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Marguerite De Navarre (Marguerite D'Angoulême, Marguerite de Valois; 1492–1549)

MARGUERITE DE NAVARRE (Marguerite d'Angoulême, Marguerite de Valois; 14921549)

MARGUERITE DE NAVARRE (Marguerite d'Angoulême, Marguerite de Valois; 14921549), French author, humanist, and religious reformer. The sister of the French King Francis I (ruled 15151547), Marguerite became duchess of Alençon through her first marriage and queen of Navarre by her second, to Henry d'Albret in 1527. Marguerite was also a peer of the realm, duchess of Berri, countess of Perche, Armagnac, and Roddez, and held several smaller territories within France. Educated by some of the leading humanists of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, Marguerite was an intellectual who corresponded with many European humanists during her lifetime. Like many French humanists, Marguerite was a devout Catholic interested in religious reform who supported translating the Scriptures into the vernacular and believed in a doctrine known as French Evangelism. Unlike the Protestants, French Evangelicals were interested in reforming the church from within. The French Evangelical agenda focused on specific clerical abuses, such as pluralism and absenteeism, and reforming convents and monasteries.

Marguerite, who attempted to interest the king in church reform, supported the most important group of French Evangelicals, led by Guillaume Briçonnet, bishop of Meaux. For a short period in the early 1520s, when the French king and the pope were at odds, it looked as if Marguerite might convince her brother to support French Evangelism. However, when Pope Adrian VI died and was succeeded by Pope Clement VII, French-papal relations were restored, and the French king turned his attention to his claims to territories in Italy. The moment to gain royal support for Evangelical reform of the Catholic Church in France had passed.

Although Marguerite no longer pushed her brother to reform the French church after 1524, she did maintain a lifelong interest in religious reform, which led her not only to insist on the reform of corrupt convents and monasteries in her own farreaching territories but also to support reformers inside France who were suspected of heresy. As a powerful patron, she defended many well-known French Evangelicals such as Gérard Roussel and Michael d'Arande from heresy charges, and she protected others by sending them to her court in Navarre, where they were no longer under French jurisdiction. The most famous of the reformers who fled France with Marguerite's help was John Calvin, who left in 1534. Marguerite continued to assist a number of other reformers both inside and outside of France throughout the 1530s and 1540s. In part because of her defense of such reformers, Marguerite was seen by many as a heretic and a woman who meddled in matters that should be left to men, and until the mid-twentieth century, scholars debated whether or not she remained a Catholic.

At the same time that she was bringing French Evangelism to the attention of the king in the early 1520s, Marguerite was also embarking on a writing career that would gain her an international reputation. Her earliest works were mystical poetry, such as "Le miroir de l'âme pécheresse" ('The mirror of the sinful soul'), which espoused Evangelical ideas and combined them with a mysticism that portrayed Marguerite's relationship with God in familial as well as spiritual terms. By the 1530s, Marguerite had begun a collection of short stories that would be published after her death as the Heptaméron, many of them composed in her litter as Marguerite made her frequent journeys across France. Patterned on Boccaccio's Decameron in structure, Marguerite's work rejected his misogynist view. Rather than portraying women's weakness and sinfulness, Marguerite's stories depicted women's strength and piety, and many of them condemned men for behavior that led to the ruin of women. In her later years, Marguerite wrote a number of short "closet" plays, meant to be read by her immediate circle but not to be staged and produced. These works also reflected her spiritual ideas.

Marguerite was more than a devout Christian humanist and author, however. Devoted to her brother, Marguerite often acted as a political representative for the king. The first instance of this was in 1525, when she negotiated with Emperor Charles V for the king's release after the Battle of Pavia. Over the next two decades, Marguerite advised her brother on political and military matters, served on the king's Grand Council, and entered into negotiations with the English for a peace treaty with France. While at times her influence with her brother waned, she always retained the king's favor, and exercised a great deal of political authority within her own territories and those of her husbands.

See also Calvin, John ; Charles V (Holy Roman Empire) ; Francis I (France) ; French Literature and Language .


Cottrell, Robert. The Grammar of Silence: A Reading of Marguerite de Navarre's Poetry. Washington, D.C., 1986.

Jourda, Pierre. Marguerite d'Angoulême, duchesse d'Alençon, reine de Navarre (14921549): étude biographique et littéraire. 2 vols. Paris, 1930.

Polachek, Dora, ed. Heroic Virtue, Comic Infidelity: Reassessing Marguerite de Navarre's Heptaméron. New York, 1994.

Stephenson, Barbara. The Power and Patronage of Marguerite de Navarre. Aldershot, U.K., 2003.

Barbara Stephenson

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