Woman of the week - Christine de Pizan

Name: Christine de Pizan
Born: circa 1364, Venice Italy
Dead: circa 1434, France (possibly at Poissy)
Married to: Etienne du Castel
Children: Three: one daughter, one son and one of unknown sex (who probably died at a young age)
Occupation: Writer

Christine was of Italian origin, daughter of a doctor who when she was five got an appointment with the king of France, Charles V. He took the whole family with him and the Christine never left France after that.

Christine got an upper class-upbringing at the French court. Exactly how she was educated we do not know, but it included a lot of book-reading in a way that was not common for ladies at that time. In all probability she studied Latin, philosophy, literature and science.

But Christine lived in many ways just as was expected of her. At 15 she got married to the courtier Etienne du Castel, they got three children and all things point to the marriage having been quite a happy one. It was all the more devastating for Christine to loose her husband when she was just 25 - he died of an epidemic when away on business-travels. Almost at the same time her father had died and she was left to support not just herself and her children but also her mother. Her husband had left many debts for his young widow to take care of, and she was to spend the next 14 years dealing with law-suits to get her husband's unpaid salary. It was now she entered upon the career that would make her famous, that of a writer.

Christine became quite successful from early on with her writing. She wrote poems and ballads that was widely popular in the courtly circles and she produced some 300 ballads during the next 20 years.

Her most famous work is not a ballad, but The book of the city of ladies (1405), written as much of a response to the contemporary view on noble women in the literature of the time as being nothing more than slutty temptresses, for example in Romance of the Rose. The point of the book is to show a good number of women, perhaps not noble by blood but definitely by heart, who has done good deeds and who have nothing in common with the general view of women in literature at the time. She wrote a sequel, The treasure of the city of ladies, that dealt with the proper women for women to act and behave to counteract misogyny and to use the female virtues for good.

In 1418 Christine retired to a convent in Poissy. The only text that is known which she wrote between then and her death is a poem in honour of Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc) who she admired much.

1 comment:

jane davenport said...

Thanks a lot for your interesting blog.

I have been fond of Christine de Pisan for quite a while reading a lot about her life. In "Le livre de la Cité des Dames", she mentions Anastaise praising her skills as an "enlumineresse".

I advise you the reading of the ebook "Anastaise, the Sharpened medieval Quill" by A. Warwick.

The historical fiction deals with the “querelle du roman de la rose” and the ideas of Christine de Pisan and her role in the Court of King Charles VI.


Who is the woman on the photo in black and white?