Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Christine of France, Regent of Savoy

Marie-Christine of Bourbon, duchess of Savoy (died 27 December 1663)


Marie-Christine of Bourbon, known more simply as Christine of France, was the daughter of Henry IV of France and his second queen, the much-maligned Marie de' Medici. She was born on 10 February 1606, the third of their six children.

A 1633 portrait of Marie-Christine,
duchess of Savoy
Christine's elder sister, Elisabeth, and her younger, Henrietta Maria, both became queens--Elisabeth became the queen of Spain, Henrietta Maria, the queen of England. 

Elisabeth would give birth to eleven children, only two of whom lived past childhood, however; she was regent of Spain for her husband, Philip IV, but she died young, only forty-one years old.

Henrietta Maria married Charles I of England, but she was forced to flee after the beginning of the English Civil Wars, and she would remain an exile in France from 1643 until her son's restoration in 1660. She returned briefly to England, but died in Paris in 1669 at the age of fifty-nine. (Christine's brother became the king of France as Louis XIII.)

While Christine did not become a queen, she married Louis Amadeus, the duke of Savoy, in 1619. Although she brought as much culture and splendor to the court of Savoy as she could--and although she maintained a close and intimate correspondence with her younger sister, the queen of England--the ambitious Marie-Christine encouraged her husband to claim the title of king of Cyprus and Jerusalem even after he succeeded as duke of Savoy in 1630. 

After her husband's death in 1637, Christine claimed the title of regent of Savoy. Her eldest son died the next year, but Christine retained her role, acting from 1638 as regent for her second son, Charles Emmanuel (b. 1634). Although she resisted French influence, her husband's younger brothers, not content with their positions after Louis Amadeus's death, began a civil war with Spanish support.

With French support, Christine was victorious, and to ensure the peace, she settled matters with her husband's brother, Maurice. Now here's another example of "traditional marriage" for you: Maurice, who had been a cardinal for thirty years (!!!), gave up his ecclesiastical title, got a dispensation from the pope, and married his niece. The fact that he was forty-nine and she was thirteen is the least of it . . . (The younger of Louis Amadeus's brothers, Thomas Francis, also made peace with Christine, but there was no marriage to a niece for him--he was already married to Marie, another member of the Bourbon family. Once peace was made, he began fighting against the Spanish and for the French.)

Anyway, Christine had successfully settled matters and retained her position as regent of Savoy until 1648, when her son, at age ten, achieved his majority. Although her formal role ended, she continued to govern for him. His delayed marriage--he didn't marry until 1663--is frequently interpreted as a sign of his mother's desire to hold onto power. When he did marry, in April of 1663, Charles Emmanuel married his first cousin, Françoise Madeleine d'Orléans, the daughter of his mother's younger brother, a young woman reportedly chosen because of her docility.

A gilded bronze medallion, 1637,
Christine of France,
regent of Savoy
Marie-Christine of Bourbon, regent of Savoy, enjoyed an exuberant personal life--she took lovers and enjoyed life's luxuries and pleasures as well as wielding political power.  

Christine died on 27 December, just months after her son's marriage. She was fifty-seven years old. 

The best account of Christine of Savoy is in Robert Oresko's "Maria Giovanna Battista of Savoy-Nemours (1644-1724): Daughter, Consort, and Regent of Savoy," in Clarissa Campbell Orr's Queenship in Europe, 1660-1815: The Role of the Consort.

By the way, the subject of Oresko's essay, Marie Jeanne Baptiste, had been proposed as a bride for Charles Emmanuel in 1659, and after being "inspected" by her potential husband and his mother, she was rejected by Marie-Christine, perhaps because she did not seem so very malleable. Charles Emmanuel, however, wanted her as his wife, and after the death of his first wife, Françoise Madeleine, just a month after the death of his mother, Charles Emmanuel married Marie Jeanne, now known as Maria Giovanna. After his death in 1675, Maria Giovanna became regent of Savoy.

Maria Giovanna,
duchess and regent of Savoy,
a print from 1677
Update: To respond to the question about the changing of Marie Jeanne Baptiste's name to Maria Giovanna--royal and noble women's names were frequently changed to reflect the language of the country of their marriage. In perhaps the most well known example, Catalina de Aragón became Catherine of Aragon when she arrived in England. Thus Marie Jeanne Baptiste's name was Italianised when she married into the House of Savoy. (Also, I originally wrote "Jeanne" as "Jean," and it's been corrected here.