Printer Friendly

Christine de Pizan, France's memorialist persona, performance, memory.

This study deals with the ways that Christine de Pizan (c. 1365-1430) transformed her personal memories of King Charles V into an enduring form of national memory by allying her 1404 biography of Charles with official French history. To legitimize her role as royal biographer, Christine created a double-gendered persona evocative of Mary and Christ and Mary and David. Her persona allowed her (1) to 'give birth' metaphorically to the idea of a 'wise king' capable of guiding the nascent 'nation' of France mentioned in the official history, and (2) to unite symbolically the kingdom's male and female subjects behind present and future monarchs. Pierre Nora, Mary Carruthers, Aleida Assmann and Susan Crane provide conceptual models that enable me to connect ideas of nationhood, memory and performance. I conclude that Christine became a link between individual and national memory, thus exemplifying Nora's idea of the historian as living lieu de memoire.

Keywords: memory, nationhood, Pierre Nora, performance, royal biography


Christine de Pizan presents the rather astounding case of an Italian-born woman who was commissioned to write the official biography of a French king. This was her Book of the Deeds and Good Conduct of the Wise King Charles V (Le Livre des fais et bonnes meurs du sage roy Charles V). In it Christine masterfully transformed the personal memories that she had gathered watching her father serve as Charles's chief physician and adviser into an enduring national memory. She succeeded in making herself into the spokesperson for a collective French consciousness by allying her biography with the authoritative history of the French realm, the Great Chronicles of France (Grandes Chroniques de France; hereafter GCF).

The GCF was a vernacular dynastic history that King Louis IX had originally commissioned from Primat, a monk of Saint-Denis (c. 1274). Subsequent monks took up the composition and preservation of these official French royal chronicles well into the fourteenth century. When the 'Mad King' Charles VI neglected their proper maintenance, others stepped in to supply the lack (Hedeman, 1991: 137-9). Charles VI's uncle, Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, commissioned Christine to write his brother's biography twenty-four years after Charles V's death in 1380. Philip chose Christine for the task because he had been impressed by her analysis of the patterns of world history in the copy of Fortune's Mutation (La Mutacion de fortune) that she had presented to him as a gift on 1 January 1404. Undoubtedly too he admired her ability to present herself as suitable royal counsellor despite her feminine sex (Willard, 1984: 115).

My study aims to show how Christine was able to style.' herself as one of France's memorialists, the keeper and shaper of the collective memory of the nascent nation-state of France. In using the GCF as the major source for her work (Solente, 1936: I, xli-xlvi), (1) Christine joined forces with earlier official memory-keepers in forging a collective memory worthy of the 'ideology of France', an evolving system of royal beliefs and doctrines codified most authoritatively in the GCF.

Theoretical models

Chief among the modern theorists who provide conceptual models enabling me to connect ideas of nationhood, memory and performance is France's Pierre Nora. He considers the GCF to be a major watershed in French history, marking the advent of 'a new historical memory' in France (1989: 21). Nora also helps clarify Christine's project when he comments upon the crucial role of memory in constructing the idea of a nation, a concept he views as 'an entirely symbolic entity' (1996: I, xviii, xxiv). At a time when France was technically a loose conglomerate of separate kingdoms, Primat, the GCF's original author-compiler, uses the term 'nation' to represent the entity that the monarchy was attempting to fashion through shared symbols, beliefs and language. (2) Christine develops Primat's use of the term when, in Charles's biography, she expresses her faith, despite momentary setbacks, in the glorious destiny of the noble nation francaise (Waiters, 2002a). (3) But Primat and Christine do not merely record France's collective memory, they help shape that memory, and the nation itself in the process, at a time when, in the words of Anne Hedeman (1991: 139), royal history was becoming national history.

Another fruitful concept is Nora's lieu de memoire. The term translates into English as 'a place or site of memory', defined as 'any significant entity, whether material or non-material in nature, which by dint of human will or the work of time has become a symbolic element of the memorial heritage of any community' (Nora, 1996: I, xvii). Nora borrowed the concept from Frances Yates, The Art of Memory (1966), which examines the importance of loci memoriae, or memory places, in the classical art of memory (Nora, 1996: I, xv). Nora, however, recasts the term in light of certain key ideas found in Maurice Halbwachs's theory of collective memory (Coser, 1992), thus giving it social implications unanticipated by Yates. Laurence D. Kritzman comments upon the social dimensions of collective memory in saying 'In essence, the act of remembering is always related to the repository of images and ideals that constitute the social relations of which we partake' (Nora, 1996: I, xi).

Yates's work on the origins of Western memorial practices has been supplemented by two studies that begin to explore the connections between images and social relations described by Halbwachs: Mary Carruthers, The Book of Memory (1990) and its sequel, The Craft of Thought: Meditation, Rhetoric, and the Making of Images, 400-1200 (1998). The second focuses upon monastic modes of meditation, which involved making mental images or cognitive 'pictures' for thinking and composing. Memory places have a double sense for Carruthers: they are (1) the mental places where authors invent by recasting prestigious material from the past in light of their own experience, and (2) the places where readers and listeners receive authors' images and then interpret them through their own knowledge and experience. Beginning with monastic meditative practices and continuing throughout the Middle Ages, writers sought to produce mental images in the mind's eye of their audiences.

Carruthers clarifies this process by citing the thirteenth-century writer Richard de Fournival, who explains that memory has two portals, sight and hearing, which are available through peinture (painting, imaging) and parole (word, speech). The concept of peinture, as its name implies, includes manuscript illustration of a medieval text, but it goes beyond actual pictures to include the mental images produced by parole. When readers read a book or listeners hear a story being read aloud, they see the events in their consciousness as if those actions were taking place in the present. The mental images conjured up in the minds of readers and listeners form a moving band that tells a story, creating an inner 'theatre of the mind' (or more anachronistically, an inner film screen; Carruthers 1990: 223-4). By interpreting the story told by these mental images, the reader could improve his or her mental and ethical consciousness. Reading was seen as a moral activity that shaped the writer, reader and listeners (if the text were read aloud), and the larger society to which they belonged.

Other 'performative' models reinforce Carruthers' notion of the reading process as similar to medieval theatrical play with ethical overtones. Aleida Assmann's concept of lama, a theoretical notion inspired by and further nuancing Halbwachs's seminal ideas on collective memory, helps clarify Christine's biographical practice. Aleida proposes that cultural memory has its origins in the obligation of friends and family to remember the names of their dead and to hand them down to posterity. Remembering the dead has a religious dimension called pietas (a Latin term comprising religious piety, patriotism and familial devotion), and a secular dimension called lama (comprising talk, public opinion and fame). For Aleida lama is a secular form of making oneself eternal, which in many ways resembles a theatrical mise-en-scene (Assmann, 1999: 33; Zimmermann, 2002: III, 922-3). Aleida's model applies well to the medieval period, when those who desired to perpetuate human fame imitated religious ways of eternalizing Christ's memory (Waiters, 2003a). Earthly rulers, whose legitimacy was founded upon analogy with Christ as divine sovereign, borrowed from liturgical rituals and ceremonies to create an enduring collective memory.

These views of the performative aspect of memory receive their complement in Susan Crane's The Performance of Self: Ritual, Clothing and Identity During the Hundred Years War (2002). Crane maintains that in contrast to the modern belief that performance falsifies the true, inner self, in this period performance makes the self. I adopt Crane's definition (2002: 3) of performance as 'heightened and deliberately communicative behaviors, public displays that use visual as well as rhetorical resources'.

Statement of argument

These theoretical models, taken together, will help us understand how, in composing Charles's biography, Christine creates for herself an exemplary persona in order to bring into being the nascent nation-state of France by supplying it with the image of a wise and capable king. The communicative behaviours to which Crane refers in her definition of performance could include royal ceremonials and rituals as well as the legal procedures and courtroom practices associated with the king's functions as the realm's chief justice. Following Crane's definition, we can read Christine's biography as an elaborate staging of Charles V's permanent renown that she accomplishes through the staging of her own persona as a spiritually improved version of her real self.

Thus, in order to 'remember' Charles--that is, to make the memory of his exemplary 'deeds and good conduct' relevant to contemporary problems--Christine creates a dramatic mise-en-scene of memory (Poirion, 1999: 40), in which she acts out a second 'Annunciation' to Christine as a new Mary, an ideological construct recalling quasi-ubiquitous images of the Annunciation in medieval society. Moreover, the Annunciation is an especially popular construct with Christine, one to which she would return in 1405 in her City of Ladies (La Cite des Dames; Kolve, 1993). Following her commission to undertake the biography delivered by a Gabriel-like Philip the Bold, Christine metaphorically 'brings to birth' the image of the eagerly desired prince-to-come from the example set by the worthy monarchical father-figure of the 'Wise King Charles'.

Historical background

As I said earlier, Christine de Pizan presents the highly unusual example of a Venetian-born woman who elevated herself to the unprecedented position of counsellor to the French court while supporting herself and several family members from the fruits of royal patronage. All prior royal biographers had been clerical or aristocratic males. (4) The reasons that Christine could fit herself into a role that up to that time had been reserved for men are complex. We can cite her privileged background as the daughter of Charles V's personal physician and adviser. Despite a series of personal tragedies--the deaths of a son, the king, her father and her husband, the last three of which left her in serious financial straits--Christine was nonetheless firmly established in the highest court circles. We can cite the at-home, upper-class Italian education she received alongside her brothers, which gave her a much stronger intellectual foundation than the one usually acquired by women. However, it could be argued that, in addition to these advantages, Christine consciously set out to ground herself in the texts that constituted monarchical ideology, and was able to master them so well that she managed to exploit the potential spot for a female writer-adviser in that ideology.

We have already seen that prior to Christine's time the GCF had become the foremost repository of a constantly evolving royal ideology. Primat freely adapted existing Latin chronicles into the first instalment of a French dynastic history, which was continued by others at the monastery. Surviving in approximately 130 manuscripts, the GCF in its final form describes a chain of royal lives from the fall of Troy to the reign of Charles VI in the 1380s. Special treatment is given to the four figures of Clovis, the first Christian king; Charlemagne, celebrated as a saint by many, including Charles V; Louis IX, an officially canonized king; and Charles V, the prototype of the wise Christian king. The GCF flourished under Charles V, king of France from 1364 to 1380, who incorporated the history of his own Valois dynasty, the new branch of the Capetians, into the official history of the monarchy, and that during a period when the English crown was challenging the legitimacy of the French rulers. This rival claim to the French throne, which the English began to press seriously from 1337, was a major cause of the Hundred Years War (Hedeman, 1991: xix-6).

In composing her biography of Charles V at a time when his intermittently mad son Charles VI often lost sight of the proper aims of the GCF, Christine establishes herself as the legitimate successor of the most highly esteemed royal biographers. Judging by the biographers chosen for illustration in Charles V's splendid official copy of the GCF (Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France, f. fr. 2813), those appear to be Einhard, Charlemagne's ninth-century biographer, and Primat, who is represented not once, but three times. Christine thus places herself as a keeper of dynastic memory in the tradition that began with Einhard, who says that if he does not write down the king's life story, it is as if Charlemagne had never lived. In composing the biography, Christine symbolically resurrects Charles V in order to show those ruling the country how the king's past achievements are vitally relevant to its present and future concerns. The biography thus represents an ideologically motivated attempt to keep France on a stable course through some of the most difficult years of early French history--years in which the nascent nation-state was threatened with extinction. When Charles V's brother Philip the Bold commissioned the biography in 1404, the king of France Charles VI was insane, and his wife Ysabel of Bavaria had been declared regent for the underage dauphin, Louis of Guyenne. Not only was Ysabel poorly equipped to head the government, but Louis's uncles and brothers, who were supposed to assist her, preferred to feud amongst themselves.

The biography responds to these challenges to monarchical stability in two major ways. First of all, it provides the dauphin Louis with a model of wise kingship as a counter-model to the example set by his father Charles VI. The dauphin's welfare would hold special interest for Philip the Bold since he had arranged Louis's marriage with Marguerite of Burgundy, eldest daughter of his son John the Fearless. Philip would have every reason to be concerned about the moral and political formation of the man who, with his granddaughter, was by all appearances going to reign over France (Willard, 1984: 41-2, 115-18).

Second, in these times marked by the mental instability of the reigning monarch Charles VI, Christine's biography represents her attempt to unify those governing the country on the dauphin's behalf, in particular his uncle Louis of Orleans and his great uncles, Philip the Bold of Burgundy and John of Berry, all of whom were Christine's patrons at one time or another. Each of the three dukes tended to forget the dauphin's interests and instead jockeyed for his own personal advantage. Although Philip's agenda was self-serving, he was nonetheless the person most committed to the cause of unity. In this, as in many other qualities, he more closely resembled Charles V than did Louis of Orleans, with whom he often came into conflict. It is likely that Philip wanted to show that by having Christine glorify Charles he was the one most qualified to continue his brother's work (Solente, 1936: I, xxvii-xxix). In return, Christine fostered Philip's desire to be seen as the country's real leader during Charles VI's troubled reign.

The political situation deteriorated quickly after Philip's death on 27 April 1404, when Christine had finished only the first part of her three-part biography. Roughly two years after she had completed the book and had presented it, on 1 January 1405, to John of Berry, Charles V's only brother still alive at the time, civil war broke out in Paris between the Armagnac faction, led by John, and the Burgundian faction, led by Philip's son John the Fearless. Then followed over a quarter of a century of conflict culminating in the English occupation of France. It took the intervention of Joan of Arc to once again put a Valois king on the French throne, in the person of Charles VII, Charles V's grandson (Guenee, 1992). Christine celebrated Joan's promotion of Charles VII in her last and final work, The Poem of Joan of Arc (Le Ditie de Jeanne d'Arc), written from the convent of Poissy where she had gone to escape the Parisian massacres of 1418. (5)

Performance and collective memory

In her biography, Christine establishes Charles V's permanent renown as the 'Wise King Charles' whom she presents as a model for present and future dauphins, their relatives, and monarchical advisers. In Aleida Assmann's terms, Christine celebrates Charles's enduring reputation through an elaborate secular mise-en-scene that nonetheless has religious underpinnings. Her staging of Charles's fama or earthly fame derives its authority from the religious models promoted by the monarchy to legitimize its own power. Elaborating upon a passage from Ecclesiasticus that praises one's good name as being more lasting than any precious treasure (41: 15), Christine explains that worldly renown can endure after someone's death because it is similar to the names of saints, which are inscribed by Christianity in 'eternal and indelible memory' (Solente, 1936: I, 10). Appropriately, Christine fashions Charles's lasting reputation according to paradigms established for royal personae in the GCF, where Charles V took his place in the line of Christian and saintly kings including Clovis, Charlemagne and Louis IX.

Christine's biography illustrates Aleida's idea that methods of creating permanent earthly fame take their inspiration and form from religious ways of making the dead eternal. Christine begins her work with a prayer addressed to God for the success of the biography: 'Lord God, open my lips, enlighten my thought, and clarify my understanding so that my ignorance does not prevent my senses from explaining the things conceived in my memory' (Solente, 1936: I, 4). (6) We notice the oral nature of the passage, with its invocation of the Lord couched in the imperative, the gesture of parting the lips, and the voice that proceeds from Christine's open mouth. Her voice dominates the reader's consciousness from the beginning to the end of the work, where she concludes with an invocation to the Holy Trinity to receive Charles's soul into the company of the elect (Waiters, 2003b).

It is thus through the staging of herself as a witness to Charles's enduring reputation that Christine represents, and indeed helps construct, that reputation (Walters, 2003a). Christine acts as a witness in an inner courtroom of her readers' minds. When in explaining how she came to write the king's biography she identifies herself, saying 'I, Christine de Pizan', she symbolically raises her hand and testifies to the truth of what she has seen and heard of the king. She additionally testifies to the truth of the testimony of others whom she had interviewed, as well as to her experience as a reader of books considered important by the monarchy. (7)

The eminent scholar Daniel Poirion (1999: 33) has shown how the written word constitutes an especially powerful form of cultural memory, and nowhere was this truer than in medieval France. In Book III, Chapter 12 of Charles's biography Christine documents the king's campaign to have vernacular adaptations made of Latin books deemed essential for the proper functioning of a monarchy with an ever-increasing need for a permanent, written dynastic memory. The foremost book prized by the monarchy was the Bible and its various spin-offs, including Books of Hours, psalters and other devotional literature. The Book of Hours was the most widely owned book among the laity (De Hamel, 1986: 176). It was an especially valued possession among the higher nobility, so valued in fact that all the royal figures mentioned in this study possessed multiple copies, many magnificently illustrated at great expense.

It is thus of no mean importance that the words with which Christine begins her biography, 'Lord God, open my mouth', are also the first words of the Hours of the Virgin, which form the unchanging core of the Book of Hours. Here Richard de Fournival's explanation of how words evoke mental images can help us grasp the significance of the biography's first line. The picture invariably produced in the reader's mind by means of Christine's opening invocation would be an image of the Virgin Mary. In repeating the Virgin's words, Christine seeks to confound her own image with that of Mary in her reader's consciousness. As is clear from a quick perusal of the catalogue found in the now classic study of the Book of Hours (Wieck, 1988: 171-225), the image illustrating the opening of the Hours of the Virgin is most often the Annunciation. As shown in a miniature from a manuscript executed in Paris around 1425-30 (Wieck, 1988: 13, Plate 1), the images of the Annunciation typically depict Mary seated in front of an open book, with the Holy Spirit hovering over her head in the form of a dove. Similar images, found extensively elsewhere in books other than the quasi-ubiquitous Books of Hours, were reinforced by images of the Annunciation represented in other media. Since a vast number of these images were displayed in churches scattered throughout the West, virtually every Christian would have seen them on a regular basis. This includes even those who were illiterate.

The image of her persona that Christine consciously wishes to evoke in her reader's mind's eye is that of a second Mary, a reader of sacred texts. Carruthers' notion of memory places connecting authors and their audiences applies to the textual communication that Christine seeks to bring about with her readers. The image of Christine conjured up by her voice repeating words from the Hours of the Virgin recalls both Mary's voice and the voice of the Holy Spirit. The parallels between Mary and Christine would be reinforced by the knowledge, on her readers' part, that Christine had lost a son, who died in childhood (Willard, 1984, 43). Although grounded in her real self, Christine's persona extends beyond her existence as a fallible human being to seemingly operate as a spokesperson of God's will, or as a mouthpiece of the Holy Spirit working itself out in human existence. Christine's textual persona, which she produces by having Mary's image telescope and subsume her own profile in her readers' mental eye, represents a morally purified image and voice empowered to instil in French collective consciousness the enduring image of Charles's exemplary 'deeds and good conduct'.

Christine borrows from the double-gendered representation of royal personae in order to construct her persona as a potent medium for collective memory. She skilfully manipulates her identity as a historical person in a sinful earthly existence and a textual persona who has achieved wisdom, virtue and eloquence. The most important models for this persona are Mary and Christ and Mary and David, who were human beings who became Christ-like. Mary's position as David's lineal descendant united her to him in a configuration evocative of partnerships between the king, the queen and their offspring, on the one hand, and the church and state, on the other. The French monarchy legitimized its authority by promoting an ideal church-state alliance (often belied in actual fact), founded in large part on the interpretation of the Old Testament Song of Songs as a mystical marriage of Mary and Christ, church and state (Astell, 1990: 15-16; Turner, 1995).

Identifying herself with this major tenet of royal ideology, Christine gives her persona a double-gendered voice, and in so doing becomes the double of the monarchs themselves, whose official personae were double-gendered (Kantorowicz, 1957; Walters, 2004). If the king was traditionally seen as the image of Christ on earth and a new David, he was also seen as a Mary figure. Images in which French kings assume the guise of the Madonna of Mercy (Sherman, 1995: 100, Fig. 25) offer concrete proof that the idea of a double-gendered royal persona was an accepted convention by the fourteenth century. Like the personae of her royal patrons, Christine's persona as royal counsellor partakes of the dual authority of Christ and Mary and David and Mary, in imitation of France's emphasis on a strong church-state alliance.

Christine's creation of a double-gendered persona for herself was evident in the work responsible for her commission as royal biographer, her Fortune's Mutation (Solente, 1959). By parsing her name 'Christine' as the name of 'Christ', and the name of 'Christ' plus 'ine' (vv. 375-8), i.e. the feminine version of the name, Christine appropriates for her official persona the authority of both Christ and Mary. Christine's double-gendered persona is reflected in the gender metamorphosis of her protagonist named Christine who becomes a man. The gender change takes place when during a storm at sea the ship's captain drowns, forcing 'Christine' to pilot the ship. Her 'mutation' represents the actions the historical Christine took to surmount her near-suicidal despondency following the unexpected death of her husband. She had to metaphorically become a man by learning to support herself and several other family members from her writing.

But the particular double-gendered signature that Christine adopts as a result of her experience signifies that what could appear to be only a bizarre and fortuitous 'mutation' had higher, Christian significance. It is only after her metamorphosis that Christine realizes that her name, given to her by her parents, confirmed by baptism, and guaranteed by the name of her patron saint (8) provides her with the means to save her family and help her country, while assuring her own personal salvation. It is as if the divine will had written itself out on the text of her lowly physical self; as if God had subjected her to undeserved trials so that she could interpret them as a recasting of Christ's own undeserved sufferings. Christine's divinely ordained mission on earth, revealed to her through her misfortunes which forced her, as we would say, to 'man the ship of fate' by giving a Christian interpretation to her life story, was to become not only the family breadwinner but also her country's official spokesperson and intercessor between God, the monarchy and the French people, in the line of earlier monarchical chroniclers. Christine's metaphors, as well as the intentionally ambiguous title of her work, (9) seem to have conveyed to Philip the Bold and others the message that as a person who had been able to 'man the ship of fate' she had proven herself qualified to 'man the ship of state'. It appears that Christine composed her Fortune's Mutation with the express aim of assuring herself a place as monarchical adviser and keeper of a written collective memory.

An especially potent model for Christine as royal memorialist was Mary, whom official ideologues viewed as the personification of the church in its double role as humanity's memory-keeper and teacher. Some of the earliest vernacular texts, like the tenth-century Passion de Clermont, equate Mary with the church, the institution that keeps Christ present in human memory through its celebration of the eucharist (Walters, 2002a: 238). Mary functions as a powerful symbol of the church, which unifies the kingdom around the image of Christ and his representative on earth, the king. Mary is a symbol of the church in its role as humanity's teacher since she was the human being who attained the highest degree of virtue. Christine emphasizes this point in her City of Ladies when she presents Mary as the figure who reigns over the City. Thus, in allying herself with Mary and the church, Christine qualifies herself as a fitting spokesperson for a monarchy striving to unify its divergent kingdoms through its steadily increasing insistence on the importance of the 'mother tongue' for preaching, for record-keeping, and for other official functions (Walters, 2002b: 169).

Christine makes her body--her tongue, mind, and heart--into the vehicle of a collective royal memory, an analogy with Mary, whose body was the vehicle of the incarnation of the word as Christ. Mary's voice was crucial to the story, since she had to give her verbal assent to God's request, delivered to her by Gabriel, which she did in her well-known phrase from the Annunciation, 'Be it done to me according to Thy word' (Luke 1: 38). As a second Mary, Christine has her audience recall the deeds and good conduct of Charles V, the king-as-Christ figure and a second David who symbolizes the wise monarch eagerly hoped for by France. Christine thus also becomes the queen's mental and spiritual double, producing images of ideal rulers to guide the dynasty's biological heirs. Through the transformation of her physical self into a textual persona, Christine fuses images of the heavenly Mary and the queen, Mary's representative on earth, thereby symbolically 're-membering' Charles while 'recreating' herself as a potent vehicle of monarchical memory.

Besides the Book of Hours, Christine allies her function as royal memorialist with other books endowed with sacred authority. For if, as we have seen, the words 'Lord God, open my lips', are the first words of the Hours of the Virgin, they are also the opening words of one of the seven penitential psalms. The psalms formed the basis of the psalter, the most widespread book among the clergy. And, as Carruthers points out, the psalms, known by heart by most monks, had formed the foundations of medieval memorial practices (1998: 113). Thus Christine's opening words bring together her clerical and lay readers. They additionally unite those representing the king and queen. It was generally thought that the psalms were spoken by David, the prototype of the king in his role as a human being who became Christ's representative on earth following royal ceremonies of coronation and unction. And the Hours of the Virgin were spoken by Mary, prototype of the French queen. Christine's doubled-gendered voice symbolically brings together the king and queen as model parents for the realm. Hers is a vernacular voice designed to unite the queen and her advisers in support of the dauphin and to enlist every man and woman behind them (Guenee, 1987: 102; Walters, 2002b: 163). (10)

The prayers with which Christine opens and concludes Charles's biography function as prophecies that must be performed over and over again in order to come true. A prayer resembles a prophecy, insofar as both are spoken words calling out for realization. In the biography's opening prayer Christine expresses the wish that the image of Charles's exemplary 'deeds and good conduct' that she presents to the kingdom's collective consciousness will aid in solving the problems facing the deeply troubled monarchy. Playing on the time-old conflation of liberi (books) and liberi (children), Christine equates her role as mother with her present work as memorialist. She extends her initial metaphor of mental gestation by referring to the book as the 'small work of my labour'. (11) Representing her biography as a metaphorical memory-child, she thus makes it into the textual reincarnation of Charles as a collection of ideas to guide present and future dauphins. Her biography becomes a spiritual offspring capable of influencing biological children, primarily future French kings, so that they can realize the vision of a City of God on French soil. Christine offers the biography to the country as a treasury of wisdom calculated to mould the young dauphin according to Charles V's exemplary image and to unite his relations in support of his best interests rather than their own. She also intends it as a model for all future monarchs and their advisers. Created on the model of the exemplary royal portraits in the GCF, Charles's image is meant to chart the direction of an evolving collective memory.

The final proof that Christine will indeed be successful in her attempts to rescue Charles from oblivion rests with her audience. She calls upon her readers to employ Charles's exemplary image, the one communicated to them by means of her biography, to help rescue the foundering 'ship of state' from the many dangers threatening it. In order for the 'Wise King Charles' to be metaphorically reborn, Christine's mental image of him must be able to fertilize the minds of her audience, motivating them to move from reflection to action, as they seek to apply the lessons learned through the transformation that Christine has brought about in their minds and hearts to the task of refashioning the society in which they live.


Christine's biography represents her efforts to give birth to an image of kingship compelling enough to continue the dynastic chain by rallying the country behind the designated heir. In commissioning the book from Christine, Philip the Bold joined forces with a respected monarchical spokesperson in order to continue the work of strengthening the monarchy accomplished by his deceased brother. In her biography of the 'Wise King Charles' Christine casts herself as a continuator of earlier royal memorialists. Most importantly, she follows the GCF in perpetuating exemplary images of rulers and their royal biographers. Like her predecessors Einhard and Primat, she puts her personal memories at the service of a larger communal memory. The nation becomes a collective memory place, and individuals like Einhard, Primat and Christine are its memory-keepers. Endowed with prodigious memories and well versed in key texts, they filter past memory through their consciousness, metaphorically giving birth to ideas to guide the future evolution of the nascent French nation-state. Following in the traditions set forth by former memory-keepers, Christine becomes a link between individual and national memory, thus exemplifying Nora's idea of the historian as a living lieu de memoire (1989: 18). And finally, by legitimizing Charles's reign, Christine legitimizes her own writing and historical self as perpetuator and architect of national memory.


(1.) Vatican City, Lat. 4791 seems to have been her major source for the text, but she was familiar with many other copies.

(2.) Primat repeats the term 'nation' no less than three times in his prologue (Viard, 1920: I, 1-6).

(3.) 'Ainsi fu le commencement de celle noble nacion francoise couronnee d'ancienne noblece, laquelle [Dieux mercis!], d'oir en hoir, est continuee, maulgre les flocs de la descordable Fortune, jusques cy en amendent en bien, a laquelle chose Dieux ottroit tousjours accroissement de gloire jusques au terme des cieulx!' (Solente, 1936: I, 13-14, my emphasis). All the English translations in this study are my own.

(4.) Besides the cleric Einhard, Charlemagne's biographer, Christine's forerunners were the monastic biographers of Saint-Denis, and the aristocratic and clerical biographers of Louis IX, who included Jean de Joinville, Geoffroi de Beaulieu and Guillaume de St Pathus. See Solente (1936: I, lxix-lxxi) for a discussion of Christine's knowledge of St Louis's biographers.

(5.) Entering Poissy as a secular occupant in her early fifties, Christine spent the final eleven years of her life there in the company of her daughter and Charles VII's sister, who were nuns, perhaps not coincidentally both named Marie.

(6.) 'Sire Dieux, euvre rues levres, enlumine [s] ma pensee, et mon entendement esclaires a celle fin que m'ignorance n'encombre mes sens a expliquer les choses conceues en ma memoire.'

(7.) She bases her biography on her own memories of the king, while augmenting these with information from official documents and memories of others who had known him (Solente, 1936: I, xxxii-lxxx).

(8.) The story of her patron saint Christine forms the tenth and middle chapter of the third and final book of her City of Ladies. 'Patron saint' is rendered significantly in French as sainte patronne or holy exemplar.

(9.) Her title suggests both the mutation produced on her by Fortune and the mutation that she consequently became capable of enacting upon the workings of Fortune.

(10.) Guenee (1987: 102) notes that the king, queen, clergy and the people of the kingdom all prayed for the birth of an heir, a wish fulfilled in 1165 with the birth of Philip Augustus. In her Sept Psaumes allegorises of 1409, Christine speaks of the oral and written diffusion of the work. See Walters (2002b: 162-3).

(11.) 'Petite oeuvre de mon labour'. She returns to this expression at the conclusion of the biography, referring to her work as 'ce labour' (Solente 1940: II, 193).


Assmann, Aleida (1999) Erinnerungraume. Formen und Wandlungen des kulturellen Gedachtnisses. Munich: C.H. Beck.

Astell, Ann W. (1990) The Song of Songs in the Middle Ages. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Augustine's City of God (De civitate dei), ed. James J. O'Donnell. See

Carruthers, Mary J. (1990) The Book of Memory: A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Carruthers, Mary J. (1998) The Craft of Thought: Meditation, Rhetoric, and the Making of Images, 400-1200. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Coser, Lewis A. (ed. and trans.) (1992) On Collective Memory, by Maurice Halbwachs. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Crane, Susan (2002) The Performance of Self: Ritual, Clothing and Identity During the Hundred Years War. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

De Hamel, Christopher (1986) A History of Illuminated Manuscripts. London: Phaidon.

Grandes Chroniques de France of Charles V (Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France, f. fr. 2813). See

Guenee, Bernard (1987) 'Histoire d'un success', in Francois Avril, Marie-Therese Gousset and Bernard Guenee (eds), Les Grandes Chroniques de France: Les Miniatures de Fouquet, pp. 81-138. Paris: Philippe Lebaud.

Guenee, Bernard (1992) Un meurtre, une societe: L'assassinat du Duc d'Orleans 23 novembre 1407. Paris: Gallimard.

Hedeman, Anne D. (1991) The Royal Image. Illustrations of the 'Grandes Chroniques de France', 1274-1422. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kantorowicz, Ernst H. (1957) The King's Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Kolve, V.A. (1993) 'The Annunciation to Christine: Authorial Empowerment in The Book of the City of Ladies', in Brian Cassidy (ed.), Iconography at the Crossroads, pp. 171-96. Princeton, NJ: Department of Art and Archaeology.

Nora, Pierre (1989) 'Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Memoire', Representations 26: 21.

Nora, Pierre (ed.) (1996) Realms of Memory: Rethinking the French Past, 3 vols. English language edition edited and with a foreword by Lawrence D. Kritzman; trans. Arthur Goldhammer. New York: Columbia University Press.

Poirion, Daniel (1999) 'Literature as Memory: "Wo die Zeit wird Raum", Yale French Studies 95: 33-46.

Sherman, Claire Richter (1995) Imaging Aristotle: Visual and Verbal Representation in Fourteenth-Century France, Berkeley: University of California Press.

Solente, Suzanne (ed.) (1936, 1940) Le Livre des fais et bonnes meurs du sage roy Charles V, 2 vols. Paris: Champion.

Solente, Suzanne (1959, 1964, 1966) Le Livre de la mutacion de fortune. 4 vols. Societe des Anciens Textes Francais. Paris: Picard.

Turner, Denys (1995) Eros and Allegory: Medieval Exegesis of the 'Song of Songs'. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications.

Viard, Jules (ed.) (1920-53) Les Grandes Chroniques de France, 10 vols. Paris: Societe de l'Histoire de France.

Walters, Lori J. (2002a) 'Christine de Pizan, Primat, and the noble nation francoise', Cahiers de recherches medievales 9: 237-46.

Walters, Lori J. (2002b) 'The Royal Vernacular: Poet and Patron in Christine de Pizan's Sept Psaumes allegorises and Charles V', in Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski, Duncan Robertson and Nancy Warren (eds), The Vernacular Spirit: Essays on Medieval Religious Literature, pp. 145-82. New York: Palgrave.

Walters, Lori J. (2003a) 'Constructing Reputations: Fama and Memory in Charles V and L'Advision-Cristine', in Thelma Fenster and Daniel Lord Smail (eds), Fama: The Politics of Talk and Reputation in Medieval Europe, pp. 118-42. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Walters, Lori J. (2003b) 'Christine de Pizan as Translator and Voice of the Body Politic', in Barbara K. Altmann and Deborah McGrady (eds) Christine de Pizan: A Casebook, pp. 25-41. New York: Routledge.

Walters, Lori J. (2004) 'Christine de Pizan, l'ideologie royale et la traduction', trans. Renee-Claude Breitenstein, in Jean-Philippe Beaulieu (ed.), D'une ecriture a l'autre. Les femmes et la traduction sous l'Ancien Regime pp. 31-52. Ottawa: Presses de l'Universite d'Ottawa.

Wieck, Roger (1988) Time Sanctified: The Book of Hours in Medieval Art and Life. New York and Baltimore: George Braziller and the Walters Art Gallery.

Willard, Charity Cannon (1984) Christine de Pizan: Her Life and Works. New York: Persea.

Yates, Frances A. (1966) The Art of Memory. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Zimmermann, Margarete (2002) 'La memoria au feminine', in Angus J. Kennedy (ed.), Contexts and Continuities, Proceedings of the IVth International Colloquium on Christine de Pizan (Glasgow, 21-27 July 2000), vol. III, pp. 919-30. Glasgow: University of Glasgow Press.

Lori J. Walters is Professor of French at Florida State University. Address for correspondence: 2415 Winthrop Road, Tallahassee, FL 32308, USA [email:]
COPYRIGHT 2005 Sage Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2005 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Walters, Lori J.
Publication:Journal of European Studies
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Mar 1, 2005
Previous Article:Plenitude, scarcity and the circulation of cultural memory.
Next Article:Memory and the politics of forgetting Paris, the Commune and the 1878 Exposition universelle.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters