The Air at the Top of the Bottle

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The False Joan of Arc

July 19th, 2009 · 2 Comments

People lie for different reasons: cowardice (the truth can hurt), cupidity (falsehood can be more profitable), arrogance (the truth can be improved), or ignorance (the truth is unknown).

I don’t know what motivated Jeanne des Armoises.  True, she got attention and cash, but she must have known it couldn’t last.  In fact, I don’t know how she kept it up as long as she did.

But there she is: an odd footnote to the life of Jeanne d’Arc.  In 1436, five years after Jeanne’s execution, a young woman surfaced in Metz, declaring that she was Jeanne, and that she had returned.  There were many rumors afloat of Jeanne’s survival or escape, so a reappearance was not unexpected.  The family recognized her; others followed.  The new Jeanne married a knight, Robert des Armoises, and created a sensation in Orléans, where she was treated to food, wine, and gifts.  The city abolished the yearly mass commemorating Jeanne’s death, since she was obviously alive and banqueting.

Jeanne des Armoises traveled around, garnering plaudits and celebrations, and was eventually received by Charles VII.  He reportedly recognized the deception, but kept mum, since a revived Pucelle was expedient.

In 1440, she finally confessed to the University of Paris.  She left for Rome to ask the Pope’s pardon; according to some accounts, she got sidetracked into fighting in the war of St. Père Eugène.  And so ended the brief career of the false Joan of Arc.  She seems to have had better luck than the real one.

It’s worth noting that there were several other impostors, including Pierronne and Catherine de la Rochelle.  And it should come as no shock that there are historians ahoof who argue that Jeanne d’Arc herself was a hoax, man, lesbian, or hermaphrodite; that her brothers were ringers; that Jeanne des Armoises was indeed Jeanne d’Arc; and other curious speculations.  Just as anyone could claim to be Joan of Arc, anyone could claim anything else they wanted.  The old saw has it that history is written by the victors; more often, history is written by whoever feels like it.

(Posted by Doug Skinner.  I point gratefully to Jacques Heers’s monograph, Gilles de Rais, which provided many of the supposed facts above.)   

Tags: Belief Systems · Eccentrics · Hoaxes · Literature

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Kathy // Jul 22, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    ah yes, the good ol’ days of identity theft.

  • 2 Lisa // Jul 23, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    I wonder why she only kept it up for 4 years. I also wonder what would be the point of calling the real Joan of Arc a lesbian? Lesbians didn’t even exist back then!

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