The Issue of Joan of Arc's Cross-dressing
by: Allen Williamson
The Condemnation trial transcript alleges that the stated
justification for Joan of Arc's conviction - her resumption of male
clothing - was based upon valid principles, but this is
contradicted by numerous other sources, on both evidentiary and theological grounds.
According to the later admissions of the tribunal members, she was forced to give
up this male clothing on May 24th by the expedient method of threatening her with summary execution.
She was then maneuvered into a "relapse" - thereby providing a pretext for a legal execution -
by the two methods described below in the following representative excerpts from the eyewitness accounts. These are taken from the investigations in 1450 and 1452, and
the formal appellate trial conducted by the
Inquisitor-General in 1455-1456, presenting a more complete view of
the subject than what is found in the Condemnation transcript.
The relevant sources are of several types. A number of the tribunal members
themselves (see below) later admitted that Joan of Arc had said she clung to her soldiers'
outfit as a desperate means
of discouraging rape - since the type of clothing in question had
numerous cords by which the long boots and hosen [see note at right]
could both be fastened to the tunic, thereby making it difficult for a rapist
to pull them off. A dress, on the other hand, offered no such protection
against her abusive guards: she was being guarded by English soldiers, in violation of
the standard Inquisitorial practice of placing female prisoners in the custody of
nuns (precisely in order to prevent the problems that Joan of Arc was facing).
As with so many other crucial items, this was left out of the
transcript of the Condemnation trial, unless one counts the few partial
versions of quotations which were later related in full by the eyewitnesses: e.g., the
transcript does say that she asked to be placed in a Church prison
with women (alluding to the abovementioned Inquisitorial practice), and
it also includes a brief version of her statements protesting that her actions were
perfectly lawful under the rules of the Church - alluding to the provision in medieval
theology which permitted necessity-based cross-dressing (click here
to see examples from the "Summa Theologica" and 15th century theologians). The eyewitnesses later
clarified these statements by relating a fuller version of her quotations on the matter;
moreover, necessity-based cross-dressing was hardly unknown in that era:
ironic example is that of the sister-in-law
of the English Regent, who disguised herself as a
soldier at one point in order to escape from the custody of Duke Philip
of Burgundy in 1425. No one tried to put her on trial for heresy.
The Condemnation transcript itself unwittingly provides brief details which serve to further corroborate what the eyewitnesses later said. Her legs were covered by two layers which were both fastened to the tunic : the inner layer was composed of hosen which were connected to the tunic with the unusually large number of twenty cords; the outer layer consisted of very long boots that went all the way up to the waist, made of tough leather and likewise attached at many points to the tunic. This was an excessively secured version of such male clothing, thereby providing additional confirmation that she was using it for protective purposes.
importantly, we know that in Joan's case the evidence shows a consistent pattern which
supports her abovementioned statements. According to the men who escorted her from
Vaucouleurs to Chinon, it was they who first suggested dressing her in such clothing,
which was provided by the people of Vaucouleurs. We know that when camped
with her army she always slept
either with her pants and tunic securely fastened, or in full plate armor to provide a still
greater degree of protection. The preponderance of the documentary sources cite this as
her motive, overlapping with her assertion that her saints had ordered her to wear it
principally for such protective purposes. [see note at right]
The most complete quote from her on the subject, one which combines the motives stated separately in other quotations, is found in the document known as "La Chronique de la Pucelle": she is quoted as saying that her saints had ordered her to wear this clothing, primarily to protect her chastity and a few other practical purposes which are listed.
From the second deposition (May 2, 1452) of Guillaume Manchon, chief notary at
Joan's trial, parish priest of Saint Nicholas
Church in Rouen and notary of the archiepiscopal court at Rouen,
about 58 years old at the time of this deposition:
It should be noted that Manchon and other witnesses described attempted rape, which is traumatic enough; but the efforts by a few modern authors to sensationalize this into a worse occurrence is contradicted by the evidence.
"...at that time she was dressed in male clothing, and kept complaining that she could not do without it, fearing that the guards would violate her in the night; and once or twice she had complained to the Bishop of Beauvais [Pierre Cauchon], the Vice-Inquisitor [Jean LeMaitre] and Master Nicholas Loiseleur that one of the guards had attempted to rape her." [see note at right] (Quicherat's "Procès...", Vol II, p. 298; DuParc's "Procès en Nullité...", Vol I, p. 181; Oursel's "Les Procès de Jeanne d'Arc", pp. 155-156; see also Pernoud's "The Retrial of Joan of Arc", p. 186).
According to the later admissions of the tribunal members, she was forced to give up this male clothing on May 24th by the expedient method of threatening her with summary execution. She was then maneuvered into a "relapse" - thereby providing a pretext for a legal execution - by the two methods described below in the following representative excerpts from the eyewitness accounts. These are taken from the investigations in 1450 and 1452, and the formal appellate trial conducted by the Inquisitor-General in 1455-1456, presenting a more complete view of the subject than what is found in the Condemnation transcript.
|This English commander was bound by law to protect her against rape, but we know from other eyewitness accounts that his personal views toward her were more callous: he told a doctor, Guillaume de la Chambre, that he wanted her to be kept alive long enough to be convicted and formally burned at the stake.|
"[when asked why she wore male clothing] she said that she didn't dare give up her pants, nor to keep them but firmly tied [to the tunic], because the Bishop and Earl [Richard, Earl of Warwick] well knew that her guards had tried to rape her several times; and once when she cried out [for help], the Earl himself came to her aid in response to her cries, and if he hadn't arrived, the guards would have raped her..." [see note at right] (Quicherat, Vol III, pp. 147 - 148; DuParc, Vol I, p. 426; Oursel, p. 316).
Other witnesses said that the same motive was behind her resumption of male clothing after her abjuration on May 24th. The first set of excerpts below describe one factor in her "relapse" - the increased rape attempts which may have been a deliberate policy designed to induce her to readopt more protective clothing. The second set of accounts describe the manner in which the forbidden male clothing was deliberately left in her room, and finally became the only clothing available after the dress was taken away.
From the third deposition (May 13, 1456) of Friar Martin Ladvenu (an
assessor at her trial), about 56 years old at the time of this deposition:
"I heard from Joan that a great English lord entered her prison and tried to violate her by force. And she told me that this was the reason why she resumed male clothing after the first sentence." (Quicherat, Vol III, p. 168; DuParc, Vol I, p. 442; Vol IV, p. 122; Oursel, p. 327; Pernoud, p. 210).
From the first deposition (May 3, 1452) of Pierre Cusquel,
about 55 years old at the time of this deposition:
"... people said that there was no other cause for her condemnation except the resumption of male clothing, and that she had not, and was not, wearing male clothing except in order to avoid giving herself to the soldiers [i.e., the guards] whom she was with; and I asked her once in prison why she wore male clothes; she replied the same [as above]." (Quicherat, Vol II, pp. 306 - 307; DuParc, Vol I, p. 188; Oursel, p. 161; Pernoud, p. 210).
From the second deposition (May 3, 1452) of Friar Isambart de la Pierre
(another assessor at her trial); about 55 years old at the time of this
"... after her abjuration she put on female clothing, and asked to be brought to the prisons of the Church; which they didn't allow. In fact, as I heard from Joan herself, someone of great authority tried to rape her; as a result of which, in order to be better able to prevent such things, she said she resumed male clothing, which had been deliberately left near her in prison. Similarly, after she resumed this clothing, I saw and heard the aforesaid Bishop [Cauchon], along with other Englishmen, exulting and saying openly to everyone, to Lord Warwick and others: 'It is done!' " (Quicherat, Vol II, p. 305; DuParc, Vol I, pp. 186 - 187; Vol III, p. 176; Oursel, p. 160).
And from his first preliminary deposition on March 5, 1450:
"... I and a number of others were present when Joan defended herself for having resumed male clothing, publicly saying and affirming that the English had committed, or ordered to be committed, much wrong and violation against her in prison when she had been dressed in female clothing; and in fact I saw her weeping, her face full of tears, disfigured and outraged in such fashion that I felt pity and compassion for her. When they labeled her an obstinate and relapsed heretic, she replied publicly in front of all of those present: 'If you, my lords of the Church, had brought me to, and kept me in, your own prisons, perhaps things wouldn't be this way for me.' " (Quicherat, Vol II, p. 5).
From the fourth deposition (May 12, 1456) of Guillaume Manchon:
"And in my presence she was asked [by the judges] why she had resumed this male clothing. She replied that she had done it to protect her virginity, because she was not safe in female clothing among her guards, who wanted to rape her; concerning which she had complained many times to the Bishop and Earl, and the judges had promised her that she would be in the custody of the Church, and would have a woman with her [i.e., a nun, to serve as a guard]; additionally, she said that if it would please the lord judges to put her in a safe place in which she would not be afraid, then she was prepared to put the female clothing back on..." (Quicherat, Vol III, pp. 148 - 149; DuParc, Vol I, p. 427; Vol IV, p. 107; Oursel, pp. 316-317).
Another witness who was particularly well-informed - the bailiff - gave further details and an additional dimension to her "relapse": the attempted assaults were evidently followed by the simple device of giving her nothing else to wear but the forbidden male clothing.
From the first deposition (March 5, 1450) of Jean Massieu, bailiff at the trial, about 50 years old:
"And that day [May 24th] after dinner, in the presence of the ecclesiastic council, she put aside the male clothing and put on women's clothing, as they had ordered her. It was then Thursday or Friday after Pentecost, and her male clothing was put in a sack, in the same room in which she had been held prisoner and stayed under the guard of five Englishmen, three of whom stayed at night inside the room, and two outside at the door to the room... And when the following Sunday morning came, which was Trinity Sunday, when she had to get up, as she told me, she had said to these Englishmen, her guards, "Unchain me, so I can get up." And then one of these Englishmen removed the female clothing which she had on, and emptied the sack which contained the male clothing and threw this clothing to her while saying, "Get up," and put her female clothes in the sack. And, according to what she said, she put on the male clothing they had given her, after saying, "M'lords, you know this is forbidden me: without fail, I will not take it." And nevertheless they wouldn't give her any other, so that she remained engaged in this argument until noon; and finally, she was compelled by bodily necessity to go out and therefore wear this clothing; and after she had returned, they wouldn't give her any other [clothing], despite any supplication or request that she might make." (Quicherat, Vol II, p. 18; Pernoud, (in partial form on pp. 209-210)).
And from Massieu's third deposition (May 12, 1456):
"On the day of the Holy Trinity, when Joan was accused of relapse, she replied that while she was lying in bed her guards removed her female clothing from the bed in which she was lying, and gave her instead the male clothing; and, although she asked these guards to return the female clothing, so she could leave her bed to go to the latrine; they refused to give it to her, telling her that she would not have anything else but the male clothing. And when she additionally said that the guards well knew that the judges had forbidden her to wear this clothing, they nevertheless refused to give her the female clothing which they had removed. And finally, compelled by necessity of the body, she put on the male clothing, and wasn't able to obtain any other clothing from the guards all that day, so that she was seen wearing this male clothing by many people, as a result of which she was judged relapsed. For that Trinity Sunday many people were summoned to view her in this situation, to whom she stated her reasons for doing so; and among these I saw Master André Marguerie [an assessor], who was in great peril because, when he said, 'It would be good to ask her why she has resumed male clothing', an Englishman [one of the soldiers] lifted a spear which he was holding with the intent of stabbing Master André. At which point Master André and many others left, terrified." (Quicherat, Vol III, pp. 157 - 158; DuParc, Vol I, p. 434; Vol IV, p. 114; Oursel, p. 321).
The Bishop of Noyon, Jean de Mailly [in his testimony on April 2, 1456],
further corroborated the fact
that the male clothing had been deliberately given back to her,
although as his description is based upon second-hand information it
is not as precise as Massieu's direct eyewitness description and
differs from it as to details.
"I had heard it said... that male clothing had been thrown in to her through the window or grate [i.e., of the cell in which she was being held]." (Quicherat, Vol III, p. 55; DuParc, Vol I, p. 354; Vol IV, p. 39; Oursel, p. 268).
Translations and other content © 2005 - 2014, Allen Williamson. All rights reserved.
Further Reading : Links To Other Websites
Review of Sackville-West's book debunking the implications of lesbian and transgender issues.