Christine de Pizan, 15th-Century Feminist And Social Commentator
“The female sex has been left defenseless for a long time now, like an orchard without a wall and bereft of a champion to take up arms in order to protect it…” The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan, 1405.
Feminism in the 15th century? Widowed in her twenties, Christine de Pizan used her extensive education and excellent literary skills to write poetry, novels, biographies, an autobiography and religious commentary. Even more surprising, she became an advocate for women’s equality, 600 years before her time. During the late medieval period when women were often thought to personify evil and merely considered to be chattel, she promoted the need for recognition of women’s abilities and human rights. Christine produced the earliest feminist writings and was an accomplished poet with many wealthy, noble patrons. Her repertoire included: the source of female oppression; the lack of education for women; combating a misogynistic society; defending women’s rights and envisioning her ideas for a more equal world. In one of her books she asks herself with a hint of sarcasm, “ Oh God, why wasn’t I born a male so that my every desire would be to serve you, to do right in all things, and to be as perfect a creature as man claims to be?”
The Louvre Palace, shown in this early 15th century illumination, representing the month of October in ‘Les très riches Heures du Duc de Berry’, was rebuilt during the reign of Charles V – Astrology was a contemporary topic. (Public Domain)
Childhood And Marriage
Born in Venice in 1364, Christine was actually Italian but spent the majority of her life in Paris. After studying at the University of Bologna, her father, Tommaso da Pizzano or Thomas de Pizan, became a physician and astrologer in Bologna. He had worked as a physician, court astrologer and Councilor of the Republic of Venice. In 1368 he accepted an appointment to the royal court of Charles V of France (called the Wise) as the king’s astrologer and medical advisor. Christine was about four-years-old when her family moved to Paris.
Growing up at the royal court of the Île-de-France, her childhood was spent amid the heady atmosphere that included the scholars, artists, astronomers and astrologers attending King Charles V in the halls of the Louvre Palace.
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Dr Marion Dolan received her PhD from the University of Pittsburgh, majoring in Medieval manuscripts, minoring in Medieval architecture and history of astronomy. She is the author of several books including The Monk and the Antichrist: A Novel of Passion in the Middle Ages
Top Image: Christine de Pisan presenting her book to queen Isabeau of Bavaria. Illuminated miniature from The Book of the Queen (various works by Christine de Pizan) (Public Domain)
By: Dr Marion Dolan