- Joan of Arc: The Warrior Saint
Joan of Arc remains a lively topic, which is served enthusiastically by authors that can be identified as the "Johannic" school. This group's common agenda focuses on "the Maid of Orléans," whose brief appearance in history occurred at a dramatic and critical moment during the last phase of the Hundred Years' War between Lancastrian England and Valois France. Though volumes have been written on Joan of Arc, her influence on events—particularly on the war—remains controversial. With his book, Joan of Arc: The Warrior Saint, Mr. Stephen W. Richey raises the standard of those "Johannicists" who sense there is an inadequate recognition of the Maids's military role—not just as a "warrior" but as a "military leader." Richey picks up where one of the best modern Johannic historians, Frances Gies, in her Joan of Arc, The Legend and the Reality (1981), takes issue with Édouard Perroy, a renowned French historian of the Hundred Years' War. The objective is to counter Perroy's assertion (made in his La Guerre de Cent Ans, first published in 1945) that Joan "did not lead" the troops. He characterizes her role more as a cheerleader.
The clearly structured book identifies key questions concerning Joan's [End Page 218] military career: "what" she did and "how" she did it. Joan's often-told story is summarized and supported by the usual primary references. Though numerous military historians praise Joan's role in her particular phase of the Hundred Years' War, Mr. Richey develops his own rationale to explain her performance as a warrior. His fundamental observation is that the English partial occupation was on precarious grounds, but the French were demoralized and psychologically paralyzed in defending the strategically important city of Orléans in 1429. Only Joan provided the required charismatic leadership to resist. In doing so, she was "essential" to the ultimate French victory in the war. The author insightfully enumerates "the lucky circumstances" that allowed Joan to exploit her martial skills, which he speculates were derived from her innate intelligence and self confidence.
Joan's initial successes are emphasized, where she bravely placed herself in the midst of fierce combat, and exhorted French troops assaulting fortified posts. Her performance enabled this teenage peasant girl to be recognized in French war councils, where she projected herself as a person of action, urging aggressive attacks and rapid exploitation of every tactical gain. Her persona dominated the raising of the siege of Orléans, securing the Loire valley, and conducting the march to Charles VII's coronation at Reims. Tragically, Joan did not live to see the ultimate French victory. Her successes took place over a few months in 1429, and were followed by reverses later in the year. She was captured in 1430, and burned in 1431.
The author's argument encounters difficulty when he takes up Joan's failure before Paris in September 1429. For Joan's military career, Paris was one inspirational assault too far. Without the French possessing a serious siege train, the expectation was that the citizenry would rise to aid the besiegers. This assessment is not shared by all military historians, and many are convinced that an anti-Burgundian uprising in Paris was unlikely. In true Johannic tradition, the author blames Joan's failure at Paris upon Charles VII's indifference and the king's preference for obtaining a rapprochement with the duke of Burgundy. After the Paris repulse, Charles VII disbanded the army associated with Joan's victories.
Events after Joan is no longer central to them are quickly reviewed. After some criticism of Charles VII's initial, frustrated attempts to win the Burgundians away from their English alliance, the author admits that the eventual 1436 Treaty of Arras was another of the Hundred Years' War's several key turning points.
This book will be welcomed by those attracted to Joan of Arc's remarkable story and who want to see repeated declarations that...