A Remarkable 15th-Century French Woman

Anne de Beaujeu aka Madame la Grande was a remarkable French woman of the 15th-century. She became regent of France for her brother. Under the next kings, she maintained her power. As regent of the Bourbonnais for her daughter, she wrote her a book of advice.

 Anne de Beaujeu aka Madame la Grande

Anne’s father, Louis XI said  that'”elle était la moins folle femme de France, car de sage il n’en était point” [“She was the least foolish woman in France because there were none who were wise.”]

Anne de Beaujeu, Madame la Grande Remarkable 15th-Century French Woman
Anne de Beaujeu, Madame la Grande Remarkable 15th-Century French Woman

Anne of France (or Anne de Beaujeu) (3 April 1461 – 14 November 1522) the eldest living daughter of Louis XI and Charlotte of Savoy grew up in Amboise living with her mother until she married.

At 13, Anne married Pierre de Bourbon, a younger son of the great Bourbon family.  Louis XI forced the family to cede the Seigneury and title of Beaujeu to Pierre, when he married Anne on November 3, 1473. They had one son early in their marriage who died young.

They had no more children until 1491 when their only child, a daughter, Suzanne, was born.

Anne de Beaujeu: A Remarkable 15th-Century French Woman

When Anne’s father died on 30 August 1483, Louis XI left her husband regent with the understanding that it would be Anne who was really in charge.

Louis, Duke d’Orléans, heir presumptive until Charles produced an heir was insulted and tried to wrest the regency from her.  She managed the situation astutely and kept the French landed nobility loyal while persuading the nobility of the robe to her side through an Estates General she called at Tours in early 1484.

Anne was the sister of Charles VIII, for whom she acted as regent during his minority from 1483 to 1488. During the regency, she was one of the most powerful women of late fifteenth-century Europe and was referred to as “Madame la Grande”.

Becoming the Duchess of Bourbon

During her regency, Pierre de Beaujeu assisted his wife in the governing of France. After 1488, they built up a power-base of their own in the Bourbonnais. Anne was already Countess of Gien, and Pierre was Count of Clermont and La Marche, as well as Lord of Beaujeu.

When Pierre’s eldest brother, John II, died and his next eldest brother, Charles II, [Cardinal de Bourbon] renounced the right to the Bourbon inheritance [by force], Pierre inherited as next in line. It consisted of the Duchies of Bourbon and Auvergne and the Counties of Forez and l’Isle-en-Jordain. 

The new Duke and Duchess of Bourbon then proceeded to add to these domains, adding Bourbon-Lancy in December 1488, and trading l’Isle-en-Jordain with the Armagnacs in June 1489 for Carlades and Murat. These domains were granted to them by King Charles VIII in absolute right. They would not revert to the crown, nor were the Bourbons obligated to pass them to the next heirs to the Bourbon inheritance. The Duke and Duchess could bequeath them to whomsoever they wished.

Creating the Bourbonnais

Anne persuaded her brother Charles VIII to amalgamate all the Bourbon lands and grant the whole as an appanage to Pierre. In the case of the Bourbons, it was not permissible since Anne was a daughter.

[Definition: An appanage or apanage or French: apanage is the grant of an estate, titles, offices, or other things of value to the younger male children of a sovereign. They would otherwise not have an inheritance under the system of primogeniture.]

Birth of Suzanne

Lessons for my Daughter by Anne de France, A Remarkable 15th Century French Woman
Lessons for my Daughter by Anne de France, A Remarkable 15th Century French Woman

On 10 May 1491, the pair finally acquired an heir of their own, their daughter, Suzanne. Unfortunately for her and for them, the child was unhealthy and deformed. Nonetheless, her father adored her and she adored him.

Anne wrote an instruction book for her daughter called Lessons for My Daughter. In it, she advises her daughter to surround herself with frugal people and that true nobility comes from being humble, benign and courteous. Absent these, other virtues are worth nothing.

Two Remarkable 15th-Century French Women named Anne

As Queen of France, Anne of Brittany envied Anne of Beaujeu since Charles VIII ignored his wife’s claims.  They became much closer under Louis XII since Louis allowed Anne of Brittany more power than Charles did.

When Charles VIII died in 1498 and Louis XII came to the throne, the Bourbons retired from the French court but extended their power over the Bourbonnais.  They obtained a letters patent from Louis XII over the entire Bourbon inheritance. It would normally descend solely through the male line being an appanage of the crown. Instead, Louis confirmed Suzanne’s rights of inheritance upon as the price of Beaujeu support for his accession. The Duke and Duchess had been grooming the next Bourbon heir, Louis of Bourbon-Montpensier, as a son-in-law; but he deeply offended Pierre by rejecting this letters patent. [Louis de Bourbon-Montpensier claimed the right of inheritance fell to him, not Suzanne, as would normally be the case. Fortunately for Anne, he died in August 1501 in Naples.]

Against Anne’s wishes, her husband decided to betroth Suzanne to Charles IV, Duke of Alençon, a favourite of Louis XII. Pierre believed this would better protect the duchy against royal encroachment and Montpensier challenges at his death. They signed the contract on 21 March 1501 at Moulins. Charles was 11, Suzanne 9. However, Pierre died of a fever in 1503 before celebrating the marriage.

Anne de Beaujeu as Regent for the Bourbonnais

Anne de Beaujeu ended the betrothal and arranged for Suzanne to marry the next Bourbon heir-male, Charles of Bourbon-Montpensier. This averted a succession dispute over the Bourbon inheritance. The young pair inherited jointly. Anne preferred Charles who grew up with Suzanne.

Between 1503 and 1521, she also acted as de facto regent of the Duchy of Bourbonnais during the minority of her daughter Suzanne, Duchess of Bourbon. Suzanne, though crippled, bore a son François in July 1517. He died a few months later. In 1518 she bore still-born twins. When Anne died in 1522, her father’s line became extinct. A descendant of Anne’s aunt, Anne of Laval, not her husband, was her heir.

Louise de Savoie, the king’s mother, contested the succession and her son the king supported her claim. This infuriated Duke Charles du Bourbon, which led him to defect from France to Spain.  That’s another whole unsavoury story.

For further reading I recommend, Susan Abernathy’s post: Duchess Anne de Beaujeu

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