Saturday, March 12, 2022

Audacious Queen Anna of France


Statue of Anna at the Royal Abbey of St Vincent in Senlis

The official Twitter accounts of Ukraine and Russia had a spat about the historical origins of Anna of Kyiv in 2017 after Putin referred to her in a speech as 'Russian Ani'. Both Russians and Ukrainians claim this much-loved queen as their own, but Anna was not a queen in either country. Anna actually became the first queen of France when she married King Henry I.

Young and beautiful, Anna was one of the daughters of Yaroslav the 'Wise',  the Grand Prince of Kyiv 958 -1074 A.D.) and his wife Irina. They were strong believers in education, even for girls, so their daughters all studied maths, astronomy and Latin. Anna spoke several languages, and Henry was 'enchanted by her accomplishments'.

Legend has it that when Henry came to see Anna after her father accepted his second proposal on her behalf, she said, 'I hope that you're the king of France,' when he kissed her! The couple arrived in Paris in May, 1051. Everyone wants to be in Paris in springtime, except ... Anna, who was extremely disappointed by the town after her cosmopolitan and advanced hometown. She found Paris muddy and dirty with sewage in the streets! It also shocked Anna that the people didn't even know about stoves, and their dwellings were filled with smoke. Education was sadly lacking - Anna set about improving this by making the French literate, and the people had 'appalling customs'. Apparently, they didn't wash, and Anna is thought to have started the custom of bathing. She considered the French to be 'barbaric'.

Unfortunately, Anna's marriage was reputedly unhappy, and Henry was often away extending his kingdom. Anna performed administrative duties, signing important documents, and playing a powerful role in governance while Henry was away.

Anna named her son, the heir to the throne, Philip, a Greek name new to the kingdom. Her other children were Robert, Hugh and Emma. When Henry died, Anna was only 28 and she had to continue in her administrative role and also give advice because her young son was only nine. She really acted as Regent. Pope Nicholas II praised Anna for 'fullfilling royal duties with enviable fervour and remarkable intelligence'. Anna found time for romance, however.

While staying at Senlis castle, she met Count Raoul de Crespy de Valois who was also walking in the forest. The couple soon fell in love, and the count kidnapped her, and married her. But he was already married, and his wife complained to Pope Alexander II who excommunicated him, and ordered them to live apart. However, they refused to do that. The couple travelled with Philip, and advised him on his royal duties.

Anna founded the Royal Abbey of St Vincent of Senlis, probably to atone for her sins. She was a very pious woman so her unlawful marriage must have upset her. There is a statue of Anna placed there by the people of France who loved her very much. Now there is even a centre devoted to her, and to relations between Ukraine and France.

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