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  • ‘Psychic’ Joan and the Dauphin October 8, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval , trackback

    Joan of Arc has always made rationalist historians – among whom Beachcombing would count himself – a little bit anxious. After all, a voice of God on tap, prophecies, and a telepathic relationship with a sword are hardly going to put an empiricist at ease.

    Among her several supposed psychic achievements was the moment when on 6 March 1429, La Pucelle finally made it  to the court of the Dauphin at Chinon. The Dauphin had hid himself among about three hundred courtiers to test Joan and her divine mission. He placed a false Dauphin on his throne and waited in the crowd to see what would happen. Joan rejected the false Dauphin, so tradition tells us, and walked straight to the real destinatario of heaven’s messages giving him a secret message from God that made an impression on the young prince.

    It is a pleasing story – and, in fact, many Joan films have played lovingly with this scene: the young girl walks through the court watching the multitudinous activities there before picking out her man from the courtiers. But did it, in fact happen?

    Most historians are sniffy about the incident or reject it outright. Charles Desama, for example, believed that it was a kind of mythic snowball that was first reported only when it had rolled down the hill of history long enough to be house-size, years after and in far off provinces.

    However, a 1996 article by Jean Fraikin, a Belgian scholar points out that there is actually an excellent contemporary source: an anonymous clerk from Rochelle. This clerk claims that Joan was first shown Charles de Bourbon pretending to be the king. Then, when she refused Charles, she was fobbed off with a squire also with a crown on his head. And it was only when she saw the king come out of another room that she gave up the message from God that she had been carrying for so long.

    How do we even begin to explain something of this sort? Perhaps Joan arrived with some knowledge of what the king looked like: he was certainly a strange fish. Perhaps she had seen him in a previous phase of her life. Might this even explain her peculiar loyalty to Charles: ‘I did but see him passing by, and yet I love him till I die’. (Though somewhere in the trials Beachcombing seems to remember her claiming that this was the first time she had seen her royal lord.) Was Charles a ‘fidgeter’? Did he have some tic  that identified him? Joan should fall into this category. Just possibly she saw the way that those around the Dauphin treated him. Did the guards snap to attention when he passed through the door into her presence? Extremely perceptive and wise people sometimes give the impression of being psychic: perhaps

    So how do we explain her spotting Charles? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

    Beachcombing would be unfair to Joan if he didn’t note that she allegedly picked out too Robert de Baudricort from a crowd when she went to see him some weeks before her encounter with Charles. In this case though it seems there was no subterfuge.

    The fact that she was able to give a personal message that shocked the Dauphin is far easier to explain. The message was presumably generic or touched upon known details of the Dauphin’s life: ‘God has heard your prayers, and forgiven you’, ‘You are a legitimate child of your mother and father.’ Etc etc

    In the end, however we explain Joan’s achievement, just as impressive as the ‘psychic’ fireworks is the fact that Joan kept her head through all this: not being intimidated by a hall full of two or three hundred smirking courtiers. It was this poise that would allow a nineteen year old peasant girl with no military experience to remake France in the weeks and months ahead.