The Virgin body

What did this female soldier of the 15th century look like?

We can only answer that we know very little indeed. We know that she was about five foot two in height, thickly made, muscular, and very strong. Her eyes were far apart, and somewhat prominent. Her hair was black. She was reasonably good-looking, but by no means pretty. Her complexion was distinctly dark. She had a red birthmark her left ear, and was gifted with a low, sweet and compelling voice. That is absolutely all we know of her physical characteristics.

A further description of the Maid is contained in a letter from Milan, written on 21st June 1429. De Boulainvilliers was Chamberlain to CharlesVII, and Seneschal of Berry. His description is as follows:

“This girl is reasonably good-looking, and with something virile in her bearing; she speaks but little, and is remarkably prudent, in what she does say. She eats little, and drinks wine still less; manages both her horse and her arms superbly well; greatly likes the company of knights and soldiers; scorns the company of the rabble; sheds many tears; has a happy expression; so great is her strength in the endurance of fatigue that she could remain completely armed during six whole days and nights.

What did this female soldier of the 15th century look like? The Princess of Hungary, Eugelide, led us to believe that ‘Jeanne had a short neck and a little bright red mark behind her right ear.’ Jeanne begins to be mentioned in history, as a young girl of 12–13 years old.

Jeanne was born into a family of healthy parents; she did her housework, worked in the fields, tended the cattle and took part as a member of a country family. With these tasks, one might expect Jeanne to have rough hands, dark skin from spending so much time in the sun, and strong muscles. It would be expected that a future soldier must be tough and sturdy in order to lead the life which she led for herself.

The people of Domremy testified that Jeanne ‘had moral character and a sweet nature.’ Consistent accounts are given that Jeanne’s hair was short and black, that she had brown eyes and her complexion was dark and sun-burnt. As Jeanne arrived in Chinon, Philip of Bergamo said, ‘she was short as to her stature.’

She is described as a short, sturdy woman, with black hair. She wore man’s clothes (this was in fact the main reason for her death sentence) The clothing consisted of a shirt, shorts, a doublet (padded undercoat), hose that were attached to the doublet, tight-fitting boots, leggings, a short coat of mail with a solid breastplate, and an overcoat that reached until the knees. On top of all that she usually wore a luxurious tabard and a black hat. She carried weapons, like sword and lance, and she had her banner and her shield specially made, with her own heraldic symbols.

Statue in Cathedrale de Strasbourg
Statue in Cathedrale de Strasbourg
Statue of Jeanne d'Arc in Reims cathedral
Statue of Jeanne d'Arc in Reims cathedral

By all accounts, she looked like a sturdy peasant girl; later portrayals of her have been romanticized to make her beautiful and noble-looking.

According to Jean D’Aulon, Jeanne’s steward, who often helped her to get in and out of her suit of armor and slept many times in the same room as Jeanne, described her as being beautiful, strong, and well-formed (shapely).

The Duke D’Alencon, one of Jeanne’s military commanders, described her in the same way. D’Aulon stated that he often saw Jeanne’s naked legs and breasts when he had to dress her wounds in battle. He said he never felt lust for Jeanne, pretty as she was, because he thought it would be shameful to have such feelings for such an inspiring and religious person.

Every description of Jeanne’s hair was that it was short and black. Her eyes were described as “large, dark, and grave”.

Adrian Harmand, a French scholar, discovered an order by the Duke of Orleans for several articles of clothing for Jeanne, of which one was a robe “of fine Brussels cloth” of 80 cm. in length. From this (a robe would go from Jeanne’s shoulders to her knees), he determined Jeanne’s height to be 1.58 meters, or about 5 feet, two inches, which would be short for a woman today but for the latter Middle Ages about normal or even a little above average.

Virginity

Her virginity was noted by mature women, at Poitiers/Tours in March 1429 and at Rouen, on 13 January 1431. It is known that Yolande was one of the ladies of the court who, at Tours, examined Jeanne for virginity. (This was to intended to withdraw any suspicion of sorcery)

Character/Personality

Jeanne was a virile bearing, spoke little, showed an admirable prudence in all of her words, had a pretty woman’s voice, and was persuasive. The testimony of well over 600 people who knew her would be recorded in court. Not even in the trial, which was rigged illegally by her prosecutors, would any witness speak a word against her.

Portrait

No contemporary picture exists of Jeanne d’Arc. She denied ever sitting for a portrait. The only surviving image of Jeanne d’Arc that was made during her lifetime is a doodle by Clément de Fauquembergue in the register for the Parlement of Paris. This accompanied the news of her victory at Orléans. She had never been near Paris at that point in her career, so he could not have known what she looked like.

Eating habits

Jeanne’s mother testified that from her youth Jeanne often fasted with great piety and devotion for the suffering of the people. During her trial Jeanne was questioned at least twice regarding her eating habits.

*Louis de Contes:
“I saw her eat nothing during a whole day but a morsel of bread. I was astonished that she ate so little. When she was in her lodging she ate only twice a day.”

*Colette, wife of Pierre Milet:
“Jeanne was very frugal in eating and drinking. There was nothing but modesty in her conduct, in her actions, and in all her manner of life.”

*Jean, Bastard of Orleans, Count de Dunois.
“Jeanne was taken to her house, to receive the care which her wound required. When the surgeon had dressed it, she began to eat, contenting herself with four or five slices of bread dipped in wine and water, without, on that day, having eaten or drunk anything else.”

(*From The Trial of Nullification)

Haircut

Every description of Jeanne’s hair was that it was short and black. Her hair had been short-cropped all around, just above the ears, similar to the [pudding-basin] hairstyle of contemporary, fashionable men. She also kept her hair cut short through her military campaigns and while in prison. Her supporters, such as the theologian Jean Gerson, defended her hairstyle, as did Inquisitor Brehal later during the Rehabilitation trial. Jeanne d’Arc’s short haircut had a profound effect on women’s hairstyles in the twentieth century. In 1909, the Paris hairdresser Antoine took Jeanne d’Arc as the inspiration for the bob, which ended centuries of taboo against women who cut their hair.

The style became popular in the 1920s and was associated with liberated women. Nearly all subsequent Western hair fashions are designed for women who cut their hair at least occasionally. Such haircut is still known in French as coupe à la Jeanne d’Arc (Jeanne d’Arc’s haircut).

A single black hair

From the letter addressed to the citizens of Riom. This Letter came to light among the archives as recently as 1844.

The interesting point about it is that a single black hair had been pressed into the wax of the seal by a finger. The custom whereby the writer of a letter plucked a hair from his head and pressed it into his seal was frequent at the time; it was an additional guarantee of the authenticity of the document; so it may be taken as reasonably certain that the hair came from Jeanne’s head, which gives additional confirmation to the tradition that she was ´black and swart`

Sadly, the single black hair and the wax seal have since been lost, even though the letter itself is still intact in the archives.

Seen from the text above, here are six completely different examples of how the woman might have looked

St. Gemma Galgani (1878-1903)

Yvonne Beauvais (the future Mother Yvonne-Aimée de Jésus)
Unknown year. Probably early 1900’s

Unknown portrait. ca. 1895 – 1905
Portrait by photographer Wilhelm von Gloeden

Unknown portrait. ca. 1895 – 1905
Portrait by photographer Wilhelm von Gloeden

Unknown portrait. ca. 1895 – 1905
Portrait by photographer Wilhelm von Gloeden

Unknown portrait. ca. 1895 – 1905
Portrait by photographer Wilhelm von Gloeden