Christine de Pizan: The Ideal Medieval Queen
Christine de Pizan (1363-c.1434) was born in Venice, though she grew up in the court of King Charles V of France when her father took a position as Chuck’s astrologer, alchemist, and physician. At the age of 15 she married Etienne du Castel, a royal secretary, and bore him three children (two of whom survived past childhood). When her husband suddenly died in 1390 in an epidemic, Pizan was left to support her mother, a niece, and her children. To this end, she turned to writing, and gained a lot of attention among wealthy court patrons. She started off composing love ballads, but eventually turned to writing about the position of women in society. Her most famous works are The Book of the City of Ladies and The Treasure of the City of Ladies.
In the latter of these two books, Pizan outlined the qualities of the ideal medieval queen, though she also stressed that these could also be applied to women in general. Chief among these was to avoid the “propaganda of laziness” – the assertion that women should avoid idleness, and instead keep themselves active. For a queen, this meant sitting in on councils with her husband, keeping the estate running when her husband was away, acting as a keeper of the peace and mediator between the king and his subjects, and in some cases acting as regent if her son ascended the throne in childhood. Women were especially suited for a peacekeeping role because, as Pizan saw it, men would get too caught up in proving themselves to the opposition, while women were of sweeter tempers and would therefore focus more on keeping the peace. The medieval queen was far from a delicate damsel in distress – she was expected to be as able to govern as her husband, though in a much less visible capacity.
Piety played a central role in the medieval queen’s life, being the basis for Pizan’s assertions. “Idleness is the mother of all error and the wicked stepmother of the virtues,” she stated, and involvement in government wasn’t the only activity medieval queens could participate in. Queens were also expected to provide charity, and not just by giving money – they were to get in there and “roll up their sleeves”, so to speak. They were to be active and actually walk the walk. And of course, while living such public lives, queens were expected to maintain their humility. After all, women were only human, weak and frail, as Pizan reminded them – they had no place being high and mighty.
Obviously, this is only a very general introduction. The point is, medieval women – noblewomen and queens, in particular – were able to exercise some degree of autonomy and wield some influence. For more information, I’d definitely recommend The Treasure of the City of Ladies, which is one of the main sources I used for my term paper last spring.