Jeanne d’Arc

29 Jun

On 24 May 1431, Jeanne d’Arc allegedly signed a letter of abjuration that denied her voices and admitted that she had blasphemed God and transgressed divine and canon law by wearing male clothing and cutting her hair short.

I confess that I have sinned grievously in falsely pretending to have had revelations and apparitions from God, from his angels, and from St. Catherine and St. Marguerite; in seducing others; in believing madly and easily; in making superstitious divinations; in blaspheming God, his angels and his saints; in trespassing divine law, holy scripture, and canon law; in wearing a dissolute habit, misshapen and dishonest, against the decency of nature, and hair cut round in the style of a man, against all honesty of the female sex.

Condemned to life imprisonment, she was led back to the English military prison and outfitted with a woman’s dress. Four days later her accusers were summoned to her cell by the report that she had put on men’s clothes again. The clothing dramatically signified Jeanne’s “relapse,” and, indeed, her apparel was the chief topic of the short interrogation that preceded her condemnation as a relapsed heretic.

Asked why she had put it on, and who had made her put it on, she responded that she put it on of her own free will, under no compulsion and that she liked male attire better than female.

Although the outward appearance of the dominant sex gave her the trappings of authority, Jeanne had no desire to masculinize herself. Her name “la Pucelle,” and her concern for publicly declaring her feminity attest to her identification with the female sex, yet her innocent posture and virginity align her more closely with the sexless state of childhood.

Valerie R. Hotchkiss, Clothes Make the Man, Female Cross Dressing in Medieval Europe (New York and London, Garland publishing, Inc.,1996).


Eyewitnesses described the scene of the execution by burning on 30 May 1431. Tied to a tall pillar in the Vieux-Marché in Rouen, she asked two of the clergy, Fr Martin Ladvenu and Fr Isambart de la Pierre, to hold a crucifix before her. A peasant also constructed a small cross which she put in the front of her dress. After she expired, the English raked back the coals to expose her charred body so that no one could claim she had escaped alive, then burned the body twice more to reduce it to ashes and prevent any collection of relics. They cast her remains into the Seine. The executioner, Geoffroy Therage, later stated that he “…greatly feared to be damned

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