals and other military leaders purposely mislead her to think that they would be somewhere different than they were. When she discovered the duplicity, she immediately went to where they were and exclaimed with great indignation, “In God’s name, the counsel of the Lord your God is wiser and safer than yours. You thought to deceive me and it is yourself above all whom you deceive, for I bring you better succor than has reached you from any soldier, in any city; it is succor from the King of Heaven!”
Perceval de Boulainvilles writes of her, “This maid has a certain elegance…she has a pretty woman’s voice, eats little…greatly likes the company of noble fighting men, detests numerous assemblies and meetings, readily sheds copious tears, has a cheerful face, bears the weight and burden of armor incredibly well, to such a point that she has remained fully armed during six days and nights.”
The picture we gain as we study her is that of a well grounded and street-smart young woman. The story gets better as the stakes rise, and Joan unafraid answers the best lawyers, university trained clergymen, and important men of her day in England.