Mastodon The Writing Desk: Anne of Brittany? Raised to rule, she knew how to lead: Guest Post by Rozsa Gaston, Author of Sense of Touch

25 January 2019

Anne of Brittany? Raised to rule, she knew how to lead: Guest Post by Rozsa Gaston, Author of Sense of Touch

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

“A romance and an interesting novel about a little-known French queen. It is a story with a strong sense of place and well-drawn characters, a story of heartache and forbidden love, of women in the 15th century French court, who fought with passion and determination for what they wanted. A striking story.” —Historical Novel Society

A 2017 RONE Book Award finalist for medieval historical romance

A 2018 TopShelf Indie Book Awards finalist for women's issues

About six years ago I picked up Mildred Allen Butler’s 1967 book on Anne of Brittany, mainly because I was struck by the image of Anne as a young girl on the cover. I liked how sure of herself she looked.

Her story was beyond belief. She came to power in 1488 at age eleven as ruler of Brittany then became queen of France at age fourteen. This, despite losing every one of her immediate family members by age twelve.

Where did this young woman, barely past childhood, get the strength to go on? How did she get all those older male advisors to back off so she could rule? I had to learn more. When I discovered there is almost nothing out there written about her, I knew I had to write Anne of Brittany’s story myself.

Anne of Brittany by French author Anca Visdei, 2013
The young duchess of Brittany holds an ermine, symbol of the dukes of Brittany. Small and fierce, the ermine stands up to much larger predators, much as Anne stood up to France’s 
encroachment upon Brittany.

The French distrusted Anne of Brittany because she was a foreign queen. As a result, they left her largely out of their history books and what they put in was mostly negative; they found her indomitable, intransigent and rigid. My own reading of her character traits are that she was not to be crossed, determined, and devout—qualities which made her a strong ruler and a trusted companion to both her husbands.

In a time of great cultural and social turmoil, as the feudal age receded and Italy’s Renaissance drifted across the Alps to France, Anne provided an anchor of stability to both her husbands and subjects, at the same time offering generous patronage to new Renaissance artists and artisans.

Ultimately the French felt she prioritized Breton interests over French ones. Indeed, she did. As successor to Brittany’s ducal throne, it was Anne’s ancestral mandate to maintain Brittany’s independence from France. She was true to this mandate until the day she died. Her motto? “Non mudera—I will not change.” 

Brittany did not become part of France until eighteen years after her death in 1514. I’m sure Anne of Brittany rolled over in her grave on Aug. 13, 1532, the day Brittany was absorbed into the kingdom of France. 

Statue of Anne of  Brittany at entrance to the 

Chateau of the Dukes of Brittany
Nantes, France, courtesy of Nantes Art Blog, Wikimedia Commons

The people of Brittany revere the memory of Anne of Brittany to this day, especially in the more traditional areas known as Lower Brittany or Basse-Bretagne (Brittany’s western regions).

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Colored areas are where the Breton dialect was mostly used before 1914. Grey area is where French was largely spoken before 1914. 
Courtesy of Wikipedia

I wish to bring Anne of Brittany’s story to readers of today because she makes a tremendous role model for women. She was crippled. One hipbone was placed higher than the other, causing her to tiptoe on one foot. She had specially-made shoes built for her with a platform heel on one to help her walk without a limp. From the age of four she was trained to conceal her limp, which she did magnificently, perfecting a glide that noblewomen of her court emulated.

She lost 14 out of 16 of her children. The only woman in history to be twice crowned queen of France, she was beloved by both of her husbands: Charles VIII, King of France, and Louis XII, King of France. This, despite the fact that she never produced a male heir and she insisted on having her own way most of the time.

Anne of Brittany overcame huge, almost non-stop disappointments and heartache throughout her life to become the head of one of Europe’s most powerful royal courts. She was an able administrator of her duchy and a fierce proponent of educating young noblewomen she invited to her court. Despite being distrusted by the French, they highly admired her. The more I discover about her the more I admire her too.

Close up of Anne of Brittany as Prudence at her parents’ tomb
By Michel Colomb, Cathedral of Peter and Paul, Nantes
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


As Anne of Brittany passed, Nicole craned her neck to see her grieving sovereign. She had barely seen her since the day of the king's accident. Petite and erect, Anne slowly walked the length of the courtyard from her chambers to the chapel, where the memorial service would be held. Behind her, the tall form of Louis d'Orléans matched her pace, his eyes riveted on Anne ahead. From what she could see, the future king of France, with his longish aristocratic nose and soulful blue-gray eyes, wasn't bad-looking.
    “Where is the wife of the duke of Orléans?” Nicole asked her father beside her.
    “That hunchback? They live apart. I'm sure Louis wants her out of the way,” Michel St. Sylvain said, looking over Nicole's head at his brother on her other side.
     “Especially now,” her uncle agreed.
     “Why especially now?” Nicole asked, curious.
     “Worry about your own future, not the queen's, ma petite,” her uncle dismissed her.
     “Not the queen anymore, is right. But not for long, if she plays her cards right,” Michel St. Sylvain joked.
      “Papa, she is mourning, not thinking of playing cards! How can you say that?” Nicole cried, indignant. 
      “Daughter, do you think Anne of Brittany is so beside herself that she hasn't considered her own future?” He shook his head, looking at her affectionately. “Think again, dear one. The woman who brought you to court is no ninny. She will not relinquish the crown of France easily.”
      “Not if there is a way to keep it on her head," Benoit St. Sylvain commented, eyeing Louis XII behind Anne, his eyes glued to the tiny female figure he followed. “Who is that man behind Louis?” He pointed toward the procession.
      Michel St. Sylvain strained his neck to see who his brother spoke of. “You mean behind the new king,” he corrected him.
      “Yes, the one wearing the crest of Orléans.”
      “That's Gerard d' Orléans,” Nicole's father replied. “Louis's cousin, I believe.”
      “You mean the cousin of the new king, as you pointed out.” Benoit St. Sylvain specified, looking meaningfully at his brother.
      “Yes. That would be him.” Michel St. Sylvain returned his brother's look with one of his own.
      “Is he not the one whose wife died in childbirth last year?” Benoit continued.
      Nicole's father shrugged. “He may be. I heard talk of it. Why?”
      Benoit's voice became lower, “He has not yet remarried, I believe.”
       “No?” Nicole's father lowered his voice to match his brother's. “Is he betrothed then?”
       “Let's find out,” Benoit breathed back. Both men glanced down at Nicole at the same instant.
       “What are you thinking, Uncle Benoit?” Nicole asked, alarmed.
       “Shhh, ma chère. We think of your future, of what is best for you.”
       “You think of what is best for our family, not what is best for me,” Nicole railed.
       Her father's eyes sparked with anger then became icy. “My daughter, what argument do you make? What is best for your family is what is best for you.”
       “Papa, I am not a horse to be paired off with the most highly-bred stallion,” she objected.
       “No. You are my daughter, to be paired off with a husband who is most closely allied with your sovereign.” Michel St. Sylvain's tone was clipped, as if laying down the law.
        But which law was itthe one of the old regime or the one of the new? Nicole wondered. Everything seemed to be changing around her. The only thing that didn't change was that Michel St. Sylvain would always be her father, and her duty would always be to obey him. 
        “But the man you chose for me is closely allied to the king,” Nicole began then paused. "I mean the dead king.”
       “Precisely,” her father agreed.
       “Precisely,” her uncle echoed. He shot his brother another significant glance and as Nicole took it in, a sudden breeze gusted past, lifting the black silk cape she wore over her shoulders. Change was in the air.

For further reading, discover Anne of Brittany in the Anne of Brittany Series.
The gripping tale of a larger than life queen

“Comparable to Philippa Gregory’s Plantagenet and Tudor Novels.”
Publishers Weekly on Anne and Charles

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About the Author

Rozsa Gaston writes playful books on serious matters, including the struggles women face to get what they want out of life. She studied European history at Yale, and received her Master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University. She worked at Institutional Investor, then as a hedge funds marketer. Entirely unsuited to the world of finance, she was happy to give it up to become a full-time novelist. Gaston lives in Bronxville, New York with her family and is currently working on Anne and Louis: Middle Years, Book Three of the Anne of Brittany Series. If you read and enjoy Sense of Touch, please post a review at to help others find this book. One sentence is enough to let readers know what you thought. Drop Rozsa Gaston a line on Facebook to let her know you posted a review and receive as thanks an eBook edition of any other of Gaston’s books: Anne and Charles, Anne and Louis, The Least Foolish Woman in France, Paris Adieu, or Black is Not a Color. Visit her at or at
Facebook:  Instagram: rozsagastonauthor  and on Twitter: @RozsaGaston

Next month’s guest post on Anne and Charles, Book One of the Anne of Brittany Series.

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