Jeanne of Nemours (d. 1724)

views updated

Jeanne of Nemours (d. 1724)

Duchess and regent of Savoy. Name variations: Giovanna Battista; Jeanne de Nemours; Jeanne-Baptist de Savoie-Nemours; Jean de Savoie-Nemours; Marie-Jeanne-Baptiste; Marie de Savoy-Nemours; Marie of Savoy-Nemours; Madame Royale. Born Marie Jeanne Baptiste de Savoie-Nemours around 1648; regent from 1675 to 1684; died in 1724 in Savoy; daughter of Charles Amadeus of Savoy-Nemours also known as Charles Amedeé of Savoy (who was killed in a celebrated duel with his brother-in-law, François de Vendome, duke of Beaufort) and Elizabeth de Bourbon; sister of Marie Françoise of Savoy (1646–1683); became second wife of Charles Emmanuel II (1634–1675), duke of Savoy (r. 1638–1675), in 1664; children: Victor Amadeus II (1666–1732), duke of Savoy (r. 1675–1713), king of Sicily (r. 1713–1718) and Sardinia (r. 1718–1730). Charles Emmanuel's first wife was Françoise d'Orleans (fl. 1650).

Born into the Franco-Italian nobility around 1648, Jeanne of Nemours was the daughter of Charles Amadeus, a younger son of the duke of Nemours, and Elizabeth de Bourbon . Little is known about her childhood; in 1664, Jeanne became the second wife of her fourth cousin, Charles Emmanuel, duke of Savoy. He was 15 years her senior. The duke had, with the aid of his mother, Christine of France , ruled over the small but politically important state of Savoy since 1638. Rich in resources and strategically located in the Alps between France and northwest Italy, Savoy was sought as an ally by the Spanish, French, and Italian states.

Jeanne of Nemours gave birth to only one child, Victor Amadeus. Her life at the Savoy court, centered in Turin, was typical of a Western European duchess: she presided over the court's administration and activities but took no overt political role herself. However, this was to change on the death of Duke Charles at age 41 in 1675. Victor Amadeus became duke in name, but as he was only nine years old, Duke Charles Emmanuel had named Jeanne regent of Savoy. He also named a council of advisors to aid her in administering the duchy.

Jeanne's nine-year regency has been seen by some historians as a period of decline for the state, and she has been viewed as an unloving mother who usurped her son's authority. Yet seen in the context of the unstable circumstances she faced, Jeanne must be credited for maintaining Savoy's independence against its internal and external enemies. Ambitious and politically astute, Jeanne recognized the dangers and instability of her position; regencies were always temporary political situations, and without a strong, stable ruler in place, nobles and rival rulers often tried to increase their power at the regent's expense. Her situation was exacerbated by her son's extremely poor health, for few expected

him to survive childhood. He was also showing signs of a violent and rash disposition and a secretive nature, which Jeanne observed with apprehension. Her letters concerning him show little maternal tenderness but reveal her anxiety over his character and his potential as a ruler. In addition to these concerns, Savoy was facing strong pressure from foreign powers, most notably the kings of France and Spain, as well as hostility between the pro-French and pro-Spanish factions of the Savoyard nobility.

However, Jeanne immediately demonstrated that she intended to govern directly by dismissing her husband's council and naming her own advisors, several of whom are believed to have been her lovers. Referred to in court records as Madame Royale, Jeanne took her position seriously and spent most of her time in routine administrative and policy business. She attempted to appease the nobles, who grew more openly partisan each day, with financial rewards for their loyalty, giving rise to complaints over her vast expenditures. She also attempted to keep her volatile son from being exposed to the politics of the court, but this failed and led Victor Amadeus to resent his mother's attempt to keep him from an active political role.

The weakness of her position led Jeanne to accept the financial and military support of King Louis XIV of France. At first, she viewed it as a mutually beneficial relationship; Savoy needed the protection of the French against its Italian and Spanish enemies, and the French wanted Savoy to pursue a pro-French foreign policy. Yet Jeanne eventually became convinced that France was more of a threat than an ally. Louis was moving his troops in and around Savoy's borders, causing suspicion that he planned to seize the state. However, Savoy did not have the troops or the money necessary to break away from France entirely. Resentment against the French grew at court and among the Savoy people, resentment also aimed at the regent for her pro-French stance.

Matters came to a crisis point for the regency in 1681–82; the army could not put down the rebellion known as the "Salt War," a peasant uprising in Mondovi in opposition to the salt tax, and open opposition to her rule was spreading. In addition, both her son and the pro-Spain faction at court opposed the marriage Jeanne had planned for Victor to her niece Isabel Luisa Josefa (1669–1690), the princess of Portugal. The alliance would have made Victor Amadeus king of Portugal, but he believed that his mother was trying to remove him from Savoy so that she could rule there permanently. Victor Amadeus had reached the age of majority in 1681, but Jeanne did not make any move to transfer the government to him. These problems were followed by a series of insurrections led by nobles against the regent. Although they failed, they demonstrated a general lack of respect for her authority.

Eventually Jeanne had to give in to the demands of the rebelling peasants. She also had to cancel the marriage contract with Portugal. In 1682, King Louis of France used the regent's period of weakness to force a formal alliance between Savoy and France, ostensibly to protect Savoy. He also began to court the favor of Jeanne's son, who was beginning to assert his own power. The regent tried to resist Louis' offer of his niece, Anne-Marie d'Bourbon-Orleans (1669–1728), as a bride for Victor Amadeus, knowing that once he was married he would be unwilling to let his mother rule for him.

However, by 1684 Jeanne was given a choice by the French ambassador: allow Victor Amadeus' marriage to the French princess or face French troops in Savoy. She gave in and allowed the marriage to occur, and in March she finally transferred the duchy's administration over to him. Although some historians have suggested that Jeanne was banished from Savoy after her son began his personal rule, Victor Amadeus made no such dramatic gesture against his mother. On the contrary, Jeanne simply withdrew from court once she was out of power, as many regents did. However, Victor Amadeus may have shown some ill feeling towards his mother when he reduced her pension and cut her household staff. She played no active political role in her son's administration after 1684, and instead spent her remaining years in retirement. She died about age 75, in 1724.


Claretta, Gaudenzio. Storia del Regno e dei Tempo di Carlo Emanuele II, duca di Savoia. Genoa: Luigi Ferrari, 1877.

Symcox, Geoffrey. Victor Amadeus II: Absolutism in the Savoyard State 1675–1730. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1983.

suggested reading:

A Princess of Intrigue. NY: Putnam, 1907.

Williams, H. Noel. A Rose of Savoy: Marie Adélaïde of Savoy, Duchesse de Bourgogne, Mother of Louis XV. London: Methuen, 1909.

Laura York , Riverside, California

About this article

Jeanne of Nemours (d. 1724)

Updated About content Print Article