On this day in 1429, the French took Jargeau with Joan of Arc leading the way. She’s quite a figure. And it doesn’t say a lot for the Catholic Church that she is a saint. But I guess that is one nice thing they did for her after trying her and burning her at the stake. But let’s back up.
It was well over a hundred years into the Hundred Years’ War. For all that time, the English had been trying to take over France. Really: it was just a war of aggression. But at least it was honest. No one was running around talking about how France needed to be made safe for democracy or any other such nonsense. But at this point, it really wasn’t going well for France. The English had been barely hanging on and there was a good chance that the royal family would fall.
Enter Joan of Arc — a teenage Christian mystic who had been visited by three saints — Michael, Catherine, and Margaret — and they told her that God wanted France to win the war. Furthermore, she became convinced that the only way this was going to happen was if she was there to lead the French army. There’s one weird trick that all crazy people know: certainty sells! And Joan of Arc was very clearly crazy. And so she managed to work her way up through the royal bureaucracy — all the way to Charles VII. They were impressed and did exactly what she wanted.
But let’s be clear: they were desperate. They had given up hope that they would be able to hold off the English. It’s kind of like if everything had gone wrong in your life: your spouse left you, the house was in foreclosure, and the next day the newspapers were going to report that you had been molesting neighborhood children for the last three decades. Then some young woman came to you and said that God had told her that if she did a little dance on your law, all your problems would go away. You’d let her do the dance, right? What do you have to lose?
And she probably really did help the French cause. She was so certain about her visions that other people believed her. And in the end, the French did win the Hundred Years’ War — although it would take another decade, but what’s that in the context of the war that your grandfather was forced to fight in? And then she was captured and handed over to the English. And they convicted her of heresy, because it had to be the Devil talking through her; certainly God was on their side. Also: she had dressed as a man while making her way to the front. So they killed her in the most viscous way they could think of. Like good Christian everywhere.
The whole thing is amazing. I still think the idea that God wants this or that country to win a war is ridiculous. Yet that is what people thought then. And that is clearly what people think today. I just cannot get my head around the idea of a god so pathetic that it cares about such little things. But that’s what religion seems to be for most people: an idea that validates their very small, very pathetic lives.
We mark this day — the high point of Joan of Arc’s life — 586 years after the French took Jargeau.