The French Court, Power Relations and Female Agency

The French Court, Power Relations and Female Agency

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Published by Amsterdam University Press in 2018, Women and Power at the French Court, 1483-1563, edited by Susan Broomhall, has become available in Open Access at the Open Research Library, as part of the history-focused titles from the KU Select 2019: HSS Frontlist Books collection.

A Blog Post by Pablo Markin.

Broomhall, Susan, ed. Women and Power at the French Court, 1483-1563. Amsterdam University Press, 2018. Accessed September 18, 2020.


Women and Power at the French Court, 1483—1563 explores the ways in which a range of women, as consorts, regents, mistresses, factional power players, attendants at court, or as objects of courtly patronage, as Susan Broomhall highlights in her introduction to this edited volume,  wielded power, in order to advance individual, familial, and factional agendas at the early sixteenth-century French court. Spring-boarding from the burgeoning scholarship on gender, the political, and power in early modern Europe, this multifaceted collection provides a perspective on the French court, from the reign of Charles VIII to that of Henri II, a time when the French court was a renowned center of culture, and during which women played important roles. Cross-disciplinary in its perspectives, the essays by history, art and literature scholars, which this volume comprises, investigate the dynamic operations of gendered power in political acts, the recognized status of queens and regents and the ritualized behaviors such of gift-giving, in its first part. Additionally, this volume explores educational coteries, the agency effects of social networking, and historical patterns of literary and artistic patronage in its second part. The third part of this book is dedicated to female authorship and epistolary strategies, whereas its fourth part concentrates on power and emotional relations in which royal consorts and mistresses were embroiled.


In her introduction to this collected volume, Susan Broomhall reminds her readers that

“a range of women under the rule of a male sovereign interacted with power, principally from within the French court, in order to advance individual, familial, and factional agendas. They did so from a range of positions that extend from holding official courtly status as consorts and regents, to influential and persuasive roles such as mistresses, factional power players and authors. Recent scholarship has demonstrated the important political work conducted by women as ladies-in-waiting, members of household staff with significant responsibilities, as mediators and go-betweens, spies, communication nodes and networkers, and in circles of female involvement in factions around a monarch, in addition to both queen consorts and regnants. Likewise, at the French court, some women studied here worked from within the courtly household, as attendants residing at court, such as lady-in-waiting and insightful writer Anne de Graville (c. 1490–c. 1543). However, women’s activities, just as those of men, also extended beyond the courtly domain, as they advanced family and dynastic ambitions, publicized ideas and opinions in letters, scribal texts, and print publications, and conducted diplomatic work in a number of ways. Scholars have shown how women utilized forms of power operating through letters, artwork, clothing, embroidery, or through their participation in gift-giving, fostering, patronage, diplomatic roles, and via social and communication networks. This was also the case in relation to the French court. Moreover, the court was both highly visible, and to some extent and in some modes permeable, to those who did not physically make contact with the king or reside in proximity to him. The published author Hélisenne de Crenne (c. 1510–c. 1560) interacted from beyond the court with high-status individuals at its heart by offering her work as a gift to the sovereign. As a whole, these women’s means to assert their authority were varied, but included involvement in high politics and religious movements, financial transactions, ritual and ceremonies, epistolary exchanges, creative composition and translations, emotional self-management, development of networks of sociability, and sartorial, artistic, and architectural engagements as forms of power. Some of those considered here were perceived by contemporaries and historians to have successfully advanced the agendas that they chose to pursue. Recognition of their achievements has sometimes been voiced, however, as fears, concerns, and criticism. Other women discussed here have received little attention as political protagonists of the early sixteenth century. In this collection, we review the opportunities and actions of diverse women interacting with the court in different circumstances and consider their possibilities for asserting and wielding power” (Broomhall, 2018, pp. 12-13).

Edited by Pablo Markin


Broomhall, Susan, ed. Women and Power at the French Court, 1483-1563. Amsterdam University Press, 2018. Accessed September 18, 2020.

Featured Image Credits

Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris, France, March 27, 2018 | © Courtesy of Joan/Flickr.

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