About the Book
About the Author
Also by Vita Sackville-West
Title Page
1 Jeanne d’Arc
2 The Hundred Years’ War
3 Domremy (1)
4 Domremy (2)
5 Domremy and Vaucouleurs (1)
6 Domremy and Vaucouleurs (2)
7 Vaucouleurs to Chinon
8 Poitiers to Orleans
9 Orleans (1)
10 Orleans (2)
11 Reims
12 Reims to Paris
13 Paris to Compiègne
14 Compiègne to Rouen
15 The Trial (1)
16 The Trial (2)
17 The Last Act
18 Aftermath
Chronological Table
MAPS (by J. F. Horrabin)
The France of Jeanne d’Arc
The Loire country


The strange story of Joan of Arc, the obscure peasant girl who became the national saint of France, is retold in this celebrated, classic biography. Saint Joan lives for the reader on every page, as a shepherd girl in a remote part of fifteenth-century rural France, visited by visions of saints and angels; as the avenging virgin who regenerated the soul of a torn and wretched France and led her troops to victory; and as a condemned heretic and witch, burned at the stake and, five hundred years later, canonised as a saint.


Victoria Mary Sackville-West, known as Vita, was born in 1892 at Knole in Kent, the only child of aristocratic parents. In 1913 she married diplomat Harold Nicolson, with whom she had two sons and travelled extensively before settling at Sissinghurst Castle in 1930, where she devoted much of her time to creating its now world-famous garden. Throughout her life Sackville-West had a number of other relationships with both men and women, and her unconventional marriage would later become the subject of a biography written by her son Nigel Nicolson. Though she produced a substantial body of work, amongst which are writings on travel and gardening, Sackville-West is best known for her novels The Edwardians (1930) and All Passion Spent (1931), and for the pastoral poem The Land (1926) which was awarded the prestigious Hawthornden Prize. She died in 1962 at Sissinghurst.




Family History


The Dragon in Shallow Waters

The Heir


Seducers in Ecuador

The Edwardians

All Passion Spent

Grand Canyon


Passenger to Teheran

English Country Houses


The Eagle and The Dove

Sissinghurst: The Creation of a Garden


Title page for Saint Joan of Arc

‘[And it was shown to her] how serious and dangerous it is curiously to examine the things which are beyond one’s understanding, and to believe in new things … and even to invent new and unusual things, for demons have a way of introducing themselves into such-like curiosities.’


Procés de condamnation, Vol. 1, p. 390.

‘Pauvre Jeanne d’Arc! Elle a eu bien du malheur dans ce que sa mémoire a provoqué d’écrits et de compositions de diverses sortes.’


The France of Jeanne d’Arc


There are many deliberate omissions in this book.

Students of the period may ask why I have not entered more closely into such things as the relations between the Dukes of Burgundy, Brittany, Bedford, and Gloucester, Cardinal Beaufort, and so on.

My answer is that I wished to concentrate on Joan of Arc herself, bringing in the minimum of outside politics.

It seemed to me that Joan of Arc was far more important and problematical than any of the figures or politics which surrounded her. It became necessary for me to refer to some of those figures and politics: but, beyond that simplified reference, I have kept her consistently in the foreground, at the expense of other interests. It seemed to me, in short, that Joan of Arc presented a fundamental problem of the deepest importance, whereas the political difficulties of her day presented only a topical and therefore secondary interest. The history of France in the fifteenth century can hold no interest today save for the scholar; the strange career of Joan of Arc, on the other hand, remains a story whose conclusion is as yet unfound. I do not claim to have found it in this book. I take the view that many years, possibly hundreds of years, may elapse before it is found at all.

In the meantime, I wish to record my gratitude to several people: to my sister-in-law, Gwen St. Levan, who provided and annotated many specialised books for me; to Mr J. F. Horrabin, who drew the maps; to Father Herbert Thurston, S.J., who gave me his time for discussion of Saint Joan; to Dr Baines for his views on the psychology of visionaries; to Mr Milton Waldman, who most generously lent me his notes on the trial; and to the Secretary of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, who sent me a table of the phases of the moon during 1429 and 1430.

The question of footnotes troubled me considerably. I had at first intended to put none, but was gradually forced to the conclusion that a complete absence of reference to authorities was even more irritating to the reader than the constant check to the progress of his reading. Of two evils, I hope I have chosen the less.

The question of proper names troubled me also. It seemed to me that Jeanne was ill-translated by Joan, and yet I could not bring myself to write the closer rendering of Jean. I therefore decided to stick to the French version of her name throughout, except in the title of the book itself.

An analogous problem arose over the names of French cities. It will be observed that I have elected to print Orleans without an accent on the e. This is because most English readers are accustomed to pronounce Orleans in the English way. On the other hand, I have spelt Reims in the French way. This is because the addition of an h in no way affects the pronunciation, and therefore seemed to me pointless.

I am advised on good authority that Domremy should be written without an accent on the e.

V. S.-W.

Et Jehanne, la bonne Lorraine,
Qu’ Englois bruslèrent à Rouan:
Où sont-elles, Vierge souveraine?
Mais où sont les neiges d’antan!




No contemporary portrait of Jeanne d’Arc is known to exist. Possibly none ever existed at all. She denied having ever sat for her portrait, although she admitted having seen, at Arras, a painting of herself in full armour, kneeling on one knee, presenting a letter to the King. This painting, she affirmed, was the work of a Scotsman. Apart from that, she said she had never seen another image in her likeness, nor had she ever caused one to be made. The frescoes depicting her life, which Montaigne saw on the façade of her home at Domremy on his way to Italy a hundred and forty-nine years after her death, were already in a bad state by then and have now entirely disappeared; l’âge, he wrote, en a fort corrompu la peinture. Yet there can be no question that she was, even during her lifetime, a person whom one would expect to find portrayed in a hundred different places; a person of legend. Butterflies in clouds accompanied her standard; pigeons miraculously fluttered towards her; men fell into rivers and were drowned; dead babies yawned and came to life; flocks of little birds perched on bushes to watch her making war.fn1 The magistrates of Ratisbon paid twenty-four pfennigs in 1429 for the privilege of looking at a picture showing how the Pucelle had fought in France, but the advantage as well as the expense is theirs, not ours.fn2 There is nothing left to tell us what Jeanne d’Arc looked like, although Eugélide, Princess of Hungary, gives us some reason to believe that she had a short neck and a little bright red mark behind her right ear.


On the other hand, hundreds of posthumous representations, in stone, in bronze, in plaster, in stained glass, in fresco, on canvas, or on wood, leave us with an impression neither blurred nor doubtful but only too definite and precise. Pen and ink, equally active, have lent their services to the willing imagination, so that from these various mediums of the artist and the historian a double image clearly emerges: the image of Jeanne pensive and pastoral, or the image of Jeanne embattled and heroic, the basis of truth in both interpretations heavily overlaid with all the hues of sentimentality and romance. If these interpreters are to be believed, then Jeanne the shepherdess sat permanently with folded hands and upturned eyes, and Jeanne the captain permanently bestrode a charger whose forelegs never touched the ground. The lover of truth sighs in vain for one plain portrait, unflattering, authentic, crude; a portrait which shall attempt no picturesque rendering of that remarkable destiny, no seizing of those dramatic moments, but a quiet statement of what Jeanne looked like, whether in daily life at her father’s house, or in the few strenuous months when by popular acclaim she became known throughout France and much of Europe as a suddenly public personage; as, in short, la Pucelle, Mulier illa quæ Puella vociferatur.fn3

Such a statement, if ever drawn, is missing. Only by inference, only by the reasoning of probability, and with the help of certain given indications, is it possible to reconstruct today the physical appearance of either Jeanne the peasant or Jeanne the captain. The peasant, chronologically speaking, comes first. She breaks as an apparently ordinary little girl of twelve or thirteen into the pages of history. She comes of healthy parents, taking her share in the housework, in the work of the fields, in the care of the cattle, and in the general yearly round of a simple, practical, country family. There is every reason to presume her tough and sturdy; reasons racial, documentary, and evidential. There is every racial reason to presume her short and stocky, rather than tall and slender; every reason to suppose her muscular, with features homely (in the English, not the American, sense) rather than pretty. Many men and women who had known her in her youth came forward later to testify to her moral character, to her early avocations, to the personal impression she made on them, to the affection and respect with which they regarded her, but not a single one mentions even as a passing comment that she was pretty. Had she been pretty, her contemporary apologists would certainly have mentioned the fact, of outstanding importance, especially to Latin minds, in the case of a woman. One of them, at least, would have dragged it in, however irrelevantly, to increase the plea of her youth, her pathos, and her sex. The fact that none of them did so, not even Perceval de Boulainvilliers, whose admiration for her was great enough to allow him to remark, Hæc Puella competentis est elegantiæ, which one might colloquially render as ‘passably good-looking,’ may be accepted as a negative if not as a positive point in the inference that Jeanne was no prettier or more attractive than most girls of her region and class.fn4

Apart from this surely legitimate inference, other deductions may be drawn from the very nature of the life she led at home and of the hardship she proved later able to endure. The climate of Lorraine is not always soft and favoured, as those who have known it only ,in spring and summer might be tempted to believe, nor does the existence of the working peasant in Lorraine or elsewhere consist always of lying among the buttercups of a golden meadow while contented cattle ruminate by the waters of a sleepy stream. Jeanne had to help her mother with the housework and the spinning, and her father and brothers with the ploughing and the harvest. Roughened fingers, a skin reddened by the sun, harshened by harder weather, stolid limbs, and stout muscles, the inevitable consequences of such a life, can scarcely have added to the feminine attractions of a girl whose feminine attractions, if she ever potentially had them, are never even mentioned by those who knew and loved her first.

If common sense was one of her outstanding and most valuable characteristics, as I believe it to have been, then at least we owe it to her memory never to romanticise her unduly, as she would never have wished to be romanticised. There is enough romance, and to spare, in the facts of her life, without inventing also the legend of the china shepherdess leaning on her crook. Jeanne was not made of china, nor, except in legend, was she ever much of a shepherdess. Better, and truer, to see her prosaically, sensibly, and logically, as she herself would have wished to be seen, without embellishment or false claim.

Those who describe her from either first-or second-hand knowledge give, on the whole, a consistent picture. Her hair, they say, was short and black; her complexion dark and sun-burnt, as might be expected. The author of the First Part of King Henry VI makes her refer to herself as black and swart; wildly unreliable chronicler though he was, it is still quite likely that his information on this point was derived from some handed-down tradition. The description of her hair given by witnesses who had known her received a curious little point of confirmation, when, in 1844, a letter came to light at Riom, addressed to the citizens of that town and signed ‘Jehanne.’fn5 But more interesting even than that signature was the seal, for a single black hair had been pressed into it by a finger. It was a common custom of the time, and it is tempting to believe that both the finger-print and the hair were Jeanne’s.fn6

None of these witnesses mentions her eyes, but there is on racial grounds a strong presumption in favour of their having been brown; it has been suggested also, on the analogy of other visionaries, that they were slightly prominent. All witnesses agree that she was strong and well made: Estoit de grande force et puissance;fn7 Bien compassée de membres et forte:fn8 Belle et bien formée;fn9 her breasts were well formed, said the due d’Alençon, who had often slept beside her while on their campaigns. Young man as he was, he had watched her at her undressing; but he was careful to add that never had she aroused any carnal desire in him. So far they all seem to be in agreement. Only on the question of her height is there any apparent dissention. Was she short or tall? The Chronique de Lorraine describes her as haulte et puissante, but the Chronique de Lorraine is neither a reliable nor a contemporary document. On the other hand, an Italian soldier, who was present on her arrival at Chinon, told Philip of Bergamo that she was short as to her stature.fn10 The truth probably is that, although sufficiently tall for a woman, she looked much shorter when dressed as a man, a contention which may be personally endorsed by anyone who has seen even a tall woman in men’s clothes.

We may presume her, then, to have been a strong, healthy, plain, and sturdy girl. Strong and healthy she certainly was, for otherwise she could never have taken her ordinary part in country life as a child, nor, later, could she have endured the sudden unaccustomed weight of armour and the long rides across country – rides which, one way and another, took her over some three thousand miles of our modem computation, or more than the distance from France to India.fn11 No evidence exists to the effect that her mysterious inspiration upheld her in these tesrs in any physical sense; it seems, rather, to have worked the other way round, so that her physical fitness came usefully to hand at the service of her celestial mission. Saint Michael, Saint Catherine, and Saint Margaret had chosen their servant well. In the inexplicable way of saints, they had picked on an ignorant able-bodied girl whose early training fitted her for the exhaustive demands they proposed to make on her toughness and her endurance.


All things considered, the little statue in the museum at Domremy probably comes nearest to a true presentation of Jeanne as she really was. The history of this statue is disputable and confused. Local tradition says that Louis XI, son of Charles VII, extended his royal benevolence to the preservation of the d’Arc family’s humble cottage at Domremy, and that the statue now in the museum, with its replica in a niche over Jeanne’s front door, represents a part of his tribute to the liberator of his father’s kingdom. That is as it may be. It seems more likely that the statue in the Domremy museum is a much later reproduction, with modifications according to the ideas of the time, of a section of a sculptural group set up in 1456 by the ladies of Orleans on a bridge spanrllng the river in that city.fn12 Certainly the statue at Domremy cannot be even an immediately posthumous portrait; it cannot be a portrait so nearly contemporary that we may suppose the sculptor to have been acquainted, if not with Jeanne in person, then at any rate with those to whom her features had been familiar, and from whom he could have taken advice as to her lineaments and general build. Yet there is something about this crude and clumsy little statue which carries conviction as other and more pretentious works fail to carry it. True, the portrait has been falsified in several particulars. The ruff and armour are obviously untrue to date; they are of the reign of Henri IV, or even Louis XIII, rather than of the reign of Charles VII. Then, again, Jeanne is represented with long hair: hair so long that it reaches to the buttocks in the kneeling statue; hair so ostentatiously long that she could have sat on it, were she sitting upright instead of kneeling. This is quite comprehensible when we reflect that one of the principal accusations against her was that she adopted men’s clothes and fashions; naturally, her apologists and rehabilitators, awkwardly embarrassed by her masculine career, aspired to present her under as feminine an aspect as possible. They went so far as to gild her sculptured hair, and traces of this particular rehabilitation survived so late as into the nineteenth century.fn13 Nevertheless, this fat untruthful little statue does contrive to suggest the commonsense, commonplace aspect of Jeanne as other more romantic portrayals fail to suggest her. There is something in those thick short thighs, those truncated arms, which evokes the unattractive peasant girl whom Saint Michael, Saint Catherine, and Saint Margaret so sagaciously selected for their purpose.

I think it is not unfair to qualify her as unattractive. Men attempted no rape, nor were women jealous. She made war, but not love. Those who choose to take the purely religious point of view may maintain that some spiritual quality in her personality exalted her above all such human failings. Possibly. But human beings are human beings, slow to recognise the exceptional spiritual qualities, and there is no reason to suppose that they were less human in the fifteenth century than they are today. Yet the fact remains that Jeanne travelled and slept in a comradely way with men, day after day, night after night, keeping her virginity intact to the last; and that she also came into contact with various women who would have been among the first to suspect her of making a, to them, dangerous appeal. But somehow or other, for all the excitement of her startling notoriety, she clearly aroused neither the natural desire of men nor the competitive mistrust of women. The men of her first escort, travelling with her in the most intimate conditions for eleven days, sleeping beside her at night, avowed themselves in strong and detailed terms as having been completely free from carnal thoughts. The men-at-arms at Vaucouleurs were even less complimentary, for when Robert de Baudricourt, their leader, jocosely suggested turning Jeanne over to their pleasure, there were some who would have taken advantage of this offer; but, as soon as they saw her, desire left them and they felt no further inclination.fn14 Witness, also, the list of women whose admiration she had gained, such as the poet Christine de Pisan, or those whom she could count among her friends, not only the village friends of her childhood, not only the matrons of Neufchâteau, Vaucouleurs, Chinon, Poitiers, Bourges, Tours, and Orleans, not only the three ladies of Luxembourg, but also princesses such as Yolande d’Aragon, Marie d’Anjou, and the young Duchess of Alençon.

It is evident that the complications of sex presented few difficulties to Jeanne herself or to others in regard to her.

Her views on feminism, as concerned herself, were characteristically clear-cut and bold: ‘It is true that at Arras and Beaurevoir I was admonished to adopt feminine clothes; I refused, and still refuse. As for other avocations of women, there are plenty of other women to perform them.’fn15

At the same time, it is impossible to believe that her unusual experiences had left no trace upon her features and found no answering reflection in her eyes. One does not begin at the age of twelve to spend four to five years in the daily company of saints, secretly nursing a mission of so alarming a gravity, without some corresponding change in one’s expression, of exaltation, mystery, and awe. Even so short a time as four years, at her tender age, must have sufficed to leave their mark upon her. Nor can one be born with the aptitude to entertain such company, and to be charged by them with such a mission without some indication of that temperament becoming discernible to the eye of the observant. Still, such inward beauty of expression as Jeanne may, and surely must, have possessed, was not of a nature to rouse the concupiscence of men-at-arms, or to endanger her chastity by increasing the appeal of her youth and sex. Rather, it must have been definitely discouraging to those who were sensitive enough to be aware of it, and, in a subtle subconscious way, eventually discouraging also for those cruder ones who otherwise might have seen in the healthy young body merely a temptation to mischief and natural play. It would take, of course, a little time for the chill to work. Those who had learned to know her might entertain for her nothing but the most platonically minded veneration; but what of her avowed enemies, and what of uninformed newcomers, to whom her sex and virginity would appear only as a ribald joke? Robert de Baudricourt himself, before she won him round to do what she wanted, had exercised his smutty wit at her expense, when only the disinclination of his soldiers, once they beheld her, saved her from further trouble.

It was, however, not enough for her to know that she had only to appear in person for these objectionable ideas to be dispersed. Something more drastic must be done about it: the practical inconvenience of belonging to the wrong sex must be faced and overcome; and Jeanne, with her usual common sense, took the obvious step of turning herself into the least outward semblance of a woman possible. Off came both her skirt and her hair. It was an indicated measure – it was, indeed, a measure necessary for a girl who proposed to ride in the company of six men for hundreds of miles over a countryside thick with soldiers – but it was a measure that must have required considerable moral courage. One wonders what her feelings were, when for the first time she surveyed her cropped head and moved her legs un-encumbered by her red skirt – the coarse red skirt still worn by the peasant women of Lorraine within living memory. The unfamiliar masculine garments which she then assumed were not even her own: she had acquired them from her cousin, Durand Lassois, who recounts the circumstance philosophically and without comment, saying merely that she ‘had received’ them from him, Ipsa recepit vestis ipsius testis.fn16 What he really means, is that she took them. Before very long have arrangement evidently ceased to satisfy her, and one may hope that the long-suffering Lassois had his clothing returned to him when his arbitrary young relative induced the townsfolk of Vaucouleurs to buy her a man’s complete outfit, including boots. By what means she or her friends induced them to do this is not related. Certainly Robert de Baudricourt had nothing to do with it, for later, when she was specifically asked if her change of costume had not taken place according to Baudricourt’s orders, she denied the suggestion, admitting no other authority in this matter than that of God and His angels. However she managed it, it was done: she stood equipped as a man and a soldier. According to the greffier of the Hôtel de Ville of La Rochelle,fn17 she arrived at Chinon dressed in a black doublet, a short black tunic (robe courte de gros gris noir), high boots, and a black cap. As she had travelled straight from Vaucouleurs to Chinon, we may fairly suppose that this was the original equipment supplied to her by the people of Vaucouleurs, for she would hardly have wasted time stopping to buy anything else on the way; such delays as she permitted herself in towns were devoted to the services of the Church. The most interesting piece of information with which the greffier de La Rochelle provides us, is his remark about her hair. It was, he tells us, black and short. That settles once and for all a question which might otherwise have been a matter for dispute.

What happened to her own red gown is not clear: it would appear as though she had taken it with her, for at Châlons, on her way to Reims to crown the Dauphin, she met Jean Morel, her godfather from Greux, near Domremy, and gave him a red garment of her own.fn18 Was this the one in which she had travelled from Domremy to Vaucouleurs? If so, the gift must have represented the last link with her old life; for her, no doubt, a briefsignificant moment – a moment carrying her back home at the height of her glory.


It would be a mistake to represent Jeanne, although so prompt to abandon her feminine semblance, as lacking in appreciation of fine raiment and its suitable complements. For all her privately religious integrity, she had no inclination in favour of the hair-shirt. She regarded herself, I think, as the captain, never as the saint, though other people tended to regard her as the saint rather than as the captain; and as the captain she seems to have enjoyed a richly decorative taste for equipment and picturesque adjuncts. She seems rapidly to have acquired a nice approval of pageantry; one of the endearing inconsistencies of her simple, surpnsed nature. For all her severity, for all her single-mindedness, there was something of the woman in her make-up, undeveloped partly owing to her extreme youth; partly to the extraordinary and terrifying mission imposed so early upon her inexperience; partly to the plain peasant life she had seen around her and had herself led, lacking all grace or elegance. It is interesting to observe how the woman in Jeanne made the most of the chance provided by her sudden emergence from obscurity into a public personage. Cinderella turned into a princess could scarcely have been assailed by a greater bewilderment, and it remains very much to Jeanne’s credit that she did not wildly lose her head – but indulged herself only in such harmless decorative extravagances as might have been expected from her years, her sex, and her opportunity.

Consider what had happened. The dark little cellar-like room at Domremy had been replaced by the splendours of Chinon and the relative comforts of Poitiers and Tours. The rude company of peasants had been replaced by the company of princes, courtiers, and ladies. Instead of her father’s farm-horses she had chargers of her own to ride; she broke lances with a royal duke; instead of a pitchfork she carried a banner and a sword; instead of doing menial work herself, she had pages attached to her service. From being a little girl, ordered hither and thither by her parents, she had blossomed suddenly into the envoy of God, browbeating a king into doing the bidding of the King of Kings. The change of worlds and of circumstances must have been, to say the least of it, difficult to grasp.

In this changed world Jeanne could have practically anything she liked to ask for – clothes, banners, horses, and accoutrements. To do her justice, it would appear that she did not have to ask for them, but merely accepted and used them with pleasure once they had been given. Contemporary records exist, describing tunics of cloth of gold and scarlet, lined with fur;fn19 contemporary account-books record the purchase by the Duke of Orleans of crimson Brussels doth, green cloth, and white satin. They dressed her in the colours of the house of Orleans – scarlet and green – embroidering the heraldic nettles of Orleans on her robes. The townsfolk of Orleans subscribed to send her such miscellaneous gifts as com, wine, bread, partridges, pheasants, rabbits, and capons. Probably these tributes in kind appealed to her less than the gifts of apparel, for she was as abstemious as regards eating and drinking as she was natural in her love of finery. It has been suggested, and I think with truth, that Jeanne as a captain was shrewdly aware of the value of fine clothes, floating standards, and shining armour for the inspiration of her followers, but it detracts in no way from her ideals to recognise with a smile mat in this matter the service of the servant of God was agreeably compatible with the tastes of her age and sex.

Two other feminine traits are chronicled by her contemporaries: her womanly voice and her ready tears. Surprising and endearing, they soften the conception which might otherwise incline to harshness. Both Guy de Laval and Perceval de Boulainvilliers, the one in a letter to his mother, the other in his letter to the Duke of Milan, make reference to her voice: Assez voix de femme, says de Laval; her voice is womanly, says Boulainvilliers.fn20 Yet Boulainvilliers was not trying to make her out more feminine than she need be, for in the preceding sentence he says frankly that she had something virile in her bearing and remarks also that, so great was her strength in the endurance of fatigue, she could spend six days and six nights without removing a single piece of her armour. This clear voice, proceeding from the sturdy peasant, evidently struck both these young men as something agreeably unexpected. Boulainvilliers, again, in the same letter, is responsible for a comment (though by no means our only authority) on her capacity for tears: her tears, he says, flow freely. She was, in fact, emotional, and wept copiously at every possible opportunity – as queer a mixture of feminine and masculine attributes as ever relentlessly assaulted the enemy and then must cry on seeing him hurt.



It will be assumed (perhaps unjustifiably, but I hope forgivably) for the purposes of this brief chapter, that the reader is possessed of no greater knowledge of conditions in France at the time of Jeanne’s birth and dur;ng her subsequent career than he may have vaguely and confusedly remembered from the unpalatable books of his schooldays. I have observed that quite well-educated people retain no more than a vague impression that Jeanne d’Arc was a peasant girl who heard voices, saw visions, raised the siege of Orleans, and was burnt to death by the English at Rauen. Going a step further, you may be told that an English soldier made two pieces of wood into a cross, and gave it to her as the flames rose round her on the pyre. Such romantic facts and details have taken a hold on the general mind, abetted by such brilliant and untrustworthy artists as Mr Bernard Shaw and M Anatole France. But if you ask what the English were doing in France, and why Jeanne’s own countrymen connived with the English at her burning, they are unable to give any clear answer. I have observed, also, a tendency to believe that very little is known of Jeanne beyond the cardinal facts of her inspiration, achievement, and death. Nothing could be less true. We know practically every detail of her passive existence as a child and, as to the few months of her active career, they are so thoroughly documented that we know exactly where she spent each day, and in whose company; what she wore, what horse she rode, what arms she bore, what she ate and drank; and, more importantly still, what words she uttered. Scores of her friends, neighbours, followers, and companions-in-arms have left vivid testimony as to her appearance, manners, habits, character, and speech. The idea that there is any paucity of material for reconstructing her life and personality is fallacious in the last degree.

The initial difficulty, however, lies in disentangling the twisted strands of history before the pattern of Jeanne can stand out, clear-cut, simple, uncompromising. The state of political parties, the rich crowd of personages, the endless rivalries, battles, truces, treaties, assassinations, relationships, alliances, enmities, treacheries, produce an effect of maddening bewilderment upon the reader. It seems impossible, at first, that he can ever hope to sort them out. All those various kings and princes – they all seem to have been christened by the same name, or a name chosen out of a most restricted list of names. They all seem to have been each other’s uncles, nephews, cousins, sons-in-law, brothers-in-law, or sometimes merely fathers and sons. The difficulty one found as a child in arranging one’s own relations, who at least were living people with recognisable features, personal characteristics, and known homes, is as nothing compared with the difficulty of distinguishing between these remote figures of history, whose faces are unknown and whose names for the most part are meaningless labels plus a Roman numeral. It is absurdly difficult to differentiate, without a conscious effort, between a Charles V, a Charles VI, and a Charles VII. How greatly do the victims of this system of nomenclature suffer from its levelling impersonality! Immediate and instinctive recognition refuses to leap into the mind. Nor can I believe that any honest reader would maintain that occasional epithets really assist him: John the Good, John the Fearless, Philip the Bold, Charles the Bad – such downright black-and-whiteness fails to convince and offers very little help towards instant identification. Then, again, historians, in an almost inevitable effort to avoid clumsy repetition, seek to vary their descriptive references to the prince in momentary occupation of their paragraphs: he becomes ‘the late king’s son-in-law,’ or ‘the younger brother of the queen,’ or ‘the nephew of the cardinal,’ until the unfortunate reader holds his head in the effort to remember who the late king was, or who the queen is, or who the cardinal. In the case of the historians of Jeanne d’Arc, an extra confusion is introduced, for, since they are obliged constantly to allude to the young man whom Jeanne was trying to restore to his throne, they refer to him now as the Dauphin, now as the King, now as Charles VII, now as Charles tout court, now as ‘the son of the late mad King’ – anything rather than choose one form of designation and, having chosen it, stick to it. All these traps lie in the way of the historian and, conseguently, of his reader. I have suffered from them myself to such an extent that I have come to the conclusion that, even at the risk of monotonous repetition, it is better to say France, France; England, England; Burgundy, Burgundy; Dauphin, Dauphin; Orleans, Orleans; over and over again, rather than introduce a possibly elegant but certainly confusing variation. The difficulty of understanding the situation existing in France at the tin1e when Jeanne d’Arc was a child is sufficiently great without the introduction of stylistic complications.


In order to understand the task which confronted Jeanne, it is necessary to start with some knowledge of the back-history of France up to the tin1e of her birth. Never had a country been so unhappily divided. Not only were Frenchmen divided amongst themselves, but the kingdom itself was disputed by two different thrones. War, both civil and foreign, had intermittently been raging for over seventy years. Stated briefly the position which had led up to the war was as follows:

Through their descent from William the Congueror, the Kings of England had always claimed and enjoyed sovereignty over the greater part of France, Normandy, of course, was theirs, and through Matilda, William the Conqueror’s granddaughter, who had married Geoffrey of Anjou, they also possessed Maine, Anjou, and Touraine. Matilda’s son, Henry II of England, in addition to these inherited provinces, further acquired Gascony, the Limousin, Poitou, tl1e Angoumois, and other territories through his marriage with Eleanor of Aquitaine. It will readily be seen that such a partition of the whole country of France was liable to give rise to serious trouble. Then there were other contributing factors, which need not be gone into in too much detail here, but among which must be mentioned the constant interference of the French in Scottish affairs, and French interference in the vassal county of Flanders. It was obviously impossible for Edward III of England to tolerate the presence of French troops in Scotland; it was equally impossible for him to allow English trade with the Flemings to be imperilled by the actions of France. The Flemings themselves, under the leadership of Jacob van Artevelde, appealed for help to the English King, going so far as to suggest that he should definitely lay claim to the French crown. It would have suited the Flemings admirably to become the vassals of England instead of France, for the English interests were their own, and although they could scarcely support the King of England against their lawful liege the King of France, they could quite well and logically, as the vassals of England, oppose the King of France, if he were to be declared a usurper, in favour of the English King.

This invitation of the Flemings gave Edward III a welcome pretext for laying his claims officially before his own Parliament and also before his princely equals on the Continent. It was, of course, an unjustifiable and, as it proved in the end, an exceedingly foolish step. However, he took it, backed by the support of the German Emperor, the Duke of Brabant, and other rulers. The Hundred Years’ War between France and England had begun (1337). (See map at start of book).

The Hundred Years’ War means, in brief, that for a hundred years the Kings of England attempted to unite France and England under one crown – their own. They tried hereditary justification, and they tried force of arms. Neither attempt, in the long run, was successful. A certain amount of blood was shed, and a considerable amount of suffering entailed, all to no purpose. The Hundred Years’ War was one of the most foolish and ill-advised wars ever undertaken.

It is fortunately not in the least necessary to follow the ups and downs of the English cause throughout the first eighty-odd years of the war. The battles of Poitiers, Crécy, and Agincourt were only incidents in the general complication which obliged the reluctant Jeanne d’Arc to become the saviour of her country. The treaties of Toumai (1340), Brétigny (1360), Auxerre (1412), Arras (1414) the truces of Calais (1347), Bruges (1375), were no more than temporary interruptions in a conflict which must already have begun to seem interminable and insoluble. These battles and treaties and truces all preceded the day when Jeanne rode into Chinon to take control of the situation, and require no more than a passing mention. It is necessary, however, to explain in greater detail the vital Treaty ot Troyes (May 1420). By the terms of this treaty, it was agreed that Henry V of England should:

(i) take the title of regent and heir of France;

(ii) marry Catherine, the daughter of the French King Charles VI, succeed to the throne of France, and thus unite France and England.

(iii) Furthermore it was agreed that no consideration should be accorded to Charles the ‘so-called’ Dauphin, son of Charles VI, the then reigning King: no treaty of peace or concord was to be concluded with him, without the consent of ‘us three’ (the Kings of France and England, and the Duke of Burgundy). This extraordinary clause in the Treaty of Troyes really meant that Charles the Dauphin could henceforward and legally have no say at all in the affairs of France. He was declared a bastard, if not in so many words, then at least by implication.fn1

The marriage of Henry V of England and Catherine of France duly took place (June 1420), but neither Henry nor Charles VI long survived it. Henry V died two years later (August 1422), and Charles VI within two months of his son-in-law (October 1422). Men of very different types, they each left a son who, by reason respectively of his age and his nature, was quite incapable of dealing with the more than awkward position created by the Treaty of Troyes. There were now, in fact, two Kings of France, one of them a baby nine months old, the other a futile youth of nineteen. How could either the little Henry VI of England, or the ineffectual Charles VII of France, grapple with the problem his father had bequeathed to him? Henry VI, of course, was out of the running altogether. His rattle was still more important to him than his sceptre. Cutting his teeth troubled him more than the succession to the throne of France. Charles VII was out of the running also, though for a different reason. In his case, it was not his tender age which precluded him from playing his part in public affairs, but the inherent weakness of his character. For this he was perhaps no more to blame than was Henry VI to blame for having inherited the double crown of England and of France at an age when he could neither walk nor talk. Charles VII could not help being born a backboneless creature, any more than Henry VI could help being nine months old. Neither of them had any choice in the matter. Little people should not be called upon to become great kings. Such a demand of destiny is fair neither upon the sovereign nor the kingdom.

Charles VII had the further excuse of a bad heredity. We cannot know for certain who his father was, his mother, Isabeau de Bavière, according to that clause in the Treaty of Troyes, having implied that he was not the son of his official father Charles VI. Otherwise, she would scarcely have allowed him to be described as the ‘so called’ Dauphin. Was he the son of Charles VI or was he not? Perhaps even his mother could not have answered this question by a yes or a no.fn2 At any rate, she allowed it to be understood by all those who could read between the lines of the Treaty of Troyes that the parentage of her son was, to say the least of it, doubtful. Neither the first nor the last woman to entertain such doubts, she stands out in history as one of the few women so brazen as to declare those doubts in an official document.

Whether Charles VII was the son of the mad Charles VI or not, his heredity on his mother’s side was sufficiently dangerous. Isabeau de Bavière was a woman of the dominating type which tends to produce weak sons. Whetl1er he was the son of Charles VI or not, he was indubitably the son ofisabeau, a mother who had not only allowed it to be publicly insinuated that her child was a bastard, but had also allowed him to be described in terms surely as offensive as were ever applied to a royal prince. He was excluded from all part in public affairs – considéré les horribles et énormes crimes et débits perpétrés audit royaume de France par Charles, soi-disant dauphin viennois, as it was expressed in the Treaty of Troyes. Although there is little to be said in favour of Charles VII, one cannotwithhold all sympathyfrom the son of such a mother. The pressure of her personality on him in his early years must have been crushing, and, moreover, it was his misfortune to be born with a nature meekly resigned to accept insults. Both his mother and his enemies might insult him with impunity. You, Charles of Valois, who used to call yourself Dauphin and now without reason call yourself King … thus the Duke of Bedford addressed him in a letter inviting Charles to meet him in the open field. Charles offered no more retaliation to this piece of insolence than he had previously offered to the brutality of his mother. A poor creature – a poor warped weak creature – it is not surprising that he should have allowed his kingdom to remain split under the domination of other princes, who, whatever their faults, were at least more vigorous men than he.


The above reference to the domination ofother princes leads inevitably to some further exposition of the state of affairs in unhappy France on the deaths of Henry V and Charles VI in 1422. This state of affairs was by then so complicated that the only clear way of setting it forth must lie in numbered paragraphs:

(1) Henry VI of England, an infant nine months old, was recognised, according to the terms of the Treaty of Troyes, as King of France and England, with his uncle, the Duke of Bedford, as regent during his minority.

(2) Charles the Dauphin, nominally Charles VII of France, was excluded from his succession to the French throne by the terms of the Treaty of Troyes.

(3) The French themselves were divided into two parties, known as Burgundians and Armagnacs. The former party took its name from their head, the Duke of Burgundy; the latter from Bernard d’Armagnac, who had assumed the leadership on behalf of the three young sons of the murdered Duke of Orleans. The Armagnac party should thus more properly have become known later on as the Orleanist party, but, since Armagnac’s name stuck to it, its adherents are always referred to as the Armagnacs. Roughly speaking, the west and south were Armagnac, the north and east Burgundian.

(4) These two parties were at bitter enmity. This enmity, which had originated in the old rivalry for power between the Dukes of Burgundy and Orleans, had been further increased by the assassination, in 1407, of Louis of Orleans by John of Burgundy. (This was the occasion when Bernard d’Armagnac had undertaken the leadership of the party for the young sons of the murdered duke.) So bitter was the hostility between the two parties, both personal and political, that all considerations of patriotism were swept aside in the struggle for supremacy. Naturally the French should have united to drive the English for ever out of France. Far from this, the Burgundians entered into a definite alliance with the English, for which reason their faction is often referred to as the Anglo-Burgundian party.

(5) A further incitement was given to their mutual hatred by the murder of John of Burgundy, himself the murderer of Louis of Orleans, in 1419, at Montereau, where he had gone for a meeting with Charles the Dauphin. It is not known for certain whether Charles himself was privy to the plot, but he was regarded by the Burgundians as guilty, and the new Duke of Burgundy, Philip, took an oath that his father’s assassin should never assume the crown of France. In pursuit of this revenge, he acquired the support of Charles’s mother, Isabeau de Bavière, and the Treaty of Troyes (1420) was the direct result, by which the English were more firmly than ever assured of their claim to France.

(6) The Armagnacs, on the other hand, may be regarded as the Nationalist party, since their opposition to the Anglo-Burgundians involved them logically in hostility with the English.

This extremely bald and simplified statement may help to explain the situation in France at the time when Jeanne D’Arc was receiving her first celestial commands at Domremy.


It may help, also, to explain the magnitude of the task Jeanne regarded herself as summoned to undertake. A child in years, she was asked to solve a problem which the most experienced and violent men of two nations had been struggling to solve for nearly a century. On her own side, she was to meet with the poorest backing. Trying to make an impression on Charles VII was almost as unprofitable an occupation as trying to make a permanent dent in a pillow. On the other side, she had at least two men of outstanding personality and ability as her adversaries. What peasant girl could prove herself a match for Philip of Burgundy and John of Lancaster?

John of Lancaster, Duke of Bedford, son of Henry IV and Mary Bohun, brother of Henry V, uncle and godfather of Henry VI, had already lived for twenty-three years in this world when Jeanne d’Arc entered it, and thus had attained the age offorty when she arose to take arms against him. The difference in their ages was even less considerable than the difference in their upbringing. The King’s son had been brought up in the magnificence of the Court; invested with the Order of the Bath at ten years old, with the Garter at eleven, with his duke-dom at fifteen; by the time he was thirty-three he found himself the guardian of his nephew the infant King, Henry VI. It was not very longbefore he found himself Regent of France also. His soldier brother, Henry V, had on his death-bed (1422) directed him to offer this positon to the Duke of Burgundy: the Duke of Burgundy had declined it. The mantle of regency thus descended upon Bedford himsel (Two months after the death of Henry V, he was attending the funeral of Charles VI at St Denis, and re-entered Paris with the naked sword of sovereign power carried before him.

Within a very few months (April 1423) he had concluded an alliance with the Dukes of Burgundy and Brittany, and had married the Duke of Burgundy’s young sister, Anne, at Troyes, in June of the same year.