Did an 15th-Century French Ruler Remove His Wife from History?

For years, we’ve been able to look back on old writings, scripture, and art from centuries gone by. Most of the time, it provides us with an excellent way to better understand how those who came before us operated. It shows us a huge amount of information regarding how societies of the past operated, and the kind of similarities that they might happen to hold with our own society. However, sometimes, we need to take what we find in these old pieces of scripture and content with a pinch of salt. This has been increasingly proven in a recent use of infrared technology on an old piece of art.

Indeed, reviews of work found from Francis I of Brittany and his wife Yolande of Anjou have created some controversy recently. When Yolande died in 1440, she left her husband struck with grief. However, she soon recovered from the pain of the loss and more or less replaced her. Replaced as his wife, Yolande was also replaced in her own prayer book. Indeed, images of her – and her coat of arms – were replaced with the imagery and coat of arms of her successor.

In the “Book of Hours”, Yolande is seen as a tiny figure who kneels before the Virgin marry. However, by 1442, Francis had re-married, this time marrying Isabella Stuart who hailed from Scotland. Now, new research by the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England, has found some intriguing information about the replacement tactics used to consign Yolande to the dustbin of history.

Indeed, the use of infrared tech shows us that we might even be looking at marriage craftsmen removing the sight and image of Yolande from history long before this.

What was found?

Original underdrawings shows a kneeling figure of the Duke's first wife, Yolande, wearing a headdress. Credit: The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge

Recent discoveries have located that within the book, various analysis of the pages of the “Belle Heures of the Duc de Berry” shows that original pigments have been covered over. Scientific teams at the museum have closely looked to find drawings that are stored underneath the replacements – and were used to prepare the book for replacement on the lead-up to Yolande’s death.

Indeed, it is clear that Isabella’s face and robes have been painted over where Yolande should be, along with her coat of arms. Indeed, further analysis shows that it was even altered again for Margaret, the daughter of Isabella, who had added extra pages in the future. The manuscripts can be seen at the Fitzwilliam Museum until the 1st August.