33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on March 30, 2012
The legend of Joan of Arc has always been well known: The Maid of Orléans, poor and uneducated, touched with divine guidance, led the armies of France to key victories over the English, and was burned at the stake by her captors at the tender age of 19. Twenty-five years after her death, she was labeled a martyr and canonized in 1920. That's the story. Simple. Majestic. Powerful. Yet as we recognize the 600th anniversary of her birth this year (the date is unknown as the practice of recording the dates of non-noble births were not in effect in the 15th century), Nancy Goldstone tells us that, up until now, we have only heard half the story. With THE MAID AND THE QUEEN, history is opened to illustrate a connection between Joan and the oft-forgot Queen of Sicily, Yolande of Aragon.
Who is Yolande of Aragon, and just what part did she play in the story of Joan of Arc? Beautiful, ambitious, and educated in the manner of the men of her time, Yolande was one of the most powerful women of the Middle Ages. France was embroiled in the Hundred Years War with England and Burgundy. The throne of France was in upheaval, with Charles VII unable to claim his right due to the occupation by England and the betrayal of his parents (they declared he could not be King as he was the product of an affair by Queen Isabeau). Fearing for his life, Charles fled to the Queen of the Four Kingdoms: Yolande of Aragon. She would provide him protection and a wife, her daughter Marie, and begin to use her political acumen and impressive network of spies to see that her son-in-law could claim his throne. Some of her ploys backfired, such as the assassination of Charles's cousin, but she was soon driven more than ever to find the one who would bolster Charles and turn the tide against the English.
That "one" would turn out to be Joan. Growing up in Domrémy on the farm of her father, situated in the duchy of Bar, Joan had a connection to Yolande. Yolande of Bar, mother of Yolande of Aragon, held the duchy as her ancestral home, and throughout history it was loyal to the king of France. At the time of Joan's youth, Domrémy was on the front lines of conflict, with the loyalists of Burgundy just across the river. Yolande of Aragon had even manipulated to have her uncle, the duke of Bar, select her son, René, as a successor, who would steadfastly hold Bar and Lorraine for Charles. Goldstone thus acknowledges that by the simple nature of the size of the region and by Joan's later requests for men from the duke, there is no way she would not have known who René was, or his connections. And since Yolande was seeking a heroine, one who was touched and who could kindle the fires of valiant combat for her king, the fact that Joan began to hear voices at around age 13 only drew the attention of the Queen and her people --- in particular, René, who set in motion the acts by which she would gain audience to Charles.
THE MAID AND THE QUEEN is divided into three sections: the life of Yolande, the life of Joan, and the wrap-up of the events following the life of Joan, the impact on France, and the final years of Yolande's life. This template serves the story very well. So much of the groundwork for Joan was in place before she was born, and showing the life of Yolande goes a long way to making the case for her involvement in the events to come. Citing medieval sources only written in French as well as Joan's trial documentation, the notion that Yolande pulled the strings that led to the success of France are quite plausible.
Goldstone weaves a remarkable dual biography. The intrigues of the history and the miraculous unfolding of the story of Joan make the book seem as gripping as any novel. Among the great positives is that it moves at an incredibly readable pace. One of the drawbacks to this is that so much more could have been laid out and explained, doubling the book's size. Perhaps others will follow in her footsteps and take up this line of inquiry. Until then, THE MAID AND THE QUEEN stands as a fascinating new take on the legacy and legend of Joan of Arc, and a great introduction to the oft-overlooked Queen of Sicily.
Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Joan is a most endearing, and at times, unnerving, figure, regardless of whether or not we believe she heard voices (or what kind of voices, or to what purpose); but, for the historian or biographer she can only be described as a loaded subject (being both a political and religious phenomena).
So, when I read that a new study was coming out about her for the 600th anniversary I was not surprised, but the author, Nancy Goldstone, did give me pause, mostly with a quiver of excitement. Would Joan finally have a biographer who could make her improbable, short life the stuff of immediacy, with a palpable authenticity that we have missed despite numerous efforts to give us the "real" Joan?
Just on reputation alone I guessed Goldstone would be up to the challenge, she is one of the truly elite historians, she knows her subjects with a thoroughness that has overwhelmed even me, and I am a fool for mountains of research. It was a surprise, anyway, that in this parallel biography of a Saint and a Queen, Goldstone pursued a macro approach, one of assessment, vision, a summary only possible with historians who do know every last letter, document, writ, who inhale archives as if oxygen itself. From this massive saturation of information they distill an essence.
Goldstone, then, is not doing a straight chronological history, nor a political or social essay, she is stepping back and considering this phenomena, as Joan was seen in her own day, and as we see her after 600 years. There are also chapter ending statements, micro elements, the details or summary statements that pinpoint just when the whole narrative changed, when the dynamics of opinion and history writing coincide, or diverge, and left in the middle, stripped of all sorts of academic-speak, is a quite fine revelation of an era, a political system, a religious architecture that could sustain a young peasant from Domremy with a mission, and the Queen who could see that mission imbued with spiritual authority.
In many ways this was a new to me from Goldstone's earlier efforts, far more accessible to the non-history reader, and I think her best one yet. It took me a couple chapters before I realized what she was doing was not only the best course but an inspired one. One of the "problems" any writer has to address is a Subject for whom we have no surviving documents to reveal their personalities and decisions. Joan, in contrast, had extensive interrogation records that we can still read for ourselves, indeed, every serious biography or study of Joan would include them.
What Goldstone did is quite interesting from the perspective of having that rare Subject for whom we do have their own words but stretching past the almost cement stereotype of what we "see" and hear in those words. Is the Joan of the interrogations the only Joan, the full Joan? She was after all, a prisoner, more or less abandoned by the would-be king that she made an anointed real-king, still perhaps only 18 or 19 years old, completely illiterate, without counsel, and in what can only be described as an adversarial, defensive, vulnerable position. Any one word or phrase that could be used to damn her would be found, through endless sessions and repetitive questioning to catch her out. If we wanted to hear the Joan who was not being interrogated, what would that Joan sound like? Who is that Joan?
This is what I suspect Goldstone wanted to ask as well, and by couching Joan's very brief micro story within the context of the macro picture (court politics, gender politics, religious zealotry and religious hypocrites who lived side by side in Joan's world) she achieves what I have never seen even tried. The means by which she cuts through the "Joan-being-interrogated" persona that we all know too well to the fuller grasp of this odd young woman, is the device of Queen Yolanda of Aragon. Now that lady deserves a biography of her own! Fortunately, for the readers, we do get some measure of this equally resolute, indomitable, highly ethical woman in the process of getting to the essence of Joan of Arc.
What an achievement. For those who are new to Goldstone use this as a springboard to her earlier efforts on the Provencal Sisters Who Ruled Europe (Eleanor of Aquitaine et al) and the almost encyclopedic study of Joanna I Queen of Naples; these are dense and certainly complex studies, but give them a look, then go back and reread this latest one.
You will see that Goldstone made the right call for this parallel biography. Joan was not the stuff of every day queens and rulers and marriage politics and ambitious, duplicitous courtiers, diplomats and counselors. She was an exception, an oddity, an almost mythical heroine made flesh in her own time; her interrogation statements only serve to accentuate just how bizarre she must have appeared to her own peers. Most of us are gratified when she is rude, cursory, annoyed, disgusted with the pointed, harassing, sometimes inane questioning by her "betters," and with her life in the balance.
Goldstone chose to not retread all that we already know, but reveal how Joan was seen and perhaps used, for both the best reasons (Yolanda) and the worst reasons (Charles VII, Joan's feckless dauphin).
Now, for those who really love diving into a subject, read Goldstone's Maid alongside Juliet Barber's Conquest: the English Kingdom of France 1417-1450 (2009). These are both literary and historical bookends, really; Goldstone tells us about Joan and Yolanda from a French bias (it's true, but I expected that) while Barber is Henry V's perhaps most devoted and adoring recent biographer, and this book on the English "kingdom" (fantasy, actually) in France is by necessity the way Joan's "goddams" saw the war, the world, and by extension, how they saw her. Their writing style is also quite different, with Barber following a more conventional (but not unsympathetic view of Joan, at least) format; it is a nice contrast for Goldstone and I think really allows the Reader to appreciate just how inspired was her decision to rethink how to write about Joan.
And for hardcore readers, I throw in the study by Charles T Wood, Joan of Arc & Richard III: Sex, Saints, and Government in the Middle Ages (1988). This is a volume of academic essays, and certainly too dry for the new reader to history, but, again, for point of comparison to both the English-centric and French-centric views from Barber and Goldstone, Wood's example does highlight what the historian is dealing with in a subject like Joan, and why Nancy Goldstone surpasses all those hurdles with ease.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on April 14, 2012
This is the first real biography that I have ever read and I must say that I really enjoyed it. I thought I was getting myself into another historical fiction novel, however, when discovering that this was in fact a biography I wasn't at all disappointed. This was quite interesting for me to learn about a time in history which my experience comes from watching Wishbone or other such kids shows which depict Joan of Arc. I loved learning about Yolande as well. She was a really powerful figure and knew how to best wield that power.
I found Goldstone to have a sense of humor in her writing that occasionally made me chuckle to myself. On the whole it was neither boring nor dry. There were parts that I was able to skip though when I felt like I was getting bogged down with story. Also I was wondering why it took so long to end after Joan was martyred. This was because Goldstone not only showed how the war ended (I skipped that part, sorry) but also how Joan's name was restored. I had no idea that the French didn't really like her either after she died so I am very happy that we view her as a heroine now rather than a heretic.
If you are looking for a biography of this time or just want to improve your knowledge in general this is a quick way to do it. (It was a nice SHORT read)
Thanks to Netgalley and Viking Publishing for giving me a chance to read this for review!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on July 23, 2012
Nancy Goldstone has made a significant contribution to popular English-language knowledge about Joan of Arc. FYI, the information in this book about how an ignorant peasant girl was able to come to the court in exile of Charles VII and gain access to the king has been told in French several times, most recently by Colette Beaune and Olivier de Bonzy.
The story of Joan is only a small part of this book. Goldstone spends most of her time explaining who was Yolande of Aragon, the Queen of Sicily who was incidentally Duchess of Anjou and Duchess of Maine as well. She also tells the tale of a so-called best selling romance of the era about a woman named Melusine and how she helped the rightful claimant to some noble title gain his title back. Yolande and many people were inspired by this story, escpecially people backing Charles VII who had been dismissed by his own parents as a bastard. Charles VI who reigned from 1380 to 1422 was mentally ill and suffered from bouts of insanity. He was king when the English won the battle of Agincourt. He agreed to allow his daughter to marry Henry V of England and to proclaim Henry the rightful successor by denying his own son.
Goldstone also has to explain the murky politics of France with an insane king whose uncles and brother were conspiring against each other to govern France and take the wealth for themselves. One uncle carved out Burgundy as an independent power. His son plotted to assassinate the king's brother. Eventually that son was murdered himself in revenge. The death of Henry V prior to the death of Charles VI left the English claim to the throne of France on the head of an infant Henry VI with Charles VII hiding out south of the Loire.
My one quibble with Goldstone is that she failed to reveal that Joan of Arc was not a poor peasant girl, as long as we understand that poverty is a relative term. Joan's father was a relatively wealthy peasant. IOW, he owned more than enough land to feed his family. He was able to employ other peasants to farm his land. Joan was able to dream her dreams and encounter her voices because her family was not ground down into real poverty.
Make no mistake, though, this is a good book that tells a necessary tale revealing the background about Joan, her judges, and her two trials--the one that condemned her and the one that overturned that condemnation more than 20 years later. It also reveals another lady whose party at court helped Joan gain access to the king and pushed him to fight the English.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on November 2, 2013
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I was very interested when I first found this book. I am a huge fan of Joan of Arc and had also held in interest in Queen Yolande as well. While the author is a decent writer, I found myself extremely bored at times. I am a huge history buff and even the driest of stories can keep me interested but the content the author in this book tried to weave together just didn't work for me, I found myself bored often. Also, I had to stop reading this book after finding that it seems the author's main goal is to discredit Joan. Don't get me wrong I am not religious, but the way the author seems to try and disprove all of Joan's voices just seems out of place. If she wanted to go with a book to try and use facts to discredit Joan that would be one thing, but she is doing it in a book supposed to be a dual biography about her. I had to stop reading not long after she basically said Joan was delusional and tried to use "facts" to explain all of Joan's miracle knowledge, and then topped it off with saying nobody cared when Joan died. Granted I know the nobles were glad to be rid of her, the common people held her in high esteem and was obviously later made a Saint. Overall I wouldn't recommend this book unless you are looking for alternative explanations into Joan's mysteries. I personally was hoping for more of a dual biography myself.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
I am familiar with the story of Joan of Arc but not the back story of how she received a strong push from a woman named Yolande of Aragon. Yolande is a mystery to me. She was strong, smart, convincing, and a great chessmaster. I call her a chessmaster because in order to play the game of chess you have to be strategic, patient, have a good game plan and anticpate your opponent's moves. Also as the saying goes "Behind every great man is a great woman".
However as much as I liked learning about Yolande, I must admit that in the beginning I found her childhood and story a bit dry. Then came JOan's story and I kind of skimmed over it as I already knew how it would end. The last third of the book was what I liked. It talked about Joan and Yolande and how they came to be. Yolande becamse more of a prominent fiigure in thie book then to me. She had a reason for everything that she did. Again still in awe of what Joan did. One of the best parts of this whole book is the foot notes. They were like extra bonuses to this book. They gave a quick fact about a person or event. I almost would have rather read the foot notes then the book. People wanting to learn more about Joan may be a little disappointed as this book is more focused on Yolande and the back story then just Joan. However if you do enjoy history then you will enjoy this book. The Maid and the Queen is some good reading.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 22, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
The Maid and the Queen... is a non-fiction historical narrative about the role that Yolande of Aragon played in the eventual end of the Hundred Years War. The title of the book is misleading because the book revolves mainly around Yolande and her achievements while Joan of Arc plays a minor role in the narrative. In my opinion, the accounts of the sacrifices and intrigues Yolande was involved in and her role in ending the war between France and England are truly more fascinating than Joan of Arc's martyrdom. Nancy Goldstone spins the tale beautifully and weaves the mysterious and the intrigues into an understandable and readable narrative perfect for history lovers. Although The Maid and the Queen... is beautifully written, there are several aspects that are purely conjecture with no historical evidence - only coincidences and guesswork, especially the connection between Yolande and Joan (the premise of the book). Although The Maid and the Queen... is a good read, it should be noted that the author did not prove her thesis, "So accomplished a statesman was Yolande, and so cleverly did she hide her tracks, that the myth that Joan of Arc appeared at Charles's court and convinced the king of his birthright unaided by any mortal being has stood unchallenged for nearly six hundred years. Still, if it is accepted, as it is often said that without Joan of Arc there would be no France, it is also true that without Yolande of Aragon there would have been no Joan" (249). There are some coincidences that Goldstone points out such as her son being in the position to help Joan meet with the Dauphin that does not solidly prove the premise of the narrative. It does, however, make for an interesting tale.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
The story of Joan of Arc has passed from history into legend, in the process losing many of the details that made her so fascinating. Nancy Goldstone's fine new book is a dual biography of Joan and of the woman who made her career possible: Yolande of Aragon, Queen of Sicily.
Fifteenth century France was a land in turmoil. Riven by conflict with England and internecine strife within its borders, France by the late 1420s was on the verge of defeat. At that moment a French peasant girl appeared out of nowhere and convinced the uncrowned King of France to allow her to lead his armies. Winning victory after victory, Joan revived the French fighting spirit that enabled the kingdom to eventually defeat the English and put an end to the long running civil wars, even though she herself was captured and executed only a year or so after her first battle. That's the story that has come down to us over the centuries. Goldstone shows that the story is true, but reveals unexpected dimensions behind it that eliminate some of the more fantastical elements but maintain and enhance the drama.
Yolande of Aragon is revealed by Goldstone to have been one of the prime movers behind the career of Joan and the development of France during the fifteenth century. Her long and active life amidst the extraordinarily complex dynastic politics of the period makes for fascinating reading. Goldstone makes the point that while women seemed to live life off stage, they nevertheless often played important roles through their influence on the men who were their sons, husbands, and fathers. Yolande's career definitely proves the point, as does the better known but shorter one of Joan of Arc. Goldstone's ability to tell a dramatic story will ensure that Yolande's life, as well as those of the other women in this story, will no longer go unnoticed.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 17, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
For me, there is no more intriguing character in history than Joan of Arc. I've read a dozen books seeking answers to the questions of how she managed to achieve what she did, and what role she played in the ultimate French victory in the Hundred Years War (recognizing that the war went on after her death for more years than she lived!).
As to the first question, author Nancy Goldstone provides an original (at least for a trade book) and convincing argument explaining how and why Charles VII's mother-in-law, Yolande of Aragon, was able to grease Joan's path into court. I won't belabor the details. Buy the book.
As to Joan's impact on the subsequent course of the war, opinions range from move on, nothing to see here (CONQUEST by Juliet Barker), to considerable, because she stopped the French slide and put some oomph in the fighting spirit that the soldiers, at least, never lost. Goldstone holds that Joan's tragic and unjust death had no effect on the war, that if failed to provide a moral turning point one might expect. French politics, that is, French court politics, remained far too poisoned to let the army do its job. This book, by the way, provides an excellent general account of the shifting relationships within Charles' court and with Burgundy, and between France, Burgundy, and Bar. Goldstone makes clear that Joan's hometown may have been on the periphery of France, but its citizens were steeped in knowledge of what was going on.
But Joan had by then already made her mark, among the soldiers. She had, by her example, taught the French that the thing could be done. After Joan, they kept the French in the game, bleeding England's finances, until, once the political situation was resolved, they got the job done.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 16, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
When I first heard about this book, I thought the author was going to detract from Joan of Arc. Gladly, I was wrong. This book adds a new dimension to her story and introduces the reader to another remarkable woman, Yolande of Aragon. The book starts with an introduction to Yolande and her remarkable life. The middle concentrates on Joan and her connections to Yolande. The last third of the book continues Joan's story after her death. While there is no concrete proof presented in the book about a lot of the connections between the two women, they seem to stretch the possibility of coincidence. The author refers to a medieval story about Mesuline throughout, which she claims shaped many events in the books. Sometimes this seems to be a bit of a stretch but not outside the realm of possibility. The book logically presents events and is well written with a good pace that keeps the reader interested.