When I was in the fifth grade, I took on a brave and fearless attitude. I could do anything and be anything I wanted to be. My femaleness would not prevent me from at least trying whatever I wanted. And when I was a child, females were often barred from a great number of things. This attitude drove me to enrolling in auto shop when I got to high school. I wasn’t allowed to take the class, but I sure tried. I stepped over the boundary whenever I could, if it suited me. I think the attitude has served me well, and I owe it to a woman whose achievements were monumental. In all of recorded history there has only been one woman who has held supreme command of a nation’s military forces – and she did it at the age of seventeen. My childhood idol was Joan of Arc, or Jeanne d’Arc.
She was born in 1412, the third of five children to a farmer and his wife in France. Her childhood was spent minding the herds in the fields, learning religion and housekeeping skills. When she was twelve, she began hearing voices. In the beginning they directed her to be a good child, study and work hard. But eventually these voices led her on a journey at the age of sixteen to convince the dauphin of France she was the one to free France from the English and make sure he took the throne.
Oh how romantic! My ten-year-old imagination was so taken with the story. Joan of Arc’s life is well documented in spite of the centuries that have passed since she led her troops against the English. She charged into battle carrying the banner but never killed anyone. The quotes from her and the transcripts of her trial after capture, show a spunky young woman with wisdom and courage beyond her age.
She always considered herself a common person following her destiny. When ladies brought her objects to touch, Joan laughed and said “touch them yourselves. They will be quite as good with your touch as mine.”
Unfortunately, her capture led to her death. She was handed over to a pro-English bishop who tried her for witchcraft and heresy. Joan wore men’s clothing, specially made for her small stature because it was appropriate clothing for the battlefield. Much was made of that and the fact she continued to insist she took her orders from God through the voices of St. Michael, St. Catherine and St. Margaret. No matter what they did to her, she stood her ground.
She attempted to escape several times. They put her in chains because of that. Her response was, “it is true that I wished and still wish to escape, as is lawful for any captive or prisoner.”
Even after being jailed, she continued wearing men’s clothing for protection from rape. Men’s clothing was multi-layered. They would not put her in a women’s prison. Unfortunately, that sealed her fate. When a woman wore men’s clothing, the church considered it a crime against God. After fourteen months of interrogation, she was burned at the stake at the age of nineteen.
“She was perhaps the only entirely unselfish person whose name has a place in profane history.” – Mark Twain