Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Kathleen Wellman's "Queens and Mistresses of Renaissance France"

Kathleen Wellman is Dedman Family Distinguished Professor and chair of the Clements Department of History at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Queens and Mistresses of Renaissance France, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Queens and Mistresses of Renaissance France marks a transition in a chapter on Anne of Brittany. She was twice queen of France, wed to two successive kings: Charles VIII and Louis XII. Page 99 ends an analysis of her political importance and begins a discussion of her cultural impact. It differentiates the character of the two courts in which she was central. The first at Amboise was more Breton in character and more wedded to medieval Gothic arts, while the second court with Louis XII was more sophisticated, more open to feminine influence, and more indebted to the Renaissance arts. Page 99 thus reflects the book’s emphasis on a queen’s role in defining a distinctive French Renaissance but only hints at her equally extensive and significant political roles, and neglects another central theme of the book: the roles these women played as iconic figures in the construction of French national memory. Page 99 does not convey the book’s chronological scope from the end of the Hundred Years War to the end of the Wars of Religion.

Anne of Brittany is just one of the fascinating royal women Queens and Mistresses of Renaissance France makes central to its narrative of the Renaissance. It begins with the designation of Agnès Sorel as the first, official French mistress in 1444 and ends with the death in 1599 of Gabrielle d’Estrées, the mistress Henry IV planned to marry. The intermediate chapters treat Anne of Brittany, the women associated with Francis I, Diane de Poitiers, Catherine de Medici, and Marguerite de Valois. The book explores both their lives and accomplishments and the ways they have been invoked subsequently to praise or condemn them, to condemn monarchy or look back to it with nostalgia, to argue against women’s political activities or, very recently, to assert their importance to French culture. Queens and Mistresses of Renaissance France concludes:
Royal women of the French Renaissance were the celebrities of their day. They lived quasi-public lives and acted in public settings; their personal triumphs and tragedies were common knowledge. They not only had significant impact on kings’ reigns but also left deep traces of their lives in Renaissance arts and literature. The ways they transgressed expectations of women’s lives, worked to break free of limits placed on them, or took conventional roles and molded them to fit the challenges they faced continue to intrigue us…
Learn more about Queens and Mistresses of Renaissance France at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue