© 1998 Siobhan Nash-Marshall
In 1429, France in her darkest hour was startled by the sudden appearance of a shining star -- a teenage girl from a minor village, wielding a standard and claiming that God had ordered her to lead the nation to victory. The Hundred Years War, the long struggle between the French and English nobility over Guyenne, Normandy, and the French crown, had left France seemingly nothing but a lost dream. France had no leader; her last king had gone mad, his queen denounced the heir, and now civil war between the Dukes of Orleans and Valois paved the way for English triumph. But Joan answered the call, raised an army, and within twenty years the war was over. She is one of the most remarkable characters in European history, and this brief biography is a highly complimentary if slightly restrained story of her life. Though it avoids being too mythical -- the author discounts stories of animals sounding off in happiness at her birth, and does not attempt to make her out to be a poor peasant girl when her father was a fairly well-established landowner -- it avoids being critical as well. The voices and the miracles attributed to Joan -- her foresight in ordering men to move a bit to the left so they wouldn't be stricken by a cannonball, her raising an infant to life long enough to be baptized so its wee soul would be saved, and not linger in limbo -- are repeated here, without either affirmation or skepticism. [Author]'s focus is on Joan's drive and intelligence, whpch imparted courage to the French people and struck a blow to build a victory upon. Even when in the custody of her enemies, assailed and jeered at by a hostile court, she maintained the presence of mind and the strength of spirit to deliver enigmatic answers that mocked their wrath -- the fury of a band of warriors, priests, and kings focused on a teenage girl. [Author] provides solid context, however, demonstrating how the Hundred Years War was less an English invasion of France, and more of a French civil war, and an exercise of feudal peculiarities in which the English king was a vassal to the French king, despite legitimately controlling more of France (through inheritance and marriage) than le roi himself. It's not the strongest of biographies, but delivers a feeling of Joan that is saintly, strong, and sweet.
Joan of Arc: Legend and Reality, Frances Gies