Anne and Charles: Passion and Politics in Late Medieval France – by Rozsa Gaston – book review

This first in a three-novel series by Rozsa Gaston about Anne of Brittany (1477-1514) gets a resounding “OK”. While I succeeded in learning more about THIS Anne — Duchess of Brittany and twice Queen of France — I can’t say the read was as engrossing as I’d hoped. Awarded three stars on Goodreads, but three and a half is probably more accurate.

Anne is an interesting character, a strong-willed girl who becomes ruler of Brittany at the age of 11. Engaged to Maximilian I (the Holy Roman Emperor) who provides absolutely NO aid in Anne’s struggle for power and control of Brittany against King Charles VIII of France — Anne opts to solve her own problems by abandoning Maximilian and marrying Charles instead at 14 – thus, remaining Duchess of Brittany but adding the title of Queen of France. At the same time, teaching Max a good lesson.

According to the author, Anne and Charles’ marriage becomes one based on true love and mutual respect, despite the many losses the two suffer together. This novel ends with the premature death of Charles (at the age of 27), setting up the second novel in the series, ANNE AND LOUIS: PASSION AND POLITICS IN EARLY RENAISSANCE FRANCE. This Louis is King Louis XII of France, the cousin that succeeds Charles.

Anne of Brittany

The portrait of Anne that Gaston creates is of a self-confident, smart, highly-educated, and competent leader – possessing many more gifts than her older, but weaker (and homely) husband. It’s Anne who provides the guidance Charles needs to come into his own. That certainly made them an interesting pair – with an unusual power dynamic for Medieval Europe and gives the book a decidedly feminist bent.

What appeals to me about historical fiction is getting to know the people who made history. So for me, the most interesting parts of this novel were those that centered on the relationships Anne had. First, with members of her family, and later, with Charles. The least appealing parts were those having to do with Charles’s military campaign to regain the throne of Naples and his serial infidelity.

Author Rozsa Gaston
Image from her website

I do plan to read the next two novels in the Anne of Brittany series – so I can learn how the rest of Anne’s life plays out. And I’m hoping they hold my interest more consistently than this one. (Both sequels get higher ratings on Goodreads than this first one.)

More about the author, Rozsa Gaston.