By Louise Gay
Daughter of the duke Robert II of Burgundy and Agnès of France, Jeanne was through her mother a granddaughter of the most famous Capetian king Louis IX.
In July 1313, she married Philippe of Valois – son of her older cousin Charles – as part of a complex matrimonial policy which aimed to bring the monarchy closer to the Duchy of Burgundy.
At first a simple countess, she became queen in 1328 thanks to the change of dynastic branch between the Capetians and the Valois. While the beginnings of Philippe’s reign were marked by a crisis of royalty, Jeanne presented several advantages as queen.
Her Capetian ancestry reinforced her husband’s legitimacy by tying him even more to the old dynasty, her maternity duty was fulfilled, and she was an educated queen.
Indeed, Jeanne was a bibliophile queen known for her commissions of translations of Latin texts as well as her luxurious manuscripts. Also, despite the claims of later chronicles, she got along well with her husband.
As the Hundred Years War began, Philippe VI entrusted her with the government of the kingdom in his absence in 1338 and again in 1346. Meanwhile, Jeanne took care of finding funding for his military campaigns and had also a mediating role with the papacy.
It was only after her death in December 1349, probably from the plague, that a black legend gradually developed around Jeanne.
According to hostile chroniclers, among other misdeeds she had too much influence on her husband to the point that she is accused of wanting to replace him as king – ignoring the official delegations of power received during her lifetime to pass her off as a usurper.
Chroniclers gave her mean nicknames: male royne (“evil queen” and/or perhaps “male queen”) and royne boiteuse (“lame queen”). As A-H. Allirot wrote, this dark legend allows them to criticize the new role of regent granted to queens at the turn of the 14th and 15th centuries.
Her negative representation in sources after her reign condenses a vast imagination available at the end of the Middle Ages regarding the power of women, the power of influence and the usurpation of power.
Anne-Hélène Allirot, “La male royne boiteuse : Jeanne de Bourgogne,” in Royautés imaginaires: Actes du colloque organisé par le Centre de recherche d’histoire sociale et culturelle (CHSCO) de l’université de Paris X-Nanterre sous la direction de Colette Beaune et Henri Bresc (26 et 27 septembre 2003), 119-133 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2005)
Marc Gil, “Question de goût, question de genre? Commandes de sceaux royaux et princiers autour des reines Jeanne II de Bourgogne (1328-1349) et Jeanne II de Navarre (1329-1349),” in Les femmes, la culture et les arts en Europe entre Moyen Âge et Renaissance sous la direction de Cynthia J. Brown et Anne-Marie Legaré, 327-344 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2012).
Murielle Gaude-Ferragu, Queenship in Medieval France, 1300-1500 (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016).