Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Joan of Arc -- In Our Time

Melvyn Bragg and his guests (Anne Curry, Malcolm Vale and Matthew Bennett) concentrate on the siege of Orleans in 1429. What had led to the siege? How was the situation for the English and the French side in this part of the Hundred Year War? What were the prospects?
Then Joan of Arc enters the scene. Why did Charles, the Dauphin, choose to even allow her a chance of riding to Orleans in an attempt to lift the siege?

In fact he had little to lose. The figure of Joan mapped on some legends about a Maiden leading troops, that hung around. He was not aware that the English were actually stretching their might on Orleans a bit too much and were not invincible, in fact. So off she was sent with better chance than really understood. Then there is the famous turning of the winds and the siege could be lifted.

Events sped to the capture of Rheims and the coronation of Charles that tipped the balance in this war that was basically a war of succession. One gets the impression that by then Joan became dispensable, or even a threat and hence, her capture by the Burgundians and consecutive trial by the English and eventual death at the stake, were no longer a problem.

Then the figure of Joan takes on a symbolic meaning and when a couple of decades later there is a retrial, she is exonerated. From then she is the stuff that myths are made of. She captures the imagination of many and is sainted by 1920.

It underlines the quality of In Our Time, that 24 hours after listening to the show I can recount the broadcast, such as above. Again this was a brilliant issue of the show. The only thing I regret is what I had hoped to find: some version of Joan, as a human being. No matter how well documented her person is, few histories of her manage to find the middle ground between the mythic proportions (the mighty maid, the visionary, the saint) and the plain (illiterate peasant girl) woman. Who was she, really? That remains a mystery.

I want to close with Joan's own words (as recorded during her trial). When they tried her with a trick question, whether she knew she was in God's Grace -- a knowledge, theology had it, no one was supposed to have, meaning that a yes, meant heresy and a no meant admission of her evil -- she replied:
If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me.
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