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Anne, Duchess of Brittany


Anne, Duchess of Brittany

Duchess of Brittany
Reign 9 September 1488 – 9 January 1514
Enthronement 10 February 1489
Predecessor Francis II
Successor Claude
Queen consort of France
Tenure 6 December 1491 – 7 April 1498
Coronation 8 February 1492
Queen consort of France
Tenure 8 January 1499 – 9 January 1514
Coronation 18 November 1502
Spouse Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor (in proxy at 13, annulled)
Charles VIII of France
Louis XII of France
Charles Orlando, Dauphin of France
Claude, Queen of France
Renée, Duchess of Ferrara
House Dreux-Montfort
Father Francis II, Duke of Brittany
Mother Margaret of Foix
Born (1477-01-25)25 January 1477
Nantes, Brittany
Died 9 January 1514(1514-01-09) (aged 36)
Blois, France
Burial Saint Denis Basilica
Religion Roman Catholicism

Anne, Duchess of Brittany (25 January 1477 – 9 January 1514[1]), also known as Anna of Brittany (French: Anne de Bretagne; Breton: Anna Vreizh), was the last independent Breton ruler, who married two successive French kings. She was born in Nantes, Brittany, and was the daughter of Duke Francis II of Brittany and Margaret of Foix. Upon her father's death, she became Duchess of Brittany, Countess of Nantes, Montfort and Richmont and Viscountess of Limoges. In her time, she was the richest European woman.

Early life

Anne was the only child of Francis and Margaret to survive childhood (she had a younger sister, Isabeau, who died in 1490). Accordingly, she was brought up as the heiress to the Duchy. She was given a good education under the guidance of Françoise de Dinan, Lady of Laval and Chateaubriant, and the poet Jean Meschinot.

Since the Breton War of Succession, Brittany had been understood to operate according to semi-Salic Law–women could only inherit if the male line had died out. By the time Anne was born, her father was the only male left of the Breton House of Montfort. The War of Succession had ended with an agreement that, in the absence of a male heir, the heirs of Joanna of Penthièvre would succeed. After a century, however, this agreement had been forgotten. Thus, in 1486 Anne's father had her recognised as heiress by the Breton estates; however, the question of her marriage remained a diplomatic issue. Francis had no intention of allowing France to absorb Brittany. Therefore, he sought to marry his daughter to a figure capable of withstanding French power.

Brittany being an attractive prize, Anne had no shortage of suitors. She was officially promised in marriage to Edward, Prince of Wales, son of Edward IV of England in 1483; however, the boy disappeared, and was presumed dead, soon after the death of Edward IV. Others who bid for her hand included Maximilian of Austria (the widower of Mary of Burgundy, another heiress), Alain d'Albret, Jean de Châlons (Prince of Orange) and even the married Louis, Duke of Orléans.

In 1488, however, the armies of Francis II were defeated at the Battle of Saint-Aubin-du-Cormier, ending the Guerre folle between Brittany and France. In the Treaty of Sablé, which concluded the peace settlement, the Duke was forced to accept clauses stipulating that his daughters were not to marry without the approval of the King of France. Francis died soon afterward, on 9 September 1488, as a result of a fall from his horse. Anne became Duchess, and Brittany was plunged into fresh crisis, leading to the last Franco-Breton war.

Duchess of Brittany

The first necessary move for Anne was to secure a husband, preferably anti-France and powerful enough to maintain Breton independence. Maximilian I of Austria was considered the most suitable candidate. Her marriage with Maximilian, which took place at Rennes by proxy on 19 December 1490, conferred upon Anne the title Queen of the Romans, but proved to have serious consequences. The French regarded it as a serious provocation—it not only violated the Treaty of Sablé (the King of France not having consented to the marriage), but also placed the rule of Brittany in the hands of an enemy of France. The marriage also proved ill-timed: the Habsburgs were too busy in Hungary to pay any serious attention to Brittany, and the Castilians were busy fighting in Granada. Although both Castile and England sent small numbers of troops to supplement the Ducal army, neither wished for open warfare with France. The spring of 1491 brought new successes by the French general La Trémoille, and Charles VIII of France came to lay siege to Rennes.

After Maximilian failed to come to his bride's assistance, Rennes fell. Anne became engaged to Charles in the vault of the Jacobins in Rennes. Then, escorted by her army (ostensibly to show that she had willingly consented to the marriage), Anne went to Langeais to be married. Although Austria made diplomatic protests, claiming that the marriage was illegal because the bride was unwilling, that she was already legally married to Maximilian, and that Charles was legally betrothed to Margaret of Austria, Maximilian's daughter, Anne celebrated her second wedding to Charles VIII at the castle of Langeais on 6 December 1491.

The marriage was subsequently validated by Pope Innocent VIII on 15 February 1492. The marriage contract provided that the spouse who outlived the other would retain possession of Brittany; however, it also stipulated that if Charles died without male heirs, Anne would marry his successor, thus ensuring the French kings a second chance to permanently annex Brittany.

Queen of France

Anne's second marriage began badly: she brought two beds with her when she came to marry Charles, and the King and Queen often lived apart. She was anointed and crowned Queen of France at Saint-Denis on 8 February 1492; she was forbidden by her husband to use the title Duchess of Brittany, which became a bone of contention between the two. When her husband fought in the wars in Italy, the regency powers were exercised by his sister Anne of Beaujeu. Pregnant for most of her married life, Anne lived primarily in the royal castles of Amboise, Loches and Plessis or in the towns of Lyon, Grenoble or Moulins (when the king was in Italy). She became Queen of Sicily and titular Queen of Jerusalem with the conquest of Naples by Charles VIII.

The marriage produced four living children, none of whom survived early childhood. Only the first, Charles Orland (11 October 1492 – 16 December 1495), survived infancy. A healthy and intelligent child, he was doted on by his parents, who both suffered terrible grief when he died suddenly of the measles. After him was born Charles, who lived for less than a month; and Francis and Anne, who each died almost immediately after being born. These tragedies caused a great deal of pain to Anne, who prayed openly for a son after the death of Francis.

Around her, there was a famous circle of court poets: among them the Italian humanist Publio Fausto Andrelini from Forlì, who spread the New Learning in France.

Widowhood and remarriage

When Charles VIII died in 1498, Anne was 21 years old and childless. Legally, she was now obliged to marry the new king, Louis XII; however, he was already married, to Joan, daughter of Louis XI and sister to Charles VIII. On 19 August 1498, at Étampes, she agreed to marry Louis if he obtained an annulment from Joan within a year. If she was gambling that the annulment would be denied, she lost: Louis's first marriage was dissolved by the Pope before the end of the year.

In the interim, in October 1498, Anne returned to rule Brittany. She restored the faithful Philippe de Montauban to the chancellery of Brittany, named the Prince of Orange as Hereditary Lieutenant General of Brittany, convened the Estates of Brittany, and ordered production of a coin bearing her name. She took the opportunity to tour the Duchy, visiting many places she had never been able to see as a child. She made triumphal entries into the cities of the duchy, where her vassals received her sumptuously.

Anne's third marriage ceremony, on 8 January 1499 was concluded under conditions radically different from those of the second. She was no longer a child, but was a dowager queen, and was determined to ensure the recognition of her rights as sovereign duchess from now on. Although her new husband exercised the ruler's powers in Brittany, he formally recognized her right to the title "Duchess of Brittany" and issuing decisions in her name.

As Duchess, Anne fiercely defended the independence of her Duchy. She arranged the marriage of her daughter, Claude, to Charles of Luxembourg in 1501, to reinforce the Franco-Spanish alliance and ensure French success in the Italian Wars; however, Louis broke off the marriage when it became likely that Anne would not produce a male heir. Instead, Louis arranged a marriage between Claude and the heir to the French throne, Francis of Angoulême. Anne, determined to maintain Breton independence, refused until death to sanction the marriage, pushing instead for Claude to marry Charles, or for her other daughter, Renee, to inherit the Duchy. Claude and Francis eventually married the year following Anne's death.


Anne died at the Chateau of Blois in the winter of 1513–1514 of a kidney-stone attack. She was buried in the necropolis of Saint Denis. Her funeral was exceptionally long, lasting 40 days, and inspiring all future French royal funerals until the 18th century. The courtier Pierre Choque records that two masses were read, the first by the cordeliers (i.e., Franciscans) and second by the Jacobins (i.e., Dominicans), and also two requiems were sung—possibly those that survive by Johannes Prioris.[2] and by Antoine de Févin,[3] Separate mourning motets survive by other members of the two royal choirs: Quis dabit oculis by Costanzo Festa, and Fiere attropos by Pierre Moulu.

According to her will, her heart was placed in a raised enamel gold reliquary, then transported to Nantes to be deposited in the vault of the Carmelite friars, in the tomb made for her parents. This was done on 19 March 1514, but it was later transferred to the Saint-Pierre cathedral. The reliquary of the heart of the Anne, Duchess of Brittany is a box oval, bivalvular, made of a sheet of gold pushed back and guillochéd, articulated by a hinge, broadside of a gold cordelière and topped by a crown of lily and clover. It is inscribed as follows:

En ce petit vaisseau
De fin or pur et munde
Repose ung plus grand cueur
Que oncque dame eut au munde
Anne fut le nom delle
En France deux fois royne
Duchesse des Bretons
Royale et Souveraine.[4]

It was made by an anonymous goldsmith of the court of Blois, perhaps drawn by Jean Perréal. In 1792, by order of the National Convention, the reliquary was seized—exhumed, and emptied—as part of a collection of precious metals pertaining to churches. It was sent to Nantes to be melted down, but was instead kept in the National Library. It was returned to Nantes in 1819 and kept in various museums, now in the Dobrée Museum since 1896.

Anne's will also conferred the succession of Brittany upon her second daughter, Renee. Her husband ignored this, and confirmed Claude as Duchess and married her to Francis.

Personal characteristics

Anne was a highly intelligent woman who spent much of her time on the administration of Brittany. She was described as shrewd, proud and haughty in manner.[5] She made the safeguarding of Breton autonomy, and the preservation of the Duchy outside the French crown, her life's work, although that goal would prove failed shortly after her death.

Anne was also a patron of the arts and enjoyed music. A prolific collector of tapestries, it is very likely that the unicorn tapestries now on view at The Cloisters museum in New York City were commissioned by her in celebration of her wedding to Louis XII.[6] Of her four surviving illuminated manuscript books of hours the most famous is the Grandes Heures of Anne of Brittany. She also patronized printed books and their authors.

She was a devoted mother, spending as much time as possible with her children. She commissioned a book of prayers for her son, Charles-Orland, to use in teaching him how to pray, and as guidance for his role as future King of France. Unfortunately, Charles-Orland died in 1495, and no other son lived more than a few weeks. According to the memoirs of Brantôme, Anne greatly expanded her household and retinue at court, especially in respect to young girls, forming a kind of finishing school, and in having a company of 100 Breton gentlemen at court. These innovations influenced later French courts.

At her marriage to Charles VIII at age 14, Anne was described as a young and rosy-cheeked girl. By the time of her marriage to Louis, aged 22, after seven pregnancies with no surviving children, she was described as pale-faced and wan. By the end of her life, at 36, she had been pregnant 14 times with seven stillbirths. Of the remaining seven births, only two survived childhood.

Marriages and Issue

Anne's first marriage, on 19 December 1490, was by proxy to Maximilian of Habsburg. It was dissolved by the Pope in the following year - because it was by proxy rather than in person, it is not generally considered a 'real' marriage.

Her second husband was Charles VIII of France, whom she married at Chateau Langeais on 6 December 1491. She was pregnant by him seven times:

  • Charles Orlando, Dauphin of France. Her only healthy son, he lived 1492–1495, but died of the measles.
  • A still-born son. She became pregnant in late 1492/early 1493, but travelled with her husband from castle to castle; she went into labour during a drive in the forest of Courcelles, and the child was premature and stillborn (August 1493).
  • A still-born daughter. Anne became pregnant again five months after her miscarriage, and avoided travel (instead residing in Amboise near the Dauphin). However, in February 1494, she accompanied the King to Lyon, where he was preparing to depart for the Italian Wars, and after arriving on 15 March, attended all the ceremonies; the stress of the occasion caused her to go into premature labour, and she gave birth to a still-born girl.
  • A still-born child. She became pregnant again in August 1494, but lost the baby soon after.
  • Charles, Dauphin of France. He lived from 8 September to 2 October 1496. His death prompted Anne to withdraw to Moulins temporarily in despair.
  • Francis, Dauphin of France. He died several hours after his birth in July 1497.
  • Anne of France. She died on the day of her birth, 20 March 1498 at Plessis les Tours.

Her third husband was Louis XII of France. She was at least seven times pregnant by him:

  • Claude of France (1499–1524), who succeeded her and later also became queen of France
  • Stillborn son (1500).
  • Stillborn son (21 January 1503).
  • Some sources cited a miscarriage by the end of 1503.
  • In 1505 she suffered a miscarriage.
  • Stillborn son (1508) -some sources cited this was a miscarriage-.
  • Some sources cited a miscarriage in 1509.
  • Renée of France (1510–1575) married Ercole II d'Este, the Duke of Ferrara, and became the Duchess of Chartres.
  • Stillborn son (January 1512).

Although Anne bore fourteen children, only two daughters outlived her, Claude, by ten years and Renée by sixty-one years. Renée was just three when Anne died, while Claude was nearly fifteen.

Cultural symbolism of Anne

Even while she was alive, the royal propaganda of Charles VIII and of Louis XII introduced Anne of Brittany as a perfect queen, a symbol of union and peace between the kingdom of France and the duchy of Brittany. In the following centuries, historians and popular culture sometimes presented Anne of Brittany in differing fashions, ascribing to her physical and psychological characteristics that are not necessarily supported by historical evidence.

In 1991, the five-hundredth anniversary of the marriage of Anne of Brittany and Charles VIII of France was celebrated in Langeais. In Rennes, which had paid the price of this marriage by siege, food shortage, and an occupation, it was hardly mentioned.

Depictions in fiction

  • Anne of Brittany is the subject of Eleanor Fairburn's historical novel, Crowned Ermine, pub. 1968
  • Anne of Brittany features prominently in Robin LaFevers's novel, Grave Mercy, pub 3 April 2012
  • Anne of Brittany is a major supporting character of Robin LaFevers's second novel, Dark Triumph, pub 2 April 2013

Anne in Breton culture

Anne of Brittany is one of Brittany's most renowned historical figures, second perhaps only to Saint Yves. In testimony exist a large number of trades, hotels and street names bearing her name. Anne is also referred to by:

  • The folksong Anne de Bretagne: duchesse en sabots, which imagines her wearing rustic clogs at her first meeting with the king.
  • A song by Gilles Servat that evokes her life: Koc'h ki gwenn ha koc'h ki du
  • Duchesse Anne, name of a beer produced in Brittany
  • A square three-masted ship Duchesse Anne, currently moored in the Port of Dunkirk
  • Anne de Bretagne, an opera composed by Louis-Albert Bourgault-Ducoudray in the 1870s
  • Anne de Bretagne, an opera by Breton composer Pierick Houdy, libretto by M. Fournereau, first performed in Rennes 2001, featuring Agnès Bove in the title role
  • Anne de Bretagne, a rock opera by Alan Simon, first performed in Nantes in June 2009 starring Cécile Corbel, Fairport Convention, Nilda Fernandez, Tri Yann, Les Holroyd
  • If death bites (Si mort a mors),[7] an anonymous poem going back to her funeral, and now performed by the popular Breton folk musicians Tri Yann as one of two songs that refer to the Duchess

There are several explanations for this: the destiny of this duchess who married three kings, including two kings of France, and who was only a child when she had to marry the first (even if early engagements were normal at that time); the historical role of Anne in the union of the duchy to the kingdom of France; the fact that very little of the history of Brittany is taught in Breton schools (the official school syllabus being written in Paris for all the French territory -territories of overseas included – those retain only Anne as a notable Breton). This established fact leads some to experience the History of Brittany starting and finishing with Anne.



External links

Brittany portal
Kingdom of France portal
  •, Anne de Bretagne in Medieval History of Navarre
  • Jean-Luc Deuffic: [1] Les manuscrits d'Anne de Bretagne
Anne of Brittany
Cadet branch of the House of Dreux
Born: 25 January 1477 Died: 9 January 1514
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Francis II
Duchess of Brittany
with Charles VIII of France (1491–1498)
Louis XII of France (1499–1514)
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Countess of Étampes
Royal titles
Title last held by
Charlotte of Savoy
Queen consort of France
Succeeded by
Joan of France
Title last held by
Joan of France
Queen consort of France
Title next held by
Mary of England
Preceded by
Isabella del Balzo
Queen consort of Naples
Succeeded by
Isabella I of Castile

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