Churchill on Joan of Arc: Joan as an Agent of Brexit? Maybe not…

Churchill on Joan of Arc: Joan as an Agent of Brexit? Maybe not…

Excerpt­ed from “Angel of Deliv­er­ance: Churchill’s Trib­utes to Joan of Arc,” pub­lished by the Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project. For the com­plete arti­cle with end­notes and added illus­tra­tions, click here.

Her gleaming, mystic figure…

Churchill waxed elo­quent on Joan of Arc in 1938. His words would like­ly not pass with today’s min­ders of Polit­i­cal Correctness:

We see her gleam­ing, mys­tic fig­ure in the midst of the pikes and arrows, and it need­ed not her mar­tyr­dom to win her can­on­iza­tion as a saint not only from the Pope but from the mod­ern world. Less enthu­si­asm would have been excit­ed if, for instance, Joan of Arc had dis­played extra­or­di­nary pro­fi­cien­cy with the cross­bow, and if his­to­ry recount­ed the numer­ous vic­tims who had fall­en to her unerr­ing aim. We are thrilled by the spec­ta­cle of a weak woman lead­ing and encour­ag­ing strong men. We do not rel­ish the idea of her killing strong men by some inge­nious appa­ra­tus; for that strips wom­an­hood of the sex-immu­ni­ty from vio­lence which is so pre­cious to the dig­ni­ty of man.

I sup­pose that will be tak­en as sol­id proof that Churchill was an incur­able misog­y­nist. In fact, no one had a greater respect for women than he—except per­haps Hilaire Bel­loc. Men, Bel­loc said, “come to look on the intel­li­gence of women first with rev­er­ence, then with stu­por, and final­ly with ter­ror.” Joan of Arc proved this to the English.

“The winner in the whole of French history”

Churchill in 1938 was writ­ing of Joan in his His­to­ry of the Eng­lish-Speak­ing Peo­ples. Laid aside dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, it  began appear­ing in 1956. Describ­ing Joan, Churchill was at his elo­quent best:

…an Angel of Deliv­er­ance, the noblest patri­ot of France, the most splen­did of her heroes, the most beloved of her saints, the most inspir­ing of all her mem­o­ries, the peas­ant Maid, the ever-shin­ing, ever-glo­ri­ous Joan of Arc. In the poor, remote ham­let of Dom­rémy, on the fringe of the Vos­ges For­est, she served at the inn. She rode the hors­es of trav­ellers, bare­back, to water. She wan­dered on Sun­days into the woods, where there were shrines, and a leg­end that some day from these oaks would arise one to save France.

It is pos­si­ble that Churchill’s orig­i­nal opin­ion was less effu­sive. In Jan­u­ary 1946 he told a lit­er­ary advi­sor, Pro­fes­sor Denis Bro­gan, that he had cor­rect­ed his Joan of Arc sec­tion “after read­ing Ana­tole France’s high­ly doc­u­ment­ed study.” He hoped that Bro­gan would not think his praise of Joan “exces­sive.” Nev­er­the­less, he had admired the Maid a long time.

An Early Appreciation

Churchill was soon aware of Joan’s qual­i­ties. In April 1908, he was simul­ta­ne­ous­ly fight­ing an elec­tion in Man­ches­ter and court­ing Clemen­tine Hozi­er. One of his cam­paign­ers was Lady Dorothy Howard, “last of the great Lib­er­al ladies,” a cham­pi­on of women’s suf­frage. “Lady Dorothy arrived of her own accord, alone and inde­pen­dent,” he wrote Clemen­tine (who was also pro-suf­frage). “I teased her by refus­ing to give a decid­ed answer about women’s votes, and she left at once for the North in a most obsti­nate tem­per.” Lat­er, after read­ing his cam­paign state­ments, “back she came and is fight­ing away.” Churchill hand­i­ly won the seat. “Lady Dorothy fought like Joan of Arc before Orleans,” he wrote Clemen­tine. “…tire­less, fear­less, con­vinced, inflexible—yet pre­serv­ing all her womanliness.”

In the First World War Churchill saw Joan-like qual­i­ties in two great French­men, Fer­di­nand Foch and Georges Clemenceau. The lat­ter rep­re­sent­ed “the French peo­ple risen against tyrants.” Foch expressed the “more ancient, aris­to­crat­ic her­itage of Joan of Arc.” Togeth­er he saw them as a “cameo…. But when they gazed upon the inscrip­tion on the gold­en stat­ue of Joan of Arc: ‘La pité qu’elle avait pour le roy­aume de France’ and saw gleam­ing the Maid’s uplift­ed sword, their two hearts beat as one.”

Joan de Gaulle: “But my bishops won’t burn him”

In May 1943, pri­or to the inva­sion of Sici­ly. Churchill cabled Eisen­how­er: “Many con­grat­u­la­tions. …Give my love to Joan of Arc.” I believe but can­not prove this referred to Charles de Gaulle, prick­ly leader of the Free French. Churchill admired de Gaulle’s fight­ing qual­i­ties, but not his con­stant inter­fer­ence and demands.

Flight Lieu­tenant James Cow­ard was an aide at Che­quers one night in 1942 when de Gaulle rang. “Oh no,” groaned the Prime Min­is­ter, “can’t you put him off? We’ve only start­ed the soup.” De Gaulle insist­ed, so Churchill went to the phone. He returned livid. “That bloody de Gaulle had the effron­tery to tell me that the French looked on him as the sec­ond Joan of Arc. I had to remind him that we had to burn the first.” This is like­ly the ori­gin of Churchill’s famous crack about de Gaulle to Bren­dan Brack­en: “But my bish­ops won’t burn him.”

Lat­er Churchill was more char­i­ta­ble: “It was said in mock­ery that he thought him­self the liv­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Joan of Arc, whom one of his ances­tors is sup­posed to have served as a faith­ful adher­ent. This did not seem to me as absurd as it looked. Clemenceau, with whom it was said he also com­pared him­self, was a far wis­er and more expe­ri­enced states­man. But they both gave the same impres­sion of being uncon­quer­able Frenchmen.”

“His Joan of Arc stance, his pugnacity, his passion…”

On 15 March 1946, after his con­tro­ver­sial “Iron Cur­tain” speech at Ful­ton, Churchill spoke in New York. Reporters asked, did he regret what he said? Slow­ly, enun­ci­at­ing each syl­la­ble, Churchill replied: “I do not wish to with­draw or mod­i­fy a sin­gle word.” This was said as much to Stal­in as his audi­ence, wrote Robert Pilpel. “It brought to mind Joan of Arc’s famous retort to the bul­ly­ing Duke de la Tremouille: ‘Thou’rt answered, old Gruff-and-Grum.'”

“Win­ston was not a mod­ern Joan,” his doc­tor Lord Moran wrote, “exalt­ed and inspired by voic­es from God.” Like Lin­coln, he dom­i­nat­ed his col­leagues by “sheer moral force.” But anoth­er Joan of Arc, Moran con­sid­ered, was what the British peo­ple received. Pro­fes­sor Man­fred Wei­d­horn expands on this thought:

Some of his great­est weak­ness­es were trans­mut­ed by the elixir of glob­al cri­sis into his great­est strengths. His fer­vid patri­o­tism, his melo­dra­mat­ic approach to events, his archa­ic think­ing, his the­atri­cal, roman­tic mode of expres­sion, his Joan of Arc stance, his pugnac­i­ty, his pas­sion for obtain­ing pow­er and lead­er­ship, his down­right obsti­na­cy, above all his con­ser­v­a­tive faith in tra­di­tion, empire, the British mis­sion and his zeal for war making—these traits were often irrel­e­vant, bor­ing, or obnox­ious. But in 1940 noth­ing else seemed to the point, and he was the only man for the challenge.

Churchill’s book Joan of Arc

Lau­ren Ford, a fre­quent illus­tra­tor of Dodd Mead books, some­times inscribed copies of “Joan of Arc” with an orig­i­nal sketch. These are high­ly prized today. (Author’s collection)

Churchill’s His­to­ry of the Eng­lish-Speak­ing Peo­ples began ser­i­al and book pub­li­ca­tion in Spring 1956. In May, Paris Match reprint­ed his pas­sage on Joan as an arti­cle, “Jeanne d’Arc” (Cohen C692/1). Then, four years after Churchill’s death, his U.S. pub­lish­ers Dodd, Mead & Co. issued the same text as a hard­back, Joan of Arc (Cohen A279). This love­ly lit­tle book, beamed at ages 8 and above, cost only $3.50.

The pub­lish­ers explained in a note that the text opens short­ly before the end of the Hun­dred Years’ War. “The events which are recount­ed were to lead at last to the break­ing for­ev­er of England’s hold over France.”

Bib­li­og­ra­ph­er Ronald Cohen says the deci­sion to pub­lish might have had some­thing to do with the illus­tra­tor, Lau­ren Ford. “She her­self wrote four books, which she also illus­trat­ed: The Lit­tle Book about God, Our Lady’s Book, The Age­less Sto­ry, and Lau­ren Ford’s Christ­mas Book. All had also been pub­lished by Dodd, Mead, where she was a fixture.”

Joan of Arc had only one print­ing and is the scarcest among extracts from Churchill’s His­to­ry. As a Churchill book­seller I encoun­tered few­er than a half-dozen copies over twen­ty years. Marc Kuritz of the Churchill Book Col­lec­tor has record­ed sale prices of $129 to $600, vary­ing with con­di­tion. Occa­sion­al­ly one finds a copy inscribed by Lau­ren Ford her­self, often with a charm­ing sketch. These sell for up to $1250.

Joan as agent of Brexit

Churchill was always ambiva­lent about France, wrote his last pri­vate sec­re­tary, Antho­ny Mon­tague Browne. His love was “sen­ti­men­tal and long-stand­ing, based on per­son­al expe­ri­ence in peace and war. But this did not deter him from tak­ing a firm line with the French if he felt it was required.” And yet in the end, thir­ty years after he spoke of Joan as “the win­ner,” Sir Antho­ny still believed she was:

WSC had quite a pan­theon of high­ly regard­ed indi­vid­u­als, his­tor­i­cal and present. It was unwise to reflect unfavourably on the for­mer, how­ev­er well-found­ed sub­se­quent neg­a­tive evi­dence might be. I was blast­ed into orbit with exu­ber­ant intel­lec­tu­al ener­gy for mak­ing some dis­parag­ing remarks about Napoleon and, what was worse, cast­ing doubts on the accu­ra­cy of some of the Joan of Arc leg­end…. His great­est hero­ine, or indeed hero for that mat­ter, was Joan of Arc.

“Toyn­bee, rather more tact­less­ly, argued that Britain’s skep­ti­cism about Europe was all the fault of Joan of Arc,” wrote John Rams­den. Joan “taught us to turn our backs on Europe” by inflict­ing heavy defeats on the invad­ing Eng­lish in the 15th cen­tu­ry. Joan as an agent of Brex­it? It seems a stretch.

The French his­to­ri­an François Ker­saudy was not quite ready to grant Joan top rank in Churchill’s pan­theon: WSC “knew the his­to­ry of France as well as any French­man, and even bet­ter than most. With his intense­ly sen­ti­men­tal and roman­tic mind, he great­ly admired ‘France’s con­tri­bu­tion to human free­dom and wis­dom’; the heroes of French his­to­ry he admired even more, first and fore­most Joan of Arc and Napoleon.”

Dans le grand drame, il était le plus grand

But did Churchill rank Joan above Napoleon? Emo­tion­al­ly per­haps, for valiant stands against heavy odds always excit­ed him. In his broad view of French his­to­ry, how­ev­er, this writer agrees with Andrew Roberts. Napoleon, whose bust Churchill kept on his desk, stood at his pin­na­cle. Joan of Arc was close behind. Third in line, I believe, was Clemenceau.

Many his­to­ri­ans might place Charles de Gaulle fourth. Churchill had more respect for him than he usu­al­ly let on, and de Gaulle repaid this on Churchill’s death. “Dans le grand drame,” he wrote Lady Churchill, “il était le plus grand.” In the great dra­ma, he was the greatest.

One thought on “Churchill on Joan of Arc: Joan as an Agent of Brexit? Maybe not…

  1. Tres bien Richard! ✌🏻🇫🇷 

    P.s. This is the one book in my col­lec­tion that my 7 year old son is drawn to. I keep find­ing it moved slight­ly. It must have a unique allure; a je ne sais pas! Giv­en its rar­i­ty, per­haps I should prompt­ly invest in a lock for my book shelves!

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