Last reviewed: June 2018
French Italian political writer
Venice (now in Italy)
Probably at the Convent of Poissy, near Versailles, France
Christine de Pizan (krees-teen duh pee-zahn), sometimes spelled Pisan, was the daughter of an Italian scholar, Thomas, known for his work as a physician and his studies in astrology. Both King Louis I of Hungary and Charles V of France noticed these attributes and invited Thomas to become a part of their courts. In 1364 Thomas moved from Bologna to Paris, and in 1368 Christine and her mother joined him there. In two of her writings Christine provides some biographic information. In L’Avision de Christíne she discusses her life in relation to her father, and in Le Livre de la mutacion de fortune she writes of her struggles as a woman in a male-dominated world. Christine de Pizan.
Christine de Pizan.
Christine de Pizan’s birth date is speculative; what evidence there is comes from L’Avision de Christíne, where she mentions the death of her husband, Étienne du Castel, a notary and secretary for the court, who died suddenly in 1389 when she was twenty-five years old. Both Étienne and Christine’s father encouraged her thirst to learn.
After the death of her father and her husband, when Christine was left to take care of her mother, her niece, and her three children, she began to write. She is often referred to as the first writer to make a living from writing. Initially she wrote lyrical love poems, but she became perhaps best known for her attack on Le Roman de la Rose for its defaming portrayal of women. In 1399 she wrote The Letter of Cupid, which sparked a quarrel with the humanists. She continued the controversy with the publication of Le Dit de la Rose. Christine not only championed women in the abstract, she also fought in the courts of law for her small inheritance after the death of her husband, and she supported her family through her writing, which brought her the support of important patrons. She wrote with authority about issues concerning women, as in The Book of the Three Virtues, where she warns women of certain pitfalls and discusses the behavior expected of them during this period. The Book of the City of Ladies, in which she highlights important female characters and heroines represented in previous literature, is often referred to as her most “feminist” piece.
Christine de Pizan lived during turbulent times, which saw the Hundred Years War, the English invasion of France in 1415; civil war between the House of Orléans and Burgundy; the insanity of Charles VI; and the Great Schism. Some of her writing reflects her political views of such events. The Duke of Burgundy commissioned her to write a biography of Charles V, and in 1410 she produced The Book of Fayttes of Arms and of Chivalry.
Christine felt indebted to Charles V not only because he was her father’s benefactor but also because he allowed her access to his library, where she could read and learn from the ancients, an influence often evident in her writings. She also completed a series of political treatises dealing with the problems of France.