On this day in 1431 Joan of Arc was burned at the stake for being a heretic and wearing men’s clothes. The hussy.
The day is celebrated in France and is a Catholic holy day (although not a holy day of obligation). It’s nice that the Catholic church remember her, as it was their English contingent that tried her and found her guilty in 1431 and then it took nearly 500 years to decide that she was a saint – she was canonised in 1920. I don’t know why this annoys me, as I don’t believe in saints, but it just seems that because she was a bit active and going out there and getting something done – which isn’t the Catholic model of the passive virgin female saint – they ignored her for as long as they could. In effect, I’m allowing myself to be annoyed by the sexism of an inherently sexist institution and about the canonisation of some girl when I don’t believe in any of that nonsense. And there was me thinking I was at the very least a semi-rational human being.
Anyway! The gen on this execution and martyrdom is as follows. We all know that Joan, or Jeanne or Jehanne heard some voices telling her to go and fight for the Dauphin and to help him beat the bloody English in a war that had been going on forever and a day. The One Hundred Years War, to be precise. So she got on her horse, dressed as a man, got herself some armour and went up to see the Dauphin and told him he needed to get his arse in gear and that she was just the warrior to get him out of schtuck. Of course she said it much more politely and in French, but you get the gist.
The Dauphin was wary at first. His father, Charles VI had been barking mad (he thought he was made of glass, which on a scale of 1 to that is one of the maddest things I’ve ever heard, ranks pretty bloody highly) and he didn’t want to let some girl with visions get in front of his army if she was either mad or could be proved to be not holy enough and therefore in league with the devil. He had some ecclesiastical types check her out and while they couldn’t confirm that she had been chatting with saints Catherine, Margaret and Michael, they were able to tell him that she was a top lass, very virtuous and properly holy and stuff. That was enough for him. To be honest, he was so fuckered at the time that he was prepared to try anything. This is hardly surprising; one can’t imagine a king in that period being all “Yeah, a girl, that’s just the secret weapon I need!”
So, young Joan, got on her warhorse, with a standard and a sword and marched out in front of the French army to give the English a bit
of a seeing too. And she did. Thanks to her, the English fortunes went into reverse and she did what the saints had told her to do; she got the Dauphin crowned King Charles VII of France. This is all pretty amazing really. She was an illiterate girl from a village. She had no training in warfare, she was about 19 years old and yet somehow, she managed to plan, strategize and bring victory to an army that until that point had been dead on its feet. That’s the thing with Joan, it’s not that she’s a saint that makes her notable, it’s the stuff she actually did and that history shows that she did. She stands out as an utterly amazing person whose deeds are pretty much beyond explanation.
Unfortunately, although she was the cause of victories and the king getting his crown, fortune very quickly turned against her. She was captured by Burgundian forces, who weren’t on the king’s side. At this point a ransom should have been paid and she should have been handed back to her family; this wasn’t going to happen given that her family weren’t wealthy. Charles VII should have paid to have her released, but he did not, which was frankly shitty of him. Joan attempted a few escapes, but was eventually captured again and then sold by the Burgundians to the English who were not at all happy with her. What followed was a trial so dodgy that even Sepp Blatter, the head of FIFA and noted bent bastard, would have blushed at the proceedings. Joan had no one to speak for her, no recourse to legal representation, was refused the right to send word to those who could help her, including the pope and was basically stitched up like a kipper.
The transcripts of the trial show her as an uncommonly intelligent and quick woman. A lot of these can be read in George Bernard Shaw‘s Saint Joan. Shaw was so impressed by them, that he included much of Joan’s own words, verbatim, in his script. None of it mattered. The court who was trying her knew that they would execute her. They made up evidence, the ignored facts and within a short period of time found her guilty and sent her to be burned. She died in this most heinous of ways in front of a horrified crowd and at the hands of an executioner who feared for his soul, so wrong did he know this outcome to be. And then nearly 500 years later, she got to be a saint because, thankfully as well as being a top bird she’d also been a virgin. If she hadn’t been a virgin, she’d just be that bird what got burned. The Catholic church has standards to uphold after all!
Today was the birthday of Irving Thalberg, one of the greatest film producers of all times. His life was short, he died at the age of 37, but his achievements have rarely been equalled. He had a golden touch when it came to picking scripts, actors, directors and putting together films that were critical and commercial successes.
The Oscars has the Irving G Thalberg award which is given to producers whose body or work shows a consistently high level of achievement. It’s not awarded every year, because, frankly, there aren’t that many people whose body of work comes close to making them even slightly eligible.
Thalberg started work for Universal Studios at the age of 20. By the age of 21 he was the executive in charge of production at Universal City. He then moved to MGM where he was vice-president and supervisor of production. He reigned supreme until 1932 when he had a heart attack and was sidelined by Louis B Mayer, who was jealous of him, but thanks to Nicholas Schenck, who was president of Loewe’s (MGM’s parent company), this was more or less overruled and Thalberg went on to produce many more amazing films before his premature death in 1936.
He was married to Norma Shearer from 1927 until his death and they had two children. A brilliant and driven man, those of us who love movies have a lot to thank him for. Here’s a short list of some of those films:
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)
- Greed (1924)
- Flesh and the Devil (1926)
- Anna Christie (1930)
- Mata Hari (1931)
- Freaks (1932)
- Grand Hotel (1932)
- The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934)
- Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
- A Night at the Opera (1935)
- Camille (1936)