I have come to the disappointing conclusion that here in the UK we aren’t very good at honouring our female heroes with tangible mementoes. Last year I wrote about English Heritage inviting nominations to increase the number of blue plaques commemorating London’s pioneering women: https://damesnet.com/2016/03/plaques-for-women/
I do not know what sort of response English Heritage got from their appeal, but do hope some interesting proposals were received. Then recently, Dame Verity visited the WOW exhibition at the Royal Festival Hall during the celebrations around International Women’s Day this year, and she came across inVISIBLEwomen, which describes itself as ‘a catalyst for changing the status quo of gender imbalance in public monuments in the UK.’
The organisation notes that there is a dearth of statues of women in this country and
that the UK is clearly not honouring its famous women in the style to which their male counterparts have become accustomed.
Fortunately, just across the Channel, things are somewhat different. You can imagine how excited this dame was during a recent trip to Paris, where for the first time I visited the Jardin du Luxembourg. The garden was started in 1611 by Marie de Medicis, the widow of King Henry IV of France. The result is a beautiful, restful oasis in Paris, with terraces, parterres, fountains and immaculate flower beds, fronting an elegant palace.
But then I came across 20 statues of queens and other famous women from French history lining the terraces. The statues were installed in the middle of the 19th century, and each one commemorates a powerful woman in France. The gardens contain statues of many men too, but the first to be erected were those of the women.
Each one of the women commemorated in this way has made a mark on the history of France. There is a statue of Marie de Medicis herself, as might befit the creator of these beautiful gardens. Not surprisingly, I had not heard of most of the women celebrated in these marble sculptures, but one of the most interesting aspects was that several of the statues show women from the early history of France.
For example, Sainte Bathilde, who died in 680, has a statue in the gardens. She was the queen consort of Burgundy, was regent for her son until he came of age, and was canonised some 200 years after her death. Blanche de Castille (1188-1252) had a pivotal role in linking the monarchies of England, France and Spain. As the wife of Louis VIII she was Queen of France; she was born in Spain, the daughter of Alfonso VIII King of Castile and Eleanor of England, who was the daughter of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine.
Laure de Noves (1307-1345) was the wife of Count Hugues de Sade – ancestor of the notorious Marquis de Sade. However, Laure herself had an unblemished reputation, and is reputed to have had a strong influence on the Italian Renaissance poet Petrarch. He wrote extensively about ‘Laura’, although it is not known definitively whether Laure de Noves was this person.
Anne de Beaujeu (1460-1522) was the eldest daughter of Louis XI and the sister of Charles VIII, for whom she acted as regent – clearly a fast-track career move to getting commemorated in the Luxembourg Gardens.
I am sure that inVISIBLEwomen is not focused on simply increasing the number of monuments to female royals in the UK, so if any damesnet readers have any women to propose, you know where to turn:http://invisiblewomen.org.uk/