Joan of Arc's Letter to Count Jean IV d'Armagnac (August 22, 1429)




Joan of Arc's Letter to Count Jean IV d'Armagnac
(August 22, 1429)

This is a letter sent to Count Jean IV d'Armagnac, in response to the Count's previous letter asking her which of the three rival Popes should be obeyed. The Papacy had been disputed by multiple claimants for several decades by that point, a period known as "the Great Schism" in the Church.

Predictably, the pro-English clergy who placed her on trial would later try to use these letters against her by charging that she had the pretension of pronouncing which Pope was the valid claimant; although: 1) Joan testified that the portion of the letter which promises to give an opinion on the matter was inaccurate, explaining that this comment actually concerned a different issue which the Count's messenger had brought up. This discrepancy can be explained by looking at her description of the hectic conditions prevailing during the dictation of the letter: she said she was just preparing to ride off, and the Count's messenger was facing threats from others nearby who wanted to "throw him into the river", at the time when the contents of the letter were being communicated. The scribe may therefore have garbled portions of the letter in the confusion. On a final point, she also explained that as far as she knew, "the Pope in Rome" (Martin V, the claimant also supported by her judges) was the valid Pontiff. 2) Moreover: her judges' allegation, even if it had been based on accurate information, can easily be shown to be a distortion of medieval theology. Earlier during the Schism, other mystics or visionaries had made precisely the type of pronouncement being alleged here, but without being considered heretics [click here for details]. Since Joan of Arc had previously been approved as a valid visionary by the clergy at Poitiers in March of 1429, she, like the others, would have had the right to relay messages on such issues if she had chosen to do so.

A brief word should be said about her correspondent, Count Jean IV of Armagnac. Although he was the son of the man whom the "Armagnac" faction had been named after, Jean pursued a remarkably different policy than his father: he supported the English in 1421, further angered Charles VII by paying homage to the King of Castille in 1425, and subsequently negotiated for a more permanent marriage alliance with the English Royal family. Despite his name and lineage, he was not a staunch supporter of the "Armagnac" faction.
His question to Joan was motivated by his troubles with the rival Popes: true to form, he had supported various claimants in turn, and was excommunicated by Martin V on 4 March 1429. It was natural to resolve such dilemmas by turning to accepted visionaries. The Count would shortly submit to Martin V, who lifted the sentence of excommunication on 4 March 1430.

The full text of the letter was entered into the Condemnation transcript. Although the original letter itself has not survived, the transcript's copy was preceded by the description that the original was "signed by her own hand", which would mean that this signature was an earlier example than the one on the letter of 9 November 1429.

An English translation is below on the left; commentary on the right. A transcription of the original language is also available, as is the Count's letter which initiated the correspondence.


English TranslationNotes and Commentary

Jesus + Maryn1

Count of Armagnac, my very dear and good friend,n2 Joan the Maidenn3 informs you that your messenger has arrived, who told me that you sent him here in order to learn from me which of the three Popes, which you asked about in your letter, you should believe in. Concerning which, I cannot very well tell you truly for the time being, until I am at Paris or elsewhere at ease, for at present I am too occupied with the war;n4 but when you learn that I am in Paris, send a messenger to me and I will let you know truthfully whom you should believe in,n5 and what I will have learned about this matter through the counsel of my rightful and sovereign Lord, the King of all the world;n6 and [I will tell you] what you should do about it, as best I can. I commend you to God; may God watch over you. Written at Compiègne, the 22nd day of August.n7

Note 1: "Jesus, Mary" was a standard phrase used by her, appearing on her battle flag, rings, and most of her letters.
Note 2: This is the formula she used when addressing most of the people or groups to whom she sent letters, regardless of whether she personally knew them or not - e.g., her many letters to the governments of various cities would begin: "My very dear and good friends...". It does not imply personal friendship with Jean IV.

Note 3: "La Pucelle" - "the maiden" or "virgin" - was her standard 'nickname', which she explained by saying that she had promised her saints to remain virgin "for as long as it pleases God". She was later canonized by the Church as a "Holy Maiden".

Note 4: In her testimony, she explained that she was getting ready to mount her horse when this reply was made. Her hope was that the army would take Paris, followed hopefully by a lull in the fighting.

Note 5: In her testimony, she indicated that this statement was misrecorded, since her comments about obtaining counsel from God referred to another matter which had been discussed with the Count's messenger but not recorded in the letter.

Note 6: A variation on her more usual phrase: "King of Heaven and of all the world", as in the letter on 17 July 1429: "King Jesus, King of Heaven and of all the world".

Note 7: This sentence was, of course, supplied by the scribe.

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Translation and other content Copyright © 2004, Allen Williamson. All rights reserved.