Jeanne d’Arc, A Gender Issue At Age 600

Days before the 600th anniversary of the French heroine’s birth, the Paris-based magazine VSD opted to stir an historical (and political) pot with this provocative question: “What if Joan of Arc, were a man?”

Those now asking if this French heroine was a man are courting controversy!

(Read more online here)
As VSD surely expected, heated and disapproving reaction especially from the Right, was not slow in coming, particularly as it is Marine Le Pen’s Front National party that makes most capital out of St Joan’s symbolic and patriotic value, staging an annual rally around her gold-leafed statue in Paris every May 1.

However this year, some 15 weeks before first round voting in the April 22 presidential elections, the Catholic martyr, symbol of secular patriotism, scourge of Burgundians and invading English marauders, and latterly — for some — a potent symbol of French nationalism, finds herself in the midst of an electioneering battle where rival politicians struggle to hijack her legacy.

VSD sets out its somewhat tenuous case for casting doubt on the sex of the Maid of Orleans thus:

“As we approach the 600th anniversary of her birth, a new theory is reviving old passions. The Maid of Orleans is a pure creation. Her name was Philip, and in fact she was none other than the half-brother of King Charles VII, according to François Ruggieri, film producer and history buff. Ruggieri, says VSD, has “developed his theory over the last 20 years: ‘I’m crazy about the fifteenth century. During my reading, I often wondered: How would anyone in those times of famine, looting and rape allow a lone, young virgin to keep sheep? … For me, the official legend has no basis…’ .” VSD says: “the key to François Ruggieri’s theory is that on November 10, 1407 ( a date that coincides with that attributed to Joan of Arc’s birth) Philippe d’Orléans, illegitimate son of Queen Isabella of Bavaria, wife of Charles VI, and Louis d’Orleans, brother of the king, was born, making him a half-brother to the future king Charles VII. Louis of Orleans was assassinated by the Duke of Burgundy three weeks after the birth of his son. As for the royal bastard, he, says Ruggieri, was declared dead the day he was born and buried in Saint-Denis Basilica. But when in 1793 the French revolutionaries looted tombs, they found his to be empty. For François Ruggieri, this boy could have claimed the throne of France. Out of fear that some one would seize her son, the Queen sent the child to hide in Domrémy, a village belonging to the royal house. There the boy would have grown up in the Arc family (hence d’Arc), some of whom worked at court. A William d’Arc was a tutor at the time and one of the queen’s ladies-in-waiting went by the name Jeanne d’Arc.” (You can read the full article in VSD No. 1792  – December 29, 2011 to January 4, 2012 a synopsis is online here).

Here France 24 reports on the efforts at the electoral manipulation of a powerful symbol:

Reactions to the  amateur historian, François Ruggieri’s theories, also broadcast on France 2 the national TV network, sparked anger among purists. One online commenter to  the VSD article, referring to a well documented account, said: “As an historian may I say this wacko’s thesis is absolutely absurd. Among many facts that prove how futile it is, this will suffice: twice (at Poitiers in March 1429 and Rouen in 1430), Jeanne’s virginity was examined by a group of matrons. That being the case do you not suppose they would have noticed that he was a man! Why on earth do you believe such nonsense!”

Asking Google with all the caveats that implies, if Joan of Arc was a man, brings up 18,300,000 hits – suggesting possibly that the “absurd theories” criticised above, have caused others some concern or amusement over the years.

  • (Before we get into too much hot water, here is some of the Joan of Arc story from the HistoryWorld website (health warning: it’s written from an English historian’s perspective!)… : A sixteen-year-old peasant girl, growing up and tending the cattle at Domrémy, has for some years been hearing voices. She sometimes sees the speakers, and recognizes them as St Michael, St Catherine and St Margaret. But in this winter of 1428-9 they have been giving her a very specific instruction. She must raise the siege of Orléans so that the king of France, Charles VII, can go to Reims to be anointed in the cathedral. The girl is Jeanne d’Arc, known in English as Joan of Arc. Her voices reflect a shrewd political perception which no one but she, it seems, has appreciated. This perception relates to the common people’s idea of their king. Thanks to a long tradition, much fostered in the previous century by Charles V, it is believed that each French king acquires a divine quality once he is anointed with the sacred oil from the Sainte Ampoule at Reims. At present, in the middle of the Hundred Years’ War, there are two rival claimants to the French crown. One is Henry VI, the young king of England, whose forces – in alliance with the Burgundians – control the entire north of France, including Reims itself. The other is Charles VII, king by rightful descent but a weak figure, confined to the region round Bourges.”… the rest can be found here)

Celebrating the anniversary in his role as head of state and not, his office made very clear, as a potential presidential candidate, President Nicolas Sarkozy told a crowd at Vaucouleurs, eastern France — starting point of the heroine’s epic campaign to drive out English marauders —  that no single party could claim Jeanne d’Arc for their own.

“Jeanne incarnates patriotism, which is of course, the love of one’s country without the hatred of others,” the president told his audience and a watching France. Regardless of what his officials said, local papers quickly reported the trip as a sign of his concern, given the populist right’s rising strength, to win over potential Marine le Pen voters.

This did not deter the Front National from mounting its trusty and oft- ridden stallion. The party rose as one to defend Jeanne D’Arc’s relevance to voters today insisting she belonged to France and the French and “certainly not to parties lining up ahead of the elections to take advantage of her patriotic symbolism”. The party said the French who believe in Jeanne D’Arc are patriots and nationalists first, reject Europeanism and globalisation and defend the ancient borders of their country. Left unsaid but well understood was a rejection of the ‘evil’ euro (which the party has pledged to replace with the French franc) and familiar concerns about immigration normally expressed as French jobs for the French.

As the global crisis worsens, unrepentant ‘banksters’ show increasing arrogance and the eurozone remains threatened by a serious sovereign debt disaster, the Front National is quietly reassured that events will likely see it make significant voter inroads by the Spring.

English: Marine Le Pen at the 1st of May Natio...

Marine le Pen at a Joan of Arc rally – Image via Wikipedia

L’ Express reported January 9 on a Viavoice poll for Libération newspaper, as follows: to the question “If the first round of the presidential election were held next Sunday, would you vote for Le Pen?”, 8% of respondents answered “yes, certainly,” 10% “probably yes”, and 12 % “no, probably not.”  Viavoice concluded 15% of respondents seek a presidential victory for Marine Le Pen, less than in August (17%) but higher than in November 2011 (14%).

Earlier JDD reported on its own latest poll: “At 105 days ahead of the first round of the presidential election, our poll places the incumbent (as candidate) on 26%, close behind his principal challenger the (Socialist leader) François Hollande on 28% of vote intentions. Marine Le Pen’s showing was down by 1 point and the FN candidate is now seven points behind Sarkozy.

Marine le Pen’s strategists have laid out a clear path to power as reported here by Le Monde: “Figures close to Marine le Pen believe that it is the middle classes  ‘that will swing the presidential election.’  Florian Philippot, her campaign’s strategic director, compares the 2012 presidential  election with the referendum on the European Constitutional Treaty in 2005. ‘In 1992, it was the middle classes which narrowly voted yes in the Maastricht Treaty referendum. Between 1992 and 2005, the middle classes changed from yes to no and it is they who will be the Tipping Point in 2012,’ Mr. Philippot noted. The middle class voted overwhelmingly for Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007. Today they are the most disappointed in him, more so than the working classes. Marine Le Pen, who positions herself as ‘candidate of the forgotten, the invisible and the impoverished middle classes’, addresses her message to them as well as those employed by SMEs — hit hard by the economic crisis.”

Story: Ken Pottinger

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