Isabel Stuart

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Entry by Elizabeth L'Estrange, 2006

Isabel Stuart was born in 1427, the second daughter of James I of Scotland and Lady Joan Beaufort. In 1442, at the Chateau d’Auray in France, she married François I, Duke of Brittany (1414-1450). Isabel bore two daughters. The eldest, Marguerite of Brittany (1442-1469), married her cousin François (1435-1488) in 1455, who eventually succeeded her father as François II of Brittany. The youngest daughter, Marie of Brittany (1444-1506), married Jean II, Viscount of Rohan. Isabel was content to remain in Brittany after François’ death in 1450 and refused attempts by her brother James II of Scotland to bring her back to Scotland. At an inquest in Rennes in 1453 she testified that she did not wish to leave the country where she had been so well-loved and received, and asked the King of France to release her dowry. Her will is preserved in the library at Nantes and is dated 13 October 1485 but she was still alive nine years later having signed a deed in October 1494.

Although Isabel is less well-known than other duchesses of Brittany like Peter II’s wife Françoise of Amboise or Anne of Brittany, she shared their piety and love of manuscripts and devotional texts. Her manuscripts also demonstrate that she used devotional portraiture to assert her position as a wife, a mother, and a dowager duchess of Brittany. The most famous manuscript linked to Isabel is the so-called Hours of Isabel Stuart (Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, MS 62) made by the Rohan workshop in about 1430. In fact this Book of Hours was probably made for François I’s first wife, Yolande of Anjou: Isabel had the coats of arms adjusted to those of Scotland and Brittany when it came into her possession. She then passed the manuscript to her daughter Marguerite, who added her own portrait. The two Books of Hours (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, fonds latin 1369 and nouvelle acquisition latine 588) commissioned after her husband’s death show Isabel’s continuing devotion to both her husband and to his patron saint, Saint Francis. In ms lat. 1369 she had included a posthumous portrait of François and is herself shown presented by St Francis. She wears the arms of Brittany and Scotland and the necklace of the Ordre de l’Epi which her husband had founded in 1448. The manuscript also includes an elegy on the death of her sister Marguerite of Scotland (1424-1445), who was married to the Dauphin Louis XI. It has been proposed that either Isabel herself wrote this, or that she had it composed. A later inscription in the manuscript indicates that this book was probably passed onto her daughter Marie. Isabel also commissioned a copy of the Somme le roi (BnF, ms f. fr. 958, dated 1464), written by the Dominican Lorens d’Orléans. An inscription at the end states that «Ysabeau […] fist faire ce livre» and the large frontispiece miniature shows Isabel, again presented by St Francis, and her two daughters worshipping a Pietà. Isabel wears a thrice-knotted cord around her waist which suggests that she was a member of Franciscan Tertiaries.

Although little is known about the roles Isabel played in the Breton court, her manuscripts testify not only to her interest in the Franciscans but also to a certain commissioning power during her widowhood. She warrants further attention not only as a patron of manuscripts but as an example of a woman involved in the inheritance and exchange of manuscripts along the female line.

Selected bibliography

- Bawcutt, Priscilla et Bridget Henisch, «Scots Abroad in the Fifteenth Century: The Princesses Margaret, Isabella and Eleanor», dans Women in Scotland, c.1100-1750, Elizabeth Ewan et Maureen M. Meikle éd., East Linton, Tuckwell, 1999, p.45-55.

- L’Estrange, Elizabeth, «Anna Peperit Mariam, Elizabeth Johannem, Maria Christum: Images of Childbirth in Late-Medieval Manuscripts», dans Manuscripts in Transition: Recycling Manuscripts, Texts and Images, Brigitte Dekeyzer et Jan Van der Stock éd., Leuven, Peeters, 2005, p.335-46.

- Toynbee, Margaret R., «The Portraiture of Isabella Stuart, Duchess of Brittany (c.1427-1494)», Burlington Magazine, 88, 1946, p.300-306.

Selected bibliography of images

- v.1430 : Maître de Rohan, Isabel Stuart présentée par Ste Catherine à la Vierge et enfant (miniature), remaniée v.1442. Les Heures d’Isabel Stuart, Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum (MS 62, f.20) -- Naughton, Joan, «A Minimally Intrusive Presence: Portraits in Illustrations for Prayers to the Virgin», dans Medieval Texts and Images: Studies of Manuscripts from the Middle Ages, Margaret Manion et Bernard J. Muir éd., Chur, Harwood, 1991, pl.3.

- après 1455: Anonyme, Isabel Stuart présentée par St François (miniature), dans Les Heures d’Isabel Stuart, Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, ms. lat. 1369, f.56 -- Toynbee, Margaret R., voirsupra, pl.A.

- après 1461: Anonyme, Isabel Stuart présentée avec une croix par St François (miniature), dans Les Heures d’Isabel Stuart, Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, ms. n.a.l. 588, f.33v -- Toynbee, Margaret,voir supra, pl.B.

-1464: Anonyme, Isabel Stuart et ses filles présentées à une Pietà par St Francis, St Pierre Martyr et Ste Marie Madeleine (miniature), dans Le Livre des Vices et Vertus ou Somme le roi, Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, ms. f. fr. 958, f.1 -- François Avril et Nicole Reynaud, Les Manuscrits à peinture en France 1440-1520, Paris, Flammarion, 1995, p.178.

- v.1455: Anonyme, Isabel Stuart avec François Ier de Bretagne, sa première femme Yolande d’Anjou, et leurs enfants (miniature), dans Missel des Carmelites de Nantes, New Jersey, Princeton University Library, Garrett Collection, MS 40, f.131b -- Plummer, John, The Last Flowering: French Painting in Manuscripts, 1420-1530: From American Collections, New York, Pierpont Morgan Library et Oxford University Press, 1982, pl.34a.


«Elle est assez belle, [a] le corps droit et bien formé… mais au reste elle n’a pas grand discours en ses propos et semble assez simple.» (Les ambassadeurs français en Écosse, 1441, dans Bertrand D’Argentré, Histoire de Bretagne, des rois, ducs, comtes, et princes d'icelle, depuis l'an 383 jusques au temps de madame Anne Reyne de France dernière Duchesse, Paris, Nicolas Buon, 1618 [3e édition], p.798)

- «Elle […] ne voudroit point laisser ce pays de Bretaigne où elle a eu ou [«au»] temps passé, et encore a tant de biens et honneurs; car oncques gens ne aimerent tant Dame comme ils l’ont aimée et aiment encore.» (Dom. P. H. Morice, Mémoires pour servir de preuves à l’Histoire Ecclésiastique et Civile de Bretagne, Paris, Osmont, 3 vol., II, 1968 [1742-1746], col.1744.

Isabel Stuart
Title(s) Duchesse de Bretagne
Spouses François Ier, duc de Bretagne
Birth date 1427
Death After 1494
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