Eve Grinstead ’09J from France

Eve Grinstead '09J, France

Check out her blog at the http://juxt-a-pose.blogspot.com.

If I could think of one word that describes my experience as a Fulbright Scholar to Paris, it would be independence. I spend most of my time in various libraries and archives: some are immense, such as the Bibliotheque Nationale while others are small, provincial (which in Paris always implies inferior, though this is not always the case) archives in medieval castles and forts. And because it is France, and everything works this way, each library has its own set of regulations and paperwork. Painfully bureaucratic, but the ends do justify the means.

I have been granted this fellowship to research the artistic patronage of Jeanne d’Evreux, a fourteenth-century queen who had the misfortune (or fortune, depending on how you view her situation) of becoming a widow at the age of 16 after a four-year marriage to Charles IV. Yes, fellow Smithies, that means that she married at 12. This was actually a rather common practice at the time, especially when the king had already been married twice before, failed to produce a male heir, and grew desperate to marry whomever he could as an attempt to save the family bloodline.

Though he and Jeanne were unsuccessful in giving birth to a son (which, as a result, is the reason that Jeanne is often unjustly credited for “ending” the Capetian dynasty), Charles at least did try to keep the power within the family, since Jeanne was also his first cousin.

After the sudden death of her husband, Jeanne gave birth to a third girl and power shifted to the Valois House. From that point on, Jeanne was kept in a rather unique position at the French court: as a dowager queen. She was still regarded and addressed as queen, but she no longer reined over the French court—nor did she have a husband who was able to encumber her political and religious ambitions.

Appropriately, Jeanne spent the majority of her widowhood as an important patron of the arts. She commissioned secular works to decorate her many castles in the Ile-de-France and Champagne regions as well as religious objects such as illustrious reliquaries or sculptures to decorate important Parisian cathedrals and monasteries. I am particularly interested in what her motivations were behind these commissions–how her donations were actually used as means for self-advancement.

Because Jeanne was not the official ruling queen for the majority of her life, there is very little written or recorded about her directly. This means that some information that I thought would be beneficial to my research has been completely unhelpful, while other, unexpected treasures of history have surfaced.

And in order for these unforeseen changes to be a blessing, rather than a burden, the independence I mentioned at the beginning of this update is most important. It is this freedom that allows me to follow where my research leads me, rather than be forced to squeeze irrelevant information to a specific class or assignment.

Following this year, I plan to stay in France to pursue a master’s degree in art history, using some of my findings for my thesis. I also intend to write the biography of Jeanne d’Evreux, a volume that has never before been published.