History Blog

Protecting The Duchy

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On 19th December 1490, a young woman named Anne was married by proxy to Maximilian, son of the Holy Roman Emperor.

Anne was the new Duchess of Brittany, her father had died in 1488 leaving his 11 year old daughter as his only heir. France had been trying to incorporate the Duchy of Brittany in to it's Kingdom for years, and with a girl as Duchess this had suddenly appeared to be a lot easier than anticipated. Had the late Duke had a son then it would have involved a longer war, with no potential of success if the boy proved to be clever, or lucky. But a woman would never be able to lead or command an army, she would have to leave such things to either one of her lords, or to her husband.

A husband was exactly what Anne needed, which was why the proxy ceremony was held. As the son of the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian was an enemy of France, and for Brittany the enemy of their enemy should have been their friend. Maximilian's father agreed to the match, spotting for himself the same opportunity to frustrate the plans of his life-long enemies. Maximilian had already been married to one heiress, Mary of Burgundy, who had died in 1482. By marrying the Duchess of Brittany, it was hoped that Maximilian would be able to incorporate yet another set of lands in to the Habsburg empire.

However despite the proxy marriage, Maximilian never followed through by travelling to Brittany for a proper wedding. On this day over 500 years ago, Anne must have thought that it would all work out. Her new husband would come to Brittany, lead an army and vanquish her enemies, keeping her beloved Duchy safe from the French. Instead the Holy Roman Empire was already stretched, Maximilian and his father had too many other things to focus on than to worry about Brittany. Six months later Anne was besieged in the city of Rennes by a French army, and less than a year after her proxy marriage to Maximilian she was married to Charles VIII of France.

The Holy Roman Emperor protested to the Pope, Anne was technically married to his son and Charles had been betrothed to Maximilian's daughter Margaret, therefore their wedding was illegal. But the fact of the matter was that the Emperor and Maximilian had failed to back up their plans with an army, and Anne had no choice but to go through with the marriage or watch the French army overrun her Duchy and kill more of her people.

In the end Anne would remain a Queen of France, marrying Louis XI after Charles' death, and her efforts to keep Brittany independent would ultimately fail. Maximilian went on to marry Bianca Maria Sforza. It was not a happy marriage.

You can read more about Anne of Brittany through Volume 1 of my eBook series.

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