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The Maid and the Queen

bookcover
Author: Nancy Goldstone

Goldstone stunningly pairs two women unlikely to ever meet in the same period or at court: Joan of Arc, the simple farm girl from Domremy and Yolande of Aragon, Charles VII's mother-in-law. The first woman is as iconic as the second is unknown to the general public and yet their collaboration may well have wrested France from English hands.

As a child listening to my elementary teachers year after year recount Joan of Arc's exploits in pushing back the English, I should have questioned how a poor peasant girl from the Lorraine border could have swayed Charles VII, the weak French king who had succeeded the mad Charles VI, into mounting an offensive on the city of Orléans. As it turns out, although Joan took the initiative to travel to the closest garrison town to try to convince a royal representative of the excellence of her plans, she was aided surreptitiously by René, Yolande's third son and soon-to-be duke of Bar and Lorraine.

Yolande, unlike Isabeau of Bavaria, Charles VII's mother, did not get any mention in our history books. Yet her influence and her diplomatic skills greatly enhanced the prospects of a teetering French monarchy. Caught between the Duchy of Burgundy led by Johm the Fearless and then by his son Philip the Good and Henry V, the King of England, the litte king of Bourges, as Charles Vwas derisively known, relied on the Armagnac camp to prop him up. Indecisive and irresolute, he was nevertheless anxious to be reassured about his legitimacy, and clearly Joan's prophecies, unlike those of other contemporaries', convinced him to march against the English. Goldtone also successfully weaves in the popular Romance of Mélusine, written by Jean of Arras, secretary to the duke of Berry, to justify his lord's land-grabbing moves, to illustrate the influence of medieval literature on decision-making. Mélusine, a generation later, serves as a backdrop and a symbol of miraculous deeds performed by women.

The Maid and The Queen is a fascinating account of medieval geopolitics and a vivid depiction of 15th century-France while providing its readers with psychological insights into the various important figures based on solid primary and secondary sources. On a personal note, I can only hope the next book will explore the life of the Good King René so revered in Aix-en-Provence.