The Book of City of Ladies, Christine Pisan

1364 was born in Venice and died in the monastery of Poissy in 1430.

She is a philosopher, humanist poet, and the first professional writer in history.

She is the daughter of Tomasso de Pizano, a physicist, court astrologer and Chancellor of the Republic of Venice.

When Christine is 4 years old, King Charles V of France invites her father to court as an astrologer, alchemist and physicist.

The learned Bolognese, sent to Paris as ambassador by the Republic of Venice, sets as a condition for establishing himself definitively at the court of France, to have a dignified mansion and an income of 500 pounds of gold.

The king orders Christine to participate in all age-appropriate court entertainments and be brought up like a princess.

Christine lives in the bosom of a court with a humanistic environment, with a language that she will make her own, she also adopts a new country that she never leaves from that day in 1368 until the time of her death in 1430.

Her mother is also the daughter of a great sage, the anatomist Mondino de Luzzi, however, she appears in the text of La Ciudad de las Damas as a defender of her daughter’s dedication to housework, in clear contrast to her father, who prompts her toward study.

Both Cristina’s family circle and that of the French court obey a critical spirit, of free examination and based on experience, features of modernity that shine through in several passages of the text, where the author vindicates the experience of her own body women have to counteract the misogynistic discourse that sustains masculine authority, as in the case of ecclesiastical doctrines and medical treatises.

Her mother reads her the Golden Legend of Jacobo de Vorágine, while her father wants her to be instructed in Latin, French and Italian instead.

This does not prevent Cristina’s love for her mother.

In 1380, he married Étienne du Castel, the son of a noble family from Picardy, who at the age of twenty-four had just obtained the position of notary of the king.

Etienne, like Christine’s father, insists that his wife continue to read, write, and educate herself.


Christine achieves (achis) an exceptional balance in the feminine world: she is married and has three children, a role that she combines  (combains) with her studies and her writings.

In 1379, misfortunes begin to fall on the court of France and also on Cristina’s family.

The king loses his queen, Juana de Borbón, and his faithful constable, Beltrán du Guesclin.

1380 died himself of a heart attack.

He is succeeded by the Dolphin, a twelve-year-old boy with an unstable and violent character who goes down in history as le Roi Fou.

Christine’s father loses the favor of the court and falls into disgrace not only he, but the work that is worth his prestige before Carlos the Wise, the Treaty (triti) of Points and Signs.

1387 dies full of debts.

In 1389, the plague kills her husband and Cristina, a widow with three children at the age of 25, discovers her dire economic situation.

Not only does the king stop paying his secretary’s fees, but dishonest merchants take advantage of his inexperience to steal his children’s dowry.

In order not to make people talk at court, the young widow does not dare to address her compatriots, the Lombard bankers, and resorts to Jewish usurers, a visit she always shyly remembers.

You sue in lawsuits to recover part of your assets.

The experience that he endures along with the death of a newborn child, turns out to be the engine that drives him.

The options for a woman in her situation at this time are a remarriage or confinement (kenfainment) in a convent.

She does not resign herself to a fate that she does not want and takes a brave alternative, becomes a professional writer and supports her family with the income that her writing will provide.

Her perseverance soon pays off. Members of the court request from Christine an elegy for Charles V.

This is how Le livre des faits et bons moeurs du sage roi Charles V was born, the first commissioned work that gives Christine a significant financial reward

Now is a well-known writer. His work goes from poems, songs and ballads of love themes to philosophy, politics, history, morality or the right of women in society.

The popularity of the young writer increases and she soon has the support of the Dukes of Burgundy, King Charles VI and his wife, Queen Isabela of Bavaria.

Christine de Pizane’s best-known work is The City of Ladies (1405), considered to be the forerunner of Western feminism and which places her at the beginning of the so-called querelle des femmes (women’s quarrel).

The complaint is a literary and academic debate that takes place over several centuries from the late fourteenth century, in medieval Europe, until the French Revolution.

In this debate, the intellectual capacity of women and their right to access education and politics are defended against the prevailing misogyny.

It is affirmed that this capacity is not a question of nature but of a social one, of the possibility of access to knowledge.

The complaint is publicly manifested in social gatherings and generates numerous writings on the value, difference and relations between the two sexes.

Christine de Pizan is the first woman to intervene in this debate publicly with her work The City of Ladies, a plea in favor of women for whom she claims a place in the world, as well as a clear criticism of the (prevélin) prevailing misogyny in that medieval world.

The City of Ladies is the answer to Jean de Meung’s popular Roman de la Rose which says:

All of you are, were or will be  (joors)whores by action or by intention.

She answers

And that I am not reproached as madness, arrogance or presumption e! to have dared, I, a woman, to reprehend and criticize such a subtle author and haggle praise for his work, when he, a man only, dared to defame and censor all e! female without exception.

Likewise, he offers Dante’s authority as an alternative to Jean de Meung, capitalizing on his benefit the great admiration that the French court felt for Italian humanism, still little known. Cristina would be only the second

writer, after Philippe de Mézieres, in citing Dante and ironically advises Pierre Col, one of his most fierce opponents, to ask someone to translate and explain Dante, who writes in the Florentine language.

It is also an implicit response to Saint Augustine’s City of God, and is equally inspired by Boccaccio’s work.

The book is written as a dialogue between a student and his teacher.

 The allegorical figures of Reason, Justice and Righteousness converse with Christine and invite her to build a city for famous women of the past and for virtuous women of all times, in a world made for men.

 In this allegorical city a wide range of illustrious women from history are housed.

Each named woman is going to be an example of argumentation against each of the misogynistic insults frequent in medieval society.

The City of the Ladies starts, as has been said, from an allegory that is represented by means of the accompanying illustrations.

The book of women’s history is incomplete or poorly written by male authors, as a series of stones that will have to be carved and placed, or discarded, to raise the City as the text is built, until the end of the perfect enclosure.

Christine de Pizan, a convinced pacifist, is devastated by the consequences of the Hundred Years War, and she retired to live in a convent from 1418. Contemporary of Joan of Arc, who convinces King Carlos VII to expel the English from France.

In 1429 he writes in his Song in honor of Joan of Arc (Ditie de Jehanne dArc), where he celebrates her appearance because, according to de Pizan, he vindicates and rewards the efforts of all women in defense of their own sex.

After completing this particular poem, it appears that de Pizan, at 65, decides to end his literary career.

1430 dies.

AA.VV. (1992),A Selective Bibliography of Christine de Pizan Scholarship, circa 1980-1987, University of Georgia Press, 1992.

Dulac, Liliane (1978), «Un mythe didactique chez Christine de Pizan, Sémiramis ou la Veuve héroïque», Mélanges offerts à Charles Campoux, I, Montpellier: 315-343.

Ibeas, Mª Nieves (1990), «Christine de Pizan: una actitud crítica frente a las lecturas misóginas de la época», Estudios históricos y literarios sobre la mujer medieval, Mª Nieves Ibeas et al., Málaga, Diputación: 71-94.

Kennedy, Angus J. (1984), Christine de Pizan: A bibliographical Guide, Londres, Grant and Cutler.

Oteri Vidal, Mercè (1997), «Christine de Pizan y Marie de Gournay. Las mujeres excelentes y la excelencia de las mujeres», Mujeres en la historia del pensamiento, Rosa Mª Rodríguez Magda (ed.), Barcelona, Anthropos: 77-93.

Publicado por ilabasmati

Licenciada en Bellas Artes, FilologÍa Hispánica y lIiteratura Inglesa.

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