Title: The Maid and the Queen: The Secret History of Joan of Arc
Author: Nancy Goldstone
Release Date: March 29, 2012
Publisher: Viking Adult
Genre: Non-Fiction, History, Biography
Rating: 4 out of 5
Though the story of Joan of Arc is well known, it’s less clear how an uneducated peasant woman in the 15th century could lead an army, guided by the divine voices in her head. Nancy Goldstone attempts to answer that complicated question by presenting a part-biography, part-history featuring Yolande of Aragon, queen of Sicily and champion of the Dauphin.
Yolande of Aragon has become a footnote in history books, it seems. Though Joan of Arc is still very well known, Yolande’s role in history has been lost. It’s a shame, because this smart and capable leader was one of the most powerful women of her time. Not only that, but without Yolande of Aragon, Goldstone argues, Joan of Arc never would have been able to ascend through the French ranks as she did. Therefore, Goldstone begins her history with this fascinating woman, to help the reader understand the groundwork that is in place before Joan.
Goldstone does an excellent job establishing the history behind Joan in The Maid and the Queen. The first third of the book barely mentions the nineteen-year-old girl as, instead, Goldstone focuses on Yolande and the political tensions simmering in Europe. She explains the situation in France in detail, as well as the war between France and England. Readers come to understand who the Dauphin was, how he was displaced, and exactly how the cause Joan was fighting for came to be. It’s very well done, and with this background, the reader is able to understand exactly how Joan came to be so powerful.
Joan’s story is well-known, so those very familiar with her story might skim the sections of The Maid and the Queen outlining her life and her rise to power (though the role Yolande of Aragon played in that is very interesting). But where Goldstone excels is in the third section, after Joan’s capture by the English. Goldstone provides actual documentation from Joan’s trial in order to support her claims, and it’s incredibly convincing. She does an excellent job making her case over and over again over the course of the book.
Though The Maid and the Queen can be dry at times, it’s still a fascinating read. It’s really interesting to see the unique circumstances that allowed Joan to become larger than life; it’s arguable that without the historical backdrop and Yolande of Aragon, Joan would have died a natural death, a forgotten peasant woman of the fifteenth century. Whether you’re interested in history or just intrigued by the woman who was Joan of Arc, this is definitely a solid historical read.