Friday, September 27, 2013

The Maid and the Queen

by Linda Thornburg, guest blogger
I thought I was changing my tack, moving as I was back to 15th-century France after writing for a week about contemporary bad girls, good girls, Wrens and Elizabeth Taylor. Clearly this was a positive, even literate turn as a guest blogger for readers of The Daily Glean. Then it struck me. Was I daft? I was now reading about the most bad ass girl of all time: voice hearing, horse riding, army leading, men’s clothes wearing, Joan of Arc, in Nancy Goldstone’s The Maid and the Queen.
After reading an obituary recently for Julie Harris, I re-watched a few of her films, Requiem for a Heavyweight, East of Eden, and an episode of Route 66. I couldn’t shake off thinking of Harris playing Joan in Jean Anouilh’s The Lark, adapted by Lillian Hellman. I mourned not having seen it.

Apart from meeting Ms. Harris backstage twice–the first time asking her to read my screenplay, and the second time having her turn down the role–my connection with her was vicarious at best. I played Joan in a college production of The Lark. 
Once you’ve stepped into the skin of the radical, truth-to-power speaking Joan, there’s no going back. You are one with all the Joans of history.
I rummaged through some boxes in the basement and pulled out my stained and tattered playbook. Joan sprung back to life.
JOAN. I want a horse. I want the dress of a man. I want an armed escort. You will give them orders to take me to Chinon to see the Dauphin.
BEAUDRICOURT. Of course. And I will also kick you in the place it will do the most good.
JOAN. Kicks, blows. Whichever you like best. I’m used to them by now. I want a horse. I want the dress of a man. I want an armed escort.
(I’ve often thought Joan’s persecutors had more trouble dealing with the men’s clothing than with her visions.)

Joan faced the Angels. She faced the wrath of her father, who threatened to drown her, himself, if she spoke any more about soldiers and saints. She faced the mockery of Beaudricourt. She overcame the timidity of the Dauphin. She rode against greater English forces. She matched wits with Inquisitors. At her back was Yolande of Aragon, Queen of Sicily, one of the most astute politicians of the era, one of the most beautiful women in Europe, and also protector, defender and mother-in-law to the Dauphin. 
Yolande of Aragon with the future Charles VII
It’s one of those complicated, medieval, dysfunctional royal family soaps–with international consequences. The Hundred Years’ war had ravaged France. Charles VI, King of France, went mad. His cousin, John the Fearless (of Burgundy), was regent for a while, but when John became Duke of Burgundy, he set out to wrestle the crown from Charles VI and Charles' brother Louis of Orleans. The Duke got custody of Charles’ children–except for the youngest, Charles, who was spirited away by Yolande. It was messy. Louis and John’s uncle tried to reconcile the two, but John of Burgundy had Louis of Orleans murdered. The British took advantage of this family squabble. Henry V stomped the French at Agincourt. This did not help. The Burgundians sided with the British. By now, Charles VII’s older brothers had died and he became Dauphin, heir to the throne. Under the influence of the Burgundians, the English, and in his frazzled mental state, Charles VI signed away young Charles’ birthright ceding the French throne to Henry VI of England, son of Henry V and Catherine of Valois, Charles VI’s daughter.

This made the true French–as opposed to the traitorous friends of the English French–really mad.
 The Dauphin claimed the throne, even though he couldn’t get to Reims to be crowned. Facing threats to his title and life, the Dauphin invited John the Fearless to a diplomatic meeting and had him assassinated on the way. The English still held all of Northern France–Paris, Rouen, Reims. And they had laid siege to Orleans, the last barrier between the Dauphin and English invaders. For six months, the English surrounded Orleans choking off food, supplies and access. The Dauphin, having been routed by the English at Agincourt. couldn’t muster his courage to attack. Into this muddle, on a white horse, rode the visionary Maid of Orleans.

 “How,” asks the jacket cover, “did an illiterate peasant girl gain access to the future king of France, earn his trust and eventually lead his forces into battle? Was it only the hand of God that moved Joan of Arc–or was it also Yolande of Aragon?”
With accounts of political intrigue, violence, mayhem and ruin, Goldstone’s marvelous book weaves a multihued tapestry of the time and the relationship between the ambitious, powerful Yolande of Aragon and the charismatic girl warrior, Joan of Orleans–two truly bad ass French girls. 
Guest blogger Linda Thornburg is a filmmaker. She also occasionally writes her own blog Miss Boogie's Adventures. See Miss Boogie's film debut here.


  1. The legend of Joan of Arc stands at the nexus of so many forces--political, religious, military, hegemonic, even psychoanalytic, that research into its origins and influence could go on forever. That someone influential helped her, funded her armies, permitted her access to the Dauphin, is obvious. But so is the completeness of Joan's isolation when powerful factions decided her existence had become a liability. The greater Yolande's role in promoting Joan, the greater her share of the blame for her abandonment.

  2. gioconda,
    Thanks for your most insightful comment. I agree completely. Yolande as did Charles VII, who undoubtedly benefited most, at least used and abandoned Joan, if not "seduced and abandoned" her. But isn't that how the ruling classes have used peasants, particularly the most dedicated, from ancient of days until now? Maybe that would have been the better blog.
    I've enjoyed your comments on all the guest blogs. Thank you. JPM will be back on Monday!
    Very best,

  3. Like so many women, I have long been enthralled by Joan of Arc. My deeper, abiding obsession began in college when a friend played the title role in Bernard Shaw's ST. JOAN. It carried me into my doctoral studies where I was exposed to a phenomenal musical monodrama called HERSTORY III: JEHANNE DE LORAINNE by New England composer Elizabeth Vercoe and recorded on Owl by mezzo-soprano Sharon Mabry.

    This work and subject became the focus of the pinnacle of my doctoral studies and output for performances, lectures, and dissertation. As a university professor and performer I continue to share this work and the subject in various forms at national, regional, and area conferences and performances. Nowhere have I come across the information you presented in this blog!

    I am dumbfounded and incredibly delighted at once! Your blog was a joy to read and absolutely made my day. My summer's guilty pleasure reading was the historical fiction Tudor series by Philippa Gregory bringing to life all of the wives of Henry VIII and beyond: from Catherine of Aragon to Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots. So, I confess that it was from this mindset that my imagination began to run as I read your words; imagining the various connections between the very real historical people named above. I am excited to order and read this book!

    On a personal note I do feel you are correct in saying, "Once you’ve stepped into the skin of the radical, truth-to-power speaking Joan, there’s no going back. You are one with all the Joans of history."

    Oh, and I'll order the book, but I have to finish the memoir "Orange Is the New Black" by Piper Kerman! - thanks for that obsession, too.

    Your fan,

  4. Dear JCatnip,
    Thanks for reading and your wonderful comments. This will come up as JP Mullaney, but c'est moi.
    Yrs affectionatly,