Anne of Brittany

Twice Queen of France

Anne of Brittany
Anne of Brittany. Print Collector / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Anne of Brittany Facts

Known for: richest woman in Europe in her time; Queen of France twice, married to two kings in succession.
Occupation: sovereign duchess of Burgundy
Dates: January 22, 1477 - January 9, 1514
Also known as: Anne de Bretagne, Anna Vreizh

Background, Family:

  • Mother: Margaret of Foix, daughter of Queen Eleanor of Navarre and Gaston IV, Count of Foix
  • Father: Francis II, Duke of Brittany, who fought with King Louis and Charles VIII of France to keep Brittany independent, and who protected Henry Tudor who had fled England and would later become King Henry VII of England.
  • Member of the house of Dreux-Montfort, tracing descent back to Hugh Capet, French king.
  • Sibling: a younger sister, Isabelle, died in 1490

Anne of Brittany Biography:

As heiress to the rich duchy of Brittany, Anne was sought as a marriage prize by many of the royal families of Europe.

In 1483, Anne's father arranged for her to marry the Prince of Wales, Edward, son of Edward IV of England. That same year, Edward IV died and Edward V was briefly king, until his uncle, Richard III, took the throne and the young prince and his brother disappeared and are presumed to have been killed.

Another possible husband was Louis of Orleans, but he was already married and would have to get an annulment in order to marry Anne.

In 1486, Anne's mother died. Her father, with no male heirs, arranged that Anne would inherit his titles and lands.

In 1488, Anne's father was forced to sign a treaty with France stating that neither Anne nor her sister Isabelle could marry without the permission of the king of France.

Within the month, Anne's father died in an accident, and Anne, barely older than ten years old, was left his heiress.

Marriage Options

Alain d'Albret, called Alain the Great (1440 - 1552), tried to arrange a marriage with Anne, hoping the alliance with Brittany would add to his power against France's royal authority.

Anne rejected his proposal.

(Alain married his daughter to Cesare Borgia in 1500. He married his son, John, to Catherine of Foix, and John became king of Navarre. John's son Henry married Margaret, sister of King Francis I; their daughter, Jeanne d'Albret, also known as Jeanne of Navarre, was the mother of Henry IV, king of France.)

In 1490, Anne agreed to marry the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian, who had been an ally of her father in his attempts to keep Brittany independent of French control. The contract specified that she would keep her sovereign title as Duchess of Brittany during her marriage. Maximilian had been married to Mary, Duchess of Burgundy, before she died in 1482, leaving a son, Philip, his heir, and a daughter Margaret, betrothed to Charles, son of Louis XI of France.

Anne was married by proxy to Maximilian in 1490. No second ceremony, in person, was ever held.

Charles, Louis's son, became king of France as Charles VIII. His sister Anne had served as his regent before he was of age. When he achieved his majority and ruled without the regency, he sent troops to Brittany to prevent Maximilian from completing his marriage to Anne of Brittany. Maximilian was already fighting in Spain and Central Europe, and France was able to quickly subdue Brittany.

Queen of France

Charles arranged that Anne would marry him, and she agreed, hoping that their arrangement would allow Brittany significant independence. They married on December 6, 1491, and Anne was crowned Queen of France on February 8, 1492. In becoming Queen, she had to give up her title as Duchess of Brittany. After that marriage, Charles had Anne's marriage to Maximilian annulled.

(Maximilian went on to marry his daughter, Margaret of Austria, to John, son and heir apparent to Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain, and to marry his son Philip to John's sister Joanna.)

The marriage contract between Anne and Charles specified that whomever outlived the other would inherit Brittany. It also specified that if Charles and Anne had no male heirs, and Charles died first, that Anne would marry Charles' successor.

Their son, Charles, was born in October of 1492; he died in 1495 of the measles. Another son died soon after birth and there were two other pregnancies ending in stillbirths.

In April of 1498, Charles died. By the terms of their marriage contract, she was required to marry Louis XII, Charles' successor -- the same man who, as Louis of Orleans, had been considered as a husband for Anne earlier, but was rejected because he was already married.

Anne agreed to fulfill the terms of the marriage contract and marry Louis, provided that he get an annulment from the Pope within a year. Claiming that he could not consummate his marriage with his wife, Jeanne of France, a daughter of Louis IX, even though he had been known to boast of their sexual life, Louis obtained the annulment from Pope Alexander VI, whose son, Caesar Borgia, was given French titles in exchange for the consent.

While the annulment was in process, Anne returned to Brittany, where she ruled again as Duchess.

When the annulment was granted, Anne returned to France to marry Louis on January 8, 1499. She wore a white dress to the wedding, the beginning of the Western custom of brides wearing white for their weddings. She was able to negotiate a wedding contract that permitted her to continue to rule in Brittany, rather than giving up the title for the title of Queen of France.

Children

Anne gave birth nine months after the wedding. The child, a daughter, was named Claude, who became Anne's heir to the title of Duchess of Brittany. As a daughter, Claude could not inherit the crown of France because France followed Salic Law, but Brittany did not.

A year after Claude's birth, Anne gave birth to a second daughter, Renée, on October 25, 1510.

Anne arranged that year for her daughter, Claude, to marry Charles of Luxembourg, but Louis overruled her. Louis wanted to marry Claude to her cousin, Francis, Duke of Angoulême; Francis was heir to the crown of France after Louis' death if Louis had no sons. Anne continued to oppose this marriage, disliking the mother of Francis, Louise of Savoy, and seeing that if her daughter were married to the King of France, Brittany would likely lose its autonomy.

Anne was a patron of the arts. The Unicorn Tapestries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) may have been created with her patronage. She also commissioned a funeral monument at Nantes in Brittany for her father.

Anne died of kidney stones on January 9, 1514, only 36 years old. While her burial was at the cathedral of Saint-Denis, where French royalty were laid to rest, her heart, as specified in her will, was put in a gold box and sent to Nantes in Brittany. During the French Revolution, this reliquary was to be melted down along with many other relics, but was saved and protected, and eventually returned to Nantes.

Anne's Daughters

Immediately after Anne's death, Louis carried through the marriage of Claude to Francis, who would succeed him. Louis remarried, taking as his wife the sister of Henry VIII, Mary Tudor. Louis died the next year without gaining the hoped-for male heir, and Francis, Claude's husband, became King of France, and made his heir the Duke of Brittany as well as King of France, ending Anne's hoped-for autonomy for Brittany.

Claude's ladies-in-waiting included Mary Boleyn, who was a mistress of Claude's husband Francis, and Anne Boleyn, later to marry Henry VIII of England. Another of her ladies-in-waiting was Diane de Poitiers, the long-time mistress of Henry II, one of the seven children of Francis and Claude. Claude died at age 24 in 1524.

Renée of France, the younger daughter of Anne and Louis, married Ercole II d'Este, Duke of Ferrara, son of Lucrezia Borgia and her third husband, Alfonso d'Este, brother of Isabella d'Este. Ercole II was thus a grandson of Pope Alexander VI, the same Pope who granted the annulment of her father's first marriage, permitting his marriage to Anne. Renée became associated with the Protestant Reformation and Calvin, and was subjected to a heresy trial. She returned to live in France after her husband died in 1559.