I feel that there is a lot to unpack in this question. I’ll do my best to untangle the many webs intertwined here and weave them as clearly as I can in a nice little pattern 🙂
The Question of Joan’s Heritage
You mention that “[Joan was] not of noble heritage.” You’re perfectly right! She was a proper nobody. Now, believe it or not but it posed troubles to many pseudo-historians and conspiracy theorists. They couldn’t believe that Joan, having achieved what she achieved, wasn’t somehow of noble blood. They even came up with the crazy theory that Joan was of royal blood! I’ve already pinpointed the fallacies at the basis of that theory and I invite you to read it if you find the time 😉 It’s basically a Shakespearian fiction turned into a historical phony hypothesis. The fact is that Joan didn’t accomplish so much on her own for that matter. A lot of people were talking about her and granted her magical powers still. Most chroniclers of the time had an opinion on her or at least wrote about her.Joan and the French military hierarchy
Nevertheless, Joan faced a wall when she first met the men she’d fought alongside with. They wouldn’t believe in her. They wouldn’t listen to her. She was so relentless though that she carved herself a place among them. I wrote about it a little time ago. The fact that Joan actively searched to engage into battles and showed the greatest courage on the battlefield turned her into an inspiring figure. Also, it helped that she was always quick with a sharp reply. Some people in power, mostly Georges de La Trémoille, thought she’d make a nice figurehead. They didn’t actually believe in her. However, a few high ranked military leaders of the French army, such as Dunois (Bastard of Orléans) and the duke of Alençon, would years later report on Joan’s miracles at Orléans, on her second trial*.
*Joan was condemned as a heretic on her trial at Rouen. Many years later, her mother called to the king and the Church to undo this trial and clean her daughter’s name. That’s when many people who met Joan and fought alongside her witnessed in her favour.
Who Took Joan of Arc Seriously?
The better question is who took Joan seriously? Which brings me to an anecdote I’ve never reported in my various contributions up to this point. On September 3rd, 1430, two women had been arrested and were executed in Paris in front of the cathedral. They believed that Joan of Arc was good. One of them was called Piéronne and originated from Britanny. She declared that God himself had appeared to her, dressed with a red mantel over a white gown, which was considered as blasphemous (for God’s clothing was a white mantel over a red gown–he had fashion sense!)*.
At the meantime, when Joan died, a few captains that fought with her at Orléans tried to replace her with a random shepherd. Those two anecdotes go a long way in telling us how seriously she was taken and by whom. She contributed to a long standing superstitious culture in a world in which people believed in miracles and named miracles even the silliest things–even an unexpected colour for bread. Rational thinking was not the paradigm that most people followed. Sophie Page writes: “Since both magicians and saints claimed to possess supernatural powers, it was necessary for the ecclesiastical authorities to distinguish between the categories of magic and miracle**.”
* Colette Beaune (ed.), Journal d’un bourgeois de Paris. Paris: Livre de Poche, 1990, p. 281-282.
** Sophie Page, Magic in Medieval Manuscripts. London: British Library, 2017, p. 16.
A Too Short of an Introduction to Medieval Magic
When Joan arrived at Chinon and met the king she was then sent to Poitiers to meet theologians who were charged to assess the holiness of her visions. As it happens Augustine had written about visions in his De Genesi ad litteram (book XII). He described three types of visions: the best were spiritual and touched the soul, some were carried by dreams, the last belonged to the physical realm. The people who judged Joan at Rouen determined that her visions belonged to the third and least noble kind. They took a very long time asking Joan how the Archangel Michael was dressed and tried to pinpoint inconsistencies in her narrative. “Was he naked when he came to you?” they asked. “Do you think he’d have nothing to wear?” she answered as if they were stupid. It was common in female saint biographies that they’d be tempted by the devil at some point in their journey. He would appear to them in the flesh and try to lay with them. Having sex with a demon was certainly a “physical” and devilish vision.
“In the medieval universe, angelic mediators carried prayers to God. Demons sought to divert the souls of men and women from heaven*.” Augustine wrote that angels existed for every living things, hence the concept of guardian angels developed in the Late Middle Ages. However, “theologians were naturally dubious of the human ability to distinguish between angelic and demonic spirits, as it was well known that demons could assume fairer forms to deceive mankind*.” This led to the writings of many more texts on visions, the meeting of angels and the conjuring of demons. A whole literature flourished on the subject. All Joan had to do was to convince people she had vision and that those visions were sent by God. She certainly had visions and she never denied them. Moreover, it belonged to the realm of the possible in those times to the less pragmatic of minds had no trouble to join in on the narrative. Once Orléans was delivered only a few days after she entered the city, Joan gained enough charisma that people believed in her.
Max Weber argued in his essay on authority and domination** that in times of great disorder and general unrest, people would easily turn to a charismatic figure to lead them. Someone who came from nothing. Someone who had no title nor experience but someone who actually showed up and led them to victory. This charismatic leader finds his/her authority rooted in his/her success. He/she has to safeguared his/her people. As soon as the charismatic leader faces a defeat or couldn’t translate his authority into another form of domination (feudal or bureaucratic, for example), he/she’s discarded. This pattern doesn’t only apply to Joan. Throughout history many figures became charismatic leaders according to that definition. Oliver Cromwell was one of them in my opinion. I find it particularily striking that he also hated that people took the name of the Lord in vain and that he promoted, as well as Joan, a very strict and religious discipline within the military. Joan is known for having chased allegded prostitutes with a sword. She broke her sword on the back of one of them and, according to Jean Chartier, a French chronicler and Valois partisan, that’s when she lost it. That’s the moment the magic stopped working and she went from incredible victories to repetitive defeats.
People took her seriously because they believed in magic and miracles. She was only human though, but that’s what makes her story even more fascinating.
* S. Page, Ibidem, p. 75, 78.
** Max Weber, La domination. Paris: La Découverte, 2013. Translated into French by Isabelle Kalinowski.
DidJoan of Arc actually fight and lead an army in the battle of Orleans, or was she propped up as a figurehead?
So I’ve always wondered this since I learned about Joan of Arc in grade school. IIRC, she was an illiterate girl whose only real education was in Catholicism. After apparently hearing the voice of God telling her that she’s destined to lead France to victory, she convinced then-prince Charles to give her an army to take back Orleans, and that she would install him as king. And of course, she succeeded in both endeavors.
Here’s my question: in lieu her limited education and experience, did she actually fight in and lead an army/devise tactics for the battle to retake Orleans? Or was she simply “given credit” for political, troop morale, and enemy intimidation purposes?
The idea of Joan fighting is not debated. Many written sources relayed the fact that she was properly armed on the battlefield and participated in the war effort. She got hit by arrows twice, at Orléans (in the shoulder) and at Paris (in the leg). She was fighting alright!
Now, what about her commanding the troops? Kelly DeVries wrote a biography on Joan of Arc to argue that she was in fact “A Military Leader” (1999). However he gives Joan too much credit in my opinion. He states that Joan’s rashness inspired other military leaders of her time when I actually observed in the 15th century chronicles that everything Joan “did”, the other captains serving Charles VII were already doing it long before she came to the scene (attacking the enemy by surprise, being relentless, etc.). What mostly held them back was the politics behind the war.
Many written sources relayed the fact that she was properly armed on the battlefield and participated in the war effort. She got hit by arrows twice, at Orléans (in the shoulder) and at Paris (in the leg).
Philippe Contamine, the most expert French historian about the 15th century, already observed that the English were poorly organized at Orléans. Their forces were too widely spread around the town. It was “easy” to take down one fort after the other. When Joan arrived, the most skilled of Charles VII’s captains were already at Orléans: La Hire, Poton de Xaintrailles, the Chabanne brothers, the bastard of Orléans… Those people knew how to fight and they had no duke nor prince to overrule them. They could “play ugly” and they didn’t care for the glory or the etiquette. The battle of Patay is an obvious example of that. La Hire and Xaintrailles rushed the enemy as soon as they spotted them, taking them by surprise and routing them out. A few months ago, at the battle of the Herrings, they’d been asked to wait for the arrival of the duke of Bourbon, who wished to claim the glory of the battle. It led to a gory defeat as the English mustered the time to organize their defending position and make themselves impervious to swift and heavy cavalry charges (a French specialty).
Nevertheless, Joan certainly wished to act as a commander. She was quite bossy, and sassy too. She was never given any proper command title, but she certainly became a leading figure in the French army. Though she mostly became some kind of celebrity–people loved and/or hated her, she was on every lips—she also acted as a proper commander. At Compiègne, when she was captured, she was actually insuring the retreat of “her” troops by staying behind. According to the chivalric art of war, a leader was always supposed to be on the front line, the closest to the enemy. Joan of Arc was also the most relentless “leader” at the siege of Paris. She was determined to take the city (which was defended by Burgundian soldiers—she hated the Burgundians). The duke of Alençon actually had to go and fetch her to take her away from the battle when everybody knew the day was lost.
There was a glass-ceiling that she never could break. She never was a formal military leader. Moreover her military “career” was far too short for her to prove herself as an autonomous leader.
The school of war was done on the battlefield at the beginning of the 15th century. We suspect some of Charles VII’s captains of not being able to write or read. Yet they could certainly fight and come up with crazy and daring tactics. Many of Charles VII’s captains were actually “self-taught” (meaning they were schooled by masters on the battlefield through practice and didn’t go to an academy of any kind) and were appointed/elected to their position by their peers since the military institutions of that time fell into total anarchy between 1418 and 1441. Some of them even had pretty obscure origins, pretty much like Joan of Arc.
In conclusion there was a glass-ceiling that she never could break. She never was a formal military leader. Moreover her military “career” was far too short for her to prove herself as an autonomous leader. She didn’t have any military company of her own (any proper “captain” had his own band of brothers-in-arms). She always tagged along or she was placed, here and there, as a mascot–which infuriated her. La Hire, Xaintrailles and others actually tried to replace her once she was dead with a random shepherd they found on some field or something. It led to an utter disaster of a battle that, to my knowledge, was only recorded by a Burgundian chronicler (but a reliable one). The endeavor was never repeated. However, Joan of Arc showed promises and at that time women could lead armies. Princesses, Queens or Duchesses actually commanded their troops in some cases when their husbands were away (or dead). Little is known about them actually fighting, though, but they certainly knew how to rule and strategize. The key at that time for any ruler was to surround themselves with shrewd and capable advisors and to listen to them, then only to take decisions and boss people around—well, that’s what I believe at least—but also what people at that time thought of good government!
La Hire, Xaintrailles and others actually tried to replace her once she was dead with a random shepherd they found on some field or something.
For further readings, don’t hesitate to ask, but most of the scholarly work on Joan of Arc was written in French. A good place to start though is the forever great Pernoud, Régine & Clin, Marie-Véronique. Joan of Arc: Her Story. trans. Jeremy Duquesnay Adams. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1999.
Joan of Arc never was a formal military leader. Moreover her military “career” was far too short for her to prove herself as an autonomous leader. However, she showed promises and at that time women could lead armies.
Joan of Arc Hero-General in Age of Empires 2
In a former post I briefly discussed about how Age of Empires 2 wrongly gave Joan of Arc the title of “Commander of the Army of France”. That function actually lied with the “Connétable” (which was the proper title of such a high office) who was chosen for life by the king—once he’d obtained his title, it couldn’t be taken away from him. Back in 1429, the French Connétable was Arthur de Richemont, who has an entry on my blog regarding his background.
First, I would like to pinpoint where that historical mistake came from. Then I would like to say a few more words about Richemont’s relationship with Joan of Arc as the actual commander-in-chief or the French army.
Joe Staten, creative director for Microsoft who helped to design the first Age of Empires game stated that his “real passion was history. [He] read a lot of historical fiction and so when Age came around […] it was this perfect melding of the kinds of games that [he] liked to play: real-time strategy games with this history that [he] loved.”
There we have it: the Age of Empires series doesn’t draw from history books but from historical novels. Building on that fact it becomes quite easy to find out the novel that inspired the Joan of Arc campaign in Age of Empires 2. We just have to look at the most influential of them all: the Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by Mark Twain, first published in 1896. As a matter of fact, that very novel contains a chapter titled “She Is Made General-In-Chief.” It isn’t too long so I’ll simply paste it here for you to read.
Mark Twain Creates Joan of Arc General
It was indeed a great day, and a stirring thing to see.
She had won! It was a mistake of Tremouille and her other ill-wishers to let her hold court those nights.
The commission of priests sent to Lorraine ostensibly to inquire into Joan’s character—in fact to weary her with delays and wear out her purpose and make her give it up—arrived back and reported her character perfect. Our affairs were in full career now, you see.
Dead France woke suddenly to life, wherever the great news travelled. Whereas before, the spiritless and cowed people hung their heads and slunk away if one mentioned war to them, now they came clamoring to be enlisted under the banner of the Maid of Vaucouleurs, and the roaring of war-songs and the thundering of the drums filled all the air.
The verdict made a prodigious stir. Dead France woke suddenly to life, wherever the great news travelled. Whereas before, the spiritless and cowed people hung their heads and slunk away if one mentioned war to them, now they came clamoring to be enlisted under the banner of the Maid of Vaucouleurs, and the roaring of war-songs and the thundering of the drums filled all the air. I remembered now what she had said, that time there in our village when I proved by facts and statistics that France’s case was hopeless, and nothing could ever rouse the people from their lethargy:
“They will hear the drums—and they will answer, they will march!”
It has been said that misfortunes never come one at a time, but in a body. In our case it was the same with good luck. Having got a start, it came flooding in, tide after tide. Our next wave of it was of this sort. There had been grave doubts among the priests as to whether the Church ought to permit a female soldier to dress like a man. But now came a verdict on that head. Two of the greatest scholars and theologians of the time—one of whom had been Chancellor of the University of Paris—rendered it. They decided that since Joan “must do the work of a man and a soldier, it is just and legitimate that her apparel should conform to the situation.”
Two of the greatest scholars and theologians of the time—one of whom had been Chancellor of the University of Paris—rendered it. They decided that since Joan “must do the work of a man and a soldier, it is just and legitimate that her apparel should conform to the situation.”
It was a great point gained, the Church’s authority to dress as a man. Oh, yes, wave on wave the good luck came sweeping in. Never mind about the smaller waves, let us come to the largest one of all, the wave that swept us small fry quite off our feet and almost drowned us with joy. The day of the great verdict, couriers had been despatched to the King with it, and the next morning bright and early the clear notes of a bugle came floating to us on the crisp air, and we pricked up our ears and began to count them. One—two—three; pause; one—two; pause; one—two—three, again—and out we skipped and went flying; for that formula was used only when the King’s herald-at-arms would deliver a proclamation to the people. As we hurried along, people came racing out of every street and house and alley, men, women, and children, all flushed, excited, and throwing lacking articles of clothing on as they ran; still those clear notes pealed out, and still the rush of people increased till the whole town was abroad and streaming along the principal street. At last we reached the square, which was now packed with citizens, and there, high on the pedestal of the great cross, we saw the herald in his brilliant costume, with his servitors about him. The next moment he began his delivery in the powerful voice proper to his office:
“Know all men, and take heed therefore, that the most high, the most illustrious Charles, by the grace of God King of France, hath been pleased to confer upon his well-beloved servant Joan of Arc, called the Maid, the title, emoluments, authorities, and dignity of General-in-Chief of the Armies of France—”
“The most illustrious Charles, by the grace of God King of France, hath been pleased to confer upon his well-beloved servant Joan of Arc, called the Maid, the title, emoluments, authorities, and dignity of General-in-Chief of the Armies of France.”
Here a thousand caps flew in the air, and the multitude burst into a hurricane of cheers that raged and raged till it seemed as if it would never come to an end; but at last it did; then the herald went on and finished:
—“and hath appointed to be her lieutenant and chief of staff a prince of his royal house, his grace the Duke of Alençon!”
That was the end, and the hurricane began again, and was split up into innumerable strips by the blowers of it and wafted through all the lanes and streets of the town.
General of the Armies of France, with a prince of the blood for subordinate! Yesterday she was nothing—to-day she was this. Yesterday she was not even a sergeant, not even a corporal, not even a private—to-day, with one step, she was at the top. Yesterday she was less than nobody to the newest recruit—to-day her command was law to La Hire, Saintrailles, the Bastard of Orleans, and all those others, veterans of old renown, illustrious masters of the trade of war. These were the thoughts I was thinking; I was trying to realize this strange and wonderful thing that had happened, you see.
Yesterday she was not even a sergeant, not even a corporal, not even a private—to-day, with one step, she was at the top. Yesterday she was less than nobody to the newest recruit—to-day her command was law to La Hire.
My mind went travelling back, and presently lighted upon a picture—a picture which was still so new and fresh in my memory that it seemed a matter of only yesterday—and indeed its date was no further back than the first days of January. This is what it was. A peasant-girl in a far-off village, her seventeenth year not yet quite completed, and herself and her village as unknown as if they had been on the other side of the globe. She had picked up a friendless wanderer somewhere and brought it home—a small gray kitten in a forlorn and starving condition—and had fed it and comforted it and got its confidence and made it believe in her, and now it was curled up in her lap asleep, and she was knitting a coarse stocking and thinking—dreaming—about what, one may never know. And now—the kitten had hardly had time to become a cat, and yet already the girl is General of the Armies of France, with a prince of the blood to give orders to, and out of her village obscurity her name has climbed up like the sun and is visible from all corners of the land! It made me dizzy to think of these things, they were so out of the common order, and seemed so impossible.
3 Historical Mistakes In Twain’s Narrative
Unfortunately Mark Twain wasn’t writing a history book but a historical novel. To be good or great novels abide to a set of dramatic rules. Everything seems “bigger than life” though at the same time “oddly probable” in a novel.
In order to make his novel more enticing or catchy, Mark Twain tweaked a few facts here and there. Nothing much… but just enough to mix the historical truth with pure fiction and sell a few lies as facts.
There Were No Statistics in the Middle Ages
Twain really wants to make us understand how crazy Joan’s mission was. How impossible it was deemed to achieve. How incredible it was when it was. That’s what makes her story worthy of being told. Joan’s story is worth to be remembered because she did the impossible. She was a simple peasant girl who lead the French army to an impossible victory against the English. That’s the pitch.
Therefore Joan is not only confronted to a fixed social order but also to cold hard reason. It’s being shown in the novel through the anachronistic use of statistics. There were to statistics in the Middle Age. The mathematical optimisation of the public order was not yet a thing. The mathematical language in itself had not even been constructed yet! However, “numbers don’t lie”. We live today with the deluded notion that numbers reflect the truth and reality itself (as if the production of those statistical numbers wasn’t a problem in and of itself).
Twain uses that familiarity he expects from the reader with the everyday use of statistics to make Joan’s tale “bigger than life” and even more incredible than it actually is. The anachronism of that literary stratagem doesn’t even pose a problem.
Joan of Arc Never Was General in Chief
Remember the pitch. Joan’s story is worth to be remembered because she did the impossible. She was a simple peasant girl who lead the French army to an impossible victory against the English. We already have the “bigger than life” element sorted out: her quest defeated all the statistics that could be thrown at her. Now comes the “oddly probable” moment.
How come that she led the French army to victory? Simple. She was made General in Chief. Twain is starting to pile up lies here. He’s building a proper house of cards. But here comes the wind.
Short story short, the duke of Alençon had been captured into battle a few months prior to the siege of Orléans. He’d been invited by the duke of Burgundy to join the English alliance but he refused. His grandfather had died at Crécy and his father, most heroically, at Agincourt. His lands had been taken away from him by the English. He was left penniless with nothing to go on but his good name and sense of honour. Therefore if politely but firmly declined the offer.
First order of business: Joan was never created General in Chief. Not only did that title not existed at the time, but also Joan wasn’t given any official commanding title of any kind. It was merely agreed that she could accompany the army. Nothing more, although she quickly rose as a moral and religious exemplary figure and natural leader. She made the French army ring the Te Deum on their departure from Blois to Orléans.
What’s funny is that Twain resorts again to anachronism here, by referencing to modern military grades and titles of command. He talks of “privates” when there was no such thing back then. It could be construed as a literary adaptation, a way to make the subject clearer to the reader. However, it mostly induces a fake sense of the medieval reality…
Moreover, any basic knowledge of medieval armies at the time makes this “oddly probable” moment another “bigger than life” ingredient of narration. So big, this one, in fact, that we need to resort to a suspension of disbelief to make the rest of the novel any enjoyable. We clearly left the realm of facts for the country of fictions.
The Duke of Alençon Never Was Joan’s Lieutenant
Since Twain started to pile lies up, why not top it with a cherry and make it a nice cake with frosting and everything? The duke of Alençon is made Joan’s lieutenant. She has a really bloody prince under her command! What’s up with that?
Short story short, the duke of Alençon had been captured into battle a few months prior to the siege of Orléans. He’d been invited by the duke of Burgundy to join the English alliance but he refused. His grandfather had died at Crécy and his father, most heroically, at Agincourt. His lands had been taken away from him by the English. He was left penniless with nothing to go on but his good name and sense of honour. Therefore if politely but firmly declined the offer.
At that point he was released and could rejoin his wife who, to make things less complicated, was the step-sister of the king of England. You know. Family’s a bitch. Nevertheless he couldn’t fight the English nor the Burgundians anymore as long as he hadn’t settle his ransom. It was not yet the case when Joan left for Orléans. That’s why he didn’t contributed to the city being liberated. He couldn’t have. He was bond by the code of chivalry. The man of the hour at Orléans was the Bastard of Orléans. And he certainly took no order from Joan! He kept her in the dark regarding most of the strategic decisions and meetings which drove her mad.
Joan’s story is worth to be remembered because she did the impossible. She was a simple peasant girl who lead the French army to an impossible victory against the English. That’s the pitch.
You’d understand though that for a novelist trying to sell a narrative pitch, those kind of facts would be deemed negligible and wouldn’t make out for a “great story”. They had to be tweaked if not properly erased and presented differently.
The Proof that Age of Empires 2 Was Based on Twain’s Novel
We have already stated that Joe Staten, creative director for the Age of Empires series, got his inspiration from historical novels. Mark Twain wrote a historical novel about Joan of Arc. We only have to connect the dots now.
As a matter of fact there is no mention of any statistics in Age of Empires 2 within Joan of Arc’s narrative. We can therefore rule that lumpy anachronism out. There is no connection there.
The most obvious evidence that AoE2 told the story of Joan of Arc after Twain’s novel lies with the duke of Alençon. Indeed, he greets the player as he/she starts the second scenario: The Maid of Orléans. Not only is it a historical inacurracy. It’s the very embellishment that Twain drew out to make Joan’s story “bigger than life”.
This is hard evidence if there is any. The fact that AoE2 also gives Joan the title of general could contribute to build our case here but there is much more to say regading the Twain-AoE2 romance about the portrayal of La Hire [blogpost on that topic underway].
The Real “General” of the French Army: Arthur de Richemont
Richemont appears in Age of Empires 2 when the players reaches the last scenario in Joan’s story. He’s to lead the French army at the battle of Castillon alongside other heroes among which La Hire who either survived his own death or crawled out of his grave. La Hire dies in 1443 and the battle of Castillon takes place in 1453. I let you work the numbers out. Remember! “Numbers don’t lie.”
The Medieval French Army … In Theory
The French Army went under a lot of development during the Hundred Years’ War. It took quite a bit of time for it but waging war became the business of professionals, a small group of people who devoted their whole life to the art of war. Noblemen were slowly being pushed out of the business for their religious worship of proper etiquette led to utter military disasters. The feudal pyramid of old was crumbling from within. Noblemen were more and more focused on administrative matters and less and less prone to the actual exercice of war. This tendency does NOT constitute an absolute however. The Burgundian alliance was renowned for its traditionnalism. The duke of Burgundy found many capable military leaders within his nobility. Just as the French army grew out of the Feudal System, the Burgundian army maintained everything it could from it: the titles of old, the etiquette, the chivalrous ranking system, etc.
The French army had a constable at its head and two marshalls (maréchaux) to fill in for him. They represented the king himself and anyone challenging their authority was also challenging the king. Once appointed they couldn’t be replaced until their death.
The shift for the French army started with Charles V (1338-1380). This king properly turned the tables on the English and his son would have put an end to the Hundred Years’ War if he hadn’t gone mad. The French army was put under the ‘managment’ of its constable (connétable): Bertrand Du Guesclin. It followed strict rules: no open engagement on any battlefield, a war of attrition, sneak and surgical attacks, a solid regulation of the men-at-arms roaming the country. The great dukes and princes were pushed out of the leadership of the war but the king feared no real opposition for he heavily relied upon his brothers (the duke of Berry and the duke of Burgundy) and they followed his leadership closely, going as far as copying the royal administration within their own estates to manage it.
At this point the French army had a constable at its head and two marshalls (maréchaux) to fill in for him. They represented the king himself and anyone challenging their authority was also challenging the king. Once appointed they couldn’t be replaced until their death. Now what happened is that Charles VI couldn’t maintain this neat system intact. He delved into demencia, his uncles took control of the government and the dukes and princes started to fight each other for power. The royal army was dried out of money and the king’s authority came to naught. When Charles VII eventually took over his father, the French army was in a state of utter anarchy. The soldiers were not being paid and resorted to plunder and unregulated attacks on the king’s enemy to make a living. They were often high in debt and roamed the country in search of lucrative ventures. Captains were appointed by their own men and the military military mistruted the mighty dukes and princes for they usually knew better how to take or to defend a city.
Charles VII had a weak character and was easily manipulated. He favoured close friends a bit too much and he let the people he liked rule in his stead. First there was Pierre de Giac, then there was Camus de Beaulieu. Richemont had both of them killed.
Richemont Falls Into Disgrace
Richemont was a highborn son of the House of Britanny. Though he was not the firstborn son of his father, he eventually became Duke of Britanny at the end of his life. Since his mother married Henry IV of England, he also had close ties to the House of Lancaster. However, he was raised by the duke of Burgundy and had even closer ties to the Burgundian nobility. He even became himself a Burgundian lord when he married a Burgundian princess. Nevertheless he refused to enter the Anglo-Burgundian alliance and reached for Charles VII through the Queen of Sicily, Yolande of Aragon. She made him constable and from 1425 onwards he became the official “General in Chief” of the French army.
Charles VII had a weak character and was easily manipulated. He favoured close friends a bit too much and he let the people he liked rule in his stead. First there was Pierre de Giac, then there was Camus de Beaulieu. Richemont had both of them killed then he appointed Georges de La Trémoille to watch over the king and gain his favours. However, La Trémoille was far richer than Giac or Beaulieu and, most of all, shrewd as hell. His ambition led him to challenge his former patron and create a faction within Charles VII’s council against Richemont.
Despite a few splendid military successes, like the liberation of Montargis (1427), Richemont had to go into exile and avoid the king’s court altogether. His brother, Duke of Britanny, had joined again the Anglo-Burgundian alliance and Richemont’s name was utterly ternished by such a diplomatic failure. The English could push forward against a disorganized French army and they eventually reached Orléans. La Trémoille reigned supreme and unchallenged. That’s when Joan of Arc showed up at Chinon.
La Trémoille was far richer than Giac or Beaulieu and, most of all, shrewd as hell. His ambition led him to challenge his former patron and create a faction within Charles VII’s council against Richemont.
As Joan convinced the king to take action, Richemont was still in exile. He was even formerly forbidden by the king to join with the French army on the battlefield. However, the captains that were defending Orléans were kind of his good men. The Bastard of Orléans, La Hire, Poton de Xaintrailles, such leaders had formerly found a strong political ally in Richemont when it came to liberate Montargis back in 1427. Richemont had even took out of his own pocket to insure their military services. Moreover they had no love for the high and mighty lords that haunted the king’s court.
They had had their reservation against Richemont, of course. He was a high born himself and they knew through experience that such people used to look down on them. At Montargis they had bluntly told him to stay behind and leave them deal with the enemy (which they did most successfully! routing John Talbot, earl of Shrewsbury, himself!). Nevertheless Richemont had recognized their proper value when no one else had and it sure meant something.
Joan of Arc Meets Arthur de Richemont
Let’s rewind this story for a minute.
To make complicated matters quite simple, Arthur’s mother married Henry IV of England when Arthur’s dad, who had been duke of Britanny, died. Do you remember? However, as Henry V rose to the throne, Arthur’s mother was deemed… a nuisance. Therefore she was put on trial for sorcery. She never had to fear for her life though, this trial was more of a way to put her aside politically and make room for the new king. Nevertheless, I think we need to keep that piece of background history in mind when we come to the moment Arthur de Richemont met Joan of Arc.
Now, let’s jump to this blogpost conclusion.
Orléans was free! The Maid had achieved her miracle. However, the Loire still had to be cleansed from English rule. At that very moment, the duke of Alençon had finally paid the last chunk of his ransom and could ride back into battle to honour the memory of his ancestors. The king appointed him as his “lieutenant-général”, meaning he was now put in charge of the French army. Jargeau, Meung, Beaugency: those powerful cities were to fall back under French rule!
Jargeau fell. Then Meung. Joan the Maid, the duke of Alençon and La Hire were heading towards Beaugency but the English were gathering more troops to fight them off. The troops were tired. A victory seemed uncertain at this point. Were the French heading to a new Vae Victis?
Sensing a change in the winds, Richemont decided to turn up with his personal army. La Trémoille got enraged. The French army led by Alençon was under a great commotion. Joan had been convinced that Richemont had to be defeated. She turned to the captains of the army, the Bastard of Orléans, La Hire, Poton de Xaintrailles. Their reaction was as rash as it can be: “If you go against the constable, you’ll find someone to talk to! We’d rather serve under the command of Richemont and fight alongside his men than to fight alongside all the maids of the realm!” Joan wisened up fast and convinced Alençon that fighting Richemont was a bad idea. La Trémoille could enrage all he wanted, Richemont reached the French army and both parties met in the most joyfull manner.
Richemont eventually met the Maid of Lorraine and spoke with her. His words were recorded for the posterity. He said: “Joan, I’m being told you want to fight against me… I don’t know if you are sent by the devil or by God. If you’re sent by God, I don’t fear you. If you’re sent by the devil, I fear you even less.” Then he asked Joan to plead for him to the king to reinstate him in his charge before they went on and took back Beugeancy together whilst Richemont’s reinforcements helped to defend Meung that was under a heavy counterattack.
I’ll surely write more on those historical events when I ever write my walkthrough + historical commentary of Joan’s third scenario in Age of Empires 2: “The Cleansing of the Loire”.
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
late. Yet again, it’s still Tuesday somewhere!
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?
think that conspiracy theories would be limited to our contemporary era, did
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.
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?
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).
about your wife, my liege? Isn’t she also born from the mad king?”
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
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.
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*.
thought Game of Thrones was full of
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
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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?
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 …
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.
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.
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
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.
The AskHistorians Subreddit invited me to pitch in on their latest Tuesday Trivia event. This week theme was FIRE.
Fire in the hole! …and in the house, castle courtyard, barn loft, cave, wiping out entire cities. What are some of the major flame-related disasters in your era? How did people fight fires?
I could just not pass on such an honor and I did my best to come up with a good story to share.
My Personal Contribution
If you know me you guess by then what I decided to talk about. Again. Joan of Arc.
This is the
story of how she died and how she burned.
judges had found her guilty on twelve accounts. Chief among them was the charge
that her visions were nothing but superstitious delusions that proceeded from
evil and diabolical spirits. Joan was also found guilty of attempted suicide
because she jumped from the tower of the Beaurevoir castle when she tried to escape
from her Burgundian ward, Jean de Luxembourg (a tale that I already briefly
mentioned in a
I will be
lazy for a minute and briefly remind that suicide was deemed as a very serious
crime in the 15th century, France. If you committed suicide, your
belongings were confiscated—meaning you could leave no inheritance to your
relatives—and your body would have to suffer a degrading sentence. We have
actually found pardon letters addressed to people who committed suicide,
blaming their death on insanity or something else, meaning they were eventually
not responsible of their own demise.
On a less
judicial and more spiritual level, let me quote Benjamin Zweig on that one (and
be a doll, check out his thesis on the Images
of Suicide in Medieval Art):
As the German nun and mystic Hildegard of Bingen tells us, suicide is unforgivable because it is a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. But, then, what makes suicide blasphemous? Because, she and other medieval theologians might respond, suicide denies the possibility of God’s forgiveness. By flinging one’s own body into death, one doubts God’s mercy. When one denies God’s grace, one repudiates God’s very essence—that is, the Holy Spirit. To kill oneself is to proclaim one’s disbelief in God. But unlike blasphemous words, for which one can plead mercy, suicide cannot be undone. One cannot repent after death.
conclude in reminding that in his touring of the circles of Hell, Dante visits
the Forest of Suicide. It should serve as a final proof that attempted suicide
was a good reason to find anyone guilty of something immoral. Of course, Joan
tried to escape, and ultimately to live, but it didn’t bother her judges. She
jumped and it was constructed as a guilty charge against her.
that Joan sided against the Burgundians also played against her. It was seen as
a transgression against God’s commandment to “love thy neighbor”. No one
bothered to mention her quarrel against the English, which indicates the
political ties of her judges and who might have really been pissed at her. She’d
sent a letter to Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. I bet that letter was very
ill received. She also met him, and Monstrelet records it. He reports that he
was there himself, but that he forgot what the Duke said to the Maid. How
convenient… Let’s not forget that he later offered his chronicles to Philip the
not least, Joan’s unwillingness to answer her judges on certain matters—like
her personal exchanges with Charles VII—were constructed as a rebellion against
the church. She was therefore charged as schismatic.
On May 24,
1431, Joan was put in front of a stake and her charges were read to her.
Everything was ready for her to burn alive and be done with like Jean Hus and
many others before her. However, before the end of the sentencing, Joan finally
cracked under the pressure, pleaded guilty and asked for a pardon, which was
granted to her. She was brought back to her cell and probably raped by her
twelve charges, Joan had also been found guilty of wearing men’s clothes. It
was deemed as blasphemous. Therefore when she was seen wearing them again after
her “confession”, maybe as a way to repel her wards, she was deemed relapse. It
meant that the church couldn’t do anything for her anymore. Her soul was beyond
saving. She had to burn at the stake…
Burning at the Stake
It was a
Wednesday. Joan was brought out of her cell for the very last time on May 30,
1431, at the sweet age of nineteen.
We think indeed
that she was born in 1412, which is why her biography and dictionary written by
Philippe Contamine, Xavier Hélary and Olivier Bouzy was published in 2012, six
hundred years after she was born.
Ladvenu, who heard Joan’s last confession and escorted her to the stake,
reported that until the bitter end, she maintained that her visions were sent
to her by God and that she didn’t believe that she’d been fooled by any evil
By ten o’clock
in the morning, Joan was already where she would die, on a scaffold where
everyone could see her. The good people of Rouen didn’t dare to move to help
her. They were still under the shock of the 1418-1419 siege that cost them so
many lives. However, we can guess that they didn’t really like what they saw.
One very sarcastic Norman chronicler, Pierre Cochon—not to be mistaken with
Pierre Cauchon, Joan’s chief judge—stopped his chronicle at the very moment
Joan entered Rouen. He never mentioned her in his work. Yet he was a close
friend to several of the clerks who attended her trials and who, for the most
part, pleaded heavily in favor of Joan on her second trial.
some case, is more meaningful than any formulated opinion…
Fauquembergue, clerks for the Parliament in Paris, wrote that Joan wore a miter
which displayed four words: “Heretic. Relapse. Apostate. Idolatrous.” There was
also a board that described Joan as the wickedest witch of the West.
The executioner put the stake on fire and Joan burned alive. However, the fire was extinguished halfway to show that under her men’s clothes she was indeed a woman. Eventually, her ashes were spilled in the Seine to make sure no one could turn any of her remnant into a relic.
How She Was Replaced
telefilm that cast Neil Patrick Harris as Charles VII shows how La Hire and
Jean de Metz arrived too late to save Joan at Rouen. They see the flames from beyond
the city walls. They know she is dead… However, historically, the French captains
and the French court remained quite indifferent to Joan’s passing.
La Hire was
otherwise busy at the time. Earlier that year he’d taken the city of Louviers
in a successful commando mission that freed the most skilled and wisest French
captain of the time, a man so dangerous that the English had always refused to
discuss any ransom and kept his location secret, Arnaud-Guilhem de Barbazan,
the man who singlehandedly defended Melun nine months in 1420 against Henry V
and all of his army.
were in the business to retake Louviers and La Hire swooped back in the city in
April to manage its defense. As he sneaked out of town to fetch for
reinforcements at La Ferté he was captured, taken to Dourdan and released in
exchange for several hostages. He still had yet to pay for his ransom and La Hire
therefore went to Chinon to ask the king for help. Charles VII, who
couldn’t pull out money the way his grandfather did to help out Du Guesclin,
allowed La Hire to write to the good cities of France to raise money for his
ransom. We know that La Hire wrote at least to Lyon and Tours.
In the end,
he was nowhere near Rouen when Joan died and not the least concerned with her
passing. Jean de Metz? We don’t know where he was at the time…
On August 12, 1431, La Hire had forgotten Joan of Arc altogether. According to the chronicler Jean Lefèvre de Saint-Rémy, La Hire and several captains put a young shepherd at the front of their army to lead them to victory but the poor boy didn’t have Joan’s nerves. He was captured, brought back to Rouen and probably thrown in the Seine to drown. No one bothered with a “proper trial” on that one.
Disclaimer: This blogpost is nothing but free mindless rambling. Don’t mind it.
This blogpost also contains spoilers. Be warned.
Tarantino gets all riled up when he reads history books. Why? I’m gonna tell
Have you seen
Inglourious Bastards, Django Unchained and Once Upon A Time In Hollywood or did you
live under a rock for the past few years? Well, if you’ve seen those movies,
you’d understand that Tarantino is not a big fan of how History actually played
out and that he’s got a lot to say about it.
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
I walked into the theater not knowing who Sharon Tate was and how she died. If I did, I would have been clinging at the edge of my seat like my father did next to me, dreading every scene where we see her living carefree and having a good time. Mindhunter, season 2, should have put me on the right track, though. Alarm bells would then have ringed in my head. Instead, I just witnessed Margot Robbie living the ultimate bourgeois life and I was like… ‘Uh, yeah. She’s rich! We get it! Can we go back to Leonardo now?’ I couldn’t for the life of me understand why Roman Polansky, Sharon Tate’s husband, was Rick Dalton’s neighbor—Rick Dalton being the character played by Leonardo DiCaprio.
Let me brush
out the story for you in case you didn’t see the movie.
was a big time Western actor who’s now reaching the end of his rope. His best
bud, personal chauffeur and stunt double, Cliff Booth, drives him everywhere.
As Rick Dalton tries to make the most out of his roles as a ‘heavy’ despite
strong addiction issues towards alcohol and tobacco that turns him into a
living mess, Cliff Booth remembers the time he fought off Bruce Lee and lets
young girls entice him into borderline hitchhiking drives. Meanwhile Sharon
Tate goes to the movies and enjoys watching herself in The Wrecking Crew being a goof and a bad ass.
Cliff Booth eventually drives a teenage girl back at Spahn Ranch, where Rick Dalton used to shoot his prime-time TV show Bounty Law. Of course, Cliff Booth knows the place. He also knows the owner. That’s why he feels there’s something fishy when he witnesses lots of teenagers, mostly young girls, squatting the place and living an obviously shady lifestyle. It all ends up with Cliff Booth knocking someone’s teeth out and driving away.
later, Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth come back from Italy where Rick starred in
spaghetti westerns, made some money and met his new wife, Francesca Capucci. They
plan for one last night out together. Rick doesn’t have the money to support
his friend anymore and he has to let him go. They go to the restaurant. They
come back home. Cliff goes walking his dog, a gorgeous pit bull, and he smokes
an LSD cigarette he bought six months ago to the hippie girl he drove to Spahn
Ranch. On the other hand, Rick mixes himself some margarita. He’s far from over
his alcoholism. That’s when four ‘hippies’ from Spahn Ranch drive up to his
house in a noisy old car. They intend to get into the Polansky residence and
kill everyone they find up there, but Rick gets on the porch and starts to yell
at them. He orders them to drive away and smoke pot someplace else. We see that
they have weapons but they do drive away. Rick then goes to relax on his
swimming pool, listening to music with a head set on.
back from his walk and the LSD starts to work its magic on his brain. He gets
into the living room and prepares food for his beautiful big dog. All of a
sudden, three of the four hippies who’d driven up to Rick’s house barge into
the living room. Cliff finds himself surrounded. He laughs it off as the LSD
keeps messing up with his brain, then he summons his dog to kill two of the
three hippies. It all turns into a very gory scene. One of the wannabe murderers
ends up in the pool and scares Rick to death, who retrieves a flame thrower
from his shed and crisps her to death.
It is all very enjoyable.
The Historical Significance of the Movie
I was the movie, I walked my father back to the tramway station. That’s when he
revealed to me that Sharon Tate had been actually killed by indoctrinated
hippies led by the infamous Charlie Manson.
Manson! The serial killer at the head of the Manson Family that we see being
interviewed by the FBI agents Holden Ford and Bill Tench in Mindhunter? Wait. Wait-wait-wait!
Before I continue,
can I address Rick’s awesome flamethrower for a minute?
Inglourious Bastards: Killing Nazis Is Always Fun!
At the beginning
of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood we
have a short summary of Rick Dalton’s cinematic career. Among other things he’s
depicted handling a flamethrower in a movie where he kills Nazi officers from
up a ledge. Who cannot be reminded, watching that scene, of the ending of Inglourious Basterds, when Brad Pitt
(who plays Cliff Booth in Once Upon A
Time In Hollywood and was Aldo Raine in Inglourious
Basterds) rained bullets on Nazis from box seats in a burning movie
theater? It all weaves together very well. It also starts to redeem Leonardo
DiCaprio within Tarantino’s own cinematographic universe.
When a Villain is Not the Villain
Remember Django Unchained? Leonardo played the
despicable Calvin Candie in that movie, a true villain at heart.
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood shows strong meta-cinematographic language.
In the opening scenes Al Pacino, who’s cast as a movie producer, tells
Rick/Leonardo that when people see him on screen, they don’t see the role he
plays, but they still remember him as the hero of Bounty Law.
It’s a bit
like when we say ‘Hey! That’s Frodo!’ when watching Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.
that dialogue is basically Tarantino telling us, the spectators, that since we
see Leonardo DiCaprio on screen in one of his movies, we could think that he
plays a villain again. But, no! This time around, he’s not a villain. As
Rick/Leonardo tells it to Al Pacino, he was asked to play the ‘heavy’, the bad
guy, but he’s a good guy himself and we quickly pick up on this despite his
It is all ‘justified’
when we see Rick on set for his next Western movie whilst Cliff drives his
hippie hitchhiker back to Spahn Ranch. Rick portrays
a villain and he plays it very, very well! Ian McShane would be very proud of
DiCaprio’s Swearagen look-alike. At least I got some closure from the open
ending of Deadwood and I hope Timothy
Oliphant did too.
I got sidetracked
there for a second, but yes, people, Leonardo is a good guy in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood and even
if he was a most convincing villain in Django
Unchained, he was only so convincing because he’s a damn fine actor! Do you
get it? Leonardo/Rick is a good guy now, and so is Brad/Cliff, but you knew
that already. You love him since Inglourious
thing kind of happened to Christoph Waltz. He was a villain in Inglourious Basterds. He became a hero
in Django Unchained. However, the
meta-text around that villain-hero shift was maybe not as sophisticated as what
we witness in Once Upon A Time In
Hollywood. By the way, did you know that Leonardo DiCaprio was
supposed to play the villain in Inglourious
Basterds? Yeah, so there are some good reasons for Tarantino to pause the
story and tell us that DiCaprio is only a ‘pretense’ villain.
I hope I
haven’t lost you there. Anyway, let’s proceed.
The Chekhov’s Gun of Justice
Rick had a
role where he killed Nazis with a flamethrower. It reminds us of Inglourious Basterds. It is also some
strong foreshadowing! It means that divine justice, again, is going to be
served, and it is indeed when Rick flames down one of the Manson Family members
who broke into his house to kill him instead of attacking the Polansky
residence. Also, by the time we see him pull out the flame thrower from his
shed, we’ve totally forgotten about it and that, people, is a great take on Chekhov’s gun. It was
especially effective on me as an unaware spectator. I didn’t know Sharon Tate
was murdered by the Manson Family. I didn’t know why she was in that movie as
Rick’s neighbor. I was just enjoying DiCaprio play his role like a motherf*cking
wizard. I believed every single scene he played, every single one of his spits.
The Typical American Hero
dealt with the superficial layer of meta-cinematographic language within Once Upon A Time In Hollywood: forget
about Calvin Candie, Rick/Leonardo is not an actual villain. Now, let’s dig
deeper and see why and how he’s an actual American hero in its purest form.
biggest acting job ‘back in the old days’ was to star in Bounty Law as a bounty hunter. Welcome to the Tarantino Cinematic
Universe, who else was a bounty hunter? Django! So, not only is Tarantino telling
us that Rick/Leonardo shouldn’t be mistaken for his role in Django Unchained as Calvin Candie, he
also tells us that Rick is Django.
was Django do you ask? He was a slave-owner killer, pretty much like
Cliff/Brad/Aldo was a Nazi killer in Inglourious
Basterds—in case I should I remind you that Nazi enslaved millions of
people to boost their military industry when they didn’t send them straight to
death camps (you really must watch La Vita
È Bella in addition to the Schindler’s
List in case you didn’t know).
you seen The Longest Day? That’s kind
of a big deal here. Let’s forget for a minute that John ‘The Duke’ Wayne had
poor political views, as Trumbo
reminds us, and let’s track back to his Western movie roles as John Ford’s
favorite lead actor.
was cast in The Longest Day as Lt.
Col. Benjamin H. Vandervoort, CO, 2nd Battalion, 505th
Parachute Infantry Regiment. As such he had the duty to pep talk and prep the
troops for D-Day. Ha! That good old D-Day… Did you know that The Longest Day, the movie, was actually
drafted from a book of the same name, written by the non-historian-Irish-journalist-married-to-an-American-novelist
Cornelius Ryan? When he wrote The Longest
Day, Cornelius Ryan built the D-Day into a three-act storyline which cast
the American soldiers as trueborn freedom fighters. This take on the D-Day was basically
written out to become an all-star movie and John Wayne just had to star in it. He’d been the typical
cowboy American hero for years at that point and he couldn’t miss out on the
morphing of the typical American hero from cowboy, to private. The cowboy had
conquered and tamed the Wild West and brought civilization to a savage land.
The private was to pursue the cowboy’s work by taking the Frontier a tad
further and ensuring that all the people on Earth were enjoying the bliss of
democracy, law and freedom. The cowboy faced the barren lands and built a
perfect country from the ground up. The private now faced the wicked who
threatened what the cowboy built. John Wayne, who’d been the cowboy, was now
the officer telling the private how to carry on a long legacy of heroism.
fact that he has to play the ‘heavy’, Rick/Leonardo ticks all the boxes of the typical
American hero. From within the Tarantino Cinematic Universe (since we’ve stated
that it was actually a thing), Rick/Leonardo is a bounty hunter and that
equates him to Django, the ultimate Tarantino freedom fighter. However,
Tarantino is also weaving threads that link his movie to the overall history of
cinema. Rick/Leonardo is portrayed as a Golden Age Western actor, pretty much
like John Wayne, even though he delves into starring into Spaghetti Westerns
(and hates it). Therefore Rick/Leonardo is both the American hero who brings
civilization and who safeguards freedom. He is a pioneer (therefore that is no
coincidence that he actually settled
in Hollywood) and a gatekeeper (which is why his house is next to the Polansky’s
The Gates of Heaven
me to my next point. In Once Upon A Time
In Hollywood, Sharon Tate played by the delightful Margot Robbie stands as
the allegory of freedom. Her house on the top of the Hollywood hills is
basically the biblical ‘City on a Hill’. Everywhere she goes, she’s carefree.
She does whatever she wants. She doesn’t even pay to enter the theater. It
actually means that even money has no grasp on her. Her lifestyle embodies the
idea of freedom. When they kill the member of the Manson Family, Rick and Cliff
don’t only symbolically avenge Sharon Tate on screen, they also avenge the very
idea of freedom.
What do we
do to Nazis and slave owners? We kill them. And we make it fun!
In case you
didn’t notice, freedom is kind of a big deal to Tarantino. Also, he’s the one
who ties it to the Middle Ages in Django
Unchained. So, let’s talk about that too.
Django Unchained: Freedom is a Medieval Dream
Ages saw the birth of an amazing literature that influenced Western culture, I
would argue, to a far bigger extent than mythological stories inherited from the
Romans and the Greeks. I will try not to go full geek on you, because I could
just as easily pitch in the Lord of the
Rings in this blog post with the literature masterpiece I’m about to
mention, but among the great works of literature that the Middle Ages gave us,
there is the Nibelungenlied. It includes
a magic ring that makes you invisible. Do you catch my drift? It is also the
story that Dr. King Schultz narrates to Django around their campfire when
he learns that Django’s wife is called Broomhilda.
Broomhilda was a princess. She was a daughter of Wotan, god of all gods.
Anyway, her father is really mad at her. She disobeys him in some way. So he puts her on top of the mountain.
It’s a German legend, there’s always going to be a mountain in there somewhere.
And he puts a fire-breathing dragon there to guard the mountain. And he surrounds her in a circle of hellfire. And there, Broomhilda shall remain … unless a hero arises brave enough to save her.
As a matter of fact, he does. A fella named Siegfried. He scales the mountain, because he’s not afraid of it. He slays the dragon, because he’s not afraid of him. And he walks through hellfire … because Broomhilda’s worth it.
Tarantino takes quite a few liberties from the original story. It is not totally innocent also that the Niebelungenlied became a famous Wagner opera but I’ve already piled up enough Godwin points in this blogpost that I don’t need to stray on that. All that really matters is that Tarantino directly sets up Django Freeman as a modern Siegfried through the parallel of their respective love interests.
likes it R-rated.
heroes that battle against true-life villains (Nazis, slave owners, Manson
family members) and right wrongs by providing an alternative ending to
upsetting historical events.
also somehow traces the quest for freedom back to medieval legends.
Why, then, wouldn’t he go medieval on our eyes for his last movie?
He could, I
don’t know, avenge Joan of Arc and have La Hire and Poton de Xaintrailles
free her from her prison, killing everyone on their path, evil English and
treacherous French alike.
I mean, if
he needs a historical consultant, he can always call me!