Joan of Arc: A Military Leader: Review

From the moment of her appearance on history’s stage, Joan of Arc has been a cultural icon. Artists and politicians of every species have aped her image for their use. However, Joan of Arc’s mission gets lost in this persona. Fundamentally, she was a military leader who made it her quest to force England out of France through arms. All of her subsequent fame came from her exploits and successes as a commander of soldiers. It is in this capacity that Joan of Arc: A Military Leader, traces her life and career. For those interested in getting to the truth of her character, it is invaluable.

Joan of Arc’s Miracle Appearance

The book begins by looking at the course of the Hundred Years War prior to Joan’s entrance in early 1429. We have gone over this before, when asking why Joan of Arc was so effective and in the background to her relief of the Siege of Orleans, so we need not bother with it again except to say that France looked doomed. Joan of Arc: A Military Leader does an extensive job in highlighting the contemporary sources which showed how terrible the state of morale was in the country at the time.

Map of France 1429
The state of the war at the beginning of 1429.

Part of the reason for French military ineffectiveness was because the Dauphin, the future Charles VII, surrounded himself with questionable advisors. One of them, Georges de la Tremoille, was adamant in seeking a negotiated solution to the conflict, especially with the Duke of Burgundy, Philip the Good. The problem with his line of thinking was that France at this time had no leverage, so why would the Burgundians make any concessions? Something was needed to change the equation. That thing proved to be Joan.

Kelly DeVries carefully went over the records of Joan’s trial and later nullification trial in his book. Unfortunately, the records of her initial tests, when she sought to enter Charles’ service, have not survived. It was important in those days to ensure that the French cause would not be seen as aligning itself with a witch or a sorceress, so Joan of Arc was subjected to tests of her virginity and her theological purity. Her performance was exemplary:

Despite being asked questions which would have confounded the most adept theologian, she answered simply and directly. She refused to be intimidated. When asked in what ‘tongue’ the voices spoke to her, she answered, according to Seguin Seguin’s memory: ‘A better tongue than I spoke, . . . which was a Limousin accent’. When asked to provide a sign to have them believe in her, she answered: ‘In God’s name, I am not come to Poitiers to make signs. But lead me to Orleans; I will show signs to you for which I was sent.’ And when she was asked whether she believed in God, Joan replied, ‘Yes, better than me.

The book’s careful gathering of these surviving records is one of its selling points. It looks at Joan’s childhood as well. She was often bullied and made fun of because of her supposed connection with God. Ultimately, we see in its opening pages why she believed what she did, and why she decided to act accordingly.

Joan of Arc was more devout than other children, for which she was ridiculed. Yet, it’s her name that survives, while no one remembers them. Those who have such fervent beliefs often expose themselves to mockery, but those who torment them never do anything worthy of remembrance. That is a good lesson to remember.

The power of her belief would dominate the next section of the book.

Peak of Power

After relieving the Siege of Orleans, many towns and cities in France simply surrendered to her army. A few months undid gains that took England years to make. This came because Joan of Arc insisted that the French military continue to press its advantage. There were many voices within the ranks that wanted to stop her, but she believed that God mandated her to see to the Dauphin Charles’ coronation. The book makes the psychological situation clear:

But, by 18 June, the situation for many of those towns had changed considerably. By then, not only were there promises of successful French military support for centers of population, especially those to the south and east of Paris, that wished to throw off English control, but at the head of the military was a holy woman, a living saint, whose presence guaranteed divine justification for their decision to go against the English. Joan’s reputation as a military ‘savior’ had traveled widely throughout occupied France. Her mission was well known. She had promised to relieve the siege of Orleans, and she had; and now she promised to lead the king to Reims and his coronation, and no one in France, including the English, doubted that she would.

Joan of Arc: A Military Leader shows us that war is first and foremost psychological. There was no material reason why England should have been so successful. It had better commanders for most of the Hundred Years War, true, but French resources were so much greater that there was no justifiable reason why things should have been as bad as they were in 1429. Bad leadership and poor morale had put France in the state it was in. Joan now righted this. The newfound confidence enabled France to fight the war it should have been able to fight all along.

When the Dauphin was crowned King Charles VII of France at Reims, Joan stood nearby. Unfortunately, her rapid rise would precede her equally rapid fall.

Joan of Arc at Charles VII's coronation.
Joan of Arc at Charles VII’s coronation.

Decline and Fall

The best contemporary relevance that Joan of Arc: A Military Leader has is that it shows how she declined and fell from power. Ultimately, her problem was Charles’ jealous advisors:

There were two reasons for La Tremoille’s reluctance to accept Joan and her methods of retaking the occupied parts of France. The first was a basic personality flaw. While he had been successful in flattering the dauphin enough to secure appointment as the Grand Chamberlain of France and Lieutenant General of Burgundy, as well as serving as Charles’s chief counselor. La Tremoille seems to have been jealous of anyone else who got close to Charles. He then sought to drive a wedge between the object of his jealousy and the easily influenced dauphin.

Toward the end of 1429, Joan of Arc was sent on an irrelevant campaign in a minor theater after failing to take Paris that September. In some ways, she brought it on herself, because as we mentioned in our previous look at her (the link is at the top), her tactics were costly. Her beliefs were so fervent that she often did not take the necessary time to examine herself and the personalities she needed to cooperate with in order to succeed.

Still, the end of the book shows how the stubbornness, pettiness, and jealousy of other influential figures can ruin many a good leader. One must be aware of such things. You can be more aware by signing up for my email list here.

La Tremoille would later prove himself by successfully negotiating a peace with Burgundy in 1435, but this only came because of the military victories that Joan and the officers around her won. The war could have ended faster if she would have gotten more support during her lifetime.

Always be aware of a selfish leader in the midst, looking to cling to power above the good of the cause. This is especially so if you unfortunately find yourself needing to cooperate.

For this and other reasons, I would recommend Joan of Arc: A Military Leader. You can find it at the link here.

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