This Is A True Story.

In the 14th century, England ruled over much of southwest France and repeatedly defeated the French army. Eventually the English seized Paris. and most of the French heartland fell under English rule. Much of northeastern France (along with what are now Luxembourg, Belgium, and southern Netherlands) was ruled by the Duke of Burgundy, then perhaps the most powerful man in Europe. The King of France went mad, and the Crown Prince refused coronation. The French army refused to fight any more. Highwaymen roamed at will, committing holdups, rapes, and murders. The economy declined, and people started to go hungry.

In the early 15th century, a teenage girl from a French speaking area outside of France went to a government official, saying "give me a horse and an armed guard of two men. I have something to say to the Crown Prince of France." Somehow, she got her wish. She went to the city where the Crown Prince lived, picked him out of a crowd of 100-200 people, went up to him, and whispered something in his ear. He turned pale, but ordered that this teenage girl be treated with respect. She asked to be given chain mail, a sword, and command of an army. Her wishes were granted. She then said "we will march to Orleans and attack the English, who have laid siege to that city. We will break the siege." That happened. France was electrified. The girl-general went on to win a few more battles, but not for long: she was eventually taken prisoner by some Frenchmen loyal to the English. She was accused of witchcraft, and tried by French ecclesiastics beholden to English rule. She was convicted, and was burned at the stake because she refused to admit to the charge. 20 years later, the King of France elevated to the nobility every surviving male relative of hers, and the English abandoned all of France except one city. That city they vacated after another 100 years. In the 19th century, the British monarchy finally abandoned all claims to any part of the continent.

This is a true story. In the 1920s, the transcript of this girl's trial for witchcraft was found and published. It is one of the best records we have of how everyday French was spoken in the 15th century. In 1920, the Roman Catholic church declared her a saint.

I also maintain that this an immensely powerful feminist narrative. Modern France perhaps began with the willingness of an illiterate teenage girl to fight like a man, and to sleep on the hay surrounded by rough men. Her name was Jeanne d'Arc. "d'Arc" is the noble name given to her family after her death. To me, she should be the French national symbol. But we do not know how she looked.

A major 20th century Dutch historical novel deals with the remarkable episode in European history. The English translation is:

Haasse, Hella. In a Dark Wood Wandering.

A classic 19th century romantic icon is of the woman in armor with a shield and sword. Sometimes she is Brittania. Sometimes she is a Scandinavian Valkyrie. I claim that the real world source for all such icons is Joan of Arc.
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1 Response Aug 2, 2011

woah.... i just love joan of arc... She is one of the best examples for girls today. Very brave girl who fought for her country's freedom.