Eleanor of Aquitaine, Colette, Simone de Beauvoir… They are queens, writers, or even philosophers and wrote the history of France. Here, we invite you to discover the history of France through the lives of these incredible women who left their mark in the History.
The queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204)
Queen of France from 1137 to 1152 then Queen of England from 1154 to 1189, Eleanor of Aquitaine is an emblematic figure in the history of France. Eldest daughter of Guillaume X, Duke of Aquitaine, she became Queen of France by marrying Louis VII in 1137. From this union, she had two daughters. But it was from her union with Henry II, King of England, that two future legendary kings were born: Richard the Lionheart and John, King of England. Eleanor of Aquitaine played a key role in public affairs between France and England, notably by disrupting male traditions of political power. Eleanor of Aquitaine is described as an independent and cultured woman. By inviting troubadours and poets to her court, she allowed courtly love to flourish.
The warrior, Joan of Arc (1412-1431)
Joan of Arc is the essential heroine of French history. Nicknamed the Virgin of Orleans, she comes from a family of peasant origin. She was very early convinced that she had received from the Saints the mission to drive out the English armies which then occupied part of French territory. Having succeeded in meeting and convincing the king of her mission, she leads the French armies from victory to victory, allowing the coronation of King Charles VII in 1429. It then makes it possible to reverse the course of the Hundred Years War. The Burgundians capture her and deliver her to the English who judge her and condemn her to be burned alive in 1431 in Rouen. She was subsequently recognised as a martyr by the Catholic Church and became a symbol of bravery and determination in French history.
The story-teller, the countess of Ségur (1799 – 1874)
The Countess of Ségur is a French author of Russian origin. Her family’s political exile led her to France in the 1800s. There she met Eugène de Ségur, president of the Compagnie des Chemins de fer, to whom she married in 1819. She is a prime example of a late vocation since she wrote the first stories that made her famous when she was over 50. Most of them are stories from her own life, which she told to her children and grandchildren. Her originality and creativity convinced publishers to spotlight her. Then, she became a pioneering woman author in France, having notably fought for women’s copyright.
The actress, Sarah Bernhart (1841-1923)
Sarah Bernhart is a French actress considered to be one of the most important actresses of the 19th century. Appreciated for her talents as a tragic actress, she is considered the first international star. Thus, she was the first actress to tour all continents. She played in the very first films and contributed, through her talent, to pave the way for women in this field. Nicknamed the divine, she therefore played a decisive role in the development and popularisation of the dramatic arts.
The writer, Colette (1873-1954)
Colette is a French writer, actress and book reviewer. She excelled by her multiple artistic talents. This led her to work in professions such as novelist, mime at the Moulin-Rouge, journalist and president of the Goncourt academy, a famous French literary circle. She is a key figure in the women’s emancipation movement of the 20th century with bisexuality occupying a central place in her life and in her work. Colette is the second woman in France to receive a state funeral.
The scientist, Marie Curie (1867-1934)
Marie Curie is a French physicist and chemist of Polish origin. She is particularly famous for her research on radiation with her husband, the physicist Pierre Curie. This research enabled them to obtain the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903. Marie Curie then became the first woman to obtain a prize from the prestigious institution. She repeated the feat in 1911 by obtaining the Nobel Prize in chemistry for her research on polonium and radium. She remains, to this day, the only person to have received two prizes in two different fields of research. Through her innovative research, Marie Curie therefore made a major contribution to the development of the fields of physics and chemistry.
The aviator, Marie Marvingt (1875-1963)
Marie Marvingt is a French aviator, athlete and inventor. Nicknamed “the bride of danger”, she first stood out for her sporting exploits in high-risk disciplines such as mountaineering. She established the first record of the Femina cup. An outstanding pilot, she was one of the pioneers of aviation and became the first woman to fly the Channel in 1909. During the First World War she stand out from the crowd as a nurse and war correspondent. With 34 decorations, she remains the most decorated woman in French history.
The designer, Coco Chanel (1883-1971)
Gabrielle Chasnel, better known as Coco Chanel, is a French fashion designer. She represents a model of success. Starting from almost nothing, she stands out for her avant-garde designs with simple cuts and an androgynous style. She is especially kown for key pieces such as the little black dress or the striped sweater, which became symbols of French elegance. Coco Chanel liked to break free from codes and was involved in various controversies over the course of her life. She is the founder of one of the main Haute Couture brands, the Chanel house. As a free and subversive woman, she has contributed greatly, through her life and her creations, to building the image of the independent and sophisticated French woman.
The philosopher, Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986)
Simone de Beauvoir is a French philosopher and author. She first became known through novels such as The Mandarins, which enabled her to obtain the Goncourt Prize in 1954. She was the second woman to obtain this prize, after Elsa Triolet in 1944. But her greatest literary success remained the Second Sex, an essay in which the philosopher advocates the emancipation of women. Considered a pioneer of the feminist movement, she worked throughout her life in the women’s liberation movement.
The singer, Édith Piaf (1915-1963)
Édith Giovanna Gassion, better known as Edith Piaf, is a French singer. The exceptional qualities of her voice allowed her to be noticed very early on. She then became a successful singer with titles such as “La Vie en Rose”, “Non, je ne regrette rien” or even “l’Hymne à l’amour”. They allowed her to achieve international fame. Her countless romantic relationships largely inspired her songs, which she declaimed with touching emotion. Today she is often considered the French national singer.