Re-reading and Re-writing at the French Court in the Early Sixteenth Century: Anne de Graville

The relationships between text and image have long been at the heart of my research: my investigations into manuscripts owned by aristocratic women has been informed by my interdisciplinary background in literature as well as medieval studies and art history. This monograph project on Anne de Graville (c. 1490-1540) brings these three areas together, as it involves a reconstruction of Anne’s library. It identifies the manuscripts she owned and considers the types of texts she was reading as well as what their illuminations might tell us about Anne as a reader/owner of books. I also study the works she herself wrote to see how she engaged with, and contributed to, literary trends in France in the early sixteenth century.

Anne de Graville was the daughter of Louis de Graville, Admiral of France under three successive kings, and she became lady-in-waiting to Queen Claude of France (1499-1524), wife of the better known King Francis I. As an author as well as collector of books, Anne was closely engaged with some of the most important literary trends that were being patronised by the French court, and I am particularly interested in the role of women as patrons: Anne’s own works were written for Queen Claude. This project also involves looking at the on-going debates in the later middle ages about the role and status of women, commonly known as the querelle des femmes (the ‘woman question’).

Anne has previously been overlooked by researchers; her writings have often been dismissed as little more than ‘tales to charm sentimental ladies’. What emerges from my research, however, is that her writings were extremely subtle re-workings of well-known stories that sought to give voice – and advice – to women living in a patriarchal society that left them with very little room for manoeuvre. Reconstructing her library and viewing it as a coherent whole also challenges our perceived notion of an aristocratic woman’s library at the end of the middle ages.

This book project aims not only to bring Anne’s works and her manuscript collection to light, but also to situate them in a wider context of reading and writing in the courtly milieu of early sixteenth century France. More broadly, it aims to shift our understanding of the ways in which women contributed to literary and artistic culture at the start of the early modern period.

Dr Elizabeth L’Estrange