Christine de Pizan and the Fight for France.
Tracy Adams wants to set the record straight. Following her persuasive study The Life and Afterlife of Isabeau of Bavaria (Baltimore, 2010), which provided a rehabilitation of this much-maligned spouse of the French king Charles VI, Adams now tackles the political allegiance of Christine de Pizan in late medieval France, a country in the midst of a hundred year conflict with England and eventually tom apart by civil war. Her revisionist thesis is that Christine was not neutral or wavering: she never shifted her allegiance away from the Orleans / Armagnac faction, even though she had some connections to the Burgundians. The former camp was led first by Louis of Orleans, Charles VI's brother, and then by Bernard of Armagnac, the father-in-law of Louis' son Charles of Orleans: whereas the Burgundian camp was headed by the dukes Philip the Bold, the brother of king Charles V, and by his son Jean sans Peur, following Philip's death in 1404. Adams states from the beginning that the long-lasting conflict between these two factions centred on issues of regency. The power vacuum caused by Charles VI's intermittent madness led to fervent and often bloody competition between these groups of the king's brother, uncles, and cousins. For Adams, it is crucial to identify this conflict as a "feud." The civil war that erupted after the assassination of Louis of Orleans in 1407, on the orders of his cousin Jean sans Peur, did not pit the "French," or the Armagnacs, against the Burgundians (who were mostly allied with the English in this phase of the Hundred Years War) but was in fact a feud between two French factions.
Adams pursues her thesis of Christine's unwavering support of the Orleans/Armagnac faction in six chapters devoted to almost all of Christine's texts in chronological order. Each chapter has a similar structure: a detailed presentation of the historical background and the growing tensions between the two groups (most of which is familiar to readers of Adams' 2010 study); then rather short sections on individual texts or groups of texts, such as Christine's first collection of one hundred balades. The last four chapters are considerably more persuasive than the first two, which deal with Christine's love poetry. In chapters one and two, Adams strives to show that encoded in this poetry were theories on regency and a critique of Burgundian "power grabs" (18). Adams' frequent use of terms like "seems," "might," and "could be" signals that she is not totally convinced by her own arguments here, namely that Christine's courtly lyrics "transcode the power dynamics of the courtly community for which she wrote" (41). There is simply not enough textual evidence that these lyrics function as an ideological support for Louis of Orleans. In this section a misprint also slipped in, the pope who died in 1394 was not Clement VI but Clement VII (43).
Adams is on firmer ground with her remaining chapters on Christine's overtly political texts. The major theme throughout is Christine's promotion of Louis of Orleans' claims to regency in the face of his brother's madness. The 1402 Livre du chemin de longue etude even proposes Louis as a candidate for the Empire and here Adams shows how Christine's ideas mesh with a series of contemporary prophecies with the same polemical goals. The 1403 Lime de la mutacion de Fortune, Adams argues, offers a panorama of the falls of the mighty but finally concludes that as long as good counsel prevails all is well in the kingdom. Given Adams' arguments on female power and male aggression, a more in-depth problematization of the narrator's gender change in the Mutacion would have been useful. Is it really just "an allegory ... of the initiation into a hard world" that shows that "a woman too can take over for a lost captain" (90)? The last three chapters chronicle Christine's sustained efforts to help buttress the Orleans claims to power, to shore up ideas on female regency, and to lecture her readers on the exercise of female political "prudence," the principal topics of the 1405 Livre de la cite des dames and its practical sequel, the Livre des trois vertus. For the period after Louis of Orleans' assassination, Adams traces Christine's desperate efforts to provide political counsel through such works as the Livre du corps de policie (1407), the Lamentations sur les maux de la guerre civile (1410), and the Livre de paix (1412-1414). In chapter five Adams supplements these analyses with persuasive readings of the anonymous Songe veritable and a revisionist analysis of Jean Gerson's famous sermon Vivat rex (1405), seen by Adams as 100 percent pro-Orleans. Adams' attention to the manuscript contexts of Christine's works strengthens many of her points on Christine's political allegiance. After 1407 Christine pins her hopes on a succession of dauphins, each of whom, except the future Charles VII, dies at a young age.
While some of Adams's arguments on the courtly lyrics seem a bit far-fetched, her readings of Christine's other works are for the most part convincing. This book is a jargon-free, clearly presented overview of late medieval French politics as they inspired one of the most important writers of the period. One hopes for a paperback edition so that this rich and passionate book could be assigned in courses.
Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski, University of Pittsburgh
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|Publication:||Canadian Journal of History|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2016|
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