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We all know the story of Joan of Arc. A peasant girl who hears voices from God. A warrior leading an army to victory, in an age that believes women cannot fight. The Maid of Orleans, and the saviour of France. Burned at the stake as a heretic at the age of just nineteen. Five hundred years later, a saint. Her case was heard in court twice over. One trial, in 1431, condemne We all know the story of Joan of Arc. A peasant girl who hears voices from God. A warrior leading an army to victory, in an age that believes women cannot fight. The Maid of Orleans, and the saviour of France. Burned at the stake as a heretic at the age of just nineteen. Five hundred years later, a saint. Her case was heard in court twice over. One trial, in 1431, condemned her; the other, twenty-five years after her death, cleared her name. In the transcripts, we hear first-hand testimony from Joan, her family and her friends: a rare survival from the medieval world. What could be more revealing?


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We all know the story of Joan of Arc. A peasant girl who hears voices from God. A warrior leading an army to victory, in an age that believes women cannot fight. The Maid of Orleans, and the saviour of France. Burned at the stake as a heretic at the age of just nineteen. Five hundred years later, a saint. Her case was heard in court twice over. One trial, in 1431, condemne We all know the story of Joan of Arc. A peasant girl who hears voices from God. A warrior leading an army to victory, in an age that believes women cannot fight. The Maid of Orleans, and the saviour of France. Burned at the stake as a heretic at the age of just nineteen. Five hundred years later, a saint. Her case was heard in court twice over. One trial, in 1431, condemned her; the other, twenty-five years after her death, cleared her name. In the transcripts, we hear first-hand testimony from Joan, her family and her friends: a rare survival from the medieval world. What could be more revealing?

30 review for Joan of Arc: A History

  1. 5 out of 5

    Heidi The Reader

    The two star rating that I'm giving Joan of Arc: A History has nothing to do with the historical accuracy of the book. On the contrary, I found this to be an extraordinarily well researched and cited biography. Unfortunately, that mega-effort did not lend itself to a readable or enjoyable book. The general idea behind Joan of Arc is sound. Helen Castor wanted to present Joan's story in context with an extended history of France for years before and after her appearance on the world stage. In that w The two star rating that I'm giving Joan of Arc: A History has nothing to do with the historical accuracy of the book. On the contrary, I found this to be an extraordinarily well researched and cited biography. Unfortunately, that mega-effort did not lend itself to a readable or enjoyable book. The general idea behind Joan of Arc is sound. Helen Castor wanted to present Joan's story in context with an extended history of France for years before and after her appearance on the world stage. In that way, she thought that the legend of the woman could be separated away from the reality. The reader could appreciate the main players, the attitude towards spiritual visions, the belief of divine will in war and the monarchy, and capture the overall general flavor of the time period. It was a good premise, but it just didn't work. Maybe this was a doctoral thesis that Castor tweaked a bit and published? It reads like that. Why is it that experts on topics are rarely able to translate that interest and depth of knowledge into stories that the general public would enjoy? I love medieval history, especially the backgrounds of the handful of female figures who made it into print during that period. This should have been right up my alley. Joan of Arc: A History read like a school textbook- the dull kind. Actually, it reminded me of translating Livy's History of Rome from Latin into English during college. It should have been fascinating stuff as he was writing about a particularly exciting period in Roman history when Hannibal was crossing the Alps to invade. But, sadly, Livy got caught up in listing endless details, particularly the size and shape of the elephants. Through description after description, the pace of Hannibal's army slowed to a trickle and then it turned into a snooze-fest. That also happened in this book. If you enjoy scholarly research to the point that you just have to have it and nothing else will do, read this book. If you want history to come alive and punch you in the face, pick up something (anything really) by Margaret George or Bernard Cornwell. I particularly liked The Memoirs of Cleopatra or The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers. George may not have the exacting research standards of this biography, but her historical fictions are informative in addition to a delight to read. I received a free copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads. FTC guidelines: check!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jan-Maat

    For me this a book (view spoiler)[ sorry for the shocking revelation (hide spoiler)] that is very good at what it is - a vivid lively slice of a tiny portion of the hundred years war centred on the terribly brief period of political activism by Joan of Arc. As a glance at many of the other reviews shows one doesn't get close to the Maid of Orleans herself, but then one might define medieval period as the one in which we can't get really close in a biographical sense to any individual. I felt the For me this a book (view spoiler)[ sorry for the shocking revelation (hide spoiler)] that is very good at what it is - a vivid lively slice of a tiny portion of the hundred years war centred on the terribly brief period of political activism by Joan of Arc. As a glance at many of the other reviews shows one doesn't get close to the Maid of Orleans herself, but then one might define medieval period as the one in which we can't get really close in a biographical sense to any individual. I felt the sense of a connection to a person far stronger in Regine Pernoud's Joan Of Arc By Herself And Her Witnesses, but then that is a book built up from the cross examinations and trials of Joan both pre and post mortum. The problem with drawing on the trial data as Castor points out is that the purpose of the first trial was to find her guilty and of the second to rehabilitate her as a divinely inspired person. It can feel as though we are getting close to a real person but in a sense we just get more of the persona, deeper into a stage character either devil woman or proto-saint. The most thoughtful and interesting part of the book for me was the epilogue which asked "did Joan's king win the war because she came from God, or did she come from God because he won the war?" (p.245) Much to my amusement the canonisation process was begun in the 1840s precisely because of the historian working on publishing the trial papers, he was convinced of her saintlyness - in other words the process to rehabilitate her and present her as a holy and divinely inspired woman convinced the man reading the papers of that process that she was holy and divinely inspired. I took until 1920 to gain papal accent and her victories in war were taken as evidence of her divine inspiration - that she was later captured and burnt alive was not however interpreted as evidence of divine disapproval - not even it seems by the Devil's advocate. To go back a bit Castor points how just how desperate the position of the future Charles VII of France was. The English having won the battle of Agincourt in 1415 had control of France north of the river Loire in conjunction with their ally the Duke of Burgundy. Traditionally the King of France was crowned at Rheims and the ceremony used regalia held at Saint-Denis, both north of the Loire. The French were divided the previous Duke of Burgundy had been murdered at peace talks between him and the young Dauphin Charles, he as is normal in politics, denied responsibility however the next Duke of Burgundy was not much minded to accept such protestations whoever else was offered up as a scapegoat. The young Charles had some support from the Scots, but few ports on the Atlantic coast for them to land without falling into English hands, Charles managed to fall out with the bastard brother of the Duke of Brittany and the English were besieging Orleans and once that fell they would be able to raid and campaign freely south of the Loire. In short the French needed a miracle. However Castor points out that it wasn't entirely accidental that one occurred. Charles wasn't- as you may have noticed from the above even by medieval standards - which could be a bit more pointed, if not stabby, and bruising than modern politics - exactly natural leadership material. He was very keen and good at ordering beautiful suits of armour, and fantastic at making friends who alienated the people who he needed as supporters, but he was never one to lead an army in battle or even to appear too near a battlefield, nor it seems was he like his son so thoroughly political to be utterly devious and calculating. Nature as we know hates a vacuum and so such roles were played principally by his mother-in-law, Yolande of Aragon, duchess of Anjou and Queen of Sicily and Jerusalem (view spoiler)[ the latter titles were at that time completely disconnected with any territory, but were none the less fiercely insisted upon (hide spoiler)] . While she manoeuvred as best she could to achieve a rapprochement with the Dukes of Brittany and Burgundy (view spoiler)[ but not with the Dukes of Hazzard, because that would have been silly (hide spoiler)] she also was interested in holy people generally and while there is no direct evidence, that Yolande ordered it, still less that she manufactured Joan as a mascot and symbol of divine favour, people close to her were involved in identifying and bringing Joan to Court in 1429. If the French needed a miracle to avoid further defeat, some of them were aware they needed a miracle and were keen to grab at anything miracle like with both hands, slightly sinisterly no sooner had Joan being captured by the Burgundians in 1430 (her political career was very short) than another holy person appeared riding with French forces - one William the shepherd rather than hearing voices like Joan he had stigmata through hands, feet and side, and maybe consciously was an inversion of Joan - while she wore men's clothing and had her hair cut short in the men's style of the time, William the shepherd rode side-saddle (p.200), his career was even shorter than Joan's captured by the English, his dead body was later found dumped in the Seine. Castor is quite clear that Joan wasn't a war leader, but was someone excluded from military councils, not so much a leader as a mascot, a symbol that God was on the side of the French, and once Charles had been crowned king there was a sense that there was no consensus on what to do with Joan, then 18, but increasingly with ideas of her own - taking the war to the English with more intensity. If in sending her to raise the siege of Orleans the French had nothing to loss, once the siege had been broken, the English defeated, and Charles crowned there was far more to lose, war is a risky business, particularly if you want to prosecute it as Joan did, with repeated assaults on the enemy, trusting in God to achieve victory. Charles was a little risk adverse and didn't have great reserves of men, money or munitions, although the relief of Orleans in 1429 was a turning point in the war (view spoiler)[ one of many, it's called the hundred years war for a reason (hide spoiler)] , it wasn't until the 1450s that the English had been driven out of France (with the exception of Calais). Castor's book is neither a study of Joan nor a history of the hundred years war but a retelling of the brief period of her political career starting as a girl of around 17 or so, ending with her execution when she was about 20. She was passionate and intense, even those opposed to her were on occasion won over by her character and determination, something intriguing in the middle ages given her gender, age, social background and particularly since she sought to be politically active even if ultimately she was a short lived wild card in the long struggle for dominance over medieval France. The book has some colour plates - one a map of France at the time - this was a little too small and gave me a grim reminder that I will need reading glasses soon, and portraits of Philip the Good by Rogier van der Weyden and Cardinal Niccolo Albergati by Jan van Eyck (view spoiler)[ although I see from Juliet Barker's book Conquest that it may not be a portrait of papal envoy Albergati but of Cardinal Beaufort, he though was present on the day on which Joan adjured her sinning (hide spoiler)] we may not be able to get close to the minds of the people of this era, but we can begin to see what they look like - apart from Joan of Arc of course.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Antonomasia

    [3.5?] Early July 2016: What if, into the current chaos of the Labour Party, appeared a preternaturally confident teenager without previous political involvement, hogging publicity and insisting they could unify the party, despite being academically unremarkable, and in social class not fitting too well with either the diminishing core working-class vote, or the parliamentary party? And somehow, because everything's such a ridiculous mess that could barely get any worse, and some people are desp [3.5?] Early July 2016: What if, into the current chaos of the Labour Party, appeared a preternaturally confident teenager without previous political involvement, hogging publicity and insisting they could unify the party, despite being academically unremarkable, and in social class not fitting too well with either the diminishing core working-class vote, or the parliamentary party? And somehow, because everything's such a ridiculous mess that could barely get any worse, and some people are desperate to try anything, this teen gets appointed to manage a campaign for a by-election that was never terribly likely to be won - and under their direction, it is won ... and support starts to grow? When writing this book, Helen Castor didn't have such a handy contemporary analogy available to communicate the utter weirdness and unlikelihood of Joan's ascendancy to an audience who takes her for granted as a famous historical figure, but that's the kind of context she sets out by spending the first third not on Joan, but on the pandemonium of early-fifteenth-century French politics and war into which she walked. The above imaginary left-wing 2010s William Hague would be extremely unlikely to gain such traction due to their young age, and would be told to go off and finish their GCSEs whilst doing a bit of youth party work and helping out with leafleting - but being female in the fifteenth century, Joan was even less likely to be taken seriously as a military leader. A more accurate title for Helen Castor's book would be Joan of Arc in Political Context - which, okay, sounds like an undergrad honours module, but does give a fairer idea of the content, as the casual reader expects something different from a short book on Joan (and it is short - about half the length is references). I for one appreciated a refresher on the destructive machinations between Burgundy, Armagnac and the English in early fifteenth century France. But all these dukes and plots and battles are of less interest to many, and there was so much potentially interesting material missing. The introduction promises that information about Joan herself and her social environment will be forthcoming towards the end, in witness statements at posthumous hearings - but that turned out to be false hope: what's here is scanty. However, if I'd ever heard much before about the formidable Yolande of Aragon, mother-in-law of the eventual Charles VII, I'd forgotten: one of those medieval royal women whose Francis Urquhart-like influence behind the scenes decided at least as much as any showy battle. The way Castor's book reads, it's as if Yolande was the grandmaster who, over decades, moved the players into place so the Hundred Years' War could be ended. Castor also includes some highly pertinent information about similar visionary and prophetic figures who had appeared in France in the years before Joan, making pronouncements related to the war. (Some others who were current during Joan's short fame are also mentioned.) The following read like the key to why Joan was given her chance to be heard at court, when so many like her were not. Her message was the right one, at the right time, with Charles' court on the retreat - but she also fit a pattern already familiar to Yolande: During that time, holy voices had been raised across Europe to demand an end to the Church’s agony – and Yolande had learned at first hand that these spiritual leaders might be female as well as male. In the 1390s, for example, her mother-in-law, Marie of Brittany – another strikingly formidable dowager duchess of Anjou – had known a peasant woman named Marie Robine, who had begun to receive messages from God... on 22 February 1398, that Marie Robine first heard a voice from heaven, telling her that she must direct the king to reform the Church and end the schism... By April, Duchess Marie was taking so close an interest in this divine instruction that she was present in St Michael’s cemetery when Marie Robine had another vision... Memories of her were still fresh when Yolande arrived in Provence in the following year, and when the young duchess travelled north to the valley of the Loire, she herself encountered another female visionary. Jeanne-Marie de Maillé was a woman of noble birth who, after her husband’s death in 1362, had embraced a life of poverty and prayer as a recluse under the protection of a convent in Tours... Her connections with the Angevin dynasty were so close that she stood godmother to one of Duchess Marie’s sons, Yolande’s brother-in-law, and she was twice granted an audience with the king, first when Charles VI visited Tours in 1395, and again when she travelled to Paris in 1398... Jeanne-Marie spent time too with Queen Isabeau, whom [Jeanne-Marie] reprimanded for living in luxury while the people suffered and starved. When Yolande met her, she was already in her seventies, but the two women spent enough time together that when Jeanne-Marie died in 1414, Yolande was a witness at the canonisation hearing. It was good to see descriptions of Joan's battle tactics, which were actually pretty repetitive (but new to the conflict by aggressively taking the battle to the enemy, when the Armagnacs had been too weary and disillusioned to do that for a long while). When a GR friend read a book about the Hundred Years' War a couple of months ago, I wondered if Joan might have been a natural tactical genius, in the same way as kids who are brilliant at chess. Based on Castor's book, that wasn't the case, but she did seem to share some stereotypical traits with that type: her adamancy that she was right, her independent but repetitive thinking, her disregard of gender norms... (and it's too easy to see this everywhere these days) it all sounds a bit asperger's. Not a concept of Joan I'd ever previously considered. That was all interesting, but plenty else was lacking in the book. I think a decent single-volume study of Joan needs also to include the following: - What is known about daily life in villages like Domrémy and for families like Joan's, with a particular emphasis on how prolonged war affected them (e.g. crop damage, looting, sons going to fight). What were their interests in ending the war (duh) and what, if anything, might sway them to one side or another. - More material about young women in medieval France/ western Europe and social attitudes held by and about them - Perhaps more about religion: I felt the book did a decent job of communicating how suffused medieval society was with religion, and how everything in life was seen through its lens - but some reviews on here suggest that could have been communicated better to general readers. - And then there's THE issue that meant I wouldn't round the rating up to 4 stars - because it's a central part of interpreting Joan, because it relates to a significant social issue today, and because I expect a historian of Castor's generation to do better than this lazy lack of interdisciplinary enquiry. That sort of department-bound thinking should have waned with the retirement of those now in their seventies. I should not have had to explain this to other people who've read the book; the book should have done it for me, and to be honest I'm cross that Joan is being taught without this. The voices. There is plenty of comparative psychology out there showing how thought processes, presentations, and interpretations of experience differ between cultures - it's not just norms, people's thinking and processing can itself be different. It's possible that what a person now might experience as a memory, or their own thoughts, or a sense of received opinion built up over the years, could have come into the mind of a medieval person as the voice of a supernatural being. It's known that hearing voices is a common experience which doesn't necessarily mean there is any mental illness present. see: Hearing Voices Network; the work of Richard Bentall. (The UK is ahead of the curve on this issue, and there has been plenty about it in the Guardian Society over the years - I knew of it before I ever thought to study psychology - so even less excuse for Castor's failure to include this.) There's a lot of material around which can be very interestingly applied to Joan - and which could also have the added contemporary benefit of destigmatisation work with readers of the book. It doesn't require any definitive verdict about Joan - though her organised behaviour does not tally well with early schizophrenia - this is simply presenting contemporary knowlege relevant to one of the most controversial aspects of her as a historical figure. I may have been spoiled for all other history books by reading Ronald Hutton's Pagan Britain immediately prior to this one. Hutton may not be the most telegenic of historians, but on paper his fairness, humanity and attention to detail is IMO unmatched. At least as much of its topic, Pagan Britain is a history of interpretations and the reasons behind them, and Castor's book felt so meagre by comparison: it presented a straight narrative without elucidating within the text why this version was chosen, without looking at different possible opinions on anything. (I simply wasn't enthused enough to go burrowing in the un-numbered references.) Yes, the books are for different audiences, but the old-school political-history content and serviceable writing style in Joan of Arc simply don't provide the excitement that should in a C21st popular history book that doesn't bother presenting different views on the story. On the other side from my historiographical doubts, Joan of Arc was also emotionally harrowing. I read most of it fairly quickly, but coming up to her capture, I could hardly bring myself to pick up the book, and despite having said to myself I'd finish it in three days or fewer, took a day and a half longer because I was doing almost anything else apart from read those bits. (I also once played her, as scripted by Bernard Shaw, which made this feel more intensely close than the average history.) It was the cross-examinations that were most horrible and wearing to read. I had long read between the lines of other versions that Joan would have been sexually assaulted, but Castor puts the details in the open (along with how normal this behaviour was considered by her captors) - and it was curious the extent to which her male clothing appeared to have protected her, that she seemed to have become 'fair game' simply by putting on a dress, even though the men always knew she was female. (Something else that a better look at the social history may have explained.) From the first, the book was also a reminder of how bloody chaotic medieval European history actually was - cities changing hands, the level of instability and unpredictability of life. Of course... this is why I was never that drawn to medieval political history (some of the social history the Black Death really interests me though). It's just too much, whereas early modern had a rhythm that suited me, and by the eigteenth and nineteenth century - as with the Greeks and Romans - things had got too boring without being interestingly modern enough. This is not a bad book; its presentation of a complex episode of political history is clear and methodical, and would be ideal for A-level students or first year undergrads getting their heads round the chain of events - but there is too much missing here for it to be anything like the current popular work on Joan. It adds something to the field by its reconnecting her with the political and military environment in which she spent her fleeting career, but not unlike Castor's TV documentary presenting stint I saw not long before reading the book, which she had the luck and misfortune to co-host with Lucy Worsley (and in that situation, who isn't going to come off as the one with less spark?) it was fine and competent, but not enthralling when one can see how it may be done better.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Writing the biography of a medieval figure is always a difficult undertaking. However, the life of Joan the Maid is better documented than most, largely due to the transcripts of her trial for heresy and the subsequent investigation which cleared her name twenty five years after her death. Author Helen Castor attempts not only to tell her story, but to put her life – and death – in context, within the history of a turbulent time for France, by interpreting the trial transcripts and of making cle Writing the biography of a medieval figure is always a difficult undertaking. However, the life of Joan the Maid is better documented than most, largely due to the transcripts of her trial for heresy and the subsequent investigation which cleared her name twenty five years after her death. Author Helen Castor attempts not only to tell her story, but to put her life – and death – in context, within the history of a turbulent time for France, by interpreting the trial transcripts and of making clear the religious beliefs of the time. The book begins with the battle of Agincourt, of feuds and factions, and France a fractured kingdom. It is important to point out that Joan herself does not put in an appearance during the first part of this book. However, for many readers (myself included), who know little about the events of this time, understanding the politics and factions that abounded at the time help set the scene. We first read of Joan’s appearance at about a quarter of the way into this read, when she arrives at Chinon, having tried, unsuccessfully, to reach the king the previous year. It is now 1429 and Joan, a village girl, still in her teens, in men’s clothes, says she has been sent by God not just to instruct the king but to help him recover his kingdom from the English. If only the king would give her an army, she would drive the English out of France and lead him to his coronation. This message, obviously puts Charles in a quandary – if he followed a false prophet, this would lead to disaster. In the same way, rejecting a true prophet would be equally catastrophic. Time and again, Joan had to prove herself. Initially, she had to prove her integrity, her maidenhood, her faith and habits to Charles. She was questioned by theologians and had to try to prove her authenticity before undertaking her mission. Joan travelled to Orleans and the scarred and hungry town reacted with hope to the news of this miraculous maid coming to save them. Indeed, the siege was lifted within four days and it seemed a miracle. This book follows her onwards – always trying to convince those around her to fight against English rule – and on to her capture. As a prisoner, accused of heresy, she again faced of interrogation. Only this time, she was not arguing to help her king, but effectively to save her life. If she was found guilty she would burn, if not she might be spared. This is a fascinating read, which really puts the life of Joan of Arc is historical perspective. It gives great background, looks at Joan as an icon, a saint, a heroine and a woman who fought in a man’s world. It examines what she achieved, gives insight into her trial and how remarkably self possessed she was despite her age and shows, with real poignancy, how vulnerable she was. Although I do feel I know much more about Joan and her place in history, and understand why the author approached her story in the way she did, I did feel at the end that I might have liked to have read more about her life before she entered the historical arena by approaching the king. I understand why the author used the trial transcripts to look at her personal history, and that we are lucky so much remains to help reconstruct her life; but I felt that, although I understood her more, I still did not really know this elusive young woman. Overall, though, this is an enjoyable, and readable, biography, which is especially good for those who know little about the historical period in which Joan of Arc lived. Lastly, I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ray

    France in 1429 was a divided kingdom. At war with the English on and off since 1337, with a weak king and a ruling class destroyed by the catastrophe of Agincourt, it looked as if the English king would finally secure the throne of France. The English held the capital and most of northern France, and in league with Philip of Burgundy - at that time one of the most powerful of the regional French princes - was closing in for the kill. Into this impossible situation flared the comet that was Joan o France in 1429 was a divided kingdom. At war with the English on and off since 1337, with a weak king and a ruling class destroyed by the catastrophe of Agincourt, it looked as if the English king would finally secure the throne of France. The English held the capital and most of northern France, and in league with Philip of Burgundy - at that time one of the most powerful of the regional French princes - was closing in for the kill. Into this impossible situation flared the comet that was Joan of Arc. Fired with an unshakeable conviction that she was a manifestation of the will of God, she brought purpose and confidence to the French forces and set in train a turn in the fortunes of war that ultimately expelled the English from France. By then Joan was long dead. Captured and burnt as a heretic by the English. War at this time was fought equally in the pulpit as on the battlefield. The favour of God was sought and demonstrated by success in war, with reverses as much to do with Gods displeasure as a feat of arms. What I liked about this book was that it illuminates the way in which people at the time saw the conduct of war, with the theological dimension being as important as supplies and soldiers. It was theology that ensured that in 1431 Joan would be confirmed a heretic and burnt, yet in 1456 with the English chased away she would be exonerated by a review based on mostly the same evidence. A good read

  6. 4 out of 5

    Nicky

    I originally requested this as an ARC from Netgalley, because I enjoyed Helen Castor’s She-Wolves, but I never got round to it in time and ended up buying the book recently. This is a bit too dry to be a story, but Castor certainly “pick[ed her] way through the evidence, choosing what to weave into a seamless story”. It doesn’t spend much time in the narrative on talking about conflicting testimony, apocryphal stories, etc — I’m left not quite sure how sure Castor is about some of the events she I originally requested this as an ARC from Netgalley, because I enjoyed Helen Castor’s She-Wolves, but I never got round to it in time and ended up buying the book recently. This is a bit too dry to be a story, but Castor certainly “pick[ed her] way through the evidence, choosing what to weave into a seamless story”. It doesn’t spend much time in the narrative on talking about conflicting testimony, apocryphal stories, etc — I’m left not quite sure how sure Castor is about some of the events she describes. The notes are pretty extensive though, with plenty of references for anyone with the patience to follow up on it. As with She-Wolves, this is a pretty readable book, and Castor manages to bring across Joan’s indomitable spirit, her conviction, and, yeah, her sassiness. From the records we have, it seems that we have a pretty consistent picture of Joan as a pious girl who believed wholly in what she was doing, and that she was heaven-sent to fulfil her mission. One thing I wondered, though — would we treat her any better today? People talk about how badly she was treated, particularly when in Anglo-French custody but also in the endless requests to prove herself and her virginity. But we’d treat her as mad today, not venerate her. Mind you don’t take Joan the hero and act ‘holier than thou’ about the medieval people who condemned her. You likely would too, though for different reasons, however pretty and sassy and self-confident she was. Originally posted here.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Irene

    This was an interesting look at the figure of Joan of Arc through the lens of the political forces of her era. I knew virtually nothing about the 100 Year War prior to reading this.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Cynda

    The Truth always Comes Out. Hats off to Helen Castor for telling the story of The Maid chronologically rather than en media res. To tell the story from the perspective of en media res results in highlighted questions and scrambled information. To tell the story in chronological order allows for human fallibility that does not/does not need lead to character assassination. What a boon to biographers and their readers that so much documentation was recorded and kept for church records. At the reques The Truth always Comes Out. Hats off to Helen Castor for telling the story of The Maid chronologically rather than en media res. To tell the story from the perspective of en media res results in highlighted questions and scrambled information. To tell the story in chronological order allows for human fallibility that does not/does not need lead to character assassination. What a boon to biographers and their readers that so much documentation was recorded and kept for church records. At the request of Bishop Cauchon, a notary and his assistant Produced an official transcript of the proceedings Gathered correspondence Appended witness statements Appended public letters which announced Jean's execution. Can there be a more complete record of a woman of the Middle Ages? Even during the earlier part of the Early Modern Period such records were often non existent for women of middling to high status. About Time the story got told chronologically. RIP Joan, The Maid.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Leah

    More history than biography... Helen Castor begins this retelling of the life of Joan the Maid by explaining that, although her story is better documented than most from this period, it isn't always possible to take the sources at face value. Since her legend was being created while she was still alive, and since so much hung on the idea of which side in the war had the support of God, then an inevitable bias has to be expected in the various accounts of her actions and words. So Castor has set o More history than biography... Helen Castor begins this retelling of the life of Joan the Maid by explaining that, although her story is better documented than most from this period, it isn't always possible to take the sources at face value. Since her legend was being created while she was still alive, and since so much hung on the idea of which side in the war had the support of God, then an inevitable bias has to be expected in the various accounts of her actions and words. So Castor has set out to put Joan's story into the context of the times, and to do that she starts fourteen years before Joan appears, taking us back to Agincourt, and then working forward. This is a fairly short book, actually more history than biography. It's well-written and therefore easy to read, and Castor explains the various alliances and enmities clearly – having very little previous knowledge of the period, I was able to follow the various shifting loyalties without too much difficulty, and undoubtedly feel better informed about the events and personalities of the time. She describes the background to the feud between the Burgundians and the Armagnacs which split the French resistance to the English claim to the throne. And she shows how the English policy towards any final peace was circumscribed by the infancy of the King (after Henry V's death), with his regent in France, the Duke of Bedford, feeling unable to reach decisions to which young Henry VI might object when he came to power. By taking this approach, by the time of Joan's arrival on the scene, Castor had built up enough of a picture of the near desperation of the Armagnac faction that it made it slightly less inexplicable why they would have been willing to give credence to this young girl, claiming to have been sent by God to lead an army and ensure the coronation of Charles VII. But only slightly. Though Castor does make clear the importance of religious symbolism and signs at the period, I felt that the crucial point of how exactly Joan got access to the French King remained a little vague. Castor tells us the events – when it happened, who accompanied her, etc., – but left me with no real feeling of why initially any of the important men around the King took her seriously. However, once having rather shimmied past that bit, Castor's descriptions of Joan's involvement in the war and subsequent capture and trial are very well told, with the various political pressures on all sides being clearly explained. So as history the book works well, especially for someone like myself coming new to the period, though I did wonder if it was in depth enough to add much for people with a reasonable existing understanding of the people and events. I didn't feel it worked quite so well as biography however. Perhaps there isn't enough information available to make it possible, but I didn't come away from it feeling that I really understood Joan as a person. There is little about her background prior to her arriving at Charles' court, and after that, although the events are well described, somehow her personality didn't seem to come through. There only seem to be two possibilities about Joan – either she actually was God's emissary on earth or she was mentally ill. Castor rather oddly doesn't seem to take a view on that. On the one hand, I felt strongly that she was implicitly ruling out the possibility of Joan being visited by angels telling her that God was on France's side, or more specifically on the side of the Armagnacs. But, on the other hand, she really gave no other interpretation. Not that I'm a great fan of retrospective diagnosis of mental illnesses, but I felt the possibility at least needed to be discussed. The result was that she remained a rather nebulous figure, to me at least. Happily Castor doesn't end the story with Joan's death. She continues with the history of the war up to the point where the English were finally driven out of France – she doesn't delve into it in depth but covers it well enough so that it provides a satisfactory overview. And she also continues Joan's story after death, with the various reviews of her trial that eventually led to her being declared innocent of heresy. The epilogue tells the final chapter in her story – her canonisation as a saint in 1920. Overall, I found this an interesting and informative read which, while it perhaps didn't wholly satisfy me as a biography, worked very well as an introduction to the history of the period. NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Faber and Faber Ltd. www.fictionfanblog.wordpress.com

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kiwi Begs2Differ ✎

    Unfortunately, the tile of this book is deceiving. The name may not had been the author’s original choice (possibly the publisher’s?), I have come across a few books that use name dropping as a marketing tool to attract readers, but for people like me this marketing device inevitably leads to disappointment. The author opens the book with the political situation during the dynastic clash for the control of the French crown, the English invasion and the battle of Agincourt at the beginning of 140 Unfortunately, the tile of this book is deceiving. The name may not had been the author’s original choice (possibly the publisher’s?), I have come across a few books that use name dropping as a marketing tool to attract readers, but for people like me this marketing device inevitably leads to disappointment. The author opens the book with the political situation during the dynastic clash for the control of the French crown, the English invasion and the battle of Agincourt at the beginning of 1400s. It is a reasonable start but Castor dedicates five chapters to the complex climate in France and England before even introducing the protagonist. This first part occupies more than a third of the book (excluding illustrations, list of characters, family trees, notes and bibliography, these last two sections fill half the book). The second part, despite being named “Joan”, is a lengthy blow-by-blow account of the Anglo-Burgundian vs Armagnac military campaigns (in which Joan is only one of the many players) rather than the biography that I expected. The reader will have to wait until the end of this second part, chapter 9 to be exact (her testimony at the trial) to begin to learn something about Joan’s life. Finally, the third part, which occupies another quarter of the book, continues the history of the war for another twenty years or so after her death until the final retreat of the English from France (with the exception of the port city of Calais). Only at the end of the book, the testimonies of the witnesses at her second trial (25 years after the first) shed some light about Joan’s past, for a dozen or so pages. So, at least 80% of the book is not about Joan of Arc's life. Instead, it is a summary of a brief period in French history and, although well done, is certainly not the “portrait of a 19-year-old peasant who ….” that the book blurb promised. Here, you will not find in-depth analysis of Joan’s claims to be the messenger of God, nor the theological position and implications at the time (for example was the papacy aware of her campaign and of the trial? and if so what was their position?), no insights on the religious or cultural historical context (e.g. how was heresy defined at the time? What were her contemporaries beliefs about women, sorcery and superstition?), and more importantly you will not get a sense of who Joan was and what her personality was like. With a name like “The history of the Ango-Burgundian and French Armagnac conflict before, during and after Joan of Arc”, I would rate the book 4-5 stars, but as it is named “Joan of Arc, a history”, I must rate it much less. It is a pity, because this historical period is interesting and Castor’s writing of the strategies during the war (like at the siege of Orleans, the many political manoeuvrings and her descriptions of the battlefields) are engaging. I would recommend this book as a chronology of the dynastic battle for the French crown during the first half of 15th century (complete with a detailed genealogy of the main players), but if you, like me, are looking forward to reading a biography of Jehanne la Pucelle, look elsewhere.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Marta

    This book is not so much about Joan but more about France at the end of the 100 year war. Castor chooses to tell the story from its overall political standpoint. The book starts 15 years before Joan’s appearance and outlines the factions, treacheries and infighting that mired the French King’s court and its war with the English. Charles VI was mad and a regent ruled, and his successor, the Dauphin, later Charles VII, was accessory to the murder of the popular Duke of Burgundy, leader of the riva This book is not so much about Joan but more about France at the end of the 100 year war. Castor chooses to tell the story from its overall political standpoint. The book starts 15 years before Joan’s appearance and outlines the factions, treacheries and infighting that mired the French King’s court and its war with the English. Charles VI was mad and a regent ruled, and his successor, the Dauphin, later Charles VII, was accessory to the murder of the popular Duke of Burgundy, leader of the rival faction who supported the claim of English King, Henry V, to the French throne. The King disowned the Dauphin as a result of his crime, and acknowledged the English king as his heir. French nobles fought on both sides - this was not regarded as a war between French and English, but supporters of the true king - both sides claiming theirs was it. By the time Joan shows up, the old King is dead, but the Dauphin has not been crowned and has fled to Bruges. French spirits are low, The English are winning, and Orleans is under a hopeless siege. Joan claims she had visions telling her to lead the French army to drive the English from France and crown Charles VII as king. She is examined and they let her go to Orleans. She succeeds in freeing the city, and sparks a new hope and energy in France. The rest is history, as they say. What she sets in motion leads to a re-united France in about 20 years later. I found the focus of Joan’s trials interesting: no one questioned she heard voices. Paramount to decide was wether the voices came from God or the devil. Clearly, political affiliation greatly influenced whom the judges were going to attribute them. Castor dispenses with citing sources or historian-type minutia, which leads to a straightforward narrative full of action. We are told what happened and when, who was there. This makes for a good story. However she also dispenses with character development.. We don’t really get to know Joan, nor any other characters. Nor do we learn much about how people lived at the time. This is pretty old-fashioned battles, kings, events, dukes history. I went through thos fast on audio while sewing masks - reading probably would have been more immersive, but no time for that now. I enjoyed it but I wish Castor made an effort to make it more personal.

  12. 5 out of 5

    A.L. Sowards

    This was the first biography of Joan of Arc that I’ve read, and I thought it was a good starting point. About the first third dealt with the situation in the Hundred Year’s War before Joan came to the scene, and then the book followed her life, the effects of her mission, and how she’s been viewed since the 15th century. The tone was more scholarly than narrative. I can’t compare it to other books on the subject, but it added to my knowledge. Probably about 3.5 stars, so I’m rounding up.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    Note: Read up on the hundred years war between England and France, use wikipedia, anything, just gain an understanding of the period from 1337 to 1453, whereby the House of Plantagenet tried to wrestle control of France. I am not that familiar with this period, apart from Henry V and his victory at Agincourt in 1415. This is where Helen Castors' study begins. The first part of the book details the conflict in France between the Burgundians and the Armagnacs, the Burgundians being allied with the Note: Read up on the hundred years war between England and France, use wikipedia, anything, just gain an understanding of the period from 1337 to 1453, whereby the House of Plantagenet tried to wrestle control of France. I am not that familiar with this period, apart from Henry V and his victory at Agincourt in 1415. This is where Helen Castors' study begins. The first part of the book details the conflict in France between the Burgundians and the Armagnacs, the Burgundians being allied with the English. It is quite a heavy going first section of the book. Part two of the book, we are looking around over a hundred pages in, before we encounter Joan the Maid, a young Woman who claimed to have a vision from God and his Angels to save France against the English. She was tested by the Priests of the Armagnacs, and deemed her visions were true and that she was Holy inspired, and subsequently she was allowed to fight for Charles VI to restore France. However, in the book, she only really is discussed in just maybe over a hundred pages in. Her victories in relieving the siege of Orleans, and pushing the English back are her most famous achievements she is noted for. She wore mens clothes, armour, and back on those religious times that was seen as a blasphemy for any Woman to do that. However, her zeal and piousness led to some spectacular victories and a great moral booster for Charles. Then it all went wrong, she was captured by the Burgundians, who wanted her ransomed by the Armagnacs, but in the end she was handed over to the English. I am not going to get waded down in explaining her history - read the book - but essentially she was tried by noted theologians of the day, most being sympathetic to the English. Her fate was sealed, she refused to confess that she was a 'witch' and all the other negative aspects of being a Woman with close cropped hair and wearing mens clothing - and so on - that her voices did not come from Saints and God and that she was possessed by demons. It was, as later appeared, a fixed trial and she was burnt at the stake in Rouen in 1431. The English got their revenge, but that did not last that long as the Burgundians and Armagnacs under Charles VII became united and drove the English out of Normandy only several years later. One of Joans prophecies predicted this, and I guess she was exonerated afterwards when her case was re-examined after Charles' victory. There is the basic premise of the book. The book I found was quite heavy going, mainly because of all the French town names which were unfamiliar and also the amount of French nobility too. It did become somewhat tedious, however there is a family tree at the beginning of the book and also some templates of a map of France and the various characters involved. The study of Joan the Maid broke it up and made it more interesting, and the final two chapters dealt with her exoneration and, in 1920 her eventual canonisation as eventually she was believed by the Catholics has being sent from god. Today, she is still quite a divisive figure in France, with both the right and left wing claiming her as their own. Which ever way you look at it, she became a saint, her trial was fixed, she was brave and zealous and won some major victories over the English (Orleans being her most notable achievement). But the book did drag in certain places, and it was not exactly what I was looking for. Well written and researched though, with a great source of references. I think I will give this a 3.5, rounded back down to a 3 because it did become somewhat of a grind in certain places. I recommend for History students, as well as someone who is more familiar with France than I am (at least Medieval France).

  14. 4 out of 5

    Roman Clodia

    This is an intelligent and detailed re-telling of the story of Joan of Arc, to give her her English name. Castor is alive to the problems of the sources, many of which are either politically or religiously biased, and/or written so far after the events that their agenda is to re-tell their own story of Jeanne. Despite that, though, no historian can avoid them, and can only be self-consciously aware of the distortions, inconsistencies and contradictions raised by the historical record. At the same This is an intelligent and detailed re-telling of the story of Joan of Arc, to give her her English name. Castor is alive to the problems of the sources, many of which are either politically or religiously biased, and/or written so far after the events that their agenda is to re-tell their own story of Jeanne. Despite that, though, no historian can avoid them, and can only be self-consciously aware of the distortions, inconsistencies and contradictions raised by the historical record. At the same time, Castor tries to tell the story not through modern eyes but in its own terms: she doesn’t, therefore, ask questions about the reality of Jeanne’s voices and what they might tell us about her mental or physical state, but instead views the story via the theological conceptions of the fifteenth century. What was at stake for the church at the time was the question of whether the voices came from heaven or from hell – and, thus, whether Jeanne was a messenger of god or the devil. This isn’t always an easy read as Castor uncovers the complicated politics of the period – and she starts with Azincourt, when Jeanne was just a baby in order to set the political scene onto which Jeanne bursts. She is also very conscious of the gender issues prompted by Jeanne’s story – as were contemporaries such as Christine de Pizan who claimed Jeanne as a feminist icon already in the fifteenth century. So this isn’t hard-core academic history but is a book which expects, and repays, close attention – not a light holiday or bed-time read, but recommended for a modern and self-aware reading of the Maid of Orleans. (This review is from an ARC courtesy of the publisher)

  15. 4 out of 5

    Rindis

    Helen Castor describes the story of Joan of Arc as normally being written backwards. Everything is colored by the knowledge of what she would become to history. Also, the histories pour over the transcripts of her trials looking for clues to her early life from people who had already been heavily impacted by what she had done. So, Castor starts with the story of the civil war that tore France apart and allied Burgundy with an English bid for the French throne. How continuous political dissension Helen Castor describes the story of Joan of Arc as normally being written backwards. Everything is colored by the knowledge of what she would become to history. Also, the histories pour over the transcripts of her trials looking for clues to her early life from people who had already been heavily impacted by what she had done. So, Castor starts with the story of the civil war that tore France apart and allied Burgundy with an English bid for the French throne. How continuous political dissension tore apart the Kingdom of France and left it unable to act even in the face of a serious external threat. And only at this point, is Joan introduced, at the point where she steps in to contemporary reports. Castor does a careful job of trying to present the religious attitudes of the day, of showing both how popular opinion would have reacted to events, and the careful scholastic investigation into Joan's claims. The last part of the book continues the collapse of English France after her death, and concludes with her second trial, where greatly changed political conditions guaranteed a different verdict than the original. It is at that point where people from Joan's home village were questioned, and anything is said of her early life. There is then a short afterword that talks about her canonization as a saint in 1920. In all, it's a surprisingly short book, but well done, and a good look at early fifteenth-century France.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

    I'm sorry to say that I was really disappointed with this book, and gave up on the last third. The principle reason: there was hardly any Joan of Arc in it! She doesn't appear until the 26% mark, and she's dead by 57%. In a book about Joan of Arc, she's only in a third of it, and that just doesn't seem right. For an overview on medieval French politics, this book is brilliant, but what I was really hoping for was a women's history on one of the boldest and most influential women in history. This I'm sorry to say that I was really disappointed with this book, and gave up on the last third. The principle reason: there was hardly any Joan of Arc in it! She doesn't appear until the 26% mark, and she's dead by 57%. In a book about Joan of Arc, she's only in a third of it, and that just doesn't seem right. For an overview on medieval French politics, this book is brilliant, but what I was really hoping for was a women's history on one of the boldest and most influential women in history. This book is not it.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Victoria Rodríguez

    Amazing book about Joan of Arc's time including the circumstances in France that weren't easy at all. I liked Helen Castor's clarity in her narrative. It is more than just Joan's story. A book worth reading about my favorite hero. Amazing book about Joan of Arc's time including the circumstances in France that weren't easy at all. I liked Helen Castor's clarity in her narrative. It is more than just Joan's story. A book worth reading about my favorite hero.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Haley

    The great strength of this book is its organization. Part One establishes the context of the 100 years war, so the reader can understand the circumstances under which Joan arrived on the scene; Part Two spans between Joan's arrival at court and her death; and Part Three discusses the events of the war after Joan's death. Castor notes that this organization is to give context to the historical sources available, many of which were retrospective testimonies given in light of what Joan had already The great strength of this book is its organization. Part One establishes the context of the 100 years war, so the reader can understand the circumstances under which Joan arrived on the scene; Part Two spans between Joan's arrival at court and her death; and Part Three discusses the events of the war after Joan's death. Castor notes that this organization is to give context to the historical sources available, many of which were retrospective testimonies given in light of what Joan had already accomplished. As a reader, I found this organization was immensely helpful to my understanding of the events of Joan's life. Moreover, I found the larger events of the 100 years war (Castor's work covers the third and final "Lancaster Phase" of the war, from 1415-1453) to be absolutely fascinating. Part One features brutal assassinations, entertaining political machinations, and horrific battle massacres. Many of the historical details are true gems (e.g., the Duke of Burgundy's castle was filled with "ingenious contraptions, finely wrought automata and galumphing practical jokes"). There is a lot going on, and it was sometimes difficult to keep track of all the details, but I still had great fun reading this. Part Two was in comparison less interesting, as it featured events I already had knowledge of and I found the figure of Joan herself oddly less compelling (but neither of these are faults of Castor). Overall, this is a thoroughly researched work that carefully considers the historical evidence while still telling a clear, detailed and fascinating narrative story.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Gabriel Relich

    Helen Castor tells the story of Joan of Arc from the point of view of a medieval historian. I imagine that some who had a fairy-tale conception of Joan of Arc may be a tad disturbed by the brutality of medieval times and the capacity of warring nobles to distort the concept of Providence. Saints however are remembered precisely because they showed courage in disastrous times. Joan of Arc as remembered by Castor is not a sweet angelic figure on a holy card. One can see faults, foibles, doubt and Helen Castor tells the story of Joan of Arc from the point of view of a medieval historian. I imagine that some who had a fairy-tale conception of Joan of Arc may be a tad disturbed by the brutality of medieval times and the capacity of warring nobles to distort the concept of Providence. Saints however are remembered precisely because they showed courage in disastrous times. Joan of Arc as remembered by Castor is not a sweet angelic figure on a holy card. One can see faults, foibles, doubt and politics but as Castor herself says "her star still shines." Joan, at the age of eighteen in a culture that limited the power of women, by sheer force of will and trust in God's help turned the course of history when many thought the Armagnac cause was lost. In the end I was inspired by Joan's courage, holiness and accomplishments and have no doubt that she is in paradise. La grande Pucelle, pray for us!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jo

    Castor's biography of the famous French saint doesn't feature Joan's early life and instead starts with a background of events in France leading up to the siege of Orleans. Some of the politics behind it all were a bit hard to wade through but all in all this was an interesting depiction of Joan of Arc's life after she joined up with the Dauphin. Castor's biography of the famous French saint doesn't feature Joan's early life and instead starts with a background of events in France leading up to the siege of Orleans. Some of the politics behind it all were a bit hard to wade through but all in all this was an interesting depiction of Joan of Arc's life after she joined up with the Dauphin.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sara Belal

    This book puts Joan D'Arc's story into historical context and demistifies her legend making it more human and understandable. A great read of France's history in the 13-1400s, putting you right in the middle of the Burgandian/Armangac/English wars. I would reccomend reading it as it explains, through the eyes of those who made the big decisions, what is considered now to be unfathomable series of events and ideas, that happened so that Joan D'Arc could become the legend that she is now. This book puts Joan D'Arc's story into historical context and demistifies her legend making it more human and understandable. A great read of France's history in the 13-1400s, putting you right in the middle of the Burgandian/Armangac/English wars. I would reccomend reading it as it explains, through the eyes of those who made the big decisions, what is considered now to be unfathomable series of events and ideas, that happened so that Joan D'Arc could become the legend that she is now.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Oliver

    I'm not a religious person but I found this incredibly emotional to read. In Joan's status as a cultural and historical icon, we often lose the real human being in this story. What she did was extraordinary. I'm not a religious person but I found this incredibly emotional to read. In Joan's status as a cultural and historical icon, we often lose the real human being in this story. What she did was extraordinary.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    Throughout history there have been figures that have risen meteorically only to come crashing to earth very quickly. In all of medieval European history, no figure rose so dramatically or fell so quickly as Joan of Arc, the teenage peasant girl who claimed to hear voices from angels and saints and rallied the battered French forces against the invading English. And despite her precipitous fall, few other figures from this time have endured in popular imagination. So, who was she, what exactly di Throughout history there have been figures that have risen meteorically only to come crashing to earth very quickly. In all of medieval European history, no figure rose so dramatically or fell so quickly as Joan of Arc, the teenage peasant girl who claimed to hear voices from angels and saints and rallied the battered French forces against the invading English. And despite her precipitous fall, few other figures from this time have endured in popular imagination. So, who was she, what exactly did she do, and was she the real deal or a delusional peasant? In this book, Helen Castor seeks to inject some flesh and blood into this enduring myth. If this is your first time reading about Joan of Arc, it is important to note that this book is not a straight, cradle-to-grave biography. This book rather puts Joan in her historical context by going all the way back to the invasion of France by that equally famous figure from this period, King Henry V of England, and proceeding from there. In the first act, Ms. Castor shows how, through the English invasion and internal divisions of the French court, much of northern France fell into English hands. This is incredibly valuable context, but it can be rather complicated too. There is a great deal of medieval politics and backstabbing going on that Ms. Castor does not always do a great job of explaining. The point Ms. Castor makes by the end though is that things look incredibly bleak for the French by the time Joan arrives at court. When Joan does arrive and the French decide to give her an army, things dramatically change. Joan lifts the siege of the critical city of Orleans and begins to push the English back with a handful of victories that look something akin to miracles. Ms. Castor does a great job of explaining how Joan, a teenage peasant girl with no military experience claiming to hear messages from God, got an audience with the Dauphin and began to push the English back, but she doesn't do a great job of explaining why the French would entrust her with an army in the first place. At the same time, to preserve the linear story she is telling about this period in history, Ms. Castor doesn't tell us anything about Joan's background until her capture and trial at the hands of the English. On top of that, one of the more frustrating parts about his book is the fact that there are no campaign or battle maps included. There is only one map that shows the status quo in France just prior to Joan's arrival at court. While it is a detailed map, I found myself having to refer to that one map over and over again and not always finding where everyone was. Even some simple black and white maps inserted into the text would've helped a great deal. The last major aspect of Joan's story Ms. Castor deals with is her trial, execution, and then retrial decades later. The popular myth of Joan's trial is that it was a hit job designed to pass a guilty verdict upon a girl who had become such a nuisance to the English so quickly. The story Ms. Castor relates though is one where the jurists were deadly serious about Joan's potential heresy and genuinely were trying to correct her error and save her soul and her life. Though things do not end well for Joan, her retrial decades later casts aspersions on that first trial. Thus, by the end of the book, I was left with two contradictory thoughts about Joan's trial, that it was both a preordained hit job and a sincere search for the truth of her claims. Ms. Castor does not really giver her own analysis and opinions about the whole matter, leaving it up to the reader to decide for themselves. Ultimately, this book is a great introduction to the period. By the end of it, I had a better understanding of the times Joan lived in and just how vital a role she played in turning back the English invasion, even though she only campaigned for a little over a year and would not live to see France recovered by the French. And yet, I still feel as though there were big gaps left unexplained. Ms. Castor doesn't do enough to dispel the confusion that reigned prior to Joan's arrival. And while a great deal of Joan's history is answered in this book, I am still left with a great number of questions, the biggest one being whether or not Joan was the real deal, a person who was chosen by God to deliver France from the English, or just a delusional peasant girl. Ms. Castor never even attempts to answer that question and, perhaps, there is no definitive answer to that question. Still, an attempt at answering that question would've been nice. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in reading an introduction to Joan of Arc and her times. Just don't expect all of your questions to be answered by the end of it.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Caidyn (he/him/his)

    3.5 Joan of Arc -- or Joan the Maid -- is an amazing story. A young woman driven by her conviction to do what no woman could have ever dreamed of doing back then: commanding an army and restoring the rightful king to France. I mean, it's amazing what she did, and even more amazing that she actually succeeded. Not to mention her terrible end. She was nineteen when she died, the same age I am as I'm writing this review. She has done way more than I have. Then again, I don't hear various voices. Whet 3.5 Joan of Arc -- or Joan the Maid -- is an amazing story. A young woman driven by her conviction to do what no woman could have ever dreamed of doing back then: commanding an army and restoring the rightful king to France. I mean, it's amazing what she did, and even more amazing that she actually succeeded. Not to mention her terrible end. She was nineteen when she died, the same age I am as I'm writing this review. She has done way more than I have. Then again, I don't hear various voices. Whether she was schizophrenic, or suffered from epilepsy or religious mania, it doesn't matter. What she did was amazing, and still is. She's now a saint in the Catholic church and her story is one that people still find interesting and care about. I think it's surprising that there aren't more books on her, fiction and nonfiction, actually. Let alone movies. This seems like a story perfect to be made into a movie or a TV show. I think the one thing that I didn't like about this book was that the first 30% didn't have Joan at all. Then, for about 20% it it was about her, then the last 15ish% of the book slightly mentioned her. It was about her and her times, but I just wanted more on her. All the backstory was a helpful reminder since I'm more familiar with the War of the Roses than the battle for territory in France, though it really started back with Henry II of England. Still, a good book. I love the way Helen Castor tells history because it doesn't read like a list of facts, but more like an engrossing novel.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Corey Wozniak

    As exciting a history book as one could hope to read. Helen Castor does a terrific job of telling Joan's story-- and not just Joan's story, actually, but the larger story of the Hundred Years' War, beginning with the Battle of Avincourt in 1415 all the way to Joan's canonization in the Roman Catholic Church in the 1920s. I learned a lot. Joan the Maid (Jean la Pucelle) was a bonafide [email protected], cutting her hair short, donning men's clothes, and fiercely proclaiming that she was sent by God to sweep th As exciting a history book as one could hope to read. Helen Castor does a terrific job of telling Joan's story-- and not just Joan's story, actually, but the larger story of the Hundred Years' War, beginning with the Battle of Avincourt in 1415 all the way to Joan's canonization in the Roman Catholic Church in the 1920s. I learned a lot. Joan the Maid (Jean la Pucelle) was a bonafide [email protected], cutting her hair short, donning men's clothes, and fiercely proclaiming that she was sent by God to sweep the English from France and restore the dauphin Charles to his rightful role as King of the most Christian kingdom. They [the English] had heard about her, this blasphemous whore, even before the herald had arrived with her letter . . . She was threatening to kill them all, which made her touched in the head, or a witch, or both. And she called herself 'the Maid'. Was she daring to compare herself to the blessed Virgin, the holy mother of God, while she ran around with soldiers, her hair cut short and her legs on show like a shameless little tart? . . . And so they looked on, howls of derision and insults of epic profanity hanging in the spring air, while the girl and her men moved to cross the river at Checy, upstream to the east of the town.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Gerald Heath

    History fascinates me, but I probably would not have got far in this book had it not been sent to me as a gift by a friend. While the book is meticulously researched, the exposition of the early background of the political factions in France, and the successful conquest by England, was slow-going. However, at the 26% mark, (where I recommend you begin), Joan makes her entrance, and the book is transformed. By the way, the real book goes to only the 67% mark, as the rest is authentication. Was she History fascinates me, but I probably would not have got far in this book had it not been sent to me as a gift by a friend. While the book is meticulously researched, the exposition of the early background of the political factions in France, and the successful conquest by England, was slow-going. However, at the 26% mark, (where I recommend you begin), Joan makes her entrance, and the book is transformed. By the way, the real book goes to only the 67% mark, as the rest is authentication. Was she in touch with the divine, or was she insane? She conducted herself in a lucid manner, held the courage of her convictions through a lengthy interrogation, and...what she predicted came to pass. My leaning would be toward mental illness, but her charisma and her accomplishments are undeniable. At its most fascinating, this biography still has the feel and pace of a textbook. If you read it, plan to be enlightened, rather than entertained.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Patricia Herlevi

    This book contains a lengthy bibliography so you know it's well researched. Unfortunately, Helen Castor spends too much time delving into the history leading up to Joan's arrival on the French scene. I'm more interested in what was happening in Joan's thoughts, feelings, and her passions, rather than the machinations of the power players (men) of her era. However, for those readers wishing to get the context of Joan's role in the medieval French drama of the 100 Year War, what lead up to it and t This book contains a lengthy bibliography so you know it's well researched. Unfortunately, Helen Castor spends too much time delving into the history leading up to Joan's arrival on the French scene. I'm more interested in what was happening in Joan's thoughts, feelings, and her passions, rather than the machinations of the power players (men) of her era. However, for those readers wishing to get the context of Joan's role in the medieval French drama of the 100 Year War, what lead up to it and the resolution of it, Castor provides that material in spades. I'm more interested in Joan's spiritual side, her communication with saints and Archangel Michael. And in that regard, I have read better books on the topic over the years.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jeanne Ferris

    I bought the author's argument early in the book that to understand Joan of Arc's life, the reader needs to understand the context in which she lived. I found the material on that context interesting. Then I got to the part about Joan herself, and I found that interesting. And in a twinkling of an eye, I was in the third part of the book, about what happened to the memory of Joan after she died. I learned hardly anything new about Joan, though I did learn a fair amount about France and England b I bought the author's argument early in the book that to understand Joan of Arc's life, the reader needs to understand the context in which she lived. I found the material on that context interesting. Then I got to the part about Joan herself, and I found that interesting. And in a twinkling of an eye, I was in the third part of the book, about what happened to the memory of Joan after she died. I learned hardly anything new about Joan, though I did learn a fair amount about France and England before, during, and after her life. The subtitle "A History" does signal that this isn't a biography, but the title "Joan of Arc" is misleading, alas.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

    This took ages to get going, but once I did, I was more than satisfied! This is remarkably scholarly, captivating, and thorough. I am grateful Castor gives us every bit of information possible and leaves the editorializing to which Joan lends herself to the reader. “In gaining a saint...we have lost a human being,” she writes, and I think that's true. We have a habit of idealizing our saints so as to excuse our own sinfulness and it's unfair to us both! This took ages to get going, but once I did, I was more than satisfied! This is remarkably scholarly, captivating, and thorough. I am grateful Castor gives us every bit of information possible and leaves the editorializing to which Joan lends herself to the reader. “In gaining a saint...we have lost a human being,” she writes, and I think that's true. We have a habit of idealizing our saints so as to excuse our own sinfulness and it's unfair to us both!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Abbey

    Big thanks to NetGalley for the review ecopy. I love Helen Castor. She's funny, insightful and informative all at the same time and this book is no exception. I've read as much of her work as I can and I can't wait to get my hands on a physical copy of this. If you loved her She Wolves, Princess Michael of Kent's Queen of Four Kingdoms and Kimberly Cutter's The Maid, then you will love this. Big thanks to NetGalley for the review ecopy. I love Helen Castor. She's funny, insightful and informative all at the same time and this book is no exception. I've read as much of her work as I can and I can't wait to get my hands on a physical copy of this. If you loved her She Wolves, Princess Michael of Kent's Queen of Four Kingdoms and Kimberly Cutter's The Maid, then you will love this.

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