The prolific writer Christine de Pizan (b. c. 1364–d. c. 1431) was an innovative lyric poet, early champion of women, and political writer. Although some of her political allegories seem obscure to the nonspecialist, the autobiographical sketches that characterize many of her works make her attractive to popular as well as scholarly audiences. Born in Venice, she moved to Paris as a small child when her father was invited by King Charles V to serve as royal astrologer and physician. She remained in France the rest of her life. With the deaths of Charles V in 1380, her father in 1387, and her beloved husband in 1389, she and her three children and mother entered a period of financial hardship, as we know from autobiographical references in her works. During this difficult period, she turned to writing for solace and to earn a living, drawing upon the education she had begun under the guidance of her father and had furthered through independent study. Her works became popular among important lords and ladies of medieval Europe, gaining for her an array of patrons that included the English duke John of Salisbury and King Henry IV of England; Giangaleazzo Visconti, duke of Milan; Louis, duke of Orleans; Jean, duke of Berry; Philip, duke of Burgundy; and Queen Isabeau of Bavaria. Christine’s earliest works were love lyrics, but she rapidly branched out into other genres. The poet was a witness to the feud between the Orleanists, led by the king’s brother, Louis of Orleans (known as the Armagnacs when Bernard Count of Armagnac took the lead in 1410, the Burgundians having assassinated Louis in 1407), and the Burgundians, led by the dukes of Burgundy. This feud was occasioned by the episodic madness of King Charles VI, which began in 1392. She composed numerous works treating the conflict. After the Burgundian massacre of the Armagnacs in Paris in 1418, Christine, an Armagnac and supporter of the dauphin, the future King Charles VII, retired to a convent. Her final work was a poem celebrating Joan of Arc, the young military leader whose initial successes vindicated the poet’s defenses of women. In addition to writing, Christine was active in manuscript production, overseeing and possibly even copying many of her own manuscripts, publishing her collected works for the first time in 1399. She supervised several luxury manuscripts of her own works, including what is known today as the Duke’s Manuscript, presented to Duke Jean of Berry and now broken into sections, all residing at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris (BNF fonds français 835, 606, 836, 605, and possibly 607), and the Queen’s Manuscript, presented to Queen Isabeau of Bavaria (Harley 4431 of the British Library in London). The exact year of her death is not known, but a reference to her as the “late” Christine de Pizan indicates that it must have been around 1431. Christine was recognized as an important writer during her lifetime and for the first hundred years after her death. She then lost popularity and was denigrated as a bluestocking for more than three hundred years. Her work was approached with interest by isolated scholars during the 19th century. In the mid-20th century she was recognized again as a major literary figure and gained wide popularity as women’s studies became part of university programs in the English-speaking world during the 1970s.
Article. 9380 words.
Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500) ; Literary Studies (Early and Medieval) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy ; Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400) ; Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology
Full text: subscription required