by: Susan Abernethy
Anne, Duchess of Brittany had been crowned twice as the Queen of France. She married King Charles VIII and when he died, she married King Louis XII. She suffered through a long and complicated pregnancy history with only two daughters surviving. One of her daughters, Claude, would also be Queen of France. When Anne was thirty-six, she began to suffer from kidney disease. In the last days of 1513, she was extremely ill and in pain for about ten days before she died. Many said the doctors who took care of her were ignorant and incompetent.
Anne died on Monday, January 9, 1514 in the Castle of Blois. Her body lay in her room until Friday. Surgeons and apothecaries embalmed the body. She had asked that her heart be extracted which they did, enclosing it in a golden box. Because she was an anointed queen, her body would be buried in the royal mausoleum at Saint Denis. But it was her wish that her heart be buried in Nantes in the tomb of her parents and in the country of the Breton people.
King Louis XII was grief stricken at her death. It was recorded that he wept for eight days and requested that the tomb in Saint Denis be made large enough for two. For five days after her death, mendicant friars encircled the body and intoned the office of the dead. On that Friday night, the body was taken to the State room in the newly built area of the castle. The room was hung with silk tapestry depicting the destruction of Jerusalem. The lower parts of the walls were hung with black velvet decorated with Anne’s escutcheon and her device of a golden girdle. The Queens body had been dressed in royal garments and placed on a State bed covered in cloth of gold bordered with ermine. On her head was her crown and her scepter and wand of justice were placed on cushions of cloth of gold by her side.
The Queen lay in the State room with her face uncovered from Saturday until Monday evening. She was surrounded by monks who ceaselessly said Masses and prayers for the dead. Many visitors came to pay their respects dressed in mourning including princes and princesses of her family, her ladies and maids of honor and all the officials and members of her household. There was much crying, sobbing and piteous lamentation. On Monday evening, a veil was laid over her face and her body was placed in a wooden coffin lined with lead. The coffin was then covered in copper and a long epitaph was engraved on it.
The funeral ceremonies would last for fifteen days. Each day, four high Masses were performed by the prelates and choir of the royal chapel in addition to those said by the monks. The King took part in all the ceremonies. On Friday, February 3, at two o’clock in the afternoon, the Queen’s body was borne by officers of her household from the State room of the castle to the Church of St. Sauveur, just outside the Castle. The coffin was preceded and followed by a large procession of clergy, monks, the poor of the town, members of her household, officials of the Duchy of Brittany and the Grand Master of King Louis’ household. The royal princes and princesses also followed including François d’Angoulême, the heir to the throne (the future King François I). François was dressed in a long mourning garment with a train more than three yards long.
After Mass the following morning, the Queen’s confessor Guillaume de Parvi spoke the first part of the funeral oration. The oration would consist of commending the Queen’s thirty-six virtues, one for each year of her life. Around two o’clock in the afternoon, the coffin was laid on a four-wheeled carriage, and then covered with a black velvet pall which was crossed with white stain that hung down to the ground. The carriage was drawn by six fine-looking horses which were dressed in black velvet and white satin decorative coverings and only their eyes could be seen.
Two knights on horseback rode at the front of the bier with six of the King’s archers on either side to keep the crowd from approaching too near. The Swiss guards lined the way. The cortège stopped and services were held at all the important towns along the route. Crowds of people knelt on the road and prayed as she passed while her almoners distributed money to the poor of the towns and villages. On Monday, February 13, the body rested at the abbey of Nôtre-Dame-des-Champs just outside the gates of Paris. On Tuesday, the procession started again heading towards the Cathedral of Nôtre Dame.
The streets of Paris were hung with black, tan or blue and the inhabitants set lighted torches before their homes. Each square and street on the route leading to Saint Denis was guarded to prevent overcrowding. The provost’s archers, town criers, watchmen, monks and clergy joined the procession. The royal relatives came from Blois mounted on little black mules decorated with velvet while the Queen’s ladies and maids of honor rode on horses led two by two by a groom on foot. The coffin was borne into the cathedral by officers of her household with the four corners of the pall carried by the four presidents of Parliament.
The porch and the interior of the cathedral were hung with black cloth embroidered with the arms of the Queen. All the altars were draped in black velvet and white silk. There were three thousand eight hundred candles burning on these various altars. Inside the choir, a small chapel had been erected and lit by twelve hundred candles and this is where the body was placed.
On Wednesday, February 15, a solemn Mass was said by the Cardinal of Mans and then the next part of the funeral oration was given. Afterwards, there was a dinner. In the afternoon, twenty-four criers made their way through the town saying:
“Honorable and devout persons, pray for the soul of the most noble, most powerful, very excellent, generous, and benevolent Princess Anne, in her lifetime by the Grace of God, Queen of France, Duchess of Brittany, who died at the Castle of Blois on the 9th day of January, and now lies in the church of Nôtre Dame. Say your paternosters that God may have mercy on her soul”.
The procession began again making its way to Saint Denis. The princes and princesses walked on foot as far as the church of St. Lazare outside the city walls where they mounted their mules. At the royal abbey, the body was placed on a catafalque in the choir of the church. On the next day, a solemn Mass was performed and Guillaume de Parvi spoke the rest of the funeral oration. Afterwards, the Cardinal de Mans gave the benediction. He wore on his shoulders a magnificent jeweled cope which had been embroidered by Anne and her ladies and given to the church of Saint Denis. After the absolution, the coffin was lowered into a vault before the high altar. The vault measured eight feet by eight feet and in a niche at one end was a statue of the Virgin Mary with the arms of France on one side and the arms of Brittany on the other. The coffin was laid on iron bars two feet above the ground.
The Cardinal threw in a small amount of earth and then the Champagne King-at-Arms came forward, calling three times for silence and asking the Bretagne King-at-Arms to do his duty. The Breton then called out: “The most Christian Queen-Duchess our Sovereign Lady and Mistress is dead. The Queen is dead. The Queen is dead”. The King-at-Arms then summoned the Gentleman Usher who approached bearing the rod of justice, the Grand Master of Brittany brought the scepter and the Master of Horse brought the crown. After they each kissed the insignia, they gave them to the Bretagne King-at-Arms who also kissed them and then placed them on the coffin.
The people were allowed to come forward and kneel and say a short prayer. For the whole next whole day, crowds made their way down the road from Paris to Saint Denis to visit the royal tomb. On Saturday, the 18th of February, the funeral feast began. Many notables attended including the President of Parliament and all the officials of the Queen’s household. Anne’s natural brother, Jean de Bretagne Baron d’Avaugour presided over the banquet in his capacity as Grand Master of Brittany. He addressed those present, telling the household they had served Anne loyally and she loved them for it. He told them they could work for the King or his daughters now. He said Anne’s household no longer existed and he then broke the household staff.
King Louis ordered Pierre Choque, the Brittany King-at-Arms and devoted servant of Queen Anne, to write a detailed account of the obsequies. He authorized Choque to have several copies made of his description. Each copy contained eleven miniatures of the principal scenes from the funeral painted by Jean de Paris. The numerous ceremonies of this funeral would serve as a guide for the court on other similar occasions.
Further reading: “A Twice Crowned Queen: Anne of Brittany” by Constance Mary Elizabeth (Cochrane-Baillie) Sackville De La Warr (countess), “Queens and Mistresses of Renaissance France” by Kathleen Wellman
About The Author:
Susan Abernethy is a historian and freelance writer. She also runs a history blog by the name of The Freelance History Writer: http://thefreelancehistorywriter.com/
Published in The Art of Polemics, Issue 2, on Sept 9th, 2014.