The Virgin Warrior: The Life and Death of Joan of Arc

Anne Curry is impressed by a new life of a Franch heroine

The Virgin Warrior: The Life and Death of Joan of Arc
Author: Larissa Juliet Taylor
Publisher: Yale University Press
Reviewed by: Anne Curry
Price (RRP): £10.99

Although Joan appeared only briefly on the public stage, she is arguably the best-known female figure of the Middle Ages.

This is partly because of the records of two legal processes, the condemnation of 1431 and the nullification of the early 1450s, which challenged the findings of 20 years previous. In the first, Joan speaks to us through replies to her judges. In the second we hear over a hundred witnesses who had known her.

This biography is firmly rooted in these sources. The approach is chronological, taking Joan from her childhood in Domrémy to her death in Rouen.

She emerges as a headstrong teenager – only 17 at the time of the raising of the siege of Orleans in 1429. She was a girl whose passion and charisma persuaded and inspired others, but who was also impatient and obstinate. 

Joan herself ‘grows’ as the book proceeds, and Taylor is increasingly impressed by her. It is hard to imagine readers will not be too.

The book follows well-trodden roads but does so in a clear, readable fashion. Taylor sees Joan as making history through dint of her “indomitable will and belief in herself” and places her centre stage throughout. This can lead to lack of emphasis on the international and religious situation.

The French political scene at this time was very complex. Joan did not fit easily into the male-dominated, upper-class world of secular and ecclesiastical authority and was abandoned even by her own side, which was as worried about heresy as anyone else.

In these contexts, she was very much the victim rather than the creator of history.

Anne Curry is professor of medieval history, University of Southampton

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