Wednesday, July 15, 2015


Anne, Duchess of Brittany (25 January 1477 – 9 January 1514), also known as Anna of Brittany (French: Anne de Bretagne; Breton: Anna Vreizh), was a Breton ruler, who was to become queen to two successive French kings. She was born in Nantes, Brittany, and was the daughter of Francis II, Duke of Brittany and Margaret of Foix. Her maternal grandparents were Queen Eleanor of Navarre and Gaston IV, Count of Foix. Upon her father's death, she became sovereign Duchess of Brittany, Countess of Nantes, Montfort and Richmont and Viscountess of Limoges. In her time, she was the richest European woman.

Brittany being an attractive prize, Anne had no shortage of suitors. She was officially promised in marriage to Edward, Prince of Wales, son of Edward IV of England in 1483; however, the boy disappeared, and was presumed dead, soon after the death of Edward IV.

As a potential ally with naval resources, and, after 1471, as the place of exile for Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond, the last royal claimant of the house of LANCASTER, the French Duchy of Brittany played an important role in the WARS OF THE ROSES.

Although FRANCIS II, duke of Brittany from 1458 to 1488, held his title of the king of FRANCE, the duchy in the fifteenth century was an independent state, with its own administrative and ecclesiastical structure and its own legislative and judicial bodies. Breton dukes had achieved political autonomy by playing off the French against the English during the HUNDRED YEARS WAR. Breton independence served English interests, for a French Brittany threatened English security. Lying across the Channel from England, the Breton peninsula had a long coastline, and the duchy was strong in ships and experienced seamen; in French hands, Brittany was a potential base for invading England. Alternatively, England could employ an autonomous Brittany to trouble France in the same way France encouraged SCOTLAND to threaten England, while the Breton fleet was a useful addition to any anti-French alliance.

To maintain Breton independence from France, Francis sought to establish close relations with England and BURGUNDY without unnecessarily alienating the French. Thus, in the early 1460s, Francis, following his own inclinations and the lead of LOUIS XI, provided assistance to Lancastrian exiles within his borders, such as Jasper TUDOR, earl of Pembroke. However, in 1465, Francis took Brittany into the League of the Public Weal, a coalition of French princes led by CHARLES of Burgundy that forced Louis to concede privileges and territories. By 1468, growing threats of French invasion and a thriving trade with England persuaded Francis to conclude formal treaties of commerce and alliance with EDWARD IV. In 1471, Channel storms drove Pembroke and his nephew Richmond, the last Lancastrian claimant of consequence, onto the Breton coast. This literal windfall provided Francis with the means for pressuring Edward IV, now secure on his throne, into maintaining English support for Brittany.

In 1472, Edward sent English ARCHERS under Anthony WOODVILLE, Earl Rivers, to help the Bretons repel a French invasion; in 1480, Edward betrothed his son, to Francis’s only child, Anne. In 1483, after RICHARD III destabilized English politics by usurping his nephew’s throne, Richmond, who was kept in increasingly rigorous confinement, became a serious threat to the house of YORK. Because Richard was too insecure to materially assist Brittany, Francis provided Richmond with men and ships and allowed him to join BUCKINGHAM’S REBELLION in October 1483. After the failure of that uprising, a band of English exiles formed around Richmond in Brittany, and the pro-English faction at the Breton court, led by Pierre LANDAIS, the treasurer, used the duke’s illness to secretly negotiate with Richard for Richmond’s surrender. Warned of the plot by Bishop John MORTON, Richmond and his followers fled into France, from where they launched a successful invasion of England in 1485.

Francis II died in 1488 in the midst of a French invasion that only ended in 1491 with the conclusion of a marriage treaty between Duchess Anne and CHARLES VIII. Because the settlement laid out terms for Brittany’s incorporation into France, Henry VII led an English army to Anne’s assistance in 1492. However, the invasion ended in the Treaty of Etaples, whereby Henry acquiesced in the takeover of Brittany in return for a French pension and an agreement to expel Perkin WARBECK and other Yorkist pretenders from France. Although the Breton Estates (a legislative assembly) did not formally vote for perpetual union with France until 1532, the duchy was effectively under French control after 1491.

Further Reading: Davies,C. S. L.,“The Wars of the Roses in European Context” in A. J. Pollard, ed., The Wars of the Roses (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995), pp. 162–185; Galliou, Patrick, and Michael Jones, The Bretons (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991); Jones, Michael, The Creation of Brittany:A Late Medieval State (London: Hambledon, 1988).

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