[The following is an excerpt from “Joan of Arc: A Military Appreciation” by historian Stephen W. Richey.]
Frances Gies, in her Joan of Arc: The Legend and the Reality describes the natural charm that drew fighting men to the Maid. Gies asserts that low-born peasant girl Joan had the cheerful boldness to address the great noble d’Alenšon with the familiar “tu” form rather than the formal “vous” form as would have been appropriate. Joan also, says Gies, kept up a “playful” rapport with d’Alenšon, calling him her “gentle duke” and “pretty duke.” D’Alenšon, by his own testimony, was enraptured by Joan from the moment he met her and her informal playfulness must have been part of what charmed him. The squire Gobert Thibault testified that when he first met Joan, “she tapped me on the shoulder, saying that she would like to have a few men of my sort with her.” It is easy to visualize Thibault blushing crimson—and being charmed out of his boots. In his often-cited letter to his mother, Guy de Laval gushed in his adoring descriptions of Joan. He wrote, “I went to her lodging to see her; she sent for wine and told me that she would soon have me drinking in Paris. This seems a thing divine by her deeds, and also from seeing and hearing her.” Clearly, Joan was no somber, otherworldly little waif of a mystic. She had a bravado, a charm, a winning manner, that, combined with her proven strength and courage, made hardened fighting men adore her at the same time they respected her.
Joan’s female sexuality inevitably became part of the chemistry that drew men to her—but in a way that was the opposite of the norm. Her squire d’Aulon helped her into her armour every day that she was in the field and it was he who dressed her wounds. He testified that he often saw her naked legs and breasts and that “....she was a young girl, beautiful and shapely....” D’Alenšon said “....I slept with Joan and the soldiers ‘on the straw,’ and sometimes I saw Joan get ready for the night, and sometimes I looked at her breasts, which were beautiful.” Yet—all of Joan’s men—Jean de Metz, Bertrand de Poulengy, d’Alenšon, d’Aulon, Thibault, the men who slept on the ground beside her and saw her in her lovely nakedness, were adamant that they never felt carnal lust for her. Thibault elaborated that while they sometimes felt a carnal urge for Joan, they “never dared give way to it....” They saw a saintly goodness in her and it was shame that prevented them from making advances on her. They felt an exalted pure love for her that they could not bear to sully with carnal words much less deeds.
De Metz testified that though he slept on the ground right next to Joan he “was in such awe of her that I would not have dared go near her; and I tell you on my oath that I never had any desire or carnal feelings for her.” Yet, only a little bit later in his testimony, he proclaimed “....I was on fire with what she said, and with a love for her which was, as I believe, a divine love.” Jean Barbin testified that “The soldiers considered her a saint.” It is no great stretch to suggest that: When young men encounter a beautiful woman who has won their respect to an extraordinary degree, their usual sexual lust may become sublimated into a devotion and loyalty that is passionate but chaste. Joan had the power to make thousands of armed men love her, not as an object of romantic desire but as the living focus of their hunger to serve a higher cause. Whenever Joan rose in her stirrups to shout “Let all who love me—follow me!” over all the din, she was exploiting a special relationship between leader and led that is unique in all history. Ultimately, it was this astonishing ability of Joan’s to make an army of soldiers chastely love her—to the point that they would willingly face death in battle for her—that empowered her to bodily shove history into a new path.
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