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)
|Anne of Brittany|
|Louis XII, King of France|
(Jean Perréal, 1514)
|Statue of Anne of Brittany at|
Cours Saint-Pierre, Nantes
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 of Brittany's daughters (left to right): Claude, Queen of France & Duchess of Brittany |
and Renée, Duchess of Ferrara, Modena, & Reggio