Convivium: Lori Walters, Christine de Pizan’s Queen’s Manuscript (BL, Harley 4431) as the High Point of Her Career

When and Where

Friday, January 12, 2024 2:30 pm to 4:30 pm
3rd Floor
Lillian Massey
125 Queen's Park


Lori J. Walters



In the past four decades, we have learned that the early fifteenth-century laywoman Christine de Pizan (1365-c. 1430) headed an extraordinarily prolific scriptorium devoted to the publication of her own writings. As the overseer of all aspects of her manuscripts’ fabrication, Christine achieved a harmonious melding of content (matière, subject matter) and form (techne, technical expertise) by harnessing the concept of ordinatio to organically structure her Queen’s Manuscript [=Harley], her final and largest integrally complete single-author compilation. 

Christine’s subject matter was peace, good government, and the restoration of order at a time of great disorder: within Christendom (the Great Schism of 1378-1417); between France and England (the Hundred Years War); within France (the vicious Orléans-Armagnac & Burgundian rivalry); disasters exacerbated by King Charles VI’s four-decades-long recurring bouts of madness (1392-1422). Harley and her Livre de paix, both dating to c. 1412-1414, testify to Christine’s efforts to stabilize France’s hereditary agnatic Christian monarchy, efforts seconded by the chancellor of the University of Paris, Jean Gerson.  

Akin to a royal charter or ordo designed expressly for its commissioner, Queen Ysabel (c. 1370-1435), Harley celebrates this sane and politically engaged queen as the appropriate alternative transmitter of France’s ‘royal image’.[1] Christine designed Harley to be a mirror for female self-improvement and societal betterment, a royal book in the tradition of Saint Louis’ Grandes chroniques de France, Vincent de Beauvais' Speculum historial, and the translations commissioned by her family’s patron, King Charles V (r. 1364-1380), who placed the Bible and Augustine’s City of God at the top of his hierarchy of authorities. Through the coordinated work of her mind and hands Christine encoded in Harley and Paix a template for the earthly realization of the divine order of peace prophesied in The City of God and its source in Psalm 87.3.[2]

Whereas in the short run Christine was unable to help the queen assure a lasting cessation of hostilities (witness the 1418 Burgundian takeover of Paris, the English king Henry V’s 1420 Parisian entry, and subsequent English occupation), Harley had decisive long-term effects. The 1435 peace of Arras marked the beginning of the reintegration of the wayward duchy of Burgundy into its parent kingdom of France. By 1453 Queen Ysabel’s only surviving son, King Charles VII (r. 1429-1461), had largely driven the English from French soil. Harley’s benefits are evident in how it was received in Burgundy c. 1434 and in England between c. 1425 and 1478. By understanding Christine’s function as her manuscripts’ first publisher ardently engaged in the nitty-gritty of their making (as scribe, textual editor, iconographical supervisor, etc.), we can view her not only as an author and political commentator, as she has previously been seen, but as a political agent attempting, if not always successfully, to influence the course of history.

My talk also serves to introduce a conference on Christine de Pizan designed to commemorate the acquisition of a fine Livre de paix manuscript by the University of Toronto's Fisher Library. 

1 See A.D.HEDEMAN, The Royal Image. Illustrations of the ‘Grandes Chroniques de France’ 1274-1422, Berkeley, 1991, on the efforts of Christine and Gerson to keep the monarchy on an even keel, p. 153, p. 168, and “The Role of the queen and the dauphin.”, pp. 169-77.
2Civ. 2.21, 10.7, 11.1, CCSL 47-48.

Read more about Lori J. Walters


Notes from the Speaker

My abstract is an overview of my talk, which is drawn from a chapter I am doing for a follow-up volume to: 
S. Niskanen, Intro., The Art of Publication from the Ninth to the Sixteenth Century, ed. by S. Niskanen, with the assistance of Valentina Rovere, IPM, 93 (Turnhout, 2023), pp. 11-21.    

I have posted below documents that are helpful in following the talk. The Making of the Queen's MS website reproduces all c. 800 folios of Harley, complete with 132 miniatures and other decoration. 

Documents posted to “Research Output”                                       

Besides updating the 4 documents listed above, I am adding two others. These 6 documents reveal the astounding extent of Christine's "ordering" (ordonnance) of Harley, understood as both a re-formation of the world through the combined action of the two dames, Queen Ysabel and herself, and as Christine’s mastery of the technical skills involved in turning out the material book.
            *“Miniatures in the Queen’s Manuscript” 
Christine uses Harley’s 132 miniatures to guide readers down the “path of long study.”(Prologue, l. 42, qui de sens suivent les sentiers./ those who follow the paths of good sense.)
            *“Female Agency: Wise versus foolish choices (sens versus folie) in the Queen’s Manuscript”: In Harley Christine goes beyond simply describing an"allegory of female authority” [M. Quilligan] to setting forth a template for female political agency.  


I specialize in publishing before print, with an emphasis on Christine de Pizan,  Le Roman de la Rose, and Chrétien de Troyes. I am currently working on a study of Christine de Pizan as author, publisher, and public figure.

Visiting Scholar, Centre for Medieval Studies, The University of Toronto

The Harry F. Williams Professor Emerita, Florida State University

Member, Editorial Board, Digital Philology: A Journal of Medieval Cultures (JHU)

Co-editor, Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age II, 6.1 Re-Examining the ‘Roman de la Rose’ & Christine de Pizan, Digital Philology, Spring 2017.

Co-editor, Women & Community in Early Modern Europe, November 2018.