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1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Agnes Sorel

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AGNES SOREL ( c. 1422-1450), mistress of King Charles VII. of France, was born of a family of the lesser nobility at Fromenteau in Touraine. While still a girl she was attached to the service of Isabel of Lorraine, queen of Sicily, wife of Rene of Anjou, the brother-in-law of Charles VII. From 1444 until her death in 1450 she was the acknowledged mistress of the king, the first woman to hold that semi-official position which was to be of so great importance in the subsequent history of the old regime. Her ascendancy dated from the festivals at Nancy in 1444, the first brilliant court of Charles VII. Here her great beauty captivated the king, whose love for her remained constant until her death. He gave her wealth, castles and lands, and secured for her the state and distinction of a queen. This first public recognition of his mistress by a king of France scandalized all good people and awakened jealousy and intrigue. Her sudden death from dysentery, shortly after the birth of her fourth child, was accordingly attributed to poison. Burgundian historians even openly accused the Dauphin, afterwards Louis XI., of her death, and later the enemies of Jacques Coeur, in their search for crimes to be brought against him, used this rumour to charge him with the one crime most likely to turn the king against him. Her heart was buried in the abbey of Jumieges, her body in the collegiate church of Loches. Contemporary writers all bear witness to her extraordinary beauty, but no genuine portraits of her have come down to us.

Legend has made an entirely dijerent character of this first official mistress of the French kings. The date of her birth was placed at about 1409, her liaison with the king dated from 1 433. Then, so the story ran, she drew him from his indolence, continuing the work of Joan of Arc, both by nerving the king to warlike enterprises - she did apparently induce him to take part personally in the conquest of Normandy - and by surrounding him with that band of wise advisers who really administered France during her ascendancy. Recent investigation has exploded this romantic story by simply showing that Charles VII. had not met her until ten years later than in the legend. Instead of being his sole good angel, she seems rather to have demoralized the king, who, hitherto chaste, henceforth gave himself up to courtesans. Yet she favoured the best advisers of the king, and at least in this deserved the gratitude of the realm. Pierre de Breze seems especially to have used Agnes to gain his ascendancy over the king.

See A. Vallet de Viriville's articles in Bibliotheque de l'Ecole des chartes (3rd series, tom. i.); and R. Duquesne, Vie et aventures galantes de la belle Sorel (1909).

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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Agnes Sorel'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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