Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Joan of Arc

Emmanuel Frémiet's statue of Joan of Arc, in military attire, stands outside the Place des PyramidesParis.
Joan of Arc (Fr: Jeanne d'Arc), a French revolutionary executed by the English for heresy in 1431, is a national heroine of France and a Roman Catholic saint. Joan shunned the traditional roles and garb of women in her era for the lifestyle and dress of a soldier, ultimately providing a pretense for her conviction and execution. Whether her crossdressing and lifestyle have implications for her sexuality or gender identity is debated.

Kelly DeVries notes that, "No person of the Middle Ages, male or female, has been the subject of more study than Joan of 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."[1] Due to such widely differing interpretations of her life and its meaning, many interpretations of the implications of her adoption of a male dress and lifestyle have been debated.

As Susan Crane notes, "Joan of Arc wore men's clothes almost continually from her first attempts to reach the Dauphin, later crowned Charles VII, until her execution twenty-eight months later. In court, on campaigns, in church, and in the street she cross-dressed, and she refused to stop doing so during the long months of her trial for heresy. Joan's contemporary supporters and adversaries comment extensively on her clothing, and the records of her trial provide commentary of her own, making her by far the best-documented transvestite of the later Middle Ages"[2]

After her capture while protecting the French retreat at Margny, Joan was sold to the English, imprisoned, and subsequently tried for heresy. Despite the attempts of the judges to get her to repent for her donning of male attire, Joan repeatedly defends the wearing of them as a "small matter" that was "the commandment of God and his angels." 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."[3] As Beverly Boyd observed, "The issue was, of course, [Joan's] voices .. but the emblem of the heresy was her wearing of men's clothing."[4]

Joan signed a cedula, possibly without understanding, indicating that she would no longer wear men's clothing, only to "relapse" later, giving the court 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.")[5] On May 30, 1431, Joan of Arc was burned at the stake.


  1. DeVries, Kelly (1996). Fresh Verdicts on Joan of Arc / A Woman As A Leader Of Men. Garland Publishing. pp. 3.
  2. DuParc, Pierre (1977). Procès en Nullité de la Condamnation de Jeanne d'Arc, Volume 1. Société de l'Histoire de France. pp. 289-290.  Another translation is given in: Murray, T. Douglas (1902). Jeanne d'Arc, Maid of Orleans: Deliverer of France. pp. 223.
  3. DuParc, Pierre (1977). Procès en Nullité de la Condamnation de Jeanne d'Arc, Volume 1. Société de l'Histoire de France. pp. 306. Another translation is given in: Pernoud, Régine (1994). Joan of Arc By Herself and Her Witnesses. Scarborough House. pp. 39.
  4. DuParc, Pierre (1977). Procès en Nullité de la Condamnation de Jeanne d'Arc, Volume 1. Société de l'Histoire de France. pp. 426.
  5. BAN Lat. 1119 f.47r; Proces... Vol I page 220,221

More information can be found at: "Cross-dressing, gender identity, and sexuality of Joan of Arc"


silvereagle said...

How strange---when, way back when actually, studying about St. Joan of Arc in the 5th grade or so, it never occured to me that she was wearing men's clothing! And certainly never was there a question about that fact!!

Anonymous said...

Wow! Just wow! I don't recall more than a mention of Joan of Arc in history classes. Now I need to go read more.
Peace <3

Amanda said...

Thanks for the post. I have to agree with Jay I can't remember hearing much if anything about Joan of Arc in school. Even though she was executed it makes me happy to know she stuck to her beliefs.

Elissa said...

I loved studying Joan of Arc at University... I wrote an essay about the significance of her wearing male clothing and the research was fascinating. I just wrote a blog post about Joan of Arc today as well, if you're interested:

I can't wait to delve more deeply into this fascinating history. Thanks for a great post, and for more references for me to look for! :) :) :)