This single working mom was Europe's first professional woman writer

Christine de Pisan upended medieval norms not only by refusing to remarry but also by being the first woman to make a living with her pen.

Christine de Pisan helped craft the beautifully illustrated manuscripts of her literary creations. Using her experience as manager of a scriptorium, she oversaw the work of skilled miniaturists to produce these detailed images. In some editions she is often the subject of the illustrations. In a 15th-century edition of her 1405 work One Hundred Ballads of a Lover and a Lady, she is shown working in her study (left). As in this image, she is often shown wearing a long blue dress and a white wimple, the standard attire across many other portraits of her.
BRIDGEMAN/ACI

For a daughter to receive the same education as a son was rare in the mid-14th century, and Christine de Pisan’s childhood was one such exception. Born in Venice in 1364 and raised in France, Christine (also known as Christina) used the advantages of her early education to forge a prolific writing career to support herself and her family, an unprecedented achievement for the time. A poet and biographer, Christine celebrated remarkable female figures in her works, including an account of Joan of Arc written during her lifetime.

Christine’s father was a Bolognese physician and astrologer, Tommaso da Pizzano. His reputation as an intellectual secured him employment as the court astrologer of King Charles V of France. Tommasso moved the family there when Christine was four. She had two younger brothers, and Tommasso—an open-minded man for the times—decided to provide a formal education for all three children. Christine received lessons in Greek, Latin, great works of literature, history, philosophy, and medicine. A voracious reader, she was known to have spent hours in the library of the royal palace of the Louvre, which had been founded by her father’s patron, Charles V. (Did sons and daughters get the same education in ancient Greece?)

Alongside her desire to soak up knowledge, Christine de Pisan also demonstrated precocious literary flair. As a child, she composed songs and ballads that delighted members of the court. Her father, who gained prestige in King Charles V’s inner circle, did his utmost to ensure an advantageous marriage for his daughter as soon as she was old enough to wed. In 1379, age 15, Christine married Étienne du Castel, a notary and secretary to the king. It was, by Christine’s own account, a blissfully happy union. The pair had three children: two sons and a daughter.

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