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.

Notes:

  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”

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

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