Anne of Brittany’s influence on French literature during the early Renaissance

Anne of Brittany continues to be a romantic figure in French history, and part of that romantic image is her cultivation of poets and artists at the royal court. Her son in law, Francis I may receive more credit of the literary growth of Renaissance France, but Anne deserves her share of recognition as a literary patron.

Neither of her husbands, Charles VIII and Louis XII were great literary patrons, but they did make their own “contribution” to French literature by plundering the libraries of the King of Naples and the Duc of Milan on their way back from the Italian wars. Those books quickly made their way to the library at the Chateau de Blois.

Anne wrote reams of letters during her lifetime, and she used her position to explore her own curiosity. She once commissioned her own herald to write an account of his travels to Hungary and across Europe. For a woman who spent her life in Brittany and France, travel accounts were a way to learn about places beyond her husband’s domains. Since she spent much of her life in unsuccessful attempts to give birth to a healthy male heir who could survive past early childhood, she would never have the opportunity to venture past French lands on her own.

Her personal library contained works about several subjects, and most of them were religious tracts. Writers competed to dedicate works to her, thereby securing a paid position at court. Another large part of her library was dedicated to political works, including one by Andre de la Vigne’s The Novel of John From Paris. La Vigne had to work to gain Anne’s favor since one of his first works was anti-Breton. Anne decided to have mercy on him, making him her secretary.

Cultivating royal patronage through the Queen of France

After her second marriage to Louis XII, writers began to dedicate their works to her, reflecting her elevated status and influence at court. Eventually, even works that were not even dedicated to Anne found their way into the royal collection, with publishers competing to offer her luxury editions of their work.

Eventually, a group known as the grands rhetoriqueurs coalesced at court, dedicating a large number of works to the queen. The group would continue for the next two generations, evolving into court poets. Over the centuries, literary critics have accused the group of writing hollow and inept work, but this is the beginning of literary effort during the French renaissance. The most famous of the early rhetoriqueurs was Jean Lemaire de Belges, who first worked for Margaret of Austria, the Duchesse of Savoy. Once Belges accepted a commission from Anne, she promptly dismissed him from her court. To flatter Anne, Belges put forth the idea that the ancient Gauls were the ancestors of the Trojans and the Franks, placing the French even higher than some of the Greeks in the development of civilization.