Joan of Arc Sword
(About): The God-Given Sword of La Pucelle
Our Joan of Arc Sword is a beautiful display sword in the form of a stylised medieval knightly arming sword. Its blade is a generous 23 inches in length, with an elegant long rebated ricasso about one third of its total length, elongating to a subtly tapering edge with an unfullered hexagonal cross-section. This gives it the appearance of a spectacular highly-polished noble blade. The blade is made from mirror-polished 440 stainless steel – this is a hard, high-carbon steel which produces fantastic display blades. The hilt is a wonderful tribute to the La Pucelle d’Orléans (Joan, the Maid of Orléans). The cross-guard is handsomely angled downward toward the blade, and is cast from antiqued solid metal. It features three fleurs-de-lys, a symbol indelibly interlinked with medieval France (keep reading for the meaning and history of the fleur-de-lys). The handgrip is a handsome black, and the pommel features another finely cast fleur-de-lys. Our Joan of Arc Sword is shipped with a gorgeous matching scabbard, which continues the triple-fleur-de-lys from the cross-guard. Both the locket and the chape feature three fleurs-de-lys, echoing the medieval trinity of faith, wisdom and chivalry that the symbol was said to represent.
Overall, this is a fantastic representation of a late-medieval arming sword, replete with the imagery that Joan of Arc herself would have been familiar with. It would be a fantastic way to represent the Maid of Orléans herself in a historical costume – but you could also use it as a shorter sword for a whole variety of uses: in a high-fantasy medieval roleplaying outfit, or as a gorgeous display piece to grace your wall with the high-medieval style of France.
(History): The Real Joan of Arc Sword
Joan of Arc (known in her time as Jeanne d’Arc) was a medieval phenomenon: a young woman, whose powerful religious visions gave her a strength of conviction in the military fortunes of France that it set the French effort in the Hundred Years’ War against the English ablaze. A peasant girl who was destined to live and die in historical obscurity in north-eastern France, at age 13, Joan began having visions of Saint Michael, Saint Catherine, and Saint Margaret. These visions told her that she was destined to drive out the English, who at that time in the early 1420s CE controlled much of Northern France. It cannot be overstated how transgressive an idea this was: whilst powerful women wielding political power and influence in their own right were not unheard-of in France in that period, the idea that a peasant woman could play any such role would have been absurd at first, and later deeply blasphemous and threatening to the Church. At age 16, she managed to persuade a local noble to give her an escort to beg an audience with the Dauphin (the French crown-prince, future King Charles VII) in the Royal Court at Chinon. And so, with her two noble companions Jean de Metz and Bertrand de Poulengy, she set out across occupied France, cutting her hair short and donning the garb of a man; although this seemed merely expedient and unremarkable at the time, it was the charge of cross-dressing that would seal her fate at her trial by the Burgundian clergy but two years later.
The Sword in the Altar
On the way to this first meeting with the Dauphin, Joan was told by her guardian angels that the sword of Charles Martel was hidden nearby – he had taken the very sword he had used to cast back the Ummayad Muslims who had invaded Gaul, and had buried it in the hope that she might find it centuries later, and thus use it to liberate France. She sent her trusted boon companion Jean de Metz to fetch it from its burial place behind the altar at the pilgrimage monastery of Sainte-Catherine-de-Fierbois. At first, the monks had no clue as to what Jean meant, but to their astonishment, their search turned up an ancient sword: the very blade of Charles Martel himself! Spurning a scabbard for the weapon, Joan carried this, the original Joan of Arc Sword, by her side always throughout the rest of the campaign.
Although, dear reader, this is of course very unlikely to be true! This version of the tale of Joan’s discovery of the sword is taken from Jean Chapelain’s epic poem La Pucelle, ou la France Delivrée (‘The Maid, or France Delivered’), written in 1656 CE, at least two centuries after Joan’s martyrdom. It reproduces well known medieval tropes, drawing on much earlier folks-tales from the early-medieval era which use the idea of magic swords with grand heritage to impart their heroes with a sense of epic purpose connected to greater historical missions. But Chapelain’s tall tale might well have been inspired by the real-life story of Joan of Arc’s sword – one which she herself was forced to tell at her trial. At Joan’s trial, she is confronted by the interrogators, who asked if it was true that her sword was buried behind the altar of the church of St. Catherine (clearly this was a contemporary rumour!) – Joan says that it was, and that she was instructed to find a sword inscribed with five crosses there by her Voices. There is no mention of Charles Martel, the legendary Frankish King, whose addition was likely added by Chapelain to ground the story of Joan in the realm of French national mythmaking. But the sword is clearly of great importance to the interrogators. Along with the armor given to her by the Dauphin and her battle-standard, it made up the symbology of command: one which the clergy felt was doubly blasphemous for her to claim, both on grounds of her gender, and of her low birth. They also attempt to trick her into admitting to having ‘blessed’ the sword by wishing good luck upon it, or laying it upon the altar in St. Catharine’s church, again to reinforce her profanity in idolatry.
A Knight’s Offering
Other contemporary writers also shed light on what might be perhaps the most likely account of the origin of ‘the’ Joan of Arc sword. Jean Chartier was a contemporary Benedictine scribe who wrote extensively about this period of history, and it seems that he recognised the importance of La Pucelle. In his writings, the Dauphin offers Joan any sword she wishes, and she asks for a fine sword from Sainte-Catherine-de-Fierbois – one which her Voices have told her will be there (so far, so similar). The church had become a destination for soldiers offering weapons in thanks for the protection of the Saint, and a blacksmith was sent from the court at Tours to the monastery to choose the best weapon he could find there. They did indeed find a fine sword – in a chest behind the altar. Whilst this still retains a little of the Arthurian about it, it does feel like a more realistic tale than a long-buried relic. This sword was shattered by Joan whilst she was beating a prostitute with it (apparently a recurring event in her tale) after the failed Siege of Paris. This was taken to be a grave superstitious omen by her followers, and indeed by Jean Chartier, whose account of Joan finishes with the words ‘it is well known that after this sword was broken, Joan did not prosper in arms for the profit of the King or otherwise, as she had done before’. Whilst we are sure this had great moral significance for the medieval reader, we at Medieval Ware recommend this as an important lesson in good sword maintenance.
(Curiosity): The Fleur-de-Lys
For a symbol so instantly recognisable as the fleur-de-lys (also spelled fleur-de-lis, and sometimes referred to as fleur-de-luce), this heraldic ornament is surrounded by a surprising amount of debate as to its origin. The symbol is a very simple one: three petals bound by a ring (or ‘knop’, in heraldic terminology) and a triple-stalk. Its first cast-iron appearance in its recognisable form is on the Royal Seal of Louis VII, who ruled in the second half of the 12th-century CE. Louis, the last King to refer to himself as ‘King of the Franks’ before Phillip II changed his honorific to ‘King of France’, is depicted on the seal bearing a sceptre in his left hand, and in his right he has a fleur-de-lys. This depiction should make it clear the presumed origin of the symbol: ‘fleur-de-lis’ literally means ‘lily’ in French, and although some historians maintain that this is the flower which it is intended to represent, it seems much more likely that it is fact a yellow iris. In the medieval period, these were referred to as ‘Leys’ or ‘Lies’ in German, so it seems very possible that they were the ‘fleur-de-lys’ in northern France. Another possibility is that is literally a ‘flower of the Lys’, from the River Lys valley, an area dominated by the Salian Franks in the Dark Ages. By the High Middle Ages, the fleur-de-lys had become associated with three high-minded religious values: faith, wisdom and chivalry. By the reign of Louis VIII, the French monarchy’s coat of arms were the familiar scattering of golden fleur-de-lys on a blue field. In 1376, Charles V simplified the arms into a simple three fleur-de-lys on a blue field – this would have been the Trininty-within-a-Trinity symbol familiar to Joan of Arc and her contemporaries.
The Long Shadow of the Iris
The fleur-de-lys was used as a royal symbol of France by the Capetian dynasty all the way up until the French Revolution without interruption. The de-royalisation of French public life during the Revolution meant that the old Bourbon flag – a white flag with gold fleurs-de-lys, was replaced with the modern, ordered Tricolore in 1790. Although Napoleon drew on much of the residual grandeur of the overthrown Ancien Régime, he did not restore the fleur-de-lys, even going to far as having them removed from the scabbard of Joyeuse, the French imperial regalia’s sword, which purported to be the sword of Charlemagne himself (although the fleur-de-lys were certainly a much later addition). The Bourbon Restoration after the fall of Napoleon briefly saw the re-adoption of the ancestral Bourbon fleur-de-lys flag – but the fleur-de-lys was flown for the last time as a symbol of French royal authority in 1830, when the Bourbon monarchy was replaced by their cousins the House of Orléans in the July Revolution. Louis-Phillippe, who assumed the throne, demurred to continue the use the Bourbon flag, selecting the Tricolore as the official flag of France from then onward. Although French postage stamps and individual départments still use the fleur-de-lys, it has not been used in an official capacity by the French state since.
An interesting post-script is that it was very nearly resurrected again! After the overthrow of Napoleon III’s Second French Empire, the early governments of the French Third Republic considered restoring the monarchy, and offered the throne to the Bourbon pretender Henri, Comte de Chambord. Henri would only accept on the condition of restoring the Bourbon flag (complete with fleur-de-lys) – which the Republican government could not accommodate. With this major stumbling block insurmountable, these plans were eventually shelved. Our Joan of Arc Sword contains centuries of history, stretching far beyond the days of La Pucelle – how will you use yours?
- Total length: 29 ½ inches
- Blade length: 23 inches
- Blade material: 440 stainless steel, mirror polish
- Guard and pommel material: Cast metal