Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The Women of Loches – 2

As you can see, I'm 'back in business - email-wise, and can therefore publish the post I had prepared yesterday.


The woman in the portrait in last Friday’s post is indeed Agnes Sorel. Agnes was the mistress of King Charles VII, and the first woman to be recognized as such. She was brought to court as a lady in waiting to the Queen. Because of her extraordinary beauty she caught the eye of the King who installed her as his official mistress.  

If we are to believe the history books, Agnes was truly in love with Charles, and followed him where ever he went, even in battle. She died an untimely and suspicious death before even reaching the age of thirty. It is believed that she was poisoned by the ‘dauphin’, the king’s legitimate son; because he felt that she had gained too much (political) influence over the sovereign.

A bronze bust of Charles VII. Charles VIII
By the look of it, people rub his nose for good luck.

Ever since my first visit to Loches I have been intrigued by Agnes’ story. Why would a young and extremely beautiful woman fall in love with an ugly man like Charles? The first things that spring to mind of course are money and wealth. Or was it power? Was Agnes an intelligent, yet scheming woman, who wanted a say in ruling France? Or were the history books right and was it true love?

Mats and Vera exploring the logis.

During my recent visit of the Logis with my friends Vera and Mats, I found Vera extremely engulfed in the leaflet that we had been given at the entrance. When we stood in front of the famous painting by Fouquet of Agnes Sorel depicted as the Virgin Mary with child, with one of her breasts uncovered, I explained to Vera that Agnes had set a new trend in court, encouraging women to bare their breasts. Vera listened to my story and then in a most cunningly way said: “Of course she would go bare-breasted. With the king constantly keeping her pregnant, she was breast-feeding all the time!”  

And then she explained to me her point of view on the whole matter. It wasn’t love, power of wealth that had brought and kept Charles and Agnes together. It was sheer lust. Agnes had been the victim of her beauty with the king claiming her as his mistress. Agnes had had no say in it. He saw her, he wanted her and he took her. It’s as simple as that. Maybe Vera is right. Maybe the historians tend to embellish the story by portraying this young girl as the first woman who wasn’t a queen to have political power and influence – as a true feminist ‘avant la lettre’.

Joan of Arc if she had been living in our day and age.


Maybe the same can be said about that other woman, who visited the Logis and saved France from the invading English: Joan of Arc. Maybe the historians romanticized her life too. After all, there is a well under built theory that the real Joan wasn’t a peasant girl, but was of noble birth – probably a bastard daughter of the king. And that she didn’t die on the stake. I’ve written about that theory here, after visiting the castle of Jaulny in the French Lorrain where the real Joan lived ‘happily ever after’ with her husband after being rescued from the stake. 


Niall & Antoinette said...

last time we visited the Logis there was a detailed exhibition about the research done on Agnes and her remains from mitochondrial DNA. It was fascinating.
Just read your older post on Jehanne; .... talk about settig the cat amongst the pidgeons ;-)
Bit like the 'Shakespeare couldn't have written the plays and who knows who he is as we don't have an image of him from life' discussion.

Susan said...

May I make a couple of corrections?

The bust is of Charles VIII.

Agnes did not start a fashion for going about bare breasted, and Vera is closer to the truth than you might think. Agnes is portrayed as the Madonna, and as such she is portrayed with a bare, but carefully desexualised breast. We are deliberately reminded that Agnes, like her role model the Madonna, is a good mother. Breastfeeding was important because personal character was believed to have been transferred from one to the other via the milk. Later on, in the 17thC, because of this famous painting, the bare breast developed a different meaning, and came to indicate that the woman portrayed was an aristocratic mistress.

Mark said...

I'm glad that Susan explained that it was Charles the VIII and not Charles the VIII bust. Because I thought that the bust wasn't so ugly. But then I googled Charles VII and, yikes!
Thanks for the history lesson!

Louise said...

I am looking forward to enjoying the history myself...thank you for putting me on the path to discovery Martine...

ladybird said...

N&A, I've seen that exhibition in 2007 or 2008. It was fascinating indeed. Pity it's no longer there. Learning about the 'Other Joan of Arc' surprised me, but when you examine the arguments and the actual facts it's very plausible.

Susan, Ooops - my mistake. I'm fascinated by history, but tend to go over the facts too quickly. Maybe I have seen too many movies :) Thank you for your input. I really appreciate it and I'm sure my readers do too.

Mark, I wonder why the artist who did the paintings of the women of Loches didn't try his hand at making a contemporary portrait of Charles VII. Maybe because he was an hopeless case ;)?

Louise, There are so many stories that are being taken for granted. But every now and then somebody comes up with a different theory or interpretation. I think we should be open-minded about these things. Even today, with all the means of communication and technology we don't even know half of what is going on in the world or in political 'backstage'.