One thing that irritates me about the present study of history is that there are a lot of controversial things that are important to us at the moment, and as a result, we want to give them validation by showing everyone else that they were also important in the past. Just to clarify, I think that the things that we care about today are important, but the thing that I think is silly is searching through the past to validate our beliefs that they were important then as well.
Today’s “important stuff” might have been around in the past, and it might not. One thing that you have to realize about looking through history to find a champion for your important cause is that the culture is not the same as it is now. That is, things that are important now were probably not important then. That’s what is wonderful about studying history: things were different, and that’s what makes them interesting.
There are lots of women who stand out in a history full of men: Eleanor of Aquitaine, Empress Dowager Cixi of China’s Qing Dynasty, and Rosa Parks are just a few. They are interesting because they didn’t behave the way their culture would have had them behave.
On this day in history in 1431, a woman who had defied many cultural norms was burned at the stake for her actions. She was nineteen years old.
England and France had been at each others throats for what seemed like forever. The conflict they were engaged in in 1431 is called the Hundred Years’ War, though it actually lasted about 116 years.
Jeanne claimed that she began having visions from God when she was 12, and though there were few in her hometown who believed her, the important thing was that she believed, and was able to inspire belief in others. She was turned away by Count Robert de Baudricourt when she went to him at age 16 and requested an audience with the King, but after she correctly predicted the outcome of a battle at Orleans, he made sure she got what she wanted.
|Jeanne d'Arc, from a 1505 manuscript|
The French weren’t doing well at this point in the war, and some historians suggest that the reason Jeanne was put in charge of the army was because the French had tried everything else, so what could it hurt letting a girl lead their armies, especially if it was one who insisted that God was directing her actions?
The result was that she was effective. She probably would have made a major impact on morale even if the French hadn’t started winning, but they did. Her success “effectively turned the longstanding Anglo-French conflict into a religious war.”1 This religious element aided the pro-British bishop who sentenced her to death. Instead of having her killed for merely helping the French to win, he was able to find her guilty of heresy because of her claims that God was guiding her.
Women are important. You don’t have to dig through history and present your findings for that to be true. Joan of Arc gave her life for her country and her beliefs. She made such an impact that today, almost six hundred years later, we are still commemorating her uniqueness.
1 Vale, M.G.A. Charles VII. 1974, pg 55.