Fleur Macdonald

Ever wondered what Joan of Arc’s breasts were like? Wonder no more

Just as she arrived a bit late to the Hundred Years War – about three quarters of the way through – Joan of Arc takes a while to appear in historian Helen Castor’s biography. In fact she only turns up, with a small band of men, on page 86 in Chinon, the bolt hole of the king, when he’s apparently on the verge of quitting France because it had all got too much. Given that he was originally third in line, had been in opposition to his slightly simple father, Charles VI, le bien-aimé, and was now fighting his mother, Henry V of England, as well as the Burgundians who had had control of Paris since 1418, it’s hardly surprising that he’d had enough.

What is more surprising is that – after numerous gynaecological examinations to check she was intact and even more numerous interrogations by clergymen to ascertain whether the voices she heard were really from God – the future king decided to take this little peasant from la France profonde at her word. According to Castor, however, his decision was entirely rational. First there was nothing wrong with her plan: to lead him to his coronation at Reims and banish the English from French shores. Second, there was little hope anyway and Orléans, the city against which she would launch her attack, was already under siege. In truth, it wouldn’t really matter if she lost. Let this be the test. In four days la Pucelle had liberated a town, which had been besieged by the English for six months. Her reputation was made.

And Joan of Arc did this without killing anyone herself. She simply lead on the troops with her fearless rhetoric – written by scribes as she was illiterate – and screamed from atop her white steed, wearing specially fitted armour and hand held abreast brandishing a white banner.

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