Claude de France’s prayer book is an example of the exquisite manuscript art of the French Renaissance. This example demonstrates that Anne of Brittany passed on her passion for religion, beauty and books to her daughter Claude.
Queen Anne, Duchess of Brittany bore her elder daughter, Claude de France, in October 1499, 10 months after her marriage to King Louis XII. Louis was away fighting in Italy while Anne stayed with Countess Louis d’Angoulême at the latter’s château in Romorantin. They sincerely disliked each other. Louise gloated when Anne produced a daughter rather than the longed-for son and dauphin for France. Louis, a doting husband, adored his daughter and insisted that they would have a son next.
Anne of Brittany, Renaissance Woman
Her parents, both lovers of books, gave her exquisite books from her earliest childhood. Her first primer is an example. This Prayer Book of Claude de France is a tiny, jewel-like manuscript. Made for Claude (1499–1524) around 1517, she received it as a gift it the year she was crowned queen of France.
Claude had her own court made up of young noble girls. Despite a hip deformity that caused her to lip badly, she ran and played happily. Her mother wrote to her and her gouvernante daily when she travelled. As soon as she could write, Claude replied herself. When Claude was five, her mother commissioned a primer for her to learn to read.
The primer of Claude de France contains the alphabet and basic prayers for Claude to learn. Her mother intended both to educate and entertain the young girl. As befits its time and place, the 14-page primer tells the story of salvation. Each page includes required prayers but mainly entrancing pictures to encourage Claude to learn. It begins with God’s creation of the world and ends, as she would expect, with the Day of Judgement.