Much has been and will continue to be written about Jeanne d’Arc. (Joan of Arc in English) Her story is one of the strangest and yet one of the most compelling stories to have really happened. If it had been made up it would have been dismissed as unbelievable. Many small mysteries still remain concerning her life and mission. We do not have for example a clear idea of when she was born for one.1
One small mystery is the question of what precisely happened to her after her recantation in Rouen before she recanted her recantation. In other words was Jeanne raped?
Two brief articles reject this idea on the grounds that it is contradicted by Jeanne’s own testimony afterwards and shortly before her execution.2 These arguments are flawed in many respects.
In order to get the argument straight that I am making a quick go through of what do we mean by the term rape? Rape recently has acquired the connotation of any sort of sexual assault. In fact in Canada "Rape” is no longer an actual offence it has been replaced by “Sexual Assault”. The only distinction is between attempted and completed versions of the offence.
The offence itself is basically physical assault of a sexual nature this replaced the old idea of “rape”. The reason was that traditionally “rape’ was an extremely narrow type of offence. To put it most bluntly “rape” was traditionally coerced penetration by a penis into a women’s vagina. In Some jurisdictions there was the requirement was that the penetration had to result in ejaculation into the vagina for “rape” to have occurred.3
It is important to note that with this definition of rape, forcible penetration of either the anal or oral orifices was not “rape”, neither was any form of sexual assault that did not involve penis penetration of the vagina. Thus in this definition there was no such an offence as Homosexual rape. Further such penetration could not partial or momentary it had to be “full and complete”. Not surprisingly given that rape is frequently extremely traumatic for the victim this helped to make it hard to prove.4
There is no need here to go into the various myths about rape or the fact that until recently rape was subject to a whole series of victim blaming myths that made it hard for women to come forward let alone prove that a rape had occurred.5
It is here pertinent to know that because “rape” until recently required a very specific act that the victim in a trial for “rape” was frequently subjected to detailed questioning about the exactly what happened. An experience that was not surprisingly quite upsetting and demoralizing to the victim being subject to such intimidating questioning. Thus a Defence Attorney would ask questions about exactly when and how the alleged assailant had penetrated her. That combined with myths and sometimes the legal requirement that a rape victim be of “chaste” character intimidated many rape victims into not testifying.6
Now the reason why this is important is that during the time of Jeanne d’Arc “rape” was in fact conceived of in precisely the manner described; basically forcible penis penetration of the vagina. Penetration of other bodily orifices other than the vagina was not “rape”. Thus a women who was sexually assaulted but not vaginally raped was not only still a virgin in that so long has her vagina had not been penetrated and her hymen remain intact she was still a virgin, but that she had not been “raped”.
Before during and after Jeanne d’Arc’s time virginity was highly valued in Christian society as an indication of purity and virtue. Virgins were believed to have a special sanctity and power. To lose that was to lose a special sort of access to God. Jeanne d’Arc believed and was believed by others to have had through her virginity special access to God; a special purity that gave her a sort of divine power that enabled her to accomplish great things.7
There is no doubt that Jeanne d’Arc valued her virginity and believed that it sanctified her mission. It is also important to remember that loss of virginity through rape was believed to sully not the perpetrator(s) but the victim. The victim became a “broken”, tainted, sullied person and frequently un-marriageable and a source of shame. That this was stunningly unfair to the victim is obvious.
We know that after Jeanne’s recantation of her alleged heresies she was led back to prison and there put on women’s clothing. We know that she wore men’s clothing not just as a sign of her mission but has a way of de-sexing herself and preserving her sanctity as a virgin by making her both sexless and frankly harder to violate because men's clothing of the time period were harder than women’s clothing to take off.8
By this time Jeanne was in emotional turmoil because of her recantation, emotionally weak and shattered; the long months of the trial and imprisonment having quite shattered her physically and emotionally. Finally her sanctity had been stripped away she was no longer a divine figure but a heretic, associated in myth with sexual irregularity and wantonness, and on top of that she was an admitted heretic, along with no longer being so to speak a honorary man. She was also now more physically vulnerable due to now wearing women’s clothing.9
She was then in this truly abject state assaulted.
On top of the horror of denying her mission and her long prison ordeal she was now subject to a vicious brutal intimate violation. That she was able to draw herself together and recant her recantation and endure the inevitable death by fire she would draw has a relapsed heretic is truly extraordinary.
Some authors10 mention that Jeanne afterwards denied that she had been raped and stated that she was still a virgin. They then go on to say how can we possibly believe that such a wicked thing has to say that Jeanne was a liar. Well aside from shifting from the men who at the very least tried to rape her and who should be along with the authorities who let it happen and be the objects of moral censure, this is rather like straining at a moral nat and a totally misplaced moral condemnation.
Joan was probably close if not in a total breakdown frame of mind when several men at least tried to rape her. I rather doubt given her all too likely state of mind that she was able too or much wanted to remember clearly what happened to herself. Further given the very narrow definition of what was considered “rape” at the time, Joan could have been violated in many ways and still preserve what would then have been called her virginity. Certainly given the status of virginity at the time and its importance to Jeanne I would think it possible she didn’t want to think to closely about what happened to herself.
Further Jeanne was a strong capable young women it is possible that she was able to fight long and hard enough to preserve what she considered to be her virtue and prevent penile penetration of her vagina. Thus preserving in her times and her own eyes her essential purity.
Frankly if Jeanne lied or deceived herself into thinking she had not been “raped”, it is nothing to get upset about. Under the circumstances it is entirely understandable and human not some wicked lie that besmirches her character.
Thus I would conclude the following.
1, Jeanne was certainly according to modern definitions of “rape” raped.
2, Jeanne's jailers were criminally remiss in allowing it to happen.
3. Jeanne was almost certainly in extreme emotional turmoil at the time.
4. The above along with the horror of the actual attack may have led Jeanne to not remember all of the attack and thus she genuinely thought that she had preserved herself according to her societies definition of a virgin as someone who has never been penetrated vaginally by a penis.
5. Less likely than the above Jeanne may have remembered the attack but lied. A lie that is perfectly understandable given her societies morality.
6. More likely than 4 or 5 Jeanne although not able to fight off the attack was able to preserve her virginity intact according to her societies definition of virginity.
What is clear is that this horror was part of the process by which Jeanne became a martyr and like her imprisonment and death by fire inexcusable.
1. Warner, Marina, Joan of Arc, Penguin Books, London, 1981, pp. 33.
2. Fein, Judith Was Joan Raped in Prison?, Saint Joan of Arc Center, Here, and Williamson, Allen, Was Joan of Arc Raped?, Joan of Arc Archive Here.
3. Brownmiller, Susan, Against Our Will, Bantam Books, New York, 1975, pp. 6-22, Bourke, Joanna, Rape, Virago, New York, 2007, pp. 5-20, Canadian Criminal Code, s. 752 Here.
4. IBID, Brownmiller, pp. 285-296.
5. Bourke, pp. 21-49.
6. Ibid, Bourke, pp. 21-85, Brownmiller, pp. 387-420.
7. Warner, pp. 35-45, 238.
8. Footnote 1, See also Warner, pp. 165, 174-176.
9. Warner, pp. 126-145.
10. Footnote 2.