1902 Encyclopedia > Marguerite de Valois

Marguerite de Valois




MARGUERITE DE VALOIS. The name Marguerite was common in the Valois dynasty, and during the 16th century there were three princesses, all of whom figure in the political as well as in the literary history of the time, and who have been not unfrequently confounded. The first and last are the most important, but all deserve some account.

I. Marguerite d'Angouleme (1492-1549). This, the most celebrated of the Marguerites, bore no less than four surnames. By family she was entitled to the name of Marguerite de Valois ; as the daughter of the Count d'Angouleme she is more properly and by careful writers almost invariably called Marguerite d'Angouleme. From her first husband she took during no small part of her life the appellation Marguerite cl'Alencon, and from her second, Henri d'Albret, king of Navarre, that of Marguerite de Navarre. She was born at Angouleme on the 12th April 1492, and was two years older than her brother Francis I. She was betrothed early to Charles, Duke d'Alenvn, and married him in 1509. She was not very fortunate in this first marriage, but her brother's accession to the throne made her, with their mother Louise of Savoy, the most powerful woman of the kingdom. She became a widow in 1525, and was sought in marriage by many persons of distinction, including, it is said, Charles V. and Henry VIII. In 1527 she married Henri d'Albret, titular king of Navarre, who was considerably younger than herself, and whose character was not faultless, but who seems on the whole, despite slander, to have both loved and valued his wife. Navarre was not reconquered for the couple as Francis had promised, but ample apanages were assigned to Marguerite, and at Ndrac and Pau miniature courts were kept up, which yielded to none in Europe in the intellectual brilliancy of their frequenters. Marguerite was at once one of the chief patronesses of letters that France possessed, and the chief refuge and defender of advocates of the Reformed doctrines. Round her gathered Marot, Bonaventure Desperiers, Denisot, Peletier, Brodeau, and many other men of letters, while she protected Rabelais, Dolet, &c. For a time her influence with her brother was effectual, but latterly political rather than religious considerations made him discourage Lutheranism, and a fierce persecution was begun against both Protestants and freethinkers, a persecution which drove Desperiers to suicide and brought Dolet to the stake. Marguerite herself, however, was protected by her brother, and her personal inclinations seem to have been rather towards a mystical pietism than towards dogmatic Protestant sentiments. Nevertheless bigotry and the desire to tarnish the reputation of women of letters have led to the bringing of odious accusations against her character, for which there is not the smallest foundation. Marguerite died in 1549. By her first husband she had no children, by her second a son who died in infancy, and a daughter, Jeanne d'Albret, who became the mother of Henry IV. Although the poets of the time are unwearied in celebrating her charms, she does not, from the portraits which exist, appear to have been regularly beautiful, but as to her sweetness of disposition and strength of mind there is universal consent.

Her literary work has not yet been given entirely to the world, but the printed portion of it makes her a considerable figure in French literature. It consists of the Heptamerott, of poems entitled Les Marguerites de la Marguerite des Princesses, and of Letters. The Heptameron, constructed as its name indicates on the lines of the Decameron of Boccaccio, consists of seventy-two short stories told to each other by a company of ladies and gentlemen who are stopped in the journey homewards from Cauterets by the swelling of a river. It was not printed till 1558, ten years after the author's death. Internal evidence is strongly in favour of its having been a joint work, in which more than one of the men of letters who composed Marguerite's household took part. It it a delightful book, and strongly characteristic of the French Renaissance. The sensuality which characterized the period appears in it, but in a less coarse form than in the great work of Rabelais ; and there is a poetical spirit which, except in rare instances, is absent from Pantagruel. The Letters are interesting and good. The Marguerites consist of a very miscellaneous collection of poems, mysteries, farces, devotional poems of considerable length, spiritual and miscellaneous songs, &e. Other poems, said to be of equal merit, are still imprinted, or have appeared only in part.

II. The second MARGUERITE (1523-1571), daughter of Francis I., married the duke of Savoy in 1559. She is noteworthy as having given the chief impulse at the court of her brother Henry II. to the first efforts of the I'ldiade.

III. The third MARGUERITE (1553-1615), called more particularly Marguerite de Valois, was great-niece of the first and niece of the second, being daughter of Henry II. by Catherine de'Medici. She was born in 1553. When very young she became famous for her beauty, her learning, and the looseness of her conduct. She was married to Henry of Navarre, afterwards Henry IV., on the eve of St Bartholomew's Day. Both husband and wife were extreme examples of the licentious manners of the time, but they not unfrequently lived together for considerable periods, and nearly always on good terms. Later, however, Marguerite was established in the castle of Usson in Auvergne, and after the accession of Henry the marriage was dissolved by the pope. But Henry and Marguerite still continued friends ; she still bore the title of queen ; she visited Marie de' Medici on equal terms ; and the king frequently consulted her on important affairs, though his somewhat parsimonious spirit was grieved by her extravagance. Marguerite exhibited during the rest of her life, which was not a short one, the strange Valois mixture of licentiousness, pious exercises, and the cultivation of art and letters, and died in 1615. She left letters and memoirs, the latter of which are admirably written, and rank among the best of the 16th century. She is the "Refine Margot" of anecdotic history and romance.

The best editions of the works of Marguerite d'Angoulkne are - of the lfcptanieron, that of Leroux de Lincy, 3 vols., Paris, 1855 ; of the Letters, that of Geniis, Paris, 2 vols., 1842-43 ; and of the Marguerites, that of Frank, Paris, 4 vols., 1873 ; the Heptameron is also obtainable in several cheap editions. The ifentoires of Marguerite de Valois are contained in the collection of Michaud and Poujoulat, and have been published separately by Guessard, Lalanne, Caboche, &e. (G. SA.)








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