Since I love writing on a plethora of different topics; sometimes for my own perusal, sometimes to help other people with their writing, sometimes just reading and hearing about authors, I thought I would look for a female writer in my favorite historical era- Medieval History. After searching and ‘googling’ I discovered the first known female writer in France, Christine de Pizan (1364 – c. 1430), a poet and author at the court of King Charles VI of France. In fact, she was a feminist writer! Why have I never heard of her before? Oh, yeah, because men have dominated the writing and teaching of history in their favor.

I consider her book The Book of the City of Ladies to be a piece of feminist literature and her moralistic writings and thoughts on politics in medieval France are wonderful to discover. Perhaps not exactly promoting women to be the CEO of the local mill, but still not what was expected in that era of history. She worked for royalty and significant citizens, sometimes even books of advice to them.

Christine de Pizan was born 1364 in Venice, Italy. Her father worked as a physician in Venice Italy, also court astrologer and Councilor of the Republic of Venice before he moved his family to Paris for an appointment to the court of Charles V of France as the king's astrologer. Christine married a notary and royal secretary, Estienne du Castel, had 3 children with him before he died of the plague in 1389, leaving her to support her mother and her children. Initially she worked as a copyist in various shops in Paris gradually composing her own poetry and ballads which were well received by the king’s court. Christine became a prolific writer. She was personally involved in producing her books and used her skills in patronage to promote her work making her one of the first professional woman of letters in Europe. Despite her Italian heritage Christine was an avid nationalist for France attaching herself to the French royal family by donating or dedicating her early ballads to its members, including Isabeau of Bavaria, Louis I, Duke of Orléans, and Marie of Berry. She wrote of Queen Isabeau, "High, excellent crowned Queen of France, very redoubtable princess, powerful lady, born at a lucky hour".


In 1402, while reading "Querelle du Roman de la Rose" (Romance of the Rose) by Jean de Meun, Christine became angry and it was this that prompted her to write her own novel, The Book of the City of Women. Romance of the Rose satirizes the conventions of courtly love while critically depicting women as nothing more than flirts and whores. During the midst of the Hundred Years' War between French and English kings, she published the dream allegory Le Chemin de Long Estude (The book of the path of long study) a narrative where she and Cumaean Sibyl  travel together and witness a debate on the state of the world between the four allegories – Wealth, Nobility, Chivalry and Wisdom, suggesting that justice could be brought to earth by a single monarch who had the necessary qualities.

In 1404 Christine chronicled the life of Charles V, portraying him as the ideal king and political leader, in Le Livre des Fais et Bonnes Meurs du Sage Roy Charles V (“Book of the Deeds and Good Morals of the Wise King Charles V”), a chronicle commissioned by Philip the Bold. However before she completed the book, Philip the Bold died, and Christine offered the book to Jean of Berry in 1405. Thus finding herself a new royal patron, she was paid 100 livre for the book by Philip's successor John the Fearless in 1406 and continued to receive payments from his court for books until 1412.

Finally in 1405 Christine published Le Livre de la Cité des Dames (The Book of the City of Ladies) about a city where famous women throughout history are shown as the builders of an imaginary city where they argue against the common misconceptions and slanders against women, presenting intellectual and royal female leaders, such as Queen Zenobia. Using three allegorical figures, a common style of literature in her time – Reason, Justice, and Rectitude – she has a dialogue from a completely female perspective. The discussion speaks on issues of consequence to all women.



Christine also wrote a political treatise discussing the customs and governments of medieval European societies. She favored hereditary monarchies, (remember, she was still a product her time and history) arguing that Italian city-states governed by princes or trades was not "such governance is not profitable at all for the common good". Writing several chapters on the duties of a king as military leader and describing in detail the role of the military class in society.

After civil war had broken out in France, Christine, in 1413, offered guidance to the young dauphin on how to govern well, publishing Livre de la Paix (The Book of Peace). It was her last major work and contained detailed formulations of her thoughts on good governance. She argued that "Every kingdom divided in itself will be made desolate, and every city and house divided against itself will not stand". Sound familiar? Matthew 12:22-28 and Lincoln's House Divided Speech.

In 1418 Christine wrote a piece for women who had lost family members in the Battle of Agincourt, Epistre de la Prison de vie Humaine (Letter Concerning the Prison of Human Life). She did not express any optimism or hope that peace could be found on earth. Christine believed that the soul was trapped in the body and imprisoned in hell. After Joan of Arc's military victory over the English, Christine seemed to regain her optimism and wrote the poem Ditié de Jehanne d'Arc (The Tale of Joan of Arc). She is believed to have died in 1430, before Joan was tried and executed by the English, saving her from the sadness that would have been.


Christine produced a vast number of works, 41 known pieces, in both prose and verse. Her works include political treatises, for princes, epistles, and poetry. She also included other women to collaborate in her work. She mentions a manuscript illustrator we know only as Anastasia, describing her as the most talented of her day.



She has a place at Judy Chicago’s 1979 artwork The Dinner Party. In the 1980s Sandra Hindman published a study of the political events referenced in the illuminations of Christine's published works. 



Women have been an integral part of human life but who was listening, who was documenting and publishing? It’s time for us to learn equal history for our daughters and sons.

Deborah Baron

Deborah Baron

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