Keira is a writer of historical fiction based on the lives of French Renaissance Women. She joins us today with a post about Anne of Brittany’s Dame d’atour. You can find her work at https://keiramorgan.com
The office of Dame d’atour was among the highest-ranked offices among the queen of France’s ladies-in-waiting. Only members of the nobility were appointed to the post. As early as 1505, Baroness Michelle de Soubise was known to be Queen Anne of France’s Dame d’atour. In her formal role as Dame d’atour, she was responsible for the queen’s wardrobe and jewelry, supervised the dressing of the queen and managed the staff of the queen’s chamber.
Baroness Michelle de Soubise was Queen Anne’s closest friend and confident for many years. She also served her as private secretary. As a result, she was intimately involved in the secrets of her life. Baroness Michelle’s origins and early life are shrouded in mystery. As far we know, her parents were Denis de Saubonne Seigneur de Fresnes-Coudray, a seigneury in the County of Montfort l’Aumaury in Brittany and Blanche de Fontenaye. Michelle lived from c.1488 to c. 1549 and had at least one sister, Antoinette.
She is believed to have entered Queen Anne’s household in 1499 at about the time of the death of Anne’s governess, the countess Françoise de Dinan and the second marriage of Anne to King Louis XII of France. She rose quickly in the ranks of the queen’s ladies and by 1503 at the latest she was Queen Anne’s confidante and trusted counsellor. Descriptions of her character paint her as serious, active, honorable, composed, and decisive. This matched her well with Queen Anne, who was known to be energetic, formal, rigorously virtuous, resolute and fiery. Michelle was noted for her excellent education, her cultivation, her literary gifts, and her ability with languages.
In 1503, Queen Anne entrusted the baroness with the responsibility for overseeing the dispatch of her munificent gift of a luxury feminine toilette to Anne de Candale, Queen of Hungary, after her departure on her journey to her new country. In 1505, when Queen Anne made her famous pilgrimage to Brittany, a significant amount of correspondence addressed to Baroness Michelle or written by her continues to exist. There are extant letters from Georges, Cardinal d’Amboise, Sieur Jacques de Beaune, Countess Louise d’Angoulême, and King Louis XII himself.
Baroness Michelle replied to these people either on her own or on behalf of the queen. Subjects included significant political matters of the time including discussions of potential marriage alliances such as that of Germaine de Foixand King Ferdinand of Aragon, the events that occurred during Anne’s progress in Brittany, and above all, most importantly for France, Anne’s marriage and her return to her husband. Baroness Michelle was so popular with King Louis XII and Queen Anne that the king proposed one of his courtiers, Jean IV de Parthenay-L’Archembault, Baron de Soubise, Seigneur de Mouchamps, du Parc, and de Villeneuve, as her husband.
The Baron de Soubise was from Poitou and a descendant of the ancient Lusignan family, with ties to the line of kings of Cyprus and Jerusalem. It was considered an excellent match. The queen approved and gave her a generous dowry. The marriage took place in 1507. He was an older man and Michelle was Sieur Jean’s second wife. They had four children: three daughters born in Parc de Soubise, Anne (c. 1508); Charlotte (c. 1509) and Renée (c. 1510) and a son, Jean, born posthumously in 1513 at Queen Anne’s court. Baroness Michelle’s husband died in 1512.
Baroness Michelle continued to serve the queen during her children’s infancy. After her husband’s death she moved with her children and mother-in-law, Marie d’Etampes du Parc Soubise, with whom she had an excellent relationship, to Queen Anne’s court.
Although Mme. de Bouchage was the official Gouvernante of Princess Renée (b. October 1510), Baroness Michelle was responsible for educating her from an early age and they formed a close relationship. As Queen Anne was dying (she died 9 Jan. 1514), she named Michelle Gouvernante to Princess Renée after her death, although she left the princess in ward to Countess Louise d’Angoulême if King Louis were to die before Princess Renée reached her majority. After the death of Queen Anne, Baroness Michelle wore strict mourning and ordered mourning masses in her name and that of Princess Renée in those churches favored by Queen Anne, for the year of mourning and for annual masses in perpetuity.
King Louis XII died on January 1, 1515 and the dispositions in Queen Anne’s will regarding her estate came into effect. Since Salic law, which excluded women from dynastic succession and therefore the estate and rights that went with it, did not apply in the Duchy of Brittany, and Queen Anne as Duchess of Brittany had divided her legacy between her two daughters, both Princess Claude and Princess Renée were great heiresses.
Baroness Michelle was well-informed and protective of Princess Renée’s rights. In either 1516 or 1518, probably at the behest of Duchess Louise d’Angoulême [her son, King François I had raised her status from Countess to Duchess one month after he became king], King François dismissed Baroness Michelle from her post as Gouvernante to Princess Renée. The relationship between the Parthenay-L’Archembault family did not end at that point. In 1523, and possibly for many years earlier, Anne de Parthenay, Baroness Michelle’s eldest daughter, was a lady-in-waiting in Queen Claude’s court.
On June 28, 1528, Princess Renée married Duke Hercule d’Este of Ferrara in the Saint-Chappelle. As important members of Princess Renée’s entourage, the princess invited Baroness Michelle de Soubise and her daughter Anne de Parthenay to accompany her to the court of Ferrara. She appointed the Baroness as her Senior Lady of Honor.
To cover their travel expenses, King François provided Baroness Michelle with 2460 livres tournois. In addition, he added a gift of 10,000 livres tournois in recognition of her services to the late Queens Anne and Claude and to Princess Renée. He also promised an annual payment of 1200 livres tournois as her stipend, as well as a summer and winter clothing allowance. The marriage between Princess Renée and Duke Hercule had been arranged because King François wished to strengthen the French alliance with Ferrara due to his territorial ambitions in Italy. Unfortunately, the couple discovered they were incompatible early in their relationship.
Among their issues was the Duchess’ inclination towards religious reform and Duke Hercule’s strict Catholicism. Baroness Michelle had also become reformist in her religious views. She collaborated with Duchess Renée to welcome and assist refugees persecuted for their religious beliefs despite the objections of Duchess Renée’s husband. While Baroness Michelle was famous for her support of arts and letters in Ferrara, integrated well into the life of the duchy, and became popular with the Duke’s father, Duke Hercule disliked her and her influence with his wife. To make matter’s worse, Baroness Michelle’s daughter, Anne, met le Sire de Pons, whom she married in January1534.
In 1535 and early 1536, tensions between King François and Duke Hercule mounted. Queen Marguerite of Navarre invited Duchess Renée to visit Lyon, France to meet King François while Duke Hercule was away in Rome visiting the Pope. Duchess Renée asked Baroness Michelle to make the arrangements. When he learned of this, Duke Hercule returned to Ferrara in a rage, forbade Duchess Renée to make the trip and demanded Baroness Michelle’s recall to France.
Duchess Renée was enraged when she heard the news of Madame de Soubise’s dismissal. Her dismissal by the Duke seemed unacceptable to her and she wrote letters of protest to the court of France as well as to the pope. King François sent Cardinal Jean du Bellay to advise Duke Hercule to be discreet because “to dismiss Madame de Soubise too openly and clearly would make known publicly his low regard for the Duchess, his wife”.
Nonetheless, Madame de Soubise, as she was known, left Ferrara on March 20, 1536 in a litter pulled by expensive horses gifted to her and her entourage by the Duchess for the return journey to Parc Soubise. Clément Marot wrote a poem on her merits when it was learned she would depart, and she took with her many books of prose and poetry. Back in Parc Soubise, the Baroness pursued her religious journey towards Calvinism and died in the Reformed Religion. On her deathbed she took communion in two kinds and refused to hear masses. She was buried beside her husband in the choir of the parish church at Mouchamps.
She is the grandmother of the noted French poet Catherine de Parthenay. The painting that existed of her disappeared in the 17th century and there are no known images of her, her husband, or any of her children. There is very little in the way of historical information about her and most of what exists is included in articles or books related to Renée de France except for the one article devoted to her by M. Giraud-Mangin. The materials I have used to piece together this account of her life can almost all be found on the internet.
Further reading: Giraud-Mangin, M., Michelle de Saubonne: Dame d’atour d’Anne de Bretagne
Spont, Alfred, Semblançay: La bourgeoisie financière au début du XVIe siècle, 1896
Denis de Saubonne: Arbre en ligne :Sylvain BOULAIS https://gw.geneanet.org/sboulais2
zum Kolk, Caroline « Les difficultés des mariages internationaux : Renée de France et Hercule d’Este », in I. Poutrin et M.-K. Schaub (dir.), Femmes et pouvoir politique. Les princesses d’Europe, XVe – XVIIIe siècle, Bréal, Rosny-sous-Bois, 2007, p. 102-119. Article légèrement remanié publié en ligne sur Cour de France.fr, février 2011 (http://cour-de-france.fr/article1814.html).
Rodocanachi E.-P., Renée de France, duchesse de Ferrare. Une protectrice de la Réforme en Italie, Paris, 1896
Blaisdell C. I., Royalty and Reform: the predicament of Renée de France, 1510-1575, Medford Mass., Tufts University, 1969
Lyman-Roelker N., « The role of noblewoman in the French Reformation », Archiv für Religionsgeschichte, s.l., automne 1972.
Pour les études s’éloignant de l’histoire religieuse : Franceschini C., « La corte di Renata di Francia (1528-1560) », in Prosperi A. (dir), Storia di Ferrara, vol. VI, Ferrare, Corbo, 2000, p. 185-214 ;
Braun G., Le mariage de Renée de France avec Hercule d’Este : une inutile mésalliance», Histoire, Économie et Société, 7e année, n° 2, 1988, p. 147-165.
Bonnet J., « Jeunesse de Renée de France », Bulletin de la Société de l’Histoire du Protestantisme Français, t. 15, 1866, p. 126.
Vray, Nicole, Renée de France et Anne de Guise : Mère et Fille entre la Loi et la Foi au XVIe Siècle, Lyon, Editions Olivétan, 2010
Bonnet J., « Quatre lettres inédites de Marguerite d’Angoulême », in Bulletin de la Société de l’Histoire du Protestantisme français, t. 15, 1866, p. 127 : lettre de Marguerite d’Angoulême à Renée de France, fin 1535.