Anne of Brittany: 14 facts and history

Learn about Anne of Brittany, the Duchess who would become Queen of France twice and fight to maintain Bretagne's independence.
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Anne of Brittany is best remembered as one of the leading figures in French history. At a time when women had little power on their own, she is known for her fortitude in trying to carve out the destiny of Bretagne.

From a young age, life was not easy for her, although she tried to make the best of it. As the Duchess of Bretagne who would go to great lengths to protect her people.

Forced to marry and become Queen of France twice, Anne de Bretagne remains one of France’s most famous female figures and an inspiration to Bretons throughout the ages.

So let’s find out a few facts about Anne’s history, personal life, family and more, shall we? Allons-y!

1. She was born in 1477.

Anne of Brittany was born on 26 January 1477 in the city of Nantes, as the eldest daughter of Duke François II of Bretagne and his second wife Margaret of Foix, Infanta of Navarre.

Her father had no children surviving from his first marriage. Anne would later have a sister named Isabelle, who was four years younger. Unfortunately, Anne’s mother died when she and her sister were young, leaving them to be raised by their father.

2. She was engaged several times.

As Anne’s father the Duke of Brittany had no male heirs, he tried to make Anne his heiress. As such she and her lands were so coveted, that she was promptly betrothed to:

  • Edward, Prince of Wales and heir to the English throne (one of the two princes in the tower presumably killed by their uncle English King Richard III)
  • Maximilian, King of the Romans and Archduke of Austria.
  • Alain I of Albret, a French count and great-grandson of Duke John V of Brittany
  • Louis, Duke of Orléans, cousin of French King Charles VIII.
  • John IV of Chalon-Arlay, Prince of Orange (Netherlands)
  • Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham (England)

3. Her father died and made her promise to protect Brittany.

In 1488, Duke Francis II of Brittany was defeated at the Battle of Saint-Aubin-du-Cormier, ending the Mad War (la Guerre Folle) between Brittany and France.

After his defeat, he was forced to accept clauses stipulating that his daughters were not to marry without the approval of the King of France.

However, a few months later the Duke would fall off his horse. On his deathbed, the Duke made his 11-year-old daughter Anne promise never to consent to the subjugation of the Duchy to the Kingdom of France.

4. She was crowned Duchess of Brittany.

At the time, the law on inheritance was not clear so it took a while for her to be crowned Duchess of Brittany.

Finally on 10 February 1489, Anne was crowned Duchess of Brittany in Rennes at the age of 13-years-old. To try to preserve the duchy, her advisors arranged Anne’s marriage to Maximilian I of Austria by proxy in December 1490.

5. Charles VIII of France laid siege to Rennes to force her to marry him.

Anne of Brittany didn’t get to fulfil her marriage to Maximillian, fortunately or unfortunately, because King Charles VIII of France insisted that she marry him instead.

Charles VIII brought his army to Brittany and forced the duchess to renounce her marriage to Maximillian.

City of Rennes in Brittany
City of Rennes

In order to save the city of Rennes which had been under siege for two months, Anne of Brittany acquiesced and married Charles VIII of France in 1491. And thus the Duchy of Bretagne became under the rule of the King of France.

During this time, Anne’s sister Isabelle died, leaving Anne more isolated than ever.

6. She married the King Charles VIII of France.

The official marriage between Anne and King Charles VIII of France was celebrated at Château de Langeais on 6 December 1491.

Technically the marriage was illegal until Pope Innocent VIII could annul the proxy marriage to Maximillian, in exchange for a substantial monetary concessions. Anne was now Queen of France at the age of 14.

7. Her husband died unexpectedly at the age of 27.

Her husband King Charles VIII would not last long however, dying at the age of 27 after accidentally striking his head on a door at the Château d’Amboise.

Château d'amboise
Amboise in the Loire valley, France

Their son Charles Orlando had already died at the age of 3, and when the king died in 1498, the throne went to his cousin, King Louis XII.

8. She had to marry the new King Louis XII.

The new King, Louis XII, was already married to Joan, Anne’s sister-in-law, the sister to Charles VIII. However, Louis XII proclaimed Joan was sickly and had a hunched back and asked for an annulment.

Following an agreement made to secure the annexation of the Duchy of Brittany by France, Anne was required to try to maintain the peace between Brittany and France.

On 19 August 1498, Anne agreed to marry Louis XII if he obtained an annulment from Joan within a year. Louis XII managed to get the annulment and Anne married the new king in 1499, making her twice the Queen of France. (Joan went on to become a saint of France.)

Anne’s marriage contract stated that she personally retained rights to the duchy, and it would be the couple’s second child, son or daughter who would be Anne’s own heir, thus keeping the duchy separate from the throne of France. (The clause would not be respected.)

9. Her new husband Louis XII loved her very much.

Initials of Louis XII and Anne of Brittany at Château de Blois
Initials of Louis XII and Anne of Brittany at Château de Blois

Anne was now 22-years old and her new husband was 15 years older than her. Historical reports suggest that Anne’s new husband Louis XII was deeply in love with his wife, although it is not clear that she reciprocated the feeling.

Louis XII let her advocate for Brittany, for which she fiercely maintained much independence.

10. She had two daughters, Claude and Renée.

Anne and Louis XII had 2 daughters together, Claude and Renée, who were both born in Château Royale de Blois, in Louis’s stronghold of Blois in the Loire Valley.

However, neither could succeed to the French throne due to the Salic Law which said women could not inherit. Nevertheless, the eldest Claude was proclaimed the Duchess of Brittany, and was a much sought after heiress herself.

(Her younger daughter Renée would eventually marry the Duke of Ferrera, who was the son of Lucrezia Borgia.)

11. Brittany was governed as a separate country because of Anne.

Anne de Bretagne died in 1514 at the age of 36 of a kidney-stone attack, without a male heir. Her husband Louis XII would briefly marry Mary Tudor, the sister of Henry VIII of England, although he too would die within a year at the age of 52.

12. Her daughter Claude became Queen of France.

The French throne and the Duchy of Brittany was inherited by a cousin, King François I who married to Anne’s daughter, Claude four months after Anne’s death. He formally united the two crowns was in 1532.

He did however grant several privileges to Brittany, such as exemption from a tax on salt. Brittany and France were governed as separate countries but under the same crown, so Breton aristocrats in the French royal court were classed as Princes étrangers (foreign princes).

(In 1515, Anne Boleyn stayed as a member of Claude’s household.  Claude was only 14-years-old at the time of her marriage, and Anne Boleyn was around the same age.)

Rennes Road sign in French and Breton languages
Rennes Road sign in French and Breton languages

13. She had pushed for the Parliament of Brittany to keep its governing status.

The Parliament of Brittany had been established in 1485 by Duke François II of Brittany, the Anne de Bretagne’s father, providing a direct link to the fight for independence.

The Kings of France and their descendants reluctantly let Bretagne continue to maintain its own parliament, under the agreement insisted upon Anne.

Throughout her life Anne de Bretagne fought for the rights of Bretons. To this day the region of Brittany considers itself a separate entity, paying her tribute.

Rennes Parliament de Bretagne
Parliament de Bretagne in Rennes, Brittany

14. Her tenacity is still widely appreciated by local Bretons.

Brittany’s special independent status came to an end with the French Revolution and the storming of the Bastille in 1789.

The Bretagne Parliament was dissolved by the French National Assembly but famously never ratified by the Parliament itself. The Parliament of Brittany met on the same day for the final time to declare the decision “null and void forever”.

Throughout her lifetime and after, Anne of Brittany inspired an independence movement in Brittany has been ongoing at low boil.

flag of brittany
Flag of Brittany

The region still maintains its own language, culture, and flag which is inspired by the flag that Anne was known to carry (as in the featured image at the top).

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If you enjoyed that article, you may like to read more about other French royals. A bientôt!

¹ Featured Image: Courtesy of Wikipedia

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