MARGUERITE DE VALOIS

(1553-1615)
As the daughter of Henri II and Catherine de' Medici* and, later, wife to Henri IV, Marguerite de Valois found herself at the center of French politics and religion during the tumultuous sixteenth century. Beautiful, willful, and extravagant, Marguerite was brought up at a court acknowledged as the most brilliant in Europe. By 1570 she was betrothed to the Huguenot prince Henri de Navarre, despite Marguerite's own Catholicism. Catherine, the queen mother, used the lavish wedding ceremony as the opportunity to convince her son, Charles IX, to order a general massacre of the Huguenots. Though Henri de Navarre and his closest associates were spared, the St. Bartholomew's Day Mas­sacre on 24 August 1572 left thousands of Huguenots dead.
The marriage was a loveless one, and the couple reached an understanding that both could pursue discreet affairs. Marguerite established a cultured court at Navarre, but her many affairs shocked her husband's courtiers. A blatant liaison in the early 1580s led to a separation from Henri; returning to France, she alienated both her brother and her mother, which eventually resulted in her imprisonment. Marguerite escaped and set up court in one of her dower lands. In August 1589 Henri de Navarre became Henri IV of France and agreed to convert to Catholicism, but insisted upon an annulment from Marguerite, which was granted in December 1599. Marguerite was given a generous settlement and began to lead a relatively circumspect life. Henry IV was assassinated in 1610; Marguerite found herself a confidante of Queen Marie de' Medici, the regent for Henri's son, Louis XIII, and enjoyed this preeminence until her own death in March 1615. A woman ahead of her time, Marguerite was determined to live life on her own terms and established a notion of sexual equality that was indeed rare for a woman of the sixteenth century, making her, perhaps, one of the world's earliest feminists.
Bibliography
E. R. Chamberlin, Marguerite ofNavarre, 1974.
C. Haldane, Queen of Hearts: Marguerite of Valois ("La Reine Margot"), 1553-1615, 1968.
Connie S. Evans

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

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