Joan of Arc and The Lord Have An Understanding: She’s On A Mission From God

Note: I wrote this paper back in 2018. I haven’t edited it since then.

When studying specific people in medieval history, we rarely hear about the lives of the Average Joe. Instead we tend to focus on the lives of the upper class, royalty especially. It is not hard to see why. Due to their wealth and power, the upper class had the ability to influence the outcome of history as well as the contemporary writings of their day. However, there are exceptions. One such exception was Joan of Arc, or Joan the Maid as she called herself. If it had not been for her courage and determination she would have been lost to history. Instead, Joan of Arc, a mere French teenage peasant, went from watching her father’s livestock in the fields to meeting the dauphine of France and helping him become king, as well as leading the French army against the English.

The reason Joan of Arc was determined to meet and help the dauphine, Charles VII, was due to the voices she heard and interacted with starting in the summer of 1425. However, “at first the voice simply advised her…to be good and go to church” and it was only later on that the voice ordered her to ‘“go to France”’ (Gies 23) and to help Charles VII become king. Now, according to Joan, at first she was not exactly thrilled with this plan. Apparently “she pleaded that she was ‘only a poor girl who knew nothing of riding or of leading in war’ but the voices insisted” (Gies 30). Needless to say, in the end Joan listened to the voices. 

It should be noted that hearing voices in the fifteenth century was not exactly unusual. However, it was necessary to figure out if the voices a person heard were divine or demonic (Castor 5). For Joan of Arc, her voices came from saints, specifically St. Michael, St. Catherine and St. Margaret. Because Joan of Arc was not the only medieval woman to hear voices from divine sources, what made her voices special? For one, when other “female visionaries…had experienced their revelations…they were already under the care of a spiritual advisor” and these spiritual advisors “could testify…the nature of their claims” (Castor 95). Joan, however, did not have a spiritual advisor. Instead she “had appeared alone, apart from her escort of armed men” (Castor 95). Joan’s voices were also exceptional because of what the voices were telling her. Unlike other “mystical theologians”, Joan of Arc was not told “sublime truths” (Wilson-Smith 213) like religious doctrine or the upcoming apocalypse (Wilson-Smith 12). Instead, she was told “simply what to do or not to do, and what would happen” (Wilson-Smith 213). And Joan was told to go save France (Wilson-Smith 12) and she would do just that. 

However, Joan of Arc was correct to be concerned when the voices told her to go to France, “raise the siege of Orléans” (Warner 146) and make sure that the dauphine was crowned king. After all, she was a teenage peasant girl with no experience in warfare and at this point she could not even read or sign her own name. She knew that no one was going to take her seriously. However, the voices told her to “go to Vaucouleurs and find Robert de Baudricourt, who would give her men to accompany her” (Warner 146). After all, if she had supporters she would look more creditable. Unfortunately for Joan, Baudricourt did not take her seriously either. But due to the fact Joan refused to go away until she got what she wanted (Castor 89) and that Baudricourt started to realize Joan was not mentally ill (Castor 91), he eventually obliged and gave her men so she could go to the royal court. It also helped Joan’s case considerably that she was able to “correctly [predict] the outcome of the Battle of Rouvroy well before any messenger could have conveyed the news” (Margolis 259) to Baudricourt to convince him that she really was sent from God.

Another way Joan of Arc was exceptional was how she dressed. Now, while she certainly was not the only holy woman to have dressed in men’s clothes, the way she dressed was quite different. Instead of dressing “like her models, that of a monk” (Warner 144), Joan dressed as a knight. This is significant for several reasons. The first reason is because she was dressing above her station. It was extremely expensive to be a knight and Joan “had nothing to her name” (Warner 146). Luckily for Joan, the wealthy and influential people she told her plan to believed in her so much that they donated the items she would need to fulfill her role as one of the leaders of the French army. Wearing armor and men’s clothes also gave her creditability when she led the army in battle. This is especially true when you take into consideration the idea that “clothes were capital” and that “apparel signified social position” (Warner 156). Joan of Arc was dressing for the social status she needed, not the social status she had. 

Joan of Arc was also exceptional in terms of her military prowess. She had no experience, but she still excelled in battle. After all, it was God’s will, so why would she fail? This reasoning convinced others as well. And the fact there were several old prophecies that applied to Joan did not work against her cause either. One prophecy reported “that France would be ruined through a woman, and afterward restored by a virgin” (Gies 31). Another prophecy reported “that a Maid” would put on armor “and deliver the kingdom of France from its enemies” (Gies 31). The third prophecy, which dated back to “King Arthur’s Merlin” said that “from the oak forest in the marches of Lorraine a virgin would come who would perform marvelous acts and save France” (Gies 31). Even though there were several prophecies, the main theme was always the same: “a virgin would save the kingdom” (Wilson-Smith 31). However, the dauphin was not about to let a teenage peasant girl lead his army without solid evidence she could actually do it, prophecies or no prophecies. After passing many tests, including one to make sure she was a virgin (Castor 94) and another one where the dauphine pretended that he was not actually the dauphine (Quintal & Rankin 18), it was eventually decided that if Joan could raise the siege of Orléans, then she had actually been sent from God. After all, the English already captured Orléans and if Joan failed, the French had nothing to lose (Castor 96). 

So on March 22, 1429, Joan of Arc dictated a furious letter to the English forces including Henry VI, who I will note was about six or seven years old at the time. In the letter Joan warns that she has “been sent here by God, the King of Heaven, to drive you out of all France, body for body” (C. Taylor 75). The rest of the letter can be summed up as ‘get out of France or I will slaughter you all. You are not only fighting against me, but God himself.’ Naturally the English did not take this letter, or Joan, seriously. However they would regret dismissing her. Joan of Arc might not have had any military experience, but “after six months of siege [at Orléans], and with the kingdom of Bourges in disarray, Joan the Maid had freed Orléans in just four days…of fighting” (Castor 112). Joan of Arc was able to do ‘“something that 5000 men could not have done”’ (Wood 142) as Christine de Pizan would later write. Not only did Joan raise the siege, she also led the French army in other assaults against the English. Even if the French did not win all of these conflicts, she caused enough damage that the English thought she really was sent from God (Castor 112) and consequently were frightened of her. 

In hindsight, it was probably a good thing Joan had no prior military experience. She “attacked when and where she could, without concern for the ‘rules’ that had often hampered and defeated French armies in times past” (L. J. Taylor 221). Because she ignored the rules of war, the English and their allies no longer knew what to expect. And when your enemy is doing the unexpected, you cannot prepare properly. However, because she disregarded the rules, that meant she also disregarded the wishes of “the king, his counselors, and some of her fellow captains” (L. J. Taylor 221). This would be the cause of her downfall when the English captured her. Charles VII made no effort to rescue her, “claiming himself too destitute” while in reality he was “jealous of her popularity” and was “convinced by scheming courtiers that she had outgrown her usefulness to him” (Margolis 263). 

Needless to say, Joan of Arc was an incredible woman who turned the Hundred Year War in France’s favor. However, the most exceptional thing she did was after her death: influencing other women, including queens and other female politicians, to get their hands dirty and fight for the things they believe in, even if it was dangerous and they were not likely to win. While Joan of Arc certainly was not the first “woman who bravely takes armed action against her people’s enemy—a woman with blood on her hands” (Warren 103), the women she inspired were likely to reference her while they went into action themselves. One such woman was Margaret of Anjou, who “compared herself to Joan in a speech to her troops” (Warren 66). According to reports she said ‘“You who once followed a peasant girl, follow now a queen”’ (Warren 66). Needless to say, Joan of Arc set a precedent for other women, especially when they were about to do something considered traditionally masculine. Joan of Arc is an obvious example for why representation is important. It shows that if one person can do it, why not others? 

Nancy Bradley Warren argues that, “during her lifetime and afterwards, Joan of Arc challenged…gender identity and national identity” (58). This is especially true regarding gender identity. Over the course of her short career, Joan of Arc proved that the traditional ideas of gender can and will be broken, or at the very least bent into a semi-recognizable shape. She also proved that one’s social class does not determine what you can accomplish. As previously stated, Joan was a peasant, but when given the chance she was able to succeed and do things that were beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Joan of Arc is exceptional because she is the poster child for not judging a book by its cover and that everyone, no matter their age, gender, race, social status, etc., should be given a chance to learn and succeed.

WORKS CITED

Castor, Helen. Joan of Arc: A History. Faber and Faber. 2014.

Gies, Francis. Joan of Arc: The Legend and The Reality. Harper and Row. 1981.

Margolis, Nadia. “Joan of Arc.” The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Women’s Writing. edited by Carolyn Dinshaw. 2003, pp. 256-266. 

Quintal, Claire & Rankin, Daniel, translators. The First Biography of Joan of Arc. University of Pittsburg Press. 1964. 

Taylor, Craig. “The Life of Joan of Arc.” Joan of Arc: La Pucelle. Manchester University Press. 2006, pp. 68-136. 

Taylor, Larissa Juliet. “Joan of Arc, The Church, and The Papacy, 1429-1920.” The Catholic Historical Review, vol. 98, no. 2, April 2012, pp. 217-240. 

Warner, Marina. “Knight.” Joan of Arc: The Image of Female Heroism. Oxford University Press. 2013, pp. 144-167.

Warren, Nancy Bradley. Women of God and Arms: Female Spirituality and Political Conflict, 1380-1600. University of Pennsylvania Press. 2005. 

Wilson-Smith, Timothy. Joan of Arc: Maid, Myth and History. Sutton. 2006.

Wood, Charles T.. “Joan of Arc”. Joan of Arc and Richard III: Sex, Saints and Government in the Middle Ages. Oxford University Press. 1988, pp. 125-151.

A List of Digitized Medieval Manuscript Collections

For fun I look at medieval manuscripts. However, as I do not have in-person access to these manuscripts, I look at the digitized versions provided by libraries, museums, universities, and other cultural institutions. At the end of this blog post, I’ve provided a list of links to digitized collections.

Medieval illuminations and marginalia are beautiful, fascinating, and sometimes just down right funny. They give modern day readers the ability to travel back in time and interact with the scribes, illuminators, and past readers who are people just like them. (Not to mention the animals that interacted with the manuscripts as well!) People who made notes indicating important parts of the text, drew silly looking monsters doing sillier things, rubbed out drawings they considered lewd, wrote their names on the pages, and so much more.

Despite the fact medieval manuscripts are hundreds of years old, a significant number of them are not in the public domain. Many medieval manuscripts are copyrighted or under some sort of restriction that prevents commercial and non-commercial use. However, there are some institutions that allow their manuscripts to be used freely or with attribution.

That is why all the medieval illuminations I feature on my Instagram have the manuscript number, institution name, and any other information the owner requires in my captions. I include this information on open access images as well so people can find the sources if they want to do further research or simply look at them on their own.

Because of the many restrictions (which are often confusing to read), there are a lot of manuscripts I’m unable to share. However, people can still access them for free if they only intend to look at them.

Please be aware individual institutions have different policies regarding how their images can be used. Always check the source’s rules about distribution before using them!

This list will be added to as I find more digitized medieval manuscript collections.

Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris France

The BnF’s website is kind of difficult to navigate. That being said, I’m sure it would be easier if I could read French.

Bodleian Libraries, Oxford UK

British Library, London UK

The British Library has several databases for its collection. Here are two places I particularly like:

J. Paul Getty Museum, California USA

Morgan Library and Museum, New York City, USA

Walters Art Museum, Baltimore USA

What Did Medieval Monks Wear?

NOTE: This article is a rewrite. You can find the original here.

If you image search “medieval monk” many photos of men in brown robes, rope belts, and wooden cross necklaces will appear. How accurate is that? If the monk was a Franciscan, it is accurate enough. If he was part of another order, then not so much. 

A medieval monk’s basic wardrobe included a habit, shoes, and underwear. Depending on the century, area of Europe he lived in, and his religious order, other items of clothing are added or subtracted from this list. For example, Cistercian monks did not wear underwear. If a monk lived in a colder climate, such as Scandinavia or the British Isles, he owned summer and winter clothes. 

Due to the span of time and the land area the European Middle Ages refers to, it is very difficult to list every single item of clothing any given medieval monk may have worn. The basic list of a habit, shoes, and drawers is expanded upon down below.

A medieval manuscript illumination of monks singing in front of a book.
Initial C-Monks singing | Ms. 24, leaf 3v (86.ML.674.3.verso) | Source: The Getty Museum

Outerwear 

A medieval monk’s clothing consisted of outerwear and underclothes. Outerwear is clothing the general public and a monk’s peers saw. Outerwear symbolized a medieval monk’s vocation to God and the Church. 

By wearing such distinct clothes, everyone around him knew he was a monk. Knowing if a person was a monk was helpful if a secular person wanted a blessing or needed a religious figure of some kind in an emergency. If a medieval monk caused trouble, his outerwear announced to the world his hypocrisy. There is a reason medieval literature often stereotypes monks as lecherous gluttons!

Cowl

The cowl or habit was an ankle-length garment. It was worn while a monk worked and for general everyday wear. In the early Middle Ages, cowls had open sides that tied shut if the monk so wished. The sleeves on the cowl varied in length:

  • Sleeveless
  • Short sleeves
  • Long sleeves

Cowls had a hood attached as well. When reading primary sources, it is important to keep in mind the meaning of the word “cowl” shifted over the centuries. At one point it referred to the entire garment. Later on, cowl was synonymous with a separate hood. 

Frock

This garment was also about ankle length and had a hood. Unlike the cowl, a frock only had long sleeves. Frocks were only worn on special occasions. Like the cowl, a frock is also called a habit. A monk would never wear a cowl and a frock together. 

Scapular

The scapular was a rectangular piece of cloth. There was a hole in the middle for the monk’s head. Once a monk put his head into the scapular, the fabric would go down to his ankles both in the back and front. 

A monk’s hood went through the neck hole so it wasn’t underneath the scapular. It was similar to an apron. When a monk wore a belt over it, the scapular was used as a handy pouch to hold tools and other daily items a medieval monk might need during the day. 

Belt

The Rule of Saint Benedict allowed belts. Franciscans wore rope belts called cinctures.

Riding Cloak

A medieval monk wore a riding cloak when traveling long distances. Depending on the fabric, the riding cloak could be black, brown, or grey. In theory, a monk only wore somber colors. In practice, medieval monks owned riding cloaks with colorful striped linings. This was frowned upon. 

Shoes

Medieval monks owned different kinds of shoes for different seasons and time of day. If a monk lived in a colder climate, they owned a pair of lined shoes for the winter and unlined shoes for the summer. Medieval monks owned slippers to wear at night.

Underclothes

A medieval monk wore clothes under his outerwear for modesty and practical reasons. While The Rule of Saint Benedict forbade monks from wearing underclothes in their monastery, the text made it clear that monks had to wear underwear while out in public. This was to avoid any embarrassing wardrobe malfunctions that might come about thanks to a gust of wind or a freak accident. There was a lot of discourse over wearing underwear.

Medieval monks wore other types of underclothes as well. What he wore under his habit depended on the year he lived, the climate of the area he lived in, and what order he was a part of. 

Underwear

In the Middle Ages, underwear was also referred to as drawers and braies. Typically they were made out of linen. A medieval monk’s underwear had different cuts depending on the monastery. As long as the medieval monk was not a Cistercian, he wore underwear. If he was, he did not. Cistercians were mocked for this fashion choice. 

Socks

Socks were also called hose and stockings. They were made out of linen. 

Tunic

For Anglo-Saxon monks, tunics were white, floor-length garments with tight sleeves. Later on, monks at Westminster wore black tunics. Over time tunics became tighter and shorter until regulations were made preventing that.

How Did Medieval Monks Tell Which Habit Belonged to Which Monk?

Because medieval monks wore similar clothes, steps were taken to avoid confusion over which habit belonged to who. Unless a monk was particularly tall, short, fat, or thin the habits looked very similar. 

To avoid confusion, the monks marked their clothes with their names. For most clothes they wrote their names in ink somewhere on it. For underwear, a monk embroidered his name on them. They did this because underwear was washed much more often than the woolen habit. 

Conclusion

What a medieval monk wore depended on a variety of factors. The monk’s clothing had a practical purpose and a symbolic meaning. It is similar to modern day clothing. In the 21st century we wear clothes to cover our bodies and keep us warm, but we also wear clothes to announce our status to the world. 

Sources:

Athelstan, Viktor. “Medieval Monastic Clothing Part 3: A Medieval Monk’s Underwear (and Lack of It!).” The Mediaeval Monk, 19 Dec. 2020, themediaevalmonk.com/2020/12/13/medieval-monastic-clothing-part-3-a-medieval-monks-underwear-and-lack-of-it/

Forging, Jeffrey, and Jeffrey Singman. “Monastic Life.” Daily Life in Medieval Europe, Greenwood Press, 1999, pp. 139–170. (This book can be found here on Google Books. It can also be accessed on ProQuest Ebook Central.)

Fortescue, Adrian. “Cowl.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 5 Dec. 2020<http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04463a.htm>.

Harvey, Barbara. Monastic Dress in the Middle Ages: Precept and Practice, Canterbury Historical and Archaeological Society, 1988. http://www.canterbury-archaeology.org.uk/publications/4590809431

Jones, Terry, and Alan Ereira. Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives. BBC Books, 2005. 

Kerr, Julie. Life in the Medieval Cloister. Continuum, 2009. (This book can be purchased here. Some of it can be found here on Google books. It can also be accessed on ProQuest Ebook Central.)

Kit Overview: Clergy, Monks and Nunshttp://wychwood.wikidot.com/kit-religious

Regia Anglorum Members Handbook: CHURCHhttps://web.archive.org/web/20150910174625/https://regia.org/members/handbook/church.pdf

Saint Benedict. Blair, D. Oswald Hunter, translator. The Rule of Saint Benedict, With Explanatory Notes. Ichthus Publications.

WHY DO FRANCISCANS WEAR BROWN? https://franciscanmissionaries.com/franciscans-wear-brown/

Early Medieval Male Names From The Domesday Book

If you are a fiction writer, you probably spend a good amount of time researching names for your characters. This is especially true if you write historical fiction. It is important to find historically accurate names. I write fiction that takes place in early medieval England, so I am always searching for early medieval names. 

It can be difficult to find early medieval names that are historically accurate. I have started to compile a list of male names from primary sources. By using primary sources, I can be sure that these names were actually used by early medieval men. If you are looking for early medieval female names, I’ve already posted a list here.

There are thousands of early medieval male names out there so this list is not exhaustive. I plan to add to it over time. Hopefully, this list will help you find the perfect name for your character!

An illumination from a medieval manuscript of a blonde man in an orange and green tunic and golden yellow hose bending over with a ball in his hand.
A man bending over with something in his hand | Add MS 62925 f.30r | Source: The British Library

Note: To ensure that the names are as historically accurate as possible, I intend to document them as they were originally spelled to the best of my ability. Some names may include letters that are no longer in the English language such as “æ.”

Male Names

Azur

Ælfgar

Ælfstan

Ælfwig

Ælfwine

Æthelmær

Æthelnoth

Æthelric

Æthelsige

Æthelwig

Baldwin

Beorhtric

Beorhtsige 

Bondi 

Carl

Eadmær

Eadric

Ealdred 

Ecgfrith

Edward

Edwin

Esgar 

Giso

Godwine

Harold

Herman

Leofric

Leofnoth

Leofwine

Mærleswein

Morcar

Ordric

RalphRobert

Siward

Stigand

Toki

Tosti

Ulf

Walter

Waltheof 

William

Wihtgar

Wulfric

Wulfstan

Wulfweald

Wulfweard

Wulfwig

Wulfwine

Source:

‘Domesday’, Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England, https://domesday.pase.ac.uk, accessed 22 June 2021 and 25 June 2021.

Early Medieval Female Names From The Domesday Book

I am currently in the process of writing a novel about a young boy growing up in an early 10th century English monastery. As a result, I’m constantly looking for early medieval names. To help other writers, I am compiling a list of names I’ve found so far. For this post in particular I am listing female names/names associated with women. I will make a separate post for male names later. (I am separating the two because there are not as many female names in primary sources.)

Hopefully this will help you find the perfect name for your character!

An illumination from a medieval manuscript of an alarmed woman with blonde hair in a floor length dark blue dress holding a decoration.
An alarmed woman holding a decoration | Add MS 62925 f.46r | Source: The British Library

Note: This list will be added to as time goes by, as it is most certainly NOT an exhaustive list! Also I intend to spell the names as they were written down originally to the best of my ability, so I will use letters that are no longer used in modern English such as “æ.”

Female Names

Alflæd 

Althryth

Alwynn 

Anna

Ælfgifu

Ælfgyth

Ælfhild

Ælfrun

Ælfthryth

Æthelgifu

Æthelgyth

Beorhtflæd

Beorhtgifu 

Dufe

Eadgifu

Eadgyth

Ealdgifu

Ealdgyth

Goda

Gode

Godeza

Godgifu

Godgyth

Gunnhild

Gytha

Hungifu

Leofflæd

Leofgifu

Leofrun

Leofwaru 

Mahthild 

Mærwynn

Mereswith

Modgifu

Sægyth

Sælgifu

Thorild

Wigflæd 

Wulfflæd

Wulfgifu

Wulfrun

Wulfwynn

Source:

‘Domesday’, Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England, https://domesday.pase.ac.uk, accessed 22 June 2021 and 25 June 2021.