Joan of Arc: Feminist Leader, Prophet, Influence to all

The ultimate role model for young girls to aspire to be something more.

By Kate McGuire May 6, 2013

This picture of Joan of Arc (Barrett), beautified Saint of the Catholic Church, has come to resemble all the aspects of a female heroine and celebrated strategist who fought for French territory over England under King Charles VII’s rule. This picture comes to depict some of the major feats Joan believed in or fought for between October 1428 to May 30th, 1431 when she was burned at the stake. Joan was born in Doremy, France Jan. 6th, 1412 and lived a simple life, sewing and painting in courtly order to become a well-educated housewife. But Joan was described as being ‘too religious’ by her friends as she would kneel down and pray in the middle of the day while others would mock her. She started hearing voices at age thirteen from Saint Margaret, Saint Catherine, and Saint Michael (Murray). These voices told her that she must be the one to take back France from Anglo-Burgundian rule in God’s name. All of her missions were in the name of God. To Charles VII, in line to take the throne for the King of France, Joan declared “In the name of God! The soldiers will fight and God will give the victory! In the name of God! I have not come to Poitiers to give signs but take me to Orleans and I shall show you signs for which I have been sent!” (Frohlick).

Joan of Arc’s visions, mission, conquests, successes, and defeat originally stemmed from hearing voices. Saints would not necessarily hear voices from God rather, followed God’s vocation for their lives and lived by his word. Joan of Arc herself was highly influenced by the saints of this time period (Murray), when most Europeans were Christian and devotedly followed their church’s doctrines, such as Joan did growing up. The idea of doing something in the name of God was practiced in different aspects through this period. The Inquisition was held in the name of God’s favor, the Crusades were led in God’s holy name, and devout worshippers of the gospel led to the rise of monasteries and nunneries.

Josephine Poole
Joan of Arc by Josephine Poole (Author), Angela Barrett (Illustrator)

A dedicated, driven, and passionate Christian, Joan of Arc (also known from her family name, Jeanne la Pucelle) has risen as a leader of the Catholic Church since her execution in Rouen’s Old Market Square. Joan comes as a symbol of not only peace and a glorified martyr, but as one of the first recognized feminists of the time. She never took off her armor in trials, she led the French military in battles across France to take back its land, she followed God’s voice to eventually gain back most of France, and died for her faith all before age nineteen (Warner 189). One could say that the Inquisition highly influenced the rise of suspected witchcraft leading up to the horrific Salem witch trials beginning in 1692, but Joan’s condemnation and nullification trials influenced the idea that women were to be suspected and accused of witchcraft. Her trials were met with new assessors daily from church officials who travelled across the country to examine her. If Joan had a regular audience to act as a jury and an official inquisitor who questioned her voices and actions, her argument would have remained consistent. Had she had an appointed inquisitor, her argument’s consistency would prove strong enough to where she may have faced a punishment or be imprisoned rather than be condemned as heretical. But Joan was questioned by multiple inquisitors who asked the same questions in different forms and she would refuse to answer or respond by asking them to refer to her earlier answers, which made the assessor’s job difficult, and overall, did not favor Joan (Warner 120-121).

Just like Joan was questioned by many accusers in her trials, so were the women charged within the Salem witch trials. In a typical trial, an accuser would make a claim stating that a person or a group of people were witches to the Magistrate. From there, those accused were persecuted by a number of trials where they were deemed witches or usually received some other type of punishment. Pertaining to Salem, Massachusetts, “witches” were hanged after being convicted for witchcraft. All accusers of Joan found her guilty of one common theme, her voices (Warner 88-89), stating the voices she heard were not those of saints, but of illusions and that these voices were not consistent with each other. One account of Joan’s fist message from her “voices” states: “Joan, you must lead another life and perform wondrous deeds; for you are she whom the King of Heaven has chosen to bring reparation to the kingdom of France and protection to King Charles” (Frohlick). Assessors, after hearing claims like these from Joan about her so-called voices brought about the suspicion of heresy, and from thereon Joan was considered a heretic.

There came a point in Joan’s trials where they questioned whether these proclamations came from her own goals to save France or those of actual saints she was hearing, and from there her argument deteriorated. A cross-examiner, Beaupere, began asking detailed questions about things that most Christians might consider unexplainable, and Joan would then start refusing to answer questions or say things that didn’t necessarily coincide with what she said to any other examiner (Warner 89). Accusers found a way to break down her argument. In order to make Joan look unknowledgeable about her visions, assessors asked detailed questions that may have or may have not pertained to the whether she was heretical. By not answering correctly to these questions, Joan was proclaimed as a heretic and was ordered to be burned alive at the stake.

Salem officials looked to the trials of the Inquisition, especially the famous trials of Joan of Arc to begin witchcraft examinations within their community. Joan’s assessors looked past her sharp, witty rhetoric to ask meaningless questions that pursued recollections of her saints and voices, but, since she couldn’t answer as intellectually as she thought she could, her argument broke down. As for the Salem witch trials, the officials found the most radical accusations from townspeople to question the women without hesitation. Once heresy was found to be the most common practice of witches among these women, the community of Salem joined into the trials as if they were some type of entertainment; such as it was in Joan’s case, where people would come to hear her trials and wait patiently for her punishment, as if it were a show the community was waiting to attend on opening night.

Now Joan wasn’t necessarily guided by a blind faith because, as she pointed out in her trials, she could see the faces of her saints but not their bodies (Keko), and that there was a light that came from the voices. Joan said she spoke with these saints daily and that they were not to be named. Joan never gave the name of these saints except to King Charles until she was forced to in her trials when she was trying to save her own life. Her trials were conducted in such a way that she was to know every aspect of her faith in the saints, down to details of clothing that they wore (Lucie-Smith 267). Paying attention to the color of the clothes a saint is wearing would matter very little in comparison to what the saint is saying. Instead of focusing on her intent, her successes in battle, or her faith in God as well, the assessors chose to focus on Joan’s voices and condemn her for listening to them.

Joan of Arc became recognized not only as a famous heroine and saint in the Catholic Church but was received as a leader and founder of the feminist movement. The women’s suffrage was a great example of Joan’s influence on women as Joan came to represent more than just a simple-minded girl lost in history books, she symbolized individual and independent thinking. In her trials, Joan was not afraid to ask questions in a rhetorical manner back to her inquisitors. She would give short answers because she believed the questions being asked had a simple answer. As seen in Joan’s public examination trials she would say that she had already answered that question and would often refer to what she had previously said, like when she would refuse to swear on the Bible because she had already performed the oath in the first trial (Murray). In a time when a woman was required to stay in the house and do work like take care of children and clean, the idea to even fight for a cause as a female was ridiculous and pathetic as women did not engage in political arguments with men or superiors.

Just as the women in the suffrage movement were fighting for their rights within their sex and the rights for all females as a nation, Joan too would make the claim that she was fighting not based on her own agenda and mindset but rather she fought based off her voices in a mission for God. “Everything that I have done that was good I did by command of my voices,” Joan said in response to the inquisitors about how she governed her conduct (Lucie-Smith 15).  Joan influenced the coming of the women’s suffrage movement in the 1920’s by fighting for the greater good of her country rather than fight based on her own interests. While the suffrage movement was based out of individual females pursuing their own rights separately, the greater good for all women of the U.S was being fought for. Not only were these women of the suffrage movement fighting for their own right, or the nation’s rights, they were fighting for women of the future (Lewis). In our society today, would the typical woman be able to educate her mind and shape herself as an equal intellectual among men if the suffrage movement did not occur and her rights were not recognized? Joan of Arc influenced the idea that men and women could be equal in both an intellectual aspect as well as a physical aspect.

Joan represents the fact that females could fight and had the strength of men. In Joan of Arc: The Image of Female Heroism by Marina Warner, Joan is portrayed as a girl on a mission to gain the Anglo-Burgundian land back for the future French king, Charles VII, as she fought like a man when she laid assaults on Orleans, Rheims, Paris, St. Pierre, La Charite-sur-Loire, and Lagny (Warner xxi-xxvi). She is described as fighting with honor under God’s will. This led to the beginning of women stepping out of a traditional role to fulfill the physical characteristics of men. From her example, women were allowed to fight in wars, play in dominantly-male sports, be educated in traditionally male schools and universities, be employed as equals alongside men in the workforce, and become more than just the stereotypical housewife position.

Recently, on May 16th, 1920, Joan of Arc was made a saint in the Catholic Church by Pope Benedict XV. Her visions, unyielding drive in and out of her faith in God, and determination to die for her God made her a saint. Coincidently, three months later on August 26th, 1920, the 19th Amendment was added to the constitution. The 19th Amendment allowed women to vote, all in response towards the women’s suffrage movement. Joan’s representation in the women’s suffrage movement is best seen when Inez Milholland rode on top of a white horse with a white cape leading a suffrage march in Washington. Milholland wanted to symbolize Joan as an example for all women to follow; to not be afraid to step into a man’s role, as women will succeed (Library of Congress). As this just appears to be an act of fate, the two recognizable acts, Joan’s canonization and the 19th amendment, go hand in hand as she symbolized women’s’ power to overcome the boundaries set before them. In accordance to Joan’s saints, Christians are still guided by a somewhat blind faith. We neither see nor feel God, but Christians do talk to him and follow His word. We try to understand where he comes from, where humans come from, how we are formed and what we were made to do on this Earth etc., and Christianity provides an answer to these questions, the Bible, but the Bible does not answer everything. Christians follow a faith in God because they believe that is the way to eternal life in Heaven, among other things. Looking at Christians who compare themselves to Joan of Arc, one can see that Christians are trying to pursue the same type of enlightenment that she received from her voices. If Joan was pursued as harshly as she was then, because of her devotion to God, should Christians not also receive the same type of punishment? Since these are modernized times, the idea to be burned at the stake and become a martyred saint would most likely not happen, but it comes to show that although times have changes, voices from God are still heard today. Joan should not have received any type of punishment by the church if Christians today listen to the same voices from God.

Joan of Arc was a celebrated woman nearly twenty years after her death but received hate and spite from her comrades and enemies. While her trials, conducted by corrupt church officials, led to history repeating itself during the Salem witchcraft trails, she became a feminist heroine by setting the stage for acts of women power where anyone can step into a male-dominated role and succeed where her voices are not a thing of the past but are present in Christianity today. From Warner’s Joan of Arc: The Image of Female Heroism,

“Joan of Arc is a preeminent heroine because she belongs to the sphere of action, while so many feminine figures or models are assigned and confined to the sphere of doing something on her own, not by birthright. She has extended the taxonomy of female types; she makes evident the dimension of women’s dynamism” (Warner 9).

From this research one can see that Joan of Arc came to represent a lot more than a folk-tale heroine from history books; instead her influence has spread across multiple genres of topics and is still discussed thoroughly in Christianity, law, and women today. She is the ultimate role model for young girls to aspire to be something more than what they think they can be.

Works Cited

Barrett, Angela. “Joan of Arc.” Image. Europe Artifacts. Ed. BIC World Cultures. Bearspace Baylor, n.d. Web. 2 Feb. 2013.

Frohlick, Virginia. “Saint Joan of Arc Center.” The Saint Joan of Arc Center. n.d. Web. 28 March 2013.

Keko, Don. “Joan of Arc: The Visions.” The Examiner. 29 May 2011. Newspaper Article. 28 March 2013.

Lewis, Jone Johnson. “August 26, 1920 The Day the Suffrage Battle Was Won.” n.d. Web. 28 March 2013.

Library of Congress. “Profiles: Selected Leaders of the National Women’s Party.” The Library of Congress. n.d. Web. 27 March 2013.

Lucie-Smith, Edward. “Joan of Arc.” Great Britain: Penguin Books, 1976. Print.

Murray, Douglas. “Jeanne d’Arc, Maid of Orleans: Deliver of France.” Introduction. Jeanne d’Arc – Joan of Arc 1412-1431. Ed. Soren Bie. Vers. 4.0. N.p., 1 Jan. 2001. Web. 6 Apr. 2013.

Warner, Marina. “Joan of Arc: The Image of Female Heroism.” Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1981. Print.

WriteWork contributors. “Women in the Middle Ages (early 1400s-late 1500s)”, 07 June, 2004. Web. 02 Apr. 2013.

Kate McGuire May 6, 2013