Women of 16th-Century France

The important women of 16th-century France each deserve individual recognition. Susan Abernathy has written about several in The Freelance History Writer blog.

Women important for Anne of Brittany

Antoinette de Maignelais was the mistress of Duke Françius II of Brittany. They had three children together, including two sons. He married Anne of Brittany’s mother while Antoinette was still alive. However, he and Marguerite de Foix had no children until after his mistress died. Because Antoinette was not married to the Duke, their sons could not inherit Brittany. Thus, Anne though much younger and a female became the legitimate heir.

Louise of Savoy is one of 16th century France’s most important women. She was the mother of both King François I and Queen Marguerite of Navarre. Before anyone expected her children to exercise power, Louise mentored and educated both of them. She was also Anne of Brittany‘s greatest rival to Later she ruled France twice as regent and acted as the king’s most trusted advisor throughout his reign. With the Regent of the Netherlands, she negotiated the Ladies Peace.

As a child of three, Marguerite of Austria married Charles VIII. But when he conquered Brittany he repudiated the marriage. He obtained an annulment and sent her back to Flanders. Not surprisingly she hated France and the French after that. When she was 18, she married Prince Juan of Spain. After he died, she married the Duke of Savoy. He was Louise of Savoy’s brother. She refused to marry again when he died. At that point, she became Regent of the Netherlands and step-mother for her brother’s children in effect. Duke Philip went to Spain with his wife, Queen Juana, and died there. While not a French woman, her influence on 16th-century France was significant.

Women of 16th- Century France

Among the important women of 16th-century France were those descended from King Louis XI in the direct line.

When Louis XII came to the throne he was still married to Jeanne de Valois, the daughter of King Louis IX and sister to Duchess Anne de Beaujeu. That king had forced young Louis, Duke d’Orléans to marry Jeanne. Before the wedding, Louis swore a declaration that he was marrying under duress. After King Louis IX died, Duke Louis tried to dissolve his marriage. Her brother, King Charles VIII, prevented the divorce. As soon as he became king, Louis XII began divorce proceedings since he wished to marry Anne of Brittany. It was a seamy affair all round. Only Jeanne de Valois, who became Duchess de Berri after the divorce, gained in dignity.

Women important for Anne de Beaujeu

King Louis XI hated his father, King Charles VII, and warred against him. He lived in Burgundy with his unloved second wife Queen Charlotte de Savoie until his father’s death. She lived most of her life at the Château d’Amboise with their three surviving children. They were Anne de France who married Duke Pierre de Beaujeu, Jeanne who married Duke Louis d’Orléans and Charles who became King Charles VIII. For years, historians said she was simple since Louis allowed her no public role, but more recent scholarship suggests that she was well-read and intelligent.

Her eldest daughter, Duchess Anne de Beaujeu, did not have a close relationship with her mother. She preferred her father who had a high opinion of her. He called her “the least foolish woman in France,” which was high praise from this misogynist. When she was 13 and he was 34 she married Duke Pierre de Beaujeu, and the marriage proved successful. After the king died, she became unofficial regent for her brother, Charles VII. As a result, the future Louis XII, her brother-in-law, rebelled. She wrote a book called Lessons for My Daughter.

Her daughter, the crippled Suzanne, Duchess of Bourbon, became France’s richest heiress upon her father’s death. She married Charles III of Bourbon-Montpensier who became the Constable of France under King François. When Suzanne died young leaving him as her heir, Louise of Savoy launched a lawsuit for the inheritance. Enraged by his loss, he fled to Spain and engaged in treason. This led directly to his death at the infamous Sack of Rome in 1527.

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