Saint Joan of Valois: When Royalty Embraces Pain

Considering how Providence guided St Joan to the pinnacle of holiness not only helps us accepting our own misfortunes; it also to better understand the priceless value of pain during the Lenten Season. 

Gaudium Press English Edition

Newsdesk (11/03/2022 7:02 PM, Gaudium Press) Saint Joan of Valois, second daughter of King Louis XI and Queen Carlotta of Savoy, was born on April 23rd, 1464. Her father, an irascible and domineering man, was impatiently awaiting an heir who would assure his descendants on the throne, celebrating in advance the arrival of a prince.

When he received the news that the queen had given birth to a baby girl, the monarch was filled with discontent and blamed the little girl for his supposed misfortune. An unfounded hatred grew within Louis XI, who refused to be with his newborn daughter or give her any attention.

The paternal aversion reached its peak when, a short time later, it was possible to notice the princess’ physical characteristics: she presented deformities on her face and in her weak constitution, foreshadowing the insufficiencies that would mark her in adulthood, as she would become almost a dwarf, bent over and with a limp.

Paternal contempt

The unhappy child was growing up in an environment marked by the king’s contempt, but which was compensated to some extent by the affectionate maternal presence. The queen felt compassion for her daughter and instilled in her the religious fervour that distinguished her, teaching her to turn to God as to a good Father, who has infinite love for each of his children.

From her tender childhood, Joan showed a humanly inexplicable gentleness, without expressing any revolt at her limitations or at the barely concealed displeasure of almost everyone who approached her.

Moved by complete submission to the will of God, she conformed to her state and began to seek comfort in the supernatural, insisting that the Ladies of Honour always take her to some church where she could remain in silent prayer.

This early devotion also irritated Louis XI, who did not take kindly to her presence in the castle. Fearing that the princess would diminish the brightness of the royal house by her deficiencies, he decided to send her far away, away too from the queen, whom she would never see again.

To this end, he chose a distant fief entrusted to a childlless couple of the nobility, the Baron and Baroness of Linières. Jeanne de Valois, still a child at the time, left her family to face the hardships of a dark future alone.

A promise from Our Lady

The Linières welcomed the little princess into their domain in the historic region of Berry. Despite the familial and material neglect to which Jeanne was reduced, she learned with pleasure to embroider, to play the lute, and to perform other handicrafts appropriate to her age.

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However, she devoted the best of her time to the practices of piety, almost as a contemplative. She had a deep devotion to Our Lady, whom she loved as her tender Mother.

One day, imploring the help she did not expect from any human power, she devoutly formulated a request: “O my Mother, teach me Yourself what I must do to please You!”

To which the Blessed Virgin answered her, “My daughter, dry your tears, for one day you will flee from this world from which you fear the dangers, and you will bring forth an order of holy religious women dedicated to singing the praises of God, faithful in following in my footsteps.”

When would such a foundation take place? The Queen of Heaven did not reveal it, and it was yet another proof of trust for Jeanne.

Heroic submission and obedience

As time passed, paradoxically, Louis XI decided to take advantage of his daughter’s hand to further his plans. Without the slightest remorse, he engineered a marriage favourable to the interests of the Crown, leaving the Saint perplexed.

However, in order to consolidate his authority in an uncertain political environment and to reduce the risk of any future rivalry with the Duke of Orléans, the King decreed the nuptials between his nephew Louis and his daughter Jeanne, thus eliminating, in a single move, one of the main opponents to the throne.

The wedding took place on September 8th, 1476, when Jeanne was only 12 years old and the Duke of Orléans was 14.

This episode proved once again the princess’ selfless willingness to obey her father’s orders, especially in the face of her husband’s cold indifference, who did not even look at her once during the ceremony.

Louis of Orléans was a young man of remarkable natural gifts who lived amidst the luxury of his castle and, from the beginning, avoided having a sickly wife with him, for whom he manifested public antipathy. His behaviour toward her would be one of frank indifference, if not open hostility.

Nevertheless, Louis de Orléans’ rejection of her corresponded, in some way, to Jeanne’s desires. Upon receiving the news of her marriage, she had prostrated herself before a Crucifix and begged the Lord not to disregard her purpose of total consecration to Him.

A Consolation: the arrival of Saint Francis of Paola

Louis XI, stricken with the serious illness that was to take his life in 1483, wanted to bring to his court a man of great virtue, in the hope that he would obtain a miraculous cure from Heaven.

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His choice fell on an Italian miracle-worker named Francesco di Paola, whose fame of sanctity had crossed the Alps and reached France.

This distinguished apostle of charity received a papal order to attend to the sick man, presenting himself to him, filled with the light of the Holy Spirit, to do great good in French lands.

He patiently assisted the King during his illness, but told him that it was God’s will that the desired miracle would not take place, because he had to leave this world.

The saint prepared the sovereign for a resigned death and remained in the country for long decades, during which time he guided the princess in decisive moments of her spiritual life and the foundation of the order foreseen by Our Lady.

Repaying evil with good

As her father died when Jeanne was 19, the weight of the cross of unwanted marriage became more arduous, with happenings permitted by God to increase the merits of the crown of glory that was reserved for her in eternity.

Just as Louis XI had wished, a male child born after Joan succeeded him in government, under the name of Charles VIII.

However, Louis of Orléans, the King’s brother-in-law, was quick to take up arms in an attempt to usurp the crown from him. His revolt against the state – the so-called Mad War of 1488 – was put down in time and harshly suppressed by the King. The duke was sent to prison and sentenced to capital punishment.

Saint Joan of Valois perceived the ambitious spirit of those involved in this clash of family-political forces. Although aware of her husband’s guilt, she insistently petitioned her brother for his release.

Having spent three years in a dungeon, Louis of Orléans saw the light of day again, thanks to his wife’s patient intercession, without ever expressing a single gesture of gratitude to his benefactress. On the contrary, the times she came to visit him in prison, he refused to see her or speak to her.

It was with gentleness that Joan repaid her husband’s mistreatment, which intensified when he became king, when Charles VIII died without descendants.

One of the first measures taken by the newly crowned Louis XII was to carry out the marriage annulment proceedings that had been initiated earlier in secret, alleging to the Holy Father that he had been forced by his father-in-law to contract the nuptials on pain of death.

Once the bureaucratic procedures and affidavits were completed, the annulment was granted by Alexander VI, bringing about another great public humiliation for the Saint, who thanked the king with a prayer:

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“Blessed be the Lord who has allowed this separation to help me serve Him better than I have done so far.”

Impressed, this time, by Joan’s unimpeachable virtue, Louis XII had his only gesture of deference for her in life, by granting her in usufruct the Dukedom of Berry, which she prudently governed until her death.

Foundation of the Annunciations and edifying death

Now, at last, she was free from all earthly subjection to carry out the designs revealed by Our Lady when she was a girl.

In a frequent exchange of letters with St. Francis of Paola, the latter confirmed to her the divine origin of the inspiration she had received in her childhood, giving her his consent to undertake the foundation.

The Saint, who, amid all the tribulations she had suffered, kept her mind and heart in filial contemplation of the privileges of Our Lady, gathered together among the young women of Bourges a group desirous of imitating her in all her virtues, especially these: faith, charity, chastity, prudence, humility, poverty, obedience, piety, patience and devotion.

The Contemplative Order of the Annunciation Sisters was born, in honour of the Annunciation of Our Lady, recognized by the Holy See in 1501.

Congregated around the noble lady, the first communities grew in number and holiness, until they conformed and solidly established the new institute.

At first divided between the administration of the dukedom and the care of the religious sisters, little by little Joan of Valois was no longer absent from the cloister, where she found true happiness.

In January 1505, her shapeless body, macerated by penance, showed signs of heart failure, which became more pronounced, announcing her approaching death.

On February 4th, she expired serenely, surrounded by her spiritual daughters, and accompanied by a miraculous clarity that shone at her bedside for an hour and a half, from the moment she breathed her last.

In the palace of Louis XII, another luminosity descending from the firmament indicated the exact hour of the departure of that expiatory victim, who now stood before God to pray for the King and for France.

The monarch, moved and impressed by this divine sign, repented of his mistreatment of her and ordered royal funeral pomp to be offered to his former wife.

Saint Joan of Valois left posterity a lesson of royalty embraced by pain.

Text extracted, with adaptations, from the Magazine Heralds of the Gospel, February 2017, n. 182.

Compiled by Roberta MacEwan

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