Friday, June 10, 2016

Anne of Brittany, Queen of France

Anne of Brittany was the eldest child of Francis II, Duke of Brittany and his second wife, Margaret of Foix. She was born on January 25/26, 1477 in the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany, which is located in the city of Nantes. Anne’s father was the maternal great-grandchild of King Charles V of France and the grandnephew of King Charles VI of France. He was also the nephew of Louis XII of France, Anne’s future husband. Anne’s mother was the daughter of Queen Eleanor of Navarre, whose father was King John II of Aragon and Navarre. As a noblewoman, Anne was given a well-rounded education for a lady of her time. Along with learning the usual feminine pursuits of embroidery, singing, dancing, and manners, she was taught the Latin and Greek languages as well as French literature. Although she was praised for her intelligence and astute mind, she was criticized for her aloof personality and her unattractive features. Anne was a very small and thin woman with a prominent hunched back and a congenital hip defect that caused her to limp. To hide this, she wore an extra high heel in one shoe beneath the rich fabrics of traditional Breton dresses that she liked to wear.
Anne’s happy childhood came to an abrupt end when her mother died in May of 1486. Anne was just nine years old at the time and she suffered another loss just four years later when her only sibling, her younger sister Isabeau, died as well. As the heiress to her father’s dukedom, he began taking her with him on his trips to various castles and lands. Francis had already spent a long period of time fighting some of his own countrymen who wanted to annex Brittany into the holdings of France. He ultimately lost the war in 1488 at the Battle of Saint-Aubin-du-Cormier and was forced to not only give some of his towns to King Charles VIII of France but also recognize the King’s rights to his duchy. In regards to Anne, Francis was not allowed to marry his daughter off without Charles’s permission (since her position as his heiress made her a valuable commodity).

Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor
(Albrecht Dürer, 1519)
Less than two months after Francis’s disastrous loss in battle, he died after a fall from his horse. On his deathbed, he made his daughter swear that she would never allow the King to take their duchy for himself. With Francis’s death, the eleven year-old Anne was now the official Duchess of Brittany, as well as the Countess of Nantes, Montfort, and Richmond, and Viscountess of Limoges. As a result of her young age and inexperience, France leaped into another war with Brittany, again to try to subject the duchy. Francis had died without making marriage arrangements for his daughter, so Anne’s various advisors were divided over the issue of whom their young Duchess should wed. It was certainly important that Anne married soon, not just to secure her position and create heirs, but also to form an alliance that could protect Brittany against the invading royal army. At the time, Brittany was in a state of crisis due to an empty treasury and a virulent plague and was unable to fight against the enemy at full force. Ultimately, in 1490, Anne secretly agreed to marry Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, for a marriage without King Charles’s consent was a direct infringement of her late father’s treaty. A proxy marriage was held on December 19, 1490 at Rennes Cathedral, upon which Anne was named Queen of the Romans. At the time of the marriage, Anne was a month shy of fourteen while Maximilian, a widower with two children, was thirty-one. Anne’s secret marriage was revealed to the King soon after the proxy ceremony took place. In the spring of 1491, Charles came into Anne’s duchy with his large army and began the Siege of Rennes in response. The city held out for two months until it finally fell after fighting without outside assistance or support. Anne was forced to surrender to the King but, after Charles held a long, private meeting with her, he proposed marriage. Anne consented, seeing as though she had no other choice, and on December 6, 1491, the fourteen year-old Anne married the twenty year-old King in the Great Hall of the Château de Langeais, officially becoming the Queen of France.

Charles VIII, King of France
(Ecole Française, 1500's)
The marriage between Charles VIII and Anne (who were third cousins through their descent from King Charles V of France) stunned not just France but the entirety of Europe. Charles had been engaged to Margaret of Austria, the daughter of Anne’s first husband, Maximilian I, since 1482. Although poor Margaret developed feelings for the French king, she was sent back home hurt and humiliated once he broke their engagement to marry Anne. As for Anne’s marriage, the Pope granted her a dispensation because she had only married Maximilian by proxy and not officially, which made their union null and void. A marriage contract between Anne and Charles was also drawn up discussing the matter of who was in control of Brittany. It was agreed that whoever outlived the other would maintain control of the duchy, but, if Charles died without male heirs, Anne would marry his successor to guarantee that the Crown would have another opportunity to annex Brittany. The King and his new Queen returned to Paris soon after their wedding, celebrating along the way. Anne was enthusiastically welcomed into the kingdom’s capital where, on February 8, 1492, she was crowned at St. Denis Basilica. However, during her marriage to Charles he refused to allow her to use her title as Duchess of Brittany, which seriously hurt relations between the couple. The marriage was never a happy one, as Charles didn’t permit his wife to have any say in political and public affairs and every decision regarding Brittany was made in his name. The two often lived apart but somehow, Anne was constantly pregnant during her marriage, with an average of a child every fourteen months. But what really fractured the couple’s relationship was the lack of power that Anne her husband granted her, although she was the ruler of a duchy in her own right. When Charles was away fighting in Italy from 1494-98 (he had a weak claim to the throne of Naples through his grandmother), he refused to let his wife rule France as his regent and let his older sister, Anne of Beaujeu, to take the position instead.
Anne of Brittany
Anne delivered a son, Charles Orland, on October 11, 1492 when she was fifteen years old. Although she was pregnant a total of seven times during her marriage to Charles, her first son was her only healthy child. But even little Charles didn’t live for long. When he was three years old, he fell ill from an outbreak of measles and died on December 6, 1495, despite his parents’ efforts to safeguard his health. The death of Charles devastated his mother and father but Anne’s next six pregnancies would have an increasingly traumatizing effect on her psyche. Between 1493-98, she gave birth to two stillborn daughters and a son, a son who lived for just a month, and a daughter who died on the day she was born. With all these losses and Charles’s blatant and public infidelities with other women, Anne suffered a great deal emotionally and tried to be away from court as much as possible. She lived principally in the royal residences of Amboise, Loches, and Plessis, or, when her husband was fighting in Italy, in the towns of Lyon, Grenoble, and Moulins. In 1498, after the birth and death of their last child, Charles had a change of heart and became more loyal to his wife, spending more time with her and focusing more on ruling than engaging in personal indulgences. But Charles’s health, which had never been great, worsened as the years dragged on. On April 7, 1498, Charles was on his way to watch a tennis match when he hit his head quite severely on the archway of a door. He was fine at first and went on to attend the game but, a few hours later, he fell into a sudden coma and died late in the night with Anne by his side. He was just twenty-seven years old. Today, it is said that the most likely cause of his death was a subdural hematoma.

Louis XII, King of France
(Jean Perréal, 1514)
Despite the couple’s rather shaky relationship, Anne was visibly devastated by her husband’s unexpected death. Since Charles died without any living heirs, his second cousin once removed, Louis, Duke of Orléans, succeeded him as Louis XII. Because of Charles’s early demise, Anne reclaimed power over Brittany and was once again in complete control of her lands. This was the result of the terms of Anne’s marriage contract with Charles, but there was another term that had to be fulfilled– the matter of Anne’s marriage to Charles’s successor. The problem was that Louis XII was married at the time of his accession to Charles’s sister, the deformed and allegedly sterile Princess Joan. Louis resolved the matter by seeking an annulment from the Pope while Anne returned to her duchy in October of 1498. Perhaps at this time, Anne was hoping that Louis wouldn’t be able to dissolve his marriage contract so she could be a free woman with complete power to rule as she pleased. But the Pope did grant Louis an annulment by the end of the year, which meant that Anne would have to marry and become Queen of France once again. The twenty-two year old Queen Dowager and the thirty-six year old king were married on January 8, 1499 at Nantes. A new marriage contract was drawn up, under which Louis formally recognized his wife’s powers as the ruler of Brittany, as well as her right to the title of “Duchess”. The contract also stipulated that Anne and Louis’s second child, no matter their gender, would inherit their mother’s duchy upon her death. This contract favored Anne’s demands far more than that of the one she made with Charles, for this time she was not a child but an adult and, more importantly, a Dowager Queen.

Statue of Anne of Brittany at
Cours Saint-Pierre, Nantes
Anne had her second coronation ceremony as the Queen of France on November 18, 1504, again at St. Denis Basilica. Five years before this, on October 13, 1499, Anne gave birth to her first surviving child – a daughter named Claude. Unfortunately, she had a string of five miscarriages and one stillbirth from 1500 to 1509 after Claude’s birth and it was doubtful that she would ever have another healthy child. But, almost miraculously, she delivered a second surviving daughter named Renée on October 25, 1510. Renée would be her last healthy child. Anne would become pregnant one last time after her second daughter’s birth, which resulted in yet another stillbirth in 1512. Between her sixteen pregnancies (seven with Charles and nine with Louis), she produced only two daughters that survived infancy. It is suggested that the reason why Anne had so many failed pregnancies was because of an incompatibility with RH factors between Anne and her husbands (Anne was related to her third husband, as they were first cousins once removed. As stated previously, she was a third cousin of her second husband).

Louis respected his wife’s power over Brittany, unlike Charles, and let her rule her duchy with almost total freedom. If he did make any decisions regarding Brittany, they were made in his wife’s name. Anne was a fair and just ruler who was known for her obstinate, strict, and adamant deportment. Although some of her husband’s men grumbled about her sharp temper and stubborn, rancorous temper, Louis cared for his wife and respected her. He saw her talent for government and even let her help him make political decisions regarding the kingdom, something that was almost unheard of regarding queen consorts. Anne could be seen as harsh but in some cases, she displayed her genuine kind nature. She was a very religious woman and helped the poor, earning her the nickname “the Good Duchess”. At her court in her main residence of the Château de Blois, she surrounded herself with intellectual and talented poets, musicians, and other learned men. She made her court a center of education for the young daughters of French noblemen where they were taught good manners and proper demeanor. She was the first Queen of France to be regarded as a patron of the arts and also took an interest in the written word, as she had a grand library full of manuscripts that she accumulated. Renée’s birth in 1510 was difficult for the thirty-three year old Anne, who was already suffering from the strain of her many pregnancies. After she delivered her second healthy daughter, she was unable to speak and was so weak that preparations for her death were actually carried out. Anne managed to slowly recover but her health suffered once again after her last birth in 1512 of a stillborn son, which caused her to suffer a serious fever. Fortunately, she managed to recover but after these last two dangerous births, she was never the same again.

Tomb effigies of Louis XII and Anne of Brittany
 in Saint-Denis Basilica
Anne always wanted her duchy to remain independent and out of the control of France, especially when her daughter inherited it. In an effort to protect Brittany, she arranged a match between her eldest, Claude, and Charles of Austria to reinvigorate the Franco-Spanish alliance and guarantee France’s victory in the ongoing Italian Wars. But Louis canceled the engagement before the marriage could take place. He knew that his wife couldn’t give him a male heir so he betrothed his daughter to the next in line to the throne, Francis of Angoulême, his second cousin once removed. Anne was furious about the match, as it meant Brittany would lose its independence and fall into the domain of France, but even though she fought vigorously with her husband over the matter, she could not change his mind. By 1512, Anne’s health was failing due to the damaging effects of her many pregnancies and miscarriages. This, combined with her naturally weak physicality, resulted in her death on the morning of January 9, 1514 at her home of the Château de Blois from a kidney-stone attack. At the time of her passing, she was just a few weeks away from her thirty-seventh birthday. Louis gave his deceased wife a grand funeral that lasted for forty days (the ceremony was the model for every future burial of a French royal until the 18th century), after which her remains were laid to rest at the Saint Denis Basilica, where she had been crowned Queen of France twice. Her heart was removed from her body upon her request and was buried in the tomb of her parents at Nantes, which she had built herself. Louis would remarry exactly nine months after his wife’s death to the young and beautiful Princess Mary Tudor of England, the sister of the famous King Henry VIII, in a last-ditch effort to produce a male heir. However, the marriage lasted less than three months, as Louis died on January 1, 1515 at the age of fifty-two, supposedly from exerting himself too much in the bedroom (the real reason he died was most likely from the effects of gout). As he died with no male heirs, the crown passed to his daughter Claude’s husband, Francis of Angoulême, who took the throne as Francis I.

Anne of Brittany's daughters (left to right): Claude, Queen of France & Duchess of Brittany
and Renée, Duchess of Ferrara, Modena, & Reggio
Francis had fulfilled his marriage contract when he married Princess Claude on May 18, 1514, months before Louis had died. The marriage ensured that Brittany would unite with the Crown, as Claude had been named Duchess of Brittany after her mother’s death instead of her younger sister Renée, as Anne’s marriage contract to Louis had stipulated. Claude and Francis had seven children, including a King of France and a Queen of Scotland, but only two of their children – Henry II and Margaret, Duchess of Savoy – lived past the age of thirty. Princess Renée married Ercole II d'Este, Duke of Ferrara, Modena, and Reggio, the son of Lucrezia Borgia and the grandson of the infamous Pope Alexander VI. Despite their rather turbulent relationship, they had five children together. In regards to Anne, she is an ancestor of Vittorio Emanuele, Prince of Naples, the current pretender to the Italian throne, through her granddaughter Margaret, Duchess of Savoy (Claude’s youngest child). Through her great-granddaughter, Claude, Duchess of Lorraine (the daughter of Claude’s son, King Henry II of France), Anne is an ancestor of the current pretender to the throne of Austria, Karl von Habsburg. On Renée's side of the family, Anne is an ancestor of the Houses of Guise and Savoy-Nemours through her granddaughter, Anna d’Este.

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