Book Review: “Anne of France: Lessons for my Daughter”

Lessons for my daughter book cover

 

Medieval women never cease to amaze me.  In researching King Louis XI of France, I learned he had a daughter of whom he thought very highly.  And this from a man who had no use for women!  It turns out he thought so much of his eldest daughter Anne de Beaujeu that he made her regent for his underage son who became King Charles VIII after his death.  I discovered Anne had written a book of lessons for her daughter in addition to ruling France for a short time as de facto king.

 

A quick search revealed an English translation of Anne’s work.  In fact, there is a series of books called the “Library of Medieval Women”, edited by Jane Chance.  “The Library of Medieval Women aims to make available, in an English translation, significant works by, for, and about medieval women, from the age of the Church Fathers to the sixteenth century”.  There are many forms of writing in the series including poetry, visions, biography, autobiography, sermons etc.  This book is part of the series.

 

Sharon L. Jansen, an historian on the roles of medieval women, has translated Anne’s work.  The actual lessons which Anne wrote for her daughter Suzanne, Duchess of Bourbon are prosaic and derivative.  Jansen explains Anne was drawing on lessons she had learned as a child and relied on books in the royal libraries to strengthen and supplement her lessons.  They are reminiscent of the works of Christine de Pizan and Machiavelli’s “The Prince”.

 

The book consists of an introduction which gives an overview of Anne’s upbringing in the French court and her education overseen by her mother Charlotte of Savoy.  Charlotte was a great collector of manuscripts and books and her library would become the genesis of the Bibliothèque nationale of France.  So Anne was exposed to these works from an early age.  Throughout the “Lessons”, Jansen refers to these books.  The next section of the book are the “Lessons” themselves, translated with full footnotes.

 

Finally, Jansen gives us an interpretive essay on the “Lessons” and there are two appendices, one on the question of Anne’s regency and one with extracts of unpublished letters written by Anne of France.  There is an extensive bibliography which I found beneficial in looking for sources on the life of Anne.  I recommend this book if the reader has an interest in the period.

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.