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Isabeau of Bavaria, Anne of France, and the History of Female Regency in France

Isabeau of Bavaria, Anne of France, and the History of Female Regency in France

By Tracy Adams and Glenn Rechtschaffen

Early Modern Women: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Vol.8 (2013)

Christine de Pisan presenting her book to queen Isabeau of Bavaria. Illuminated miniature from The Book of the Queen - from British Library MS Harley 4431

Christine de Pisan presenting her book to queen Isabeau of Bavaria. Illuminated miniature from The Book of the Queen – from British Library MS Harley 4431

Introduction: Female regency in France has a long history. Queen Fredegund (d. 597) monitored her young son Chlotar’s succession and reign after the assassination of her husband, Chilperic; Anne of Kiev (d. 1075) acted as co-regent for her son, Philip I; Adèle of Champagne (d. 1206) administered the kingdom for her son Philip Augustus when he departed on the Third Crusade; Blanche of Castile (1188–1252), mother of St. Louis, watched over her son as a minor king and, later, supervised the realm while he was on Crusade; Isabeau of Bavaria (1370–1435) was appointed guardian of the dauphin during the periods of madness of her husband, King Charles VI; Anne of France (1461–1522), along with her husband, Pierre of Beaujeu, was named guardian for her younger brother Charles VIII by the dying Louis XI, who wanted to keep his son safe from the influence of his ambitious nephew.

These earliest examples represented ad-hoc solutions to urgent situations. Ever since the regency of Louise of Savoy (1476–1531), however, the queen mother came to be the first choice among possible regents, with female regency achieving a quasi-institutional status under Catherine de Médicis (1519–89), Marie de Médicis (1575–1642), and Anne of Austria (1601–66). Scholars tracing the evolution of this phenomenon have argued that it was made possible by the Salic Law, that is, the exclusion in France of women from the throne: the queen mother was a safe regent because she was unable to succeed and, therefore, usurp. Equally important, scholars have noted, prior to the development of the Salic Law, a 1403 ordinance of Charles VI stipulated that the young king would succeed no matter what his age without the aid of a regent, liberating the queen mother from the surveillance of any male governor. As guardian of her son, the queen mother could rule through him until he was capable of ruling himself. True, the ordinance decreed that the queen would be assisted in her task by a college of advisors, but a strong and competent woman could effectively rule the kingdom under such circumstances.

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