Joan didn’t hail from a place called Arc, as the typical Anglicization of her father’s surname, d’Arc (sometimes rendered as Darc or Tarc), might imply. Instead, Jehanne—or Jehanette, as she was known—grew up in Domrémy, a village in northeastern France, the daughter of a farmer and his devoutly Catholic wife. During her trial before an ecclesiastical court in 1431, Joan referred to herself only as “Jehanne la Pucelle” (“Joan the Maid”) and initially testified that she didn’t know her last name. She later explained that her father was called Jacques d’Arc and her mother Isabelle Romée, adding that in her hometown daughters often took their mothers’ surnames. In medieval France, where family names were neither fixed nor widely used, “Romée” simply designated a person who had made a pilgrimage to Rome or another religiously significant destination; other sources suggest that Joan’s mother went by Isabelle de Vouthon.
Epilepsy and Schizophrenia
Around the age of 12 or 13, Joan of Arc apparently began hearing voices and experiencing visions, which she interpreted as signs from God. During her trial, she testified that angels and saints first told her merely to attend church and live piously; later, they began instructing her to deliver France from the invading English and establish Charles VII, the uncrowned heir to the French throne, as the country’s rightful king. The Maid asserted that a bright light often accompanied the visions and that she heard the voices more distinctly when bells sounded. Based on these details, some experts have suggested that Joan suffered from one of numerous neurological and psychiatric condition that trigger hallucinations or delusions, including migraines, bipolar disorder and brain lesions, to name just a few. Yet another theory holds that she contracted bovine tuberculosis, which can cause seizures and dementia, from drinking unpasteurized milk and tending cattle as a young girl.
Once placed in control of the French army, the teenage peasant didn’t hesitate to chew out prestigious knights for swearing, behaving indecently, skipping Mass or dismissing her battle plans; she even accused her noble patrons of spinelessness in their dealings with the English. According to witnesses at her retrial, Joan once tried to slap a Scottish soldier—the Scots teamed up with France during the Hundred Years’ War—who had eaten stolen meat. She also supposedly drove away the mistresses and prostitutes who traveled with her army at swordpoint, hitting one or two in the process. And personal attacks by the English, who called her rude names and joked that she should return home to her cows, reportedly made Joan’s blood boil. The Maid’s short fuse is evident in transcripts of her court hearings; when a clergyman with a thick regional accent asked what language her voices spoke, for instance, she retorted that they spoke French far better than he did.
The voices that commanded the teenage Joan to don men’s clothing and expel the English from France also told her to crop her long hair. She wore it in the pageboy style common among knights of her era until guards shaved her head shortly before her execution. In 1909, the Polish-born hairdresser known as Monsieur Antoine—one of Paris’ most sought-after stylists—began cutting his fashionable clients’ tresses in a short “bob,” citing Joan of Arc as his inspiration. The look really caught on in the 1920s, popularized by silent film stars and embraced by the flapper set. While women continue to request bob cuts to this day, another of Antoine’s legendary experiments—dyeing his dog’s hair blue—hasn’t stood the test of time.