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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. 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 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 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 Godon 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 schismBy 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 visionMemories 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 Maill 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 ToursHer 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 1398Jeanne 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 Domr my 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 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 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. 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 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 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 , 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. More history than biographyHelen 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 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 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 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. 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 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 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 afterJoan 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. 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 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. For me this a book view spoiler sorry for the shocking revelation hide spoiler ^DOWNLOAD ↛ Joan of Arc ↠ 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 , 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 Revealing