Queen and foundress of the Order of the Annonciades, born 1464; died at Bourges, 4 February 1505. Daughter of one king and wife of another, there are perhaps few saints in the calendar who suffered greater or more bitter humiliations than did Madame Jéhanne de France, the heroic woman usually known in English as St. Jane of Valois. A daughter of Louis XI by his second wife, Charlotte of Savoy, she was hated from birth by her father, partly because of her sex and partly on account of her being sickly and deformed. Sent away to be brought up by guardians in a lonely country château, and deprived not only of every advantage due to her rank, but even of common comforts and almost of necessities, it was the intense solitude and abjectness of her life that first made Jeanne turn to God for consolation, and that gave her very early a tender and practical devotion to the Blessed Virgin. She is said to have had a supernatural promise that some day she would be allowed to found a religious family in honour of Our Lady. The mysteries of the Annunciation and Incarnation, as set forth in the Angelus, were her great delight.
For political purposes of his own, Louis XI compelled Jeanne to marry Louis, Duke of Orléans, his second cousin, and heir presumptive to the throne. After her marriage, the princess suffered even more than before, for the duke hated the wife imposed upon him, and even publicly insulted her in every possible way. She, imagining virtues in her husband that did not exist, loved him tenderly, and when he got into disgrace and was imprisoned exerted herself to mitigate his sufferings and to get him freed. No sooner, however, was the duke, on the death of Charles VIII, raised to the throne of France as Louis XII, than he got his marriage with Jeanne annulled at Rome, on the ground that it was invalid, from lack of consent, and from the fact that it had never been consummated; and the saint’s humiliations reached their climax when she found herself, in the face of all France, an unjustly repudiated wife and queen.
But the two special virtues in which Jeanne had resolved to imitate the Blessed Virgin were silence and humility; hence, though she bravely contested the matter while it was of any use, she accepted the verdict, when it came, without a complaint, merely thanking God that it left her free to serve His Mother as she had always hoped to do, by founding an order for her service. She was made Duchess of Berry, and given that province to govern. Going to live at Bourges, its capital, she fulfilled all her duties as ruler with strict conscientiousness and tender care for her subjects’ welfare. In 1500, in conjunction with her Franciscan director, Gilbert Nicolas, Jeanne founded the Order of the Annonciades, an order for prayer and penance, whose chief rule was to imitate the virtues of Mary, as shown in the Gospels. The rejected queen found happiness at last in devoting herself to this work; and towards the end of her life, she took the vows herself, gave up her wedding ring, which she had hitherto worn, and wore the habit under her clothes. In spite of bad health and constant suffering, she had done much bodily penance all her life, besides giving many hours to prayer. Up to her death she prayed incessantly for her heartless husband, and left as a legacy to her order the duty of constant prayer for his soul as well as her father’s and brother’s.
Jeanne died as she had lived, and was lamented by her spiritual daughters and all her people. Many miracles, especially of healing, followed her death. In 1514, Leo X allowed the Annonciades to honour her by a special office. Benedict XIV pronounced her Blessed, and extended her cult throughout France; but, though the process of canonization had been introduced in 1614, owing to various delays and hindrances, she has never been actually canonized, though universally known as a saint.