Valentina was born about 1370, the daughter of Gian Galleazo Visconti, Duke of Milan and the French princess Isabella de Valois. Valentina’s mother died in 1373, and she was mainly raised by her grandmother, Bianca of Savoy. Bianca was a cultured woman, and she passed on to Valentina a love of the arts and literature. Valentina had two brothers who both died young, thus she became her father’s heir.
In 1387 she was married to her cousin, Louis d’Orleans, the brother of the French king, Charles VI. As part of her dowry, her father agreed that she would retain her rights as his heir to the Duchy of Milan. She was married by proxy at her grandmother’s home and in August 1389 she made a grand entree into the city of Paris. The royal dukes marched out to the gates of St. Denis to escort her into the city.
The early years of her marriage were relatively happy, and she had four sons in 5 years. However, only Charles (b.1394) survived early childhood. Then in 1391, her brother-in-law the King suffered his first episode of madness. This event was to have profound consequences for Valentina personally and the French people as a whole. For the rest of his life, Charles suffered from increasingly longer periods of madness, during which (among other things) he believed he was made of glass. During these episodes, he could not bear to see his wife Isabeau of Bavaria. In fact, Valentina was the one person who seemed to calm him. He always recognised her and would ask for her if she did not visit.
The incapacity of the King, however, was extremely distressing to the populace and when the priests and the doctors were unable to cure him, rumours began that someone had bewitched him. Soon speculation seemed to centre on Valentina. Rumours circulated that she had tried to poison the Dauphin and that her father’s parting words to her had been “I will not see you again until you are Queen of France. “ (Never mind that her father had not been present at her leave-taking). It seemed that she had little support from either Philip, the powerful Duke of Burgundy or Isabeau the Queen. Isabeau’s mother came from a rival faction of the Visconti family, and Philip was feuding with her husband over power at court. For whatever reason, the rumours grew stronger, and in March 1396, Louis was urged to remove Valentina from Paris for her own safety. She was taken to the Chateau d’Asnieres outside Paris. Valentina never lived in Paris again.
At the Chateau d’Asnieres and later at the Chateau de Blois, Valentina continued to raise her family. Charles was joined by Philip, John and Margaret. Little Marie died shortly after birth. Louis visited on a regular basis as did others, among them the future Henry 1V of England while he was still Earl of Derby. Louis’ cousin, Marie d’Harcourt lived with Valentina as her primary “demoiselle”.
Then in 1407, the news arrived that Louis had been set upon and killed in the streets of Paris. Within days, it became clear that Louis had been deliberately murdered on the orders of his cousin, John, who had inherited the Dukedom of Burgundy on his father’s death. John and Louis had been in constant conflict over who should be in charge when King Charles was unwell. In the aftermath of the murder, Isabeau was anxious that John should be discredited and as part of that effort, she invited Valentina back to the city of Paris for the first time in 11 years. Isabeau stage-managed an elaborate event in which Valentina, all dressed in black and holding the hands of her two eldest sons, begged Charles VI for justice. King Charles was in one of his periods of sanity. As she knelt before him, he raised her up, kissed her and assured her in this public setting, that her husband’s murder would be avenged.
Eight months later, however, nothing had been done. John had managed to get public opinion to support him and had had a surrogate preach his defence of “tyrannicide.” Neither King Charles, nor the other royal dukes had taken any action against him. In August 1408, Valentina again came to Paris. This time King Charles just gave her vague responses. The next day he had again lost his reason. Valentina then returned despondent to the Chateau of Blois. She had the walls covered in black fabric on which was written her new motto: “Rien ne m’est plus, Plus ne m’est rien .” Shortly thereafter she became ill. As she lay dying, she made her sons vow to avenge their father’s death. On 4 December 1408, surrounded by her children, she died of typhoid, although many of course said she died of a broken heart.
Louis’ murder and the vow to avenge it touched off what eventually became the French civil war and led to the English gaining the French crown in 1422. Valentina’s son Charles was captured by the English at Agincourt and was held prisoner for 25 years. He is well known as a poet. On his return to France, he remarried and had a son who eventually, became King of France as Louis XII in 1498. Louis XII continued to assert that he had inherited his grandmother’s claim to the Duchy of Milan and spent years trying to regain it with his armies. As a result, her legacy in Milan was tarnished. She was viewed as the cause of much suffering for the Milanese. Upon Louis XII’s death, the crown passed to Francis I who was the grandson of Valentina’s son John. Thus Valentina is the ancestress of all Kings of France since 1498. Her statue is among the those of the queens that adorn the Palais de Luxembourg gardens in Paris.