Christine de Pizan

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Christine de Pizan, showing the interior of an apartment at the end of the 14th or commencement of the 15th century

Christine de Pizan (circa 1365 - circa 1430) was a French poet and was one of a number of female authors at a time when aristocratic ladies were routinely educated. She is viewed by many feminists as the originator of the feminist movement, largely based on a book by Pizan which tells aristocratic ladies how to manage their family's estates and military affairs in their husband's absence and is therefore interpreted as a feminist push for expanded female roles; although Pisan in fact was merely describing a standard feudal practice whereby the wife of a nobleman was expected to take charge in his absence. This practice had been the norm for centuries rather than Pizan's invention.

When she was 24 her husband ɴienne du Castel died, and Pizan became a court writer employed by various ducal and Royal households, in order to support her three children. In her works, she, like the clergyman Jean Gerson and many other writers of that time, attacked the view of women popularized in the Romance of the Rose and argued against restrictions on female education and inheritance of land. Her most notable works were The Book of the City of Ladies, written in 1405, and its companion, The Book of the Three Virtues. She also wrote about the victory of Joan of Arc at the siege of Orleans and attacked the Romance of the Rose written by Jean de Meung.

Biography

She was born in Venice, Italy. When she was four years old she was brought to her father, a councillor of the Venetian Republic, in Paris, where he held office as astrologer to King Charles V. At fifteen Christine married ɴienne du Castel, who became Charles's notary and secretary. After the king's death in 1380 her father lost his appointment, and died soon after; and when Christine's husband died in 1389 she found herself without a protector, and with three children depending on her. This determined her to have recourse to letters as a means of livelihood.

Her first ballads were written to the memory of her husband, and as love poems were the fashion she continued to write other--lais, virelais, rondeaux and jeux a vendre--though she took the precaution to assure her readers (Cent balades, No. 50) that they were merely exercises. In 1399 she began to study the Latin poets, and between that time and 1405, as she herself declares, she composed some fifteen important works, chiefly in prose, besides minor pieces.

The Earl of Salisbury, who was in Paris on the occasion of the marriage of Richard II with Isabella of France (1396), took her elder son, Jean du Castel (b. 1384), and reared him as his own; the boy, after Salisbury's death (1400) being received by Philip of Burgundy, at whose desire Christine wrote Le Lure des faitz ci bonnes manneurs du sayge roy Charles (1405), valuable as a first-hand picture of Charles V and his court.

Her Mutation de fortune, in which she finds room for a great deal of history and philosophy, was presented to the same patron on New Year's Day, 1404. It possesses an introduction of great autobiographical interest. In La Vision (1405) she tells her own history, by way of defence against those who objected to her pretensions as a moralist. Henry IV of England desired her to make his court her home, and she received a similar invitation from Galeazzo Visconti, tyrant of Milan. She preferred, however, to remain in France, where she enjoyed the favour of Charles VI, the dukes of Berry and Burgundy, the duchess of Bourbon and others.

Christine was a champion of her own sex. In her Dit de la rose (1402) she describes an order of the rose, the members of which bind themselves by vow to defend the honour of women. Her Epitre au dieu d'amour (1399) is a defence of women against the satire of Jean de Meun, and initiated a prolonged dispute with two great scholars of her time, Jean de Montreuil (d. 1415) and Gonthier Col, who undertook the defence of the Roman de la Rose.

Christine wrote about 1407 two books for women, La Gild des dames and Le Livre des trois vertus, or Le Tr鳯r de la cite des dames. She was devoted to her adopted country. During the civil wars she wrote a Lamentation (1410) and a Livre de la paix (1412-1413), but after the disasters of the campaign of Agincourt and subsequent occupation of Paris by the English and Burgundians, she retired to a convent.

We have no more of her work until 1429, when she broke her silence to write a poem in honour of Joan of Arc. Of the circumstances of her death nothing is known but it probably took place about this time. Her Cite des dames contains many interesting contemporary portraits, and her Livre des trois vertus contains details of domestic life in the France of the early 15th century not supplied by more formal historians.

Bibliography

Her poems were edited by Maurice Roy for the Soci鴩 des anciens Textes francais (1886, etc.), and her Livre du chemin du long 鳴ude, by Puschel (Berlin, 1887). There are monographs by Raimond Thomassy (Paris, 1838); E.M.D. Robineau (Saint-Omer, 1882); and Friedrich Koch (Goslar, 1885). It is possible that Jean Castel, who was chronicler of France under Louis XI, was Christine's grandson. Hoccleve imitated her Epitre au dieu d'amour, in his "Letter of Cupid" (Chaucerian and other Pieces, ed. W. W. Skeat, 1897). A translation of her Epitre d'Othda was made (c. 1440) by Stephen Scrope for his stepfather, Sir John Fastolf, and is preserved in a manuscript at Longleat. This was edited (1904) for the Roxburghe Club by W.G.F. Warner as The Epistle of Othea to Hector, or the Boke of Knyghthode. The Moral Proverbs of Christyne de Pise, translated by Earl Rivers, was printed in 1478 by Caxton, who himself translated, by order of Henry VII, her Livre des faitz d'armes, ci de chevalerie, a treatise on the art of war, based chiefly on Vegetius. Her Cite des dames was translated by Brian Anslay (London, 1521).

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