Book Review: “Charles VII” by M.G. Vale

This volume is an English language biography of King Charles VII of France first published in 1974. As the author states in the Preface, this is not a conventional biography. His intention is to write a study of this enigmatic king by utilizing the evidence in a selective manner. Vale gives a contemporary assessment of Charles as both a king and a man as its starting point. He states in the beginning that there is precious little evidence about this king’s reign as many of the records no longer exist.

The first chapter is an overview of the king and his reign as it is viewed by historians in books from the past and how the reign is viewed in context. Vale then begins with a view of the king’s early years up until his meeting with Joan of Arc and his coronation at Reims. Other chapters recall his relationship with Joan of Arc, his son Louis and the nobility of France. The last part of the book cover his later years and then there is a section on the ceremonial king. Vale recounts several ceremonies Charles VII participated in and ends with a long description of his funeral.

Vale has a great deal of insight into the personality of Charles. Where some historians view him as a weak and fearful king, Vale believes just the opposite. He interprets Charles’ personality as very strong, militarily and politically. He believes the king played the nobles off against each other and elevated and destroyed these men with a political purpose. There is quite a bit in this book about the nobles who surrounded the king and their impact on his reign as well as his mistresses and mignons who lived close to the king and played a role in his life. The last chapter covers the later years of Charles’ reign and how his illnesses affected him and his government.

Personally, I enjoyed the recounting of Charles’ relationship with his son Louis as well as Vale’s views on Charles’ personality. Vale has a lot of information on the illnesses of the king which is fascinating. He has several theories about what Charles suffered from. The highlight of this book is the reprint of a memorandum that Charles dictated to his secretary in response to demands from his son Louis. Louis had left the kingdom of France and didn’t see his father for many years. Charles refuses Louis’ demands for surety of his safety and status at court and questions why Louis is so fearful and suspicious. This is a unique insight into the mind of the king and his tortured relationship with his son. While this book is not a conventional biography, it is most interesting and I recommend it.

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.