Joan of Arc and Mental Illness

Statue of Joan of Arc , Saint Hilaire le Grand church, Poitiers-2.jpg


Joan of Arc and Mental Illness

Catalog Entry

How do we distinguish heroism from madness in men and women? On January 6, 1412 in Domremy, France Jehanne d’Arc, formerly known as Joan of Arc was born. Many have theorized doubts on Joan of Arc’s morals, sanity and health because she was born around a time period in which individuals were fervid in the faith of God. The ages of twelve or thirteen is when Joan began hearing voices. During the Hundred Years' War “she led French forces in triumph over English forces in several cities and restored the French king.” (Miller, Mark) It was then after the war when Joan was accused of many things, one being that she was falsely and demonically inspired by her "voices" They said she saw visions and heard voices of angels and saints. In modern day she would have been diagnosed with disabilities ranging from epilepsy and schizophrenia. Recent research from two Italian neurologists Dr. Guiseppe d' Orsi and Paola Tinuper, “says it may have been a case of genetic, partial epilepsy with auditory hallucination that was the cause of her health”. (LiveScience) Epilepsy is a disorder in which nerve cell activity in the brain is disturbed, causing seizures”. (Epilepsy) Schizophrenia is a “ disorder that affects a person's ability to think, feel, and behave clearly and hallucination is a perception of having seen, heard, touched, tasted, or smelled something that wasn't actually there”. (Schizophrenia) The most common disabilities during the medieval were “the 'lepre', the 'blynde', the 'dumbe', the 'deaff', the 'natural fool', the 'creple', the 'lame' and the 'lunatick'”. (Disability in the Medieval Period 1050-1485.)

In the course of medieval time period thoughts on disability were very mixed. The belief was that those who were considered disabled “People thought it was a punishment for sin, Others believed that disabled people were closer to God - they were suffering purgatory on earth rather than after death and would get to heaven sooner”. (Disability in the Medieval Period 1050-1485) Others accepted the fact that People may be born with a disability, or could be disabled by diseases like years of backbreaking work, or leprosy, which is an infectious disease that causes severe, disfiguring skin sores and nerve damage in the arms, legs, and skin areas around the body. (Disability in the Medieval Period 1050-1485 ) In modern day a person with a disability by “The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) defines a disabled person as someone who has a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”. (Definitions of Disability).

You would think because of her bravery and her claims to hearing saintly voices would bring the people at her feet and her prophecy destined to save France would have been more accepted and treated as a god or angel over someone making these claims in modern day but that was not the case. Instead the English magistrates captured her over a Three month time period because he had charged her with witchcraft, blasphemy and for dressing in male attire. In a remarkable trail that lasted altogether under “five months” (The article you gave me) they questioned her closely about the voices and visions, whether she was in a state of God’s grace and why she wore men’s clothing. At the start of the trail she was to “swear and declare that she will answer the articles each one individually, as she believes or does not believe. And if she refuses to swear, if she is reluctant or delays overmuch after you have instructed and summoned her to do this may she be deemed at fault and contumacious in her presence; and as her obstinacy requires, may she be declared excommunicated for manifest offenses”. (The Trial of Joan of Arc) At the age of just Nineteen year old they then would go on to burn her at the stake.

I believe the claims made towards Joan of Arc would have been different if it was a male. During the medieval women held the positions of wife, mother, peasant, artisan, and nun. During her trial they kept referring back to the question of why she wore male clothing. I don’t think they deemed her insane from her hearing voices but the fact she played a male role better than perhaps the men she encountered or the ones who fought alongside her during the Hundred Years' War or the fact she was able to bring the French King victory as a woman. When Joan was captured “Nothing worthy to be censured was found in her, excepting the male attire which she wore. her prison she was threatened with death if she resumed the wearing of men's clothes.... Her gaoler brought her none but male attire.” (Women and Madness) In the quotation it clearly shows that her death was forced by her captures and nothing of voices was presented. It is unfortunate but also inevitable that females will always be denied in society because of their sexuality. As just Women they will not survive or be allowed to survive as human beings or creative beings. While “male creativity is so valued that eccentricities, cruelties, emotional infantilism, alcoholism, promiscuity and even madness are usually overlooked, forgiven or expected.” (Women and Madness)

Whether Joan Of Arc had a disability or not her the cause of her death was not because of her disability but because was a female playing a male role. “Women are impaled on the cross of self-sacrifice. Unlike men, they are categorically denied the experience of supremacy and individuality”. (Women and Madness) Because of this fact this makes women mad. Their madness is treated as a different way of self -sacrifice. The search for women to find ways to fit in often involves delusion or displays of physically aggressive. Women characteristic traits like emotional, giving birth (sexuality) and magnificence are all traits feared by men and so because of men's insecurity women are punished for it. Joan of Arc’s purpose in history was to serve as a source that show male renewal in society for women, she displays such act through her military victories. Joan was spiritually and physically bold, she was a leader of men.


Aberth, John. A Knight at the Movies: Medieval History on Film. Routledge, 2003.

“Disability in the Medieval Period 1050-1485.” Historic England

“Definitions of Disability,” Disabled World, 21 Apr., 2019.

“Epilepsy.” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 10 Aug. 2019.

Miller, Mark. “Neurologists Speculate That Joan of Arc Heard Voices Because She Suffered from Epilepsy.” Ancient Origins, 3 Aug. 2016. ces-because-she-suffered-epilepsy-020929.

“Schizophrenia.” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 10 Apr. 2018. 4443.

“What Really Caused the Voices in Joan of Arc's Head?,” Live Science,

Women and Madness (book) - RC451.4.W6C47 2005 

The Trial of Joan of Arc- rue&db=e000xna&AN=282343&site=ehost-live ebv=EB ppid=pp_248

Artifact Owner

Église Saint-Hilaire-le-Grand, Poitiers, France

Catalog Entry Author(s)

Christine Nibitanga, Student, Fitchburg State University


Kisha G. Tracy



“Joan of Arc and Mental Illness,” Cultural Heritage through Image, accessed January 27, 2020,

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