Here are the basic facts of Queen Jeanne de France’s life, the only French queen who is a real saint.
Father: Louis XI de France
Mother: Charlotte de Savoie
Birth: Nogent-le-Roi, France 23 April 1464
Marriage: Duke Louis d’Orléans, 8 September 1476, Château de Montrichard
Annulment: 17 December 1498, Saint Gatien Cathedral, Tours, 26 December 1498, Duchess de Berry
Death: 4, February 1505, Bourges, France, Convent of the Annonciades
The Family of Queen Jeanne de France
Daughter of one King of France, and wife of another, Queen Jeanne de France belonged to the highest royalty. Families were the basis of political and economic relationships and structures before and during this period and rank meant power.
Jeanne had one legitimate sister, Anne [b. April 1461], who married Duke Pierre de Beaujeu, 8 November 1474 at Montrichard. Anne and Pierre had only one child, Suzanne de Bourbon.
Charles, her brother, [b. 1470, d.1498] became King of France in 1483. She attended the celebration of his birth at Amboise in 1470. It was one of the significant events of her lonely childhood.
Guyette, born to Félizé Regnard, married Charles de Sillon in 1460.
Jeanne de France, Dame de Mirabeau,(legitimized in 1466), born to Marguerite de Sassenage, Dame de Beaumont. Married Louis, Comte de Roussillon in 1465, the bastard brother of Duke Jean II de Bourbon (legitimized in 1463). Louis gave him a seat on his Council and made him Lieutenant-General of Normandy, Admiral of Guyenne and in 1466 Admiral of France.
Marie de France (legitimized 11 July 1467), born to Marguerite de Sassenage, Dame de Beaumont. Married her cousin Aymar de Poitiers, seigneur de Saint-Vallier, Comte de Valentinois at Chartres, June 1467. She died in childbirth. (Anne brought Marie’s daughter Diane de Poitiers to her court and Diane became mistress to King Henri II.)
Isabeau de France, born to Marguerite de Sassenage, Dame de Beaumont. Married Louis de Saint-Priest.
Marie d’Orléans b. 1457, married Jean de Foix, Viscount de Narbonne and Count d’Étampes. They had two children, Germaine de Foix and Gaston de Foix. Marie died in 1493.
Anne d’Orléans, b.1464, was of Abbess of the Royal Convent of Fontevraud from 1478 until her death in 1491.
In the spring of 1464, Louis and Charlotte travelled west because King Louis was at war with Duke Francis II of Brittany. In the small town of Nogent-le-Roi, Queen Charlotte gave birth to Princess Jeanne on 23 April. Louis was so disappointed when he learned he had another girl he refused to allow any celebrations of her birth.
Even worse for her and her mother, the doctors informed the king soon after her birth that she had a severely curved backbone and her body twisted sideways. We cannot know whether Louis’s doctors told him she was unlike to bear children this early. However, immediately after her birth, Louis XI proposed to Duke Charles d’Orléans that they betroth their children without informing him of her deformity. Flattered, Duke Charles, father of the two-year-old Louis, agreed. He did not know King Louis XI wished to rid himself of the rival d’Orléans family.
Princess Jeanne’s Betrothal
On 19 May 1464, when Jeanne was 26 days old, Duke Charles d’Orléans and Sieur Jean de Rochechouart signed the conditions for the children’s marriage contract. Duke Charles died in 1465, before signing the final contract. Young Louis’s mother, Marie de Clèves, signed it on 20 May 1468.
As she grew older, Jeanne’s physical incapacities became more severe. Her body hunched more and more. She stayed small for her age, and her back curved so much that one leg was shorter than the other that she needed orthopaedic shoes. Added to these debilities, she was very plain. Her father called her ugly. By the time she was five, he so much did not want to see her that he sent her to the Château de Linières in Berry, south of Bourges.
Growing Up in Berry
Catherine de Bruxelles, Dames de Senneville, her nanny, stayed with her throughout her childhood. Jeanne was already learning to read and showed herself to be devout. Louis XI allowed her Franciscan confessor, le Révérend Père Jean de la Fontaine, to go with her as her spiritual director. The king was parsimonious in his support of Jeanne. He provided the inadequate sum of 1200 livres a year to the Linières.
François de Beaujeu, Sire de Rezé and Thevé and his wife Anne de Culant, who cared for her, were among the few he trusted. Sire François and his wife both came from prominent families in the Duchy of Berry. In 1465, Louis appointed Sire François, as his chamberlain, responsible for delivering the duties collected from the duchy to Louis’s royal officers.
The Château of Linières itself was a secure and enclosed medieval fortress. The small household loved Jeanne and treated her well during her solitary childhood. As her Gouvernante, Madame de Linières designed clothing that masked Jeanne’s deformities as much as possible. Her Gouvernante also took charge of Jeanne’s education. She learned to read, to writing, do mathematics, sing, play the lute, paint watercolours, and embroider. Jeanne also enjoyed religious study and devotions and became skilled at illuminating manuscripts. She developed a passion for miniatures, manuscripts and early printed books.
The king was proud of Jeanne’s piety. In 1472, at the Sire Francois de Beaujeu’s request, he upgraded the Linières parish church where Jeanne worshipped into a collegiate church. In 1473 her father asked to see her. Sire de Beaujeu took her Plessiz-les-Tours where she stayed for a few weeks. Afterwards, without being allowed to see her mother, she returned to Linières. Soon after, she caught smallpox and was very ill. Even then, her father did not permit her mother to visit.
Queen Jeanne de France’s Marriage
When the Dowager Duchess d’Orléans, Marie de Clèves, learned that the king intended Louis to marry Jeanne, not his elder daughter, Anne, she refused to sign the marriage contract. By using spies to discover her weaknesses, he learned that she suffered from ‘weak nerves.’ With this knowledge, King Louis then brought intense pressure to bear upon her. He sent emissaries to badger her relentlessly until she buckled. For example, he threatened to imprison her, or worse, if she refused to agree. Young Duke Louis, too, objected to the marriage once he saw Jeanne, but King Louis threatened to force him into a monastery if he refused.
The marriage took place on 8 September 1476 in the chapel of the royal Château of Montrichard. Before the ceremony, Louis d’Orléans declared before witnesses, including the officiating prelate François de Brilhac and Jeanne herself, that he was being forced to marry Jeanne against his will. He reserved the right to make his protest public when he did not have to fear the wrath of the king. Immediately afterward, in public, François de Brilhac read the Papal dispensation aloud, and married them.
Neither Louis’s mother nor Jeanne’s father attended the wedding, although for once King Louis allowed Queen Charlotte to take part. Madame de Linières did her best for Jeanne, who wore a satin robe embroidered with fleurs de lys covered by a long train of textured cloth of gold. Because she was so short, she wore three to four inch elevated shoes under her gown. To compel Duke Louis’s continued submission, King Louis made sure that his high ranked loyalists witnessed the wedding and signed the register.
A Real Saint Lived a Marriage Made in Hell
At King Louis’s insistence, the new Duchess d’Orléans made a Grand Entrée at Blois and a wedding visit to her sister’s home. However, as soon as he could, Duke Louis returned her to Linières where she stayed until her father’s death. He visited only when her father insisted. Despite all the advice Louis received to treat her better, he ignored or was rude to her. Louis admitted how good she was, but could never accept the validity of the marriage. He did not want anyone, including her, to think he had changed his mind.
From 1476 until 1483, Louis acted as if he were unmarried. Not only did he refuse to support Jeanne, but he also wouldn’t use her dowry, nor would he couple his coat of arms with hers. Flaunting his infidelity, he had many mistresses. He hunted, practised his knightly skills in tournaments and passed his time at Blois or visiting friends. When forced, he stayed at Linières, but brought friends and partied with them. He always refused to treat Jeanne as a wife. Even if forced to share her room, he made crude jests about “all cats being grey in the night.”
Jeanne never complained about his treatment and returned good for ill. At one point when he fell ill with smallpox, she rushed to care for him, but he refused her ministrations.
Results of the Death of King Louis XI
When King Louis XI died on 30 August 1483, young King Charles VIII was only thirteen and one half. According to French law, a king reached his majority at fourteen but still required a council to rule with him. Duke Louis as First Prince of the Blood expected to become regent. Instead, Louis XI appointed the Duke and Duchess de Beaujeu as guardians. Duke Louis, furious, tried to wrest power from Duchess Anne, also called Madame la Grande. In 1484, when he failed with the Estates-General, he searched for allies before resorting to arms.
He sent his closest ally, the Comte de Dunois, to Jeanne with the promise of love and reconciliation if she would support him against her sister and brother. Much as Jeanne valued her marriage, she did not believe it was her place to interfere in affairs of state, and so she replied. It ended any loyalty Louis might have felt for her. Without Jeanne’s knowledge, he fled to Brittany and shortly thereafter officially requested an annulment [23 November 1484]. He accompanied it with a request for a dispensation from the Roman Curia to marry Princess Anne de Bretagne.
Jeanne & the War with Brittany
The war between France and Brittany passed through several phases, dragging on for several years. At the end of the Guerre Folle [1485 to 1488], the French captured Duke Louis in battle and imprisoned him for three years. During this time, Duchess Jeanne proved her utter loyalty to her husband. When she first went to see him, he didn’t trust her, but she convinced him she would do everything to obtain his release. Meanwhile, she used her meagre resources to purchase comforts for him in prison since Regent Anne had confiscated all his goods,
Jeanne pestered her brother and sister with pleas to release her husband. Since Madame la Grande knew King Charles loved Duke Louis, she would not allow Duchess Jeanne to visit the king when she was not present. Because of this, Duchess Jeanne, who rarely lost her temper, reproached her sister for cruelty and hardness of heart. Her other important occupation during Louis’s imprisonment was managing the few lands still left to him, including the County of Asti. She proved herself a careful and wily manager, a true daughter of King Louis XI.
Saintly Jeanne Obtains Louis’s Freedom
At last, in May 1491, when Madame la Grande was giving birth at her home, Duchess Jeanne approached her brother when he returned from the Breton front. In June she once again begged him to release Louis. She pleaded that he had suffered long enough, that his imprisonment was harsh, that wicked councillors had led him astray and that he would never act disloyally again. Playing on her brother’s heart, she spoke of his known clemency. When Charles hesitated because he resented Louis’s mistreatment of her, she denied it. Louis had only ever treated her graciously, she claimed [which proves she is a saint even if nothing else did.] Unable to resist her, Charles released the Duke, who proved loyal to Charles.
During the next few years [1491-1498], Louis accompanied King Charles as he prepared for and then carried out his war in Italy. Therefore, Jeanne, like most other wives of the high nobility, did not see their husbands for long periods. However, even when he was in France, Duke Louis did not improve his behaviour towards Jeanne much. Although she did live in his Chateaux and cities such as Orléans, Duke Louis spent little time in her company. He also continued to whore and act as if he were single, despite the reproaches of King Charles [who was no model husband himself.]
Queen Jeanne de France, April — December 1498
Jeanne officially became Queen of France the day the Louis became King, but he never recognized her as such. On 10 August Louis began the formal legal process with Rome to annul his marriage. Already, on 19 August, he signed a convention promising to marry Duchess Anne de Bretagne. She insisted on the condition that his annulment must be final within one year. The annulment process took place between August and December. It was humiliating for Jeanne.
The Annulment, August — December 1498
Louis claimed he had never consented to the marriage. He married Jeanne under duress, he insisted. This was true enough, but insufficient to end a marriage of twenty-two years. Jeanne resisted the divorce until Louis claimed that they had never consummated the marriage because of her physical incapacity. She refused to submit to the required physical exam to prove her claim they had been full man and wife,. Instead, she asked Louis whether he would risk his immortal soul by swearing to his statement. He was. Jeanne chose to imitate the Blessed Virgin’s virtues of silence and humility. She bowed to Louis’s will, and the court finalized the annulment 17 December 1498 in Paris.
The price Louis paid for the annulment was high. It included granting the Duchy of Valentinois and Charlotte d’Albret as a bride to Pope Alexander VI’s son, Cesar Borgia. King Louis left Paris and on 8 January 1499, he married Anne de Bretagne.
Founding the Order of the Annonciades
Jeanne told a story about her call to form her order. One morning when she was seven years old, she was attending mass in the chapel consecrated to Notre Dame de l’Assomption where she lived. Divine Mercy revealed to her that before her death she would found a Religion [the term then in use for an order] to honour the Mother of God. Moreover, it was God’s will that the Brothers of the Five Wounds of Christ would rule it. She understood this to mean the Brothers of the Blessed Father Francis — he who wore the marks of the stigmata of Christ. Ever since she never ceased praying to God and the Blessed Virgin in Their Divine Goodness to allow her to form this Religion.
During 1499 and 1500, Jeanne and her spiritual director, Gilbert Nicolas, founded the Order of the Annonciades. She also selected another Franciscan — Gabriel-Maria — to build the monastery. In May 1500 the first eleven postulants arrived in Bourges. She also received approval for her new Rule from Pope Alexander VI on 12 February 1502.
The convent was not Jeanne’s only project. Education was another of her concerns. She took over responsibility to administer the Collège Sainte-Marie of Bourges on 18 November 1502.
In the spring of 1503 construction began on the monastery of the Annonciades. During this time, Jeanne was preparing herself to enter the religious life. At Pentecost 1504, she committed to follow the Rule of the Annonciades. She dedicated the Order to prayer and penance, whose chief principle was to imitate the virtues that Mary demonstrated in the Gospels.
Opening the Convent of the Annonciades
On 21 November 1504, the feast of the Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple, a great crowd gathered for the grand opening of the convent. It was a glorious day for Jeanne. The ceremony lasted all day and included the enclosure of the first twenty-one sisters. Guillaume de Cambray from the pontifical office and two of his archdeacons consecrated the building. Jeanne granted lands and income to the convent for its on-going support. She donated the domains of Mazières and Bailly-Monet, an income of 100 Livres tournois from the seigneury of Mareuil and 63 Livres from the sire de Buxy.
Many others gave gifts. Queen Anne de France, Duchess of Brittany, who had succeeded her as the wife of King Louis XII, gave a great bell to the monastery church of the convent. Duchess Jeanne dedicated it to the Virgin Mary and invited Abbé Guy de Juvenal to bless it.
From then until her death on 4 February 1505, Jeanne rarely left the convent. She passed most of her time praying and meditating in the small garden near her rooms, in the monastery church or in her rooms. Once she had accomplished her goal of establishing the Order she no longer wished to live. Her confessor Gilbert Nicholas claimed that despite his reproaches, she practised such extensive penitences, mortifications, and austerities they shortened her life.
On 6 January 1505, the Feast of Three Kings, she collapsed at mass. She continued to weaken over the next weeks. On 10 January she made her last testament, a lengthy list of last donations to those she had supported during her lifetime. She also reminded those great prelates who had promised to found congregations of Annonciades after her passing. She made her sister, Anne, or her sister’s daughter, Suzanne de Bourbon, her universal legatee.
Death, Beatification and Sanctification
On 4 February, as she lay dying, her most devoted acolyte, Sister Marie Pot, sat with her. In the last hour before Jeanne’s death, Sister Marie saw Jeanne surrounded by a shining light that faded as death approached. It reduced until it glimmered over her nose and mouth. At the instant of her death, it vanished like the flame of a candle blown out.
Soon after her death, the berruyer [people from Berry], and soon the people of France, attribute miracles of restored health to Jeanne. Her portrait, painted with a halo, hung in her monastery church where people revered her as a saint. As early as 1617, the Archbishop of Bourges wrote a book of her life describing her miraculous cures. In 1618, Père Mirault published another book recording the thirty-three miracles already accorded to her. The first application for her beatification was made to Pope Urban VIII in 1630, but it was not until 1742 that Benedict XIV approved the bull. Finally, on 28 May 1950, Pope Pius III canonized her.
NOTA: Although St. Jeanne lived a well documented and public life, no likenesses of her exist. Painters created the pictures purporting to represent her since her death.
Websites, Books and Articles
Cronologie de la vie de sainte Jeanne de France Website of Annonciade Order.
Jeanne de France 1464 —1505 Wikipedia.
Jean-François Drèze, Raison d’Etat, raison de Dieu : politique et mystique chez Jeanne de France, Bibliothèque Beauchesne, 1997.
Henri Pigaillem, Jeanne de France: Première Épouse de Louis XII, Pygmalion, Paris, 2009.
Stéphanie Richard, « Sans naissance, pas de mariage ? Le procès en nullité du mariage de Louis XII et Jeanne de France (1498)», Questes: Revue pluridisciplinaire d’études médiévales,no27 «Naissances», 2014, p.47-66.