“My daughter, the perfect natural love that I have for you…gives me the desire and the determination to prepare a few little lessons for you while I am still with you, knowing well your inexperience and extreme youth and hoping that in time you will recall these lessons and that they will help you a little”
Anne of France (1461-1522) was a serious power player on the European stage during a period described as the “Age of Queens”. She was the daughter of Louis XI of France and Charlotte of Savoy, and had two surviving siblings Charles and Joan. In 1473 she married Pierre of Beaujeu, and by all accounts the marriage was a strong one with Pierre a gentle and loyal husband who did not resent his wife’s power.
Despite her father’s sexist assertions that “as for wise women, there are none”, just before his premature death in 1483 he made his 22-year-old daughter regent in all but name for her 13-year-old brother. Louis called his daughter “the least foolish of women” which I guess coming from him was high praise indeed. His trust in Anne’s intelligence and abilities were well founded and “Madam la Grande”, as Anne was called, successfully governed France for 8 years until her brother ended the informal regency in 1491. Historically many young princes have resented their regents’ control, but Charles and Anne had a good relationship, and he left her in charge of France again when he went to war in Italy in 1494.
After her brother assumed independent kingship Anne resided in her Bourbon estates, having secured the duchy for her family in 1488 on the death of her childless brother-in-law. Anne and Pierre had one surviving child Suzanne, who was born in May 1491. Replicating her own childhood in the female dominated Chateau of Amboise, Anne created a similar environment and alongside Suzanne was responsible for raising other young noble women including Louise of Savoy and Margaret of Austria. Inspired perhaps by Christine de Pizan’s The Book of the City of Ladies and her father’s The Rosetree of Wars, Anne wrote Lessons for my Daughter for Suzanne in which she offers her daughter advice. It is undated, but based on content it’s been suggested it was written in around 1497/1498 when Suzanne was still a young child.
The Lessons is not particularly radical and does conform to contemporary attitudes, with Anne writing early on that “the first and main point, more important than all others, is that earnestly, and with all your faith and strength, you are careful not to do, say or think anything that will make God angry at you. So that no subtle temptations of the world, the flesh, or the Devil ever grab hold of you, then, and so that you live more chastely and protect yourself better from sin”. In the era that Anne and Suzanne lived religion was a dominant force and strongly influenced societal attitudes, so it’s not surprising it’s a key feature of Anne’s Lessons. Much of the advice Anne gives is pretty standard including being pious, dressing demurely and protecting your honour. After telling Suzanne a story about 3 daughters of a lord whose behaviour caused their mother great shame, she rather bluntly concluded “my daughter, remember those three aforementioned daughters who were the cause of their mother’s death, and do not behave so that your bad conduct is the cause of mine”.
Despite Anne’s writing fitting within the standards of the day, the Lessons should not be easily dismissed. This text is a fantastic resource for showing us how Anne viewed the world and raised her daughter, and the other girls in her care. In an era where many died young, Anne was trying to ensure her advice was always available for Suzanne even when she herself was gone. Anne was intelligent and astute, and had successfully wielded political power in a society where it was treated as accepted fact that men were superior. I believe her strength was in her subtly, I also believe this is what she was trying to convey to Suzanne. Not everyone can break the mould like dynamite, ultimately women had to work with what they had in order to drive change and live the lives they wanted too. Heck in 2021 over 500 years later we still have a way to go to achieve gender equality.
The following extract is from Chapter VI where Anne discusses the possibility of Suzanne ending up in the service of a foolish lady, here we see the communication style Anne advocates, “if it happens that you find yourself in such a situation, you must exert all your efforts to helping them see their faults and to admonishing them, not be confronting them, reprimanding them, or correcting them, but subtly, sweetly, and lovingly, by proposing something new, for example, or by making a pleasant suggestion or by praising other action or deeds, always returning to the just and moral truth”. This approach is what helped Anne rule France for eight years despite her societies attitude towards her gender. Anne also encourages Suzanne to control her outward demeanor, good advice in the complex world of court politics. The approach Anne suggests ultimately worked as she proved with her own successful political career. As the historian Jules Michelet noted “It seems…that she took as much care to conceal her power as others do to show theirs”.
The entire Lessons, is a display of motherly love as Anne aims to help Suzanne navigate their world. As far as we can see through the annals of history Suzanne would go on to follow these Lessons, being a pious noblewoman and doing what was expected of her marrying Charles, Duke of Bourbon. She remained close with her mother throughout her life and Anne helped govern the Bourbon lands. Tragically Suzanne died young, aged only 30, in 1521 with Anne following her not long after in 1522. As with so many women’s writings Lessons for my Daughter disappeared for a long time. In the 19th century though Suzanne’s copy of the Lessons was discovered in St Petersburg and was brought back into the public consciousness for which I am very thankful.
What do you think of Anne and Lessons for my Daughter? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.
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Anne of France: Lessons for my Daughter. Translated from the French with Introduction, Notes and Interpretive Essay by Sharon L. Jansen
Game of Queens by Sarah Gristwood
The Family Trees of the Kings of France by Jean-Charles Volkmann