Oracle of History

Guiding you through the ages

Archive for the tag “France”

Her-Story Heroes: Joan of Arc

If you are a reader of my blog, you know that my last post made a promise to shine light on more female stories since our history is so often written and starring men.

I am a woman of my word.

To start out this series, I decided to begin with an old favorite: Joan of Arc

As someone who grew up in France, Joan of Arc was always introduced as a strong female role model. It doesn’t hurt that France is a catholic country and she was a martyr for the faith as well.

But what’s real and what’s religious folk tales? It’s difficult to say since most of our written sources from the middle ages comes from the Church and not many regular folks could read or write at the time (don’t even get me started on women!).

Here’s what we know:

Brought up in a very religious Catholic household, Joan started hearing voices at the age of 13. She claimed that it was God and Saints giving her the mission to save France from its enemies at all cost. This meant installing the future Charles VII as King.

She also was thought to have special powers because she had convinced a local magistrate to nullify an arranged marriage.

In May 1428, she made her way to Vaucouleurs, the stronghold of Charles, and convinced him in a private meeting that she was the one to save France. She apparently revealed information only someone who was conversing with God would know.

In the meantime, she had amassed a huge amount of followers as news of her quest made the rounds. This is when she famously cut off her hair and wore mens clothes.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In 1429, she goes to Orléans with an army and defeats the Anglo-Burgundian troops, putting Charles VII on the throne. Bolstered by her success, she then pushes to Paris, but fails to take control of the city. She was finally captured in Compiégne when she was thrown from her horse.

Thus started her downfall! She was tried for such things as heresy, witchcraft, and “dressing like a man.” She ended up signing a declaration saying that she made up God talking to her and that she would stop this heretic behavior.  She ended up defying this declaration by continuing to wear men’s clothes in prison. Some historians suspect this was to prevent being assaulted by the guards. This decision ultimately led to her being burnt at the stake.

What a world, huh? I wonder what those people would make of gender neutral clothing today…

So what’s the truth? 

Some historians have attributed her visions to an undiagnosed form of schizophrenia. In her trial, she cited seeing things, hearing voices, and bright lights following her around. Others have thought that she may have contracted bovine tuberculosis, which can cause seizures and dementia, from drinking unpasteurized milk and tending cattle as a young girl.

We can debate for hours whether or not God actually spoke to her, but what we can agree on is that she was a pioneer, especially as a female. As a peasant girl it seems even more unlikely.

Women were more likely to die in childbirth than in the battlefield in the middle ages. Funnily enough, there’s evidence to suggest that Joan never actually fought on the battlefield. She was more of a mascot, meant to boost morale. She did get hurt twice, but that was most likely because she was a target. She was also known for having a temper!

Either way, there’s enough evidence to suggest that she was a real person and an impressive one at that. Mental health issues aside, she died at the age of 19, having made someone King of France. What did you accomplish at that age?

As a bonus, here’s the video that inspired me to write this post:

Vive La Révolution!

Most people know about the bloody revolution that overthrew the monarchy in France, but not everyone knows the gory details. There is more than meets the eye to this legendary event in european history.

Warning 

The subject matter I am going to discuss may upset people with weak stomaches and sensitive dispositions. You were warned!

Mme la Guillotine

The woman, the myth, the legend.

La Guillotine became the infamous torture device that would become the one player in the Revolution to outlive them all! 

guillotine-1

Originally created by a French surgeon and a German engineer, it was popularized during the French Revolution as an equalizer. Before the Revolution, the poorer you were, the more gruesome your execution was. When the monarchy was overthrown, the Guillotine became the “humane” way to execute everyone, making them all equal in death.

It may seem odd, but this was one of the justifications for the reign of terror, leading to the death of around 20,000 people. At least  3000 of those were executed in the heart of Paris on the Place de la Concorde. In fact, there were so many executions that they needed to constantly move the Guillotine to stop it from sinking into the soggy ground.

….you can imagine the rest.

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What makes this all so intriguing is that the French government still used the Guillotine as a public form of execution until 1939. The last private one was in 1977!

Public execution in 1896

Public execution in 1896

That is truly keeping their bloody past alive!

MTV Cribs, French Royalty edition  

Joking aside, French Royalty were in pretty big trouble by the time the Revolution came around.

Why?

Because they were spending more than they could afford and letting poor people starve to death.

This is a pretty simplistic way of looking at it, but here are 3 main reasons why the French had had enough :

Un

The French Royalty were spending more than they could afford! France was broke after being involved in two expensive wars – the 100 Years War and the American Revolution. Yet they were still building castles and having feasts. This was in contrast to the general populace who were starving!

Deux  

Natural disasters and bad weather lead to a really poor crop yield that year. This nearly tripled the price of every day bread, meaning that only the rich could afford to buy it.

This is why rumors had spread that the current queen, Marie Antoinette, had reacted to the news that the people were starving with “Let them eat cake.”

I am here to debunk that rumor. She never said that and there is no proof that she ever did. The quote comes from the Confessions by French writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau in which an anonymous noblewoman vents. The book was actually written in 1778 – a whole year before she supposedly said it.

Trois

All were not equal. The lower classes were 98% of the population, but they had no power in comparison to the nobility and the clergy.

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These three factors created a ticking time bomb that only needed a little nudging for an explosion!

Back to the Future

If you’re ever in Paris and interested in seeing remains of the city from the French Revolution then I would definitely suggest wandering around the Latin Quarter. 

Why there?

med-paris

Well, Paris had a major revamping in the 1860s, making it the uniform like city that we know today. Before that, the city was still in the medieval state with narrow and winding streets. The problem with that layout was that it allowed the city to be very dirty, facilitating the spread of crime and disease.

During the French Revolution, these narrow streets also made it very easy to create a barricade.

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Thus the success of the Jacobins!

Bonus

For those of you who are actually interested in a brief break down of the French Revolution here is a good recap to put this post in context :

 

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