After prolonged, intensive questioning by Cauchon and the other members of the tribunal, Jeanne d’Arc gave them no answers that could constitute heresy. They accused her of practicing sorcery, but she testified repeatedly that she only followed the word of God and believed in the infallibility of the Church and Pope.
The clerics then proclaimed that her cross-dressing was an abomination to God, to which she answered, “the clothes are a small matter, the least of all things”. However, Cauchon soon realized that through a technicality in canon law, the tribunal could condemn her on this small thing.
When Cauchon later asked Jeanne d’Arc whether she would ever disobey the Church, she responded, in her usual fashion, that she only fulfilled the word of God. But the Church that Cauchon referred to was something called the Church Militant, or the Catholic Church on Earth, not the Church in heaven with God, known as the Church Triumph. That meant if Jeanne d’Arc didn’t obey the directives of the tribunal on behalf of the Church Militant, she would technically be in disobedience of the church and a heretic.
On May 24, the tribunal convinced Jeanne d’Arc to sign a legal document stating her submission to the Church and recanting her claims about hearing the saints’ voices. Attached to that document was a cedula, or royal decree, also avowing that she would no longer wear men’s clothing. Upon her renunciation, the tribunal released Jeanne d’Arc back to prison without indicting her for any crime.
Yet, three days later in prison, Jeanne d’Arc was again wearing men’s clothes. In a later trial, some testified that guards had stolen Jeanne’s female clothes and replaced them with male clothes. Whatever the case, as soon as Cauchon heard the news, he immediately condemned her for lapsed heresy on the grounds of cross-dressing. The same day, the tribunal handed Jeanne d’Arc over to the secular court for her punishment: burning at the stake.
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.
Worn by Ingrid Bergman in the film Joan of Arc, 1948.Jeanne’s shoes could very likely have been in the same style
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.
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.
Concerning crossdressing, the medieval Church’s doctrine combined a general prohibition with an exception in cases of necessity. The Biblical source for the general prohibition was Deuteronomy 22:5, which states, “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man …” On the other hand, guidelines in the “Summa Theologica” of St. Thomas Aquinas and other medieval theological sources acknowledged exceptions: “… it is in itself sinful for a woman to wear man’s clothes, or vice versa … Nevertheless this may be done sometimes without sin on account of some necessity, either in order to hide oneself from enemies, or through lack of other clothes, or for some similar motive.” Likewise, similar exceptions are listed in other standard theological works of the period.
The “Rosarium super Decreto” written between 1296 and 1300 by Guido de Baysio, Archdeacon of Bologna and a prominent theologian, states the following : “If a woman should have a proper purpose, such as in order to [safely] travel abroad, or to protect her chastity under other circumstances when there is fear of losing it, or if some other necessity should arise, she is not committing a sin if she should then make use of male clothing to more easily evade danger or otherwise engage in proper and fitting activity.” A similar principle is found in another theological “Summa”, that of Hugo of Pisa, Bishop of Ferrara, written c. 1187.
The book “Scivias” (c. 1151) by St. Hildegard von Bingen, says: “A man should never put on feminine dress or a woman use male attire… Unless a man’s life or a woman’s chastity is in danger; in such an hour a man may change his dress for a woman’s or a woman for a man’s…”
This made crossdressing sometimes acceptable in certain limited circumstances under ecclesiastical law. Vern and Bonnie Bullough note that despite the specific canons against it, one might search the church fathers in vain for overt and unconditional approbations on transvestism.
Female saints who crossdressed out of necessity were in fact a fairly common medieval archetype, and provided one of the grounds used to defend Jeanne’s clothing by her supporters. St. Margaret followed the classic story: fearing the loss of her virginity on her wedding night, she cut off her hair, donned male attire, left her husband, joined a monastery, passing herself off as “Brother Pelagius”. The devil tested her by framing her for the pregnancy of one of the nuns, and she was driven into exile. She clung to her identity until her deathbed, where she confessed and was absolved of guilt. 15th century Europe had a significant cultural lore of such saints extending back nearly as far as the history of Christianity.
Saint Thecla, sourced from the New Testament Apocrypha The “Acts of Paul and Thecla”, was so enraptured with the teachings of Paul that she left her fiance and followed him, dressing as a man part of the time while in his retinue. Thecla’s story was very popular and widespread, with depictions of her and dedications ranging from Antioch to Iberia. According to Dekker and van de Pol, “The transformation into a man was a very dominant theme with female saints from the fifth to the seventh century. Saint Margaret, for example, escaped on her wedding night in men’s clothes. … A saint especially popular among the common people in Europe from the eleventh century on … was Saint Uncumber. She was a Portuguese princess who refused to be married to the heathen King of Sicily, and prayed to God to be saved from this fate. Her salvation was unusual; she suddenly grew a beard. Variations on this theme recur more often … As always, myth and reality interact, and several medieval women took these saints as their models. The example that first comes to mind here is Jeanne d’Arc.” Numerous legends and tales from Medieval Europe (and elsewhere in the world) discuss transvestism and sex change. Folklorist Stith Thompson documents only a few traditional “sex tests” for unmasking men dressed as women, but numerous tests for women, ranging from placing a spinning wheel nearby to scattering peas on the ground to slip women but not men. The latter example is well known from Grimm’s Fairy Tales, but can be found in William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, and the trick is even attributed to as far back as King Solomon.
During and immediately following Jeanne’s life, perspectives on her varied widely, often (although not always) along partisan lines.
Comments from English soldiers ranged from referring to her as a “bloody tart” to asking “whether she expected [their soldiers] to surrender to a woman” and referring to her troops as “unbelieving pimps”. The English author of The Brut claimed that her troops followed her by “crafte of sorcerie [sic]”. After his defeat at Orleans, Bedford reported to the English crown that his men had been bewitched by a satanic agent in the form of a woman dressed as a man. On the other side of the Channel, the situation was largely reversed. The French Royal government, although skeptical, had accepted her after she was questioned and approved by clergy in the city of Poitiers. These clerics had determined that “nothing improper has been found in her, only good, humility, chastity, piety, propriety, simplicity.”
In the army, there was little hesitation. Of special note was the loyalty given to her by her soldiers and the citizens of Orleans. The author of the Journal du siege d’Orleans noted that “All regarded her with much affection, men and women, as well as small children.” Jean de Macon, an eyewitness to the siege of Orleans, noted that there was only one act of derision, while the Cronique de Lorraine added that ” ‘All the army promised to always obey her.’ Each victory motivated more loyalty and further victory. Even disobedience to her higher command seems to have invited loyalty; she brought action and victory, while the older, noble generals achieved nothing but inaction and defeat.”
Jean Gerson, a famous theologian who was popularly viewed by his contemporaries as a living saint, wrote a treatise in Jeanne’s defense dated May 14, 1429. Gerson points out the contextual basis of the Church’s law, arguing that crossdressing due to necessity does not violate ecclesiastical rules, therefore Jeanne is not guilty of any wrongdoing.
In the same month, the Archbishop of Embrun also weighed in to support Jeanne. He argues, like Gerson, that a woman taking part in a military campaign needs to wear suitable clothing, therefore this is a circumstance driven by necessity. He defends her against her detractors by stating that there is “nothing [about her] which is not proper to feminine modesty”.
Later in that year, the Inquisitor of Toulouse wrote a text in which he agrees with Gerson’s defense of Jeanne’s clothing, and approvingly refers to her exploits as “so profound, so lofty, never before witnessed, that one cannot read of anything similar since the foundation of the world”.
It should be unsurprising, then, that these viewpoints tended to extend to her trials — first the Condemnation trial in the hands of the English, and later the Rehabilitation trial under a commission appointed by Pope Calixtus III in response to an appeal by Jeanne’s mother and brothers. As Jane Marie Pinzino notes, “The pro-English (Burgundian) party into whose hands Jeanne fell in 1430, over a year after her role in the vital French victory at Orleans, worked to defame her self-asserted divine calling and executed her at age nineteen in the marketplace of Rouen in 1431. In the years following, however, political power in France permanently reverted to the pro-French (Armagnac) party of Jeanne’s supporters. Promptly after Normandy and the city of Rouen itself had been restored to the French (1449) and the ecclesiastical archives there were retrieved and opened, the proceedings to nullify Jeanne d’Arc’s condemnation were undertaken…”
The trial in 1431 found Jeanne’s transvestism condemning. The primary cross-dressing charge evaded the issue of necessity, thereby sidestepping the exceptions provided in medieval Catholic theology.
On February 15, 1450, shortly after Charles VII’s forces entered Rouen, the site of Jeanne’s trial, Charles dispatched a letter ordering an investigation of that trial by a clergyman, Guillaume Bouille. In May of 1452, the chief Inquisitor of France, Jean Brehal, continued the investigation. Jeanne’s family petitioned the Church to conduct a full appeal, which began in November of 1455. As Pernoud and Clin note, “That trial was now a symbol of complex cultural fissures in search of closure: of the internal fractures of a riven France, of national splits enervated by English invasion, and of religious and civil power struggles sustained by the University of Paris.”
The appellate process covered all the major points of the original trial, including the charges of transvestism. Individuals testifying during this retrial stressed the necessity of her clothing for protecting her chastity. Guillaume Manchon testified, “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… 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 same justification was given for her relapse by a number of witnesses, such as Friar Martin Ladvenu, Pierre Cusquel, and Friar Isambart de la Pierre. A number of others, such as Jean Massieu, Pierre Daron, and Guillaume Colles, said that her guards finally entrapped her into wearing male clothing. Massieu said: “when Jeanne was accused of having relapsed, she replied that as she was lying in bed, her guards removed the female clothing from the bed in which she was lying, and gave her the male outfit; and although she asked the guards to return the female clothing so she could leave her bed… they refused to give it back to her, saying that she would not receive anything but the aforesaid male clothing.” The appeals process resulted in a reversal of the previous verdict. Inquisitor Brehal ruled that Jeanne’s crossdressing should not have been used as the basis for a conviction. Four bishops consulted during the appeals process gave similar opinions, most of them referring to Aquinas’ formulation of the Church’s position on crossdressing.
A few years later Pope Pius II included commentary about Jeanne d’Arc’s trial and retrial in his memoirs, writing a favorable and sympathetic opinion of her based on the materials produced during the appeals process. He commented that she had innocently put on male clothing, “not knowing that she was putting on death.”
Among the first writers to raise issues of gender identity and sexuality was novelist Vita Sackville-West. In “Saint Joan of Arc”, published in 1936, she seems to indirectly suggest that Jeanne d’Arc may have been a lesbian by mentioning that Jeanne sometimes was placed in the same bed with “young girls” such as the nine-year-old child Charlotte Boucher. This has been interpreted by some readers as evidence of lesbianism. This interpretation has been contested by a number of authors. The most prominent counter-argument runs as follows: placing members of the same sex together in bed was a common medieval practice, therefore it would have no connotations in regard to sexuality. Bonnie Wheeler of the International Jeanne d’Arc Society called Sackville-West’s book “dead wrong but fun”.
More recent alternative interpretations have included the following:
Steven Weiskopf has put forward the view that Jeanne’s burned body was exposed to the crowd at Rouen because people doubted whether she was male or female. Weiskopf states, ‘What “doubt” haunts the crowd in the Bourgeois’s description? … Anne Llewellyn Barstow offers the most literal explanation, linking the Bourgeois’s morbid description to the crowd’s fascination with and confusion over Jeanne’s sexual identity.”‘ This view has been called into question by a number of books, such as Pernoud’s “Joan of Arc By Herself And Her Witnesses”, which quotes the eyewitness account of a Rouen clergyman named Jean Riquier. According to Riquier, the English ordered Jeanne’s body to be exposed to the crowd in order to prove that she was actually dead and hadn’t escaped (while smoke had obscured the scene, or by witchcraft or other supernatural means) just as when someone was beheaded it was common practice for the executioner to display the severed head to the crowd to prove the person had in fact been beheaded. Riquier recalled: “And when she was dead, as the English feared lest it be said that she had escaped, they told the executioner to push back the fire a little so that those present could see her dead, that it be not said she had escaped…”
Leslie Feinberg has suggested that Jeanne d’Arc’s male clothing indicates a transgender identity,; Marina Warner similarly argued that Jeanne’s clothing allowed her to “occupy a different, third order, neither male nor female”, and Susan Crane has argued that male clothing defined her as a lesbian. Crane writes: “Isolating transvestism from sexual identity risks assuming both that heterosexuality is the only possible position for Jeanne and that self-presentation has nothing to do with sexuality”. These arguments have also been called into question by other authors. Some have argued that female crossdressing does not prove lesbianism or transgenderism, pointing out that there are many women in the armed forces today who wear “male” combat uniforms in a traditionally male army and yet do not identify themselves as either lesbian or transgender. Likewise, authors such as Régine Pernoud have pointed to Jeanne’s recorded statements (some of which have already been quoted here previously) about her usage of soldier’s clothing as a defense against rape rather than because of sexual identity issues.
Olivier Bouzy has argued that the opinion on Jeanne’s crossdressing contained in Jacques Gelu’s treatise “…has hardly ever been consulted by historians, although it provides interesting evidence for the way the fifteenth-century church perceived Jeanne. The text stresses the problem of Jeanne’s cross dressing — this shows that in 1429, even the prelates who supported Charles VII were reluctant to accept a young girl dressed as a man.” Bouzy’s allegation has been called into question by books such as Deborah Fraioli’s “Jeanne d’Arc: The Early Debate”. Fraioli provides quotations from Jacques Gelu on the matter of Jeanne’s male clothing, including several supportive justifications. Gelu argues that she needs soldier’s clothing to take part in a military campaign : Fraioli writes, “Gelu argues the case for Jeanne’s male dress given the needs of her mission… to lead the king’s army, subdue the rebels, expel the enemies, and restore the king to his dominion.”. Gelu, according to Fraioli, also argued that Jeanne did not violate the intent of Biblical law, since she was acting according to necessity: ‘ “To know the law”, writes Gelu, “is not to know the written law but the intention.” …Furthermore, following Aquinas, he notes that similar lives require similar dress.’
Hence 600 years later, Jeanne d’Arc’s male clothing remains a subject of debate.