Anne of Brittany: An Unlikely Heroine

A 15th-Century Heroine, Anne of Brittany

When the not-quite 12-year-old Anne of Brittany became duchess, her people found in her their unlikely heroine. She inherited a duchy on its knees.

Brittany was reeling from defeat at the decisive battle of Saint-Aubin-du-Cormier in July 1488. Her senile father signed the disastrous peace Treaty of Verger with France. Then he fled to his nearby château of Couëron. To escape his shame, he went riding and had a fatal accident.

12-year-old Anne as Duchess of Brittany

Although young, our unlikely heroine was intelligent and headstrong. She’d been brought up as heiress and expected to rule. Just before his death, her father saddled Anne with a new guardian, the Marshal de Rieux. She soon learned he did not have her interests at heart. Anne quickly realized that her guardian and other advisors [primarily men] wanted to control her future [and her strategic duchy]. They intended her to marry– and the man of their choice. They did not believe her capable of ruling both because of her youth and her gender.

Marshal Rieux and his ally, Countess Françoise de Dinan, Anne gouvernante, chose Sieur Alain d’Albret, Viscount of Tarbes. The de Rieux and the Dinan-Laval were two of the richest landowners in Brittany. Sieur d’Albret was the countess’s half-brother. He was also an ally supporting them with arms. No matter that he was a raddled old man of 48. He already had 10 children and fathered no less than 7 bastards. Besides this, he had no use for women. Anne did not intend to allow anyone else to rule her inheritance. She knew d’Albret had every intention of doing so.

Anne’s Struggle for her inheritance

Within months, Anne and her guardian were at war with each other. Baron Philippe de Montauban, the Chancellor of Brittany, became her strongest ally in her three year struggle.

The adventures of our unlikely heroine’s manoeuvres as she took charge to save her Duchy from the rapacious jaws of her neighbour France is the stuff of heroic drama. She fled from pursuing armies. She had to recover the pawned ducal regalia before her coronation.

When she decided she must meet her people she embarked on a tour of her duchy on horseback, she to relieve their sufferings and bring them justice and alms. This is how she became known as The Duchess in sabots [wooden shoes]. She made a secret proxy marriage with Maximillian, King of the Romans to buy his aid for her embattled duchy. Her rejected suitor betrayed her and allowed her deadly enemy, the French into her capital city. Finally, her people starving, she sacrificed herself to save her duchy. She abandoned the pusillanimous Maximillian who had never come to her aid to marry the enemy who had defeated her.

Blogging about Anne of Brittany

Susan Abernathy’s excellent blog The Freelance History Writer contains numerous well-researched, well-written articles on various aspects of Anne of Brittany’s life.  I recommend reading these articles from her blog for more details.

From August 1488 when Anne came into her inheritance until October 1491 Anne struggled heroically in the face of civil war and French invasion. The Siege of Rennes marked the final defeat of Brittany and Anne’s hopes.

Once the French surrounded the last of Anne’s strongholds in Brittany , Anne agreed to marry King Charles. Thus she became Anne of Brittany, Queen of France. Susan’s post provides an excellent overview of Anne’s childhood and three marriages.

Anne and King Charles VIII married at The Château of Langeais in the Loire Valley in a small and private wedding since dispensation had not arrived yet from the Pope. Nonetheless, Madame la Grande was not willing to postpone the event that would assure the terms of the treaty.

From Unlikely Heroine to Queen of France

Brittany developed a cultured court early. My unlikely heroine’s father founded the University of Nantes. It became famous for its humanist learning. Once Charles VIII adopted came back from Italy with his new enchantment for all things renaissance, he and Anne went on a building spree. She invited many young women to her court and developed a passion for matchmaking. Anne of Brittany as Matchmaker describes one of her many successes.

When she married Louis XII, Anne became Queen of France a second time. Although she failed to produce a male heir, she and Louis had two beloved daughters. Her daughter, Claude, married the next king of France.

The funeral of Anne of Brittany, A 15th Century Heroine
The funeral of Anne of Brittany, A 15th Century Heroine

In The Funeral of Anne of Brittany read about one of the most magnificent funerals ever provided to a Queen of France. It reflected the love King Louis had for his wife as well as her place in the hearts of the French people.

After the death of her mother, Claude de Valois Queen of France married the next king of France. Claude was the elder daughter of King Louis XII and Queen Anne [Duchess of Brittany]

Recent Fiction about Anne of Brittany

When I began my research, most of the fiction about this 15th-century woman was out of date. Therefore, two years ago I wrote the first draft of a novel about Anne. However, since then, Rozsa Gaston has published three historical romances based on Anne of Brittany’s life. The first begins with her first marriage. Her next two cover her second marriage stopping in the middle years of her marriage with Louis. It seemed an unpropitious time to continue my project. So, here are links to her novels.

1. Rozsa Gaston, Anne and Charles: Passion And Politics In Late Medieval France: The Story of Anne of Brittany’s Marriage to Charles VIII (The Anne of Brittany Series) (Volume 1) Renaissance Editions (2018)

2. Rozsa Gascon, Anne and Louis: Passion and Politics in Early Renaissance France (Anne of Brittany Series Book 2), Renaissance Editions (2018)

3. Rozsa Gascon, Anne and Louis: Rulers and Lovers (Anne of Brittany Series Book 3), Renaissance Editions (2018)

You can purchase the three book series from Amazon. The three book series is

Recent Research about Anne of Brittany

As I pursue my interest in my unlikely heroine, I am delighted to find that interest is blossoming. More and more people are writing about women of the French renaissance [rather than only the men]. Women’s and gender studies, cultural and environmental studies are soaring. So is digitization and access to electronic media. All these developments are fabulous for those of us who live far from France.

To encourage exploration and discussion here is a list of my most recent finds about her. You can find references to most of the articles either at Cour de France, Persé or JSTOR.

Articles on Unlikely Heroine, Anne

Antoine Le Roux de Lincy, Détails sur la vie privée d’Anne de Bretagne, femme de Charles VIII et de Louis XII, dans Bibliothèque de l’École des chartes, année 1850, volume 11, n°11, pp. 148-171

Aubrée David-Chapy – La «Cour des Dames» d’Anne de France à Louise de Savoie: un espace de pouvoir à la rencontre de l’éthique et du politique

zum Kolk, Caroline , Kathleen Wilson-Chevalier (dir.), Femmes à la cour de France. Charges et fonctions (XVe – XIXe siècle), Villeneuve d’Ascq, Septentrion, 2018, ISBN-102757423614. [The two articles I found most helpful for the topic of Anne of Brittany were the following.]

Caroline zum Kolk – La naissance de la « cour des Dames » : la maison de la reine de France et son personnel féminin (Moyen Âge – XVIe siècle)

Aubrée David-Chapy – La « Cour des Dames » d’Anne de France à Louise de Savoie : un espace de pouvoir à la rencontre de l’éthique et du politique

Cynthia J Brown, “Dédicaces à Anne de Bretagne : éloges d’une reine”, Études françaises, vol. 47, n°3, 2011, p. 29-54.

Jean Marot, Le recueil Jehan Marot, de Caen, poète et escripvain de la magnanime royne Anne de Bretaigne, et depuys valet de chambre du très chrestien roy François, premier de ce nom (…), Paris, Veuve P. Roffet,

Nicolas Le Roux, “Codes sociaux et culture de cour à la Renaissance”, dans Le Temps des savoirs. Revue interdisciplinaire de l’Institut universitaire de France, n°4, «Le Code», 2002, pp. 131-148. Article édité en ligne sur Cour de le 1er mai 2008 (

Books about Anne of Brittany

Cynthia J. Brown, The Queen’s Library: Image Making at the Court of Anne of Brittany, 1477-1514. Philadelphia and Oxford: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011.

G. Morgane Tanguy, Anne de Bretagne: Jardin Secrets, Éditions Fernand Lenore (1991)

Jacques Santrot, Les doubles funérailles d’Anne de Bretagne. Le corps et le coeur (janvier-mars 1514), Genève: Droz, 2017, ISBN: 978-2-600-04749-4

Jean Poyer, Livre d’heures d’Anne de Bretagne. The Morgan Library & Museum, New York.

Kathleen Wellman, Queens and Mistresses of Renaissance France, New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, May, 2013, ISBN: 978-0-300-17885-2

Laure Barthet (éd.), Le cœur d’Anne de Bretagne, Silvana Éditoriale, 2014, ISBN 978-88-366-2847-6, 19,90 €.

Murielle Gaude-Ferragu, Queenship in Medieval France, 1300-1500, translated by Angela Krieger, New York, Palgrave MacMillan (The new Middle Ages), 2016.

Pauline Matarosso, Queen’s Mate: Three Women of Power in France on the Eve of the Renaissance, Ashgate (2001)

Scroll to Top