The Sword From Heaven

An Inquiry into Joan of Arc's Sword, Found at the Church of St. Catherine de Fierbois

By Lance Bernard

Copyright © 2001 Lawrence G. "Lance" Bernard.

All rights reserved.

 

Mr. Lance Bernard

420 Alberto Way, #12

Los Gatos, CA 95032

lbernard9@attbi.com

 

 

Introduction

 

The judges peered intently at the prisoner before them.

"Have you been to Saint Catherine de Fierbois?" they asked.[1]

The prisoner, a girl who was only about nineteen years of age responded, "Yes, and I heard there three Masses in one day."

"And after that?" asked one of the learned clerics, trying to lead her toward the subject in which they were really interested. [2]

"Afterwards, I went to the Castle of Chinon, whence I sent letters to the King, to know if I should be allowed to see him; saying, that I had traveled a hundred and fifty leagues to come to his help, and that I knew many things good for him. I think I remember there was in my letter the remark that I should recognize him among all others."

The girl knew the intent of the question and had nimbly sidestepped their desired subject, much to the chagrin of her judges. They had heard all about her first trip to Chinon. It was a deadly game played between two adversaries.

"Tell us about the sword!" barked another judge.

"I had a sword I had taken at Vaucouleurs," she answered innocently.

"Of course, the one given to you by Robert de Baudricourt," explained another.

She remained silent.

"Tell us about the sword that was found at the chapel of Saint Catherine de Fierbois," demanded a third.

She took a deep breath and raised her eyes towards heaven. Ah! That sword! The sword sent to earth by God who caused it to be buried near the alter of Saint Catherine, revealed to her, Joan, by this same angle, Saint Catherine, her dear Saint Catherine. Even her judges had heard the stories. Maybe all of France had heard the tale. She knew that Saint Catherine would not object to her telling these men about it, now that the story was so widespread.

"Whilst I was at Tours, or at Chinon, I sent to seek for a sword which was in the Church of Saint Catherine de Fierbois, behind the altar; it was found there at once; the sword was in the ground, and rusty; upon it were five crosses; I knew by my Voice where it was."

The learned theologians knew this was poppycock. They had heard from reliable sources within the Armagnac government that the witch had seen it during an earlier trip, had sent a trusted confident to "find" it, and then had the temerity to claim that its existence had been revealed to her by divine voices!

"Tell us who you sent," they demanded.

"I had never seen the man who went to seek for it," she replied indignantly, "I wrote to the Priests of the place, that it might please them to let me have this sword, and they sent it to me."

"And it was located in a room with other relics, was it not?"

"It was under the earth, not very deeply buried, behind the altar, so it seemed to me: I do not know exactly if it were before or behind the altar, but I believe I wrote saying that it was at the back. As soon as it was found, the Priests of the Church rubbed it, and the rust fell off at once without effort. It was an armorer of Tours who went to look for it. The Priests of Fierbois made me a present of a scabbard; those of Tours, of another; one was of crimson velvet, the other of cloth-of-gold. I had a third made of leather, very strong. When I was taken prisoner I had not got this sword. I always bore the sword of Fierbois from the time I had it up to my departure from Saint-Denis, after the attack on Paris."

The girl was named Jehanne. She wasn't quite sure what her surname might have been, but she had told her judges that her father was named Jacques D'Arc. Her judges pressed on, showing an inordinate amount of curiosity about this sword.

"What blessing did you invoke, or have invoked, on this sword?"

She became indignant. "I neither blessed it, nor had it blessed. I should not have known how to set about it. I cared very much for this sword, because it had been found in the Church of Saint Catherine, whom I love so much."

"Have you been at Coulange-les-Vineuses?"

"I do not know."

"Have you sometimes placed your sword upon an altar; and, in so placing it, was it that your sword might be more fortunate?"

Jehanne responded, "Not that I know of."

Of course she knew that she hadn't. But now the questions were becoming ridiculous and she had no patience for such things. Besides, she could easily see that her learned judges were attempting to trap her into admitting superstitious behavior.

Undeterred, they continued. "Have you sometimes prayed that it might be more fortunate?"

She laughed. "It is good to know that I wished my armor might have good fortune!"

Of course she wished that her armor might have been more fortunate. After all, hadn't she taken a crossbow bolt to her shoulder during the Battle of Orleans? And hadn't one pierced her thigh outside of Paris? Given these two events, anyone would have wished for better armor. But the judges were more interested in her attitude towards her sword, not her armor. It was no secret that her armor had been made by an Armagnac blacksmith. But the sword? That was different. Rumors abounded. Some said that the sword had once belonged to Charles Martel; other said that God Himself had sent it to earth. Some said that both were true.

They continued with their interrogation, "Had you your sword when you were taken prisoner?"

"No, I had one which had been taken off a Burgundian."

"Where was the sword of Fierbois left?" asked a priest.

"Was that the one you offered at Saint-Denise?" interrupted another.

Jehanne looked at her second questioner and replied, "I offered at Saint-Denis a sword and armor; it was not this sword."

Then, turning to the first she replied, "I had that at Lagny; from Lagny to Compiegne, I bore the sword of this Burgundian; it was a good sword for fighting very good for giving stout buffets and hard clouts."

All the judges shifted forward in their seats. "Where is your Fierbois sword now?" intoned the Bishop of Beauvais.

At that moment righteous anger rose from the tip of her spine to the crown of her head. Her dark eyes blazed. "To tell what became of the other sword does not concern this Case, and I will not answer about it now. My brothers have all my goods my horses, my sword, so far as I know, and the rest, which are worth more than twelve thousand crowns."

 

My own interest in Joan's Fierbois sword began when I first read an account of her life. Being fascinated with swords, I eventually wanted a replica to hang on my wall, so I scoured the internet looking for a dealer who might be selling such a thing. Although I could find replicas of swords belonging to Charlemagne, Henry V, the Black Prince, King Arthur, and even Xena the Warrior Princess, I was unable to find anything purporting to be Joan's legendary sword. Finding nothing, I began to mull the possibility of having one custom built, so I began some research. As my interest in the Maid deepened, it did not take long to discover that even learned historians could tell us little about it. While it is true that some images exist, such as the one found on the cover of this paper [3], historians have been unable to recover any authoritative picture of Joan, much less her sword.

 

After a while I got discouraged and shrugged off the idea, mainly because there is so little hard evidence about this sword. Why waste time over something about which we know so little? Nevertheless, in quiet moments I continued to ponder it. As I thought about it some more I began to see that we could use the circumstantial evidence surrounding this relic to draw some educated conclusions. And there is quite a bit of circumstantial evidence to be had.

The end result of all this is that I commissioned the building of a sword that represents my concept of the Fierbois sword. This paper will review the thought processes that influenced my decisions concerning the sword's appearance and design. These decisions were based upon such considerations as:

Why did Joan's voices lead her to this particular sword?

Who had originally owned it?

What was the composition of the blade?

What did the crosses look like?

What were the sword's probable design and physical characteristics?

Admittedly, much of the thought process behind the building of this sword is based on tenuous evidence, myth, legend, and supposition. Some of my hypotheses may seem extraordinary. However, we must keep in mind that we are dealing with Joan of Arc who lived one of history's most extraordinary lives. Given the numerous documented improbabilities surrounding the Maid of Orleans, one more improbability should not come as a surprise.

My eventual conclusions, I will admit, are imminently assailable. I make no assertion that the somewhat expensive concept sword that now sits on a rack in my living room is the final word on this subject. But until such time as more reliable information comes to light, this concept will suffice.

 

 

The Sword of Joan of Arc: The Evidence

 

Joan's reputation as the potential savior of France had preceded her to Orleans. She had not yet lifted even a finger towards raising the siege, yet she had become the center of attention. Had not Merlin predicted her coming? Had she not convinced Robert de Baudricourt, that crusty and ever-practical captain of Vaucouleurs, to send her to the Dauphin at Chinon? Had not she and her pitifully few escorts spent two weeks traveling through enemy territory, miraculously without incident? Had she not convinced the weak and vacillating Charles to give her an army, despite the objections of his powerful and suspicious advisors? To the people of Orleans, any actions taken by her were of great interest. When it became known that she had sent for a particular sword, the existence of which was unknown to anyone, and that this previously-unknown sword had be found buried in the ground near where she said it would be, it must have seemed like a miracle. Over time, the story spread throughout France. Even today it is considered by some to be one of the many miracles that surrounded the Maid.

It appears from their interest that her judges were also concerned about its discovery. Although she was eventually acquitted of the charge of witchcraft, at the time of these questions considerations of the diabolic must have weighed heavy in the minds of her accusers.

The above testimony represents the only documented eyewitness account we have of Joan of Arc's Fierbois sword. In fact, the sword is nowhere else described in either the manuscript of her Condemnation Trial or her Rehabilitation Trial. From what she tells us it had five crosses on it, and the rust was easily removed. Outside of these two statements, we know nothing at all about it. We do not know its length, its weight, the shape of its blade, or the design of either its hilt or its pommel. We don't know what the design of the crosses might have been or how they were arranged. Were all of them on one side of the blade, were there five on each side, or were there three on one side and two on another? Actually, we don't know if the crosses were on the blade or located elsewhere on the sword.

To compound the confusion, early medieval historians writing within a century of Joan's death provide us with alternate descriptions. Many have described these "crosses" as "five fleurs-de-lis[4]," others as "five swords," and some have made no mention at all of decorations or embellishments.[5] It may very well be that these later historians described "crosses" as "fleurs-de-lis" or "swords" out of nationalistic or militaristic fervor. On the other hand, we have to realize that Joan was not the only person in the world who ever saw the Fierbois sword. Without a doubt it was also seen by members of Charles' court, by his captains, by soldiers, even by ordinary townspeople. All of them must, at one time or another, have mentioned the sword to friends who told friends who told friends. Eventually, these eyewitness accounts must have reached the ears of early writers who only described what they had heard. These later descriptions undoubtedly may have amounted to little more than unfounded rumor; or, there may be contained in these various descriptions something that can lead us to understand what really was on the sword. If the "crosses" were of an unusual or stylistic design, contemporary eyewitnesses could very well have confused them with fleurs-de-lis or swords, and the early commentators simply echoed what they had heard.

But the fact that there may have been some kind of figure on the blade is not all that unusual. During the early medieval period many blacksmiths added iron or silver inlays to form words, symbols, crosses, circles, and designs. This was so common that modern sword historians think that such designs were the trademarks of various blacksmiths.[6] Therefore, one could easily make the argument that the crosses found on the Fierbois sword consisted of iron inlays added as decoration. But since it was not uncommon for a blade to be adorned with words and crosses, the fact that Joan's sword bore five "crosses" doesn't help us all that much, in itself.

Our quest to create a concept replica of the Fierbois sword would be much easier had Joan stated that the blade contained an inscription known to be dear to her. For instance, there is a private collection that contains a medieval sword, blade, circa 1100, with the words +IESUS+ inscribed on one side and MARIA on the other. [7] We know that Joan was particularly fond of this wording since she had her banner painted with the words Jhesus-Maria. We also know that her parents had given to her a ring with the same inscription. As tempting as it may be, we can dismiss this one as being Joan's sword since nowhere is it mentioned either by Joan or by medieval historians that the Fierbois sword contained these words, or any other for that matter. And I am sure that if the blade had contained this wording, we would have heard about it.

But what we can pretty much tell for sure about the Fierbois sword is that it had five "some things" on its blade. One major question therefore to be answered is, "What was the nature of the decorations?" But another one of even more importance is, "Why was Joan drawn that that particular sword and not another one?" I think that this is perhaps the most crucial question, one not often asked, the answer to, which might cause our whole line of inquiry to come together.

If we take Joan at her word, she had this sword retrieved for no other reason than that her voices had told her about it. Presumably, they also suggested she fetch it. If this is so, then why did they indicate this particular sword? No doubt they led the search to the Church of St. Catherine because one of the voices allegedly belonged to this saint, and Joan had great devotion for her. But why did her voices lead her to that particular sword and not another? More than one sword had been left there over the centuries. The answer to this question would help us considerably in understanding what this mysterious sword might have looked like. However, we don't need to believe in her voices, much less their heavenly origin, to ask the same question. Even if Joan had seen this sword during a previous trip to the Church of St. Catherine (as her accusers asserted and Joan denied), what would have interested her so much in this particular one?

Clearly, there must have been something unusual about it. It could have had decorative properties that were appealing to her, over and above the five crosses, which as stated earlier, would not have been particularly unusual. Since the sword had most probably been left as a votive offering, we can pretty much eliminate the possibility that the sword was highly ornamental or ceremonial. A real knight, after all, offers to God the sword God had given him to perform his duty. In other words, he offers a true sword of battle, battered and beaten as it may be. Besides, other than the crosses, there is no mention of decoration.

We also know from Joan's testimony that the priests of Tours presented her with a scabbard made of crimson velvet and the citizens of Tours with one made from gold cloth. The ever - practical Joan, however, eschewed these in favor of a more functional one made of leather. We would think that if the Fierbois sword had been decorative or ceremonial that she would not have bothered with a leather scabbard. Instead, she simply would have hung it in her room encased in one of the more ornamental scabbards and left it at that. On the other hand, if the Fierbois sword really was a battle sword, one that she intended to carry into combat, the leather scabbard makes perfect sense.

One reason why her voices may have led her to this particular sword is that it had once belonged to someone important. We may never be certain as to who originally owned this sword; however, there is considerable legend that it had belonged to Charles Martel (Charles the Hammer), grandfather of Charlemagne, who defeated the Saracens at the Battle of Tours in 732 A.D., thus permanently halting the Muslim invasion of Europe. This legend has become so prevalent that it is nowadays almost assumed as fact that the sword of Fierbois was his. For instance, the Catholic Encyclopedia unabashedly states, "It was at the Chateau of Chinon in 1429 that Joan of Arc first saw Charles VII and gave him confidence in her mission, and in the same year she sent to St-Catherine-de-Fierbois in the diocese [of Tours] to seek in the tomb of an ancient knight the sword of Charles Martel."[8]

There are actually a couple of different versions of this legend. One is that Charles Martel had founded the church of St. Catherine de Fierbois, and that he had secretly buried his sword there for the next person whom God would choose to save France. The other is that he had left it there as a votive offering following his victory at Tours.

Although Joan and her contemporaries were almost certainly aware of the legendary connection between Martel and this church, we would certainly have thought something as momentous as the revelation of his sword by heavenly voices would have found its way into the transcripts of either the Condemnation or Rehabilitation Trial. But it didn't; in fact, there isn't even a specific mention of the Fierbois sword itself anywhere in the transcript of the Rehabilitation Trial.

Bonnie Wheeler speculates that its original owner was, " Marechal Boucicaut[9], that model of Christian chivalry at the end of the age of chivalry, who became a benefactor of the chapel when it was rediscovered in the late fourteenth century."[10] Although this is certainly possible, there is no more to suggest that the Fierbois sword once belonged to him than to anyone else. Besides, there is no recorded instance of Joan ever having mentioned him, so there is nothing that makes him a more likely candidate than any other notable person who might have stopped by.

Although the sword may not have belonged to Boucicaut, it certainly may have belonged to some Crusader who had left it there as his votive offering, leading some to identify the crosses on the blade as being Jerusalem crosses. Nevertheless, the theory isn't all that helpful either. For one thing, based on our previous discussion, we cannot assume that the crosses were Jerusalem crosses (or even crosses, for that matter).

So what we can thus far surmise is that the Fierbois sword was a battle sword that had once belonged to some knight (not necessarily a Crusader), or to some famous person (not necessarily Charles Martel), who had left it in the church as a votive offering. But there was something unusual about this one, something that either compelled Joan's angels to tell her about it, or compelled Joan to send for it. What could it have been? One possibility, as already discussed, is that it had indeed once belonged to a very famous person, such as Charles Martel. The other possibility may have had to do with the construction of the sword itself, outside of any blade inlays.

We can be relatively certain is that there was something unusual about the metallic composition of the blade. For one thing, we know from Joan's testimony that the blade was rusty when it was unearthed, but that the priests were able to remove this rust without much effort. We hear nothing about the use of chemicals or solvents, of which modern restorers often use. Likewise, we do not know if any abrasives were used in this "rubbing." Regardless, it is immaterial if any aids were used because the inference we can draw from Joan's testimony is that the removal of this rust was unusually easy, certainly easier than normally experienced using contemporary techniques. The fact that Joan even mentioned the ease with which the rust was removed is intriguing. One gleans from her statement that it was unusual, maybe even miraculous. This leads us to conclude that there must have been something about the metallic composition of the blade that inhibited the adhesion of rust. So we are then left with the question as to what sort of steel, available during medieval times, would resist corrosion?

I posed this question to the Joan of Arc mailing list hosted by Southern Methodist University and soon received a reply from Napoleon J. Bourdeau who is on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin. He offered two possibilities, one plausible and one seemingly fantastic. His plausible possibility was that the blade was composed of stainless steel. His fantastic possibility was that it was made from a meteorite! As to the former possibility, Professor Bourdeau pointed out that it was not unknown for ancient metallurgists to experiment with little-known substances such as chromium, which is used in the manufacturing of stainless steel. As for the later suggestion, despite the fact that it might immediately seem to be the more incredible, he pointed out that meteorites had been used in the manufacturing of ancient Japanese swords. Professor Bourdeau also speculated that any sword thus manufactured in the Christian west would be viewed as having been "sent by God."

I was much more intrigued by this second suggestion. For one thing, I already knew that even if a medieval blacksmith had managed to manufacture a more-or-less modern version of stainless steel, such steel might be fine for kitchen knives but was wholly unsuitable for any sort of battle sword because of its brittleness. For another, it caused to fall into place a whole bunch of suggestions concerning our primary question: Why did Joan's "angels" lead her to this particular sword? Was this a "sword from Heaven"?

A little research soon revealed that this suggestion is not as improbable as it may seem on the surface. There are four classifications of meteorites, one of them being "iron meteorites" which are normally comprised almost wholly of iron and nickel, the alloy ranging from 5% to 65% nickel, with an average of about 10%, and traces of other minerals such as cobalt, plus members of the platinum group (gallium, germanium).[11] This cosmic material was used as early as 4000 BC in the making of ornaments, weapons, tools, and utensils.[12] It wasn't until several millennia later that mankind developed the technology to refine iron from minerals found on earth.

I then contacted Dr. Jim Hrisoulas of Salamander Armory in Las Vegas, Nevada [13], a noted weapon historian and creator of medieval weapons, whose doctorate is in metallurgy. He replied in an email that he sometimes uses meteorite in the pattern-welded blades he manufactures.

Many people mistakenly call pattern-welded blades "Damascus" steel. Although the pattern welding process was resurrected and popularized by the foundries of Syria, it actually originated early in the Iron Age, before people had the technology to smelt iron. Back then iron was a rare and valuable commodity that could only be made in small batches. So to make something as large as a sword blade early blacksmiths would weld together rods of whatever material they had on hand. Sometimes they'd use naturally occurring iron alloys, such as found in meteorites, along with whatever little iron they could manufacture. Sometimes these rods would be welded in parallel and sometimes they'd be twisted for greater strength. Whether or not meteorite was actually used, the employment of different metals resulted in a blade with a beautifully patterned grain structure. The actual appearance of this structure was a function of how many rods were welded, how they were twisted, and how many times the blade was folded. Iron that was rich in phosphorous or nickel resulted in patterns with greater contrast. There exist today swords from early Celtic times, circa 500 BC, that exhibit these complex structures, but the heyday of pattern-welded blades was from about the 6th century through the 10th, well through the time of Charles Martel. The Vikings, notable warriors in their own right, used this process extensively.

The email I received from Dr. Hrisoulas went on to say, "IF this sword of Charles Martel was, in fact, a high-quality sword, it may have been a composite pattern welded blade. I have not been able to document any European blades as being made from [meteorites], but that isn't the same as saying they all weren't, or that it was never used. Not many curators or collectors would take kindly to me doing a GC test on a 1200-year-old blade some folks have no academic curiosity, I guess."[14]

Now things start to make sense, not the least of which is that we begin to understand why Joan's voices may have pointed her in the direction of this particular sword. Inclusion of meteorite material in the pattern welding (Damascus) process would result in a blade with the following characteristics:

Beautiful patterns in the grain of the steel naturally occurring eye-catching properties that do not interfere with function; superior corrosion resistance over common carbon steel because of the high nickel content.

If we consider the possibility that meteorite had been included in the manufacturing of this blade, there remains little doubt why Joan's voices urged her to this particular Fierbois sword and not some other one that might have existed in the reliquary. We now have a sword not only with both the decorative and functional characteristics described immediately above, but also one whose material was sent from heaven! Surely such a sword would befit the maiden whom God had chosen to resuscitate France!

Earlier we have stated that we do not know the design of the five crosses on the blade. But now, armed with the knowledge that the Fierbois sword may have been made of Damascus steel, we may obtain a better idea. In my exchange of emails with Dr. Hrisoulas concerning the possibility that the Fierbois sword had a pattern-welded blade he said:

As far as a PW [pattern welded] blade goes, taking what I know about Frankish blade construction I would be partial to the historical method of blade construction using a multi-cored center section.

What this means is using two or more (I would probably use at least three possibly four) laminate cores of a layer count between 16 and 64 in each core, and twist them prior to welding together into the solid core. The pattern of twisting would be pretty much up to us as some are quite nice indeed, but all are attractive. What usually results is a combination of "stars" in the blade, offset by any "straight" (untwisted) sections that would show more or less straight lines.

As far as the [meteorite] goes, this could possibly be the case as the high NI content does seem to passivate the material [i.e., make it resistant to corrosion]. It wasn't unknown, just uncommon. But, given the trade that was established between east and west, I wouldn't be sticking my neck out very far in saying that it was possible that a piece could have found its way into a sword of this period.

Attached to his email was a photo of the "stars" that result from such a manufacturing process. Now I knew that I may have hit the jackpot, for the so-called "stars" were not of a shape that we normally attribute to stars; rather, they were more like psychedelic "crosses," tapering to points at the four ends with a fattened intersection. Certainly, the process that was used in the manufacturing of any particular Damascus blade would result in stars of varying design. In some cases it might be difficult to see these stars as being crosses; in other cases, it would be quite easy. Or, an observer might see these stars as being fleurs-de-lis. Or "swords." It all depended upon how the blacksmith twisted and folded his material and upon the mental attitude of the observer. A highly religious person, such as Joan, might easily discern crosses; a nationalistic person might see fleurs-de-lis; a grizzled foot soldier might see swords.

Armed with the very reasonable supposition that Joan's sword was pattern welded we can now conclude other bits and pieces about it. Based on our knowledge of surviving pattern-welded swords we can reasonably fix the date of its construction as occurring somewhere between the 6th to 10th centuries, which (interestingly enough) neatly brackets the time of Charles Martel. Now, I think we can see what may have contributed to the legend of the Fierbois sword as having one belonged to this Frankish hero, over and above simple patriotic fervor. The swords of a culture passed through design phases just as do cars and guns. Even as a modern individual can easily discern, say, a Colt .45 Peacemaker as used on the American frontier from a modern Colt .45 Commander, so too could many medieval people discern the period of a sword from its design. If we accept this premise, then we can get an idea of what its design might have been.

Assuming that the Fierbois sword was a Frankish battle sword created between the 8th and 11th centuries, the blade would be approximately 32" in length and about 1 " to 2" at the hilt. The blade would have a gentle taper to approximately 1 " to 1 " at the blade ogive and would incorporate a fuller [15] on each side running from near the hilt to an inch or so from the point. Since we will assume the sword was manufactured in France and was not a Viking sword, the hilt would be straight. [16] The pommel would normally be a plain disk. The grip would be long enough for a grown man wearing a gauntlet and would be manufactured from either hardwood or from bone. [17] The original grip may have been wrapped in leather. The Fierbois sword probably had dimensions and characteristics close to this. Being a sword built for practical use it probably had little extraneous ornamentation outside of the beautifully patterned and starred blade, although minor ornamentation may have existed on the pommel or hilt.

Although we have no external proof this sword once belonged to Charles Martel, we now should reconsider the possibility. According to Oakeschott, "The ownership of these 'pattern-welded' blades, which were so rich and rare that they were considered to be royal treasures, was confined to chieftains or especially favoured 'Hearthmen' of Kings, but by about the middle of the 9th century efficient blades of a far simpler style of manufacture were being produced where a much steelier iron was used, thus obviating the need for the elaborate pattern-welding of former times."[18]

IF the Fierbois sword had a pattern-welded blade, and IF meteoric material was included in its construction, and SINCE such construction is not documented in Frankish swords (although, as Dr. Hrisoulas indicated, it was used in the east), THEN such a sword would most likely have been manufactured for someone very noble, e.g., Charles Martel. If it did once belong to Martel, we have yet another reason why Joan's angels led her to it.

We note with some interest that there is little indication that Joan ever drew the Fierbois sword in battle. For one thing, she greatly preferred to carry her banner and there is copious documentation of this fact; for another, she had stated that she really didn't want to kill anyone. More to the point, though, having personally manipulated the concept sword it seems to me that a girl whose height has been variously estimated as being between 4'9" and 5'2", and who was not inordinately muscular for her build would have had great difficulty wielding this thing with one hand. She may very well have worn it into battle, but more because it was part of her "uniform" than for any martial reason. This perhaps helps to explain why she told her judges that, after her voices had revealed she'd be captured by the English, she carried into battle a sword she had taken from a Burgundian. We speculate that this later sword was a smaller, lighter sword such as carried by archers, one that she would be able to manipulate with some degree of efficiency. Or, as she stated, " it was a good sword for fighting very good for giving stout buffets and hard clouts." Notwithstanding her distaste for killing anyone, she apparently would have been willing to do so if it meant keeping her freedom.

As to what became of the Fierbois sword, most historians seem to accept the statement of the Duke d'Alencon, Joan's close friend, that she broke it on the backside of a loose woman whom she was chasing out of camp.[19] However, all he said was that she broke "her sword." Now, since we know that Joan had come into possession of at least six swords[20] we are not compelled to believe that it was the Fierbois sword she broke. On the other hand, with just a minor change in punctuation, that phrase can be read as "her Sword," obviously inferring the sword revealed by saints. Despite contrary testimony given by Louis

De Contes' during her Rehabilitation Trial (that he'd never seen her strike anyone) we are not necessarily adverse to the idea that the sword indeed broke.

Standing against this, though, is Joan's own testimony, "My brothers have all my goods - my horses, my sword, so far as I know, and the rest, which are worth more than twelve thousand crowns." Of course, there is nothing in this testimony to indicate that her brothers didn't have her broken sword. But it seems to me that she would have to have given that camp follower a prodigious whack to break a sword, any sword, even one that may have had an internal stress fracture. This is out of character with her temperament, even if she was angry. I think it is far more likely that the grip broke, not the blade. Since the sword had been buried for a long time we have every reason to believe that the grip had suffered some deterioration. In other words, her sword might have been rendered unusable, but the blade itself didn't break.

Also, I personally find it interesting that her judges didn't make any mention of her sword being broken. Given that they were well aware of the sword's story, and given all their curiosity about it and about her voices, I find it incredible that that they wouldn't have mentioned this at all. Rather, it seems they would have harassed her unmercifully about how the broken blade was God's way of showing His displeasure towards "the witch" and her "magical" sword. And it also seems to me that no-one, not even her judges, would have cared very much at all about the routine fracture of a rotted grip.

Here's what I think happened to it. We know from Joan's testimony that she carried the Fierbois sword at least until she reached Lagny on March 29, 1430. She was captured at Compiegne on May 23rd bearing that more wieldable sword with which she could give "stout buffets and hard clouts," and which she was presumably prepared to use. However, between those two dates, on April 24th, she was at Melun where here voices told her that she would be captured "before St. John's Day" which was on June 24 of that year, exactly two months in the future. Knowing that she had only two months of freedom or less, she gave all her valuables to her family, in this case her brothers. Her sword was probably her most valued possession, outside of her banner, because of its connection to her dear St. Catherine.

She knew that she would not return from this campaign.

But what happened to it after she gave it to her brothers? What did they do with it? Unfortunately, history is silent. Nowhere thereafter is there even the smallest hint as to its ultimate fate. Nevertheless, this very silence is, in itself, a clue.

We know from Oakeshott's definitive study that the owner, or the survivors of the owner, regularly threw swords into rivers or lakes, perhaps for religious or other mystical reasons.[21] Therefore, the very silence surrounding this sword once it reaches the hands of her brothers indicates that they had ceremoniously disposed of it in accordance with the lofty mystical tradition of chivalry, probably by throwing it into the middle of the Loire (the scene of many of her victories), the Seine (where her ashes were dumped), or some other river or body of water with which they most closely associated her. Certainly, her brothers have historically suffered somewhat in the hands of many commentators because of their apparent support for the "false Joan," Claude des Armoises. Despite their support, however, this "Joan" never purported to wield the Fierbois sword. Ergo, it must have vanished from the scene prior to this sorry episode, ritually sacrificed into a mighty river, a symbol of time immemorial.

 

 

Conclusion: The Concept Sword

 

 

As we said at the beginning of this paper, concerning the sword of Fierbois there is very little we can know for sure, but we have to assume that the best evidence comes from the mouth of Joan herself when she testified that the blade had five crosses upon it and that the rust easily fell away after a light rubbing. Everything after that is speculation and conjecture. However, speculation and conjecture are not fantasy; we speculate and we conject based on reasonable hypotheses, assumptions and conclusions. The most important hypothesis that we have drawn is that the blade itself "came from heaven," i.e., that it was manufactured by twisting and blending material from a meteorite, thus providing it with the ability to withstand the effects of corrosion and, at the same time, resulting it the appearance of crosses. We do not consider this conclusion to be unreasonable; we cannot avoid the very important question of why Joan's voices led her to this particular sword and not some other one. On the other hand, we do recognize that even the best case that we can make for a likeness of the Fierbois sword is not unassailable.

The concept sword that I commissioned Dr. Hrisoulas to manufacture (see Figure 1) is based upon the discussion contained in this paper.

Figure 1. The Concept Sword

Figure 2. Refined Meteoric Material

(bright material is nickel)

The refined meteoric iron (Figure 2) was welded with 1060 medium carbon steel to form a billet. This billet was then stacked with a billet of 1045 iron and a billet of 1085 iron. The three billets were then heated, welded, and drawn out to its finished length. After that, this finished sword core material was cut into three pieces. The center core piece was heated and twisted in five places; these five twists would later appear as stars/crosses. It was then fitted into place with the two outer cores (see Figure 3) and all three were welded together.

Figure 3. Center Core Twisted and Fitted to the Outer Core

After that, high-density edge material was "hair pinned" (see Figure 4) and wired around this composite billet. This whole assembly was then heated and welded together to form the blade itself. Finally the blade was ground to form the fuller and the edges were sharpened.

Figure 4. "Hairpin" for Edge Material

The resulting dimensions are as follows: blade length (excluding tang, including ricosso) 32 "; width at ricosso, 1 "; ricosso itself, "; width just before start of ogive, 1-9/16"; hilt 6-3/8"; grip, 5"; stars spaced anywhere between 6"-7" apart.

As you can see, there is nothing especially unique or noteworthy about its design. This is clearly a sword designed for battle, not ceremony. The grip is French walnut. The hilt is straight black steel. The solid black steel pommel is unadorned.

At first glance, one wonders what all the fuss has been about. It's not until we see a close-up of the blade, however, that its uniqueness can be discerned. First, we must be impressed with its beautiful wavy lines. More to the point, we also notice the five "crosses" spaced more-or less equidistant along the fuller on each side of the blade.

Figure 5. A "Cross"

The one shown in Figure 6 looks more like a Fleur-de-Lis, while the one in Figure 5 more resembles a cross. I must emphasize that the exact shape of these designs is accidental and unique to the construction of this particular sword. No two blades would be manufactured in exactly the same way. However, it does show how "crosses" and "fleurs-de-lis" could have been confused.

Figure 6. A "Fleur-de-Lis"

So, is this a reasonable likeness of Joan's famous sword? We think it is, but arguments certainly can be made to the contrary. In fact, if nothing else, I hope that this paper will serve to stimulate further discussion. Until we receive more evidence, however, we can dream that Joan of Arc once held in her hand a sword very much like this one.

 

 

Postscript - [22]

 

They had crashed upon the shores of France like an unstoppable wave. Thousands upon thousands of Saracen cavalry and infantry, under the leadership of the Moslem general Abd-er Rahman, Governor of Spain, had crossed the Pyrenees, washed through Narbonne and Toulouse. Penetrating as far as Burgundy, they crushed anyone who dared stand in their way. One who had so dared, Duke Eudes of Aquitaine, was so soundly defeated that barely any Frank soldier had lived to tell about the encounter. Abd-er Rahman then sacked Tours.

But now as he surveyed his baggage train straining under the weight of the spoils accumulated over the months of conquest he knew had a problem.[23] When his scouts first reported that a great force was advancing towards them he ordered his army to prepare for battle. This had caused no small amount of discontent within the ranks. His men were growing increasingly weary of the cold, wet, weather and longed for home. Most of them felt that they had accumulated enough riches during the campaign and were not eager to again place their lives in jeopardy.

It was then that he developed his stratagem. Although his men may not have been eager for a major encounter, they undoubtedly would not hesitate to accumulate a bit more treasure if it could easily be taken. And the treasure was there in the basilica of St. Martin, the only stronghold in Tours yet unconquered. He would therefore storm the basilica, and by the time it fell the enemy would be so close that withdrawal would not be an option. His soldiers would be forced to meet the enemy head-on.

He knew that his plan carried some risk, but it was an acceptable amount. Although no general cares to lead an undisciplined army, the Franks had developed the reputation of being brave and impetuous in the attack, but cowardly and craven if pressed.[24] Besides, no army of the Prophet had ever been defeated by an army of the North. Both God and history were on his side. He would prevail.

The next day he again attacked the city of Tours. This time his men unleashed such fury and cruelty that an Arab writer would later say, "God's chastisement was sure to follow."[25] He then turned toward Poitiers.

To the northeast of the Saracen massacre advanced the Frankish army led by Charles, "Mayor of the Palace"[26] of Austrasia. He'd had no love for Eudes who, trying to mollify the heathen, had married his daughter to the enemy chieftain Othmar. This had annoyed him greatly, forcing him to defeat Eudes just the previous year. Now, however, with Eudes having been crushed by these agents of the devil, it was clear that his kingdom was the next target. If that should fall there was no other force in Europe strong enough to prevent them from blotting Christianity from the face of the earth.

In the opening days of October 732, as he approached the Loire River between Tours and Poitiers, his scouts reported terrible news. All of Tours was aflame. Churches had been burned, palaces destroyed, its inhabitants slaughtered like animals. And the enemy, heavy with cavalry, was only a day's ride away.

He shuddered. How could his army, armed only with swords, axes, javelins, and daggers ever hope to prevail over an army of cavalry armed with large scimitars and lances. Rarely had foot soldiers been able to withstand the force of mounted attack.[27] As he thought about the coming battle his back straightened. Surely Christ would not let his church succumb to the forces of the devil. If only God would give him a sign!

With evening coming he gave orders to pitch camp. After sending out spies and scouts he mounted his own horse to reconnoiter the area and to find a suitable ground for the forthcoming battle. Darkness was falling fast. A chill wind whipped through the October night.

Suddenly a dazzling light flashing across the sky interrupted his thoughts. Nearly blinded by the brilliance, he heard in the distance something crash to earth. Excited voices filled the night air. Spurring his horse in the direction of the sounds he soon came upon a group of soldiers. As he drew near he saw that they were frightened, milling around a glowing mass. He dismounted and ran to it. He pushed through the crowd and stared at the rapidly cooling object. He kneeled next to it and hesitantly touched it with his gloved hand. His excitement mounted. This was the sign he had sought! It was iron, iron from heaven, iron sent to him by God! He would win the battle and would drive the heathen from Christian soil. The Lord had answered his prayers!

He ordered that the heavenly iron immediately be brought to his tent, whereupon he called for his blacksmiths. With great solemnity he explained to them that God wanted a sword to be made from the iron that He had sent to Charles, a sword that would forever drive the barbarians from this land.

The blacksmiths labored throughout the night, and by the next day they presented their Mayor with a sword beautiful to behold. Charles weighed it in his hand and studied it. Yes, it was beautiful. Dark wavy lines ran the length of the blade, and five crosses had miraculously appeared where the metal had been twisted. Then, drawing his army before him, he told them of his prayers and how God had answered him by sending to him this sword. He told them that they must be of good cheer and never succumb to fright, which was the devil's way of assuring defeat, because God had guaranteed them of victory. All of Christendom depended upon their bravery.

The next day, October 9, Charles drew his troops into a phalanx and marched towards the enemy. As expected, the Moslems cavalry slashed against their flanks time after time, while the infantry pressed against their center. All day long the battle raged with Charles wielding the sword everyone knew had been given to him by Heaven. His men, encouraged by the valor of their leader, withstood each charge and gave no indication that they would buckle and fold, as Frankish troops had been so wont to do. When darkness approached the two armies withdrew to their camps.

Although exhausted from the daylong battle, the Mayor was generally pleased. His men had fought well; their morale remained high. Yet concern weighed upon him. How long would these same men be able to withstand the pounding they had received from the heretofore-invincible Moslem cavalry? Was it only a matter of time before his phalanxes would break?

During this interlude, however, God again smiled upon Charles. From the very lips of his captives he learned about the importance that the rank-and-file placed upon their captured treasures. Calling his captains to his tent, he laid before them his daring plan for victory.

The next day the armies again closed in combat. As the battle wore on the Moslems onslaught pushed almost to the center of the Christian ranks. With a great cry they pressed forward, thinking that victory was within their grasp. Just then Charles ordered his reserves to attack the Saracen baggage train. Abd-er Rahman immediately sent his cavaliers to defend it, but when they turned and rode towards their tents at full gallop his infantry thought that they were in retreat. All of a sudden the whole Saracen battle line began to disintegrate. Abd-er Rahman realized his mistake and tried to rally his army. In the confusion the Franks turned the Moslem flank, surrounded Abd-er Rahman, and cut him down. With their leader fallen, the Moslem army panicked and fled. Thousands upon thousands died in that awful rout. When the carnage had ended Charles was given the name Martel, or "The Hammer," because of the merciless way he crushed the enemy.

After visiting the ravaged city of Tours he passed through the small town of Fierbois, left untouched by the invaders. He entered the town's church and placed his sword upon its alter, offering that sword back to the Lord who had sent it to him in the first place. Before leaving, however, he became concerned. Surely the first miscreant to pass by would steal a sword as beautiful and as famous as this one. So he returned and buried it in the ground behind the altar.

Finally satisfied, he departed. And as he rode he knew that the same God who had given the sword to him would give it to another, should the need ever again arise.

END

 

References

 

[1] All quotations from Joan's Condemnation Trial are taken from Jeanne D'Arc, Maid of Orleans, 1429-1431, T. Douglas Murray ed., McClure, Phillips & Co., New York, 1902. pp 27-30.

[2] Some of the following statements made by the judges are not in any trial transcript, but are instead included to give us a sense of how the questioning might have gone. Joan's testimony, however, remains unaltered.

[3] From the records of the Parliament of Paris concerning the siege of Orleans, recorded by Clément de Fauquembergue who drew a sketch of Joan in the margin of the manuscript. Since he had never seen her or her sword, this representation is wholly imaginary.

[4] According to legend, when Clovis, the first king of the Franks, was being anointed, a dove descended from heaven with a vial of sacred oil. The fleur-de-lis, therefore, is a stylized representation of either the three feathers carried in the beak of the dove, or the dove itself.

[5] See The First Biography of Joan of Arc, pp 71-75, Daniel Rankin and Claire Quintal, trans. and eds. University of Pittsburgh Press, 1964.

[6] Records of the Medieval Sword, pp 5-7, Ewart Oakeshott, The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 1991.

[7] Records of the Medieval Sword, opcit, p52.

[8] See http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15002a.htm

[9] C. 1366 1421, His real name was Jean III le Meingre. He was a Marshall of France who crusaded against the Ottoman Turks and was captured at Nikopol in 1396. He was governor of Genoa from 1401-07. Later captured at Agincourt, he died in England. He appears to be known more as a literary figure and an illuminator of manuscripts than a warrior. He is best known for his Book of Hours.

[10] "Joan of Arc's Sword in the Stone," Bonnie Wheeler, in Fresh Verdicts on Joan of Arc, p.xiii, Bonnie Wheeler and Charles T. Wood, eds., Garland Publishing, Inc., New York and London, 1996.

[11] See http://www.permanent.com/a_meteor.htm

[12] See http://school.discovery.com/homeworkhelp/worldbook/atozscience/i/281460.html#HEA D1

[13] His website is http://www.atar.com.

[14] Not being a metallurgist myself, I have no idea what a GC test might be. But I think we can safely assume that it is destructive.

[15] Also mistakenly called a "blood groove." The purpose of the fuller is to lighten a sword without sacrificing sturdiness.

[16] Straight hilts were not employed in medieval swords for hand protection as is generally believed. Rather, such swords could represent the cross of Jesus. A Catholic knight could stick his sword in the ground and, voila, have a cross before which he could pray. By Joan's time curved hilts became more fashionable.

[17] I am indebted to Dr. Hrisoulas for this description of the typical 8th century Frankish sword.

[18] Records of the Medieval Sword, opcit. p.1.

[19] Opcit. Jeanne D'Arc, Maid of Orleans, 1429-1431, T. Douglas Murray, p.280.

[20] The one given to her by Robert de Baudricourt, the Fierbois sword, the sword she took from "the Burgundian," the one that she offered at the abbey of St. Denise (from another Burgundian), and two others (along with a dagger) given to her by the citizens of Clermont.

[21] Records of the Medieval Sword , op. cit. pp. 3,4. The author cites the Arthurian legend of "the lady in the lake" as an example of the mythical paradigm for this ritual.

[22] Although most of the military information contained in this chapter is as historical as possible, the part concerning how the sword came into being, and how it ended up in the Church of St. Catherine of Fierbois, is wholly imaginary on my part.

[23] The description of the following battle is taken mostly from Arab sources. Considering that it represents a turning point in European history, the lack of documentation by European sources is astounding.

[24] Description of the Franks by an anonymous Arabian chronicler, from "The Medieval sourcebook,"

http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/732tours.html

[25] http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/arab-poitiers732.html

[26] i.e., "Warlord." Charles was more like a Japanese shogun than a king and had, in fact, placed several kings upon their thrones.

[27] The Battle of Tours, 732. http://www.campus.northpark.edu/history/WebChron/WestEurope/Tours.html