Just finished a terrific book: The Maid and the Queen: the Secret history of Joan of Arc by Nancy Goldstone. It’s about Queen Yolande of Aragon, mother-in-law to the dauphin who would become King Charles VII, and it’s about the visionary peasant girl named Joan, who Yolande discovered and whose appeal she utilized.
Why hasn’t anyone else written about Queen Yolande before? As Goldstone puts it, the best way to ensure historical anonymity is to be a woman. I think it’s more than that, though. We love the story of Joan from a religious perspective. In order for Joan to even get to see Charles required the intervention of lots of powerful and important men. We like the narrative in which they heard Joan out, were moved by her, were converted by her, and against their training and instincts and cultural inclinations and respect for power, decided to advance her interests. That’s a great story: God converted all these powerful men, so His righteous purposes could proceed through her.
More likely, someone was behind the scenes, making it happen. And the person doing the string-pulling was a masterful, subtle, brilliant politician. Yolande of Aragon was not just Charles’ mother-in-law. She basically raised him. He was allowed to visit her as a child when his marriage contract was signed for him to marry Marie, Yolande’s daughter, and the exigencies of war made it difficult for him to leave. Yolande was the closest Charles ever had to a mother.
But Charles was irresolute. An intelligent man, and eventually a strong and capable king, early in his life he was paralyzed with indecision. The English siege of Orleans needed to be lifted, and Charles’ generals couldn’t get him to give the necessary orders. So when Yolande heard about this peasant girl who was going around saying God was speaking to her, she must have thought that getting that girl to meet her son-in-law could motivate him.
Goldstone’s research is impeccable, and the story she tells is a marvelous one. I don’t mean to suggest that Joan’s own character and conviction and courage weren’t important–Goldstone clearly loves Joan, loves writing about her, admires her. But Yolande was just as admirable and just as important. If, as some have suggested, there would have been no France but for Joan, well, there would have been no Joan but for Yolande.
As a Mormon, as a believing Christian, I want to believe in Joan’s voices, I want to believe that she was a fifteenth century Deborah, a prophetess. But her mission was . . . to kick the English out of France? God’s purposes were advanced by . . . creating France? Shaw’s play argues that nationalism was a political advance important enough to warrant divine intervention. Well, maybe.
But as a political junky, I love it. I love reading about a master politician at the height of her powers. And best of all is the post-script. Yolande ended up raising, and teaching, a favorite grand-daughter. Her name was Margaret. You may remember her from Shakespeare. That’s Queen Margaret of Anjou–Yolande schemed and plotted and finally got this pretty obscure girl married off to King Henry VI of England. And she became the central figure in the Wars of the Roses. A nice revenge for Agincourt, n’est pas?