AskHistorians: Tuesday Trivia #2
This week again I was invited by the AskHistorians subreddit to contribute to their Tuesday Trivia event and this week’s theme was ROYALTY!
In 1440, the queen of Hungary and one of her ladies-in-waiting stole the Hungarian crown—the actual, physical crown—to save the throne for her son. Helene Kottanner broke into the vault, snatched the crown, and escaped across the frozen Danube with a sled. Let’s talk about ROYALTY!
I proudly answered the call of duty and found it as another occasion to talk about my favourite non-Disney princess: Joan of Arc.
My Personal Contribution
Again, I’m late. Yet again, it’s still Tuesday somewhere!
Last time I talked about Joan of Arc. This week’s theme is royalty. There’d be no reason for me to talk again about her, right?
Hahaha. Buckle up, girls and boys. We’re about to dive into counterfeit history. When historians don’t find authentic documents to prove their hypotheses, what do they do? The honest ones acknowledge their ignorance. There’s nothing glamour about it. That’s why the others fabricate the documents they need to prove their point—when they even bother to fabricate them…
The Truth about Joan. Was Joan of Arc a Royal Bastard Princess?
You didn’t think that conspiracy theories would be limited to our contemporary era, did you.
You know how to square the circle: the Earth is flat, climate change is a lie, vaccines don’t work and the illuminati rule the world. If you go back and forth from one to another long enough, it all starts to make sense, but that’s only when you start to seriously question your mental sanity.
The problem is that conspiracy theorists are also trying to colonize the past with the most heretic holy trinity: the holocaust never happened, medieval Europe only had white people and Michael Jackson never died. He’s chilling on some Pacific Island with his buddy Elvis. Someone could swear his sister saw a picture or something, you know, tangible proof.
Among the many conspiracy theories about history the one I’ll tackle down here states that Joan of Arc was actually Charles VII’s sister.
Charles VII of France, an Alleged Bastard Himself?
Philippe Contamine, who knows more than anyone about the 15th century, medieval France, briefly addressed the rumors according to which Charles VII of France was a bastard himself, in his latest biography of the French king (published in 2017; not to brag, but I own a dedicated copy).
See, his father had lost his mind and couldn’t recognize his friends from his enemies. That’s why some people suggested that the queen couldn’t have conceived a child with him. Charles VII couldn’t be Charles VI’s legitimate son! According to Pope Pie II, the king of England advanced that very theory himself to end up seducing the duke of Burgundy. It’d served his political purpose a great deal. He wished to inherit the kingdom of France through his wife, something the Valois dynasty opposed fiercely since the start of the Hundred Years’ War.
“But, what about your wife, my liege? Isn’t she also born from the mad king?”
“Nonsense! He was still sane of mind when he conceived her.”
As a matter of fact, Catherine of France, Henry V of England’s wife, was born on October 27, 1401, a year and a half before Charles VII, and Charles VI (it is heavily documented) lost his mind in the year 1392 during a military expedition where he attacked his own men. Meaning, according to Henry V’s logic, that his dear wife was also an illegitimate child, but hell with the details, right?
Upon closer inspection, accusing the queen of adultery served no real political purpose to the Anglo-Burgundian alliance since she was on their side and that her signature is what made the Treaty of Troyes (1420) valid because of the dementia of her husband. The Treaty of Troyes acknowledged Henry V of England as sole heir to Charles VI of France. Fun fact, Henry V died of dysentery a few months ahead of Charles VI. He never was crowned king of France and he only left behind him a one-year-old child and a wife who quickly consoled herself with a handsome knight.
One question remains: who would have been Charles VII’s father, if it weren’t Charles VI? Well, who else but Louis of Orléans, Charles VI’s brother! After all, the duke of Orléans almost killed the king by burning him alive with a torch, then he attempted to rape the duchess of Burgundy—which explains why John the Fearless hated his guts*.
And you thought Game of Thrones was full of suspense!
*This latter allegation is solely reported by Thomas Basin (d. 1491) in his biography of Charles VII.
Who really was Joan of Arc’s Father? A Shakespearian Tale
A 19th-century pseudo-historian, Pierre Cazet, bragged that he discovered the truth behind Joan’s true social status. How come a young maid from the countryside was ever received by the king? Saint Louis himself, the holiest French king of all, met his subjects regularly in the open air to render justice, according to Jean of Joinville (d. 1317). Therefore it should be totally inconceivable that Charles VII would ever meet an intriguing would-be prophetess that had such a notoriety that the duke of Lorraine personally invited her over and that the bastard of Orléans, while she was in Gien, sent people to meet and inquire about her and her journey to Chinon.
She had to be a secret Disney princess!
Actually, it all comes from a play written by Shakespeare. I mean, this could only be the stuff of great literature. How could a poor and deficient mind come up with such a brilliant twist? Henry VI, act 5, scene 4. A shepherd, Joan’s father, comes up to her as she’s tied at the stake. Since she left, he’s been searching for her everywhere.
Ah, Joan! this kills thy father’s heart outright.
Have I sought every country far an near,
And, now it is my chance to find thee out,
Must I behold thy timeless cruel death?
Ah, Joan! sweet daughter Joan, I’ll die with thee.
Joan, however, doesn’t break into tears. She gets all riled up!
Descrepit miser! base ignoble wretch!
I am descended of a gentler blood:
Thou art no father nor no friend of mine.
Then she turns to the men who’ve put her at the stakes.
Let me tell you whom you have condemn’d:
Not me begotten of a shepherd swain,
But issu’d from the progeny of kings;
Virtuous and holy; chosen from above,
By inspiration of celestial grace,
To work exceeding miracles on earth.
The brilliant literary idea of a royal Joan (I mean, what a twist!*) then inseminated the rotten minds of ill-informed money-grabbing pseudo-historians, who pandered ‘sensational’ books only to fill their purse. Hence Joan was Charles VII’s secret sister. However, who was her father then do you ask? No other than Louis ‘the Legend’ of Orléans.
Joan stated at her trial that she was nineteen, meaning she was born in 1412. How could that be a problem? On November 23, 1407, Louis of Orléans was assassinated in the streets of Paris by John the Fearless (GoT quality, I tell you!). Therefore, Joan lied. She must have been twenty-four and was actually born in 1407.
Oh. And by the way, her mother was Queen Isabeau herself. Why not? It’s not like she gave birth to a child on November 10, 1407. Wait? Is my math right? Do I remember anything from my biology class? It must be right. Right?
More audacious conspiracy theorists, whom websites I won’t link here to deny them the pride of free views to their counter, have now passed the idea that Joan was Queen Isabeau’s daughter. They see as a better fit than her actual mother, Isabelle Romée, was the descendant of Charlemagne. Also, they don’t need any document to prove it to you. You should trust them on their words for it. Jacques d’Arc, who, according to them, is not even Joan’s biological father, is also of noble birth too. Cherry. On. Top.
This is all a bunch of undocumented nonsense.
*Shakespeare was depicting Joan of Arc as an utterly crazy woman. This was not a twist but a foregone conclusion. Upon meeting death, she shows her true ugly colors.
Joan’s Coat of Arms: the Ultimate Evidence?
Before the battle of Patay and right after the liberation of Orléans, Charles VII granted a coat of arms to Joan of Arc. On a blue background stands a sword under a crown, flanked by two heraldic lilies. Joan’s judge at her trial at Rouen blamed her for arrogance. Who was she to dare display the ‘fleur-de-lis’, the official emblem of the French crown?
According to our dear conspiracy theorists, Joan’s coat of arms was a clever acknowledgment of her true origin. An acknowledgment so clever, in fact, that Charles VII publicly recognized Joan as his sister but in a way that no one could uncover it. A secret hiding in plain sight!
I … can’t … even.
Heraldry seems only obscure to us because we don’t understand its language. We look at coat of arms the same way Napoleon looked at the pyramid. He knew they meant something. He knew they were the stuff of legends. But he had yet no solid archeological knowledge of their history and meaning.
It so happened that Charles VII granted to other people the right to display the fleur-de-lis on their coat of arms. He especially granted it to the city of Tournai, which so far up north, deep into Burgundian territory, remained unyieldingly loyal to his cause. The fleur-de-lis was a royal honor, a symbolic and powerful mark of recognition for exceptional services and also a way to tie people to the royal house.
What about the crown? Well, what about it? Joan kept saying she was only serving one lord, the Lord. That crown is probably God’s own crown, for Christ’s sake (that is my personal hypothesis). All in all, the coat of arms translates into: “I fight under God’s command for the good of France.” How could that ever be conceived as a secret acknowledgement of common parenthood?
Joan of Arc was not Charles VII’s secret sister (and he was not Louis of Orléans’s bastard) but her story is only more beautiful because of it. I understand that some limited minds would only grant great deeds to people of noble breed, I do, but they’re utterly wrong. She was a commoner from the country side with nothing to her name but her faith, her sass and her cold-blooded bravery.
I know Joan of Arc didn’t actually change the course of history. The victory of Orléans was almost a given when we take everything into account beyond her legend. Plus, it took more than a decade to finally boot the English out of France after she passed. However, she stood high and tall on a crucial turning crossroad in medieval history. It all looked gloom then she suddenly shined bright in the middle of the dark. She shocked her contemporaries like a comet burning the sky.
Personally, I find it very comforting that any young woman could achieve such a thing. However, fair warning, anyone tries to imprison and sentence Greta Thunberg to death, I might personally lead the commando to rescue her.