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Anne of Brittany

Posted By on January 9, 2014

Anne of BrittanyThank you so much to Yann Kergourlay for writing this guest post on Anne of Brittany. Over to Yann…

500 years ago, on January 9th, 1514, around 6 o’clock, Anne of Brittany died, aged 37 years old at the Castle of Blois, France. During her short and eventful life, she had accumulated honors and titles while being faced with sadness and grief at every corner.

Anne’s life – A timeline

Anne of Brittany was born on January 25th, 1477, at the Castle of Nantes in Brittany, to her parents Francis II, Duke of Brittany and his second wife, Marguerite of Foix.

Her birth was time for celebration, as even though she wasn’t the expected and wished-for son, the laws of Brittany allowed a woman to rule and thus Francis II had a successor, as well as a proof that his wife wasn’t barren. Marguerite of Foix gave birth to a second daughter, Isabeau of Brittany, one year later. Anne of Brittany’s very early childhood – while she was still sheltered from the troubles arising – was certainly to be the happiest period of her life. Here are the major dates of life:

  • February 10th, 1486: Anne and Isabeau are recognized by the Estates of Brittany as true heiresses and successors of Francis II.
  • March 15th, 1486: Death of Marguerite of Foix, Anne and Isabeau’s mother.
  • July 28th, 1488: Battle of Saint-Aubin-Du-Cormier – Defeat of the Bretons against the French. The treaty of the Orchard of August 19th, 1488, direct consequence of the defeat, led Francis II to accept, among other things, to have the French have a say as to who would be Anne’s future husband.
  • September 9th 1488: Francis II Duke of Brittany dies Anne thus becomes Duchess and ruler of a weakened and threatened by the French Brittany: She is 11 years old.
  • February 10th, 1489: After fleeing Nantes since the division of her advisors over the issue of her marriage, Anne is crowned Duchess of Brittany in Rennes.
  • August 24th, 1489: Anne’s sister, Isabeau, dies. Anne is now without family.
  • December 19th, 1490: Anne marries by proxy Maximilian of Austria, Holy Roman Emperor. She thus becomes, at 13 years old, Holy Roman Empress.
  • December 6th 1491: After months of being besieged by the French in Rennes, Anne is forced to surrender. She marries Charles VIII in the Castle of Langeais. Her Breton subjects are happy to see an end to the war.
  • February 8th, 1492: Anne is crowned Queen of France at the Basilica of Saint Denis.
  • April 7th, 1498: Charles VIII dies. Despite Anne’s many pregnancies, there is no direct heir to the French throne, Anne’s children all dying shortly after birth. The throne goes to Louis of Orleans who becomes Louis XII. Anne reasserts her power over Brittany, rules again and notably reinstates the chancellorship of Brittany. She strikes a coin, her “cadière d’or “.
  • January 8th, 1499: Following the clauses of her marriage contract to Charles VIII, Anne marries her successor Louis XII, in Nantes. This second marriage contract is far more favorable to Anne and Brittany, she enjoys more control over Brittany than she ever had under Charles VIII’s reign.
  • October 13th, 1499: Birth of Claude of France, future Queen of France and wife to Francis I, daughter of Anne and Louis XII.
  • November 18th, 1504: Anne is crowned Queen of France for the second time in the Basilica of Saint Denis.
  • July-September 1505: Anne makes her tour of Brittany. This “Tro-Breizh” greatly participates to create her aura of a good duchess of Brittany.
  • October 25th, 1510: Birth of Renée of France, future Duchess of Ferrara, second daughter of Anne and Louis XII.
  • January 9th, 1514: Death of Anne of Brittany. Her funerals are of unprecedented length. Her body is laid to rest at the Basilica of Saint-Denis, necropolis of the French Kings, while at her demand, her heart is put in a gold reliquary and brought to the mausoleum she had made for her parents in Nantes.

Anne of Brittany's Death

Anne’s links with England and Anne Boleyn

  • Anne of Brittany was a distant relative of Katherine of Aragon: Anne’s maternal great-grandfather, John II King of Navarre and Aragon, was also Katherine of Aragon’s grandfather.
  • In 1481, Anne was promised to the English heir Prince Edward, son of Edward IV, or should he die, to his little brother. Of course this match never happened as both Edward IV and his little brother went down in history as “the Princes in the Tower”.
  • Henry Tudor spent years in exile in Brittany, at the court of Francis II, before he went back to England to conquer the throne. A Marriage with Anne was considered, but never occurred.
  • Henry Tudor, then Henry VII, did not forget Anne and her father’s help and involved himself militarily in the Franco-Breton war on Anne’s side and provided her with soldiers, one of the rare times during his reign that Henry VII actually sent troops and meddled with a foreign war. His efforts proved to be insufficient to save Brittany from the French.
  • Despite her being replaced by Anne of Brittany as wife and Queen to Charles VIII, Margaret of Austria held throughout the years a very friendly correspondence with Anne of Brittany. Anne of Brittany notably wanted to marry her daughter Claude of France to Charles V, Margaret’s nephew, in order to secure Brittany’s independence from France.
  • In 1512, Anne involved her Breton flagship, La Cordelière, in the naval fight between Henry VIII and Louis XII. Anne’s La Cordelière and Henry VIII’s The Regent both caught fire and sank together. La Cordelière’s captain, Hervé de Portzmoguer, became immediately afterwards a Breton hero.
  • In 1514, Anne of Brittany’s death had a direct impact on Anne Boleyn’s life since it led to the marriage of Louis XII to Mary Tudor and thus Anne Boleyn’s coming to France.
  • Like Margaret of Austria, Claude of France and Renée of France proved to be great influences in Anne Boleyn’s life. Both girls had inherited certain traits from their mother: Claude was pious, generous and fond of Books of Hours, while Renée was stubborn and intelligent, as well as a protector of the arts.
  • Anne of Brittany was the one who brought into fashion at the French Court what would be known as the “French hood” which was later Anne Boleyn’s favourite headdress.
Anne's cadière

Anne’s cadière

Anne’s Legacy

  • Anne of Brittany was Queen of France two times. She remains the only woman ever to have been Queen of France twice.
  • She was crowned – Most of the time, Queens would only be married to the King. Due to her station as ruling Duchess of Brittany – as well as Charles VIII’s desire to sanctify their union as they were still waiting for the papal bull authorizing the marriage after the marriage had actually been performed. She was thus crowned twice in the Basilica of Saint Denis, in 1492 and 1504.
  • Anne created a Woman’s Court. Before Anne, women were hardly seen at court, but she created a real court filled with women around her. She educated them in everything and so well that she was often asked to choose among her ladies brides for Kings and nobility from all over Europe. Her ladies were known for their culture, beauty and piety. She can very much be considered to be an early feminist.
  • She was a really religious Catholic woman and is known to have been very charitable and to have given many reliquaries and precious objects to diverse religious orders and churches.
  • She was a protector of arts and was very-well known for her patronage. Her Book of Hours, “Les Grandes Heures d’Anne de Bretagne” made by Jean Bourdichon, is considered to be a masterpiece.
  • Anne was the first Queen to wear black for mourning, following the Breton tradition instead of the French Tradition of Queens mourning in White. Catherine of Medici would later also mourn in black.
  • She was the first Queen to have her own personal guard, which was filled mainly with Breton officers.
  • Her Funeral lasted more than 40 days – She died on January 9th, 1514 and her funeral lasted until the 19th of March, when her heart was brought to Nantes. Of unprecedented length and magnificence, her funeral became an example for all royal funerals to follow.
  • Contrary to popular belief, Brittany was still independent when she died, joined with the realm of France but still a different entity. It is later, in 1532, that Brittany was effectively united with France, when Francis I enticed the Estates of Brittany into putting forward the perpetual union of Brittany with France. At the time, Claude of France, Anne’s heiress as Duchess of Brittany, was already dead (She died in 1524).
Reliquary of the Heart of Anne of Brittany

Reliquary of the Heart of Anne of Brittany

What is to be remembered of Anne of Brittany is that she was a woman ruler who became Duchess of Brittany at 11 years old, when the situation was at its worst to preserve the independence of the Duchy. She did all she could to avoid Brittany falling into the French realm and when she surrendered at the siege of Rennes, it was to offer Peace after years of a conflict that was destroying her lands. She was a woman of duty, and as Queen of France did all what was expected of her and left the image of a wise, shrewd and stubborn Queen. She was a protector of the arts, helped advance the cause of women and is to be thanked for the construction or embellishment of many churches as well as castles in Brittany and France.

In Brittany she remains the most well-known historical figure and one that is most liked, even though her life isn’t as well-known as it should. Today much still needs to be done to make her more known in Brittany, France and Europe.

I’d like to thank Claire for allowing me to write this guest-post. It means a great deal to me, as a long-time fan of the site and admirer of Anne Boleyn, to be able to commemorate here the half-millenium of the death of Anne of Brittany, a Duchess and Queen I greatly admire and that Anne Boleyn herself must have heard a lot of and respected.

To finish with Anne of Brittany’s own words, here are her mottoes: Potius mori quam foedari (In Breton: Kentoc’h Mervel eget bezan saotret; In English: Rather Death than Dishonor), Non Mudera (In Breton: Ne chenchin ket; In English: I won’t change) and A Ma Vie (In English :To my life).

Thanks to all of you who have read this, I hope you liked it and learned from it, as well as perhaps now want to know more about this fascinating woman. Thanks again to Claire for allowing me to write this article and for having such a wonderful and informative website.

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The following video is filled with images of Anne of Brittany and things related to her. The song is actually about her and was written after a poem celebrating her funeral:

25 thoughts on “Anne of Brittany”

  1. I love Anne de Bretagne. She was a great figure in the Brittany’s as well as French history. I’ve been on a journey to discover the places she lived in: the Blois castle, the Plessis-les-Tours castle, the Langeais castle (where she first got married), the Amboise castle. On my next journey to France I am planning to discover Brittany, namely Nantes and Rennes where she spent her childhood. Her life was absolutely impressive. Not only the fact that she was queen of France twice, but also her power to defend her little country so well at an early age, her strength to get over so many miscarriages and deaths of her sons (potential heirs of the throne), her dignity at court, her intelligent mind and delicate manners as a woman. Both her husbands loved her very much and admired her personality.

  2. Thank you Yann Kergourlay for this beautiful and informative article. I have spent much time in Brittany (near the hometown of Anne’s naval commander Port Mogeur) and know that Anne de Bretagne is still a much loved figure, and rightly so. I particularly appreciated you including the Breton translation of Anne’s mottos as my dad is fluent in Breton and I’m sure he’ll enjoy seeing them.
    Really great to see the cultural influence that Anne will have exerted on the women who came after her, including Anne Boleyn. Thank you!

    1. Yann Kergourlay says:

      Your dad is fluent in Breton ? That’s amazing ! I am too ! I actually looked again yesterday for the translation of “A ma vie”, which i made into the litteral translation of “to my life” but saw that It may actually be ” Da Virviken” ( which means pretty much “To Eternity” )in Breton.
      Of course, all these mottoes were decorated with the Breton hermine, both the symbol and the living animal.
      Thanks for commenting !

  3. Miladyblue says:

    Wow, thank you for this very informative article on Anne of Brittany.

    It is a pity that more women of that era are not celebrated by their homelands today, because many of them were as responsible for, as much as the menfolk, for what the countries are today.

    I knew of the Duchess of Brittany as “only” the Queen of France – I had no idea she was such an interesting person in her own right!

  4. Lisa H says:

    Thank you so much for this lovely and informative tribute to Anne de Bretagne. It infuriates me when all too often I see her listed almost as a footnote to history, referred to as the “wife of” and “mother of” when she was so amazing in her own right. Her life is one of those definitive anchors of history; if any aspect of her life had been different, if she had changed her mind about any decision she made, European history would have been very different. I am delighted to see her given her due.

    1. Yann Kergourlay says:

      Indeed, if one of her first betrothals had worked out, she may have become Queen of England to Edward IV or perhaps even Henry VII, which would have meant no Henry VIII as we know him and no Anne Boleyn as Queen perhaps too !
      The biggest change would have been for Brittany, had Anne’s attempts to save it completely by her foreign alliances, who knows what would have happened then !
      Those “ifs” of History are so fascinating.
      Thanks for commenting 🙂

  5. Sarah says:

    Thank you so much for such a well informed article of Anne de Bretagne. A ruler at only 11 years old but she was nobody’s puppet. 37 was quite young to have died and I suppose it makes me curious as to how she died. Going through so many miscarriages and pregnancies would taken a toll on her health no doubt. Nice to hear that her husbands loved and respected her as all those surrounding her.

    1. Yann Kergourlay says:

      Oh You just made me realize that I forgot to mention how she died ! How silly for an article commemorating her death ! She died of the gravel/ kidney-stone after ten days of suffering.
      It is true that her miscarriages had a deep affect on her health state as well as, I think, her mental state. Her many mournings made her dive deep into the solace she found in religion. Her last recovery of a pregnancy, in 1512, had been particularly difficult too. Her own daughter, Claude of France, far more lucky in childbirthing and the survival of her children, herself partly died because of the exhaustion generated by her many pregnancies.
      Thanks for the nice comment too 🙂

  6. BanditQueen says:

    Lovely post article and very lovely pictures on the video. Many thanks for sharing. Love the stroy of Anne of Brittany and the enlightened duchy she came from. These duchies seem to have had no problems with ladies having power and status even if France itself still held to the old fashioned Salic laws ruling women out fromt the crown and so on with inheritence. I notice it did not stop men like Francis I from marking his own claim to the throne through that of his wife Claude as the daughter of the present King. It is just the job to have power transfered to the husband and for him to rule by marrying an heiress of France; but the ladies cannot rule themselves only as Queen consort; yes, very nice for the man.

    Brittany had been linked with England for a long time and Duke Francis II was wise not to hand over Henry, Earl of Richmond as it would have meant his death and we would have lost the Tudor Dynasty. As the protector of Henry and his companions it would have been a dishonourable thing for him to do so when Edward IV asked him to; although he did keep Jasper Tudor and Henry under close ‘protective custody’ and at one point they were seperate guests in seperate castles. I stray from the point.

    Anne has always fascinated me; her beauty and her grace and her intellect and her kindness and abilities. She was lucky that she had a consort who cared for her and that she was respected. It was sad that she lost so many children. Claude and her sister must have been very precious to her and King Louis. They too were ladies of intelligence and charm. The portraits are amazing and her prayer book is a thing of a national treasure. Lovely tribute to a remarkable and respected woman.

    1. Yann Kergourlay says:

      Thanks for your interesting comment !
      Brittany had no salic law, but yet as any Kingdom, they still preferred to see a man on the throne. In the case of the events in Anne’s time, had she been born a male heir (A Yann ?Kidding xD) the situation wouldn’t have been better in the end as I guess it would have led to the killing of him or his exile. A 11 year old boy wouldn’t have been much of a military commander, would he ?

      Brittany had indeed always been a Duchy which used its position between France and England as a weapon, most of the time behind on the side of the English, hence Francis II’s intent to make Anne Queen of England.Most of Europe actually frowned upon Anne’s marriage to Charles VIII as it strengthened France : England, Spain and the Netherlands with Maximilian of Austria were especially angry to see that happen.

      Her Book of Hours is a magnificent thing, indeed ! http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b52500984v/f1.planchecontact You can see the whole of it here and appreciate its beauty ! (Hope there isn’t a geographical zone barrier).

      1. BanditQueen says:

        Thank you for the link. A very fine Book of Hours and very good reproduction photo on the link. Beautiful. Cheers.

    2. Jillian says:

      Francis I took the throne of France in his own right as Louis XII’s closest male relative, but his claim was certainly strengthened by his marriage to Claude.

      As Yann said in her excellent article, Claude’s marriage was a bone of contention between Louis and Anne. Anne would have preferred to see Claude married to the future Charles V as a way of safeguarding Brittany but Louis was under pressure from the French Estates (parliament) to betroth her to Francis. According to his biographer Frederick Baumgartner, Louis waited until Anne was away visiting her duchy before making a will which directed that Claude should marry Francis (one gets the impression that he was a bit scared of her). Anne was so angry when she found out that she stayed on in Brittany for another five months!

  7. Tudor Rose says:

    One mistake that I had noticed whilst reading this post was that the princes in the tower just to rectify were actually Edward and Richard Edward who should of been Edward V and Richard who should of been Richard the IV not Edward IV he was there father who ruled England until he died of natural causes but apart from this slight error alls well that ends well. I make mistakes at times too I think we all do. 🙂

    1. Yann Kergourlay says:

      My apologies, you’re right ! Must be because the sentence about this fact -I was looking at while I was writing- was all about the negotiations between Francis II and Edward IV, not the children involved in it. Thanks for pointing it out !

  8. Moniek says:

    What an interesting women!

  9. Shoshana says:

    Wonderful article, inspired me to learn more about Anne. I love to learn about strong women of the past who made a difference in their world. We need to bring them to the attention of our children as much as we do our fore fathers; we often forget our fore mothers in history who made their own mark and who without their support our fore fathers could not have achieved much. I would love to see their history taught in the earlier grades as much as the men are taught about their achievements. It took both to make our histories.

  10. What a very interesting article – and super photographs as well!

    I am ashamed to say that I know very little about this woman. What was the reaction of Maximilian when Anne repudiated him for Charles VIII, bearing in mind that Maximilian’s daughter Margaret of Austria was already betrothed to Charles? I see that Anne and Margaret maintained cordial relations in later life, but was there any serious political falling out over it at the time?

    1. Yann Kergourlay says:

      Maximilian was furious and kept claiming that Anne was still his wife, that she had been forced to marry Charles VIII (Which was true, not forced physically but forced by the circumstances) and that furthermore it was null because of the lack of papal bull authorizing the marriage. Maximilian’s marriage by proxy to Anne had been deemed ridiculous by most European courts since the “bedding” ceremony was basically Maximilian’s representant putting his leg against Anne’s in her bed.
      As to Anne and Margaret, I believe there was a real link between them : They were both women of duty, lovers of the arts and purely religious. They actually met when Charles VIII repudiated Margaret and decided to send her back to her father : Anne had been kind to Margaret and offered her a sumptuous gown along with jewels. Via ambassadors and envoys, they have kept correspondance until Anne’s death, or at least until 1513. In a way I think it is possible that Anne might have envied Margaret who as a regent enjoyed alone and in her own right power over the Netherlands. Margaret perhaps also envied Anne as Queen of France and also as a woman whose husbands did not die as quickly as Margaret’s did. Anne’s desire to marry her daughter Claude to Charles V, Margaret’s nephew, must also have made the two women closer. To be honest, I have not yet read biographies of Margaret of Austria (There isn’t a lot of them, sadly !) and consequently not seen how Margaret’s biographers have perceived the Relationship between her and Anne, but I think the two women had enough in common to be considered alike and “friend-material” for each other in a way.

      1. Thank you. I shall certainly make a point of reading more about this woman.

      2. Jillian says:

        I have Jane de Iongh’s biography of Margaret, which was written in Dutch in the 1940’s and translated into English in the 1950’s – as far as I know, this is the most recent biography of Margaret accessible to English-speaking readers.

        It is a useful book, but it doesn’t say anything about Margaret’s relations with Anne of Brittany in later life. It does appear, however, that they were generally on friendly terms. Margaret might well have envied the length of Anne’s marriages, as you said, but especially the fact that Anne had two surviving daughters. Margaret’s only child, a daughter by her first husband (Catherine of Aragon’s brother John) was tragically stillborn in December 1497. Margaret would have made a very good mother – she made an excellent job of raising her nephew Charles V and his sisters after her brother’s death.

        As far as I know, there is no recent biography of Anne of Brittany in English either, which is a great pity, although there is a lot of information about her in Frederick Baumgartner’s 1996 biography of Louis XII. There would surely be a lot of people interested in Renaissance and Tudor history who would want to read about these powerful and interesting women.

        1. I shall certainly look those up.

          Thank you.

        2. BanditQueen says:

          Hello, Marilyn, I have just purchased The Queen’s Library: Image Making at the Court of Anne of Brittany 1477-1514 by Cynthia J Brown which looks at the cultural legacy of Anne and her court and other ladies of the time. It has some stunning drawings of the images from her books and other books with images of Anne and is really great. Images in black and white; alas and expensive book (about £40.00) but well worth an investment or browing from the library.

          Another book that I found on Amazon was Renaissance Ladies at the French Court which looks at many of the ladies of the time, Anne of Brittany has a couple of long chapters and it even looks at Claude de France and others who came as brides, and some of the mistresses as well. Another great book, many paintings and prints from their books and from their lives, illuminated, some in colour and some in black and white. Again, cost a penny or two, but worth it and what else is Christmas money for. Hope you find something: also have the De Jong book in English on Margarite of Austria and can recommend.

  11. Vermillion says:

    Great article. Anne led a fascinating life that seems to be crying out for someone to write a decent English-language biography on her.

  12. Here is a Youtube video of a song made by a Dutch band (Kayak) about Queen Anne. It’s a beautiful but a sad song at the same time.

  13. Kacey Walker says:

    Although it is not strictly accurate, there is an excellent teen series known as His Fair Assassin that has many insights about Anne of Britanny’s early life. While it focuses primarily on older faiths and the development of several strong female characters in a patriarchal world, Anne of Brittany, her counsilors, and the political turmoil of the time are central concepts. As someone who was previously unaware of much of Anne’s importance, this series was delightfully informative and engaging to read. Between the three books in the series, several years of history are explored, including the many plots to keep Britanny independent, the increasing French frustration, takeovers and battles between Bretons and the French, Princess Isabelle’s death, the marriage by proxy to the Holy Roman Emperor, and the eventual betrothal between Anne and Charles. A thoroughly fascinating read and highly reccommended!

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