1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Marguerite de Valois

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

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 infrequently confounded. The first and last are the most important, but all deserve some account.

I. Marguerite d'Angoulême (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 Charles d'Orléans, count d'Angoulême, she is more properly, and by careful Writers almost invariably, called Marguerite d'Angoulême. From her first husband she took, during no small part of her life, the appellation Marguerite d'Alençon, and from her second, Henri d'Albret, king of Navarre, that of Marguerite de Navarre. She was born at Angoulême on the 11th of April 1492, and was two years older than her brother Francis I. She was betrothed early to Charles, duke d'Alençon, and married him in 1509. She was not very fortunate in this first marriage, but her brother's accession to the throne made her, next to 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 Nérac 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 C. Marot, Bonaventure Des Périers, N. Denisot, J. Peletier, V. Brodeau, and many other men of letters, while she protected Rabelais, E. Dolet, &c. For a time her influence with her brother, to whom she was entirely devoted, and whom she visited when he was imprisoned in Spain, 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 Des Périers 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 at Odot-en-Bigorre on the 21st of September 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 consists of the Heptameron, 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 home wards from Cauterets by the swelling of a river. It was not printed till 1558, ten years after the author's death, and then under the title of Les Amants fortunés. 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 is 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, &c. The Dernières poésies, not printed till 1896 (by M. A. Lefranc), are interesting and characteristic, consisting of verse-epistles, comédies (pieces in dramatic form on the death of Francis I., &c.), Les Prisons, a long allegorical poem of amorous-religious-historical tenor; some miscellaneous verse chiefly in dizains, and a later and remarkable piece, Le Navire, expressing her despair at her brother's death. Of the other works, never yet completely edited, the best editions are, for the Heptameron, Leroux de Lincy (1855); for the Lettres, Genin (1841–1842); and for the Marguerites, &c., Frank (1873), English translations of the Heptameron are rather numerous: one appeared in 1887 by A. Machen, with an introduction by Miss A. M. F. Robinson (Mme Darmesteter) and another (anonymous) in 1894, with an essay by G. Saintsbury. The religious poem, Le Miroir de l'me pécheresse was translated by Queen Elizabeth. Books on Marguerite and her court are also many. There may be noted Durand's Marguerite de Valois et la cour de Francois Ier (1848); La Ferriere's Marguerite d'Angoulême (1891); Lotheissen's Königin Margareta von Navarra (1885); Miss Edith Sichel's Women and Men of the French Renaissance (1901), and P. Courtault's Marguerite de Navarre (1904).

II. The second Marguerite (1523–1574), daughter of Francis I., was born on the 5th of June, 1523, at St Germain-en-Laye, and, at an age the lateness of which caused lampoons, married Emmanuel Philibert, duke of Savoy, in 1559. Like her aunt and her niece she was a good scholar and strongly interested in men of letters. She is noteworthy as having given the chief impulse at the court of her brother Henry II. to the first efforts of the Pléiade (see Ronsard), and as having continued her patronage of literature at Turin. The poet Marc Antonio Flaminio, for instance, congratulates himself in pretty Latin verses on her singing his poems.

Her Letters have been published by A. G. Spinelli.

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 on the 14th of May 1553. When very young she became famous for her beauty, her learning, and the looseness of her conduct. She was married, after a liaison with the duke of Guise, 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 infrequently 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 Paris on the 27th, of March 1615. She left letters and memoirs the latter of which are admirably written, and rank among the best of the 16th century. She was the idol of Pierre de Bourdeille Brantôme, and is the “ Reine Margot ” of anecdotic history and romance.

The Mémoires are contained in the collection of Michaud and Poujoulat, and have been published separately by Guessard (the best, 1842), Lalanne, Caboche, &c. An English translation with introduction by Violet Fane appeared in 1892. Her character, and still more her circumstances, made the pen very unamiably busy with her in her lifetime, the chief of many lampoons being the famous Divorce satirique, variously attributed to Agrippa d'Aubigné, Palma Cayet, and others. The chief recent book on her is Saint Poucy's Histoire de Marguerite de Valois (1887).  (G. Sa.)