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Margaret of Navarre 1492–1549 French Writer

Margaret of Navarre
French writer

French noblewoman Margaret of Navarre was an important political and literary figure of the 1500s. An accomplished author, she wrote a large body of work, most of which she did not publish during her lifetime. Critics rank her most famous piece, the Heptameron, as one of the greatest works of prose of the French Renaissance.

Margaret was the sister of the French king Francis I. In 1527 she married the king of Navarre, a small kingdom in the Pyrenees (a mountain range on the border of France and Spain). As queen, Margaret set the cultural and intellectual tone of her court. She took an interest in a wide range of literature, ranging from the philosophy of Plato to the Bible and the writings of the Italian poets Dante Alighieri and Petrarch.

Margaret expressed her deeply religious spirit through her writing. She wrote poems and plays, most of which are allegories* of Christian life. Although she was a Roman Catholic, Margaret also supported reforms within the church. In 1531 she published Mirror of the Sinful Soul, a long poem that theologians* at the University of Paris condemned because it expressed certain views contrary to traditional Catholic doctrine. Many of Margaret's major works were not published until the 1800s and 1900s.

Margaret's best-known work was the Heptameron, a collection of stories modeled after the Decameron by the Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio. The plot centers on a group of male and female nobles, stranded by a flood, telling each other stories while waiting for someone to rescue them. Because it spoke openly about love and passion, the Heptameron disturbed many early readers. More recent critics, however, praise the work for its moral insights and its use of major female characters.

(See alsoFrench Language and Literature. )

* allegory

literary or artistic device in which characters, events, and settings represent abstract qualities, and in which the author intends a different meaning to be read beneath the surface

* theologian

person who studies religion and the nature of God

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