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 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.
Translation and other content Copyright © 2010, Allen Williamson. All rights reserved.