Christine de Pisan was born in 1365 in Venice to the physician, court astrologer and councilor of the Republic of Venice, Tommaso di Benvenuto da Pizzano. After Christine’s birth Tommaso accepted an appointment to the court of Charles V of France to be his astrologer, alchemist, and physician. In the French court she was able to pursue her intellectual interests and she successfully educated herself by immersing herself in languages, rediscovered classics and humanism. Christine did not assert her intellectual abilities and authortity as a writer until she was widowed at the age of 24.
Christine married Etienne du Castel, a royal secretary to the court at the age of 15. After bearing three children, a daughter who joined the king’s daughter at the Dominican Abbey in Poissy in 1397, a son Jean, and another who died in childhood, she lost Etienne when he died in an epidemic while in Beauvais on a mission for the king. When attempts to collect money from her husband’s estate failed because of complicated lawsuits regarding the recovery of salary, Christine turned to writing to support herself, her mother, a niece, and her three children. In 1393 she was writing love ballads, catching the attention of wealthy patrons in the court who thought a female writer was a novelty and had her composing texts about their romantic exploits. Her writing was quite prolific from 1393 to 1412, having composed over three hundred ballads and many more shorter poems.
In the period of 1401 to 1402 she participated in a literary quarrel that allowed her to move beyond courtly circles and establish herself as a writer concerned with the position of women and children in society. The quarrel was a debate over the work of Jean de Meun in his 13th century piece Romance of the Rose, which satirizes the conventions of courtly love while depicting women as vulgar seducers. She argued that these offensive terms denigrated the proper and natural function of sexuality and that such language was inappropriate for female characters. Proper noblewomen did not use such language she argued. Christine believed that Jean de Meun’s purpose for the text was to specifically slander women. The result of the debate was the issue of literary slander of women in general and established her reputation as a female intellectual who could effectively assert herself and defend her position in the male dominated literary atmosphere of the time.
By 1405 she completed her most successful literary works, The Book of the City of Ladies and The Treasure of the City of Ladies aka The Book of the Three Virtues. In the first book she shows the importance of women’s past contributions to society and the second strives to teach women of all estates how to cultivate useful qualities to counter the growth of misogyny.
Christine’s final work was a poem eulogizing Joan of Arc, called The Tale of Joan of Arc which she wrote in 1429 and she used to celebrate the appearance of a woman military leader who vindicated, according to Christine, and rewarded women’s efforts to defend their own gender. The exact date of her death is unknown but is believed to be in the year 1434 at the age of 69 or 70.