Today Joan of Arc is known primarily as a religious martyr, but what popular culture often forgets is how tightly religion and politics intertwined in her story. Her decision to raise an army and ensure that Charles VII was placed on the French throne was motivated by religious devotion, but making sure the mission succeeded required military and political savvy, two qualities that tend to mix poorly with religious piety. The longer Joan spent in the spotlight, the more her religious vocation became muddled with political concerns.
Joan of Arc’s trial testimony remains the main source from which scholars can infer her motives, but even that fails to present a clear overview of her beliefs. Pernoud and Clin note that Joan’s direct testimony underwent several transformations, including a switch from French to Latin and direct to indirect discourse:
Some speculate that Cauchon and his associates wanted two contradictory outcomes: they wanted to preserve the transcript, but they did not want Joan to seem so persuasive, and the force of her personality could be muted in indirect discourse. Their worried reaction to her replies is attested even more strikingly by the presence of several erasures in the French stenographic record.
But the most important reason why Joan of Arc’s testimony fails to provide a clear picture of her beliefs is that Joan herself lacked clarity on how best to accomplish her mission after the coronation of Charles VII. Without direction from Charles, who was committed to maintaining a truce with the Burgundians, Joan became frustrated. She “realized that the great army of the coronation, unified by a common hope, was drifting apart. The very moment of triumph—the anointing at Reims—marked an inversion of the political situation … [which] slighted ‘exploits in the field.’” Once she fell into captivity, her rhetorical cunning became her only means of asserting the power, agency, and control she once held politically and militarily, and her fixation on gaining “permission” from her saints to divulge information demonstrates that.
At two points during her trial, she tells her examiners that she is unable to answer their questions immediately, but will be allowed to answer after a period of time. This first occurs in her first public examination on 21 February 1431. When asked to reveal the nature of the revelations sent to her by God, she replies that “she would not reveal them even if her head should be cut off, … within the following eight days, she would know for sure whether she ought to reveal those things.” Eight days later, during her fifth public examination on March 1, she partially answers the question posed on February 21. She foretells that the English will “lose everything in France” within seven years; when asked how she knows this, she replies “I know this for sure by revelation that has been made to me.” The second time she defers the answering of a question occurs in her third public examination on 24...