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Meeting with Philippe Contamine, historian


The Thucydides association, as part of its series "Conquest of opinion - conquest of power", organized this February 14, 2012 a History Café with Philippe Contamine, medievalist historian, specialist in war in the Middle Ages, former director of the Center Jeanne d'Arc d'Orléans, member of the Institute (Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres), and author among others of the recent Jeanne D'Arc. History and dictionary (in collaboration with O. Bouzy and X. Hélary, published by Robert Laffont), new reference work on the issue. History for all was present: report.

Joan of Arc engaged?

Valentine's Day is an opportunity for Philippe Contamine to briefly return to one of the often discussed aspects of the Maid's life: her love life. The conviction process gives a version obviously unfavorable to Joan of Arc: learning that the young woman had her habits in an inn in Neufchâteau, run by a certain "La Rousse", where she frequented men of war, the fiancé of Jeanne would have demanded the termination of the engagement. Jeanne's version is quite different: she herself would have asked to break up, to respect her vow of virginity. Regardless, the engagement is well broken during an ecclesiastical trial in Toul. And we don't know if Jeanne ever celebrated Valentine's Day ...

A "recovery" rather than a "conquest"

To get into the subject, Philippe Contamine begins by contesting the title. Indeed, according to him, both Joan and Charles VII would have refused the term of "Conquest". It’s more about "Restitution", of "Recovery", and even "A return to obedience, or obedience". The stake is legitimacy: the holy kingdom must return to its natural king, "Rightful", to use the contemporary term. Philippe Contamine insists on the political dimension and affective: "In the Middle Ages, the social and political bond par excellence is love, affection: subjects love their king, and the king loves his subjects". Never before, according to the medievalist, a king of France had had to recover his kingdom, but there he must face a competitor: the King of England and of France ; it's a "Political shock" to gain the support of the French, and the entire history of the Hundred Years War is marked by this issue.

The Treaty of Troyes (1420) made Henri V, then his son Henri VI, the successor of Charles VI to the throne of France. This leads to what Philippe Contamine calls "The union of the two crowns à: a king with dual nationality, kingdoms of equal dignity which would each govern themselves independently". A tempting idea, to which, according to the historian, a "Diffuse national feeling", and the majority opinion that the Treaty of Troyes would be shameful. We then witness the development of a "Anglo-Burgundian propaganda" : the Treaty of Troyes is about peace, hence the need to take an oath. Sessions bringing together princes (such as Breton nobles in 1427), or entire populations (in Normandy, people are required to wear safe-conducts to prove their allegiance), are organized to legitimize this treaty. On the other hand, we refuse to submit "To those English people whose language we don't even know".

Charles VII, a legitimate king?

Philippe Contamine tells us that Charles VII himself would have asked himself the question of his legitimacy: "This complex character, stingy with his words, may have experienced deep discouragement, anxiety and questions before Joan's arrival: God seemed against him" . Deprived by his father Charles VI for having implicitly supported the assassination of Jean sans Peur (he was present in Montereau on September 10, 1419), and above all for having seceded by settling in Bourges, he must also face rumors of bastardy. Considered a "Parricidal and rebellious dolphin", Charles VII also experienced resounding failures, such as the battle of Verneuil in 1424. At the time when Joan joined him, he was even, according to Philippe Contamine, in "A critical situation at the military level".

The successes that follow make him more confident, and to the public's question about a possible "national feeling" of the king, the historian answers: "His national feeling was to love oneself, he embodied France".

The role of Joan of Arc

The Maid intervenes with arms, even if she is not the commander. For Philippe Contamine, it provides psychological support to people of war: "Beside them, she animates them with her deep courage". Its action also knows "A psychological preparation in the fashion of the time: rumors, rumors, about her miraculous origin, the announcement of her coming through prophecies, ... She herself claimed to be a prophetess", recalls the historian. She does not hesitate to act other than by arms, as with the famous "letter to the English" sent to the enemy on March 22, 1429. It is she again, "Thanks to his fabulous authority", says Philippe Contamine, who convinced Charles VII to go and be crowned in Reims, despite the risks, rather than attack Normandy or even Paris. Lastly, she participated in the peaceful reconquest of the towns of Troyes, Châlons and Reims, by contributing to negotiations between the king and the notables of these towns, such as Brother Richard or Bishop Jean Lesguisé. It was a question, insists Philippe Contamine, of convincing the populations to rally the cause of Charles VII "Promising mercy and forgiveness, and repenting for having been present at the murder of John the Fearless". A strategy that avoids many sieges, but fails for Paris. The historian evokes "The weakening of the enthusiasm of a demotivated Charles VII: Paris is too big a piece, and there is a need for a prior agreement with the Duke of Burgundy".

Nevertheless, Joan of Arc, despite the failure in Paris, then her capture, trial and death, still played a role in the fate of Charles VII. Because after the Treaty of Arras (1435), Charles VII ended up entering Paris by force, by reconquering Normandy (by the same process as in Champagne, "Mischief abolition letters"), then Guyenne in the 1450s. Her victory finally signifies the reality of Joan of Arc's prophecy, which according to our medievalist justifies the Maid's rehabilitation process of 1456.

The question of "national feeling"

The public calls on Philippe Contamine on the question of "national feeling", a recurring theme when discussing the story of Joan of Arc. A doctoral student in medieval history insists on the fact that this term of “national feeling”, or that of “nation”, is not present in contemporary sources, such as Chronicles of France or Philippe de Commynes. He thinks more about "A Christian perspective than a national one". Philippe Contamine replied that, on the contrary, we find these terms in certain sources, Froissart for example, but also letters from Jeanne herself (with the terms "Good and loyal French"), and that he is convinced of the existence of a "national feeling" in the 15th century, as can also be proven by "Letters of naturalness" distributed by the King of France.

As for Joan of Arc, as Patrice Sawicki of the Thucydides association reminds us, she is often amalgamated, and sometimes in a caricature, with other figures in the history of France, such as Charles Martel. For Philippe Contamine, Joan of Arc is in fact seen as "The prototype of the woman who defends her people against an invader". And the link with Charles Martel is very real: Philippe Contamine recalls an anecdote according to which the Maid discovered the sword of Charlemagne's grandfather under the altar of the church of Sainte-Catherine-de-Fierbois!

The Joan of Arc mystery

The character of the Maid continues to fascinate, and a spectator returns to this mystery and to the possible instrumentalisation of Joan of Arc, or even her invention. If Philippe Contamine concedes that the young woman may have been partly instrumentalized, he rejects what he calls "The intrigue thesis", circulated in the 15th century, then by great minds such as Pierre Bayle, Montesquieu or Voltaire, before work on the sources, in particular the conviction process, put an end to it in the 19th century. The historian says he is convinced that the character is so unlikely that he could not have been created ex nihilo: "We would not have chosen this completely uneducated 17-year-old peasant girl. She imposed herself ". Cauchon himself did not raise this thesis, although he could have done so to discredit the Maid. There is thus "A real mystery of Joan of Arc's vocation".

Philippe Contamine concludes by returning to the reasons for the conviction of Jeanne. According to him, they are above all political because "The political stake is major: the salvation of the double monarchy". The demonstration of the judges, on the other hand, is religious, because they play on one of its flaws: the claim of its access to God by the saints, and therefore not through the intermediary of the Church: "She refuses the authority of the Church, she is schismatic, stubborn and therefore heretical, so the limb must be cut to avoid contagion".

For further

- P. Contamine, O. Bouzy, X. Hélary, Jeanne D'Arc. History and dictionary, Robert Laffont (collection Bouquins), 2011, 1214 p. Read the hpt review here.

Next Café History of the Thucydides association : Tuesday March 13, 2012, with Jean-Pierre Babelon, modernist historian, Academician, specialist in the reign of Henri IV, the wars of religion and the urban history of modern France. The subject : “Henri IV: the role of women in his conquest of power”. All information on the Cafés Histoire website.


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