The Regent and the Duchess: Anne de Beaujeu and Anne de Bretagne

J.H.M. Salmon describes the rivalry between these two remarkable royal ladies—both strongly ambitious and fiercely self-willed—who played an important part in the history of France.

After the death of Louis XI in 1483, revulsion against his methods and an uncomprehending suspicion of his aims occupied the minds of his nobility. Of all the great families whose provincial appanages had enabled them to defy the Crown in an earlier generation, the line of Brittany alone retained its proud independence. But there also survived many ancient houses whose fiefs were smaller or more scattered than these, and behind them pressed a lesser aristocracy that resented Louis’ bourgeois subversion of their rank and ideals.

In the two subsequent reigns two remarkable women played a leading part in the political problems caused by these pressures. As Regent, Anne de Beaujeu, the elder daughter of Louis XI, preserved her father’s achievements in the early years of her brother, Charles VIII.

Her younger rival, Anne de Bretagne, married first Charles VIII and then his successor, Louis XII. Their conflict led Anne de Beaujeu to pursue those very dynastic ambitions she had resisted during her control of the royal authority: while Anne de Bretagne, though twice Queen of France, remained before all else Duchess of Brittany.

In the sixteenth century Pierre de Brantome observed that Anne de Beaujeu’s skill in hypocrisy and deceit marked her as her father’s daughter. Yet he also recalled her opulent display and imperious demeanour, traits that earned her the title of “Madame la Grande”, and clearly distinguished her from Louis XI. born in 1461, the year of her father’s accession, she at once became a pawn in that tortuous and shifting statecraft designed to secure the submission of the great and the reversion of their lands to the Crown.

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