Women and Power at the French Court, 1483–1563 ed. by Susan Broomhall
In this collection, scholars will find interlocking studies that present women ranging from Anne de France (1461–1522) to Catherine de Médicis (1519–1598) in ways that collectively revisit and examine in detail the histories of such women and their positions of power at the French court. They cover the women's involvement in "high politics and religious movements, financial transactions, ritual and ceremonies, epistolary exchanges, creative composition and translations, [and] development of networks of sociability," to note a few key areas of inquiry. While many of the essays cover the same figures, the different points of view taken by the authors interact in valuable ways to elicit a prismatic sense of the history of these women as they have seldom been covered elsewhere.
The collection is divided into four parts, "Conceptualizing and Practicing Female Power," "Centers and Peripheries of Power," "The Power of Creative Voices," and "Economies of Power and Emotion." In the first part, Aubrée David-Chapy considers the power, eloquence, and astute political maneuvers of Anne de France and Louise de Savoie; Tracy Adams looks at Anne de France and the tradition of gift-giving to undergird power; and Laure Fagnart and Mary Beth Winn discuss Louise de Savoie as Alter Rex to her son François I. In the second part, Erin Sadlack investigates lessons in queenship and power offered by Christine de Pizan's Book of Three Virtues (1405), especially as they may have been utilized by Mary Tudor Brandon; Kathleen Wilson-Chevalier examines the spaces of agency available to Claude de France, a queen whom Jonathan Reid will later in this collection call "a retiring figure" of little influence, and shows that she did, in fact, have "a political agenda of her own," as well as being considered a powerful intercessor for her people; and Lisa Mansfield considers portraits of François I's second wife, Eleanor of Austria. In part three, Cynthia Brown examines a constellation of texts and images that vividly illustrate interrelated mother-daughter relationships through commissioned books, with the women in question being Anne de Bretagne, Claude de France, Renée de France, Anne de France, Suzanne de Bourbon, Louise de Savoie, Marguerite d'Angoulême, and Jeanne d'Albret. Here also, Mawy Bouchard interrogates Anne de Graville's Rondeaux (c. 1515), her adaption of Alain Chartier's La belle dame sans mercy (1424), particularly focusing on Graville's argument that Malenbouche, or Slander, is a threat to court society; Reid provides a detailed overview of ways in which Marguerite de Navarre's intellectual prowess, literary efforts, and charisma enabled her far-reaching influence at the French court, as well as in Italy through her contacts with Renée de France and Vittoria Colonna, and in England through Anne de Boleyn's and her daughter Elizabeth I's familiarity with her works. Pollie Bromilow brings Hélisenne de Crenne into the conversation among these essays, arguing that while she was not a high-ranking woman at the French court, her print authorship provided her an "exceptional position" that allowed her work to influence a readership in court circles. In the fourth part, David Potter explores the trajectory of Anne de Pisseleu d'Heilly's rise to power as the mistress of François I, arguing that, contrary to some accounts, she remained a wealthy and influential figure after the king's death. Susan Broomhall examines the "rhetorics of power" in the letters of another famous mistress, Diane de Poitiers; and, finally, Denis Crouze closes the collection with an interrogation of the historiography of Catherine de Médicis.
This collection will be much appreciated for the ways in which it shows this array of powerful women in historical relationship with one another, for the ways that the authors reveal how these women were reading and clearly being influenced by the works of other women, and, most [End Page 159] important, for the illustrations of women in positions of power shaping families, policies, and generally influencing many aspects of religion, politics, and culture in their orbits.