Whoosh! Issue 41 - February 2000

Joan of Arc and Gabrielle:
Two Chaste, Fighting Peasant Girl Saints


But my makeup is still good, right?

Gabrielle is at Death's door in ONE AGAINST AN ARMY.

[33] Gabrielle has taken her share of knocks in her time with Xena. Her most serious wound was when she was hit in the back by a poisoned arrow in ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313). Joan was hurt less seriously but quite frequently. At Orleans Joan was wounded twice in two days. She was wounded in the foot by a caltrop, a spiked ball scattered around fortresses. The next day she received a superficial wound in the neck from a crossbow bolt. In another engagement a stone thrown down from above her knocked her down. In her campaign near Paris she was shot in the thigh with a crossbow bolt.

[34] Joan usually led her men from the front, but she rarely, if ever, had to fight personally. In late medieval warfare, sieges were more numerous and usually more important than pitched battles. Joan raised the siege of Orleans by taking two English outposts near the city. She later took several towns and fortresses. At a siege Joan would typically advance to the wall of the place under attack and urge her men on as they tried to get up or through the wall. She was well-armored and accompanied by bodyguards, but she was in danger from arrows, thrown stones, and other siege weapons like caltrops. She probably never led a charge in an open field as Gabrielle did in A GOOD DAY (73/405). On the other hand, she never led from the rear like Gabrielle in ENDGAME (88/420).


[35] In both ancient and medieval times peasants almost always disliked soldiers. Soldiers were mostly ex- peasants, but they were often hungry and dangerous, especially to women. They were always a threat to poor people. They might loot or do far worse. Joan and Gabrielle were both peasants and both shared this traditional distaste for the military. Gabrielle disapproves of soldiers in general and warlords' men in particular. Joan especially disliked mercenaries.

[36] Both sides in the Hundred Years' War employed mercenaries, who were especially dangerous to defenseless civilians. Lucie-Smith speaks of Joan's "hatred for plunderers" (L-S, p. 174). Ironically, Joan was often in command of mercenaries. Patriotic French troops worshiped Joan, but she and the mercenaries detested each other. Once she was eating a meal and lecturing a roomful of mercenaries, telling them they would not be allowed to pilfer food. A Scottish mercenary informed her that at the moment she was eating pilfered food herself. She threatened to hang him (L-S, p. 174).

[37] On another occasion Joan defeated an English- paid mercenary captain and handed him over to a court which executed him (L-S, p. 198). He was probably guilty of many crimes. Joan's decision was probably easier than Gabrielle's when she permitted Crassus to die in WHEN IN ROME... (62/316).

Virginity & Sexuality

[38] Joan was probably 17 years old when she won Charles' support, just about the same age as Gabrielle when she met Xena. Both women remained virgins throughout many adventures. Gabrielle was chaste through all her first season infatuations and then again after the death of Perdicus. Her marital one night stand with him was her only sexual experience with a man so far in the series. Joan was a virgin until her death, unless she was raped while a prisoner.

[39] In THE TITANS (07/107) Gabrielle said her virginity was "kinda personal", but Joan's virginity, like her clothes, was a major public issue. Joan claimed both to hear the voices of God's saints and to have dedicated her virginity to God. Since the first claim was hard to verify, people who wanted to check her veracity naturally thought of investigating the second claim. She was examined by the ladies of Charles' court soon after her arrival in Chinon and pronounced "intact". While Joan was a commander in the field against them, English soldiers routinely called her a "whore" simply because all women who traveled with an army were assumed to be prostitutes. They were of course mistaken. Joan was fervently opposed to the French army's women "camp followers" and drove them from her army. After the English bought Joan from the Burgundians, they were eager to prove she was unchaste and therefore a liar. When the English had women examine Joan, she was again found to be "intact".

[40] Just as Gabrielle slept chastely with a boy in THE TITANS (07/107) Joan often slept between two men while with her army. One man recalled, "I feared her so much I would never have dared to make advances to her" (L- S, p. 52).

[41] Medieval people often slept in groups but were expected to be chaste. Joan frequently slept with other women, as was customary at the time. A witness recalled that "Joan always slept in the company of young girls and did not like to lie with old women" (L-S, p. 186). Lucie-Smith concludes, "from this we may perhaps deduce an element of homosexual attraction, though noting it was certainly unconscious". Certainly there was no woman in Joan's life as important to her as Xena is to Gabrielle.

[42] Both Gabrielle and Joan may have been raped - or they may not have been. Gabrielle was either raped or impregnated asexually by Dahak in THE DELIVERER (50/304). Joan was tried by a French ecclesiastical court, but she was guarded by English troops during most of her imprisonment. She complained to the court that her guards threatened her with sexual assault (L-S, p. 229). Lucie- Smith believes there is a realistic chance she was raped, especially during the last few days before her execution. Joan died either a virgin or a rape victim. In either case, the first part of the disclaimer for DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN (90/422) ("No therapy-seeking, card-playing, sword-wielding French freedom fighters were deflowered during the production of this motion picture. However, rumors about Custer and Pocahontas remain unconfirmed".) is in as poor taste as the second part.

Camp Followers

Three little maids from school are we...

Today's terrified villagers can be tomorrow's dedicated campfollowers.

[43] Lucie-Smith writes that "throughout her career [Joan] conducted a vendetta against the loose women who followed the armies" (L-S, p. 89). Women "camp followers" were as old as war. They certainly existed in Xena's time, and Xena would have been familiar with them when she led her own army. Unarmed girls can be seen with Draco's army in SINS OF THE PAST (01/101). In all periods, most camp women were probably unfortunates whose normal lives had been destroyed by wars, especially war widows. They traveled with armies and provided many services, such as cleaning and repairing clothes, cooking, nursing sick and wounded men, as well as providing sexual services. (Up until the Crimean War, when Florence Nightingale became famous, female army nurses were not considered respectable.)

[44] Joan constantly tried to drive such women out of her army's camps. She once struck a camp woman with the flat of her sword (L-S, p. 176). Gabrielle of course would never have been so vindictive. This sad subject has not really been addressed in depth on Xena, but we have seen two characters who somewhat resemble camp followers, Meg and Tara. Both are on their own in a hostile world, and both can certainly be assumed to have made poor choices of sexual partners. Tara in FORGIVEN (60/314) hangs out with a "gang" which seems very much like a typical warlord's army, except the average age is younger. She is the girlfriend of a gang member who casually betrays her.

[45] Tara carries no weapon at all but is good at dirty fighting either unarmed or with impromptu weapons (such as the furniture). In this she is much like a typical camp follower, who would be unarmed but accustomed to defending herself against other women.

[46] Both Meg and Tara bullied Gabrielle. Meg locked her up in WARRIOR ... PRINCESS ... TRAMP (30/206), and Tara beat her up in FORGIVEN (60/314). Gabrielle forgave and befriended both of them, though not until after she had defeated Meg and badly beaten Tara. Gabrielle is too noble to want revenge, but the Xena writers know that her fans are not that noble and want to see Gabrielle get back at people who abuse her.

[47] Gabrielle befriended Meg and Tara in spite of their self-destructive lifestyles, their poor choice of sexual partners, and their attacks on her. Gabrielle was rewarded for her kindness when both Meg and Tara improved their lifestyles. Joan would never have been so forgiving. There is no doubt that Joan was capable of being much more harsh than Gabrielle would ever be.

[48] However, Joan had a very specific reason for her severe measures against camp women, besides disapproval of their morals. Joan no doubt knew that the camp women were desperate victims of the war. Like most mercenaries, most camp women were peasants, members of Joan's own class. But Joan probably disliked the camp women even more than the mercenaries. Both had crossed a line that Joan could not ignore, but at least the mercenaries were of military use to her. Joan had made a bargain with God: She would obey His commands, and He would give her victory. If she permitted loose women to debauch her army, she would be breaking faith with God, and He might withdraw His support. Her army was God's army and Joan believed that her rejection of the camp women was a military necessity.

War Skills

[49] An obvious difference between Joan and Gabrielle is the fact that Joan was perfectly content to be a war leader while Gabrielle always preferred to avoid lethal combat. Yet surprisingly Gabrielle was not only a much better fighter than Joan but would probably have made a more capable commander.

[50] Some legends claim that Joan was a great fighter even though she had had little military training and cite this as evidence of God's miraculous support for her cause. However, there is no reason to believe she was a good fighter. At her trial she claimed that she had never killed anyone in battle. That may well have been true. She was always courageous and was usually at the head of her troops, but, as we have seen, in siege situations she would not have faced hand-to-hand combat. All four of her wounds were typical of siege warfare. The fact that Joan survived several battles during her thirteen months of war service without serious wounds strongly suggests that she rarely, if ever, fought personally. She certainly could never have matched Gabrielle's fighting skills.

[51] In Chakram No. 6 (p. 17), R.J. Stewart describes a scene which was cut from A GOOD DAY (73/405) in which Gabrielle analyzes the Roman army's position. The scene was meant to show that Gabrielle had picked up from Xena a great deal of ability to read a battlefield and that she could have been a successful military commander. Gabrielle could have been a commander but had no wish to do so. Joan was a commander but had no skill at military command.

[52] Joan's constant orders were to attack at once, everywhere. She simply assured her men that if they fought hard, God would give them the victory. Her leadership was inspirational rather than competent. She led her army from the front, and, quite beyond the fact that many of her troops believed she was sent by God, no man wanted his fellow soldiers to see he was unwilling to follow where a girl dared to lead. In the kind of warfare she faced, Joan's leadership was appropriate and sometimes achieved great results. However, after Joan's supreme triumph, the crowning of Charles at Rheims, she was mostly unsuccessful in battle.

Smart Talk

Easy open packaging my ass!

Gabrielle talks herself out of cyclops trouble in SINS OF THE PAST.

[53] Both women were clever talkers. In SINS OF THE PAST (01/101), Gabrielle spectacularly talks a cyclops out of his dinner (herself), talks a carter (who is too elderly to be seriously interested in her charms) into giving her a ride, and talks an angry crowd out of attacking Xena. In Lucie-Smith's opinion Joan's "incomparable pithiness and directness are things which carry across the ages and which would in themselves serve to justify her apparently undying renown" (L-S, p. xiv).

[54] A witness at Joan's interrogation by clerics at Chinon said she "replied with great wisdom, like a great clerk [i.e., clergyman]. They were greatly astonished that a simple shepherdess, a young girl, should so prudently reply" (L-S, p. 74). At her trial Joan was completely alone, facing a large committee of expert churchmen, most of whom were determined to find her guilty. Yet one of her judges ruefully called her "very subtle, with the subtlety of women" (L-S, p. 208). Lucie-Smith noted, "Others thought that despite being ignorant and simple, she often replied like the subtlest of scholars" (L-S, p. 241).

[55] Joan's conduct at her trial is the clearest indication that she was intelligent (like Gabrielle). She showed an excellent memory, both for facts and for her own previous answers. Her judges tried to trap Joan, asking "Do you believe you are in a state of grace?" That is, if you die at this moment, will you go to Heaven? This was a trick question. If the prisoner said "no", she admitted she was guilty of a mortal sin. If she said "yes", she presumed to know the mind of God. Joan batted that one right back at them: "If I am not, may God put me in it; if I am, may He keep me in it" (L-S, p. 239). After several weeks of this, Bishop Cauchon, alarmed by Joan's skillful answers, stopped the semi-public sessions and began interrogating her in her cell with only a few others present (L-S, p. 241).


[56] One could say that a high self-regard, sometimes bordering on arrogance, is part of Gabrielle's character. Other fans may disagree, but so far two comedy episodes have made fun of Gabrielle's high opinion of herself. In FINS, FEMMES AND GEMS (64/318) she regards herself as perfect. In THE PLAY'S THE THING (85/417), she blithely agrees to write, direct, and star in her first play, and decides that a mere gymnast is perfectly adequate to play Xena. (Of course, Gabrielle was under Aphrodite's spell in FINS, but her self-adoration would not have been funny if it were not an exaggeration of her real nature, like Xena's solitary, obsessive fishing, and Joxer's apelike stupidity.)

[57] Gabrielle's arrogance is mild compared to Joan's. Moving from the bottom of her society to the top in a single step, she always felt the need to assert herself forcefully. Joan walked in on people like Christ come to cleanse the Temple, got right in their faces, and treated anyone who doubted her mission with fierce contempt. When she first told one of Charles' nobles of her plans, she let him have it straight from the shoulder:

"I come before you from my Lord, that you may tell the Dauphin to be of good heart, and not to cease the war against his enemies. Before mid-Lent the Lord will give him help. In fact, the kingdom does not belong to the Dauphin but to my Lord. But my Lord wants the Dauphin to be made king, and to rule the kingdom. Despite his enemies the Dauphin will be made king, and it is I who will take him to the coronation."

[58] A little slow on the uptake, the nobleman asked, "Who is your lord?" "The King of Heaven," Joan informed him crushingly. Lucie-Smith assumes, no doubt correctly, that the nobleman was "somewhat stunned" (L-S, p. 30).

[59] When Charles had Joan interrogated by a commission of clergymen at Chinon, she was even more blunt. A churchman asked if her saints' voices spoke to her in French. "Yes," she told him, "and a better French than yours" (L-S, p. 17). When another commissioner asked if she believed in God, she gave a similar and even more brutal answer. "Yes, better than you" (L-S, p. 74). Joan always insisted on calling Charles "Dauphin" (meaning heir to the throne) up to the day she saw him crowned at Rheims after her victories. Charles, who of course had called himself King for years, ever since the death of his father, was no doubt intensely annoyed by this, but he needed Joan and let her get away with it.

[60] All this was nothing compared to the ferocious letter she dictated to the English Regent, the Duke of Bedford, immediately after Charles made her "chef de guerre" (chief of war). Among threatening letters, it is a masterpiece. It read in part,

"Acknowledge the summons of the King of Heaven, and render up to the Maid [Joan] who is sent by God, the King of Heaven, the keys of all the good towns you have here taken and violated in France. She is come here by God's will to reclaim the blood royal. She is very ready to make peace, if you will acknowledge her to be right by leaving France and paying for what you have held. And you, archers, companions of war, men-at-arms and others who are before the town of Orleans, go away to your own country, by God; and if you do not do so, expect news of the Maid who will come to see you shortly, to your very great injury. King of England, if you do not do so, I am chief-of-war, and in whatever place I reach your people in France, I will make them quit it, willy- nilly. And if they will not obey, I will have them all slain; I am sent here by God, the King of Heaven, to drive you, body for body, out of the whole of France. And if they do obey, I will be merciful to them. ... You Duke of Bedford, the Maid begs and requires of you that you do not allow yourself to be destroyed." (L-S, p. 78-79)

[61] No doubt the Duke of Bedford was more than "somewhat stunned" by this epistle. Note that Joan refers to herself in the third person (as if she were royalty), addresses Bedford and the child king Henry VI as her equals, and makes only a passing reference to Charles VII ("the blood royal").

[62] No one could ever have mistaken Joan for a sidekick. When French officers refused to obey her commands at Orleans, "Joan flew into a towering rage, perhaps the most impressive display she had yet given of her will and the violence of her temper" (L-S, p. 116). She was always confident in the uniqueness of her role. When one of her followers asked her if he too could hear the saints, she told him frankly, "You are not sufficiently worthy and virtuous" (L-S, p. 192).

[63] At her trial, Joan was "often impatient and sarcastic" (L-S, p. 241). Lucie-Smith writes of her demeanor during the early part of the trial, "One hardly knows which to admire more, her courage or the savage arrogance of her tone" (L-S, p. 239). Joan even threatened Bishop Cauchon personally, warning him: "Take care as to what you do, for in truth I am sent from God and you are putting yourself in great danger".


[64] Many witnesses noted that Joan, like Gabrielle, had a hearty sense of humor. Lucie-Smith writes of her "magnificently impertinent retorts" to her detractors (L-S, p. 19). During her three-months-long trial, "even in these extreme circumstances, she could produce flashes of humor" (L-S, p. 241). When Joan, despite her illiteracy, detected that a clerk had made mistakes in recording her answers, she threatened to pull his ears, just as Gabrielle has so often pulled Joxer's ear or nose - clearly, a timeless way for peasant girls to deal with stupid men.

Ethics And Violence

Wow!  You hit that graphics editor clean out of the village!

Gabrielle takes staff lessons from Eponin in HOOVES AND HARLOTS.

[65] In spite of her ferocious ego and her low opinion of her opponents, Joan was not a heartless killer. Even in her uncompromising letter to Bedford, quoted above, she offers to spare the English if they agree to leave. Her agenda was simple. She always insisted that there would be no need for war if the English would get out of France and the Burgundians would accept Charles as king.

[66] Joan's religion was a moderating force on her naturally hot temper. She recalled that as a child in Domremy she had known only one pro-Burgundian "and I would willingly have seen his head cut off, but only if it pleased God" (L-S, p. 22). She told Charles' commissioners at Chinon that "she did not wish to use her sword and did not wish to kill anyone" and that she preferred her standard "forty times more" than her sword (L-S, p.80). Similarly Gabrielle told Ephiny in HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/110) "No, I don't like swords".

[67] At her trial Joan said, that "she herself carried the standard when she attacked her adversaries, to avoid killing anyone" (L-S, p. 87). At Orleans, when an English garrison tried to escape by wearing clerical vestments, the French troops who detected the trick and captured the English wanted to massacre them. Joan refused to allow this (L-S, p. 108). Joan "was troubled by the thought of the Englishmen who had died unshriven [without confession]. She wept bitterly when she told Pasquerel [her confessor] of this" (L-S, p. 108).

[68] However, Joan could be fierce when aroused. At Orleans she swore that if a French officer let the enemy escape, she would have his head (L-S, p. 106). When a French traitor surrendered a town to the Burgundians she swore "if she could get hold of him she would cut him in four pieces" (L-S, p. 203). On one occasion she sent an ultimatum to an English garrison to "surrender the place to the King of Heaven and gentle King Charles and you can go off, but otherwise we will massacre you" (L-S, p. 131). It should be remembered that killing of prisoners who were not worth ransoming was a standard practice at the time, for both sides. There were no prisoner of war camps. At a battle where the non-ransomable English were massacred, Joan saw an Englishman stabbed and "was shocked by this, as she often was when she encountered the realities of war. She dismounted and received the dying Englishman's confession 'raising his head and comforting him as much as she could'" (L-S, p. 145; interior quote from a witness).

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