19 May 2015

Miscellaneous Musing #71: This May Be Unpleasant, but She Was No Peasant

A television series called Ripley’s Believe it or Not!, hosted by Jack and Holly Palance, aired in the 1980’s.  According to one episode, the French government’s own records prove that Joan of Arc was still alive years after her supposed burning at the stake, and that she was of royal rather than humble lineage.  I don’t know whether this information is correct, but, if so, I’m not surprised, for I had always found the tale of this putative saint (whose canonization did not take place until 1925, half a millennium after her lifetime) to be rather an odd one.  Why should God care who won a war between the forces of the King of England and those of the King of France?
In feudal Scotland, it was the prerogative of the clan chief, even if the chief were female, to lead the clansmen in battle.  Rarely, as you might expect, did a woman actually do so; what she would typically do is lead them to battle, delegate the command thereof to a male subordinate, and then station herself outside the battlefield but close enough to it so that she would still be visible to her troops.  Nevertheless, since high birth was considered to be more important than one’s sex, she could command them personally if she so desired.  This principle may be the key to understanding how the legend of Joan of Arc developed; French propagandists presumably took what was already a phenomenal occurrence, military exploits by a member of the gentler sex, and embellished it with fictions about her being an ignorant peasant girl given a divine mission to liberate her country, in order to make it seem that God was on their side.  God is on the side of the victims of armed conflict, not necessarily that of the victors.