In this month of the Woman, we’re tackling some interesting females. And no historical figure is more interesting than Joan of Arc. You know that, but have you heard of the Queen behind the scenes?
Book: The Maid and The Queen: The Secret History of Joan of Arc (New March 26, 2013) by Nancy Goldstone
When we traveled to France, we made a difficult decision on the fly to skip a planned night in Rouen. Our schedule was going to allow so little time, that we had to miss the famous cathedral and the reminders of Joan of Arc in that ancient city. So we did see the statue shown here in Paris Notre Dame but although it was the right decision at the time, after reading The Maid and the Queen, I’m doubly sorry that we did not have time for Rouen. As a matter of fact, one could plan a whole trip to France following the trail of Joan of Arc in the northern portions of the country. If you expanded to visit the various castles of the rulers that are part of this story, you could tour nearly all of France.
The book’s subtitle, The Secret History of Joan of Arc adds more enticement to reading this very focused history. The Queen of the title is Yolande of Aragon, who married Louis II, King of Sicily (which included several regions of France as well). Travel planners take note–we now have to add Barcelona (Aragon) and Naples (Sicily) and the Province to our agenda, in addition to Maine and Anjou.
You never heard of Queen Yolande? Not many have, except dedicated Medieval scholars. Author Nancy Goldstone explains, in one of her witty asides,
Six hundred years is a long time to wait for answers to so prominent a mystery. For those who wonder after reading these pages how it is possible that the evidence of Yolande’s involvement in the story of Joan of Arc has never before been adequately explored, I can only respond that there is no more effective camouflage in history than to have been born a woman.
Goldsmith is a careful scholar and prefaces the book with notes about the enormous amount of information available on the happenings of the fifteenth century. The rather short book (254 pages) proves the point with an additional 52 pages of footnotes, index and Bibliographic references. She says at the end of her introductory notes, “…as provocative and even astonishing as it sometimes may appear, what you are about to read actually happened.”
Hmmm, well yes, maybe. History is slippery and even primary sources can be untrustworthy. Goldstone herself points out the reasons that some of the contemporary accounts of Joan of Arc are not to be trusted, and the whole mystery surrounding Joan of Arc revolves around the deceptions practiced by the English court who tried her, in cahoots with their French sympathizers, and later revealed when the other side came to the fore and the English were finally driven out always with the considerable help of Queen Yolande.
Goldstone also points out that the original trial of Joan was highly motivated by the academics at the Theology College of the University of Paris who were split between those loyal to Charles, the Dauphin and the Burgundians who supported the English. As anyone knows who has been near a University, academic disputes can be among the nastiest disagreements of all. And, the author gives evidence that the re-examination of the trial, twenty years after Joan was burned at the stake, was not the result of the Dauphin’s guilty conscience at deserting his champion in the original trial, but instead was an evening of scores by the winning side among the academics when then King Charles VII finally defeated the English. Again, the author takes a breather from piling up evidence for a sharp comment:
So much of life is fleeting, ephemeral; seasons change; civilizations rise and fall; peple are born, they live a little, they die.
But faculty disagreements endure.
I point out these comments because I have the feeling that there will be faculty disagreements in many countries about Goldstone’s theory that Queen Yolande found Joan and planted the idea that Charles should use her to defeat the English.
Actually, Joan of Arc winds up playing supporting role to the real star–Queen Yolande. It seems that Yolande was the savviest politician in France at the time–and perhaps smarter than those in England, too. She would have rivaled Elizabeth I if they had lived at the same time. But whether Joan of Arc was her creature or not, I will leave the academics to fight about. The British will no doubt have something to say about Goldstone’s sympathy for the French. If all you know of Agincourt is what Shakespeare told you of the stirring speech of Henry–well, there’s more to the story…
Meanwhile, this is a rousing good adventure story, with beaucoups intrigue and I highly recommend it. It is rare to read history that is so well researched, but also so approachable. I laughed out loud frequently at the author’s commentary, and always appreciated her fresh approach. And I personally loved Yolande, particularly when I found out that when the duke of Orléans was captured by the English during the battle of Agincourt, Yolande rescued his library to keep it away from the English.
Learn a lot more about the book and the author’s thinking in this Q & A.
Okay, prove me wrong if you can–had you heard of Queen Yolande? And tell me about your own connection to Joan of Arc. Books? Plays? Travel?
Note: The publisher provided me with a review copy which is S.O.P. and therefore does not affect my thoughts. Photos here are credited, or if you click on the photo you will find more about the photographer. A Traveler’s Library is an affiliate of Amazon.com, so although we love Independent Bookstores, we know you are not always near one. If you shop Amazon, use our links and we benefit.