Sunday, January 29, 2012

Notes on Joan of Arc: A Military Leader (by Kelly DeVries) - Part 2

Chapter 2 - Why Joan of Arc was Needed

DeVries notes: "When Joan of Arc involved herself in the Hundred Years War, she entered a hornet's nest of military and political problems."

In this chapter, DeVries introduces and summarizes the background of the Hundred Years War, leading up to the point at which a peasant girl named Joan would be seriously considered as a potential war leader. Starting in 1337, DeVries divides the war into four phases, contending that the French had won one, fought England to a draw in another, and badly lost the other two, "including the phase immediately preceding Joan's appearance as a leader of the French Army."  DeVries then goes through an overview of the causes and course of the conflict.

DeVries points out that before 1337, the Kingdom of France had a "strong and renowned military."  In 1328, trouble starts when Edward III of England's claim to the French crown was dismissed as his descent from the crown was through a woman [in light of this entire discussion, there seems a strange irony in this...]  He invaded in 1340, and after several years of off and on fighting and treaties, in August 1346, dealt the French a major defeat at the battle of Crecy.  The Black Death  which ravaged Europe in 1348-49, put a temporary halt to the fighting, and it also influenced English tactics, which change from pitched battles to the cavalry raiding style known as the "chevauchée." 

In 1356, The French lost another major battle at Poitiers, and the French king of that time, John II was captured by the English.  DeVries speculates that this might have been a good thing for the French, as John II " generally considered an ineffective military leader..."   His son, who later becomes Charles V of France, did better at regaining territory. Over the next almost forty years, he and then his son, Charles VI pushed the English back quite a bit.

However, by 1407, Charles VI of France had developed bouts of mental illness, leaving an unstable government. This gave rise to two factions, the Burgundians and the Armagnacs. The French civil war between the two factions would not be resolved in Joan's lifetime.

This created an opportunity for Henry V of England to invade, in an attempt to reclaim the French crown. This invasion culminated in the battle of Agincourt, in which the French suffered approximately 10,000 dead, while the English lost a few hundred. Agincourt took a heavy toll on the French Army's numbers, leadership and perhaps its confidence as well.

In May 1418, Paris surrendered to the Duchy of Burgundy, and the Duke of Burgundy, John the Fearless, was welcomed as the governor and "Protector" of France. Charles VI's son, the Dauphin Charles, fled to the south. Although John the Fearless attempted to put together a governing coalition including the Armagnacs, he was killed while under a writ of "safe passage," in revenge for an earlier assassination of an Armagnac leader that he had been implicated in.

The Burgundians made a treaty on behalf of France with the English, which made Henry V heir to the French throne in the event of Charles VI's death.  The Dauphin was effectively disowned. The Armagnacs did not accept the treaty and still considered the dauphin to be the true heir. 

And then in 1422, Henry V died before Charles VI. His infant son, Henry VI, became the king of England and France when Charles VI died later the same year. The Armagnacs, seeing an opportunity, began to fight back but the English and Burgundians continued to make significant gains. 

In July 1428, the Earl of Salisbury laid siege to the city of Orléans. If he could capture it, the English would control the River Loire, and the dauphin, headquartered at Chinon, might have been forced to surrender.
And now we`re back to DeVries comment, ``...she entered a hornet's nest on military and political problems."  

``Half of [France]  was occupied by a foreign military, its society frightened by marauding armies and confused by a political dispute... whose argument had little grass-roots permeation, its economy broken by [armies constantly marching] across its [farms] and its industries blocked from the markets and trade routes which had once made them prosperous, with no crowned king, and few others who could or would rise to take over leadership of the government or the armies[.]  The kingdom of France was not even a shadow of its thirteenth-century prototype."

DeVries then points out that there were "pockets of resistance" which had held out against the English "largely unsupported by the dauphin or his generals." This gave rise to a feeling among some 'patriots'  that the English might be vulnerable to a concentrated military effort. 

"...but they needed an inspiration. Dauphin Charles had not provided this inspiration. Nor was he likely to in the future, as he was being counselled to proceed against the English with sluggish, even inactive caution by his favorites."
Which, according to DeVries, explains Joan's role. "...When Joan appeared, and they felt her confidence and determination, they followed her with a loyalty which few soldiers in history have given their leaders.... Judging from her results, she may have been just what the French Military needed to regain its own confidence and composure and to realize the advantages that it had over its English enemies."

 In short, it was Joan's determination to succeed, and her confidence that she could, that provided the sorely lacking inspiration and confidence in success for the French leaders, soldiers and citizens.

Of course, nothing is Quite that simple, and next time we'll take a look at the beginnings of Joan's involvement in the Hundred Years War.

Next Post: Notes on Joan of Arc: A Military Leader - Part 3.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Notes on Joan of Arc: A Military Leader (by Kelly DeVries) - Part 1

Chapters 1 - Introduction

Mr. DeVries' thesis for this book is very straight-forward: "Joan of Arc was a soldier, plain and simple." He elaborates on this thesis in the introduction,
"... by her confident and direct military tactics, combined with her willingness to risk everything, including an extraordinarily large number of her own countrymen, Joan put military aggressiveness back into an army that had been forced into a psychology of defeat."
DeVries draws heavily of four sources: The 'Chronique de la Pucelle,' and the 'Journal du siège d'Orléans,' as well as the transcripts for Joan's trial by the English, and the Nullification trial held by the French after her death.
Devries also points out that "...some French military officers wrote histories praising Joan's strategies and tactics...[but] ...they are not frequently read by Joan of Arc scholars." Devries concludes the introduction with the observation that "We should not denigrate that legacy [of Joan wanting to be a French soldier]; instead we should study it."

By the way, the day before I started this blog "Women and War", January 6th, is often regarded as Joan of Arc's Birthday, making it 600 years since she was born. Check out this CBC webpage:

Next Post: Notes on Joan of Arc: A Military Leader - Part 2.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Women and War - Who I'm not reading about this year - Part 1 - Hua Mulan

  When I started thinking about taking a year and making a goal of reading at least 12 books on "Women and War," I considered, and set aside several women. One of these was Hua Mulan (Fa Mulan) of China, and I thought I'd give a short explanation of my thoughts here.
  You may have heard of Mulan, as I did, through the Disney movie. But of course Disney based their story on a far older (public domain) source. The Ode to Mulan is a Chinese folktale dating from the 4th - 6th Centuries. It's a long-lived and popular story; the Bell Tower of Xi'an, China, built 1384, which has doors embossed with scenes from Chinese legends, includes a door for Hua Mulan. 

  In the legend, Mulan takes her father's place in the army.  She serves for twelve years without being recognized as female, and does well, then returns home to her family. The original story was notable for its lack of magical or supernatural embellishments - small Disney dragons and ghosts being recent additions.
  However, the written source for the legend is only the ballad. I've included a link to an on-line version in Chinese and English below. That's pretty much it. There does not seem to be any other historical or written evidence for the story. This year, I'm concentrating more on books with stronger historical sources.
  If anyone knows any more about Mulan, especially any articles or books about her historical authenticity, please let me know. If it's in Chinese, that's fine. At least I'll have a starting point.

Oh, and I actually enjoyed the movie, in case you were wondering.

Next Post: Notes on Joan of Arc: A Military Leader - Part 1. 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Welcome to my 2012 reading goal - 12 books on Woman and War


I'm J Hall, from Toronto, Canada. I've been an amateur military historian, and occasional member of the military for over forty years, since I was 8 years old.

One of my goals for 2012 is to read at least 12 books from the "Women and War" book collection I've built up over the years. Over the next 12 months, I'll be reading books about Women in the Fifteenth, Eighteenth, Nineteenth, Twentieth  and Twenty-First centuries, who were involved in or with the military in some capacity. My reading is designed to cover Europe, the UK, Canada, Japan and the USA. I'll be looking at leaders, spies, nurses, doctors, women disguised as men, pilots, sailors and more (I hope.)

I'm starting with "Joan of Arc: A Military Leader" by Kelly Devries.See below for links if you're interested. This book is also available as an e-book in various formats, and don't forget to check your local library for a copy, or to see if you can borrow it through Inter-Library Loan.

This month's reading is dedicated to Pat Galloway, who I saw portraying Joan of Arc in George Bernard Shaw's "Saint Joan" at Stratford, Ontario in the 1970s.

I'll also occasionally be blogging about who I'm not covering and why. Meet the first of these on my next blog. I can almost guarantee you've at least heard of her.