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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: April 2020

6 - Christine de Pizan on the Jews, in Three Texts: The Heures de contemplation sur la Passion de Nostre Seigneur Jhesucrist, the Fais et bonnes meurs du sage roy Charles V, and the Mutacion de Fortune


Christine de Pizan (c. 1364–c. 1430) led a life of learning and engagement, stimulated by her reading and intellectual gifts. She produced an astonishingly large and varied body of work, covering politics, philosophy, government, ethics, the conduct of war, autobiography and biography, and religious, homiletic, and consolatory subjects. The times she lived in were calamitous, especially after the death of the French king Charles V in 1380: power struggles between King Charles VI's uncles, shifting loyalties, betrayal, murder, bouts of plague, war with England – all would have tested the hardiest among the French. Widowed in 1390 at the age of twenty-five, Christine spent fourteen years in court protecting her property from the predations of those who sought to cheat her, all the while lamenting the death of her beloved husband, the royal secretary Etienne de Castel. In spite of this, she was uniquely fortunate to have had an educated father, Tommaso da Pizzano, who, in being invited to France to be Charles V's astrologer, brought her to the court of that enlightened medieval French monarch when she was a small child. The happy coincidence of her father's openness to his daughter's scholarly interests (as she tells us in the Cité des dames) and the intellectual fertility of the royal court created the ground for her to follow what she saw, in the philosophical language of the time, as her God-given “inclination” to study. Proximity to the French humanists of the king's chancellery and her marriage to Etienne furthered her opportunities to acquire both knowledge and literary skill, and she felt she had become a man by profession, a writer supporting herself and her family.

Christine did most of her writing in the space of a little over a decade, starting in 1399. By any standards, she was extremely energetic, prolific, and quick.