Marguerite, Queen of Navarre

(b. 1492- d. 1549)

One of the most elusive queens in French history, Marguerite of Angoulême, Duchess of Alençon, Queen of Navarre, lived during the late part of the 15th century and early part of the 16th, has escaped the comprehension of scholars for centuries. As a published author, she accomplished a feat that most women could only dream- renown and success in a man's world and man's profession. Her most famous work, Heptameron, has been celebrated as a social and political critique, yet is difficult to find in both its native French or English translation. In the years following its publication, scholars questioned whether she was the true author. Recently, however, scholars have authenticated the Heptameron as having been created by Queen Marguerite. While this mystery has been solved, the woman of Queen Marguerite continues to perplex the minds of intellectuals, as it has done for centuries, and therefore, only limited sources are available about her life and times. 

Marguerite of Angoulême was born to Charles d’Angoulême and Louise of Savoy on April 11, 1492. A year and a half later, she became the only sister of Francis I, future king of France. Marguerite’s father died shortly after her brother’s birth. Nevertheless, the two children experienced a comfortable and pleasant childhood, with Marguerite spending most of her time in Cognac, then at Blois. With her father's death, her mother became the head of the household. Even with this non-traditional female role, Louise imparted the necessity for education on Marguerite, which was compounded by Marguerite's own love of reading classical philosophy and the Scriptures. However, her childhood ended on October 9,1509 when she married Charles, duke of Alençon. Even while in marriage, she remained a close companion to her younger brother and in 1515, joined him at court after he took possession of the French throne. Ten years later, during a series of military campaigns, he was captured and taken prisoner by the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. She, being the strong willed and intelligent woman that she was, collaborated with the Emperor for her brother's safe release and return. While this challenge was won, she soon experienced another with the loss of her husband thereafter. 

She would not remain single for long; she remarried in 1527, to Henri d'Albret, king of Navarre. This union would produce one child, Jeanne. While in her second marriage, similar to her first, Marguerite remained an active and driving force at Francis’s court. Though, she began to focus on spiritual aspects, in addition to political ones.  After beginning correspondence with Guillaume Briçonnet, bishop of Meaux, she became interested in the evangelist movement. As a result of Briçonnet’s tutelage, she became an activist for reorganization within the Catholic Church. She, and the movement, called for a return to a focus on the Scriptures and she promoted the translation of biblical texts into French. She practiced the lifestyle that she preached as a necessary part of the evangelist society for religious change; a woman of both words and deeds, she made it a habit to meditate, pray, procure asylum for religious activists, and compose poetry, including Marguerites de la Marguerite des princesses in 1547, her first major work. Though not without controversy, Marguerite inspired debate from theologians for her radical reform ideals. 

Marguerite is one of the most distinguished patrons of literature in French history and one of the most remarkable women writer's of her generation. She withdrew herself from political life before her death at age fifty-eight, in December of 1549 and it was during her period of self-inflicted exile that she dedicated her time to letters and poetry. Claude Gruget, a trusted confidant, published her life’s masterpiece, the Heptameron, posthumously in 1559, nine years after her death. Her writing was inspired by Bocaccio’s Decameron and is a compilation of seven days with ten stories a day and an eighth day with two stories. While sometimes decried for its contradictory nature, the Heptameron combines religiosity (pious dedication and high moral standards) with lurid voluptuousness (indiscretions and the loss of decency) to present images of the undertones of the French Enlightenment.

While Marguerite was both a Queen and religious activist, she is known for neither of these. Rather, it is her posthumously printed work, the Heptameron that has established her as one of the premier French female writers of the Enlightenment. The Heptameron remains one of the best known and most popular of old French tales and continues to bring fascination and joy to both scholars and the uneducated. She was a controversial figure for her religious convictions, however, as an author, she was a pioneer for French women’s importance on the literary scene.

Annotated Bibliography

Brundin, Abigail. “Vittoria Colonna and the Virgin Mary.” Modern Language Review, Vol. 96 (January 2001), p. 61.          
This article is an inquiry into the correspondence between Italian poet Vittoria Colonna and Marguerite d'Angouleme, Queen of Navarre. The Queen initiated the letter writing campaign and through the notes, there is an expression of mutual respect and admiration. Nevertheless, Colonna continually declares herself as an inferior to the Queen's high position. Throughout their discourse, one can see the humbleness and piousness of both parties. This is a great source of information about Marguerite de Navarre as it is a true representation of her person and character. 

Duggan, Anne, E. "Early Modern French Women Writers: Secondary Studies."  5 May 2003. < (18 December 2005).
This site is published by the University of Minnesota ’s Electronic Text Research Center. While it does not provide factual information on the life of Marguerite de Navarre, it does afford the reader with a bibliography of sources regarding her life. As has been seen already, many of the materials written on Queen Marguerite are written in French and therefore, are only amenable to those with a proficiency in French. This website grants a researcher with an initial insight into information that has been published and is therefore useful in the early stages of research.  
Freccero, Carla. “Queer Nation, Female Nation: Marguerite de Navarre, Incest, and the State in Early Modern France.” Modern Language Quarterly, Vol. 65. (March 2004) P. 29-47. The focus of the article is the correlation between the intertwined nature of race, gender and sexuality within the confines of the French state during the reign of Marguerite de Navarre. The author conjectures that Marguerite’s work, Heptameron, is a social text that attempts to intervene in matters of the state through the guise of being a fictional piece of literature. She argues that incest is a vital part of nationalism; it promotes feminism and cements power. This power and control of a country is subsequently retained by a specific household lineage under a female ruler that perpetuates the incest tendency. This article is a great source for scholars interested in Marguerite de Navarre. 

Jourda, Pierre. Marguerite d'Angouleme, duchess d'Alencon, reine de Navarre (1492-1549). Slatkine, 1978.
This title has the possibility of being a very useful source for scholars of Marguerite d'Angouleme, Queen of Navarre. However, it is written in French.  
Kelly, Walter.  A Celebration of Women Writers. <> (18 December 2005). 
This website was established through the University of Pennsylvania and is a collection of digitized texts of women writers. It first presents a foreword by Walter Kelly, the translator of the Heptameron, and then, the translated version of the text. As the author says, it is difficult to find the Heptameron itself, let alone a version in English. This allows the reader to experience the mindset and writing of Queen Marguerite. For any scholar of Marguerite, without a knowledge of the French language, this is a necessary website to visit so that one may read information as close to primary source material as possible.
Marguerite, Queen of Navarre. L'Heptameron des nouuelles de tresillustre et tresexcellente Princessse Marguerite de Valois, Royne de Nauarre:/ remis en son vray ordre, confus au parauant en sa premiere impression: & dedie a tresillustre & tresvertueuse Princesse Ianne, Royne de Nauarre, par Claude Gruget Parisien. Paris : Par Benoist Preuost, 1560.
This is an important source for scholars of Marguerite, Queen of Navarre because it is primary text and represents the voice of this remarkable woman herself.  It was written during a period of religious experimentation and upheaval and therefore reflects contrasting tendencies. In addition, it is the published voice of a female writer during a period of male dominance. This is the most important supply of information on Marguerite, however, it is written in French. 
Tetel, Marcel. Marguerite de Navarre's Heptameron: Themes, Language, and Structure. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1973.
This book begins with the conjecture that even though Marguerite de Navarre is a major historical figure, her character and personality remain elusive to historians. This piece, focuses not on the person of Queen Marguerite, but rather attempts to examine her notable work, Heptameron and breaks down the themes, language, and structure, as is stated in the title of the book. It takes pieces from the work, translates them into English, and dissects their meaning. For scholars interested in researching Queen Marguerite through her written work, this is an important piece.  
"Heptameron." University of Virginia Library Special Collections Department and the University of Virginia French Department.  2003 <>  (18 December 2005).
The goal of this website is to preserve historical texts digitally and to expand their role in the University of Virginia's mission of research and instruction. This website has uploaded selections from both of Marguerite’s works, the Heptameron and Marguerite's de la Marguerite des princesses tresillustres royne de Nauarre, onto their page. In addition, this site includes a brief biography of the life and times of Marguerite de Navarre. This is a very useful site for research and information on Queen Marguerite and should be helpful to any scholar as it contains not only a biography, but also primary source material. This helpful combination makes it more useful then most sites.  
Virtue, Nancy. “Le Sainct Esperit...parlast par sa bouche: Marguerite de Navarre's Evangelical revision of the...” Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. 28. (Fall 1997) P. 811  As with many of the sources on Marguerite de Navarre, this article is written in French. 
Williams, Hugh Noel. The Pearl of Princesses: The Life of Marguerite D'Angouleme, Queen of Navarre. London: Eveleigh Nash Company, 1916.
  This is the most complete and extensive work on Marguerite, Queen of Navarre. It is a chronological study of her life that takes the reader from her birth to royal French parents through the posthumously published, Heptameron. It is complete with details including the relationship between herself and her brother, her political convictions, and depictions of artistic representations. It also includes a detailed index for easy referencing to names and concepts. This is by far the best biography regarding Queen Marguerite, but lacks primary source materials.


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Written by Kimberly Fabbri, 2005
Last Revision: 18 December 2005 

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