Keira Morgan is a passionate fiction writer and historian, specializing in the French Renaissance. Her journey into the world of history and storytelling began early in life, inspired by stories about real people from the far-distant past. She pursued her fascination with history and obtained a B.A. (Hon.) and M.A. in history, focusing on medieval and Renaissance Europe. Trilingual in English, French, and Spanish, she conducts her research in all three.
Keira discovered her true calling in fiction writing. As she traveled and worked in various fields in different countries, she honed her skills and continued to write historical fiction about the French Renaissance. Her two published novels, in the ‘Chronicles of the House of Valois’ series: The Importance of Sons" and The Importance of Pawns, are available on Amazon and her third in the series, "The Importance of Wives," will be available in April 2024. Set in the courts of Anne of Brittany, King Charles VIII, King Louis XII, and King François I of France during the intrigues of the early French Renaissance, they captivate audiences with their compelling characters and vivid historical setting.
On her website, Keira's Renaissance Fiction & History, she shares her deep knowledge of the French Renaissance through a blog that delves into the lives of powerful women who played crucial roles in French affairs. Readers can also join her newsletter, links to other authors, and lists of recent historical fiction. Keira invites interaction with her readers and encourages recommendations for historical novels set in the Renaissance.
Connect with Keira and delve into the fascinating world of French historical fiction at firstname.lastname@example.org
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⭐ Praise for "The Importance of Sons" ⭐ "An irresistible tale filled with fascinating characters and a compelling plot." — Roberta Rich, Bestselling Author of The Midwife of Venice Trilogy
Step into a captivating tale of intrigue, rivalry, and friendship in "The Importance of Sons." Immerse yourself in the world of Duchess Anne, the young ruler of Brittany forced into a bitter choice: marry the French king or lose her duchy. Surrounded by enemies, she must navigate the treacherous French court and secure her place as queen.
Rejoice as the heir, Charles-Orland, is born, but Countess Louise d’Angoulême resents Anne's presence. Louise, with ambitions for her own son, challenges the queen's position and manipulates the king's decisions. Witness the gripping clash between Anne and Louise as they compete for power and control. Can Anne turn her enemy into an ally to protect her son and secure his future?
Based on the remarkable life of Duchess Anne of Brittany, this riveting tale brings to life the dangerous rivalry between two strong women in a man's world. A rich portrayal of Renaissance royalty that historical fiction lovers will adore!
📚 Perfect for Fans of Elizabeth Chadwick and Alison Weir 📚
Don't miss this enthralling historical novel. Get your copy of "The Importance of Sons" today and embark on a journey of power, rivalry, and the triumph of a resilient queen!
The Importance of Sons
Chronicles of the House of Valois
Book Excerpt or Article
Four Royal Women’s Entangled Lives—1483 to 1529:
Women who changed the history of France Brittany and the Empire
The Beginnings—1483 to 1484
This article covers events that occurred during the period that France’s cultural and political systems were transforming from medieval to Renaissance. The change was rapid because in 1494 King Charles VIII rode off to war in Italy and became entranced by all things Italian. These Italian wars continued sporadically for the next sixty years. Because of them, large numbers of men from the highest nobility went away leaving women in charge.
The transition began a short time earlier, in 1483. In France only males could inherit the throne as a result of what was called the Salic law. There were only three times in which women were allowed to rule for men: if the king was underage—under 14 by French law—if or when the king was out of the country; or if the king were so incapacitated he was incapable of ruling. In those cases, his mother could be appointed to rule as Regent, with a Regency Council to guide her. It wasn’t required, but it was permitted.
But, during the period between 1483 and 1529, four women, two of whom became Regents of France, played huge political roles in French affairs. They also had important cultural and literary roles, which I will not address in this article.
The four women are: Princess Anne de France, also known as Madame la Grande, Archduchess Marguerite of Austria, Louise de Savoie and Duchess Anne de Bretagne.
The two years 1483 and 1484 set the scene for the first crisis that came to a head in 1491. It led to the great enmity between the Hapsburgs and the Valois. This enmity resulted in the marriages between the Hapsburgs and the Spanish royal family and the territorial encirclement of France.
The key player during these two years is the elder daughter of King Louis XI of France and his favourite child, 22-year-old Anne, Madame la Grande. Healthy and well-formed, with dark hair and eyes, she was an excellent rider who loved to hunt. But she was equally at ease in the Council chamber. Intelligent and remarkably well-educated for the times, she intimidated her father’s male courtiers with her cool rational mind and strategic thinking. She was just like her father they said, and it wasn’t a compliment. They meant she wasn’t properly feminine. But her father was pleased and called her “the least foolish woman in France, for there are none who are wise.” Fortunately for Anne, she was married to an easy-going man, 47-year-old Duke Pierre de Beaujeu, who recognized her superior intelligence, and didn’t mind her bossiness.
By 1483, King Louis XI, known as the Spider King, because he entrapped his enemies in his web and absorbed their lands, had been king for 22 years and was in poor health. He had many enemies, especially those foreign and French princes and nobles whose lands he had engulfed. It wasn’t just that he took their land, but that he used underhanded techniques like bribery, infiltration, lawsuits, and advantageous agreements to do so. During his reign he’d added Picardy, Provence the three great duchies of Anjou Berry and Burgundy, and the small territories of Roussillon and Cerdagne to France. In short, under his rule, France became the most powerful and unified state in Europe.
At the beginning of the year, taking advantage of the rebellion against widowed Duke Maximilian of Austria in the Burgundian Netherlands, King Louis negotiated another advantageous treaty. Under duress, the Duke agreed to dower his three-year-old daughter, Archduchess Marguerite of Austria, with the Franche-Comté and Artois, to betroth her to King Louis’s only son, 13-year-old Dauphin Charles and to send her to France to grow up. King Louis also insisted she come without any personal possessions or household except one nurse. He intended to make a Frenchwoman of her.
While King Louis’s demand was unusual because Archduchess Marguerite was so young, both girls and boys did leave their parental homes young to live at other royal or noble courts. There they would learn social or military skills and meet eligible potential spouses. Boys usually left younger than girls, at 7 or 8. Girls often stayed at home until they were 12 to 14.
Archduchess Marguerite is the second noblewoman who will play an important role in French affairs. At three, she was an attractive child with blond hair and blue eyes, although she already had the heavy chin and jaw inherited from her Hapsburg forebears. In France, she was offered an excellent education and developed her musical abilities and artistic tastes. Even as a child she had a lively sense of humour, and a strong sense of loyalty and justice. Admired for her kindness and diplomacy, as an adult she welcomed scholars, writers and artists to her court.
That May, King Louis gave Madame la Grande her first important official role. He sent her with Dauphin Charles to meet toddler, Marguerite, on the north-eastern border between France and the Burgundian Netherlands. Since the child would have to leave her household behind, Madame la Grande brought with her Madame de Segré, who would become the young Dauphine Marguerite’s gouvernante. Happily for Marguerite, she and Madame Segré formed a close bond as the cortège made its progress through France. The royal party travelled ceremoniously, stopping in Paris to give the new Dauphine a Grande Entrée before continuing to Amboise where she would live. They arrived at the Château d’Amboise on June 22. Marguerite and Dauphin Charles celebrated their betrothal immediately. Directly after the betrothal, accompanied by their French and Netherlander witnesses, the children were married in the palace chapel.
A papal dispensation was required to allow them to marry since they were closely related, being doubly cousins. On her Savoyard side, Marguerite’s great-aunt was married to Charles’s great-aunt. As well, on her Bourbon side, her mother was Duke Pierre de Beaujeu’s sister. This is without going back any further into their genealogies. These kinds of entwined lines of descent were common. At the highest royal ranks, the level of interrelatedness is mindboggling. Trying to draw family trees is an exercise in ingenuity, as brothers’ children marry sisters’ children on both sides of a family. It isn’t surprising, therefore, that the male lines weakened and failed in several royal families during this century.
The reasons for intermarriages are not hard to find. Families were large and parents wanted to keep lands and wealth within family control. As an example, between these two families in one generation, the parents on the Bourbon side had 12 children of whom 10 reached adulthood and 6 married. Of the 6 marriages, children of 4 played a significant role in the events that I am about to discuss. On the Savoyard side, the parents had 19 children, 12 lived to adulthood and 10 married. In their case only 5 played a role during these events. I will spare you the ins and outs of these convoluted relationships and who married whom. Just keep in mind that most of the people were related, closely related. They often knew each other and had spent some part of their youth growing up together either in their own home or in the noble or royal court in which they lived as a page, squire, lady- or maid-in-waiting. They married into this same class, probably to one of their close cousins, uncles, or aunts.
Although the Dauphin Charles and the Dauphine Marguerite were now married, they were too young to live together as man and wife. Madame la Grande and her husband, Duke Pierre, who had been living at King Louis’s court, moved to Amboise, where they expanded their own court. Madame la Grande, in particular, wanted to expand their court to increase royal influence over the nobility. She invited the wives, sisters, and daughters of her and her husband’s high-born extended family to join her. Her mother still lived in one wing of the Château. The Dauphin and his household lived in another, with his gouverneur and companions. Dauphine Marguerite, too, was given her own luxurious household in a separate wing of the palace under the care and management of Madame de Segré and the dauphine’s life settled into a regular pattern.
In July the third of the women who will become important to France joined Madame la Grande’s court at Amboise. Her widowed uncle, her Savoie mother’s brother, got in touch with his niece. Pleading that he was unable to bring up his two motherless young children, he begged her to take them into her household. Madame la Grande knew her duty and accepted the charge.
Thus arrived 7-year-old Louise de Savoie. Although first cousin to Marguerite of Austria, now the Dauphine, Louise had a very different experience at her aunt’s court. Though she received an excellent education for the times, she soon learned that as a high-born, but poor, relation, Madame la Grande regarded her as little more than a pawn. As the years went by grey-eyed Louise, with her light brown hair, grew into lovely tall girl. Always quick-witted, she learned how to present herself with humility, hide her thoughts and feelings and use her charm to influence. Quiet and observant, she hid her passionate nature, and took advantage of every opportunity that came her way. She developed her literary, musical and dancing skills, and courtly accomplishments such as card playing, conversation and horse riding. And by watching Madame la Grande she grew up politically astute. She also grew to resent her poverty and became avaricious. And she grew to dislike the cold, and distant Madame la Grande.
Then, on August 30th, 1483, the event that everyone had been expecting occurred. King Louis XI died in his palace a few leagues down the Loire River. He left behind his underage son, Charles, as king. Since Charles was not yet 14 a regency would be required. King Louis also knew that his son wasn’t capable of ruling without strong guidance and support. A few months before his death, he’d made his son swear to retain his father’s advisors. And Louis expected the regency to extend well beyond the king’s 14th year.
Duke Pierre and Madame la Grande were among the first to be informed that King Louis had died. On his deathbed, in an unprecedented act, King Louis had named them as guardians for the Dauphin Charles, and Regents of France.
Tradition said that either the boy’s mother or the First Prince of the Blood were the ones who should be appointed to this honour. Louis XI had nothing but—quite undeserved— contempt for his wife, Queen Charlotte.
The First Prince of the Blood, the prince who was next in line to inherit the throne if the king died without an heir, was Duke Louis d’Orléans. King Louis XI had compelled Duke Louis to marry Louis XI’s disabled and sterile second daughter Princess Jeanne de France. Not surprisingly, Duke Louis loathed King Louis as a result. He also detested his unlucky wife, whom he treated despicably. Therefore, the late king would probably rather have named a cobra to the regency than this son-in-law, Louis.
King Louis XI had left Madame la Grande with a serious problem. In addition to taking the lands of many of his great nobles during his reign, he had also reduced the power of the feudal lords as a class. To limit his military reliance on them, he began to develop a standing army. He forbade them to call up their vassals for their private wars and revoked their right to mint their own coinage. He shrank their numbers in his royal councils and surrounded himself with advisors of humble origin whom he rewarded with wealth and power. And he sent spies into their homes, bribed their vassals to rebel and warred outright with others. He was still actively using these tactics to undermine Duke François in Brittany, the richest and largest independent duchy, when he died.
Duke Louis did not take calmly the insult of the appointment of his sister-in-law Madame la Grande, rather than himself, to the regency. Enraged, he arrived promptly at Amboise from Blois—leaving behind the despised Jeanne—confronted his sister- and brother-in-law and put forth his claim to the position.
Madame la Grande practised the delaying and distracting tactics she had learned so well from her father. First, nothing could be done until after King Louis’s funeral. Then the Parlement needed to rule on the king’s mother’s right to the regency. Next the king’s mother became seriously ill and died. Then Madame la Grande said it was necessary to call a meeting of the Estates General to decide the matter. The meeting went from January to March 1484. As she delayed, Madame la Grande played a clever game, distributing honours and positions to key nobles teetering in their loyalties. She also planned the young king’s coronation for after the meeting, Duke Louis, on the other hand, when not agitating among the nobles to rebel, spent time at Amboise with his young brother- and sister-in-law trying to persuade Charles to ask the Estates to name him Regent.
At the meeting of the Estates, the results of the vote were conclusive. The Beaujeu regency was confirmed. Two months later, on May 30, King Charles VIII was crowned at Reims. The disgruntled Duke Louis returned to Blois. There he contemplated his grievances and became more and more disaffected.
Duke Louis was convinced he was not the only disgruntled nobleman. Taking a few loyal retainers, he saddled up and set off for Brittany. Soon he arrived in Nantes, his uncle’s capital. Duke François of Brittany welcomed him eagerly. He was quite prepared to face the outrage of Madame la Grande and France, Brittany’s traditional enemy. There Duke Louis proposed that he would divorce his detested wife, Jeanne, now that her father was dead, and marry the Duke’s heir, 7-year-old Anne of Brittany. When Duke François approved, Duke Louis sent a request to the Pope asking that his marriage be dissolved on the grounds of his lack of consent. He also needed a dispensation to marry young Anne of Brittany for they were related within forbidden degrees. As soon as Madame la Grande discovered this plot she sent a counter demand to the Pope, insisting that he refuse the request for an annulment. This became just another log on the fire of resentment between Louis, and his in-laws, Madame la Grande and King Charles. And it strengthened the alliance between d’Orléans and Brittany.
And with this alliance we meet the last woman who will play a major role in the direction of French affairs over the next thirty years. Anne of Brittany, though only seven in 1484, will show her strength of character by 1488.
Between 1485 and 1491, Madame la Grande faced the greatest challenges of her regency: the struggle over Brittany’s existence as an independent duchy; and the power of the feudal nobility, both of which played out principally in Brittany. She proved she was as capable as her father in advancing the royal interests.
So, to summarize the situation in 1484, Duke Maximillian of Austria had been forced to release his only daughter, Marguerite, and two rich provinces to the French and he was resentful of these losses. Young Marguerite herself was living at the Chateau d’Amboise where she was being brought up as a Frenchwoman and as Queen of France. She saw young King Charles regularly and they were becoming fond of each other.
Young Louise de Savoie was also growing up in the Château d’Amboise, but as a poor relation. She was taking advantage of the library and lessons in languages, music, dance, horse riding and anything else that was offered while becoming steadily more envious of the luxuries she saw around her but could not afford.
Young King Charles was practising to become a ‘parfait gentle knight’ with the companions his father and older brother-in-law had provided for him. He was passionate about all things military. The only literature he liked were romantic tales of heroes doing great deeds of courage to save damsels of pristine purity whom they worshiped from afar.
His sister, as regent, invited him to Council meetings, but he showed little interest. And Madame la Grande ran his kingdom, preparing for the confrontation with Duke Louis d'Orleans and Duke François of Brittany that was coming.
The next chapter begins with Madame la Grande’s 1487 victory over Count Charles d’Angoulême. It takes the story through the pivotal moment of King Charles VIII’s descent into Italy in 1494 up to the great change in leadership in France in 1515. The crucial events of these years cause the rifts among our four women—and the consequences that arise from them.
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