It happened today - May 30, 2015

Joan of Arc burned at the stakeIt’s always puzzled me what to make of Joan of Arc. Brave, patriotic, inspired, ultimately canonized. But I can’t admire her. She was apparently unbalanced, she overreached badly and she went up in predictable flames. At the very least she is, I must say, a characteristically French rather than English hero, a fit inspiration for Napoleon rather than Wellington.

It’s really neither here nor there that I’m glad she helped the French kings drive the English out of France. Which I am, because I believe their continental ambitions threatened English liberty. I would also note sardonically that the Hundred Years War is the last time France won a major war as the dominant power on its side. Richard Nixon got off an uncharacteristic “bon mot” when he said that French president Charles de Gaulle had a vision that spanned centuries but unfortunately he was looking the wrong way. But you needed keen vision to look back past 500 years during which French greatness and glory was a snare rather than an asset.

As for Joan herself (OK, Jeanne), well, contrary to those kids-fractured-history Internet things, she wasn’t Noah’s wife. She was a patriot and an inspiring leader including to women and that’s good. But she was also badly out of control. According to her own testimony, she was on a highly improbable mission from God to make the hapless Dauphin king. And she did succeed. But then she couldn’t stop.

On July 17 Charles VII was crowned and became, by French standards, a pretty good king. Which isn’t saying much. Joan was delighted. But she couldn’t declare her mission accomplished, go back to her village and become someone ordinary. Instead she made herself so obnoxious and troublesome to everyone, predictably if not actually deliberately, that the French may well have been relieved to see the English burn her for heresy in 1431.

I don’t defend her execution. I don’t believe in killing people for being wrong about things. But she was a heretic, fighting for a Catholic monarch whose rule depended upon coronation by Church authorities whose authority she rejected.

Many years later, in 1920, the Church decided it was safe to make her a saint. But I still can’t say I actually admire her. She lacked common sense and her example was dangerous rather than inspiring.