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Joan of Arc: A History by Helen Castor

Joan of Arc: A History (2014)

by Helen Castor

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Review from The Herald Issue 66 - Summer 2015

Helen Castor’s latest work analyses the life and deeds of Joan of Arc and, importantly, puts her actions into context with political rivalries in France at that time - an amazing book about an amazing peasant girl who overcame so many obstacles to save France from inevitable destruction and captured the hearts of minds of every generation since her death.

This book is different from most accounts of the Maid of Orleans which tend to be biographical focusing on her personality, her visions and her martyrdom. Castor lets you see Joan in context as one of many visionaries at that time, a product of the utter desperation of the kingdom of France, and her fall and death resulting from bitter feuding between rival French factions.

Joan of Arc was a remarkable woman who achieved amazing feats through pure strength of will and character. She made an indelible impact on all those she met and took France from the brink of collapse right to the gates of victory. Helen Castor brings this feat to life, powerfully recreating the vicious rivalry, the climate of murder, and the mistrust and hatred between the two factions - a story often untold, and this book really emphasizes the importance and impact on Joan of Arc. This feud allowed Joan to flourish and use her charisma to unite opposing forces, but their rivalry would also cause her gruesome death.

Mark Taylor
  TBS_Sec | Apr 3, 2018 |
Joan of Arc is an iconic figure in history. The pure maid who received visions from God telling her to lead the army into battle with the French. The holy innocent who was burned at the stake by the vengeful English.

In this book Castor looks at the events surrounding the short time between the appearance of Joan to the Dauphin of France and her demise. This is a book which looks at the historical facts as recorded through the annals of contemporary historians and also the records of Joan's trial but it doesn't try to explain where Joan came from and what she was about.

There is a theory, not explored here, that Joan was supported and set up by Yolande (the Dauphin's mother-in-law) and that she was an innocent pawn in a complex political argument involving France, England and Burgundy. Joan provided a focus and a motivation for the French which eventually led to the tide turning for them. What is mentioned here is that there were a number of individuals who claimed to have seen visions, what made Joan so compelling?

Castor is a good writer and her knowledge and understanding of the complexities of the years following the death of Henry V (of England) is central to this book. Could Joan of Arc have such influence and longevity if she had not appeared in time such as this? Probably not. ( )
  pluckedhighbrow | Jun 26, 2017 |
Joan of Arc by Helen Castor

From goodreads.com:

Joan of Arc, A History by Helen Castor

We all know the story of Joan of Arc. A peasant girl who hears voices from God. A warrior leading an army to victory, in an age that believes women cannot fight. The Maid of Orleans, and the saviour of France. Burned at the stake as a heretic at the age of just nineteen. Five hundred years later, a saint. Her case was heard in court twice over. One trial, in 1431, condemned her; the other, twenty-five years after her death, cleared her name. In the transcripts, we hear first-hand testimony from Joan, her family and her friends: a rare survival from the medieval world. What could be more revealing?
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published May 19th 2015 by Harper (first published September 30th 2014)
ISBN0062384392 (ISBN13: 9780062384393) characters Joan of Arc

Leona's Review:

Because I had always had an interest in Joan of Arc ( maybe because the name Joan runs in my family, including mine), I was interested in reading and reviewing Joan of Arc, A History by Helen Castor.

The book is full of history and not all about Joan the Maid. The first section, Before, and the last, After, mainly describe the time before and after Joan.
The book has family trees: English and French Claims to the Throne of France, The Valois Kings of France and The Dukes of Burgundy.
I have an advanced reading copy that is an uncorrected proof copy and it did not have the illustrations but they will be in the published book. As far as I am concerned, maps are very important in these historical books, even in the fiction novels that are historical.

List of illustrations
Cast of Characters
Family Trees
Introduction: 'Joan of Arc'
Prologue: The field of blood
PART ONE: Before
1 This war accursed by god
2 Like another Messiah
3 Desolate and divided
4 The Maid
5 Like an angel from God
6 A heart greater than any man's
7 A creature in the form of a woman
8 I will be with you soon
9 A simple maid
10 Fear of the Fire
11 Those who call themselves Frenchmen
12 She was all innocent
EPILOGUE: 'Saint Joan'
Select Bibliography

Most of my book marks for my notes are in the section of Joan and the Notes. The Notes are also part of the book, so readers should read this thoroughly.
I found this book more historical than a biography. Lots of dates, events, places and people make up this book. The names of the characters are a great assistance in reading.

I kept reading about Joan in men's clothes and did find in the Notes section the reason; "For the Old Testament prohibition on cross-dressing, see Deuteronomy 22:5- ' A woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment; for whosoever doeth these things is an abomination to the Lord thy God.' " (page 268) In the section, Joan, many mentions are made of her clothing.

I did email to the author, Helen Castor, and asked if Joan could write because I kept reading the Joan had "written". She replied the next day and said a clerk would have written for her. On re-reading my notes, I found I had marked "As she directed, the clerk added the inscription 'Jhesus Maria" before her name. 'Jeanne la Pucelle': Joan the Maid". (page 108)

I was not aware that Joan's ashes had been thrown into the river near Notre Dame. I have been in that Cathedral and would have felt differently when I had looked into the river Seine if I had known. (page 221) My information: go to http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=7038d

It has been years since I have read about Joan and forgot the times she was in prison and so many hardships.

The book is dedicated to : For Luca.

The acknowledgement pages list many names that helped with this book.

I give this a 5 star rating. It is a book I would read again and will look for more readings about Joan of Arc, Joan the Maid.
My daughter would call me and ask what I was doing and I would say "Reading my history book" and she knew what I meant.

I was given a complimentary copy to read and review. The opinions are my own. I thank the author, Helen Castor, and the publishers, HarperCollins.
HarperCollins email is harpermarketing@harpercollins.com

Helen Castor may be reached at: http://www.helencastor.com . From goodreads.com: Helen Castor is a historian of medieval England and a Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. She directed studies in History at Sidney for eight years before deciding to concentrate on writing history for a wider readership.

Leona Olson
http://www.mnleona.blogspot.com ( )
  mnleona | Jun 2, 2015 |
This is exactly what the title advertises, much more a history than a biography. Castor does such a great job of grounding the Joan of Arc story in the politics and dynamics of the time, it really changes what's become a kind of familiar, overly-hyped fairy tale. But because it's set late in the Hundred Years' War, there are extremely dense machinations, alliances, and family lines in play, so this is not a quick, escapist kind of read.

It's worth while going back and forth to check out the family trees at the front of the book until you get a handle on who's who—these are some seriously intermingled bloodlines—and where everyone's from. If you have the patience for that, though, it's totally rewarding. What a great story... and even though Joan herself is onstage for only a short time, she's a really affecting character. I liked this one a lot, and got a strong sense for a piece of history. ( )
  lisapeet | Feb 10, 2015 |
A good book for those people whose knowledge of Joan of Arc, or as she was known then Joan the Maid, is sketchy this book will fill in the blanks. As with a lot of stories of saintly figures it is hard to tell who she really was. The one thing is she was the catalyst who turned the tide of English dominance in France. Everything else is mysterious. ( )
  charlie68 | Jan 26, 2015 |
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"The story of one of the most remarkable women of the medieval world, as you have never read it before. In Joan of Arch : a history, Helen Castor tells this gripping story afresh: forwards, not backwards. Instead of an icon, she gives us a living, breathing woman confronting the challenges of faith and doubt, a roaring girl who, in fighting the English, was also taking sides in a bloody civil war. We meet this extraordinary girl amid the tumultuous events of her extraordinary world where no one--not Joan herself, nor the people around her, princes, bishops, soldiers or peasants--knew what would happen next"--Provided by publisher.… (more)

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