Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Hanging on to Jeanne of France

Jeanne of France: Duchess, Queen, Saint (1464-1505)


The unfortunate Jeanne of France,
briefly queen of France
In the year and a half since I retired after thirty-five years of university teaching, I’ve been letting go—not only of stress and anxiety, but of stuff. 

The first thrilling purge was when I was cleaning out my office. Although I would keep artwork and memorabilia, I was determined to get rid of all of the books and files.

The books were surprisingly easy—I invited majors to come by my office and “shop” on my bookshelves. And they came. One student brought two backpacks, another a couple of cardboard boxes. 

Once these literature majors had taken what they wanted, I put all the rest out on a table in the hallway, underneath a sign labeled “Free Books.” Sometimes the assorted titles disappeared so quickly that most of them were gone before I’d returned from my office with another armload for the table. 

(By the way, relatively expensive hardbound desk dictionaries proved to be losers—I had several, and not a single one of them disappeared from the "free" pile. I couldn't even give them away. But I thought for sure no one would want the Norton Critical Edition of Thomas Aquinas on Ethics and Politics—somehow I’d managed to acquire two copies—I was shocked that they both disappeared as quickly as I put them on the “free” table. Who knew?)

And the files proved to be easy, once I'd gotten rid of the books—I had spiral notebooks filled with notes from college classes, binders filled with notes I’d taken to study for Ph.D. exams, boxes of 3 x 5 cards of dissertation research, and 35 years’ worth of student evaluations, recommendations, lecture notes, and course files. Shredding what was confidential and tossing what wasn’t into huge recycling bins was energizing.

The clean-out has continued here at home. Slowly I’ve begun whittling down my personal library as I look ahead to downsizing. My research files have also begun to go—mostly file drawer after file drawer of notes and photocopies of critical articles, all of which are now available online via JSTOR.

And what has this to do with Jeanne of France? Well, my son was here the other day, moving some of his long-stored boxes (children’s books and dinosaur reproductions) from my garage to his basement, and he pulled out a box labeled “Louise of Savoy + Jeanne de France.” 

I’d forgotten it was there, honestly but once I saw the box I knew why it was there, labeled and stored. After finishing a project on Anne of France, I had in mind a couple of new possibilities and hoped to come back to them. I’d put into this box all of the material that might be needed when I decided to write about Louise of Savoy or Jeanne of France, who was, very briefly, queen of France. 

But now I’m at the point in my life where I am facing the reality that I will never write about all the things I’d like to write about—in part, my last year of blogging about women’s history was a way to write about as many women as I could, even if I just posted a short essay, realizing that I’d probably never have the time to write more. 

And I included a lengthy post about Jeanne's sister Anne of France, a powerful and canny politician, even though I’d already written at some length about her and translated her book of advice, written for her daughter Suzanne. I'm always ready to tell anyone who'll listen about this remarkable woman.

I also posted about Louise of Savoy, admitting to myself that I’d probably not get to that long-imagined project, and I at least mentioned Jeanne of France, though only briefly in a couple of posts.

At first I thought the box of go;rd wouldn’t really be a problem—at this point, I could simply toss it all into the recycling bin with no regrets. And that’s what I did. Drafts of material I’d written and then revised out of my Anne of France project, photocopies of articles, a carousel of slides I’d had made for a presentation. (To be honest, the last time I used slides in class, my students laughed at me, and shortly after that, the university got rid of all of its slide projectors because no one was using them. Anyway, if I ever wanted or needed them, I now had an infinite number of Google images at my fingertips.)

But there was one thing in that box that surprised me: I didn't remember that I had a photocopy of René de Maulde La Clavière’s Jeanne de France, duchesse d’Orléans et de Berry (1464-1505), published in 1883. As soon as I saw it, I remembered having ordered the book through Inter-Library Loan. And I could remember the student worker I’d paid to photocopy all 483 pages for me. 

I hesitated before tossing that photocopied biography into the recycling. But, realizing that I’d probably never need it, much less read it for fun, and remembering that I was, after all, downsizing, I dumped it.

And then I had second thoughts. I checked online—the biography is not available through Google Books, though I could buy one of those print-on-demand copies from Amazon for $39.95 if I found I needed it after all. And I could always get the book again through Inter-Library Loan, the same way I'd gotten it in the first place. It wasn't like I was throwing Jeanne herself away. Or was it? 

And so I found myself late one evening, in the garage, digging the photocopies  out of my recycling bin. 

It wasn’t just that I had spent the last decades of my professional life writing about women whose lives had been largely overlooked by standard histories, and teaching texts by women writers whose work had been “lost.” Although something of that did play a role in my “recovering” Jeanne of France. It was also the particular circumstances of her life:

Born in 1464, Jeanne of France was the second daughter of Louis of France and his wife, Charlotte of Savoy. Jeanne’s elder sister, Anne, had been born three years earlier. Jeanne was betrothed to Louis of Orléans when she was three weeks old and he was two. Since Louis XI had two daughters but, as yet, no son, the proposed marriage of his younger daughter to the heir presumptive to the throne was politically “useful.” 

In 1476, the marriage of the twelve-year-old French princess and the fourteen-year-old Louis was solemnized, though by this point, the king had a son and heir, Charles, born in 1470, and the young bridegroom was not eager to marry Jeanne—when asked if he consented to the marriage, he reportedly said, “I have to; there is no help for it.”

After the wedding, the young duke of Orléans refused to live with his new duchess, who was returned to Lignières, where she had been raised. Her father had no further use for her. Her “husband” threw himself into hunting, womanizing, and political scheming. 

After Louis XI’s death in 1483, the young duke prepared to annul his marriage, hoping both to find a wealthy bride in Brittany and to gain the throne of France for himself. In the meantime, he gathered his allies and travelled quickly to the chateau of Amboise, prepared to take over the regency of the new king, Charles VIII.

He was triply disappointed. Instead of becoming regent, Charles’s elder sister, Anne, became regent of France. Instead of being able to rid himself of his unwanted wife, Louis found that, once again, political expediency required he maintain his alliance with the new king and with the regent--he couldn't dissolve his marriage to their sister. And in 1491, Charles VIII, married Anne of Brittany, the young heiress Louis had hoped to acquire as his second wife.

But the terms of the 1491 marriage contract between Charles VIII and Anne of Brittany were crucial to what would eventually happen to Jeanne of France: if the new French king predeceased his queen, she was to marry his successor. 

When Charles died childless in 1498, Louis of Orléans inherited not only the French crown, then, but the French king’s widow, Anne, and with her, control of Brittany. If only he could rid himself of the inconvenient wife he had--the woman to whom he'd been married for some twenty-two years.

Before he could marry the widowed queen, Louis had to have his first marriage, to Jeanne of France, annulled. To that end, he alleged several grounds for annulment—that they were too closely related (consanguinity), that they were spiritually related (Jeanne’s father was also Louis’ godfather), and that he had not freely consented to the marriage (he had been forced to marry under duress). All of these grounds were dismissed, leaving him with a fourth claim: that the marriage had not been consummated. 

Louis claimed that Jeanne’s physical deformity (there is a great deal of contemporary discussion about her “deformity”—including whether she had any physical defect other than being short and unattractive) had prevented consummation. Louis wanted Jeanne, now queen of France, to be subjected to physical examination, while she preferred to rely on testimony from witnesses that their marriage had been consummated (her father had reportedly made sure his son-in-law consummated the marriage in 1476 in order to ensure that there could be no grounds for annulment.)

But the witnesses proved to be not enough, and, thankfully for Jeanne, she was not subjected to the threatened physical examination. And so Louis supplied a sworn statement that, even after twenty-two years, his marriage had never been consummated. Oh, and that his wife was a witch. And since a statement under oath made by a ruling prince must be true, Pope Alexander VI obliged..

The marriage of Louis XII and Jeanne of France was declared void on 17 December 1498, and Louis was married to Anne of Brittany days later, on 8 January 1499. Louis "rewarded" Jeanne with the gift of the title “duchess of Berry.” 
Jeanne of France, in the habit of a sister
of the Order of the Annunciation
of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
painted by Jean Perréal

She earned a more enduring title for herself, however; after the annulment, she devoted herself to the religious life, establishing a new order, the Order of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The order was approved by Pope Alexander in 1502 

Jeanne died at the Annonciade convent in Bourges in 1505. (Her grave was desecrated and her body burned in 1562 during the French Wars of Religion.)

In 1631, a case for her canonization was begun, and she was beatified in 1742. On 28 May 1950 she was canonized.

And that’s really why I couldn’t throw away Jeanne of France, even if it was just her life on paper. She’d been pretty much ignored by her father and then discarded by her husband. Silly as it may sound, I just couldn’t toss her in the recycling.