Anne Pisseleu d'Heilly

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Anne Pisseleu d'Heilly
Annepisseleu amrennes.PNG
Title(s) Duchess of Etampes
Spouses Jean IV de Brosse, Count of Etampes
Also known as Mademoiselle d'Heilly
Birth date 1508
Death 1580
Biographical entries in old dictionaries

Entry by Kathleen Wilson-Chevalier, 2002

The Duchess of Étampes (Fontaine-Lavaganne or Beaucamps, 1508-Heilly, 1580), the last and the most significant mistress of King Francis Ist, was born in the politically unstable province of Picardy at a time when its allegiance was shifting from Burgundy to France. The daughter of Anne Sanguin and Guillaume of Pisseleu (through his mother a descendent of King Louis VI, and the father of sixteen surviving children), she was raised in the castle of Heilly, where she received a superior education from her father's third wife, Madeleine of Laval. Her family belonged to the Picard military superstructure that entered the service of Francis Ist. In 1522, she became maiden-of-honor of Louise of Savoy; in 1523, some of her brothers helped set in place the king's legion in Picardy; in 1524, her father was appointed officer at the royal court. After the king's return from captivity in 1526, she replaced his favorite Françoise of Chateaubriand. From the moment he rose to the throne, Francis never governed without the support of women from his entourage. After his mother's death in 1531, he relied more and more heavily on his sister, Margaret of Navarre, and then on Anne of Pisseleu, named governess of his daughters. As early as 1532 he purchased the estate of Challuau for Anne. He married her to the dispossessed Jean of Brosse, and in 1534 he gave the couple the county of Étampes (raised to a duchy in 1537). Known to have protected the same men (Clément Marot, Rabelais, Calvin, Dolet), Anne and Margaret formed an alliance with the king's third son Charles, duke of Orléans, and sought to promote the party of tolerance. In 1540, Charles de Sainte-Marthe dedicated his Poésie françoise to the duchess. The prominent role of women at court triggered no doubt the "Querelle des Amyes". As a sign of his royal authority after the disgrace of Anne of Montmorency in 1541, the king moved his mistress into the constable's former lodging at Fontainebleau, and she helped him dominate the factions destabilizing the court of the aging king. Under their aegis ­ the king and his "perfect friend" are together designated as "the sun" in Margaret of Navarre's La Coche, 1542 ­ the arts reached their apogee at Fontainebleau. Primaticcio paid homage to Anne in the decorations of her Chamber (then connected to an "Étampes wing") and of the king's Baths. Following the Peace of Crépy (1544), Anne accompanied Queen Leonora to Brussels, where they were received by Leonora's brother and sister, Charles V and Mary of Hungary. Cardinal d'Este organized a banquet in her honor in 1546. In the age of commendatory abbots, her success was fully intertwined with that of her clan. Three of her brothers possessed between eight and ten bishoprics, and two of her sisters six abbeys; her maternal uncle Antoine Sanguin served as Royal Almoner.

At the death of the king in 1547, Anne was confined to Brittany under the hostile surveillance of her husband. Documents locate her in Paris in 1558/9. Like many of her Picard compatriots (Lefèvre d'Étaples, Calvin), and like her sister Péronne (a pillar of the Reformed Church), Anne was attracted by the Reformation; in 1576 she received Protestants leaders in her castle at Challuau. She remained childless, despite her relationship with Francis Ist and her (disastrous) marriage: her husband (Ý1565) took her to court several times. When she dictated her will in 1580, she was living with Marie of Barbançon, one of Péronne's daughters.

History has tended to vilify royal mistresses, and Anne is no exception. She was brought down in the palace revolution that followed the death of Francis Ist (some of her estates were transferred to the allies of Henri II ­ Diane of Poitiers, the duke of Guise); she was maligned by the misogynous Benvenuto Cellini, bitter military captains (Saulx-Tavannes, Monluc), and supporters of the constable of Bourbon (like François Beaucaire). In the XVIIth century her image took a turn for the worse: she became an unrelenting power-monger driven by a fierce hatred for Diane of Poitiers, cheating on the king with lovers who included her uncle Longueval, and selling the realm to Charles V for a diamond ring (Varillas). Paulin Paris deconstructed the legend in 1885, but to little avail. For Desgardins, the author of the only monograph to date, Anne was above all "implacable", "greedy and quarrelsome". A hundred years later her story still begs rewriting.

Select bibliography

- Desgardins, E. Les favorites des rois. Anne de Pisseleu, duchesse d'Etampes et François Ier, Paris, H. Champion, 1904. - Paris, Paulin. Études sur François Premier Roi de France sur sa vie privée et son règne, Paris, L. Techener, t. II, 1885. - Vickers, N. J. "Courting the Female Subject", in K. Jacobsen (dir.), The French Renaissance in Prints from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Los Angeles, 1994, p.94-107. - Wilson-Chevalier, Kathleen. "Femmes, cour, pouvoir: la chambre de la duchesse d'Étampes à Fontainebleau", in K. Wilson-Chevalier et E. Viennot (dir.), Royaume de fémynie. Pouvoirs, contraintes, espaces de liberté des femmes, de la Renaissance à la Fronde, Paris, Honoré Champion, 1999, p.203-36. - Winn, Colette. "Aux origines du discours féminin sur l'amitié Marguerite de Navarre, La Coche (1541)", in Women in French Studies, 6, 1999, p.9-24.

Select iconography

- Corneille de Lyon. Anne de Pisseleu (tableau sur bois), 1536?. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (Inv. 29.100.197). - Atelier de Jean Clouet. Anne de Pisseleu (crayon), vers 1540?. Chantilly, Musée Condé (De Broglie 219). - Primaticcio, Francesco . Chambre de la duchesse d'Étampes (décor en fresque et en stuc), 1541-1544. Château de Fontainebleau. - "Maître de François de Rohan". Marguerite de Navarre et la duchesse d'Étampes (enluminure), Paris, 1542. In Marguerite de Navarre, La Coche, Chantilly, Musée Condé (Ms. 522, fo.43v.).


- «La plus belle des savantes et la plus savante des belles» (Charles de Sainte-Marthe, cité par E. Desgardins, Les favorites des rois, voir supra, p.24). - «La demoiselle fait tout ce qu'il lui plaist, et tout est gouverné par elle; raison, en vérité, pour que les choses soient bien menées» (Marie de Hongrie, cité par Desgardins, Les favorites des rois, voir supra, p.62).
- De ses bienfaictz chacun luy rend louenge,
Ilz sont congneuz de tous les gens de bien;
Pour ses amys elle n'espargne rien,
Et des meschans ennemys ne se venge
(Marguerite de Navarre, La Coche [1542], éd. R. Marichal, Genève, Droz, 1971, p.203).
- «Aucune femme ne semble avoir essayé de combattre son crédit sur le coeur du Roi. Mais on ne lui voit pas exercer d'influence sérieuse sur le mouvement des affaires publiques...» (Paulin Paris, Études sur François 1er roi de France sur sa vie privée et son règne, Paris, L. Techener, t. II, 1885, p.204). - «Non contente de servir d'amusement à un roi blasé, alourdi, usé, curieux, elle voulut encore gouverner la France avec sa partialité manifeste, et elle ne fit que contribuer à sa désorganisation» (Desgardins, Les favorites des rois, voir supra, p.81). - "No one stood to lose as much from Francis's death as Madame d'Etampes, [for she] had created [...] many enemies by her arrogance and [interested patronage]." (R.J. Knecht, Francis I, Cambridge University Press, 1981, p.423). - «On l'a accusée de mille défauts et créditée d'une influence considérable [...]. La maîtresse ne siège pas au Conseil. Si elle a défendu le parti de la paix, elle était en bonne compagnie, avec la reine, et d'autres. Qu'elle ait détesté Montmorency, la chose est certaine, mais la disgrâce définitive de celui-ci en 1541 provient davantage de son étroite amitié avec le Dauphin, dont le roi prend ombrage, que des supplications de la blonde duchesse auprès de son amant. Qu'elle ait tiré quelque bénéfice de sa situation, c'est vrai, mais assez modestement» (Jean Jacquart, François Ier, Paris, Fayard, 1981).

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