CLIO mr brice - page 42

An Interview With:
What sparked your interest in History?
I’ve loved history for as long as I can remember. It was
the Tudors that first sparked my imagination: when I
was about five I read two wonderful books for children
by Jean Plaidy, called The Young Elizabeth and The
Young Mary, Queen of Scots, and I was mesmerised
by the idea of what it might have been like to live in
their thrilling and terrifying world. From there I found
my way back to the Middle Ages. Modern history, for
me, doesn’t have the same excitement. Partly it’s the
detective work of trying to piece together the medieval
jigsaw when the evidence is so limited that half the
pieces are missing; and partly it’s the imaginative
challenge of working out what it meant to be human in
a world that can seem so strange and distant.
What was the most challenging part of research for
Joan of Arc?
Compared to most other people of her time, and
certainly of her class, Joan’s life is extraordinarily well
documented. But the most important evidence – the
transcripts of the trial for heresy that condemned her
to death in 1431, and of the posthumous trial that
overturned that verdict in 1456 – are the most complex
texts I’ve ever worked on. The trials were conducted in
French and the transcripts then translated into Latin,
so there are layers of language to get to grips with.
But, beyond that, both trials were profoundly partisan
processes, deeply infused with hindsight. By the time
the witnesses spoke – Joan herself in 1431, and people
who’d known her in 1456 – they all knew what she’d
become and how much she’d accomplished. And their
evidence was not a ‘neutral’ account: in both 1431 and
1456, the nature of the questions they were asked, in
very particular political and theological contexts, shaped
the answers they gave. The transcripts are endlessly
fascinating, and in them Joan is at once tangibly present
and challengingly elusive.
What do you think of the modern attempts to
diagnose Joan with a mental illness?
I understand the impulse, and some of the suggestions
of mental and physical illness that have been made
over the years are intriguing. As well as schizophrenia
and epilepsy, for example, bovine tuberculosis has
been proposed as a physical illness causing abscesses in
the brain that might produce hallucinations of a kind
matching Joan’s ‘symptoms’. Fundamentally, though,
Earlier this year, Dr Helen Castor came to Latymer to give a lecture about Joan of Arc. Joan of Arc was the
peasant girl turned teenage warrior who led her French army to victory over the English in the fifteenth century.
We asked Dr Helen Castor some questions…..
DR HELEN CASTOR
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