Christine de Pisan was a 20th century woman living in the 15th century
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Christine de Pisan was a 20th century woman living in the 15th century. Like many
women of today, she incorporated government and political ethics, women’s rights and
accomplishments, and religious devotion in her writings. Yet, defying the expectations of her
time, Christine was one of the few true feminists before the modern era.
Christine de Pisan was born in Venice, Italy in about 1364. Her father was Tomasso di
Benvenuto da Pizzano (Thomas de Pisan), a famous physician and astrologer. In 1369, he moved
their family from Venice to Paris to accept his job as court astrologer to King Charles V, King of
In Paris, Christine was given a classical education, comparable to that of a well-educated
boy of that time. Her early studies included the French, Italian, and Latin languages, literature,
mythology, history, arithmetic, geometry, and biblical studies. Christine soon became an
accomplished poet with noble patrons.
In 1380, at only 15, Christine married court notary Etienne de Castel, who was 24. That
same year, King Charles died. Thus, Christine’s father Tomasso and her husband Etienne lost
most of their income. The new king’s reduction caused the family difficult times. Not long after,
Tomasso died from a prolonged illness.
In 1390, after ten years of marriage and the birth of three children, Etienne suddenly died.
Now a widow at age 25, Christine was left to support her three young children, her mother, and a
niece. The small amount of money from Etienne involved her in a series of lawsuits to recover it.
Soon, Christine supported herself and earned her income through her literary work. She
moved gradually from primarily writing poetry to primarily writing prose. She produced a wide
range of works including letters, narratives, memoirs, treatises, meditations, poems, songs, and
ballads. Christine’s love lyrics were all in memory to her late husband to whom she was devoted
Christine quickly became popular and her work was later supported by many lords and
ladies of medieval Europe. This included Berry, Brabant, and Limburg, the Dukes of Burgundy,
King Charles VI and his wife Queen Isabella of Bavaria. Much of her work contains a great deal
of autobiographical information, which was unusual for writers of that time. Some of Christine’s
works are The Changes of Fortune, a long poem containing examples from her life and of other
famous people, The Epistles of Othea, a collection of 99 allegorical tales, and The Road of Long
In 1404, the Duke of Burgundy, Philip the Bold, asked Christine to write a biography on
his late brother, Charles V. She wrote a flattering first hand account of his life, called The Book of
the Deeds and Good Manners of the Wise King, Charles V. This was one of her biggest
accomplishments, being asked by royalty to write a book.
An autobiographical Vision of Christine was written in 1405. This volume was written
partly to silence her critics in a rather heated literary debate on the subject of women. She
followed this up with The Book of the City of the Ladies in 1405, a collection of stories about
heroines of the past, and The Book of Three Virtues, also known as The Treasury of the City of
the Ladies in 1406.
Christine de Pisan was very devoted to France and was horrified by the civil strife that
erupted after the assassination of Louis of Orleans. In 1410, she wrote Lamentations on the Civil
War, and then The Book of Feats of Arms and Chivalry, which was one of the first books to be
translated later into English. Christine was devastated by the hostilities with England and the
Hundred Years’ War and, in 1418, she retired to enter a Dominican convent at Poissy.
Encouraged by the early successes of Joan of Arc, she dedicated her last known poem, Hymn to
Joan of Arc, to Joan in 1429. In 1430, after living for twelve years in the convent, Christine died
at the age 66.
Due to increased interest in her poetry in the late 1800’s, a number of her poetic works
and a collection, Euvres poetiques de Christine de Pizan, were published between 1890 and 1900.
More recently, her prose has attracted renewed attention. A number of her prose works, including
her autobiography, Lavision-Christine (ca 1405) have been published and translated since 1965.
Christine de Pisan became the first woman in France to earn her living from her pen. Her poetic
work is notable both for its technical mastery of the accepted forms of her time and for its
originality. She did this by integrating personal,
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Joan of Arc, European people, Literature, French people, Christine de Pizan, Rhetoricians, Allegory, The Book of the City of Ladies, Isabeau of Bavaria, Christine, Medieval French literature
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