This may seem unlikely given Agnes’ position as royal mistress, mother of four daughters by the king, and a beautiful, self-possessed woman who astonished the French court by wearing fabulous gowns that bared her right breast. Perhaps she wished to associate herself with the Amazons, an early Greek clan of fighting women who bared their left breasts in order to free their left arms for fighting.
Daring, although of a very different nature, connects Agnes and Joan of Arc, a connection Charles seems to have recognized. Joan had persuaded Charles to have himself crowned king of France, ordering him to buy the Château de Loches for that purpose. Later, Charles gave the castle to Agnes for her private residence.
But other forces in the French court conspired against her, resenting her supreme influence over the King. Pregnant for the fourth time, Agnes insisted on going with Charles on a winter campaign, to give him moral support. She became sick and died during the birth of her fourth daughter, who also died. She was twenty-eight years old.
Recent analysis proves that she was poisoned with mercury, although no one will ever know who poisoned her. But early death is often the fate of remarkable women.
Although the Archbishop of Reims had tried, unsuccessfully, persuade the king to order Agnes to cover her breast, others found a connection with the mother of Christ. Fouquet’s painting makes this connection explicit in his painting, The Virgin and Child Surrounded by Angels.
Amazon, Holy Mother, and almost as short-lived as Joan of Arc, Agnes Sorel survives as one of the small, select band of women who broke boundaries, marking a path for the rest of us in 2019.