Episode 10: Christine de Pizan: Strategic Precepts for the Prince
We’re joined by Emeritus Professor Françoise Le Saux to discuss the unique work of Christine de Pizan. An Italian by origin, de Pizan was charged with writing manuals on good governance and the conduct of war for the medieval French crown prince who became Charles VI. Her main concern in a time of civil and foreign wars was to reduce civilian suffering, and to make the decision to go to war truly a last resort.
Exceedingly well-read, building on the writings of Aristotle, Vegetius and the French cleric Honoré Bovet, de Pizan created benchmarks for good governance in peace and conflict. Unusually for her time, she saw insurgencies as functions of poor governance and provided advice on how to govern wisely and justly. She promoted conflict mediation by bringing together princes and experts to listen to disputing parties and identify possible resolutions short of war. If war was nevertheless required, she reiterated rules to prevent the conflict from degenerating into unnecessary destruction.
The only known female strategic theorist from the time, and highly regarded by the Dukes of Burgundy Philip the Bold and John the Fearless, she was something like the French Courts, the Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre, and the Institute for Public Policy Research all rolled into one.
Professor Françoise Le Saux, our expert consultant on de Pizan, was formerly Professor of French at the University of Reading. She has worked extensively on issues of translation and cultural adaptation in the Middle Ages.
Christine de Pizan, Le Livre de Fais d’Armes et Chevalerie, I.iv, trans. by Sumner Willard, ed. by Charity Cannon Willard: The Book of Deeds of Arms and of Chivalry, Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999. (or the first translation into English, at the request of King Henry VII: Boke of the fayt of armes and of chyualrye, William Caxton, 1489).
Françoise Le Saux, ‘War and Knighthood in Christine de Pizan’s Livre des faits d’armes et de chevallerie’, in Corrine Saunders, Françoise Le Saux and Neil Thomas (eds), Writing War: Medieval Literary Responses to Warfare, D.S. Brewer, 2004, pp.93-105.
Beatrice Heuser, Strategy before Clausewitz: Linking Warfare and Statecraft, 1400-1830, Routledge, 2017 (Chapter 3: ‘Christine de Pizan").
Senior Associate Fellow
Director, Military Sciences