I love finding stories of women stepping outside of the normal expectations of their gender. Most people assume women spent their time making babies, feeding babies, and giving birth to more babies. But there was a lot more to the lives of women at this time period. Sarah Gristwood, in her book Game of Queens talks about how this was an age of Queenship with Queen regents ruling throughout Europe for much of the sixteenth century. The Ladies Peace is a wonderful slice of life that shows women in power coming together for the common good. While The Ladies Peace didn’t last that long, it did show that women could take on roles often reserved for men.
In 1525 the Hapsburg Holy Roman Empire was taking over much of Europe. Charles V defeated France in Italy, and Francis I found himself a prisoner in Spain.
He signed The Treaty of Madrid under duress. This required he give up lands in Italy, Flanders, Artois, Tournai, and parts of France to Emperor Charles V. England and the Pope decided that Charles was becoming too big for his britches. So Henry VIII switched sides supporting France (much to the chagrin of Henry’s Spanish wife Catherine of Aragon, though he was in the early stages of trying to divorce her at this point, so that likely didn’t come into consideration).
In 1528 the Emperor’s mercenaries sacked Rome, taking the Pope hostage. France invaded Naples and Milan. Someone needed to step in and negotiate a peace. It was time for The Ladies Peace.
In January 1529 Margaret of Austria wrote a letter discussing how peace between her nephew (Charles V) and France might be successful if the agreement was achieved through ladies. She wrote that neither of the two kings could be seen as weak by being the first to step forward to talk of reconciliation, but “On the other hand, how easy for ladies to concur in some endeavors for warding off the general ruin of Christendom, and to make the first advance in such an undertaking.”
By stepping back and allowing the women to handle the details of the peace, the men could save their dignity, and they could have an easy scapegoat to blame if some aspect of the agreement wasn’t popular. It seemed to make sense. The threat from the Ottoman Empire loomed. Christendom, if it was going to avoid general ruin as Margaret wrote, needed to come together.
Margaret wrote to Henry VIII that Louise of Savoy had often suggested that they talk of peace. She wrote that she felt certain Henry would be pleased to hear of this development.
They would meet at Cambrai that year and negotiate a peace.
Louise of Savoy was Francis’ mother. She would bring with her her chancellor, the women of her chamber, but no French nobility. Louise wrote to Margaret’s envoy, “We must necessarily contend and argue, but I sincerely hope it will be without anger or ill-will.”
Advisors had heard of possible threats against Margaret, and urged her not to go to France. She responded, “if any of her councillors or courtiers were afraid, they might go home.” Advisors suggested she take a strong group to escort her. But she replied, “if she brought one single armed man in her suite, people might imagine she was going on a war like enterprise, and not a work of peace.”
The women met in Cambrai is July, with Margaret of Austria arriving first in a litter surrounded by 24 archers. Louise of Savoy arrived two hours later with her daughter, her priests, her painter and choristers. Cambrai had to lay down a few rules because of all the people who descended on the town. No one was allowed to carry arms, and there was a strict curfew.
The women talked and negotiated for three weeks, and it seemed to distress both women. Europe was watching these two women negotiating for peace. While the men weren’t there, they did write some letters trying to influence the negotiations. By the first of August the women went to Vespers together. And on the fifth of August, they celebrated peace with a huge public mass in Cambrai Cathedral. “Blessed are the Peacemakers,” served as the text for the sermon.
The terms were advantageous to the Emperor, so much so that some people suspected some deception. Francis was less than thrilled with the peace, but he had agreed to listen to what his mother said. The peace itself would only last less than a year, but it was a bright and shining spot in the ongoing war. Women put aside their differences and spoke of peace, found common ground, and for a while, they ended the fighting.