Whoosh! Issue 41 - February 2000

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

Bad Company

Sure I'll go out with you.  It's not like you follow any demonic
gods or anything

Gabrielle and Khraftstar in a quiet moment.

[69] Just as Gabrielle was too easily taken in by Khrafstar [THE DELIVERER (50/304)], Najara [CRUSADER (76/408)] and Aiden [PARADISE FOUND (81/413)], Joan's religion led her to embrace some bad associates. She first trusted and confided in, then quarreled with, two people who, like her, claimed to see holy visions: Brother Richard, a disreputable preacher, and Catherine de la Rochelle, a fraudulent prophetess. Catherine later testified against Joan at her trial (L-S, p. 191).

[70] Surprisingly, both Joan and Gabrielle encountered that seemingly most modern of villains, the serial killer. In MORTAL BELOVED (16/116) Gabrielle is almost killed by Atyminius, a serial killer of brides. One of Joan's most loyal lieutenants was wealthy young nobleman Gilles de Rais. After Joan's death, Gilles lost his fortune and turned to Satanism to try to recoup his losses. He and his associates were executed in 1440 for the ritual murders of approximately 140 boys.


[71] Religion was of great importance to both Joan and Gabrielle, but their spiritual experiences and outlooks differed drastically. Gabrielle was born into a religious tradition which reverenced the classical Greek gods. She soon rejected it, both because of her experiences with unreliable and villainous gods and because of the influence of the godless Xena. Unlike Xena, Gabrielle felt the need for some spiritual support to replace her lost faith, hence the religious tourism of the fourth season. The late fourth season espousal of "the Way of the Warrior", "the Way of Love" and "the Way of Friendship" suggests that the series is headed, not toward the unveiling of one true religion, but to a very modern "whatever works for you" model, in which each individual can pick whichever religious forms best suit her or him.

[72] In contrast to Gabrielle, Joan remained fervently loyal to the faith in which she was born, except possibly at the very end of her brief life. Joan prayed and attended mass frequently, even while on campaign. She once took mass three times in one day. Her piety was so extreme the English used it in their propaganda against her (L-S, p. 51). She often wept during prayer. Of course she was particularly effected by the holy voices she heard. A witness reported, "When she thus repeated the words of her voices, she was seized with a marvelous rapture, and raised her eyes to Heaven" (L-S, p. 127).

[73] Miracles were credited to her (and not just military ones). She made her soldiers confess and tried to get them to avoid swearing and loose women. However, she could tolerate a sinner if he was useful to her. Captain LaHire, her best officer, was a notorious blasphemer and scorner of religion, but Joan accepted him and he was loyal to her (L-S, p. 96), just as the increasingly spiritual Gabrielle and the god-resistant Xena have stuck together despite their differences.

[74] It is necessary here to correct a widespread, inaccurate belief. Joan was not burned as a witch. Her judges gave up trying to prove witchcraft against her. English propaganda had always called Joan a witch because they wanted to suggest the most discreditable explanation for her apparently miraculous military victories. However, the court that condemned Joan as a heretic found essentially no evidence of witchcraft. In their final charges they made only one small mention of the matter, that Joan seemed to have shown too much interest in a tree near Domremy, which had presumably been a site for witchcraft.

[75] At the end of her life, Joan's faith was severely tested and apparently, for a time, broken. After her supreme victory, Charles' coronation at Rheims, she had no significant military victories. The failure of her campaign to liberate Paris caused doubts in the French army about her leadership. Charles gave her little support after the coronation. A month before she was captured, Joan told people that her voices had told her she would be taken (L-S, p. 200), just as Xena told Gabrielle about the crucifixion vision. Then the prophecy came true. She was captured and sold to the English. Joan could only interpret these disasters as the withdrawal of God's favor, and she must have asked herself how she had offended God.

[76] In late 1430 Joan leapt from a window near the top of a tower where she was being held. She fell about sixty feet and was slightly hurt and immediately recaptured (L-S, p. 219). Was this an attempt at escape or suicide? [Gabrielle also contemplates suicide after apparently killing Hope in MATERNAL INSTINCTS (57/311)]. If it was a suicide try, Joan was already in despair, since suicide was a mortal sin. If, as seems much more likely, her leap was an escape attempt, did Joan believe that her voices had told her they would protect her from harm? Since she was injured and caught, this may have been the first time she was forced to conclude that her voices had definitely let her down.

[77] Joan had no knowledge of modern psychology. She did not realize that a person could "hear" voices that are not "real" without being insane. If her voices were not those of saints, Joan could imagine only two hideous possibilities: that she was insane or, even worse, she had been fooled all along by demons. [Gabrielle too is fooled by Dahak's credible agent Khrafstar in THE DELIVERER (50/304)].

[78] If these hypotheses about Joan's mental state are mainly true, by the time her trial began she must have been in a state of religious confusion and desperation similar to Gabrielle's in the fourth season. She was in jail, completely alone, without the protection of a warrior princess, or the option of a therapeutic trip to India. She had depended on her voices, and now she had reason to doubt them.

A Terrible Climax

Xena is less than satisfied with Gabrielle's contract
negotiating skills

Gabrielle is Xena's advocate in LOCKED UP AND TIED DOWN.

[79] Nevertheless, at the beginning of her trial, Joan was as combative and intractable as ever. She fought her judges fiercely and intelligently, just as Gabrielle fought for Xena in the trials in THE RECKONING (06/106) and LOCKED UP AND TIED DOWN (75/407). But by the end of the trial, Joan seemed to have been defeated. She had suffered more than even Gabrielle has so far in the series.

[80] Joan was isolated in the later weeks of the trial and saw only Cauchon and a few others. She was watched by English guards, who threatened her with sexual violence. She complained of being starved and deprived of sleep. Cauchon planted two informants who pretended to be Joan's friends but whose real mission was to trick her into damaging statements and to break her spirit by offering false hopes which were soon dashed (L-S, p. 256). Joan was "shown the instruments". This was a sort of medieval "Scared Straight Program". Torture devices were shown to her and their uses explained. She was not tortured, but it was made plain that eventually she would be. She was shown the stake where she would be burned. She was kept from mass and confession, a serious matter for Joan. She was ill during the last weeks of the trial. Lucie-Smith believes she showed signs of "mental instability" during the last sessions (L-S, p. 244-245). Joan began to make mistakes and allow the judges to manipulate her into statements that could be used against her.

[81] When Joan disavowed her voices and agreed to submit to the Church, was she trying to save her life, or had she genuinely concluded that she had been mistaken about the voices? The ecclesiastical court was forced to accept her as a repentant heretic and sentence her to life imprisonment rather than death. The English were outraged. They wanted Joan dead. Joan demanded that she be sent to a church prison, but the English insisted on keeping her in their custody. It was in their interest to make Joan's life unbearable, so that she would prefer to die. It is at this point that Lucie-Smith thinks that Joan may have been raped (L-S, p. 271). For whatever reason, Joan suddenly claimed that her voices had returned and rebuked her for her submission. This was what the English wanted. The court had no alternative but to sentence her to death as a relapsed heretic.

[82] Joan wept as she was taken to her execution. She delayed her burning by praying for half an hour. She finally went to the stake, Lucie-Smith writes, "in a state of extreme physical terror". Like Gabrielle, "Joan had none of the masochism which often marked the character of martyrs. She never embraced suffering for its own sake" (L- S, p. 278). It was customary at burnings in the early fifteenth century for the executioner to stab the victim mercifully before the flames reached him. However, in Joan's case the English ordered the stake built unusually high so the crowd could see her. This made it impossible for the executioner to reach her and kill her. Joan died horribly in fire, just as Gabrielle almost died when Callisto tried to burn her in RETURN OF CALLISTO (29/205). She was probably nineteen years old, a few years younger than Gabrielle when she was crucified in IDES OF MARCH (89/421).

A Rebel Slandered

CLEO stand-in

Najara at the stake (but not burnt) in CRUSADER.

[83] Joan's heroic image survived for centuries. Even the English, long after the war ended, came to admire her. Now the writers of Xena: Warrior Princess and many fans treat Joan with open contempt. The reason seems to lie in Renaissance Pictures' ideology. A new British reference book, THE ULTIMATE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FANTASY (1998), edited by David Pringle, describes (p. 119) the philosophy behind Xena and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys as "Californian humanism". An American would probably call it "Hollywood liberalism". This point of view highlights distrust of war and nationalism, especially when animated by religion. Joan was a nationalist and religious warrior, a compendium of everything the makers of Xena dislike. Joan's reputation today is probably lower than at any time since her death.

[84] I consider this a mistake. First, Joan's war against the English and for French unity was, in modern terms, a legitimate war of national liberation. Second, Joan's commitment to France, the monarchy, and her faith did not prevent her from being a rebel in both politics and religion.

[85] By rejecting the joint English-French monarchy imposed by Henry V, Joan opposed not only the English royal house but also most of the French royals. She considered Charles VII the only legitimate representative of the royal family. She rejected as traitors Charles' father, mother, and sister, as well as many other prominent Frenchmen and Burgundians who supported the English. Joan's was a revolutionary message. The upper classes had brought about a catastrophe: 90 years of war, treason in the royal family, English occupation of much of France, and endless suffering for the people. God had sent her, a representative of the lowest orders of society, to clean up the mess. She was a peasant in a world ruled by the nobility and Church, a teenager in a polity ruled by the relatively old, and a girl in a society run by men. Yet she insisted that she was the most important person in the kingdom. She demanded obedience from everyone until her job was done, and for a little more than a year she was obeyed.

[86] Joan was a feminist hero even in her own time. Lucie-Smith writes that "women were always among Joan's most fervent admirers, one suspects because she represented some kind of ego-ideal, and it was they who usually made the demonstrations of enthusiasm which alarmed the men of the church" (L-S, p. 186).

[87] Generally the lower a group's social status, the more its members supported Joan. Peasants rallied to join Joan's armies. They came to serve her, not Charles. Poor knights who could not afford horses even offered to serve Joan as common soldiers. It is clear that her popularity was profoundly alarming to Charles and many other powerful men in the kingdom. While Charles could not afford to pay a large army of professional troops, Joan could gather huge numbers of people to her cause without having to pay them. Charles, his court, and most professional soldiers stopped supporting Joan after the coronation at Rheims. Ordinary folks supported her to the end.

[88] In religion, she was also a dissenter. The Church always disliked her as an "enthusiast", a probable heretic, and a threat. The ecclesiastical court, which condemned her, was by no means a collection of English puppets. Most of its members were churchmen from the University of Paris. They were among the most important intellectuals and clergymen in Europe, and they were accustomed to defying nobles, kings, bishops, and even popes. They accepted English protection and Bishop Cauchon and others were pro-English, but their fundamental loyalty was to the Church, the basis for their power, not to either England or France. The court showed its independence by sentencing Joan at first to imprisonment rather than death, until she made the lesser sentence impossible by recanting her submission. They condemned Joan because her religious views alarmed them, not because her politics alarmed the English.

[89] The basic issue between Joan and the court was whether she would submit to the authority of the Church. In the end, she would not. The Church in the 1430s confronted dozens of purported visionaries and prophets like Brother Richard and Catherine de la Rochelle. All these men and women said they had heard the word of God directly or through His angels or saints. All but the most credulous people knew that most, if not all, of these claimants were either hucksters or deluded. The Church rejected all of them, including Joan, the most successful.

[90] When the court demanded that Joan submit unconditionally to Church authority, her reply was that she absolutely submitted to the Church, except when her voices told her otherwise. This was unacceptable. Anyone could claim to hear voices and could tell everyone to disregard the teachings of the Church. Lucie-Smith concludes (L-S, p. 260) that, by her own words, Joan really was a heretic under Church law. "Joan died for her defiance of the established theological order of her time" (L-S, p. 261).

[91] We skeptical moderns would have to agree in part with the court that condemned Joan, since we assume that she did not actually hear the voices of saints. Our skepticism would eliminate her only defense against the charge of heresy. Of course we moderns would also say that even if Joan was a heretic she should not have been punished for it, but there we would have a quarrel with Joan herself. Joan was all in favor of punishing heretics, but she refused to let the Church tell her she was a heretic when she felt she was not.

Sainthood And Saintliness: A Joan For The 90's

[92] The Catholic Church had trouble deciding what to do with Joan long after her death. If her saints' voices were real, she was herself a saint. If not, she died an unrepentant heretic. Even Charles VII waited until 1456, a quarter century after Joan's death and three years after he had won the long war with England, before he convened the Trial of Rehabilitation to clear her name. It was not until 1920 that the Church declared Joan a saint. In spite of her fame, she has never been a major Catholic saint. Just as Gabrielle's idealism has taken some strange forms, Joan must be the oddest saint in the Catholic calendar, as well as the only one whom the Church itself burned.

[93] When tormented France cried out for a hero, instead of a Xena they got a Gabrielle. (No doubt that was a lucky break.) Renaissance Picture's writers may never have thought of Joan of Arc when they began to develop Gabrielle's character, but they nevertheless ended up with a kinder, gentler Joan - a Joan for the secular, humanist 1990s. Both were idealistic peasant girls who went far from their humble origins. Joan was sure of her faith, except possibly for a few days at the end. Gabrielle, as befits a modern hero, is beset with religious doubt and confusion. Joan was sure she was fighting a just war, but she never became a skilled fighter. Gabrielle has become an (entertainingly) successful fighter, but dislikes fighting more and more. Gabrielle's hot temper is mostly a matter of comedy. No one ever laughed at Joan's temper.

[94] Joan had much of Xena's fiery temperament (in Gabrielle's diminutive body and with Joxer's negligible fighting skills). Lucie-Smith's favorite words to describe Joan include "impertinent", "truculent", "intractable", "hot- tempered, but not quarrelsome", "defiant", "outspoken", "stubborn", "high-handed", "impatient", "complaining", "sarcastic", and above all "arrogant". He speaks of "her typical recalcitrance", "her usual impatience", "tactlessness", "rashness", and "typical impetuosity". Unlike many saints, Joan was anything but meek. Most of these terms could apply to Gabrielle, but Gabrielle is more moderate, thoughtful, and immediately likeable, since she must be acceptable to a mass audience.

[95] Many of us believe that Renaissance Pictures has created in Gabrielle one of the richest, most complex characters ever presented on television. We know a great deal about Joan, due to the massive documentation of her life by both her friends and enemies during and after her life. Her character was also complex and sometimes contradictory. Lucie-Smith sums up Joan as follows:

"She is intensely arrogant, violent (but afraid of her own violence), and not always truthful. She is a prisoner of an obsession, or of a group of obsessions. At the same time she has moments, and more than moments, of ordinary human fear, self-doubt and depression. We may pity, admire and even love her. At the same time we may feel a sneaking sympathy for those -- even those who were supposedly supporters of the same cause, such as Reynault de Chartres, Bishop of Rheims -- who grew to detest her" (L-S, p. xiii).


Standard, English-language, popular biographies of Joan include the following:

Gies, Frances. Joan Of Arc: The Legend And The Reality. Harper, 1981.

Lucie-Smith, Edward. Joan Of Arc. Norton, 1976.

Pernoud, Regine and Veronique Clin. Joan Of Arc: Her Story. St. Martin's, 1998.

Warner, Marina. Joan Of Arc: The Image Of Female Heroism. Knopf, 1981.

Fictional and dramatic works on Joan are numerous and include these:

Anderson, Maxwell. Joan Of Lorraine. 1946. A play.

Anouilh, Jean. L'Alouette. 1953. A play.

Shaw, George Bernard. Saint Joan. 1924. A play.

Twain, Mark. Personal Recollections Of Joan Of Arc. 1894. A novel.

Videography And Filmography

There are at least two recent video documentaries on Joan:

Joan Of Arc: Virgin Warrior (1998, A&E Home Video), in A&E's Biography series, is elementary but serious.

Joan Of Arc: Soul On Fire
(1998, A&E Home Video), in the History Channel's
In Search Of History
series, is of little value.

The many film and TV productions on Joan include these:

(1916) Joan The Woman. Directed by Cecil B. DeMille, starring Geraldine Farrar. An excellent silent film with all the virtues (sweeping action, big production) and failings (historical inaccuracies) typical of its director.

(1928) Passion Of Joan Of Arc. Directed by Carl Dreyer, with an extraordinary performance by Maria Falconetti.

(1935) Das Madchen Johanna. Directed by Gustav Ucicky, starring Angela Salloker. This Nazi film presented both Joan and Charles as decisive, inspired nationalist leaders, i.e. as Hitlers. The film was also useful to the Nazis by reminding the French that the English had often been their enemies. An object lesson that any story, no matter how heroic and idealistic, can be perverted for the benefit of evil.

(1948) Joan Of Arc. Directed by Victor Fleming (director of 1939's GONE WITH THE WIND) and starring Ingrid Bergman. Notoriously boring. The only big Hollywood film on Joan between 1916 and 1999.

(1954) Joan At The Stake. Ingrid Bergman tried again in this small art film directed by her husband Roberto Rosselini.

(1957) Saint Joan. Directed by Otto Preminger, starring Jean Seberg. Based on the Shaw play.

(1962) The Trial Of Joan Of Arc. Directed by Robert Bresson, staring Florence Carrez.

(1994) Jeanne La Pucelle. A 2-part, 4-hour film directed by Jacques Rivette, starring Sandrine Bonnaire.

(1995) Bone Of Arc. Episode in the Wishbone series on PBS. With Jeanne Simpson as Joan. A good, short children's introduction to the story. Available on video.

(1999) Joan Of Arc. U.S. television miniseries, directed by Christian Duguay and starring Leelee Sobieski. Generally serious and well-done.

(1999) The Messenger: The Story Of Joan Of Arc. Directed by Luc Besson and starring Milla Jovovich. Revisionist, uneven, sometimes silly, sometimes stirring, with a miscast star. Jovovich is tall and Valkyriesque - a Xena, not a Gabrielle.

This list reminds me that Joan and Gabrielle share one more tendency. Just as Renee O'Connor is a few years older than Gabrielle, Joan has usually been played by actresses considerably (sometimes embarrassingly) older than Joan was at her death, with the exception of the 1957, 1995, and 1999 (Sobieski) titles above.


Michael Klossner Michael Klossner
I was the right age to enjoy the children's swashbuckler series of the first decade of TV - Robin Hood, Zorro, and half a dozen others. These have remained among my favorite TV nostalgia memories. The genre died on TV, as in the movies, but I am delighted that there have been three excellent, up-to-date sword series in the 1980s and 90s: Robin Of Sherwood, the Sharpe's series of TV films starring Sean Bean, and Xena.

I have written chapters annotating the best books and magazines on genre films and TV in four books, all edited by Neil Barron: Fantasy Literature (1989), Horror Literature (1989), Anatomy Of Wonder 4 (1995, covering SF) and Fantasy And Horror Literature (1999).

Although a mere Yankee transplant, I work as a librarian at the Arkansas State Library. I contribute to the Chakram, as "Boeotian".
Favorite episode: A NECESSARY EVIL (38/214)
Favorite line: Xena to Salmoneus: "Make sure you keep amusing me". THE GAUNTLET (H12/112)
First episode seen: CHARIOTS OF WAR (02/102)
Least favorite episode: THE BITTER SUITE (58/312)

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