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The Maid and the Queen: The Secret History of Joan of Arc [Hardcover]

Nancy Goldstone
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Book Description

April 3 2012

“Attention, ‘Game of Thrones’ fans: The most enjoyably sensational aspects of medieval politicsdouble-crosses, ambushes, bizarre personal obsessions, lunacy and naked self-interestare in abundant evidence in Nancy Goldstone's The Maid and the Queen.” (Laura Miller,

Politically astute, ambitious, and beautiful, Yolande of Aragon, queen of Sicily, was one of the most powerful women of the Middle Ages. Caught in the complex dynastic battle of the Hundred Years War, Yolande championed the dauphin's cause against the forces of England and Burgundy, drawing on her savvy, her statecraft, and her intimate network of spies. But the enemy seemed invincible. Just as French hopes dimmed, an astonishingly courageous young woman named Joan of Arc arrived from the farthest recesses of the kingdom, claiming she carried a divine message-a message that would change the course of history and ultimately lead to the coronation of Charles VII and the triumph of France.

Now, on the six hundredth anniversary of the birth of Joan of Arc, this fascinating book explores the relationship between these two remarkable women, and deepens our understanding of this dramatic period in history. How did an illiterate peasant girl gain access to the future king of France, earn his trust, and ultimately lead his forces into battle? Was it only the hand of God that moved Joan of Arc-or was it also Yolande of Aragon?

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Praise for The Maid and the Queen by Nancy Goldstone:
“A dual biography of two fascinating medieval women with the descriptive energy of a novel.”
USA Today (An Editor's Book Pick)
“Goldstone has peeled back the nostalgic drapery of The Maid of Orléans, and tells the most complete history of Joan of Arc that I have ever read. . . . Gripping and informative and should be the next book you read.”
Sacramento/San Francisco Book Review
“With compelling storytelling, Goldstone colorfully weaves together the tales of these two women [Yolande of Aragon and Joan of Arc]-one rich, one poor; one educated, one illiterate; one worldly, one simple-whose powerful personalities and deep allegiance to France helped shape the country's future.”
—Publishers Weekly

“Goldstone's vivid retelling of Joan's astounding victories and her capture and martyrdom by the English is as gripping as ever . . . [A] knowledgeable and accessible account of a turning point in French history.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“[Nancy's] entertaining narrative will intrigue general readers interested in the Middle Ages, Joan of Arc (whose 600th birthday is this year), or biographies of royal figures or women in history.”
—Library Journal

“Goldstone adds an enlightening new chapter to a legendary saga and rescues another unjustly neglected woman from the dust pile of conventional history.”

“Attention, ‘Game of Thrones’ fans: The most enjoyably sensational aspects of medieval politicsdouble-crosses, ambushes, bizarre personal obsessions, lunacy and naked self-interestare in abundant evidence in Nancy Goldstone's The Maid and the Queen. . . .Thanks to this book, a bit more of [Yolande's] remarkable life has been coaxed out into the open.”
Laura Miller,

“The mysterious and secret bond between the worldly and powerful Yolande of Aragon, queen of Sicily, and the transcendent Joan of Arc comes into glorious view in this meticulous, colorful study of their lives. A fascinating historical excursion, bursting with medieval flavor.”
Margaret George, author of Elizabeth I

“A wonderful medieval tapestry of a book that tells the still-amazing story of Joan of Arc, a peasant girl-turned-warrior who saves her king and France, and the pivotal role played by yet another extraordinary woman, Yolande of Aragon, queen of Sicily, whenin this time of tumult and treachery Joan rose to such unexpected power.”
Jill Jones, author of Eiffel's Tower

“A lively, fast-paced and fascinating account of Joan's story, weaving together the labyrinthine intrigues of medieval politics, the real story behind a medieval fairy tale and the astonishing events that led a young peasant girl from the command of an army to a fiery death at the hands of the English.”

About the Author

Nancy Goldstone's previous books include Four Queens: The Provençal Sisters Who Ruled Europe and The Lady Queen: The Notorious Reign of Joanna I, Queen of Naples, Jerusalem, and Sicily. She has also coauthored five books with her husband, Lawrence Goldstone. She lives in Westport, Connecticut.

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By Great Historicals TOP 100 REVIEWER
In the novel THE MAID AND THE QUEEN, author Nancy Goldstone proposes that Yolande of Aragon, Queen of Sicily, was a reckoning force behind Joan of Arc’s rise to power. It is an interesting premise and forms the basis of this novel about these two very remarkable women. The author has successfully blended their lives together, crossing paths amid the convoluted machinations of royal courts, political aspirations, and military secrets.

Could these two women truly have met and known each other? Of course. How else could a poor young woman from an obscure town in France gain the introductions necessary to reach the loftiest heights of royal power? The author does her research to make this a very compelling possibility.

Yolande of Aragon was the wife of Louis II, a member of the French royal family and King of Sicily.

With her husband embroiled in fights in Italy for his claim to the kingdom of Naples and The Hundred Year War, Yolande sought to help her husband and France any way she could. Thus, she used Joan of Arc. The connection between the two women was through the town of Domrémy in the duchy of Bar where Joan lived and Yolande’s mother who once held that duchy as her ancestral home.

THE MAID AND THE QUEEN is a story told in three parts. The first part tells the life of Yolande, the second part focuses on the life of Joan, and the final part concludes with the latter part of Joan’s and Yolande’s life.

The research is meticulous. The beauty and sadness of Joan’s story compliments the political events Yolande found herself embroiled in. There are plenty of gripping scenes and emotional passages. This is a fascinating novel about two powerful women, who were ahead of their time, struggling to survive in a world dominated by men. A very memorable read indeed.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.1 out of 5 stars  33 reviews
31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great introduction to the oft-overlooked Queen of Sicily and her connection to Joan March 30 2012
By Bookreporter - Published on
The legend of Joan of Arc has always been well known: The Maid of Orléans, poor and uneducated, touched with divine guidance, led the armies of France to key victories over the English, and was burned at the stake by her captors at the tender age of 19. Twenty-five years after her death, she was labeled a martyr and canonized in 1920. That's the story. Simple. Majestic. Powerful. Yet as we recognize the 600th anniversary of her birth this year (the date is unknown as the practice of recording the dates of non-noble births were not in effect in the 15th century), Nancy Goldstone tells us that, up until now, we have only heard half the story. With THE MAID AND THE QUEEN, history is opened to illustrate a connection between Joan and the oft-forgot Queen of Sicily, Yolande of Aragon.

Who is Yolande of Aragon, and just what part did she play in the story of Joan of Arc? Beautiful, ambitious, and educated in the manner of the men of her time, Yolande was one of the most powerful women of the Middle Ages. France was embroiled in the Hundred Years War with England and Burgundy. The throne of France was in upheaval, with Charles VII unable to claim his right due to the occupation by England and the betrayal of his parents (they declared he could not be King as he was the product of an affair by Queen Isabeau). Fearing for his life, Charles fled to the Queen of the Four Kingdoms: Yolande of Aragon. She would provide him protection and a wife, her daughter Marie, and begin to use her political acumen and impressive network of spies to see that her son-in-law could claim his throne. Some of her ploys backfired, such as the assassination of Charles's cousin, but she was soon driven more than ever to find the one who would bolster Charles and turn the tide against the English.

That "one" would turn out to be Joan. Growing up in Domrémy on the farm of her father, situated in the duchy of Bar, Joan had a connection to Yolande. Yolande of Bar, mother of Yolande of Aragon, held the duchy as her ancestral home, and throughout history it was loyal to the king of France. At the time of Joan's youth, Domrémy was on the front lines of conflict, with the loyalists of Burgundy just across the river. Yolande of Aragon had even manipulated to have her uncle, the duke of Bar, select her son, René, as a successor, who would steadfastly hold Bar and Lorraine for Charles. Goldstone thus acknowledges that by the simple nature of the size of the region and by Joan's later requests for men from the duke, there is no way she would not have known who René was, or his connections. And since Yolande was seeking a heroine, one who was touched and who could kindle the fires of valiant combat for her king, the fact that Joan began to hear voices at around age 13 only drew the attention of the Queen and her people --- in particular, René, who set in motion the acts by which she would gain audience to Charles.

THE MAID AND THE QUEEN is divided into three sections: the life of Yolande, the life of Joan, and the wrap-up of the events following the life of Joan, the impact on France, and the final years of Yolande's life. This template serves the story very well. So much of the groundwork for Joan was in place before she was born, and showing the life of Yolande goes a long way to making the case for her involvement in the events to come. Citing medieval sources only written in French as well as Joan's trial documentation, the notion that Yolande pulled the strings that led to the success of France are quite plausible.

Goldstone weaves a remarkable dual biography. The intrigues of the history and the miraculous unfolding of the story of Joan make the book seem as gripping as any novel. Among the great positives is that it moves at an incredibly readable pace. One of the drawbacks to this is that so much more could have been laid out and explained, doubling the book's size. Perhaps others will follow in her footsteps and take up this line of inquiry. Until then, THE MAID AND THE QUEEN stands as a fascinating new take on the legacy and legend of Joan of Arc, and a great introduction to the oft-overlooked Queen of Sicily.

Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Refreshing insights, witty prose, masterful narration April 22 2012
By Beth E. Williams - Published on
Joan is a most endearing, and at times, unnerving, figure, regardless of whether or not we believe she heard voices (or what kind of voices, or to what purpose); but, for the historian or biographer she can only be described as a loaded subject (being both a political and religious phenomena).

So, when I read that a new study was coming out about her for the 600th anniversary I was not surprised, but the author, Nancy Goldstone, did give me pause, mostly with a quiver of excitement. Would Joan finally have a biographer who could make her improbable, short life the stuff of immediacy, with a palpable authenticity that we have missed despite numerous efforts to give us the "real" Joan?

Just on reputation alone I guessed Goldstone would be up to the challenge, she is one of the truly elite historians, she knows her subjects with a thoroughness that has overwhelmed even me, and I am a fool for mountains of research. It was a surprise, anyway, that in this parallel biography of a Saint and a Queen, Goldstone pursued a macro approach, one of assessment, vision, a summary only possible with historians who do know every last letter, document, writ, who inhale archives as if oxygen itself. From this massive saturation of information they distill an essence.

Goldstone, then, is not doing a straight chronological history, nor a political or social essay, she is stepping back and considering this phenomena, as Joan was seen in her own day, and as we see her after 600 years. There are also chapter ending statements, micro elements, the details or summary statements that pinpoint just when the whole narrative changed, when the dynamics of opinion and history writing coincide, or diverge, and left in the middle, stripped of all sorts of academic-speak, is a quite fine revelation of an era, a political system, a religious architecture that could sustain a young peasant from Domremy with a mission, and the Queen who could see that mission imbued with spiritual authority.

In many ways this was a new to me from Goldstone's earlier efforts, far more accessible to the non-history reader, and I think her best one yet. It took me a couple chapters before I realized what she was doing was not only the best course but an inspired one. One of the "problems" any writer has to address is a Subject for whom we have no surviving documents to reveal their personalities and decisions. Joan, in contrast, had extensive interrogation records that we can still read for ourselves, indeed, every serious biography or study of Joan would include them.

What Goldstone did is quite interesting from the perspective of having that rare Subject for whom we do have their own words but stretching past the almost cement stereotype of what we "see" and hear in those words. Is the Joan of the interrogations the only Joan, the full Joan? She was after all, a prisoner, more or less abandoned by the would-be king that she made an anointed real-king, still perhaps only 18 or 19 years old, completely illiterate, without counsel, and in what can only be described as an adversarial, defensive, vulnerable position. Any one word or phrase that could be used to damn her would be found, through endless sessions and repetitive questioning to catch her out. If we wanted to hear the Joan who was not being interrogated, what would that Joan sound like? Who is that Joan?

This is what I suspect Goldstone wanted to ask as well, and by couching Joan's very brief micro story within the context of the macro picture (court politics, gender politics, religious zealotry and religious hypocrites who lived side by side in Joan's world) she achieves what I have never seen even tried. The means by which she cuts through the "Joan-being-interrogated" persona that we all know too well to the fuller grasp of this odd young woman, is the device of Queen Yolanda of Aragon. Now that lady deserves a biography of her own! Fortunately, for the readers, we do get some measure of this equally resolute, indomitable, highly ethical woman in the process of getting to the essence of Joan of Arc.

What an achievement. For those who are new to Goldstone use this as a springboard to her earlier efforts on the Provencal Sisters Who Ruled Europe (Eleanor of Aquitaine et al) and the almost encyclopedic study of Joanna I Queen of Naples; these are dense and certainly complex studies, but give them a look, then go back and reread this latest one.

You will see that Goldstone made the right call for this parallel biography. Joan was not the stuff of every day queens and rulers and marriage politics and ambitious, duplicitous courtiers, diplomats and counselors. She was an exception, an oddity, an almost mythical heroine made flesh in her own time; her interrogation statements only serve to accentuate just how bizarre she must have appeared to her own peers. Most of us are gratified when she is rude, cursory, annoyed, disgusted with the pointed, harassing, sometimes inane questioning by her "betters," and with her life in the balance.
Goldstone chose to not retread all that we already know, but reveal how Joan was seen and perhaps used, for both the best reasons (Yolanda) and the worst reasons (Charles VII, Joan's feckless dauphin).

Now, for those who really love diving into a subject, read Goldstone's Maid alongside Juliet Barber's Conquest: the English Kingdom of France 1417-1450 (2009). These are both literary and historical bookends, really; Goldstone tells us about Joan and Yolanda from a French bias (it's true, but I expected that) while Barber is Henry V's perhaps most devoted and adoring recent biographer, and this book on the English "kingdom" (fantasy, actually) in France is by necessity the way Joan's "goddams" saw the war, the world, and by extension, how they saw her. Their writing style is also quite different, with Barber following a more conventional (but not unsympathetic view of Joan, at least) format; it is a nice contrast for Goldstone and I think really allows the Reader to appreciate just how inspired was her decision to rethink how to write about Joan.

And for hardcore readers, I throw in the study by Charles T Wood, Joan of Arc & Richard III: Sex, Saints, and Government in the Middle Ages (1988). This is a volume of academic essays, and certainly too dry for the new reader to history, but, again, for point of comparison to both the English-centric and French-centric views from Barber and Goldstone, Wood's example does highlight what the historian is dealing with in a subject like Joan, and why Nancy Goldstone surpasses all those hurdles with ease.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful and overlooked bit of history April 13 2012
By Amazon Customer - Published on
This is the first real biography that I have ever read and I must say that I really enjoyed it. I thought I was getting myself into another historical fiction novel, however, when discovering that this was in fact a biography I wasn't at all disappointed. This was quite interesting for me to learn about a time in history which my experience comes from watching Wishbone or other such kids shows which depict Joan of Arc. I loved learning about Yolande as well. She was a really powerful figure and knew how to best wield that power.

I found Goldstone to have a sense of humor in her writing that occasionally made me chuckle to myself. On the whole it was neither boring nor dry. There were parts that I was able to skip though when I felt like I was getting bogged down with story. Also I was wondering why it took so long to end after Joan was martyred. This was because Goldstone not only showed how the war ended (I skipped that part, sorry) but also how Joan's name was restored. I had no idea that the French didn't really like her either after she died so I am very happy that we view her as a heroine now rather than a heretic.

If you are looking for a biography of this time or just want to improve your knowledge in general this is a quick way to do it. (It was a nice SHORT read)

Thanks to Netgalley and Viking Publishing for giving me a chance to read this for review!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Secret History of Joan of Arc July 23 2012
By Gary McCollim - Published on
Nancy Goldstone has made a significant contribution to popular English-language knowledge about Joan of Arc. FYI, the information in this book about how an ignorant peasant girl was able to come to the court in exile of Charles VII and gain access to the king has been told in French several times, most recently by Colette Beaune and Olivier de Bonzy.

The story of Joan is only a small part of this book. Goldstone spends most of her time explaining who was Yolande of Aragon, the Queen of Sicily who was incidentally Duchess of Anjou and Duchess of Maine as well. She also tells the tale of a so-called best selling romance of the era about a woman named Melusine and how she helped the rightful claimant to some noble title gain his title back. Yolande and many people were inspired by this story, escpecially people backing Charles VII who had been dismissed by his own parents as a bastard. Charles VI who reigned from 1380 to 1422 was mentally ill and suffered from bouts of insanity. He was king when the English won the battle of Agincourt. He agreed to allow his daughter to marry Henry V of England and to proclaim Henry the rightful successor by denying his own son.

Goldstone also has to explain the murky politics of France with an insane king whose uncles and brother were conspiring against each other to govern France and take the wealth for themselves. One uncle carved out Burgundy as an independent power. His son plotted to assassinate the king's brother. Eventually that son was murdered himself in revenge. The death of Henry V prior to the death of Charles VI left the English claim to the throne of France on the head of an infant Henry VI with Charles VII hiding out south of the Loire.

My one quibble with Goldstone is that she failed to reveal that Joan of Arc was not a poor peasant girl, as long as we understand that poverty is a relative term. Joan's father was a relatively wealthy peasant. IOW, he owned more than enough land to feed his family. He was able to employ other peasants to farm his land. Joan was able to dream her dreams and encounter her voices because her family was not ground down into real poverty.

Make no mistake, though, this is a good book that tells a necessary tale revealing the background about Joan, her judges, and her two trials--the one that condemned her and the one that overturned that condemnation more than 20 years later. It also reveals another lady whose party at court helped Joan gain access to the king and pushed him to fight the English.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Legendary Woman And Her Backer May 17 2012
By John D. Cofield - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The story of Joan of Arc has passed from history into legend, in the process losing many of the details that made her so fascinating. Nancy Goldstone's fine new book is a dual biography of Joan and of the woman who made her career possible: Yolande of Aragon, Queen of Sicily.

Fifteenth century France was a land in turmoil. Riven by conflict with England and internecine strife within its borders, France by the late 1420s was on the verge of defeat. At that moment a French peasant girl appeared out of nowhere and convinced the uncrowned King of France to allow her to lead his armies. Winning victory after victory, Joan revived the French fighting spirit that enabled the kingdom to eventually defeat the English and put an end to the long running civil wars, even though she herself was captured and executed only a year or so after her first battle. That's the story that has come down to us over the centuries. Goldstone shows that the story is true, but reveals unexpected dimensions behind it that eliminate some of the more fantastical elements but maintain and enhance the drama.

Yolande of Aragon is revealed by Goldstone to have been one of the prime movers behind the career of Joan and the development of France during the fifteenth century. Her long and active life amidst the extraordinarily complex dynastic politics of the period makes for fascinating reading. Goldstone makes the point that while women seemed to live life off stage, they nevertheless often played important roles through their influence on the men who were their sons, husbands, and fathers. Yolande's career definitely proves the point, as does the better known but shorter one of Joan of Arc. Goldstone's ability to tell a dramatic story will ensure that Yolande's life, as well as those of the other women in this story, will no longer go unnoticed.
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