01-05-1412

Joan of Arc at the stake.

JOAN OF ARC, Roman Catholic Saint and national heroine of France (this is a legendary date) (d. 1431); Back in the day when the Roman Catholic Church had a say in what women wore, Joan wore men’s clothing between her departure from Vaucouleurs and her abjuration at Rouen.

This raised theological questions in her own era and raised other questions in the twentieth century. The technical reason for her execution was a biblical clothing law. The nullification trial reversed the conviction in part because the condemnation proceeding had failed to consider the doctrinal exceptions to that stricture.

Doctrinally speaking, she was safe to disguise herself as a page during a journey through enemy territory and she was safe to wear armor during battle. The Chronique de la Pucelle states that it deterred molestation while she was camped in the field. Clergy who testified at her rehabilitation trial affirmed that she continued to wear male clothing in prison to deter molestation and rape. Preservation of chastity was another justifiable reason for cross-dressing: her apparel would have slowed an assailant, and men would be less likely to think of her as a sex object in any case.

She referred the court to the Poitiers inquiry when questioned on the matter during her condemnation trial. The Poitiers record no longer survives but circumstances indicate the Poitiers clerics approved her practice. In other words, she had a mission to do a man’s work so it was fitting that she dress the part. She also kept her hair cut short through her military campaigns and while in prison. Her supporters, such as the theologian Jean Gerson, defended her hairstyle, as did Inquisitor Brehal during the Rehabilitation trial.

Because Joan wore men’s clothes and armor, scholars have speculated about her gender identity and sexuality. Did Joan wear male apparel because she was transgendered? Or did she do so in order to be taken seriously by the men whose support she needed to carry out the orders given by her visions? Was Joan a lesbian or bisexual, if those English terms may be applicable to a French woman living almost six hundred years ago? What relationship did her gender expression have with her sexuality? What about Joan’s emphasis throughout her life on her virginity?

It is difficult adequately to address these personal issues based on the historical evidence that we now possess. It is clear, however, that Joan’s cross-dressing was a significant part of her life, and that as a cross-dressed warrior and military leader she was venerated by French royalty, soldiery, and peasantry alike.