Françoise de Dinan, Breton Heiress and Powerbroker

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Countess Françoise de Dinan, Breton Heiress and Powerbroker was one of the most sought-after women in 15th Century Brittany. she is best known to history as gouvernante to Duchess Anne of Brittany. She was also highly educated, extremely rich, and a peer in Brittany in her own right. As the sole heir of the great Seigneur Jacques de Dinan, she was welcomed at the court of Duke Francis II. Then her role in rebellions against both Duke Francis and Duchess Anne soured her relationships with the ducal family.

Françoise de Dinan, Breton Heiress’s Childhood and First Marriage

Françoise de Dinan (1436/41?-1499/1500?) was the daughter, only child and heiress of Jacques de Dinan (d. 1444), lord of Beaumanoir and chamberlain at the court of Brittany, and Catherine de Rohan. As well, she was the heiress of her paternal uncle Bertrand de Dinan (d. 1444), Marshal of Bretagne, Lord of Montafilant, Chateaubriant and Huguetières. With these two inheritances, she became the richest heiress in Brittany; the sole heiress and dame de Châteaubriant, de Beaumanoir, du Guildo, de Montafilant, de Candé, de Vioreau, des Huguetières, du Bodister de La Hardouinaye and du Bodister.

Not surprisingly she was much sought after as a wife. As a young child, possibly a baby, she was first betrothed to the Comte de Gavre, eldest son of Count Guy XIV de Laval. At the age of eight, she was abducted by, betrothed, and apparently married to Gilles de Bretagne, third son of Duke Jean V of Brittany. When this apparently traitorous and certainly unfortunate young man was captured, imprisoned and either starved to death or strangled in April 1450, she became a widow and was free to remarry. Gilles, her first husband was buried at the collegial church of Saint-Thugal at Laval.

Second Marriage: Count Guy XIV de Laval

Once again, there was a dispute over who she should marry. Count Guy XIV de Laval Laval (28 January 1406-2 September 1486), father of the first boy selected to betroth her, became her second husband after obtaining all the necessary dispensations. The father was at least 30 and perhaps 35 years older than her. He had previously been married to Isabella de Bretagne [the late sister of Françoise’s late husband, Gilles.] Isabella had died c. 1444..

Guy XIV had married Isabella 1 October 1430, at Redon. Together they had three sons and seven daughters (of whom three died young).

His heir, François of Laval (16 November 1435, Moncontour-28 January 1501, Laval), successor of his father as Guy XV, later married Catherine of Alençon, one of the premier noble families in France.

Three of his other children who survived to adulthood all made excellent marriages within Brittany, and his youngest son, Pierre of Laval (17 July 1442, Montfort-sur-Meu-1493),  became archbishop of Rheims.

His daughter, Jeanne de Laval (10 November 1433, Auray-19 December 1498, Beaufort-en-Vallée), married King René of Anjou titular King of Jerusalem, Aragon, and Majorca; Duke of Anjou, Bar, and Lorraine; and Count of Provence and Piedmont. As wife to King René, Queen Jeanne was Queen consort of Naples, Sicily, etc.

Heiress Françoise’s Marriage to Count Guy XIV

When Françoise de Dinan married Comte Guy XIV de Laval in 1451, she was no more than 15 and may have been as young as ten.

This marriage is an example of the close interrelationships among the highest nobility in Brittany as well as in France, the gross disparity in ages between spouses, the lack of power girls had in determining their destiny, and the goal of marriage being the consolidation of property and wealth within a family.

Françoise and Guy had three children together.

  • Pierre seigneur de Montafilant mort sans postérité à Nantes en 1475
  • François de Laval, baron de Châteaubriant, 1464-1503. (Married June 11, 1488 to Françoise de Rieux, dame de Malestroit 1461-1532). [Françoise de Rieux was the daughter of Marshal Jean IV de Rieux, himself the Gouverneur of Anne de Bretagne].
  • Jacques seigneur de Beaumanoir mort en 1502.

Françoise de Dinan’s Role as Powerbroker

After the death of her husband in 1486, Françoise de Dinan joined forces with many of the highest Breton nobility including Vicomte de Rohan, the Maréchal de Rieux, etc. against Duke François II of Brittany. They allied themselves with the King Charles VIII of France to drive out of Brittany all those with whom they were unhappy.

By the Treaty of Châteaubriant, the barons of Brittany called upon a foreign invader to settle an internal quarrel among the Breton ruling class. It was a disastrous folly as they realized far too late. In 1488, the French came to lay siege to Châteaubriant and the Sire de la Trémoille destroyed the castle and part of the town’s towers. Shortly thereafter, Brittany under Duke François II, defeated by the French at Saint Aubin du Cormier, surrendered to France. The Duke himself died in September 1488, leaving two daughters: Anne, the future Duchess of Brittany, and Isabeau, who died young in 1490.

Countess Françoise as Gouvernante to Anne of Brittany

From Anne’s birth in 1476 until the countess joined Marshal de Rieux in 1488, she was Anne’s gouvernante. A woman of culture and natural authority, Françoise de Dinan supervised the raising the young Anne de Bretagne. Anne’s education apparently included singing, dancing, music, poetry, painting, embroidery and lacemaking, Latin and Greek, riding and hunting, and the art of holding her own before her court and her people. After Duke François’s death in 1488, she became a powerbroker in Anne’s marriage to the Sieur d’Albret, her half-brother. She joined the civil war against Anne led by Marshal de Rieux. After the end of the civil war, she appears to have supported the mariage to Maximilan, King of the Romans.

During this time, the rich Breton heiress and powerbroker, plays an important role in my novel, The Importance of Wives. Françoise de Dinan tries to bully young Anne into a marriage she opposes, a role amply supported by the facts.

She contributed by her actions to Brittany’s defeat by France in 1491. The defeated duchess Anne and new Queen of France did not encourage the countess to join her in France.

Countess Françoise’s Third Marriage

In March 1494, the countess remarried the noble Jean de Proisy. Some claim this was a secret marriage and Sire de Proisy was a chamberlain to the French king, Charles VIII.

Françoise de Dinan died in January 1499/1500 at the age of sixty-five. She was buried in Nantes cathedral, near the tomb of Duke François II and Duchess Marguerite de Foix.

Her epitaph reads as follows. Here lies Françoise de Dinan, dame de Chateaubriant, Candé, Vioreau, les Huguetières en Rays, Montafilan, Beaumanoir, la Hardouinaie, Bodister, daughter of Jacques de Dinan, lord of the said places, and of Catherine de Rohan, who was born on 20 November MCCCCXXXVI and married at first marriage Prince Gilles de Bretagne, third son of Jean V of the name and of the duchess Jehanne de France ; and, having died in the year MCCCCL, married for the second time Guy XIVth of the name, count of Laval and Montfort, baron of Vitré and de la Roche, viscount of Rennes, and for the third time Jean de Proesy, baron of Bove in Picardy, and died in his chateau in January MCCCCXCIX, in the year lxiii of age.

Conclusion: A Breton Heiress and Powerbroker

Countess Françoise’s life epitomizes the conflicts that faced the highest nobility in Brittany during the late fifteenth century. As much French as Breton, they allied themselves as often with one side as the other. The countess’s high birth, wealth and education gave her a status and independence few other women of her era enjoyed. She seems to have taken advantage of these benefits to the fullest.


Françoise de Dinan

Anne of Brittany

Anne of Brittany: An Unlikely Heroine

Baroness Michelle de Soubise, Anne of Brittany’s Dame d’ atour

Anne of Brittany: Life Story (A Hazardous Upbringing)

Françoise de Dinan, riche héritière du duché de Bretagne

Françoise de Dinan

[i] There is a dispute about the facts of her early life. According to Vicomte du Bois de la Villerabel, she was born in 1441 in the Château de la Roche-Suhart. He also claims that Gilles de Bretagne, the traitorous third son of Jean V of Brittany, did not abduct her although she was betrothed to him. After his death, she married Comte Count Guy XIV de Laval at the behest of her father. Count de Laval did not seek to deprive his son of the heiress.

[ii] Date of death of 1499/1500. Since Françoise de Dinan died in January and the Pope redefined the year’s start to Jan 1, not March 25 in1572, this explains the difference. We must suspect the accuracy of all year dates between January and March.

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