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The Book of the City of Ladies | Study Guide

Christine de Pizan

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The Book of the City of Ladies | Part 1, Sections 12–13 | Summary



In this section grouping, Christine is given specific examples of queens who served to preserve the estates of their husbands until their sons were of an age to rule. Christine and Lady Reason continue their discussion about the means by which the foundation of the city will be laid. Lady Reason presents the cases of several noble women "of the distant past" who maintained well-ordered and magnificent courts to rival those of any king. The Lady presents the example of Queen Fredegunde, who ruled France "most wisely" after her husband's death and preserved their only son against the fierce in-fighting of the barons eager to seize control. Christine pens other contemporaries, all presented as virtuous examples of noble widowed wives and mothers who preserved their husband's territories until their children came of age to take charge of them. These women, Lady Reason tells Christine, accomplished wise rule by "using both force and gentleness." However, Lady Reason states that although women have the intelligence and moral fiber needed to adjudicate (act as a judge) in a court of law, the passing of judgment weighs as a very heavy burden because of the compassionate nature of women. Failure to properly carry out the role of judging others would injure a woman particularly.


De Pizan drew extensively upon Boccaccio's catalog of famous women titled Concerning Famous Women (c. 1375) as the source of her examples in both Part 1 and Part 2. It is significant that the earliest examples of virtuous women presented by Lady Reason are those of previous French nobility (such as Queen Fredegunde), who "inherited" or assumed leadership roles upon the untimely deaths of their husbands and held them, so that they could be passed on to their sons. De Pizan strategically begins with this type of situation in which women temporarily step in between husbands and sons and rise to the occasion with what Nature has given them. In other words, the power they hold is only by way of preserving the power of the husband and only so long as necessary, until the son may be invested with it.

Such examples would have been well known to her readers and provide a direct connection to their common literary heritage. This serves de Pizan's purpose not only of pointing out the highly selective tendency of critics of women to cite only bad examples while excluding good ones but also of bringing to the attention of her readers that they already know the virtuous and courageous acts of these women and should be inspired by them.

Christine's discussion with Lady Reason on the topic of the ability of women to adjudicate in legal matters is cast in a positive, rather than a negative, context. This is intended to counteract the disparaging statements of misogynists, who frame women as deficient or incomplete compared to men. These are men who make such remarks as an argument designed to support the idea that women lack the necessary attributes to understand, much less preside in, legal matters. Lady Reason points out to Christine that at issue is not a lack of ability or moral discernment but rather a divinely endowed sensibility of compassion. Instead, the idea here is that human error all too common in a court of law lays a burden of guilt that is too heavy for virtuous women to bear. This perspective is reapplied throughout Part 1 and 2.

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