This commentary is based on the classroom activity: Christine de Pizan: A Feminist Historian
Q1: (i) Read the introduction and study sources 2 and 3 and explain why Christine de Pizan decided to write City of Ladies (1405). (ii) Select another source in this unit to illustrate her approach to history writing.
A1: (i) Christine de Pizan pointed out that after reading a lot of history books she discovered "that so many different men - and learned men among them - have been and are so inclined to express... so many wicked insults about women and their behaviour... it seems that they all speak from one and the same mouth". (source 2) She decided to write a history book from the point of view of a woman. In the book Christine argues that male historians had given a distorted picture of the role played by women in history. The book attempted to redress the balance by providing a positive view of women's achievements and included a collection of stories about heroines of the past.
In the book Christine de Pizan made it clear that it was very important for parents to give their daughters a good education (source 3): " I am amazed by the opinion of some men who claim that they do not want their daughters or wives to be educated because they would be ruined as a result... Not all men (and especially the wisest) share the opinion that it is bad for women to be educated. But it is very true that many foolish men have claimed this because it upset them that women knew more than they did."
(ii) In 1429 Christine de Pizan wrote about Joan of Arc (source 7). In this passage the author makes it clear that she believes Joan of Arc is a great figure in history. "She drives her enemies out of France, recapturing castles and towns. Never did anyone see greater strength, even in hundreds of thousands of men... What honour for the female sex... the whole Kingdom - now recovered and made safe by a woman."
Q2: Christine de Pizan commissioned an artist, Anastasia, to illustrate her books. Study sources 1, 4 and 8. What do they tell us about Christine de Pizan?
A2: Christine de Pizan wanted to make it very clear that a woman had written these books. She is shown writing (source 1) and presenting her books to famous people (source 8). In source 4 she wanted to show her role as a teacher.
A3: In 1489 Henry VII asked William Caxton to print a special English edition of Christine de Pizan's book, Faytes of Arms, so that his knights would have the latest information on military technology. However, as it was feared that the knights would not be willing to listen to the advice of a woman on military matters, Christine's name was left off the cover of the book.
A4: Kirstin Olsen points out that Christine de Pizan was "one of the West's first feminists" and probably the world's first professional writer. Andrea Hopkins agrees that she "was the only known professional author in medieval Europe who was a woman".