Who was Christine de Pizan?

Christine de Pizan (or de Pisan as appears in very ancient texts) was an Italian author of Late Middle Ages, her most famous work is The Book of the City of Ladies where she creates an allegorical city to ladies and defends them by collecting an array of famous women throughout history. In this book she also advocates in favour of education for women.

She wrote a large number of works in prose and verse, including political treatises, mirror for princes, epistles and poetry. Some of her famous books are: Le livre des trois vertusDitié de Jehanne d’Arc and The Treasure of the City of Ladies – a manual of education dedicated to Princess Margaret of Burgundy. This book aims to educate women of all estates.

From compendium of Christine de Pizan’s works, 1413. (British Library)

She was born in 1364 in Venice (Italy), her father Tommaso di Benvenuto da Pizzano, worked as physician, court astrologer and Councillor of the Republic of Venice. Thomas de Pizan, as he was known, accepted to move to the court of Charles V of France as the king’s astrologer in 1368, taking with him all his family, including little Christine.

In 1379, she married the notary and royal secretary Etienne du Castel and she had three children.

Her father died in 1388 and a year later her husband died of the plague. After these tragic events, Christine de Pizan was left to support her mother and her children. When she tried to collect money from her husband’s estate she faced very complicated lawsuits regarding the recovery of salary due to her husband. And one 4 June 1389, in a judgement concerning a lawsuit filed against her by the archbishop of Sens and François Chanteprime (both councillors of the king), she was styled “demoiselle” and widow of Etienne du Castel.

First page of Chemin de longue étude (BNF)

Christine started to write in order to support herself and her family. By 1393 she was writing love ballads that caught the attention of wealthy patrons of the court and she became a very prolific writer.

Thanks to her involvement in the production of all her books and her skilful use of patronage in a political time very turbulent in the history of France, she has earned the title of the first professional woman of letters in Europe.

Pizan was affectively and financially attached to French royal family. Her early ballads were dedicated to members of the royal family as Isabeau of Bavaria; Louis I, Duke of Orléans and Marie of Berry.

“Querelle du Roman de la Rose”

In 1402 Christine de Pisan became involved in a literary controversy. She instigated the debate by questioning the literary merits of a very popular book by that time Romance of the Rose. This book, written by Jean de Meun, satirizes the conventions of country love while critically depicting women as seducers. And in 1405 she published Le livre de la cite des dames as an answer to The Romance of the Rose.

Last Years

Because of the civil war and the occupation of Paris by the English, many historians assume that she spent the last years of her life in the Dominican Convent of Poissy, away of the royal court. There, she reduced her literary activity. However, in 1429, after Joan of Arc’s military victory over the English, Christine de Pizan published the poem Ditié de Jehanne d’Arc (The tale of Joan of Arc) that was published just few days after the coronation of Charles VII.

Is believed that she died in 1430, before Joan of Arc was trialled and executed by the English.

The works of Christine de Pizan has been returned to prominence thanks to the efforts of scholars such as Simone de Beauvoir, Charity Cannon Willard and Earl Jeffrey Richards.

Christine de Pizan writing – from Miniature on MS., in the Burghandy Library, Brussels. (XV century)


  • In 1397, her daughter became a nun at the Dominican Abbey in Poissy as a companion to the king’s daughter Marie of Valois.
  • Although she was Italian by birth, she expressed fervent nationalism for France.