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Joan of Arc’s Ring a Stage Prop at Puy du Fou

Recently the Puy du Fou foundation, which runs a historical theme park in Western France, bought the alleged authentic ring of Joan of Arc. The intention is to exhibit the relic in a specially dedicated house in the midst of the grand spectacles characteristic of the place.

“Asked if on the crowned heads there were not rings of gold or other substance, she answered: “I do not know.” Asked if she herself did not have some rings, she replied to us, bishop: “You have one of mine; give it back to me.” She said the Burgundians have another ring; and she asked us, if we had her ring, to show it to her. Asked who gave her the ring which the Burgundians had, she answered her father or her mother; and she thought the names Jhesus Maria were written thereon; she did not know who had them written; she did not think there was any stone in it; and she was given the ring at Domrémy. She said that her brother gave her the other ring, which we had and she charged us to give it to the Church. She said she never cured any one with any of her rings”

“…Asked of what substance one of her rings was, on which the words Jhesus Maria were written, she answered that she did not properly know; and if it was of gold, it was not of fine gold; and she did not know whether it was of gold or brass; she thought there were three crosses, and to her knowledge no other signs save the words Jhesus Maria. Asked why she gladly looked at this ring when she was going to battle, she answered that it was out of pleasure, and in honour of her father and mother; and having her ring in her hand and on her finger she touched St. Catherine who appeared before her…”

From: Barrett, P. W., Trial of Joan of Arc, New York, 1932 (first English translation of the trial texts). See also new edition of The Trial of Joan of Arc where the trial texts have been translated and introduced by Daniel Hobbins and published by Harvard University press 2009

Recently a ring, which matches this description, which Joan of Arc gave at her trial, of a ring given to her by her parents, went up for sale at Timeline Auctions. Its connection to Joan has been documented for more than a century.

Description

Joan of Arc Ring © Timeline Auctions
Joan of Arc Ring © Timeline Auctions

The ring has a silver-gilt hoop with facetted outer face, expanding shoulders and two rectangular and angled fields to the bezel; the hoop shows incised niello-filled florid lozenges and triangles, while the design giving the appearance of three crosses, the ends of the shoulders with blackletter ‘I’ and ‘M’ (for ‘Iesus Maria’), the lateral faces with blackletter ‘IHS’ and ‘MAR’ (as abbreviations for Jesus and Maria); a small section inserted later to the hoop, was possibly done to enlarge it from a band suitable for a small, feminine finger to a larger male(?) hand; the degree of wear generally evident to the ring, including to the hoop insert, suggests an extended period of wear, long after the date of making, perhaps indicative of the ring’s appeal as a talisman.

The ring is contained in an antique, small oak casket in the form of an architectural reliquary with pitched and hipped lid, the ridge surmounted by a plain cross in iron, the box red velvet-lined, with a removable rectangular holder (the compartment beneath possibly having once held a small document or label), arranged to display the bezel and purpose-made to hold the ring, indicating the reverence in which the ring was already held when the box was made for it; the ring is very unusual in that the vast majority of rings with angled rectangular bezels have them engraved with pictures of saints rather than being inscribed (generally termed as iconographic rings); inscriptions on such rings are normally on the hoop part.

Provenience

According to Timeline Auctions it was until the sale the “Property of an Essex gentleman; inherited 1979 from Dr James Hasson of Harley Street, London; acquired at Sotheby’s sale, 1 April 1947, lot 37; formerly in a private collection (1929-1947); previously with the F. A. Harman Oates collection (sold Sotheby’s, 20 February 1929, lot 21); earlier with Augustus John before 1914, the gift to him of Lady Ottoline Morrell; by descent, through the Cavendish-Bentinck family (Duke of Portland) from cardinal Henry Beaufort (1375-1447), who was present at the trial and execution of Joan of Arc in 1431; the ring stated by Joan at her trial to have been a gift from her parents. The ring comes with a positive X-Ray Fluorescence metal analysis certificate.”

Background

jeanne d'arc cover
Jeanne d’Arc : Histoire et dictionnaire by Philippe Contamine Olivier Bouzy and Xavier Hélary. Robert Laffont 2012

After Joan of Arc had been captured, she was effectively sold to the English, who moved her to Rouen and there tried her for heresy with her wearing male clothing being a major point and her ‘relapse’ in this regard being the final straw in her indictment. Another issue was the extent to which she had used the rings, she wore, as instruments for bewitching people in her surroundings. Having being held guilty of this charge by an English dominated ecclesiastical court (Trial of Condemnation), she was burned at the stake 30 May 1431. Much about her and her trial (Trial of Condemnation) is controversial and another court (Trial of Rehabilitation) pronounced her innocent in 1456; since the she has been a French icon par excellence; she was beatified in 1909, canonised in 1920 and, in 1922, she was declared to be a Patroness of France; she is perhaps the most studied and written about woman of the medieval period; no doubt due in part to the great extent of contemporary documents and records that have survived.

Cardinal Henry Beaufort (1375-1447) was one of the sons of John of Gaunt and uncle to Henry V. He was present during the heresy trial and at the execution of Joan of Arc. As the senior churchman present he conducted at least one interview in person with Joan.

It is worth noting that the Condemnation trial documents were not published (in France) before 1849 and that the first English translation was not published in 1932. Prior to these publications, the only access to the original documents would have been in the archives in Paris and, as the association between this ring and Joan of Arc was published at least as early as 1917, the connection appears to have been made before any details of Joan’s description of her rings would have been generally known.

The ring was offered for sale by the son of James Hasson, a French doctor who came to the UK with General de Gaulle in World War Two, Timeline Auctions said. The doctor himself had bought the ring at auction in 1947 for £175.

The auctioneer initially estimated its value at between £10,000 and £14,000 ($14,000 and $20,000) – but it sold for almost 30 times that amount, £297,600.00 to the Puy du Fou Foundation.

Nevertheless, the authenticity of the ring was during this period severely questioned by the medievalist Phillippe Contamine, who is a member of the Académie des inscriptions et belles lettres, and professor emeritusat the University of Paris-Sorbonne as well as former director of the Centre Jeanne-d’Arc d’Orléans. He is also the author of the most comprehensive biography and dictionary about Joan of Arc. It is presumably on his advice that the ring was not acquired by the new Joan of Arc museum in Rouen.

Puy du Fou

Medieval village at Puy du FouThe Puy du Fou foundation runs a historical theme park, which covers an area of 57 acres and presents a series of themed locations reaching from a Gallo Roman Villa to the battlefield at Verdun. At each of these locations, visitors are offered major and minor shows, telling dramatic stories as open-air theatre. At the centre is the rebuilt Renaissance castle, which the group acquired in 1977 and used as a setting for a local re-enactment group. The park is filled with restaurants, lodgings, shops and craftsmen and leads the visitor through the history of France from Roman times and up into the 20th century. Puy du Fou, even though it is located far from Paris in the heart of the Vendée region of Western France, brings in some 2 million visitors every year, making it the fourth most popular attraction in France after Disneyland Paris.

Puy de Fou was founded by Philippe de Villiers, the right-wing leader of the Movement for France party. As a local politician, he ran the Vendée département for over 20 years, and represents his own brand of Catholic, traditionalist, nationalist, anti-immigration, eurosceptic politics. Although his political career has waned – he ran for French president in 2007 and won 2% of the vote and has dismissed the European Parliament as a worthy venue – he still promotes Puy du Fou across the world. Despite of the sanctions, he met in 2014 he met with Vladimir Putin in Crimea, signing a contract to create to Puy de Fou theme parks in Moscow and at Crimea.

Puy du Fou president Nicolas de Villiers told French TV it was a “glorious return” for a “French treasure”. One wonders, though, what la Pucelle would have thought of having her ring exhibited in the midst of such a “Grand Spectacle”?

SOURCE:

Medieval Joan of Arc Devotional Ring with Casket and Documents