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essay on the “Lessons” and there are two appendices, one on the question of Anne’s regency and one with extracts of unpublished letters written by Anne of France.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.
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