Showing posts with label france. Show all posts
Showing posts with label france. Show all posts

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Damn, Girl-Isabella, Queen of England, 'She-Wolf' of France

Militant and ruthless, Isabella of France was the sort of queen HBO and Starz make television shows about. Married at twelve, Isabella spent the early years of her reign being scorned and passed over for her husband's male favorites. Forced to stand between her husband, his aristocracy, and England, Isabella became a wily diplomat and politician, which later saw her ousting her corrupt and weak husband with the help of her lover. Though she saw real power for only four years, she saw her son onto the throne, and was instrumental in holding England together during the tumultuous years of Edward II. Deemed 'the she-wolf of France'¹, Isabella was a fierce defender of what was hers.

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Our girl Isabella, deciding the fate of her enemies.
Born sometime between 1292 and 1295, Isabella was the sixth child and only surviving daughter of King Philip the Fair of France, and Queen Jeanne of Navarre. Very early in her life Isabella was given into the care of Theophania St. Pierre, who served as her nurse and companion even after her marriage.

Despite being cared for by Theophania, Isabella was, in no way, neglected by her parents. As their only girl she was much indulged, and given several grants of land, making her wealthy even as a child. In addition to being given land, Isabella was also given a rudimentary education,being taught to read even though her father generally held the belief that only nuns should be taught to read. Isabella developed a love of books and learning that would sustain her throughout her life.

It is important to note the sort household that Isabella was raised in. While by no means normal, Isabella's family was idyllic by the standards of the times, and the modern day. Her parents were in love, and it was very likely that their marriage had been a love match. Isabella's mother ran her country, Navarre, independent of Philip's France, and Philip was a strong, if somewhat brutal, king of France. Isabella was raised by exemplary monarchs with strong relationship. This would stand in stark contrast to the men in her own future, and may have contributed to the disillusionment that Isabella would experience later in her life.

At the time of Isabella's birth France and England were, unsurprisingly, at war. Traditional enemies, England and France's latest quarrel was over the regions of Aquitaine and Gascony, regions that the two countries had been fighting over since Eleanor of Aquitaine's marriage to Henry II, and the transfer of her lands to English hands, four generations previous. Philip IV and Edward I were ready to call a temporary truce, and they decided to seal the deal with a double marriage--Philip's sister, Margaret of France, to Edward I, and Edward I's son, Edward of Caernarvon, to Philip's only daughter, Isabella.

The marriage was agreed to in 1298, and Edward pressed for Isabella to marry his son immediately, but an intervention from Pope Boniface VIII, proposing that marrying off a three year old was perhaps a little unethical, delayed the union. The couple were married by proxy when Isabella was seven, then married for real in 1308.
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Edward Caernarvon at his coronation.
Twelve year old Isabella was hailed as a beauty, and was greeted joyously by her new English public. Her husband, Edward, however, wasn't as enthused. It wasn't that he disliked Isabella, it was just that he was enamoured with another man, and he was completely indifferent to the twelve year old he had just vowed to love, honor, and obey. Edward already had someone to love, honor, and obey, his husband favorite, Piers Gaveston.

Piers Gaveston and Edward II went all the way back to 1300, when Edward was 15 (ish). Edward's father, Edward (hereafter referred to as 'Big Daddy Ed'), wasn't too terribly impressed with his son. Big Daddy Ed was a Medieval King's Medieval King. His hobbies included holding tournaments, producing heirs, and warring with the Scots. Edward, on the other hand, liked music, swimming, rowing, and thatching. Big Daddy Ed was disgusted with his son, and so he installed Piers Gaveston, the son of a poor knight, in Edward's household. Piers was the sort of fellow that Big Daddy Ed would have liked to have for a son--athletic, refined, and a great lover of warring with the Scots. He'd hoped that Piers would be an improving influence for his son, unfortunately, Piers was anything but. Piers and Edward fell in love almost immediately, and the pair proceeded to wreak havoc among the nobility and common people.

While Piers doesn't appear to have been present at Edward and Isabella's marriage, he was most notably present at their coronation (Big Daddy Ed having died a few months before). Piers had controversially been raised to the title of Earl of Cornwall², and as such had the right to wear cloth of gold at the coronation. Piers, however, decided to show up in purple silk, essentially claiming status on par with Isabella and Edward. He also proceeded Isabella and Edward in the procession, and was given several other prestigious duties during the ceremony. This infuriated Edward's nobles, as Piers was, outside of his flashy new titles, not particularly blue-blooded.

The real insults came at the banquet succeeding the coronation. Edward had been given substantial sums of money by the French for the coronation, and had spent it on lavish tapestries displaying the arms of himself and Gaveston. Edward took several of the jewels and wedding presents meant for Isabella, and gave them to Gaveston, and spent much of the evening with his husband favorite, instead of with his new bride. The French delegation was outraged, and Isabella wrote to her father that she felt like a nonentity in her own marriage.

For the first few years of her marriage, Isabella had very little political power, and much of the drama and intrigue of this time concerns Edward and Piers. Edward burned through goodwill and money quickly, and had alienated his nobility not long after his coronation. His continued indulgence and promotion of Gavestone, as well as his neglect of the kingdom and ineffectual warring with the Scots, led his barons to draw up the Ordinances of 1311, which severely curtailed his powers. He was forced to banish Gaveston multiple times, but always managed to recall him at a later date. Isabella more or less was dragged along with them, with very little power of her own. However, everything changed when Isabella turned sixteen.

There was no formal agreement about what age Isabella had to reach before she and Edward would consummate their marriage, but even in Medieval times it was generally agreed upon that getting pregnant at twelve was sheer dangerous idiocy. Getting pregnant at sixteen, however, was merely dangerous. Consequently, Isabella was pregnant by 1312.

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Map of the British Isles in 1300. Not
included are the Plantagenet lands in
southern France.
Now, at this time Edward and Gaveston were in the middle of yet another one of their power struggles with the English aristocracy. Gaveston had been exiled again in 1311, and his return to England had ruffled more than a few feathers. Additionally, the Scots were feeling frisky again, and they were making war in Northern England.

Unfortunately, Northern England was where Isabella was, and her husband's war making was so incompetent, that she soon found herself in danger. Edward marched south with his army, leaving Isabella with scant protection from the advancing Scots.

Isabella and Edward both made it safely back to London, but Gaveston was not as fortunate. He had been trapped in Scarborough Castle by his enemies, and executed, leaving Edward bitter and heartbroken. On November 13th Isabella's first child, the future Edward III, was born.

The next four years would be the happiest of Edward and Isabella's marriage. Two of their four living children--John and Eleanor--were born during this period. During this time Edward put significant efforts into repairing his relationships with his subjects, enacting reforms and reassigning lands that had been unfairly given to Gavestone. Edward seemed contrite, and for a time England enjoyed a brittle peace. However, things grew uneasy as another royal boyfriend favorite rose over the horizon.

The Despenser family were related to Edward, and Hugh Despenser the Younger (Hereafter known as 'Horny Hugh') was technically Edward's nephew. In 1318, Horny Hugh was made Edward's royal chamberlain. Horny Hugh Despenser and his father, Hugh Despenser, both had political ambitions. Unlike Gavestone, who was content to be a wealthy, lowborn, nuisance, Horny Hugh wanted to rule. He was given large swathes of the marchlands, angering the Marcherlords³ to whom the land rightfully belonged.

Furthermore, Horny Hugh and Isabella didn't like each other. It's unknown what sort of relationship Isabella had had with Gavestone, but given that Isabella was little more than a child during Gavestone's tenure as royal husband favorite, it seems likely that they didn't have much of a relationship at all.

However, with Horny Hugh, things were different. Isabella was becoming a political person in her own right, and she was painfully aware that Horny Hugh and the Despensers elevation insulted her, her French family, and the realm. She was frequently called upon by the barons to curb the king's worst impulses, and her and Edward's relationship grew increasingly tense. In 1322 Edward asked Isabella to swear an oath of loyalty to the Despensers. When she refused, he took away her lands, and gave custody of their two youngest children--Eleanor and Joan--to Horny Hugh.

Meanwhile, Isabella's brother Charles had become King of France, and he was eyeing Gascony with increasing amounts of lust. Squabbles started popping up in the region, and despite multiple attempts at diplomacy, including sending Edward and Isabella's eldest son to France, war seemed inevitable. In 1325, Edward decided to send Isabella to intercede.

Once back in France, Isabella had very little reason to be loyal to Edward. He had taken her children, confiscated her lands, and reduced her to little more than a pauper. She had been insulted and humiliated for seventeen years, and she was done. Safe at her brother's court in Paris, Isabella declared her contempt for her husband and the Despensers. She took up the garb of a widow, saying, essentially, that her husband was dead to her, and that she considered him unfit for the office he held. With the help of her cousins in the Lowlands, Isabella began plotting to remove Edward from the son in favor of their eldest son.

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Roger speaking with Isabella on a battlefield
Enter Roger Mortimer. He was a young, handsome nobleman with vast estates in Wales and Ireland. He had been exiled from England for his political policies of attempting to overthrow the Despensers, and he had a thirst for vengeance. He and Isabella had met many times before, as Mortimer had been a regular at court, but with Isabella in widow weeds, and Mortimer driven from his home, something had changed. They began to plot together, and that plotting soon moved to the bedchamber, where it is widely assumed that they began plotting Edward's overthrow in a horizontal position.

Roger and Isabella's relationship is an interesting one. It is quite obvious that she was very enamored of him. She was permissive of his bad behavior far beyond what someone using him as a means to an end would have been. However, it is difficult to ascertain Mortimer's feelings. While they had some things in common--love of art, love of Arthurian Romance--he frequently disregarded her wishes concerning their plot, and later the running of the country. After attaining the regency, he used her to gain vast lands and wealth. This may be constructed just as him being the typical medieval man, but there was also the fact that Mortimer was already married to a woman it was widely rumored to be in love with. However, he and his wife had been separated for three years, and it was possible that his ardor towards his wife had cooled, and he truly had feelings for Isabella.

Though they were nowhere near as open about it as Edward and his husbands favorites, it soon became common knowledge that Isabella and Mortimer were lovers. This enraged Edward, who swore that if he saw Isabella again he would kill her. Because of her adultery, Isabella's brother refused to help her with her coup.⁴ Luckily, Isabella's cousins in Hainault⁵ held no such compunctions, and gave them ships and Dutch mercenaries to begin their invasion.

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Berkeley Castle, where Edward died.
Isabella and Mortimer landed in Suffolk in September of 1326. Edward's few allies quickly abandoned him, and England was taken with almost no bloodshed. Horny Hugh was hanged, drawn, and quartered, and Edward was deposed and imprisoned in Berkeley Castle. Isabella and Edward's eldest son, Edward (hereafter referred to as 'Baby Edward'), was placed on the throne.

As Baby Edward was only fourteen, a regency was necessary. As queen, this position was granted to Isabella, and she, along with Mortimer, would serve as regents for about four years.

About a year into their regency, Isabella and Mortimer decided to deal with the problem of the old king. Despite imprisoning him in a dank dungeon, and throwing dead animals and rotting corpses into his cell in hopes he would die of disease, Edward stubbornly remained alive. He remained a rallying point for those who opposed Isabella and Mortimer, and in September of 1327, he mysteriously died.
There are a few stories about how Edward died. Least gruesome is that he was smothered in his sleep. Most popular is that a flaming hot poker was inserted into his anus, and run through his entrails. There are some stories as well that claim he didn't die, but instead escaped, and fled to Italy to live out the rest of his life as a monk.⁶ While neither Isabella nor Mortimer confessed to having ordered or committed the murders, it is widely assumed that they at the very least signed off on the order.

Unfortunately, their regency wasn't entirely popular. Isabella herself remained widely respected, it was Mortimer who was the problem. Like all of the other husbands favorites in Isabella's story, Mortimer was greedy and grasping; sending England to the brink of bankruptcy to enrich himself. He was very unpopular, and Baby Edward grew resentful.

In 1330 Edward had had enough. With support of Henry of Lancaster, Edward staged a dramatic midnight coup, taking a secret passage into the castle where his mother and Mortimer were living, pinning them and their advisors in an enclosed chamber, forcing them to abdicate. Mortimer was hanged a short while later, while Isabella was placed under house arrest.

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Baby Edward
There were several people who called for Isabella's execution, but Edward declined, instead spinning the narrative that she was innocent in the affair, and that the blame rested squarely with Mortimer. Her lands were seized, and she was pensioned off, placed under house arrest at Castle Rising in the Norfolk countryside where she couldn't cause any more problems.

The last years of Isabella's life saw her growing closer to her family, and finding religion. Her daughter, Joan, came to live with her after leaving her husband, and Isabella doted ceaselessly on her grandchildren. Towards the end of her life, she and Baby Edward reconciled. She became a nun in 1358, and died shortly after.

Looking at her life, it can be difficult to determine if Isabella was a plotting villainess or a woman making bloody, bloody lemonade. It is apparent that she struggled for much of her life to become an active agent in her own fate, and was met with mixed success. Today she is mostly forgotten, lost in the blinding glare of her son, Edward III, who is frequently touted as being England's greatest king. However, she should be remembered as a brilliant queen and stateswoman in her own right, who was instrumental in ensuring stability in England, even if she had to do it by force.



¹The title was borrowed from Shakespeare's play Henry IV, Part III. The original title referred to Margaret of Anjou, but has since become a byname for Isabella.
²This caused a major scandal, because the Earldom of Cornwall was then, and now, a royal title. (It's currently held as an auxiliary title of Prince Charles.) While Cornwall is no longer an Earldom but a Dukedom, it is still considered to be the right of the first born son of the monarch.
³A Marcherlord was a nobleman with holdings along the border with Wales, who was expected to defend the border.
⁴Adultery was a major crime for a Medieval noblewoman. Charles' first wife had committed adultery, and Charles had had her lovers beaten to death in a public square. It is unsurprising that he was less than permissive about his sister's liaison with Roger Mortimer.
⁵The aforementioned Lowland cousin. Coincidentally, this same cousin, Joan of Hainault, was responsible for throwing Isabella and Mortimer together.
⁶This story was later used to support the causes of people who would rebel against Baby Edward.

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Sources
The Plantagenets by Dan Jones
Queen Isabella: Treachery, Adultery, and Murder in Medieval England by Alison Weir
She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth by Helen Castor
Isabella, the 'She-Wolf of France'
Edward II Marries Isabella of France
Isabella of France: Queen of England
Isabella of France
Edward II: King of England
Edward II:1307-1327
Edward II (1284-1327)
Edward II:1307-1327 AD
Piers Gaveston, Hugh Despenser, and the Downfall of Edward II
Roger Mortimer
Edward III

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Damn, Girl-Jeanne de Clisson, Bloody Lioness of Brittany

Shrouded in mythology, Jeanne de Clisson was one of the bloodiest privateers of the 14th century. Born a wealthy lady of high rank, Jeanne took to the seas against the French after the execution of her much loved second husband Olivier. She proceeded to harry French ships--militaristic and merchant--on behalf of the English crown for 13 years before settling down into another happy marriage.

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Modern picture of Jeanne done in
the artistic style of the time. It is
unknown exactly what Jeanne
looked like.
Born Jeanne de Belleville, Jeanne was born in 1300, and married wealthy land owner Geoffrey de Chateaubriant at the age of 12. Very little is known about Jeanne's first marriage, but she did have two children with Geoffrey--a son and a daughter. The son would inherit the Chateaubriant estate after Geoffrey's death in 1326, and the daughter would later inherit the de Belleville estate, as Jeanne had no living brothers.

Jeanne married again in 1330, this time to Olivier de Clisson, a widower and great friend of Charles de Blois. Though neither left a diary saying 'I <3 Jeanne/Olivier', tradition holds that their marriage was a love match. They would have five children together and live happily for 13 years.

The political situation of the time was more than tense. France and England were having at it (when were they not?), this time over Brittany, a northern Duchy in what is now France. At the time, the English still had extensive holdings in modern France, inherited from Eleanor of Aquitaine. The English, however, were having difficulties holding onto those territories, and had been at war with France off and on for several hundred years.

At Jeanne's time, England and France were involved in what would come to be called the Hundred Year's War, the same war which Jeanne d'Arc would fight and die in. (Remember, this is the HUNDRED Years war.) The war was over possession of Brittany, the territory in which Jeanne lived. Formerly an independent Celtic state, Brittany had become an independent Duchy. It was technically beholden to no other country, but had the misfortune to be surrounded by two major powers who were constantly trying to take it over. Brittany managed to hold strong until 1341 when Duke John of Brittany died without a direct heir.

The duke's death left two potential heirs to the Duchy, one backed by the French, another backed by the English. As was usual with such land disputes, France and England merrily began another war, hacking away at each other's populations and infrastructures mercilessly. Olivier, as a friend of Charles de Blois, the French candidate for the Duchy, was called away to command in the war, being posted at a fort in Vannes.

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Olivier kneels on the scaffold, awaiting his death. He is
surrounded by the corpses of other noblemen executed
for treason.
During the siege of Vannes Olivier was taken captive by the English. He was later released in a prisoner exchange, but his friend Charles de Blois was suspicious. Charles suspected that the English had had French help when they took Vannes, and he suspected Olivier. He condemned Olivier for treason, and had him executed without trial in August of 1343. Olivier's head was sent to Nantes, and placed on a spike above the city.

Jeanne was, understandably, distraught.She took her sons to see their father's decapitated head, and told them that he had been murdered by Charles de Blois. Shortly after, she sold all of her land, and gathered a force of men loyal to her and Olivier's memory. With her men she set off on a revenge mission that would last nearly two decades.

First stop on the revenge tour was the castle of Galois de la Heuse. Galois was a supporter of Charles de Blois, and had been friendly with Jeanne's husband. Why Jeanne chose Galois' home for her first scene of revenge is uncertain, but what is known is that Galois never saw it coming. He opened the gates to let Jeanne in, and was, presumably, quite surprised to soon find himself and most of the people who lived there slaughtered. Jeanne's force left a few survivors to spread the news, then took to the seas where they could make the most impact.

With money from the sales of her lands, Jeanne purchased three ships. They were painted black, and outfitted with red sails. The sight of those ships struck fear into the hearts of many a sailor when Jeanne and her crew overtook unsuspecting French ships in the mist on the English Channel. Those ominous ships meant almost certain death to almost everyone on board the captured vessel. Jeanne only spared one or two members of each crew so there would be a survivor to carry tales of her exploits.

Noble status didn't protect seafarers from Jeanne's crew. Jeanne had a particular hatred for members of the nobility, and legend had it that she would behead noblemen herself. This, combined with her general modus operandi, earned her the ephitet 'Bloody Lioness of Brittany'.

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Brittany on a map of modern France. 
Jeanne wasn't a simple pirate motivated by self interest. She was a privateer. She colluded with the English crown to provide supplies to their troops in France, and to destroy French ships. She received ships and men from the English government, and became an integral part of English naval strategy.

In 1356 Jeanne quit the murder on the high seas business, and married again, this time to Englishman Walter Bentley. Once again, all signs point to this marriage being a love match. The pair moved to a castle near the coast of Brittany, and lived peacefully. Jeanne died quietly in 1359.

Today Jeanne is all but forgotten, and the few stories we have about her are romanticized with myth and legend. It is difficult to say which parts of her life are true and which are fiction, but what few concrete records we have of her paint a vivid picture of a strong woman unafraid to get her hands dirty (or, you know, murder someone.)

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Sources
Jeanne de Clisson
The Lioness of Brittany
Jeanne de Clisson, the Bloody Lioness of Brittany


Thursday, December 7, 2017

Damn, Girl-Olympe de Gouges

Olympe de Gouges was essentially the French Mary Wollstonecraft, if Mary Wollstonecraft had been a pacifist who published inflammatory material during one of the most violent times in history. Abolitionist, feminist, and children's rights activist, Olympe de Gouges fought for the rights of the disenfranchised during the height of the Reign of Terror through her pamphlets and plays. Though she remained a semi-loyal monarchist until her death, her writing was a big part of the French Revolution, and her writings on gender and racial equality continue to influence civil rights thinkers to this day.

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Olympe de Gouges
Olympe was born Marie Gouze in the French town of Montauban. The daughter of a butcher and a lady's maid, Olympe was given a cursory education, and was raised speaking the regional language of Occitan. Not much is known about her early life, but it is known that at age 17 she married Louis Aubrey, an officer in the French Army who was much older than her. Their marriage was short lived, with Aubrey dying only a few years later. While Marie and Louis did have a son, it was evidently an unhappy marriage, because after Louis died Marie moved to Paris, changed her name, and vowed never to marry again.¹

 Now named Olympe de Gouges--a mash up of her mother's first name and father's last name-- Marie set about trying to become a writer. Though she wasn't well read, and didn't have the most thorough of educations, Olympe was hardworking and determined By 1778 she had had her first play published.

One of Olympe's favorite mediums was the theater. She wrote around 40 plays, twelve of which survive, ten of which were published, and only 4 of which were ever produced. Writing exclusively for the Comédie Française, Olympe had to deal with the sexism of Comédie Française producers and actors, which severely hindered the publication and production of her plays during her lifetime.

Olympe's plays adhere to the proud tradition of theater as activism. Her plays covered the controversial subjects of the time--slavery, divorce, the immorality of debt imprisonment, political extremism, and inequality of the sexes. One of her plays, L'Esclavage de Nègres, ou l'Heureux naufrage [Black Slavery or the Happy Shipwreck] was sabotaged by both performers and outside protesters because of its controversial advocation for the freedom of African slaves.

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Dedication page of The Declaration of
the Rights of Women
Around the time of her arrival in Paris, rumors started flying that Olympe was the illegitimate daughter of the Marquis de Pompignan, or King Louis XV. While most likely untrue, these rumors gave Olympe access to the higher echelons of pre-Revolution French society. It was here where Olympe found patronage, and made friendships among the nobility that would influence her moderate, soft-monarchist views.

Olympe believed that a monarchy was essential to a country's survival, but she didn't believe in the French monarchy of the time. She repeatedly warned and entreated the House of Bourbon to treat its citizens, especially the women better. Her seminal work The Declaration of the Rights of Woman was even dedicated to Queen Marie-Antoinette, in hopes that the Queen would identify with Olympe's writing as a woman, and move for political change.

The Declaration of the Rights of Women was a direct, rage filled response to the glaring omission of women and women's rights in The Declaration of the Rights of Man. In it, Olympe revised the declaration, and gave specific rights to women that echoed the same rights assigned to men. In it, she also advocated for a revision of the marriage contract, and wrote her own marriage contracted which brought two people together in an equal union where property and children were shared.

Loyalty to the monarchy aside, Olympe's real loyalty lay with France. She abhorred violence, and believed that war was a violation of the social contract between nation and citizen. She repeatedly advocated for peaceful methods of resistance, and her thinking influenced the great activists of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Olympe was considered a political moderate for her time, though being a moderate during the French Revolution isn't really saying much by today's standards. She often satirized political extremism in her writing, and condemned the political violence happening during the revolution. However, moderate or no, Olympe did eventually end up on the side of the revolution.

It was after the revolution that Olympe's writing switched from plays to pamphlet's, and her work became dangerously political. Her assertions that injustice against women was the root of societies ills, and criticisms of The Declaration of the Rights of Man brought her to the attention of the revolution. Her advocacy for equality of the sexes, and criticisms of Revolution leaders led to her imprisonment, trial, and eventual execution.

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The execution of Olympe de Gouges
Though she was executed for crimes against the revolution, Olympe was, in no way, unsuccessful. Not only has she had a lasting legacy, but she was successful in her own time. She heavily petitioned for the right to divorce through plays and pamphlets, and in 1792 France was the first country to legalize divorce. Civil rights were also given to illegitimate children, and a voluntary tax system proposed and outlined by Olympe was also adopted.

But not only successful in her own time, Olympe's legacy has impacted the world for generations. Along with Mary Wollstonecraft, Olympe was one of the founding mothers of feminism. She encouraged women to band together, and identify as women, something that has influenced the modern idea of citizenship. Her work is studied among philosophers and feminists theorists today.



¹I have been unable to find any information on Olympe's son--Pierre Aubry de Gouges-- during this time. Whether or not he went to Paris with her is unknown, however he did end up serving as a General with the French Army in South America. If you have any further information about him, please share in the comments!

More on Similar Topics



Sources
Olympe de Gouges Biography
Marie Olympe de Gouges Facts
Olympe de Gouges (1748-1793)
Welcome to Olympe de Gouges
Olympe de Gouges--French Writer

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Damn, Girl-Christine de Pizan

Just as Sappho is the Mama Lesbian, Christine de Pizan is the Mama Feminist. Christine was the first European woman to make a living from her writing, and her book The Book of the City of Ladies was one of the first books on feminism ever written.
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Christine at her desk.

Born in 1364, Christine started her life in Venice, but her family moved to France when she was three years old. Her father, Thomas de Pizan, had received an appointment as astrologer to Charles V. Living with the royal court gave Christine access to a vast library or literary and rhetorical works. Though not much is known about her education, or if she was even formally educated at all, the quality of her literature show that Christine was obviously well read.

At the age of 15 Christine married royal secretary Etienne de Castel. It is unknown if they were  happy or not, but they did have three children¹ together before Etienne died of the bubonic plague after ten years of marriage. Etienne's death left Christine with no source of income, a substantial amount of debt, and two children and a recently widowed mother to support.

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Illuminated page from The Book of
the City of Ladies
Luckily, Christine was a talented writer, and the French court had a fever that could only be cured with more poetry. Christine put out ballads about love, loss, and widowhood which brought her to the attention to royal patrons like Isabelle of Bavaria, the Duke of Orleans, and the 4th Earl of Salisbury.

For the first few years of her career, Christine mostly wrote poetry and moralistic works. Until in 1402 when Christine decided to pick a fight with a dead man. ²

Jean de Meun wrote a second half to The Romance of the Rose in 1280ish. In his poetry, de Meun was biting and cruel about ever member of society, but Christine took particular offense at the way he treated women in his works. He portrayed women as little more than one dimensional seductress ruled by their own lusts.  In her response Christine argued that women are much more complex than de Meun portrayed them. She starts by criticizing de Meun, but ends by criticizing the entire European canon at the time, censuring the many works about the nature of women, none of which were written by women.

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Christine writing
This sparked a long term literary debate which would bring her to the attention of monarchs around Europe. It also sparked a long term passion for writing about women and women's history. In her seminal work The Book of the City of Ladies, Pizan imagines a world built by women, for women, free from misogyny. Within that framework she tells the stories of the great women who came before her, without the misogynistic bias that colored the accounts of so many male writers.

In around 1415 Christine retired a convent with her daughter. The increasing political unrest, and the disaster at the Battle of Agincourt, had her rattled, and she was ready to retire from public life. In 1429 she released The Tale of Joan of Arc, a ballad that basically fangirled over Joan of Arc and her victories. The Tale of Joan of Arc was Christine's last work, and she doesn't appear in public record anywhere else. It's generally assumed that she died shortly after.

Christine had a massive impact on the writers and political leaders of her day. Her works attacking the traditional patriarchal society influenced other female writers, and also influenced future female monarchs, such as Louise of Savoy, Anne of Brittany, and Leonor of Portugal.


¹A daughter named Marie, a son named Jean, and a second unnamed son who died in infancy.
²A move I cannot help but applaud. It's the sort of thing I have done would do.

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Sources
Christine de Pisan-Brooklyn Museum
Christine de Pizan: Her Works
Christine de Pisan-Britannica
Christine de Pisan-New World Encyclopedia
Christine de Pisan-Biography

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Damn, Girl-Louise of Savoy

Louise of Savoy was the mother of a King, and one of the most powerful women in Europe at her time. She ruled France in her son's absence, and, along with Margaret of Austria, negotiated the Peace of Cambrai or 'Women's Peace', which would end the war between France and Spain for nearly a decade. She was an amazing diplomat, and held her country and family together during times of great political stress.

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Louise
Louise was born in 1476 to the poor, more or less landless, Duke of Savoy. He wasn't a very good father, and Louise's mother died when she was seven, so she was packed off to the French court to be raised by her aunt, Anne of Beaujeu.

At the time, Anne basically ran France. She, along with her husband Pierre, had been appointed as regents until Charles VIII reached majority. Though Pierre was technically a regent as well, it was Anne who ran the country. She wasn't an overly affectionate woman, but from her Louise learned the art of diplomacy and statecraft.

While under Anne's care she also met Margaret of Austria; a favorite to marry King Charles when he came of age. Though Margaret and Charles never married, Louise and Margaret stayed in close contact throughout their lives.

In 1488, at age twelve, Louise married Charles of Orleans. Charles was much older than Louise, and had two mistresses--Antoinette of Polignac and Jeanne Comte--who lived with him. Despite all this, Louise and Charles had a relatively happy marriage. Louise befriended both Jeanne and Antoinette, and later entrusted Jeanne with guardianship of her children, and took Antoinette into her service as her companion.

Charles died in 1496. Leaving 19 year old Louise a widow with two small children, one of whom, Francis, was second in line for the throne

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Francis I
Despite challenges from her male relatives, Louise managed to keep custody and guardianship of her children. When Charles XIII died in 1498, Francis became heir to the throne. His uncle, Louis XII, had been unable to produce any living sons, and had only two daughters, Renee and Claude. Much to Louise's chagrin, Francis and Claude were married in 1514

After Louis' death later that year Francis ascended to the throne, and relied heavily on Louise for help with ruling. It was she who made many of the state appointments, and it was to her that Francis left the responsibilities of ruling to when he decided to go to war against the Italian States.

Francis was only 21 when he came to the throne, and he was eager to prove himself just as much of a military man as his Spanish and English counterparts. Louise was unable to talk him out of it, so she dutifully helped raise the funds for his wars, and served as regent while he was away.

Louise's first regency lasted for less than a year, and was fairly unremarkable. Her second regency in 1525, however, was considerably more stressful. While fighting in Pavia, Italy Francis was captured by the Spanish-Italian forces, and taken off to Madrid.

Louise must have been devastated, not to mention worried sick, but she didn't let it affect her judgement. She was responsible for France, and she would see that France was taken care of. She took up residence in Lyon, and summoned the members from the parliaments of Paris, Rouen, and Bordeaux to advise her. She tasked the Paris Parliament with defending Northern France, and set the rest to raising the necessary funds. All the while, she was in contact with the Spanish king in Madrid.

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Margaret of Austria
With the help of her old friend Margaret of Austria, Louise was able to arrange for the release of her son, and a temporary peace with the Spaniards and Italians. The terms were steep. Two of Francis' sons would be sent to Madrid as hostages, and France would have to cede Burgundy. Despite the unappealing terms, Louise agreed, and traded two of her grandsons for her son.

As for the rest of the treaty, well, in Louise's own words, promises made under duress were meaningless. Burgundy stayed with France, and Francis went back to waging merry war against the Spanish and Italians. Unamused, the Spanish king took out his frustrations on Francis' sons. That was around when Louise decided that this war needed to end.

In 1528, Louise and Margaret of Austria, the Spanish regent in the Netherlands, started covertly talking about making peace. There were a lot of issues on both ends, but thankfully Louise and Margaret were both much wiser than their counterparts. In July of 1529 they met in Cambrai to officially make peace. Under the terms of their treaty, France would keep Burgundy, and Francis could ransom his sons in exchange for an unholy amount of money. Francis would marry Elanor of Portugal, the Spanish King's sister, and the war would stop. This peace held for seven years.

However, Louise's health didn't. Louise suffered from gout, colic, stomach pains, and a number of other illnesses. Her infirmity was only further aggravated by the fact that she refused to slow down. in 1531, just two years after she negotiated the Ladies Peace with her friend Margaret of Austria, Louise died.

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Sources
Louise of Savoy: The 'King's Mother' and Regent of France
Louise of Savoy
Louise of Savoy (1476-1531)

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Damn, Girl-Jeanne II of Navarre

Jeanne (sometimes anglicized to Joan) II d' Albret of Navarre was basically a smaller scale, likable, Henry VIII . These two are very similar in that they both brought the Reformation to their country, they were both married more than once, and they both liked making life difficult for the French. The pair were even related by marriage for some eight years. However, unlike Henry, Jeanne wasn't a dick who murdered her friends, spouses, and national economy. Jeanne was a brave and altruistic defender of her faith.

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A young Jeanne d'Albret
Jeanne was Queen of Navarre, and if you don't know what the hell a Navarre is, don't worry, I didn't know either until I looked it up. I'd assumed it was a region of northern France, much like Brittany, but it turns out Navarre was like a big Andorra. However, unlike Andorra , Navarre was a warring political entity that wasn't content to remain in their valley and go about their business. Navarre was an important part of medieval politics, and it did not take its assimilation into France and Spain quietly.

The only child of an unhappy union, Jeanne was raised away from her parents, and given a somewhat lackluster humanist education. Girls, even royal girls, weren't thought worthy of writing about very much during the Renaissance, so not much is known about Jeanne's early childhood, other than that she was raised by a family friend--Aymee de Lafayette-- and educated by Nicolas Bourbon.*

It isn't until 1540 that Jeanne really shows up in historical record. Like many royal girls of the era, Jeanne's real worth to her family was her marriageability and usefulness as a political pawn. At the ripe old age of 11, Francis I, King of France and Jeanne's uncle, decided that Jeanne should get married to the much older William de la Marck, Duke of Cleves (Anne of Cleves' brother.) 

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Map of Navarre (and other places)
Now, neither Jeanne nor her parents were too thrilled about this match. Her parents were peeved that the King of France had overridden their wishes that Jeanne marry Phillip of Spain, and Jeanne just plain didn't want to marry the man. Jeanne resisted the match and defied the french king, but it was to no avail. in 1547 she was married to William, kicking and screaming. Her dress was so heavy that she could not walk down the aisle, and instead had to be carried. Luckily for Jeanne, after a symbolic consummation of their union she returned to France to live with her family until she reached maturity.

In 1545, after eight years of marriage, Jeanne's marriage to William was annulled. The official reason was that Jeanne hadn't consented willingly to the marriage, and had been forced, but the real reason for the annulment was that an alliance with Cleves was no longer important to Francis. This was fantastic for Jeanne, because in 1548 Jeanne was able to marry Antony de Bourbon**, a man she loved, or at the very least liked. 

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Antony de Bourbon
When Jeanne's father died in 1555 she became the official Queen Regnant of Navarre, though her husband Antony was king in all but name. Despite the initial attraction, the marriage between Jeanne and Antony seemed to have been a rocky one. While they did have three children together, Antony was notoriously unreliable, and could be physically abusive when he didn't get his way.

The next historically important event of Jeanne's life happened in 1560 (or 1562) when she publicly declared herself a Calvinist. She had attended a Calvinist meeting in Paris during the wedding of Mary Stuart and Francis II, and it changed her life. She described the experience in her memoirs as being 'rescued from idolatry' and 'received in His [God's] church'. Jeanne converted, and she convinced her husband as well, because in 1862, Antony also declared himself a Calvinist.

Being a Protestant Monarch during the Reformation was a tricky affair, and Navarre had the bad luck to be sandwiched between two large Catholic powers--Spain and France. The English could get away with doing as they damn well pleased, thanks to their distance from the rest of Europe, and the German states had each other to rely on for defense, but things were tricky for Navarre. It's no surprise then that shortly after his declaration Antony recanted, and proceeded to lead Catholic forces against the Huguenots.

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La Rochelle
Jeanne was devastated by Antony's defection. In her memoirs she described herself as having 'a thorn put not in [her] foot, but in [her] heart'. She herself, however, never recanted her beliefs, even when Antony threatened her with violence, and France and Spain threatened her with invasion. Jeanne was a stubborn woman, and when Antony died later that year, she set about turning Navarre into a Protestant nation.

On the Reformation scale, Jeanne swung more towards the Puritan end of the scale, and her political reformations proved it. She made laws against gambling, prostitution, blasphemy, and drunkenness, as well as the more tradition laws abolishing Catholic ceremonies, and seizing Church property.*** Her next step was to send funds and military assistance to the embattled Huguenots at La Rochelle.

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Jeanne in her older years.
Not only did Jeanne send assistance, she went to La Rochelle herself and organized the women there. She assisted in defense strategies and peace negotiations with the French soldiers. It can be said, almost without doubt, that it was her fighting, and her beliefs that led her Calvinist raised son--Henry IV--to issue the Edict of Nantes, which granted Huguenots substantial rights in France, as well as ending the fighting between the two groups.

With much protestation, Jeanne reluctantly agreed to a marriage between her only son, Henry, and the catholic Margaret of France, sister to the French King. It was shortly after her arrival in Paris to attend the wedding that Jeanne died suddenly of tuberculosis, leaving Henry King of Navarre. 


*Incidentally, Nicolas Bourbon was also responsible for parts of Anne Boleyn's humanist education. 
**Another important fact about Antony de Bourbon, he was in line for the French throne. This enabled his and Jeanne's son Henry to become king of both France and Navarre, uniting the two nations in much the same way James VI/I united England and Scotland
***Unlike Henry VIII, when Jeanne seized the property of the Catholic Church, she didn't use it to enrich herself and her friends. She gave the funds to Calvinist ministry's and to schools. Additionally, when the staunch Catholics of her kingdom rose in rebellion, she suppressed them with force, and then used legal pressures to make them back down. She liberally pardoned rebels, and did not execute vast numbers of rebels like Henry did.

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Sources
Jeanne d'Albret--Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia--6th Edition