Centre for Continuing Education

Vignettes of France Course: from Joan of Arc to the Revolution

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This course will be of relevance to those people interested in French studies, French civilisation and those studying the French language, providing cultural background to language work.


This history course will focus on the life of several outstanding figures in French civilisation from the late Middle Ages up to the post Revolutionary period, and aims to deepen your appreciation of their varied achievements and the differing social conditions under which they worked and lived. As participants develop their familiarity with these figures, it will help them to understand the very dramatic changes that occurred in French society during this period, beginning with the instability and turbulence of the late Middle Ages, through the excitement of the Renaissance period, the relative stability of the period of absolutism, and ending with the return of uncertainty and turbulence with the Revolution and its aftermath.


At the end of this history course, participants should be able to:

  • Have a deeper understanding of the different personalities studied, their achievements and their impact on the course of French history over this four-hundred year period
  • Appreciate the major cultural developments that occurred during this period in the arts, particularly the visual arts, literature and music
  • Be competent to discuss the very significant social and cultural changes that occurred in France, from the final stages of the Hundred Years' War to the post Revolutionary period
  • Enjoy a more informed appreciation of the continuing relevance of the personalities studied in the course through their treatment in later literature, the visual arts, recordings and film


This history course will begin with a detailed study of Joan of Arc and her role in the Hundred Years' War, based on the most up- to-date research of French historians in this area, and will also include a study of Paul Claudel’s and Arthur Honnegger’s dramatic work, Jeanne d’Arc au Bucher, of 1931, by means of a DVD performance with English subtitles. Through this revisionist approach Joan of Arc will emerge as a more complex, fascinating and sympathetic character than the figure of popular legend. The excitement of the French Renaissance will be studied through the eyes of the great humanist writer and satirist Francois Rabelais, who wrote during the earlier part of the 16th century. The reign of Louis XIV and its magnificent achievements in the arts will be approached through the monarch’s extraordinary patronage of the visual arts and music, particularly the music of Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, setting a precedent to be imitated and if possible emulated at virtually every other court in Europe. The course will conclude with Queen Marie Antoinette and her friendship with the outstanding artist Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun, her greatest portraitist. The focus will be on Marie Antoinette’s appreciation of the arts, her love of music and skill as a harpist, her sincere admiration for Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun, the artist’s career after the French Revolution in both Vienna and St Petersburg. We will also look at extracts from the play ‘La legerete francaise’ (in English) by Nicolas Brehal (2002) which presents a very sympathetic modern appreciation of the friendship between the Queen and the artist.

Intended Audience

This course is suitable for adults and undergraduates interested in French history and the arts, particularly French literature, art, architecture and music from the late Middle Ages up to the present.

Delivery Style



Digital images, DVDs, CDs, printed handouts with literary extracts


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Small class sizes
  • Free, expert advice
  • Student materials – yours to keep
  • Statement of completion