What follows is my reaction to an AskHistorian Reddit thread that states the following:
All of us here, questioner and answerer, are inspired by portrayals of history in popular media, like games, film and tv. The recent release of the HBO Chernobyl mini-series is a great example – we had a sudden rush of interest in the history of the disaster. […] This week, we will look at the Age of Empires game series, from the first to the third and all of their expansions, which cover the ancient world, the medieval era and the ‘age of discovery’ period, and are set in various locations across Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas.
I, for once, cannot shy away from that one. I’ve started a Twitch channel for the sole purpose to provide historical commentaries on Age of Empires—even though not very succesfully audience wise. Here is a highlight I saved from a former stream where I go on reading the in-game encyclopedia on the « Knights » entry and ramble about it. At first I went on to play Joan of Arc’s campaign and provided commentaries as I advanced in the scenario. That’s on YouTube now, even though I couldn’t make it into a series, along with a few short clips about Vikings [#1, #2, #3, #4, #5]. My latest and probably cleanest video edit is probably the short historical analysis I did on the Battle of Crécy, whilst comparing the longbowmen to the genoese crossbowmen units from Age of Empires 2. It’s only me working on it though, with my poor video edit skills, my full time night job and my social life to juggle altogether #CaptatioBenevolentia. It all started with a top facts on Joan of Arc I wrote on the AoEZone website (and also on Reddit, adding some corrections), in their kinda dead history forum. I’d love to finish a clean and well cut video edit on Joan of Arc’s campaign and provide something better than what Spirit of the Law is producing out of Wikipedia. I mean, I read the chronicles, the trials, the most recent books on the topic. So there it is, my short historical overview of the first scenario of Joan of Arc’s campaign (I won’t have the time to write about them all in one single go, maybe I’ll post one scenario a day since this is going on all week).
The Map of France
Now, the map that we see when we start the campaign is just plain awful, as I’ve complained several times. It basically shows the borders of France today, along with the borders of Switzerland (that becomes Burgundy!?), Belgium and the Netherlands. On that one, I’m sorry, but we can only give an F to Microsoft. One very pretty map that displays the border of France during the time of Joan of Arc is the one drawn by Auguste Longnon in the 19th century. I actually challenged u/Brother_Judas to provide his fresh take on it and he’s at it! It’s going to be beautiful. I can already tell.
An Unlikely Messiah
From the Journal of Guy Josselyne
“February 19, Army Camp near Vaucouleurs”
“This morning I awoke to visions of fire and steel. These nightmares come more often now that I have seen my beloved France eaten away in years of war.”
“I wandered through camp ignoring the new snowfall, but observing the wounds and weariness of every soldier under my command, observing the desperation in their eyes.”
“It was then that I first saw the girl. She told us that her name was Joan. She told us she was but a peasant, who did not know how to ride or fight. She told us that she intended to rescue France. The darkness lifted from the men’s souls. ”
“Her voice rang with conviction, and we drank in her every word. I may have lost my faith, but Joan has not lost hers, and that is enough for me.”
“Joan has asked our ragged band of soldiers to take her to Chinon, where the rightful ruler of France, the Dauphin, hides from his foes.”
“The war-torn land between is infested with enemy marauders, and we will lose many men. Death is by now an old companion, but for Joan, we will face it again.”
“As Joan’s footsteps echoed down the marbled hall of the château, the fat and whispering dukes did naught but stare.”
“The Dauphin himself seemed afraid as she kissed his feet. ‘My gentle Dauphin,’ she demanded, ‘why does England claim what is ours? Why are you not crowned King of France as is your right?'”
“The courtiers began to murmur. The chamberlain whispered lies into the Dauphin’s ear.”
“But the Dauphin pushed the chamberlain away and rose to meet Joan’s gaze.”
“She stands only to the shoulder of the shortest man, but all of us must look up to speak to her.”
“I know not what silent conversation passed between the Dauphin and his would-be savior, but it was obvious that his majesty was in the same thrall as we.”
Ideology versus reality
What we see in the scenario introduction is nothing short of a build up to depict Joan as a national hero. Well… The young girl was certainly pretty religious, but she had no idea of what a “nation” was in regard of our current understanding of the concept. She saw that the king had not been anointed in Reims, as was the tradition dating back from the Carolingian kings, and she maybe thought of it as the supernatural cause at the source of the wars that were afflicting the French people. I say “wars” because the Hundred Years War was in fact not one single big conflict between two nations, but the many push backs from the French nobility (including the king of England, who was a French nobleman) against the raising authority of their king through the slow building of an actual administrative state, which eventually lead, long term, to the administrative monarchy that ruled Louis XIV. Among the many concerns of the French nobility was the ability to raise their own troops. The king managed to deny them that right when he finally introduced the “Compagnies d’Ordonnances”, the first permanent and professional army in Europe since the Roman times. It brought the end of the Feudal system as we know it, where the suzerain called on his vassals. From then on, the king could rely on a constant military support, but it needed massive tax reforms and he really struggled to pass them on. Many of the noblemen that fought alongside Joan of Arc to “liberate France”, such as the Duke of Alençon, actually turned against Charles VII when the Companies d’Ordonnances were instated. That historical episode was called “the Praguerie” and it happened before the final battle of Castillon, which is portrayed as the final chapter of Joan’s campaing in AoE2.
- Basically, everything was much more complicated than what AoE2 makes us believe. Also, Joan’s travel from Vaucouleurs to Chinon was not a commando mission. Jean de Metz didn’t like that Joan would stop in every church to attend mass, because he wanted to be discreet about their journey (they also travelled a lot at night), but they didn’t have to force their way through a Burgundian settlement as the scenario suggests.
- About the scenario introduction, yet again: Paris is misspelled “Pairs”. Also, the game map fused the Seine and the Loire together into one single river.
- As we start the game, we witness a battle where the French are literally crushed and overpowered by an English army. The problem that the French faced however was not that they didn’t have enough military to counter the English. At that time (from 1410 to 1440), they were poorly organized and divided between opposing factions that couldn’t play well together. The Duke of Burgundy refused to attend the battle of Agincourt, the Duke of Bourbon only sought his own personal glory, the Count of Richemont showed poor political skills when he drowned the king’s favorite courtier, etc. The French army was more than able to push back the English forces, as Charles V demonstrated during his rule with his attrition strategy. It just lacked a proper hierarchy up until the Compagnies d’Ordonnances were put into play.
- Oh, and by the way, Joan could ride a horse! She wore a red dress when she arrived in Vaucouleurs and was given men’s clothes to go on her journey at the request of Jean de Metz. He stated so himself during Joan’s second trial. #JustRanting
- Now, it is true that Joan called Charles VII “mon gentil Dauphin” (meaning “my noble Dauphin”). However, Charles VII was already king! He was not the heir to the throne, but the dude on the throne. He only hadn’t been anointed yet. Henry VI of England, who claimed to be Henry II of France and who was Charles VII’s nephew, hadn’t been anointed either. He would nonetheless be anointed in Paris in 1431, as a political answer to Charles VII 1429 ceremony in Reims. So France had two kings just as Christendom, around those very years, had two popes. The question was only who could actually wield the power since both Charles VII and Henry II had very strong legal claims to the crown. Meanwhile, Charles VII and Henry II held different parts of the royal demesne and they offered different political “programs” so to speak. Allied to the Burgundians, the Lancastrian pretenders maintained more traditional and conservative views, whereas the Valois mustered for a better centralization of the unruly state.
Needless is to say that Joan of Arc’s AoE2 campaign is what actually gave me my love for History. This campaign is emotionally very important to me and I can’t stress enough how much I love it. Even though I could tear down every single thing from the campaign, from the scenario intros and outros to the gameplay, I freaking love it and would recommend anyone to play it. The only reason I made my master thesis on La Hire is because of that freaking campaign.
By the way, spoiler alert… La Hire was dead in 1453 when the Battle of Castillon took place. So when I replayed that last scenario I actually shed a tear as I found him virtually still alive and kicking, thirsting for blood. He died in 1443 during a military campaign the king lead in the Southern part of France. He was dearly missed by Charles VII himself, as Monstrelet writes in his chronicle. Just as much as Bertrand Du Guesclin and Arnauld-Guilhelm de Barbazan before him, Étienne de Vignolles, La Hire, was nothing short of a hero. He became the Jack of Heart in the traditional French card game.
Top 7 Facts of Joan of Arc’s Journey to Chinon
7. Joan was very religious. Her quest was more of a spiritual one than a patriotic one. The idea of a “French nation” as we define it today was quite foreign to her.
6. Joan asked to stop in many churches to attend mass. Jean de Metz proved quite reluctant since he prefered to travel unnoticed by Burgundians forces.
5. When she left Vaucouleurs, Joan was dressed as a man (because men’s clothes were more fit for travel) and riding a horse. She was not the average “sheperd girl” but she came from a well off family.
4. Before leaving Vaucouleurs, Joan was invited by the Duke of Lorraine, Charles II, to meet him. He was feeling ill and wondered if she could cure him. She only told him to stop cheating on his wife and asked for his ten years old son-in-law to be, René d’Anjou, who belonged to the highest nobility, to escort her to Chinon. Her request was declined.
3. As she left her native village of Domrémy, Joan lied to her parents. She told them she was going to help her cousin to deliver her child but she then asked her cousin’s husband to lead her to Vaucouleurs. That “white lie” would later cost her dearly during her trial in Rouen…
2. As Jean de Metz slept next to Joan several times on their way to Chinon, he never felt any desire for her. He had too much esteem for her as he would later testify on Joan’s second trial, held by Charles VII to clear her name of heresy.
1. Once she’d arrived in Chinon, Joan was then examined in Poitiers by theologians regarding the validity of her spiritual claims. Prior to that Yolande of Aragon also insured she was still a virgin and that is why she was later called the “Pucelle” (french word meaning virgin).
See Joan’s itinirary (picture it without the modern day highways ^^): click here.