Anne of Beaujeu (c. 1460–1522)

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Anne of Beaujeu (c. 1460–1522)

French princess who ruled France for her brother Charles VIII. Name variations: Anne de Beaujeu, Anne de France, Anne of France. Pronunciation: bo-ZHU. Born in April of 1460 or 1461; died on November 14, 1522; daughter of Charlotte of Savoy (c. 1442–1483), queen of France, and Louis XI (1423–1483), king of France (r. 1461–1483); sister of Jeanne de France (1464–1505) and Charles VIII, king of France; married Pierre de Bourbon also known as Peter II, lord of Beaujeu also known as Peter II, lord of Beaujeu, on November 3, 1473; children: of an unknown number only one, Suzanne of Bourbon (1491–1521), survived to adulthood.

Since her brother, the future Charles VIII, was too young to rule at the time of her father's death, Anne was named regent of France (1483); regency ended (1492).

Jeanne de France (c. 1464–1505)

Queen of France and saint. Name variations: Jeanne of France; Jeanne de Valois; Joan de Valois; Joan of France; duchess of Orleans or duchess of Orléans. Born around 1464; died in 1505; daughter of Charlotte of Savoy (c. 1442–1483) and Louis XI, king of France; sister of Anne of Beaujeau (c. 1460–1522) and Charles VIII, king of France; married Louis, duke of Orléans (later Louis XII, king of France), on September 8, 1476 (annulled 1498). Jeanne de France was canonized in 1950.

After Louis XII repudiated his marriage to Jeanne de France in order to marry Anne of Brittany in 1499, Jeanne retired to Bourges and was given a dowry for the rest of her life. Protesting that he had married Jeanne against his will at the behest of her father Louis XI, the king claimed he had never lived with her as man and wife. The pope at the time was Alexander VI, formerly Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, who was open to bribes from a monarchy. The divorce decree was brought to France by Caesar Borgia, the pope's illegitimate son, to whom Louis granted the title and duchy of Valentinois. Considered a saint by contemporaries, Jeanne de France has come down through history as either deformed, in the vernacular of the time, or, notes historian Thomas E. Watson, as a woman whose "only defect was an extreme ugliness." Following the divorce, she spent the rest of her years in prayer and serving the poor.

The France of 1483 was a land of turmoil and tension. The Hundred Years' War, over for a mere 30 years, had pitted France against its powerful enemy, England. Much of what we now call "France" was not at that time a single country under the rule of the French king. Instead, Brittany (on the northwestern shore), Burgundy (south of Paris), and several other regions were independent nations. King Louis XI had managed to keep his kingdom together by various means, one of which was strategic marriage: he had his daughter Jeanne de France marry his chief rival claimant to the throne, his second cousin Louis, duke of Orléans. He also used diplomacy and often resorted to armed battle to keep France safe from its neighbors. But many strong enemies were ready to pounce at his death.

Unfortunately, when Louis died in 1483, his only son, Charles, was merely 13 years old, and in any case did not show much evidence of strength of either mind or spirit. Concerned that his fierce struggles on France's behalf would be wasted if Charles were to become king, and aware that he was dying, Louis had named his oldest daughter Anne of Beaujeu regent: that is, she would rule in Charles' place until he was old enough to take the throne. The French parlement had decided on 14 years as the age of majority, but, instead of yielding her power after the year was up, Anne would manage to keep hold of the reins until 1492, when her strong-minded sister-in-law, Anne of Brittany , forced her to take a much lesser role in the governance of the country.

Anne was 22 years old when her father died; Louis had grudgingly admitted that she was the "least stupid woman in France," adding, "there is none that is wise." Despite this lukewarm evaluation, Anne proved to be an able administrator who strengthened not only the power of the royal family in France, but the position of France itself. The 16th-century biographer Brantôme called her "a shrewd and clever woman if ever there was one, and the true image in everything of King Louis her father." Frederic Baumgartner, in a more recent appraisal, says that she was "a more attractive version of her father, combining the same iron will, political sagacity, and tightfistedness with greater tact, better humor, and a more gentle nature."

And Anne desperately needed all these qualities of shrewdness, willfulness, and sagacity. With the occasional help of her husband, Pierre de Beaujeu, she plunged straight into affairs of state after her father's funeral. In an effort to forge new political ties with England, still smarting from the enmity engendered through their long conflict, she supplied troops to Henry VI. She lowered the taxes of the common people, who had been burdened for so long during the war years, ordered troops to the borders of the country to repel foreign invaders, and managed successfully to crush several attempted internal revolts.

Threatened by their powerful French neighbor, the leaders of Orléans and Brittany decided to put aside their own differences and forged an alliance to unite against this mighty force. Anne's French troops engaged in several skirmishes with the armies of Brittany and Orléans until July of 1488, when her troops defeated them in a decisive battle. Among the prisoners taken by the French was Anne's brother-in-law and distant cousin, Louis d'Orléans. Fearing his increasing political power, she had him confined to prison for three years, apparently not even answering her sister Jeanne's letters pleading that he be released.

Anne's political competence was matched by her capabilities in running her own life. She and her husband managed their estates so shrewdly that they amassed a great fortune, including much land and several castles. The people, among whom she was wildly popular, called her "Madame la Grande."

During the years of the regency, Anne ruled France skillfully. The 17th-century historian de Jaligny said, "Madame de Beaujeu his sister was with the king all the time … nor was anything touching the king and the kingdom done except with her knowledge, approval, and consent." Her control over the French government was so complete that she probably would have continued ruling in fact, if not in name, if her brother Charles had not married Anne of Brittany in 1491. This Anne was at least as strong, proud, and intelligent as her sister-in-law, and resented Anne de Beaujeu's involvement in politics. Charles also began to express resentment (after all, he had been king since 1484 but entirely under the control of his older sister), and Anne quietly withdrew.

She did not intend to be pushed aside entirely, however. When Louis d'Orléans inherited the throne from Charles as Louis XII, Anne and her husband asked that he grant them the right to leave their property to their daughter Suzanne, as they had no son (in certain parts of 15th-century Europe, including France, women were not allowed by law to inherit property). Despite the fact that he must have resented his three years' imprisonment ordered by Anne, Louis allowed them to do so. Anne was 62 years old when she died on one of her estates.

sources:

Baumgartner, Frederic J. Louis XII. NY: St. Martin's Press, 1994.

Bearne, Catherine Mary Charlton. Pictures of the Old French Court. NY: E.P. Dutton, 1900.

Echols, Anne, and Marty Williams. An Annotated Index of Medieval Women. Oxford, UK; Berg Publishers, 1992.

Griffiths, Ralph, and Roger S. Thomas. The Making of the Tudor Dynasty. NY: St. Martin's Press, 1985.

Guérard, Albert. France: A Modern History. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1969.

Guizot, M., and Madame Guizot de Witt. The History of France from the Earliest Times to 1848. Vol. II. Translated by Robert Black. Chicago, IL: Belford, Clarke.

Kitchin, G.W. A History of France. Vol. II. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1896.

Tracy Barrett , Department of French and Italian, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee

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