There are characters in the history of France, on whom fate persists and recognition is only very late. This is the fate of Joan of France (1464-1505), daughter of a king but misshapen girl, rejected woman, disowned Queen of France, nicknamed the Lame, who has shown exemplary dedication, courage and self-sacrifice throughout her life. Beatified and then recently canonized, she becomes Saint Joan of France ...
An almost happy childhood
Daughter of Louis XI and Charlotte of Savoy, Joan was born on April 23, 1464. Not being particularly a beautiful baby and not expected because the king wanted a dolphin, she will never be loved too much by her father. She was raised in Amboise, with her mother, with her sister the future Anne de Beaujeu, for five years. Before the arrival of little Charles in 1470, the future Charles VIII, his father sent him to the depths of Berry, his deformities becoming a little more visible. She looks especially like her father by the imposing nose, but this child is not yet as ugly as it is said, despite the diagnoses made later which will declare: scoliosis, rickets, deformation of the spine, uneven development of the limbs. lower.
Little Jeanne is therefore in Berry, in Linières, raised by François de Beaujeu and Anne de Culan who loved her very much. She received an education due to her rank, including learning embroidery, painting, lute, as well as the religion for which she felt her faith grow. Appreciating the peace and nature, she felt good in this place; his entourage being used to his deformities, everything was going well ... until the death of Anne de Culan, François de Beaujeu's next wife not returning her affection ...
While little Jeanne grows up, Louis XI continues his marriage negotiations. The king had a policy of alliance different from that of other sovereigns: he wanted to marry his children, but choosing French spouses for whom he was willing to give dowries and not provinces! Indeed, he refused to look for "foreigners" where the provinces would go elsewhere, while with "French" they would stay in the kingdom. Louis XI has therefore planned for a long time to marry Jeanne to Louis of Orleans, the future Louis XII. She was engaged at the age of twenty-six days, although she was only a baby, not yet malformed ... But the older she got, the more noticeable her deformity! And the rumor runs ...
A disastrous marriage
Marie de Clèves, Louis of Orleans’s mother plagues her because she does not want a lame girl as a beautiful daughter. Louis XI insists on this marriage even thinking that there will be no children, therefore no succession to the Orleans branch. When Marie de Clèves and Louis XI met in October 1473 to finalize the marriage and obtain the consent of the children, only Louis of Orleans, eleven years old, had to answer "yes", little Jeanne not being present.
When Marie de Clèves and her son come to visit the future bride, whom no one had yet seen, what was their surprise to discover a lame and ill-formed girl! The future mother-in-law almost passed out! The bride-to-be turns around when he sees her and refuses to marry her! Louis XI, who visited his daughter in 1476, treated the Sieur de Linières as a "bad feal" for not having informed him earlier of his daughter's deformities!
Despite everything, in September 1476 in Montrichard, fourteen-year-old Louis d'Orléans married twelve-year-old Jeanne, both constrained and forced. The Bishop of Orleans, Charlotte, Jeanne's mother, were present, but no king ... a quick ceremony, a dinner, then a sumptuous supper where the two children had their throats tied! The next day, they officially enter Blois, then Jeanne leaves for Linières, all alone!
No one denied seeing her "askance" and pitying the young husband. Yet Jeanne will never say a word, will not revolt, will not complain, will never be angry. His strength lies in his patience, his courage, his kindness and his devotion. As a daughter of God, she has faith because her marriage is a sacrament. Wife of a future king, she submits, obeys, remaining humble and dignified. For twenty years, she will accept everything, will devote herself to her angry and capricious husband, who recounted his exploits in front of her with other ladies and who spent his time hunting instead of doing his duty. In April 1483, when her husband was ill with smallpox, she rushed to his bedside to treat him.
On the death of Louis XI, Louis of Orleans felt free and began a marriage annulment to marry Anne de Bretagne, aged seven. But Anne de Beaujeu, ruling the kingdom while awaiting the majority of her brother Charles, watches and does not give way: she manages to inflict three years of captivity on him where he will suffer from hunger and cold. Jeanne comes to support him, intercedes to alleviate the pain, writes to her sister to make her bend, throws herself at her brother's feet, who finally gives in but warns her not to complain later! Charles frees the prisoner at the end of June 1491 and six months after his release, Louis sees King Charles VIII marry Anne of Brittany!
An obstinate woman in a horrible trial
Curiously, Louis of Orleans is less violent, he has calmed down in prison and agrees to keep Jeanne with him. Indeed, during his captivity, he noticed that his wife made efforts to keep "his house", he is grateful to her, to such an extent that when he leaves for Italy, he entrusts her goods to her ... and calls her "my dear" in their correspondence. But on her return to France, they are distant again although Jeanne is a little more free, she can go from castle to castle and is no longer "imprisoned" in Linières. They are together in Blois, Amboise, at Mesnils, at Montils ... it is there that they learn of the accidental death of Charles VIII in 1498 !!! Louis of Orleans becomes King Louis XII ...
Jeanne, less stupid than one thinks, feels that her marriage will collapse and that she will never really be Queen of France, Louis continuing to call her Madame Jeanne of France, keeping her away from everything and forbidding him to attend the coronation on May 27, 1498 ... from that moment, he began the procedure for annulment of his marriage with Jeanne to marry Anne of Brittany.
This procedure is based on the Treaty of Langeais, stipulating that Charles VIII's successor had to marry his widow! Louis' hopes are reborn, and on the strength of this treaty, he sends his letters requesting cancellation to Jeanne, claiming that she was unable to give birth to a male child and that having been forced to give her consent for it. marriage, it is better to take another bride in order to ensure the dynasty !! Very shrewd, she answers him that her marriage is legitimate and irrevocable ... On the side of Rome, things do not look better: Pope Alexandre Borgia sends the file to a French court, mentioning the grounds for annulment admitted by law canon, it is up to them to manage…. As for Anne of Brittany, she procrastinates, wants to recover her duchy and Louis must sign a promise of marriage, valid for one year, otherwise Nantes and Fougères would be returned to Anne.
As nothing worked as he wanted, Louis XII instituted a trial which began on August 10 where everyone took sides with him, but that was without taking into account Jeanne's stubbornness. No one has planned to question the king, all the judges attack poor Jeanne, accused ex officio, questioned, but horribly alone, without lawyers to defend her (because they are running away); the latter, threatened with sanction, finally agree to defend it.
The king's lawyers present two nullity clauses: non-consent and non-consumption. For the non-consent, the spouses were married for twenty two years, during which the king would have had time to get rid of his wife… there remains therefore non-consumption. A report is presented proving Jeanne's deformity, "imperfect, flawed, badly bodied, unfit for business with men" ... and on September 13, Jeanne is summoned. During her interrogation, she replies "that no bodily defect prevented her from having a carnal union and that her marriage had been consummated, even knowing that she was not as beautiful as most women, that did not prevent her. not to be suitable for marriage and motherhood ”.
From then on a multitude of witnesses appear and overwhelm him, those who had resentment against his father take the opportunity to spread their grievances, not being shy to transform the truth by describing the violence done to Louis d'Orléans who did not dare say nothing or do anything! It is unworthy of a king, he passes for a weakling, even a coward ... and opinion turns in favor of Joan, the people start to pity her. Jeanne's lawyer is preparing a counterattack on "non-consumption". Even if she is called "frigid" - which is wrong because the term is reserved for men and not women - the lawyer can prove that Louis was fulfilling his marital duty, by listing all the moments of their life together.
In the meantime, Jeanne asked the judges to be able to rely on the "decisive oath": that is to say that Jeanne asks a "group of wise men" to analyze her file, and if possible not to undergo physical examination of his deficiencies, but to rely on the king's reason! Jeanne is afraid that this exam will be carried out by people of little trust, she may come out even worse. If she accepts and is declared a virgin, she will be accused of lying; otherwise, she keeps her status as future queen and wife ... but she's not sure she wants to continue to be the poor queen to whom no one talks or listens.
Louis is faced with a real dilemma: to be called weak or to admit he was visiting his wife! At the end of October 1498, he admitted that there had indeed been consummation of the marriage. Then it was the twist: a letter was found and produced, signed by Louis XI stipulating that "Louis of Orleans could not refuse marriage, otherwise he risked death and that Jeanne was deemed sterile, unfit for marriage". He then takes an oath on the Gospel that he "never slept with her naked to naked"!
In mid-December, the verdict is announced: “there had never been a marriage between Louis d'Orléans and Jeanne de France”, Jeanne is prostrate, she is no longer Queen of France…. is not easy, but she is now free to follow her path in religion… the next day, César Borgia, arrived carrying the dispensation bubbles for the marriage of Louis XII with Anne of Brittany!
Saint Joan of France
Jeanne's popularity is at its highest. The people love her much more than the Breton and the Church adds "a king can only repudiate a woman because of adultery".
Much has been said during and after this trial. One fact is certain: Jeanne de France has calmly decided to be present at this trial, not to remain Queen of France - she feels that she is not the Queen she needs -, but at least to obtain something compensation in order to continue to live fairly decently. At her age (thirty-six), she also knew that she could no longer make an heir to the kingdom. Yet she has a sense of duty, marriage being sacred to her, she did not want to lie ... after all, it was Louis who filed for the divorce!
She emerges victorious from this lawsuit, he wanted the divorce, she offered it to him. She is at peace with her conscience. Honest, she is until the end, until the king is free. Shocked by the verdict, she prefers to withdraw. Louis XII had a burst of honesty, he made him establish letters patent, granting him the Duchy of Berry and income in accordance with his rank.
In February 1499, she moved to Bourges, took possession of her duchy, helped the people during the plague epidemic, was concerned about the reigning misery, education and justice for her people who nicknamed her " the good Duchess ”. It was also during this period that she founded the Congregation of the Annunciation and the Incarnation, a religious order consecrated to Mary. She had a monastery built next to her palace and pronounced her vows in 1503. But worn out, tired, she died at the age of forty-one on February 4, 1505.
Louis XII gave him a grandiose funeral. Recognition did not come until a few centuries later when she was beatified in 1742 and canonized in May 1950, under the name of Saint Joan of France.
- Jeanne de France, by Henri Pigaillem. Pygmalion, 2009.
- "The Queens of France in the time of the Valois", by Simone Bertière. Fallois, 1994.