Merlin and the myth about the maid of Lorraine

"France will be lost by a woman and saved by a virgin from the oak forests of Lorraine"

Boutet De Monvel - La Vie De Jeanne D’Arc

The legend evolved many years before Jeanne d’Arc was born. The prophecies were vague but concerned a young maid of honor and sacrifice who would become the savior of France. Some of these spoke of a maid of humble beginnings who would come from the “borders of Lorraine” or from the area of the Oak Forrest. She would be dressed in armor, carrying a sword and riding a white stallion. In other accounts she would emerge from oak wood and perform miracles. The prophecies have been attributed to several sources, with Merlin being the most famous. St. Bede the Venerable and Euglide of Hungary also predicted her arrival.

For some years before and around the time of activity of Jeanne d’Arc, a number of vague prophecies concerning a young Maid who would save France were circulating. The prophecies were attributed to several sources, including St. Bede the Venerable, Euglide of Hungary, and Merlin. Some of these spoke of a Maid who was supposed to come from the “borders of Lorraine”. Since Jeanne’s village was near the border between France and the Duchy of Lorraine in the Holy Roman Empire, at the time many in France believed in her.

During her examination at Poitiers, Jeanne was reportedly questioned about a recent prophecy attributed, perhaps incorrectly, to Marie d’Avignon (fr:Marie Robine) concerning an armed woman who was to save the Kingdom. One version of the prophecies had it that the Maid would come forth from an oak wood and would work miracles, although when questioned about this version of the prophecy at her trial, Jeanne said she did not place any faith in that one.

Rehabilitation trial testimony also brought up the subject of such prophecies. Durand Laxart, Jeanne’s uncle, who accompanied Jeanne on both of her journeys to Vaucouleurs, reported at the rehabilitation trial that Jeanne had told him: “Was it not said that France would be ruined through a woman and afterwards restored by a virgin?”. Catherine Royer, with whom Jeanne stayed while at Vaucouleurs on her second visit in January and February 1429, also reported substantially the same thing.

In any case, it is known that such prophecies were widely known in France at around that time and that many in France among the supporters of the Dauphin identified Jeanne with the Maiden in the prophecies and this identification contributed to her popularity and following.

From the book by Andrew Lang:

The maid of France : being the story of the life and death of Jeanne d’Arc (1909)

Within half a league of Domremy, and visible, Jeanne said, from the door of her father’s house, was a forest called Oakwood, le Bois Chesnu, nemus quercosum. Now, according to Jean Brehal, Inquisitor, and one of the clerical legists who were judges in the Trial for the Rehabilitation of the Maid (1450-1456), the old name of the forest was Nemus Canutum (Bois Chenu),”whence grew,” says Brehal, “an ancient popular rumour, that a Maid should be born in this place, who should do great deeds.” Brehal then quotes a prophecy of Merlin to the effect that “a marvellous Maid will come from the Nemus Canutum for the healing of nations.” In the prophecies attributed to Merlin by Geoffrey of Monmouth (1 140) there is talk of a Maid from the Nemus Canutum which had come, says Brehal, to be understood as referring to the Bois Chenu. The vulgaris et antiqua precrebuit fama,–the echo of the supposed prophecies of Merlin won its way, like the predictions of Thomas the Rhymer, into folklore.

The Nemus Canutum once identified with the Bois Chesnu on the marches of Loraine (really it was in Britain), a wonderful virgin was expected to come from the marches of Loraine to rescue France. The evolution of the idea is clearly traceable, thus: A generation before the time of Jeanne, a visionary from the south, named Marie d’Avignon, visited Charles VI, then suffering under his ruinous wife, Isabelle of Bavaria. Marie had dreamed a dream in which she beheld arms and armour. She said that she could not use these, and was told that they were for a Maid who should restore France. This dream, known far and wide, was suggested by the Merlin prediction about a Maid from the Nemus Canutum; that grove was recognised in the Bois Chesnu on the marches of Lorraine, and in that region, folklore averred that “a Maid who is to restore France, ruined by a woman, shall come from the marches of Loraine.” Prophecies from all sorts of sources were always current in the Middle Ages. This folklore fable was to have a great effect on Jeanne’s career.

The alleged prophecies of Bede and Merlin were widely circulated in manuscripts. They were apt to be quoted in sermons; they became matters of popular information; they were constantly consulted and applied to any new notable events. There is no reason to suppose that “forged prophecies” of Merlin were “the means by which the young inspired girl was put in motion”–by some unknown churchmen, or that “without these pious frauds the miracles of the Maid would never have been wrought.” The inspiration of the Maid arose in her visions and Voices, in 1424 or 1425. We have no evidence that she had heard of the Merlin prophecy of the Victorious Virgin till after she announced her mission,–till 1428-1429,–and no fraudulent priest was needed to convey to her ears the “ancient popular rumour.”

“Louis De Conte remarks about the national prophecies:

“… a prophecy of Merlin’s more than 800 years old, was called to mind, which said that in a far future time France would be lost by a woman and restored by a woman. France was now, for the first time, lost – and by a woman, Isabel of Bavaria, her base Queen; doubtless this fair and pure young girl was commissioned of Heaven to complete the prophecy.”

Examples of manuscripts about Merlin’s predictions. From Bibliothèque nationale de France. The illustrations are not specifically relate to the story of Jeanne d’Arc.

Wikipedia. Bibliothèque nationale de France. Andrew Lang. Marina Warner (2001). Joan of Arc: the image of female heroism.