See biography by H. J. Sanborn (1917).
Anne of Brittany (25 January, 1477 – 9 January, 1514 ), also known as Anna of Brittany (Anne de Bretagne; Breton: Anna Vreizh), was a Breton aristocrat, who was to become queen to two successive French kings, and ruling Duchess of Brittany. She was born in Nantes, Brittany, and was the daughter of Francis II, Duke of Brittany and Margaret of Foix. Her maternal grandparents were Gaston IV of Foix and Eleanor of Navarre. Upon her father's death, she became sovereign Duchess of Brittany, Countess of Nantes, Montfort and Richmont and Viscountess of Limoges. In her time, she was the richest European woman.
Since the Breton War of Succession, Brittany had been understood to operate according to semi-Salic Law – women could only inherit if the male line had died out. By the time Anne was born, her father was the only male left of the Breton House of Dreux. The War of Succession had ended with an agreement that, in the absence of a male heir, the heirs of Joanna of Penthievre would succeed. After a century, however, this agreement had been forgotten. Thus, in 1486 Anne's father had her recognised as heiress by the Breton estates; however, the question of her marriage remained a diplomatic issue. Francis had no intention of allowing Brittany to be absorbed by France. Therefore, he sought for his daughter a marriage with a figure capable of withstanding French power.
Brittany being an attractive prize, Anne had no shortage of suitors. She was officially promised in marriage to Edward, Prince of Wales, son of Edward IV of England in 1483; however, the boy disappeared, and was presumed dead, soon after the death of Edward IV and the accession of his brother, Richard III. Others who bid for her hand included Maximilian of Austria (the widower of Mary of Burgundy, another heiress), Alain d'Albret, Jean de Châlons (Prince of Orange) and even the married Louis, Duke of Orleans.
In 1488, however, the armies of Francis II were defeated at Saint-Aubin-of-Cormier, ending the Guerre folle between Brittany and France. In the Treaty of Sablé, which concluded the peace settlement, the Duke was forced to accept clauses stipulating that his daughters were not to marry without the approval of the King of France. Francis died soon afterward, on 9 September 1488, as a result of a fall from his horse. Anne became Duchess, and Brittany was plunged into fresh crisis, leading to the last Franco-Breton war.
After Maximilian failed to come to his bride's assistance, Rennes fell. Anne gave in and was engaged to Charles in the vault of the Jacobins in Rennes. Then, escorted by her army (and thus apparently set free, in order to prove that she willingly consented to the marriage), Anne went to Langeais, to be married. Although Austria made diplomatic protests, claiming that the marriage was illegal because the bride was unwilling, that she was already legally married to Maximilian, and that Charles was legally betrothed to Margaret of Austria, Maximilian's daughter, Anne celebrated her second wedding at the castle of Langeais on 6 December, and married King Charles VIII of France.
The marriage was subsequently validated by Pope Innocent VIII on February 15, 1492. The marriage contract provided that whichever spouse outlived the other would retain possession of Brittany; however, it was also agreed that if Charles died without male heirs, Anne would marry his successor, thus ensuring the French Kings a second chance to permanently annex Brittany.
The marriage produced four living children, none of whom survived early childhood. Only the first, Charles Orland (11 October 1492 – 16 December 1495), survived infancy. A healthy and intelligent child, he was doted on by his parents, who both suffered terrible grief when he died suddenly of the measles. After him was born Charles, who lived for less than a month; and Francis and Anne, who each died almost immediately after being born. These tragedies caused a great deal of pain to Anne, who prayed openly for a son after the death of Francis.
When Charles VIII died in 1498, Anne was 21 years old and childless. Legally, she was now obliged to marry the new king, Louis XII; however, he was already married, to Jeanne, daughter of Louis XI and sister to Charles VIII. On 19 August 1498, at Étampes, she agreed to marry Louis if he obtained an annulment from Jeanne within a year. If she was gambling that the annulment would be denied, she lost: Louis's first marriage was dissolved by the Pope before the end of the year.
In the interim, in October 1498, Anne returned to rule Brittany. She restored the faithful Philippe de Montauban to the chancellery of Brittany, named the Prince of Orange as Hereditary Lieutenant General of Brittany, convened the Estates of Brittany, and ordered production of a coin bearing her name. She took the opportunity to tour the Duchy, visiting many places she had never been able to see as a child. She made triumphal entries into the cities of the duchy, where her vassals received her sumptuously.
Anne's third marriage ceremony, on 8 January 1499 (she wore white, setting a precedent for future brides), was concluded under conditions radically different from those of the second. She was no longer a child, but was a Queen dowager, and was determined to ensure the recognition of her rights as sovereign duchess from now on. Although her new husband exercised the ruler's powers in Brittany, he accepted the title of duke consort, formally recognizing her right to the title "Duchess of Brittany" and issuing decisions in her name.
As Duchess, Anne fiercely defended the independence of her Duchy. She arranged the marriage of her daughter, Claude, to Charles of Luxembourg in 1501, to reinforce the Franco-Spanish alliance and ensure French success in the Italian Wars; however, Louis broke off the marriage when it became likely that Anne would not produce a male heir. Instead, Louis arranged a marriage between Claude and the heir to the French throne, Francis of Angouleme. Anne, determined to maintain Breton independence, refused until death to sanction the marriage, pushing instead for Claude to marry Charles, or for the Duchy to be inherited by her other daughter, Renee. The marriage of Claude and Francis eventually took place in the year following Anne's death.
According to her will, her heart was placed in a raised enamel gold reliquary, then transported to Nantes to be deposited, on March 19, 1514, in the vault of the Carmelite friars, in the tomb made for her parents, later being transferred to the Saint-Pierre cathedral. The reliquary of the heart of the Anne, Duchess of Brittany is a box oval, bivalvular, made of a sheet of gold pushed back and guilloched, articulated by a hinge, broadside of a gold cordelière and topped by a crown of lily and clover. It is inscribed as follows: En ce petit vaisseau De fin or pur et munde Repose ung plus grand cueur Que oncque dame eut au munde Anne fut le nom delle En France deux fois royne Duchesse des Bretons Royale et Souveraine. It was made by an anonymous goldsmith of the court of Blois, perhaps drawn by Jean Perréal. In 1792, by order of the National Convention, the reliquary was exhumed, emptied, and seized as part of a collection of precious metals pertaining to churches, and sent to Nantes to be melted down. However, it was instead kept in the National Library, and was returned to Nantes in 1819, being kept in various museums, and in the Castle of the dukes of Brittany since 2007.
Anne's will also conferred the succession of Brittany upon her second daughter, Renee. This was ignored by her husband, who confirmed Claude as Duchess and married her to Francis.
Anne was a highly intelligent woman who spent much of her time on the administration of Brittany. She was described as shrewd, proud and haughty in manner. She made the safeguarding of Breton autonomy, and the preservation of the Duchy outside the French crown, her life's work, although that goal would prove failed shortly after her death.
Anne was also a patron of the arts and enjoyed music. A prolific collector of tapestries, it is very likely that the unicorn tapestries now on view at The Cloisters museum in New York City were commissioned by her in celebration of her wedding to Louis XII. She also commissioned a book of French manuscripts (a Book of Hours), known as The Great Hours of Anne of Brittany. She also instituted the Queen's Maids of Honour at the court.
One of Anne's legs was shorter than the other, causing a limp. To fix the problem, she wore a higher heel on that leg.
She was a devoted mother, spending as much time as possible with her children. For her son, Charles-Orland, she commissioned a book of prayers, intended to be used in teaching him how to pray, and as a guidance to him as the future King of France; unfortunately, Charles-Orland died in 1495, and no other son lived more than a few weeks.
At her marriage to Charles VIII, aged 14, Anne was described as a young and rosy-cheeked girl; by the time of her marriage to Louis, aged 22, after seven pregnancies with no surviving children, she was described as pale-faced and wan. By the end of her life, at 36, she had been pregnant 14 times, with seven of the children stillborn. Of the remaining seven, only two survived childhood.
Anne's first marriage ceremony, on 19 December, 1490, was a marriage by proxy to Maximilian of Habsburg. It was dissolved by the Pope in the following year; because it was only by proxy (rather than in person), it is not generally considered a 'real' marriage.
Her second husband was Charles VIII of France, whom she married at Chateau Langeais on 6 December 1491. She was pregnant by him seven times:
Her third husband was Louis XII of France. She was pregnant by him seven times:
|Anne of Brittany|| Father:|
Francis II, Duke of Brittany
| Paternal Grandfather:|
Richard of Brittany, Count of Étampes
| Paternal Great-grandfather:|
John V, Duke of Brittany
| Paternal Great-grandmother:|
Joanna of Navarre
| Paternal Grandmother:|
Margaret d'Orléans, Countess of Vertus
| Paternal Great-grandfather:|
Louis I de Valois, Duke of Orléans
| Paternal Great-grandmother:|
Margaret of Foix
| Maternal Grandfather:|
Gaston IV of Foix
| Maternal Great-grandfather:|
John I of Foix-Grailly
| Maternal Great-grandmother:|
| Maternal Grandmother:|
Eleanor of Navarre
| Maternal Great-grandfather:|
King John II of Aragon
| Maternal Great-grandmother:|
Queen Blanche I of Navarre
Even while she was alive, the royal propaganda of Charles VIII and of Louis XII introduced Anne of Brittany as a perfect queen, a symbol of union and peace between the kingdom of France and the duchy of Brittany. In the following centuries, historians and popular culture sometimes presented Anne of Brittany in differing fashions, ascribing to her physical and psychological characteristics that are not necessarily supported by historical evidence.
In 1991, the five-hundredth anniversary of the marriage of Anne of Brittany and Charles VIII of France was celebrated in Langeais. In Rennes, which had paid the price of this marriage by siege, food shortage, and an occupation, it was hardly mentioned.
Anne of Brittany is one of Brittany's most renowned historical figures, second perhaps only to Saint Yves. In testimony exist a large number of trades, hotels and street names bearing her name. Anne is also referred to by:
There are several explanations for this: the destiny of this duchess who married three kings, including two kings of France, and who was only a child when she had to marry the first (even if early engagements were normal at that time); the historical role of Anne in the union of the duchy to the kingdom of France; the fact that very little of the history of Brittany is taught in Breton schools (the official school syllabus being written in Paris for all the French territory -territories of overseas included - those retain only Anne as a notable Breton). This established fact leads some to experience the History of Brittany starting and finishing with Anne.