Joan the Lame

From New World Encyclopedia
File:Jeanne de Bourgogne and Jean de Vignay.jpg
From the Miroir historia; Joan the Lame standing in front of her ladies-in-waiting; sitting is Jean De Vignay, commissioned by Joan to translate the book.

Joan of Burgundy (June 24, 1293 – September 12, 1348), also known as Joan the Lame, Queen consort of France, and first wife of Philip VI. While Philip VI fought in the Hundred Years War, Joan acted as Regent. From 1330, she was Countess of Burgundy in her own right. She acted as Regent while Philip was fighting. Her son John succeeded as king in 1350. She is the matriarch of the House of Vallois, which ruled France from the beginning of her husband's reign in 1328 until 1589.

Joan's significant patronage of learning sustained the tradition of court sponsored scholarship and translation that became a distinctive feature of French life. Learning through the medium of French was a matter of national pride. Learning became a lay activity which, even if pursued by an elite, could communicate to the masses. Eventually, ideas generated by this kind of learning—about human rights and civil liberty—challenged royal power.


Joan was the daughter of Robert II, Duke of Burgundy, and princess Agnes of France. Her mother was the youngest daughter of Louis IX and Marguerite of Provence. She was also heir to the Duke of Brittany.

Her older sister, Marguerite de Bourgogne, was the first wife and Queen of Louis X of France. Her brothers were Hugh V, Duke of Burgundy, and Eudes IV, Duke of Burgundy.

She married Philippe de Valois in July 1313. From 1315 to 1328, they were Count and Countess of Maine; from 1325, they were also Count and Countess of Valois and Anjou. Her coronation room was the "most sumptuous ever seen. It was "embroidered in gold with no less than 1321 parrots, and the coat of arms of the Duke of Burgundy."[1] When her mother died in 1330, she became Countess of Burgundy in her own right.

Regent of France

Intelligent and strong-willed, Jeanne proved a capable regent whilst her husband fought on military campaigns during the Hundred Years War. She is said to have acted as regent during 1328 and 1338, form 1339-41 and from 1346-47.[2] However, her nature and power earned both herself and her husband a bad reputation, which was accentuated by her deformity (which was considered by some to be a mark of evil), and she became known as la male royne boiteuse ("the lame male Queen"), supposedly the driving force behind her weaker husband. One chronicler described her as a danger to her enemies in court: "The lame Queen Jeanne de Bourgogne … was like a King and caused the destruction of those who opposed her will."[3]

Philip entered the war, in which the French House of Valois and the Norman-English House of Plantagenet contested for the throne of France, in a strong position. France was the wealthier of the two and had a larger population. Initial success, however, in holding off the English was followed by disaster at the Battle of Crécy, an English victory. After this, the Estates General, or Parliament, first convened by his cousin, Philip IV The Fair refused to raise any money to pay for Philip's proposed invasion of England. When the Black Death struck in 1348 as well as decimating the population, killing one third, it caused a financial crises as well. Joan died from the plague. When Philip died in 1350, the France that he left behind was more divided than it had been when he ascended the throne. On the other hand, the French were beginning to regard themselves as a nation, that is, as a people with rights who were not merely subjects of a king. The power of the English parliament also increased as a result of this war. Both kings found their tax raising prerogatives constantly being scrutinized and controlled by the assemblies of the nobles and landowners. The cost of such frontier war forced rulers back into the arms of their subjects, who had to provide money and manpower, and who were increasingly reluctant to do so. The result was increased Parliamentary control of budgets, and the emergence of what resemble modern nation states. Overy comments, “the fourteenth century saw definitive emergence of many of the European states which were to survive into the modern age.”[4]

While Philip was fighting the war, Jeanne was trying to maintain internal stability. Philip also ran an extravagant court, spending much revenue on "entertained and finery" with what has been described as "gay abandon."[5] Joan was highly influential in royal politics and corresponded with Philip when he was away fighting.[6] Joan "was devoted to all that was Burgundian" and people from her region "gained considerable influence at court."[6] They may have exercised disproportionate influence at the expense of nobles from the North and West, who were regarded as too close to the English.[7] Like Emma of Normandy, Jeanne appears to have shared her husband's power and to have played a greater role than that of a passive consort. Knecht says that she "headed a faction at court.[8]

Patron of learning

She was also considered to be a scholarly woman and a bibliophile: she sent her son, John, manuscripts to read, and commanded the translation of several important contemporary works into vernacular French, including the Miroir historial (Mirror of History) of Vincent de Beauvais (c. 1333) and the Jeu d'échecs moralisés of Jacques de Cessoles (c.1347), a task carried out by Jean de Vignay of the Knights Hospitaller. She is pictured in the frontispiece wearing a crown with her hand raised in "the consecrated gesture of authority." De Vignay, seated in front of her, is looking at a copy of the book.[9] Her ladies-in-waiting are behind her. She appears to be dictating to de Vignay, indicating that "without" her "spiritual and physical presence, the work would not exist." She "embodies both patron and creative genius."[10]


Jeanne died on September 12 1348, of the Plague. She was buried in the Basilica of Saint Denis; her tomb, built by her grandson Charles V, was destroyed during the French Revolution. After her death and shortly before his own, Philip married Blanche d'Évreux of Navarre.

Family, children, and descent

Her children with Philip VI include:

In 1361, Jeanne's grandnephew, Philip I of Burgundy, died without legitimate issue, ending the male line of the Dukes of Burgundy. The rightful heir to Burgundy was unclear: Charles II of Navarre, grandson of Jeanne's sister Marguerite, was closer by right to the title, but John II of France (Jeanne's son) was a generation closer to the Dukes. In the end, John won.



In addition to the value of her legacy of patronage, Jeanne is the matriarch of the House of Vallois which continued to rule France until 1589. During this period, France moved increasingly towards a centralized system of governance with Kings claiming to rule by divine right. On the other hand, royal patronage of learning and the desire for France to be a cultural leader as well as an economic and military power in Europe made France a powerhouse for intellectual development. As the notion of the nation-state developed, this led to the demand for greater participation in governance by the non-elite, traditionally excluded from the corridors of power.

Few French Queens have wielded as much influence as Jeanne did. Her serious interest in learning while her husband pursued military goals and spent money on entertainment significantly contributed to a tendency in France for learning to become state sponsored, a priority of the court. This has been described as the transfer of learning from "clergy to court." This trend, which began during Philip IV's reign, was sustained through Philip VI's by the Queen rather than the king. Although learning was an elite activity, it was also a lay activity and eventually informed a "broader lay political consciousness" because it was also conducted in the vernacular.[11] Eventually, ideas generated by this learning challenged royal power.


  1. Andre Saglio, French Furniture (Thomaston, GA: JM Classic Editions, 2007, ISBN 9781905217625), 31.
  2. Women in Power, Regent Queen Jeanne de Bourgogne of France. Retrieved November 21, 2008.
  3. Knecht (2004), 11.
  4. Overy (2004), 160.
  5. Duby (1993), 274.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Kibler (1995), 492.
  7. Emmerson (2006), 528.
  8. Knecht (2004), 11.
  9. McCash (1996), xi.
  10. McCash (1996), xvii.
  11. Rita Copeland, Rhetoric, Hermeneutics, and Translation in the Middle Ages: Academic Traditions and Vernacular Texts (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991, ISBN 9780521385176), 135.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Emmerson, Richard Kenneth, and Sandra Clayton-Emmerson. 2006. Key Figures in Medieval Europe: An Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Routledge. ISBN 9780415973854.
  • Duby, Georges. 1993. France in the Middle Ages 987-1460: from Hugh Capet to Joan of Arc. A History of France. Oxford, UK: Blackwell. ISBN 9780631189459.
  • Kibler, William W. 1995. Medieval France: An Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Garland Pub. ISBN 9780824044442.
  • Knecht, R.J. 2004. The Valois: Kings of France, 1328-1589. London, UK: Hambledon and London. ISBN 9781852854201.
  • McCash, June Hall. 1996. The Cultural Patronage of Medieval Women. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press. ISBN 9780820317021.
  • Overy, Richard. 2004. The Times Complete History of the World, 6th ed. New York, NY: Barnes and Noble. ISBN 076077840X.

External Links

All links retrieved August 1, 2022.


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