|Francis II Duke of Brittany|
An Heir to the Dukedom
Anne of Brittany was the child of Francis II, Duke of Brittany and his second wife Margaret de Foix, Infanta of Navarre. Francis’ first wife had been his cousin Margaret of Brittany, the daughter of Francis I Duke of Brittany. On the death of Francis I, his brother Peter II inherited the dukedom. When Peter II died an uncle Arthur of Richemont inherited the duchy for eleven months and his nephew Francis II ruled after his death.
From his first marriage to Margaret Francis II had a son Jean, Count of Montfort, but Jean died young. Brittany was an independent dukedom and, unlike the rest of France, had a variation of Salic Law which allowed for women to succeed to the dukedom if there were no male heirs.
Anne was born on 25th January 1477; her sister Isabeau was born the following year. Anne also had four half-siblings from her father’s relationship with Antoinette de Maignelais, a former mistress of King Charles VII of France[i]. One son, François, was made Baron d’Avagour[ii]. Anne’s mother Margaret died on 15th May 1486, when Anne was nine.
Anne’s governess Françoise de Dinan, was a member of the powerful d’Albret family, and was Lady of Chateaubriant in her own right and Countess of Laval by marriage[iii]. Anne was taught Greek and Latin and it is believed that she had some knowledge of Italian and Hebrew. She was also an accomplished needlewoman and horse rider. In addition to her governess, Anne had several tutors, including her butler and court poet, Jean Meschinot, who is thought to have taught her dancing, singing and music.
Brittany had supported the English in their fight to subdue France and even before the Treaty of Picquingy that formally ended the 100 Years War, on 29th August 1475, the kings of France had been eager to extend their rule over the whole of France. Francis II was committed to maintaining Brittany’s independence and fought two wars with France, becoming a member of the League of the Public Weal. The league opposed the centralising aims of Louis XI[iv].
At the beginning of his reign Francis II had been welcomed by his subjects; but his popularity lessened as he came under the sway of his favourites, Antoinette de Maignelais and Peter Landais, who was the keeper of the duke’s wardrobe despite being only of merchant stock. Francis II was believed to be
‘More occupied in pleasure than in the care of his duchy.’[v]
A tax on wine and cider to fund the Breton army did not find many supporters. Following the arrest and imprisonment of the Chancellor Chauvain, at Landais’ behest, the Breton nobility united against the favourite and he was hanged.
Marshall Jean IV de Rieux[vi], along with his brother Peter, equerry to the duke, was among a considerable number of Breton courtiers who took pensions from the French crown. Françoise de Dinan was another French pensioner. The pensions ranged from 250 livres[vii] to 12,000 livres[viii].
|Arms of John of Chalons-Arlay|
One of Anne’s cousins; John IV of Chalon-Arlay, Prince of Orange[ix] was also under consideration as Anne’s husband. Following his support for Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, John was exiled in Brittany.
Viscount Jean II of Rohan[x], also in line to the Breton duchy offered with the support of Marshal de Rieux, a double marriage of his sons François and Jean with Anne and her sister Isabeau, but Francis II was opposed to this plan.
Death of the Spider
With the death of Louis XI, on 30th August 1483, his son Charles VIII became king. As he was too young to rule his sister Anne of Beaujeu was made Regent and ruled with the assistance of her husband, Peter II, Duke of Bourbon.
‘Madam de Beaujeu, his sister, was with the king all the time…nor was anything touching the king and his kingdom done except with her knowledge, approval and consent.’[xi]
In 1484 Charles was introduced to the Estates General by his chancellor who promised them a leader whose sagacity belied his years;
‘Look with joy, then, upon his face. How radiantly it displays such beauty, such serenity! How clearly it reflects a noble and illustrious nature! Is it not worthy to be obeyed: to deliver you from fear, to bring perpetual calm from the terrors of the whole world?’[xii]
Anne of Beaujeu’s regency was not acceptable to many of the nobility, not least among them her cousin, Louis, Duke of Orléans next in line for the throne. Supported by Francis and a number of other lords Louis made an attempt to seize the regency but failed. The revolt was put down without much fighting and the Peace of Bourges was agreed in November 1485.
Louis d’Orléans was another aspirant for Anne’s hand, despite being already married to the king's sister Jeanne[xiii]. Louis requested an annulment of his marriage from Pope Innocent VIII. Anne met Louis d’Orléans[xiv], who was to be her second husband, for the first time in 1485.
The Mad War
During the second Franco-Breton or Mad War the King of the Romans[xv]; Maximilian I invaded northern France into Artois, momentarily distracting attention from the Bretons. Maximilian then had to divert his armies northwards to Switzerland where a rebellion was in the offing.
|France during the Mad War|
A suggestion was made that Anne marry Alain I d’Albret[xvi]. Although d’Albret was an ally of her father’s and commanded an army of his own, he was regarded by his contemporaries as greedy, fickle and unscrupulous. Anne refused to marry d’Albret as she found him repulsive; a contemporary Jaligny described the forty-five year old as having;
‘[A] spotted face, harsh voice, fierce expression, and still fiercer temper’[xvii]
making him an unattractive suitor for a thirteen year old despite the encouragement of her governess, d’Albret’s sister.
In 1487 Louis d’Orléans returned to the Breton court accompanied by 400 lancers and rebellious French nobles; he was on the run from the French Regent. Rumours were spread that Louis had come to court Anne and he was obliged to refute them, saying
‘That his visits were solely for business with her [Anne’s] father.’[xviii]
In fact Louis had suggested to Anne de Beaujeu that his duchy of Orléans revert to Charles and in return she support Louis’ marriage to Anne of Brittany. Resentful of the French nobles at the Breton court a number of the Breton nobility came to an agreement in March 1487 with the French crown that in return for 6,000 troops and a subsidy they would help drive out the French rebels from Brittany.
Louis XII – Frederic J Baumgartner, MacMillan Press Ltd 1996
Renaissance Europe – JR Hale, Wm Collins Sons and Co Ltd 1971
Louis XI – Paul Murray Kendall, Sphere Books Ltd 1974
The Rise and Fall of Renaissance France – RJ Knecht, Fontana Press 1996
Absolute Monarchs – John Julius Norwich, Random House 2011
A History of France 1460-1560 – David Potter, MacMillan Press Ltd 1995
Anne of Brittany – Helen Josephine Sanborn, General Books 2012
The March of Folly – Barbara W Tuchman, Sphere Books Ltd 1984
Twice Crowned Queen – Constance de la Warr, Eveliegh Nash 1905 (Reprint 2015)
[iv] Known as the Spider
[v] Anne of Brittany - Sanborn
[vi] Commander of the Breton army
[xi] Louis XII - Baumgartner
[xii] Renaissance Europe - Hale
[xiii] Louis XI had deliberately forced Louis d’Orléans to marry Jean, who was severely physically handicapped and it was believed (probably correctly) that she was barren and the Orléans line would die out
[xv] The title given to the chosen heir of the Holy Roman Emperor
[xvii] Twice Crowned Queen – de la Warr
[xviii] Anne of Brittany - Sanborn