Helen Castor: Joan of Arc



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E look elsewhere This was an interesting look at the figure of Joan of Arc through the lens of the political forces of her era I new virtually nothing about the 100 Year War prior to reading this Writing the biography of a medieval figure is always a difficult undertaking However the life of Joan the Maid is better documented than most largely due to the transcripts of her trial for heresy and the subseuent investigation which cleared her name twenty five years after her death Author Helen Castor attempts not only to tell her story but to put her life and death in context within the history of a turbulent time for France by interpreting the trial transcripts and of making clear the religious beliefs of the timeThe book begins with the battle of Agincourt of feuds and factions and France a fractured Experiential Learning kingdom It is important to point out that Joan herself does not put in an appearance during the first part of this book However for many readers myself included whonow little about the events of this time understanding the politics and factions that abounded at the time help set the scene We first read of Joan s appearance at about a uarter of the way into this read when she arrives at Chinon having tried unsuccessfully to reach the Die Neurobiologie des Glücks king the previous year It is now 1429 and Joan a village girl still in her teens in men s clothes says she has been sent by God not just to instruct theing but to help him recover his ingdom from the English If only the ing would give her an army she would drive the English out of France and lead him to his coronation This message obviously puts Charles in a uandary if he followed a false prophet this would lead to disaster In the same way rejecting a true prophet would be eually catastrophic Time and again Joan had to prove herself Initially she had to prove her integrity her maidenhood her faith and habits to Charles She was uestioned by theologians and had to try to prove her authenticity before undertaking her mission Joan travelled to Orleans and the scarred and hungry town reacted with hope to the news of this miraculous maid coming to save them Indeed the siege was lifted within four days and it seemed a miracle This book follows her onwards always trying to convince those around her to fight against English rule and on to her capture As a prisoner accused of heresy she again faced of interrogation Only this time she was not arguing to help her ing but effectively to save her life If she was found guilty she would burn if not she might be spared This is a fascinating read which really puts the life of Joan of Arc is historical perspective It gives great background looks at Joan as an icon a saint a heroine and a woman who fought in a man s world It examines what she achieved gives insight into her trial and how remarkably self possessed she was despite her age and shows with real poignancy how vulnerable she was Although I do feel I now much about Joan and her place in history and understand why the author approached her story in the way sh. Of France Burned at the stake as a heretic at the age of just nineteen Five hundred years later a saint Her case was heard in court twice over One trial in 1431 condemned her; the other twenty.

E did I did feel at the end that I might have liked to have read about her life before she entered the historical arena by approaching the ing I understand why the author used the trial transcripts to look at her personal history and that we are lucky so much remains to help reconstruct her life but I felt that although I understood her I still did not really now this elusive young woman Overall though this is an enjoyable and readable biography which is especially good for those who now little about the historical period in which Joan of Arc lived Lastly I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review The two star rating that I m giving Joan of Arc A History has nothing to do with the historical accuracy of the book On the contrary I found this to be an extraordinarily well researched and cited biographyUnfortunately that mega effort did not lend itself to a readable or enjoyable bookThe general idea behind Joan of Arc is sound Helen Castor wanted to present Joan s story in context with an extended history of France for years before and after her appearance on the world stageIn that way she thought that the legend of the woman could be separated away from the reality The reader could appreciate the main players the attitude towards spiritual visions the belief of divine will in war and the monarchy and capture the overall general flavor of the time periodIt was a good premise but it just didn t work Maybe this was a doctoral thesis that Castor tweaked a bit and published It reads like thatWhy is it that experts on topics are rarely able to translate that interest and depth of nowledge into stories that the general public would enjoy I love medieval history especially the backgrounds of the handful of female figures who made it into print during that period This should have been right up my alley Joan of Arc A History read like a school textbook the dull indActually it reminded me of translating Livy s History of Rome from Latin into English during college It should have been fascinating stuff as he was writing about a particularly exciting period in Roman history when Hannibal was crossing the Alps to invade But sadly Livy got caught up in listing endless details particularly the size and shape of the elephants Through description after description the pace of Hannibal s army slowed to a trickle and then it turned into a snooze festThat also happened in this bookIf you enjoy scholarly research to the point that you just have to have it and nothing else will do read this book If you want history to come alive and punch you in the face pick up something anything really by Margaret George or Bernard CornwellI particularly liked The Memoirs of Cleopatra or The Autobiography of Henry VIII With Notes by His Fool Will Somers George may not have the exacting research standards of this biography but her historical fictions are informative in addition to a delight to readI received a free copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads FTC guidelines check. Five years after her death cleared her name In the transcripts we hear first hand testimony from Joan her family and her friends a rare survival from the medieval world What could be revealing.

Characters Joan of Arc

Unfortunately the tile of this book is deceiving The name may not had been the author s original choice possibly the publisher s I have come across a few books that use name dropping as a marketing tool to attract readers but for people like me this marketing device inevitably leads to disappointment The author opens the book with the political situation during the dynastic clash for the control of the French crown the English invasion and the battle of Agincourt at the beginning of 1400s It is a reasonable start but Castor dedicates five chapters to the complex climate in France and England before even introducing the protagonist This first part occupies than a third of the book excluding illustrations list of characters family trees notes and bibliography these last two sections fill half the book The second part despite being named Joan is a lengthy blow by blow account of the Anglo Burgundian vs Armagnac military campaigns in which Joan is only one of the many players rather than the biography that I expected The reader will have to wait until the end of this second part chapter 9 to be exact her testimony at the trial to begin to learn something about Joan s lifeFinally the third part which occupies another uarter of the book continues the history of the war for another twenty years or so after her death until the final retreat of the English from France with the exception of the port city of Calais Only at the end of the book the testimonies of the witnesses at her second trial 25 years after the first shed some light about Joan s past for a dozen or so pages So at least 80% of the book is not about Joan of Arc s life Instead it is a summary of a brief period in French history and although well done is certainly not the portrait of a 19 year old peasant who that the book blurb promised Here you will not find in depth analysis of Joan s claims to be the messenger of God nor the theological position and implications at the time for example was the papacy aware of her campaign and of the trial and if so what was their position no insights on the religious or cultural historical context eg how was heresy defined at the time What were her contemporaries beliefs about women sorcery and superstition and importantly you will not get a sense of who Joan was and what her personality was like With a name like The history of the Ango Burgundian and French Armagnac conflict before during and after Joan of Arc I would rate the book 4 5 stars but as it is named Joan of Arc a history I must rate it much less It is a pity because this historical period is interesting and Castor s writing of the strategies during the war like at the siege of Orleans the many political manoeuvrings and her descriptions of the battlefields are engagingI would recommend this book as a chronology of the dynastic battle for the French crown during the first half of 15th century complete with a detailed genealogy of the main players but if you like me are looking forward to reading a biography of Jehanne la Pucell. We all now the story of Joan of Arc A peasant girl who hears voices from God A warrior leading an army to victory in an age that believes women cannot fight The Maid of Orleans and the saviour.

Helen Castor is a historian of medieval England and a Fellow of Sidney Sussex College Cambridge She directed studies in History at Sidney for eight years before deciding to concentrate on writing history for a wider readership Her book Blood & Roses Faber 2004 published in revised form in the US by HarperCollins 2006 is a biography of the fifteenth century Paston family whose letters are