The pursuit of order and the eruption of discord are recurrent themes in the life of Anne de Bretagne that cast light on her character, her tastes, her comportment, and her aspirations. Like Anne's contemporaries, modern biographers have paid far more attention to Anne's virtues, piety, and positive accomplishments than to her frustrations and failures. Order has been given precedence over the disruptive elements and events in her life: the questionable circumstances of her two marriages; her inability to preserve Breton independence; her failure to produce a male heir; the indecorum of her first husband's funeral; the pretentiousness of her second coronation; the grandiosity of her own post-mortem commemoration. In this essay I would like to reflect on these other features of Anne's life and death, focusing particularly on her marriages, the funeral of Charles VIII, her second coronation, and her own interment.
Anne's Birth and Marriages
Most of the problems that Anne confronted during her lifetime can be traced to the primary source of disorder in her life: her sex. Born a female, rather than the son her father needed to succeed him as duke, she confronted the challenge of preserving the proud independence of the duchy of Brittany, her options severely restricted by the fact that she was a woman. Whereas Anne could do nothing about her sex, she cleverly compensated for the limp caused by the dissymmetry of her legs, lavishing attention on her dress, jewels, and coiffure (and high-heeled shoes) on ceremonial occasions, while affecting simplicity in private. At her coronation in 1504 Anne's secretary André de la Vigne wrote that she ‘walked with the step of a sovereign princess’.
Disorder and misfortune stalked Anne's engagements and marriages. She was first betrothed to one of the ill-fated little princes, son of Edward IV of England (1442–83), who disappeared after their father's death in 1483. Because of the young prince's presumed death and the accession of Richard III (r.1483–85), this contract posed no problem – as was true of the many projected engagements that Louis XI negotiated for his son, Anne's future husband, the Dauphin Charles. But on 19 December 1490 Anne was formally betrothed to Maximilian of Austria in the cathedral of Rennes, and the public nature of the ceremony gave the commitment a solemnity the earlier contract had not possessed.