cover, The Importance of Wives

The Real Lives Behind ‘The Importance of Wives” Characters

Have you ever wondered about the real lives that inspired the characters in “The Importance of Wives“?  Join me on a journey behind the scenes to explore the real-world people who shaped my story.  

A Real Heroine, Anne of Brittany

When The Importance of Wives opens, the reader meets Anne of Brittany, the eleven-year-old heroine who has just become the duchess of Brittany and her best friend and young demoiselle in waiting Pernette de Montauban, who is one year older. Pernette is one of the few fictional characters in my novel.  Anne is one of the most impressive women of her time, although little known outside the French-speaking world. Famous in Brittany, she is the only woman to have been queen of France twice. She married first King Charles VIII and then King Louis XII.

A Scoundrel in Real Life, Alain d’Albret

Soon she will meet her nemesis, and one of the main villains, Sire Alain d’Albret. He was a real person and one of the men whom in real life Anne detested. Who was he? D’Albret (1440-1522), the son of Catherine de Rohan and Jean I d’Albret, was a large landholder in Gascony. He was a greedy, slippery man, always out for his own advantage. At first, he saw the benefit of allying with King Louis XI of France. From this alliance he gained the county of Armagnac in Gascony and married his son Jean to Queen Catherine of Navarre.

When he thought he could gain control of Brittany by supporting Duke François and thereby marrying his daughter Anne, the heiress, d’Albret switched sides and joined the Mad War. This was his pattern and he continued it throughout his life. He married twice and used his children to extend his reach in southwestern France, most notoriously marrying his daughter Charlotte to César Borgia. He is called Alain the Great, possibly for the great expansion in his lands, for he was a great double-crosser. 

Real Life of Philippe de Montauban

In the early chapters, Anne is rescued by the timely arrival of her most important ally, Baron Philippe de Montauban (1445-1515). Although a member of the nobility and descended from the de Montauban line, he hailed from a cadet branch. He was one of Duke François II’s most trusted men and served as his chamberlain and Lieutenant-Governor for the city and county of Rennes. Anne appointed him her chancellor as soon as her father died. He remained utterly loyal to her, and she reappointed him when she regained power in Brittany after the death of Charles VIII. De Montauban remained Chancellor of Brittany from then until the end of his life

Countess Françoise de Dinan, a Real Life Heiress

The next character to appear on the scene is Mme Françoise de Dinan (1436-1498). One of the few female peers, she was also one of the richest women in Brittany as the heiress to her father’s (d.1444) and her uncle’s fortunes. Mme de Dinan is an excellent example of the difficulties experienced by heiresses. As a rich orphan of ten, one of the younger brothers of Duke Jean V of Brittany abducted and married her. After his death in prison, she then married Count Guy XIV de Laval, the father of the next man to whom she was betrothed. When she was 16 and he was 45. They had four children. He was bedridden in the early 1480s and died in 1486, the year Anne’s mother died.

She was a rich, cultivated widow, valued by Duke François who made her gouvernante to his daughters, a position she continued after the duke died, although she had rebelled against him in the 1480s and was receiving a bribe from King Louis XI of France to spy in the duke’s court. She married again in 1494 and died in 1499. Her mother had been Catherine de Rohan de Parthenay who was also the mother of Alain d’Albret, making them half-siblings and thus allies, since family was the basis of trust and therefore alliances and affinities during the period. 

A Real-Life War Leader, Marshal Jean de Rieux

The other person whom her father had appointed to share the guardianship of Anne with Mme de Dinan was Marshal Jean IV de Rieux (1447–1518). They also shared an affinity since her son was married to his daughter. De Rieux was a member of one of the three noblest families in Brittany aside from the ducal de Montfort. They were the de Rohan, the de Rieux and the de Laval.

One of his grandmothers had been Nicole de Penthièvre, the last of that ducal line, who sold her claim to the title of Brittany to King Louis XI.  There is some dispute about the identity of his mother. The marshal had been one of the leaders of the revolt against Duke François II that had ended with the Treaty of Chateaubriant. He would go on to do well for himself and his family after the settlement with France when he became a member of the French army in its Italian wars. 

The Dashing Count François of Dunois

When we meet Anne on the first evening, she bemoans the council meeting she will face the next morning. All the characters mentioned so far will be present as they are members of her regency council. The final principal character who will also be present is Count François of Dunois (1447–1491) (and also Tancarville, Longueville, and Montgomery). He had married Agnès of Savoy of the ducal family of Savoy, the same family into which King Louis XI and Dunois’s first cousin, Count Jean d’Angloulême had married. He was very much an ally of Anne’s since he was a closely related member of the Orléans family, albeit from the wrong side of the blanket.

HIs father Jean, known as the Bastard of Orléans, had become the male head of the house of Orléans after the assassination of his father and the imprisonment of his legitimate brothers Charles and Jean after the Battle of Agincourt. He was a remarkable warrior and strategist who had famously led the French defenses at the siege of Orléans, and together with Joan of Arc had relieved the siege. Despite his favour with King Charles VII, Jean was a leader of the League of the Public Weal against King Louis XI in 1465. 

His son François, one of the heroes of my book, was a loyal Orléanist who fought first for Duke Francis and then for Anne. He died at the end of the war and his death was widely viewed as a bad omen. 

Real Lives that Inspired The Importance of Wives

All five of these historical characters and Anne of Brittany herself inspired me to write the first novel in my series, The Chronicle of the House of Valois. The story of Brittany’s struggle to maintain its independence in the face of France’s encroachment is stirring. The way events unfold and the role each character plays is as accurate as my historical knowledge could make it. That does not mean that every scene is factual. For example, it is true that Marshal de Rieux intervened to defeat the French when they sent a force to attack Redon while Redon belonged to Anne’s allies. Since I had no information about the real battle, the encounter between de Rieux and Dunois came strictly from my imagination.  That is the fun of historical fiction both for the reader and the writer.

So, now you have a bit about the real lives behind the main characters in The Importance of Wives. You’ve met the people who live on the early pages. Some make Anne’s life miserable. Others help her overcome the trials that life throws at her from her first days as duchess. She learns from all of it and grows up fast. In our modern world, it is hard for us to believe that anyone so young could face and conquer the challenges she overcame. Not many could. But people died younger then and their families expected more of them much earlier. And even now we still have prodigies.

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