Anne of Brittany: Life Story

Chapter 7 : Sovereign Power

The terms of Anne’s marriage treaty required that Anne now be acknowledged as sovereign duchess, and French troops withdrawn. Louis adhered to the treaty (although some of his men were reluctant to withdraw until Anne complained), but he already had a new plan up his sleeve. By that same treaty, if Anne and Charles had no son, Anne was obliged to marry Charles’ heir or the heir’s own heir. On the face of it, this appeared to be impossible – Louis had been married to Jeanne of France for twenty-two years, although they had not children. His heir was François of Angoulême, a child of four.

Louis, however, hated his wife, and within weeks, he had suggested to Anne the annulment of his marriage to Jeanne, so he could wed Anne. Again, it is impossible to know what Anne’s thoughts were. We only know that she agreed to marry Louis, if he could obtain an annulment within a year. Perhaps she loved him, as many early French histories suggest, although they quote no evidence, perhaps she thought that the annulment would never be granted, but that appearing amenable would be the best way to protect her duchy, perhaps she wanted to remain as queen of France.

There was also a lack of other suitable husbands – Maximilian had married Bona of Savoy, Juan of Spain, having married Marguerite of Austria, was now dead, and to marry one of her own nobles after being queen of France would mean a loss of status. 

Louis made his application to the Pope for an annulment, which he requested on the shameful ground that Jeanne was so deformed he had been unable to consummate the marriage, rather than the usual polite fiction of a discovery of consanguinity.

Whilst Louis was insulting the long-suffering Jeanne, Anne was on her way back to Brittany. On 13th August 1498, she had summoned an escort of one hundred archers. En route, she stopped at the Chateau of Etampes, where she again met Louis, before passing on to Chartres. Orders went out for clergy, barons and citizens to attend her at the duchy’s capital of Rennes to form an Estates-General.

She made a further stop at Laval, where she stayed with Jeanne, the widow of René of Anjou, titular king of Sicily, and the step-daughter of Anne’s old governess. Jeanne had been one of the first people Anne had written to following Charles’ death, so we may infer that the two women were close, despite Jeanne being over thirty years the elder.

In October, Anne made a state entrance to Nantes, preceded by her banners of white with ermine tails. She went to the cathedral, where the Bishop made a long address.

Around this time, Anne commissioned a history of Brittany from her treasurer, Pierre Lebaud. She also instituted a permanent guard, which was to accompany her everywhere, perhaps in imitation of the Garde Ecossais which surrounded the French kings.

The other action Anne took as a sovereign was the founding of a new order, for ladies, similar to the Orders of the Garter (England), the Golden Fleece (Burgundy) and Saint Michael (France). The order, known as the Order of the Ladies of the Cord had for its symbol a knotted rope, or ‘cordelier’. Its motto was ‘J’ay le corps delié’ (I have an unbound body). There has been much speculation about what the rope and the motto represented – the scourge from the Passion of Christ, the belt of the Franciscan order – or delivery from the bonds of matrimony.

The most likely explanation is that which links it to the Observant Franciscans, known in France as the Cordeliers, an order much favoured by Duke Francis I of Brittany. The Franciscans wore a knotted rope belt – signifying their vows. Many of the objets d’art and books associated with Anne have this symbol on them.

Whilst Anne was busying herself with rule in her duchy, Louis was receiving an ecclesiastical declaration at Chinon, delivered by Pope Alexander VI’s illegitimate son, Cesare Borgia – the  welcome record of the annulment of Louis’ marriage to Jeanne of France. Borgia was rewarded with the duchy of Valentinois, and a pension of 20,000 crowns. It is not to be supposed that the promise of these rewards had in any way influenced the Pope’s decision. Jeanne was compensated with the duchy of Berri, and a pension.

Louis was now free, and Anne was obliged, willingly or not, to marry him. Nevertheless, she was in a much stronger position to negotiate than had been the case when the marriage to Charles was agreed, and the new treaty agreed that, if the couple had no children, the duchy would revert to Anne’s heirs, whilst, if they had children, the duchy would be conferred on the second son or a daughter, either of which would have separated it from France.

Although Louis would, in the way of the times, exercise power in the duchy, it was to be in Anne’s name, whilst she herself was to receive its revenues, along with her dower from Charles, and the new jointure to be settled on her by Louis. In token of his acceptance that Brittany was a sovereign state, separate from France, Louis confirmed all the privileges of Brittany’s church and courts.