Her story is legendary, but it happens to be true: nineteen-year-old Joan of Arc led armies into battle during the Hundred Years War and helped liberate France from English domination. One of the most famous children's books ever published, this elegant work recounts Joan's wondrous transformation from peasant girl to military commander to Christian saint and martyr.
Generations of artists and writers from around the world have drawn inspiration from Joan's life, and she remains among the best-known historical figures of the Middle Ages. Maurice Boutet de Monvel's simple but moving retelling of her story features a series of imaginative illustrations that won the artist international fame. All forty-five of the images from his 1896 deluxe picture book appear here in full color, reflecting the saint's enduring symbolic power as well as her deep humanity. An Introduction by Gerald Gottlieb is included in this edition.
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The Story of Joan of Arc
By Maurice Boutet de Monvel
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
It was a cruel and brutal time; and it was a sad time for France. The year was 1429. The
Hundred Years' War was almost over. The endless battles and skirmishes in which the French fought the English or the Burgundians had devastated the lovely countryside of France. The land was ravaged by soldiers who marched back and forth across it on their murderous errands, burning fields and looting villages as they went. Roads were overgrown; brigands roamed the forests; travel between towns was very dangerous.
The kingdom of France was ruled by the Dauphin Charles, whose father, King Charles VI, had suffered bouts of madness before dying. There were those who said that the Dauphin's real father had been not King Charles VI but the king's brother, and therefore the Dauphin was not the legitimate heir to the throne. His mother the queen would neither deny nor confirm the rumor. The Dauphin consequently lived in great self-doubt and guilt, and he could not muster up the courage to have himself crowned.
And the war was going very badly for the French. All the country north of the Loire was controlled by the enemy—the English under John, Duke of Bedford, and their allies the Dukes of Burgundy. Paris itself was in the hands of the English. Orléans, the city that was the key to the Loire Valley and the gateway to the entire south, was under heavy siege. French armies had suffered a long string of defeats and were feeble and demoralized. Orléans seemed doomed. And when this last citadel fell, nothing would prevent the enemy from sweeping south beyond the Loire and overrunning all the rest of the French kingdom.
At this moment, the darkest in the history of France, a miracle took place. It began in Lorraine on the eastern frontier, in a small piece of territory controlled by Robert de Baudricourt, a captain loyal to the French ruler. A seventeen-year-old peasant girl—uneducated, but in the grip of a profound faith in God, and very insistent—had come to Baudricourt talking of visions and voices. She claimed that the figures of saints appeared before her, lit by a beautiful light, and that she heard their voices. They spoke to her often, and with great urgency, and they told her that she had been chosen to save France from its enemies. They bade her drive away the army besieging Orléans and take the Dauphin to Rheims, where he would be crowned King of France.
Robert de Baudricourt was, to say the least, skeptical. For a long time now, a prophecy had traveled about the countryside and through the villages; it said that one day a young girl would come to rescue France. And many a young woman had deluded herself that she could fulfill the prophecy. They all seemed mad, but this young girl, who was named Jeanne d'Arc—Joan of Arc—was different somehow. People took her seriously. Even some of the veteran soldiers under Baudricourt believed in her. To Baudricourt she said: "I am come before you from my Lord ... my Lord wishes that the Dauphin be made king ... and it is I who will take him to be crowned."
"Who is your Lord?" Baudricourt asked.
"The King of Heaven," Joan answered serenely.
And when he finally agreed to send her to the Dauphin, she said: "I was born to do this."
How do we know these things? Much of our information comes from eyewitnesses who testified at the two great trials of Joan of Arc, and whose words are preserved in the detailed, copious trial records. The first of these two proceedings was the Trial of Condemnation, in 1431, which led to Joan's execution for heresy; and the second was the Trial of Rehabilitation, which began in 1450. By then Joan had been dead for nineteen years, but many people, high and low, who had known her personally were still alive. The story that emerges from the trial records and from other contemporary chronicles and documents is not a long one. Joan the Maid, as she came to be known, was taken by Baudricourt's men to the French royal court. There she promptly recognized the Dauphin Charles, though he was disguised as one of his own courtiers. They spoke together in private, and she won his confidence immediately. What she said to him is not known, but it is likely she told the fearful, self-doubting monarch that she knew for certain he was the legitimate ruler of France, and that she had been sent by God to have him crowned. Joan was then tested by an ecclesiastical court, and she convinced the high churchmen that she was not a sorceress, that Saints Michael, Catherine, and Margaret did appear to her, and that she did indeed hear their voices and converse with them. And then she went on to her great triumphs, leading and inspiring French troops to victories, first at Orléans, where the enemy besiegers were driven off and the city liberated, and then at one fortress after another along the Loire Valley, culminating in a great rout of the enemy at Patay. Obeying her voices, she then achieved her dream of bringing the Dauphin to Rheims, where she saw him crowned King Charles VII of France. With her curious mixture of blind bravery and naive gentleness (she loved the banner she carried in battle "forty times more than her sword"), Joan gave the French a new confidence and pride. She told them: "In God's name the soldiers will fight, and God will give the victory." She fanned a flame of patriotism in France that would burn forever. She became truly beloved of the multitude.
The nobles of the court, however, were less enthusiastic about the Maid; and Charles VII, his kingdom more secure now, had little further need of Joan. But the Maid still heard her voices, and she was still possessed by a burning urge to drive the enemy from the soil of France. She led troops in an attempt to take Paris from the English. The attempt failed. By now Joan had acquired a taste for fine clothing, and for masculine attire. She would dress in the elegant clothes of a nobleman of the court; she would go into battle wearing a splendid, flowing robe over her armor. Fighting in a skirmish at Compiègne, she suddenly found herself surrounded. A Burgundian soldier seized her robe and dragged her from her horse. She was taken prisoner. No one came forward to rescue or ransom her. The French king and his court watched and did nothing as the Burgundians sold her to the English. (The price was high—ten thousand livres.) The English announced that Joan the Maid would go on trial as a witch and a heretic.
The trial could have but one possible outcome. The English had bought her to burn her, and in the end nothing less would satisfy them. Joan of Arc died at the stake in the city of Rouen in May, 1431. Ten thousand people crowded into the square to watch. Some of the onlookers said later that when the executioners lit the fire a white dove flew up from the center of it. Others claimed that, outlined in the flames, they had seen the letters JESUS. And the old chronicles tell of still other wondrous things, for as the flames rose above the pyre in Rouen, so rose up the legend of Joan the Maid, the savior of France. Upon that legend were nurtured French courage and hope, and a new feeling of unity. That, in the end, was the achievement of Joan of Arc.
Such are the bare bones of the story. Joan of Arc was a visionary—devout, energetic, stubborn, ignorant but intelligent, gifted with military genius, and aflame with her mission. She became France's national heroine. In 1896 a fellow countryman of the Maid, an artist named Louis-Maurice Boutet de Monvel, set out to celebrate her achievements in a book for children. By then, of course, Joan had been revered in France for nearly five centuries. There had been countless illustrated versions of her story, for children of every age. But Boutet de Monvel now managed to create a new masterpiece. His Jeanne d'Arc would be more admired and loved, and would influence more artists and illustrators, than any other children's book of its era.
Boutet de Monvel was born in 1851 in Orléans, a city that had been obsessed with Joan of Arc ever since the Maid delivered it from siege in 1429. As a boy in Orléans he saw the name of the young heroine everywhere—on streets and squares, on public statues, on boxes of candy. The boy became an art student, and by 1874, at the age of twenty-four, he was an academic painter, exhibiting at the Paris annual Salon. Early in his career he turned to the illustration of magazines and books for children, and here he enjoyed success both financial and artistic. (At the same time he pursued another career, with even happier financial results, becoming international society's painter of choice for portraits of children.) Among the children's books he illustrated in the 1880s was La Civilité puérile et honnête, a work on etiquette for the young in the manner of the French courtesy books, which had a history going back to the Middle Ages (though Boutet de Monvel's treatment was somewhat tongue-in-cheek) . He also illustrated a selection of La Fontaine's Fables. In both works he demonstrated an ability to reconsider and reinvigorate a time-worn theme, to take a traditional subject and make something new of it.
This ability came into play again in 1896, when he took as a subject the figure that had been omnipresent in his Orleans childhood—Joan of Arc. Inspiration, he later wrote, came to him in Paris, as he stood in the Place des Pyramides before the gilded statue of the Maid, stiff and erect on her charger, brandishing her sword toward the Tuileries. The theme, even the inspiration, were hardly new. But Boutet de Monvel, with his special talent for quickening the traditional, produced a series of pictures that would be his chef-d'oeuvre, his own monument to the Maid.
For this new children's book he not only painted the pictures but also wrote the text. And a comment is perhaps necessary here about that text. Boutet de Monvel, it must be remembered, was a painter, not a writer. Even less was he a scholar; and consequently some of the facts in the book have been called into question. But it must also be remembered that Boutet de Monvel's Jeanne d'Arc was a work of its time. It should be judged as such. Consider the book's title page, upon which the Maid, in mediaeval armor, leads eager French riflemen dressed in the uniforms of 1896. Presumably she is leading them to a victory, one that perhaps will help the nation forget the defeat suffered by French arms in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71. The battles listed on the standard the riflemen bear are those of Napoleon's pre-Waterloo triumphs. Boutet de Monvel is calling for, or dreaming of, a resurgence of the military glories won by not only Joan the Maid but also the Emperor Napoleon. Nor is this title-page propaganda absent from the pages that follow, even though they are set in the Middle Ages. Boutet de Monvel's pictures may depict the fifteenth century, but his writing is infused with the nationalistic fervor of the 1890s. One can hardly expect to find in it the balance, the measured reason of an ideal historian.
So much for Boutet de Monvel the writer. Boutet de Monvel the artist is quite another matter. The text of Jeanne d'Arc may be flawed, but pictorially the book is a work of genius. It was recognized as such from the very first. "Unique," one critic called it. Indeed it was; but its images were rooted in the past. Although the flat, shadowless coloring of the pictures was reminiscent of Japanese prints (which had been much in vogue in France, witness Gauguin), or of children's paintings, many of the images had a more distant source. It was certainly a more logical source, for it was contemporaneous with the Maid herself. We know that Boutet de Monvel read mediaeval chronicles—Froissart, no doubt, and Monstrelet—from which he surely took the events, the dramatic confrontations, of his Jeanne d'Arc. But did he not perhaps also pore over the illuminations in mediaeval manuscripts? The massed groupings of men and horses, the stylized backgrounds, and above all the opulent detail of robe and wall hanging, are all to be seen in illuminated manuscripts from early fifteenth-century France, the time and place of the Maid's life. They can be seen, for example, on the vellum leaves of the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, illuminated by the Limbourg brothers, and in work that the Boucicaut Master produced for Charles VI, the father of Joan's feckless and ungrateful Dauphin.
However one may speculate about the pictorial sources of Boutet de Monvel's greatest creation, its influence was pervasive on the children's books that followed. That is why its pictures seem so familiarly modern to us today, nearly a century after the artist produced them to transport and inspire children and to do homage to the peerless heroine of his own childhood.
Boutet de Monvel's Jeanne d'Arc was originally published in 1896, in Paris. A copy of that first edition is among the rare early children's books in the collections of The Pierpont Morgan Library in New York. The present edition, prepared from the Morgan copy, is the first edition since the nineteenth century which faithfully reproduces Boutet de Monvel's extraordinary colors and compositions. It thus enables a new generation of children and adults to experience this important classic of book illustration in all the freshness and subtlety of its original colors and all the drama of its brilliant, moving scenes.
The French text written by Boutet de Monvel was first translated into English in 1897, by A. 1. du Pont Coleman.
Gerald Gottlieb Curator of Early Children's Books The Pierpont Morgan Library New York City
Excerpted from The Story of Joan of Arc by Maurice Boutet de Monvel. Copyright © 2010 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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Table of Contents
Preface by the Author,