Christine de Pizan (1364-ca. 1431) was born in Venice to Tomasso de Pizzano, a graduate of the University in Bologna. In 1369, Charles V of France hired Tomasso as his medical advisor and Tomasso brought his wife and young daughter to Paris. Christine never lost sight of her Italian heritage, and is credited with introducing Dante and Boccaccio to French audiences. Although Christine was denied formal education, her father encouraged her intellectual curiosity.
In 1380, at age fifteen, Christine married Estienne du Castel, who had been appointed a secretary in the royal chancellery in that same year. However, Christine’s happy married life was short-lived. In the fall of 1390, Estienne died suddenly from an epidemic while traveling with the court. At age twenty-five, Christine was unprepared to become the sole support for her young children, as well as her mother, since Tommasso had died three years prior. Christine began writing love poems and confessional poetry, for which she received patronage from various members of the royal family, but she also began to study, beginning with Boethius and Ovid.
From her studies, Christine became interested in the education of young people of both sexes, which remained a major theme of her writings for the rest of her life. In addition to the early works, the Epistre d’Othéa (The Letter of Othéa) and the Proverbes Moraulx (Moral Proverbs) written for her son Jean, Christine wrote two longer works on women, the Livre de la Cité des Dames ( The Book of the City of Ladies), an answer to Boccaccio’s view of women expressed in De Claris Mulieribus (Of Famous Women) and the Livre des Trois Vertus (The Book of the Three Virtues), a guide to enable women to enjoy a more respected place in society. Christine wrote about whatever piqued her wide-ranging interests: the art of warfare, the evils of civil war, and a biography of Charles V, commissioned by his brother, Jean, Duke of Burgundy. Several of her works found favor with many of the royal house and were dedicated to Louis d’Orleans, Philippe le Hardi, Duke of Burgundy and Isabeau de Bavière, among others.
Christine’s works were circulated in manuscript, printed, and translated well into the sixteenth century. After a period of obscurity, Christine was rediscovered for her part in the “Querelle de la rose,” a debate in which she criticized Jean de Meun’s continuation of Le Roman de la Rose for its misogyny. After this initial discovery, her works on the importance of education and the ability of women to learn have become part of the history of women writers in the medieval period.
Christine de Pizan. The Book of the City of Ladies. Translated by Earl Jeffrey Richards. Persea, 1982.
Christine de Pizan. A Medieval Woman’s Mirror of Honor. Translated by Charity Cannon Willard. Edited by Madeleine P. Cosman. Persea, 1989.
Christine de Pizan. The Book of Deeds of Arms and of Chivalry. Translated by Sumner Willard. Edited by Charity Cannon Willard. Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999.
Christine de Pizan. The Writings of Christine de Pizan. Edited by Charity Cannon Willard. Persea, 1993.
Willard, Charity Cannon. Christine de Pizan: Her Life and Works. Persea, 1990.