Anne of Brittany, sole heiress to the Duchy of Brittany and therefore much desired by the French crown, was forced to marry King Louis XII of France on 8 January 1499. It was a personal tragedy for Anne, and a source of grief for her duchy.
Anne thought she could escape marrying a French king she disliked this time around. She had been kidnapped and forced to marry King Charles VIII of France in 1491, in spite of the fact she had already been voluntarily wed by proxy to Emperor Maximilian I of Austria. Her unwilling marriage was consummated, and the teen queen kept almost constantly pregnant. She gave birth to six infants in the next seven years, only one of whom lived, and even that son died when he was only 3 years old.
When Charles died in on 4 April 1498, the 21 year old widow left Paris and returned to Brittany to rule as a duchess, to the rejoicing of her people. She thought that she was safe from becoming queen ever again. The new King of France, Louis XII, was already married to her sister-in-law, Joan of France so he couldn’t make Anne marry him … right?
With money, all things were possible, and after a hefty gift to the Holy See, Pope Alexander VI nullified the King Louis XII’s marriage to Joan of France less than six months after the death of King Charles. Although bitterly unwilling, Anne was again bullied into marrying the King of France. Once more the young woman would suffer the consummation of her union and almost non-stop pregnancy.
Of the nine pregnancies recorded during her marriage to Louis, only two – her daughters Claude of France and Renée of France – survived. Anne loved her daughters very much, and tried desperately to keep them safe from the French royal marriages that had oppressed her and her duchy. Sadly, her daughter Claude was wed to the future King Francis I of France and in the end Anne was unable to keep the Duchy of Brittany from becoming a part of the French holdings.
Queen Anne, the last independent Duchess of Brittany, died on 9 January 1514, shortly before her 37th birthday, physically depleted from her sixteen known pregnancies. She was laid to rest in the necropolis of Saint Denis, and she was mourned so greatly by court and country that her state funeral lasted 40 days.
The fate of Sansa Stark, a heroine in the popular television series Game of Thrones, reminded me strongly of Anne of Brittany. Like Anne, Sansa was wed to men against her will because she was considered the sole heir of her father’s lands. Her first husband, the gallant pervert Tyrion Lannister, spared her the terror of nuptial rape.
However, Sansa was more realistically subjected to sexual assault in her second marriage, to Ramsay Bolton. The show was criticized for the graphic – and some argued unnecessary — depiction of the attack on Sansa by her husband. But would the rape have been ‘better’ if he had been ‘gentle’?
It is unlikely that either of Queen Anne’s husbands tried to hurt her when they ‘took their rights’ as her lawfully wedded lord, but what about the bruises in her heart and soul? How did a young girl cope with the knowledge she had no choice but to allow herself to be violated by men she had strived to avoid marrying? That her duchy, as well as herself, was being plundered? Adding salt to her wounds, she had to be complicit and compliant in her own rape, as demanded by the patriarchal systems that held her.
People seldom stop to think what arranged or forced marriages really meant to the women and girls who endured them. Perhaps Sansa’s suffering in Game of Thrones will inspire more people to contemplate the ugly reality of the dry lines regarding political unions in history texts.