Book Review: “Queen’s Mate” by Pauline Matarasso

blue queens mate book cover

The full title of this book is “Queen’s Mate: Three women of power in France on the eve of the Renaissance”. I have to confess I almost didn’t buy this book. My research in to Anne of France, the unofficial regent of her brother King Charles VIII led me to this title. There is no full biography of her in English, however every source I did have for her mentioned this book. The other two women Matarasso writes about are Anne of Brittany and Louise of Savoy.

This work intrigued me but in looking for a copy of the book, it appeared it was out of print and the only copies available were used and very expensive. But I came into possession of some gift cards for Barnes and Noble and decided to use them to purchase the book. Boy am I glad I did! This is one of the best women’s biographies I’ve read in a long time. The book is so rich in detail on the lives of Anne of France and Anne of Brittany. Matarasso obviously did her research.

The first quarter of the book is dedicated to Anne of France. There is a lot of good detail about her reign as regent, especially about the “Mad War” and the War of the Breton Succession. Matarasso explains how Anne of France skillfully and diplomatically managed these conflicts which ended with the marriage of Anne of Brittany to King Charles VIII. Anne of France then retired from public life but still kept her hand in the government of the kingdom as well as her own duchy of Bourbon. I found a lot of good material here to write an article about her.

The majority of the book is about Anne of Brittany. I love all the details about Anne of Brittany’s chaotic childhood and her three marriages. Matarasso’s description of Anne’s two husband’s exploits in trying to conquer Italy are great. There is a great description of the scene of a visit to the French court by Juana of Castile and her husband Philip of Burgundy. Matarasso tells us about the castles Anne lived in, about her many pregnancies and all of her virtues as well as her faults.

There is really only a passing mention of Louise of Savoy here. Matarasso gives us some detail about her childhood. She was brought up under the guardianship of Anne of France and married a minor nobleman. The book ends with the accession of her son to the throne of France as King Francis I and Louise had a huge role in her son’s government so that piece is missing from this book. Matarasso explains there really is no complete biography of Louise. That may have changed since this book was written in 2001 but I know of no biography of her in English.  (I have since found a biography of her written by Dorothy Moulton Mayer.  See the review here.)

Since I received my copy of the book I found out it was published by Ashgate Publishing Company and the book is available from them on their website, although it is still expensive. But if you have an interest in these women and the period and you have the funds, I strongly recommend it. The writing is breezy, fun and keeps your interest. I couldn’t put it down.

Book Review: “A History of France from the Death of Louis XI” by John Seargeant Cyprian Bridge

History of France from the death of Louis XI

I’m doing some research on Anne de Beaujeu, the daughter of King Louis XI of France. When her father died, she was de facto King of France acting as regent for her brother, King Charles VIII. As a speaker of English, it’s frustrating to research her as the only biographies of her are in French. After a little bit of online research, I found this title which looked like exactly what I was looking for.

This book is a reprint of Volume I of “A History of France from the Death of Louis XI” covering the reign of Charles VIII and the regency of Anne of Beaujeu, 1483-1493. It was originally published by Oxford University Press in 1921. In his preface, Bridge explained there was very little in English about Anne’s regency and he hoped to fill in this gap.

The introductory section of the book gives a wonderful overview of what France was like at the death of King Louis XI, also known as the Spider King. Louis had laid the groundwork for the unification of France as we know it today after the end of the Hundred Years War. These years also saw the beginning of the end of the medieval feudal system. Bridge talks about the obstacles to French unity, the hostility of foreign powers, the doubtful temperament of the feudal nobility, the situation with the independent duchy of Brittany and the status of the heir to the throne in the event that Louis’ son Charles had no children.

With the death of Louis, there was the question of a regency because Charles was thirteen years old. Louis was very shrewd. He designated his daughter Anne as the guardian of his son but never gave her the actual title of Regent. Although Anne was respected and women had ruled as regents in the past, there was opposition to her administration and jockeying for power. However she handled this with skill and grace while managing to keep the nobles respect.

Anne managed to come out unscathed from the meeting of the States-General of 1484. She was skillful in weathering the storm of the Breton Succession and the Breton War and against foreign coalitions from Spain, England and the King of the Romans, Maximilian in opposition to the French annexation of Brittany. Most importantly, her political maneuvering eventually resulted in that annexation with the marriage of King Charles to Anne, Duchess of Brittany. This is possibly her most important legacy.

After this Anne retired from political life although she continued to act as a consultant for the government. She also wrote a book of maxims for her daughter Suzanne, who would become the Duchess of Bourbon. Although the politics of this era is convoluted and complicated, this book does a good job of covering all the ins and outs. There is an appendix where Bridge explains the monetary system of France for the era as well as genealogical tables for the relevant families. I recommend this book if you have an interest in the era.