Anne and Louis: Passion and Politics in Early Renaissance France: The First Years of Anne of Brittany’s Marriage to Louis XII

Written by Rozsa Gaston
Review by Misty Urban

This second in a trilogy on the life of Anne of Brittany covers 1498-1500, years in which Anne loses her husband Charles VIII, King of France; marries Louis XII, the next King of France; and schemes to keep independent control over her inheritance, the duchy of Brittany. The book bristles with research, but its main interest lies in the romance between two powerful royals. Anne is a beautiful, proud, self-possessed woman driven to be an admired ruler; her one difficulty is in having children. For all her pregnancies, Anne in this book bears only one living child, whom she intends to inherit Brittany. Louis is a slightly more engaging character, with foibles and flaws; he puts aside his first wife, Jeanne of France, to pursue Anne, then turns from her to ambitious plans of conquest in Italy.

While Anne sees that her world is evolving from the feudal hierarchies of medieval Europe to the mercantile economies of the Renaissance, international politics and the burdens of rule occupy her less than the domestic concerns of child-bearing, training her ladies, and keeping her husband in line. Other characters are similarly absorbed with their love lives, including Anne’s assorted ladies-in-waiting, who learn courtly love from the provocative poetry of Marie de France and Christine de Pizan. The history of Brittany is particularly well rendered, and fans of the period will appreciate the guest appearances by Niccolò Machiavelli, Cesare Borgia, and the famed unicorn tapestries now at the Metropolitan Museum of New York. The characters and their dialogue can feel as stiff and ornamented as a heavy court gown in places, but the abundance of detail animates this unique and engaging time, and it’s a treat to see a historical woman brought so richly to life.