Translated by Allen Williamson

Joan of Arc's Letter to the Hussites (March 23, 1430)

Introduction and Historical Context
On 23 March 1430 Joan of Arc dictated a letter to a scribe containing an ultimatum against a group called the Hussites, threatening to take part in the war against the group unless they returned to orthodoxy. The letter was written during a brief truce between the French and English Royal governments.

The Hussites were a religious and military faction which many historians have labeled "radical Catholics" or "Proto-Protestants". Joan of Arc denounces the Hussites' theology as a "false and vile superstition", condemns them for destroying churches and statues of the saints, and threatens to add her own presence to the ongoing crusading efforts against them unless they "return to the Catholic faith and the original light". Pope Martin V had encouraged another crusade against the Hussites not long before the letter was dictated.

Some modern readers and authors have commented negatively on the violent threats against the Hussites contained in this letter. Perhaps they expected Joan of Arc to be a pacifist. In any event, the context should be obvious : as with her ultimatums to the English - which take a similar form - she was responding to an existing state of war. She specifically refers to the Hussites' attacks on churches and monasteries, and it may not be coincidence that the letter was sent not long after campaigns by the Hussites which had devastated a significant number of villages in Silesia, Hungary, Lusatia, Meissen, and Saxony - actions against civilians which particularly angered her, judging from the accounts of eyewitnesses who knew her. This is the setting for the threats of military action to stop the Hussites from further campaigns of this type. The violent tone of her ultimatums differs sharply from her other letters and the descriptions by eyewitnesses who said she was normally "sweet-natured" in other circumstances.

The Text
The original version of the letter was translated into Latin by Joan's scribe and confessor, Friar Jean Pasquerel. Unlike her letters to the English commanders - a bilingual group who spoke fluent French - in this case Latin was the most convenient means of communicating with the intended recipients.
Pasquerel's name appears at the bottom of the letter, as was common practice in the 15th century when a scribe recorded a letter dictated by someone else, as can be seen from Royal and seigneurial correspondence of that era.

Below is an English translation of the letter, with notes and commentary on the right.

English Translation Notes and Commentary
Jesus, Maryn1
For a long time now, common knowledge has made it clear to me, Joan the Maiden,n2 that from true Christians you have become heretics and practically on a level with the Saracens [i.e., Muslims].n3 You have eliminated the valid faith and worship, and have taken up a disgraceful and unlawful superstition; and while sustaining and promoting it there is not a single disgrace nor act of barbarism which you would not dare. You corrupt the sacraments of the Church,n4 you mutilate the articles of the Faith, you destroy churches, you break and burn statues [of the saints]n5 which were created as memorials, you massacre Christians unless they adopt your beliefs. What is this fury of yours, or what folly and madness are driving you? You persecute and plan to overthrow and destroy this Faith which God Almighty, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have raised, founded, exalted, and enlightened a thousand ways through a thousand miracles. You yourselves are blind, but not because you're among those who lack eyes or the ability to see. Do you really believe that you will escape unpunished, or are you unaware that the reason God does not hinder your unlawful effortsn6 and permits you to remain in darkness and error, is so that the more you indulge yourselves in sin and sacrileges, the more He is preparing greater suffering and punishments for you.
For my part, to tell you frankly, if I wasn't busy with the English warsn7 I would have come to see you long before now; but if I don't find out that you have reformed yourselves I might leave the English behind and go against you,n8 so that by the sword - if I can't do it any other way - I will eliminate your false and vile superstition and relieve you of either your heresy or your life. But if you would prefer to return to the Catholic faith and the original light, then send me your ambassadors and I will tell them what you need to do; if not however, and if you stubbornly wish to resist the spur,n9 keep in mind what damages and crimes you have committed and await me, who will mete out suitable repayment with the strongest of forces both human and Divine.

Given at Sully [i.e., Sully-sur-Loire] on the 23rdn10 of March, to the heretics of Bohemia.
Pasquerel [Joan's scribe]n11

Note 1:
"Jesus, Mary" was her standard introduction at the beginning of most of her letters.

Note 2:
"The Maiden" or "Virgin" ("la Pucelle") was her chosen nickname, explaining that she had promised her saints to maintain her virginity "as long as it pleases God". Like many female saints, she would be canonized as a "Holy Maiden".

Note 3:
The Islamic Saracens were the other group which she advocated crusading efforts against.

Note 4:
There were a number of theological differences between the Hussites and the Church. Some of the Hussites abolished virtually every aspect of traditional Catholicism in ways that foreshadowed the Protestant Reformation; but the chief tenet for which they are best known was their belief that the laity needed to take communion under both kinds (i.e., the wine as well as the bread) as a necessary condition for salvation. They therefore bore an image of the communion chalice on their flags, shields, etc, and were sometimes known as "Utraquists" (from the Latin phrase "sub utraque specie" - "under both kinds"). The moderate branch of the Hussites were granted a special dispensation to practice this form of communion by the terms of the compromise worked out with the Church in 1433.

Note 5:
Some pro-Hussite clergy had taken to destroying the artwork and saints' relics in their local churches, and entire monasteries were destroyed by Hussite armies.

Note 6:
'Unlawful' in the sense of 'against the laws of the Church', of course.

Note 7:
Joan, needless to say, did not refer to the conflict as the "Hundred Years War" - a modern label for this long series of conflicts between France, England, their various allies and proxies, and related groups.

Note 8:
This comment sheds some light on her thoughts at this point. At the time the letter was dictated, there was a dubious truce in effect with the English and Burgundians, but she would shortly take the field again toward the end of the month.

Note 9:
A common saying based on the famous statement from Acts 26:14 - "....durum est tibi contra stimulum calcitrare".

Note 10:
Fabre's translation of the Latin version gives this number as "23"; Quicherat's transcription of the German version reads "3".

Note 11:
Friar Jean Pasquerel, of the Order of Saint Augustine, served as Joan’s confessor, scribe, and (here) translator, hence his signature on the Latin version sent to the Hussites.

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