Cross-dressing, gender identity, and sexuality of Jeanne d’Arc
Jeanne’s involvement during the Hundred Years War entailed accompanying an army and adopting the outfit of a male soldier. This ultimately provided a pretense for her conviction and execution. Whether her crossdressing and lifestyle might have implications for her sexuality or gender identity has been debated.
Kelly DeVries notes that, “No person of the Middle Ages, male or female, has been the subject of more study than Jeanne d’Arc. She has been portrayed as saint, heretic, religious zealot, seer, demented teenager, proto-feminist, aristocratic wanna-be, savior of France, person who turned the tide of the Hundred Years War and even Marxist liberator.” Due to such widely differing interpretations of her life and its meaning, many interpretations of the implications of her adoption of male clothing and lifestyle have been debated.
Worn by Ingrid Bergman in the film Joan of Arc, 1948. Jeanne’s shoes could very likely have been in the same style
Jeanne first adopted male clothing at Vaucouleurs on February 22, 1429 before setting out on her journey to gain an audience with Charles VII at Chinon. Eyewitness accounts exist from two of the soldiers who escorted her through enemy-occupied territory from Vaucouleurs to Chinon, Jean de Metz and Bertrand de Poulengy, who described the circumstances in which she changed from a woman’s dress to soldiers’ clothing. Jean de Metz said: “I saw Jeanne wearing a poor outfit, a woman’s red dress… And I asked her if she was planning to go [to Chinon] in her own clothes. She replied that she would be willing to have male clothing. I provided her with clothing and boots belonging to one of my servants; and when this was done, the inhabitants of Vaucouleurs had male clothing, boots, greaves, and other necessary items made for her”. Bertrand de Poulengy said she kept this clothing on and securely tied while sleeping next to her escort : “Every night she slept alongside Jean de Metz and myself, wearing her surcoat and hosen, tied tightly together.” This last phrase describes a point which became important during Jeanne’s trial: a man’s outfit from this era would have cords that were used to tie the hosen to the surcoat, which served in place of a belt but could also prevent someone else from forcibly pulling off the clothing. The clergy who served during Jeanne’s trial later said she kept her outfit tied tightly together during her months in prison, as she had when sleeping beside her soldiers, because she said she needed such an outfit to protect herself from possible rape : “[when the judge told her] that it wasn’t proper for a woman to wear a man’s tunic [and] hosen firmly tied together with many cords, she said she didn’t dare give up the hosen, nor to keep them but firmly tied, because the Bishop and Earl well knew, as they themselves said, that her guards had attempted to rape her a number of times”. As the trial transcript noted, she wore “long, conjoined hosen, attached to the aforesaid doublet with twenty cords” and “tight waist-high boots [i.e. long cavalry boots]”. In the army, she also wore a suit of armor and kept it on even at night when among soldiers: “if it so happened that she had to lodge in the fields with the soldiers, she never removed her armor.”
Whenever her soldier’s clothing was not immediately needed on campaign, she was said to have gone back to wearing female clothing: one 15th century source says, “[when she climbs off her warhorse] she resumes her usual feminine clothing”.
After she was captured on May 23, 1430 at the siege of Compiegne, Jeanne was given to the English, imprisoned, and subsequently tried for heresy by a tribunal led by Pierre Cauchon. One of the tribunal members, Guillaume Manchon, recalled: “And she was then dressed in male clothing, and was complaining that she could not give it up, fearing lest in the night her guards would inflict some act of [sexual] outrage upon her; and she had complained once or twice to the Bishop of Beauvais, the Vice-Inquisitor, and Master Nicholas Loiseleur that one of the aforesaid guards had tried to rape her.”.
The trial record omits much information on this issue, but does contain quotes from her protesting that she was not doing anything wrong. As Pernoud and Clin note, “Other questions about her mode of dress provoked only repetitions of these answers: She had done nothing that was not by the commandment of God. Probably not even Cauchon could then have guessed the importance that her mode of dress would come to assume.”
The court finally decided to use the charge of cross-dressing against her. On May 24, 1431, Jeanne was forced to sign a cedula, possibly without understanding what was actually written on it, indicating that she would no longer wear men’s clothing. When the issue came up, she replied (in the words of one eyewitness): “she had adopted male clothing because she had to live among soldiers, among whom it was safer and more appropriate for her to be in male, rather than female, clothing; and that what she was doing and had done, she had done properly.”
Four days later she resumed the male clothing. The chief trial notary later said: “she was asked why she had readopted this male clothing, to which she replied that she had done it for the protection of her virginity, for she was not secure while wearing female clothing with her guards, who had tried to rape her, which she had complained about many times to the Bishop and Earl; and [she said] that the judges had promised her that she would be placed in the custody of, and in the prisons of, the Church, and that she would have a woman with her [i.e., a nun, following Inquisitorial procedure]; additionally saying that if it would please the lord judges to place her in a safe location in which she would not be afraid, then she was prepared to readopt female clothing”
The trial bailiff remembered that in the end the English guards gave her no other choice but to put the male clothing back on: “When she had to get out of bed… she had requested of these Englishmen, her guards: ‘Unchain me, so I can get up’. And then one of these Englishmen took away the female clothing which she had, and they emptied the sack in which the male clothing was, and tossed this clothing upon her while telling her, ‘Get up’; and they put away the female clothing in the aforementioned sack. And, as she said, she put on the male clothing they had given her, [after] saying, ‘Sirs, you know this is forbidden me: without fail, I will not accept it.’ But nevertheless they wouldn’t give her anything else, so that she continued in this argument with them until the hour of noon; and finally, she was compelled by the necessity of the body to leave the room and hence to wear this clothing; and after she returned, they still wouldn’t give her anything else [to wear] regardless of any appeal or request she made of them.”
She was declared “relapsed”, giving the court nominal justification to have her executed (“Only those who had relapsed — that is, those who having once adjured their errors returned to them — could be condemned to death by a tribunal of the Inquisition and delivered for death.”) On May 30, 1431, Jeanne d’Arc was burned at the stake.