Christine de Pizan (also spelled Pisan) was born in Venice, Italy, in 1365, but she matured in the French court. Her father, Thomas de Pizzano, an Italian government councilor and a noted astrologer, accepted an invitation by Charles V to visit France. Thomas was so impressed by Charles’s humanist approach to government that he relocated his family to Paris and later changed his last name to Pizan. They thus followed the seat of the Catholic Church which had relocated from Rome to Avignon, France, in 1309 under the leadership of Pope Clement V. Christine de Pizan would later ground many of her writings in Roman Catholic doctrine.
As she enjoyed her privileged childhood at court, young Christine offered little sign that she would later become the most accomplished woman writer of medieval Europe. Thomas recognized his daughter’s intelligence and procured for her an education in the languages, including French, Italian, and probably Latin. He also obtained a husband for her in 1380. At the age of fifteen, de Pizan made a match with Etienne de Castel, a French courtier, who would later serve as secretary and notary to the king. She rapidly gave birth to two sons and a daughter with Etienne, toward whom she apparently felt great love.
Several crises served to destroy de Pizan’s happy existence. Charles V’s sudden death in 1380 caused her husband to lose his position, and economic disaster threatened the couple. By 1390 Thomas had died, and Etienne took responsibility for supporting Christine’s mother along with his own family. His prospects strengthened in 1390 with an invitation to accompany Charles VI on a journey. Again the medieval Dame Fortune, a figure who later appeared in de Pizan’s writings, struck when Etienne died abruptly following a brief illness.
Finding herself a reluctant family head, de Pizan considered her future. Few options existed for fourteenth-century French widows outside of remarriage