Writing an original biography of Joan of Arc, one of the if not the most written about individuals of the Middle Ages, is a major challenge. But Kelly DeVries, an associate professor at Loyola College and author of numerous books and articles on medieval military history, has found a way to accomplish this task. The book is well written and sheds a new and well deserved light on Joan of Arc's military career. As the author reminds us, she was foremost a "warrior, a soldier and a general" (p. xi). This book is also a good concise account of the Hundred Years' War from 1428 to 1431.
This scholarly work is based on a wide variety of French and English primary and secondary sources, which the author uses with great care. The pictures, maps, and index are useful and very appreciated additions which help to steer the reader through the maze of characters and details of this fascinating historical period.
Divided into nine chapters, Joan of Arc, A Military Leader is structured chronologically, following the Maid through her various exploits, demise, and execution. The first three chapters are devoted to explaining France's military, political, social, and economic problems at the time as well as Joan's background and arrival at Charles VII's court. The next chapters retrace her military exploits, starting with the siege of Orléans, the city that made Joan of Arc famous, followed by the campaign on the Loire and the liberation of Reims. The closing chapters recount her last victories, the failed siege of Paris, and her capture. On that final, controversial point, the author offers a clear and concise discussion. Was she betrayed by her own army? Did Phillip the Good offer bribes to have her captured? In the epilogue, DeVries comments on the overall influence of Joan of Arc on the Hundred Years' War. His conclusion is that although she did not have a direct impact on the course of the war as it raged on for another twenty-three years, she did "change military history" (p. 180).
Although this book is convincing and interesting, it does not give a clear answer to one of the most intriguing questions surrounding the Maid's military career. What made her an effective military leader? Why did her men—nobles, knights, and soldiers—follow her? After all, wasn't she just a poor peasant girl who claimed to hear voices? This question, although crucial to gaining a better understanding of Joan of Arc as a warrior, remains unanswered in this book.
This work will mainly interest specialized military historians and medievalists as most of it is devoted to descriptions of military sieges and skirmishes. It might be difficult for readers not familiar with these subfields of history to follow those descriptions and to keep track of the numerous historical personages introduced throughout the book. On the whole, however, this book, written by a scholar fascinated and awed by this great historical character, is an interesting and enjoyable read.
Montreal, Quebec, Canada