MARGUERITE DE NAVARRE

(1492-1549)
Queen of Navarre and elder sister of Francois I* of France, Marguerite de Navarre was a patron of the arts, an author, a sponsor of religious Reformers, and a beneficent ruler. Marguerite was born on 11 April 1492 to Louise of Savoy and Charles de Valois-Orleans. Louise encouraged Marguerite to devote herself to her brother, and throughout her life, Marguerite strove to fulfill that expectation; she and her brother were extremely close. As a child, she studied theology, history, classics, and philosophy, as well as several languages, includ­ing both Hebrew and Latin.
In 1509 she was married to Charles, duc d'Alencon, to settle an inheritance dispute. The marriage was unhappy, and once Francois assumed the throne in 1515, she spent most of her time at the court, acting as his hostess and receiving foreign ambassadors. In 1517 her brother gifted her with the Duchy of Berry, a present that accorded her financial independence from her husband as well as jurisdiction over the University of Bourges, a center of classical learning and law that she supported. During this time she also encouraged the humanist Guil­laume Bude* in his efforts to persuade Francois to endow royal lectureships in such subjects as Greek, Hebrew, and mathematics. This project would eventually lead to the foundation of the College de France in Paris.
Marguerite also became involved in spiritual matters, acting as a patroness to the fledgling Protestant movements. Over the years, she corresponded with Re­formers such as John Calvin* and protected men like Jacques Lefevre de'Etaples* and Clement Marot.* Marguerite's personal religious beliefs are difficult to determine; although she protected the Protestants, evidenced a belief in mysticism, and skirted the bounds of heresy, she remained a Catholic all of her life.
In 1525, when the king of Spain, Charles V,* took her brother captive at the Battle of Pavia, Marguerite was one of the people named as regent for the king. Furthermore, she went to Spain in an attempt to negotiate a peace treaty and Francois's release. While she was there, she nursed her brother back to health and helped to plan his escape. She was forced to flee back to France when Charles learned of their plans.
Her husband, the duc d'Alencon, died shortly before her trip to Spain. Ac­cordingly, after Francois's return to France, he arranged for her marriage to Henri d'Albret, king of Navarre. Although he was eleven years Marguerite's junior, they were initially happy in the marriage, and in November 1528 their daughter Jeanne* was born, their only child to survive infancy. Unfortunately, relations between Henri and Francois became strained when Francois failed to regain the lands of Navarre that had been lost to Spain, and Marguerite was increasingly torn between the two.
Isolated from the court at Paris, Marguerite created her own court at the city of Nerac. There she continued her role as patron both of the arts and of religious Reformers. Furthermore, Marguerite effected economic and social reform in her lands, sponsoring cloth manufacturing, reforming the courts, and founding or­phanages and a hospital.
In addition, Marguerite also composed numerous religious poems exploring her spiritual ideas. When one of her works, a long mystical poem called Mirror of a Sinful Soul, was condemned by the Sorbonne for heresy in 1531, Francois furiously forced the institution to apologize. (Interestingly, the work would later be translated into English by Queen Elizabeth I*.) In 1547 she arranged to have a collection of her poetry called Pearls of the Pearl of Princesses published, and after her death, scholars discovered a number of her poems.
The work for which she is best known, however, is her collection of seventy-two short stories, the Heptameron, an imitation of Boccaccio's Decameron, ex­cept that she based her stories on factual events. Although Marguerite died before she could complete her planned one hundred tales, through her use of character and theme, she creates a web of symbiotic relationships that reflect an intriguing picture of life in Renaissance France. The Heptameron was published posthumously in 1558.
Marguerite died of an illness on 21 December 1549 after being exposed to a chill. Her last years were sad ones. Francois, the source of her lifelong devotion, had died, and she was isolated from court. Her remaining family brought ad­ditional grief; she was estranged from her husband and, to a large extent, from her daughter as well. For many years Marguerite was dismissed as a minor author of the Renais­sance. Recent scholarship has resurrected her reputation, and there are numerous works providing analysis of the various complexities of her themes of love and the relations between men and women as well as of her religious ideas and convictions. Her literary works provide a unique view of French aristocratic life during the Renaissance. Furthermore, her contributions to the culture and politics and her legacy of religious tolerance serve as a sterling example of a Renaissance monarch. Her accomplishments exemplified the potential strength and gifts of a female ruler, for which she was celebrated throughout Europe.
Bibliography
C. J. Blaisdell, "Marguerite de Navarre and Her Circle," in Female Scholars: A Tradition of Learned Women before 1800, ed. J. R. Brink, 1980. P. F. Cholakian, Rape and Writing in the "Heptameron" of Marguerite de Navarre, 1991.
G. Ferguson, Mirroring Belief: Marguerite de Navarre's Devotional Poetry, 1992.
Erin Sadlack

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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