Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Marguerite de Navarre: Princess, Politician, Poet

Marguerite de Navarre (born 11 April 1492)


The daughter of Louise of Savoy, a woman we have met before, Marguerite of Angoulême was married (her second marriage) to Henry II, king of Navarre, thus gaining the title by which she is most well-known. She is the mother of Jeanne d'Albret, queen of Navarre, whom we met in January. And, along with Louise of Savoy, Marguerite is one of the women who negotiated the "Ladies Peace" with Margaret of Austria in 1529.

Marguerite in a portrait from c. 1530
The sister of a king (Francis I), the wife of a king, and the mother of a queen, Marguerite is nevertheless most notable for something more than her royal connections. Extraordinarily well educated, Marguerite was an important patron of artists and writers, as well as a supporter of religious reform. 

In addition, she is remembered as a writer. Among her more important religious works is The Mirror of the Sinful Soul (Miroir de l’âme pécheress, 1531), later translated into English by Elizabeth Tudor as A Godly Meditation of the Soul. Marguerite also wrote Prayer to Our Lord Jesus Christ (Oraison à notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ) and the two-volume Pearls from the Pearl of Princesses (Les Marguerites de la Marguerite des princesses), published in 1547. In addition to these poems and prayers, she wrote four religious plays.

But she wrote secular work as well, including plays like the Comedy of Four Women (Comédie des quatre femmes) and Too Much, Much, Little, Less (Trop, Prou, Peu, Moins). But undoubtedly her most well-known work is the unfinished Heptameron (L’Heptaméron), a frame-tale narrative modeled on Boccaccio's Decameron. Isolated by a flood that confines them in a monastery, Marguerite's characters, a group ten aristocrats, five men and five women, tell stories, debate, and react to one another's "artistic" efforts. Their topics include love and marriage, faithfulness and infidelity, and the conflict between faith and religion.

For an excellent biographical essay, click here. If you're in the mood for a scholarly biography, I recommend Patricia Cholakian and Rouben Cholakian's Marguerite de Navarre (1492-1549): Mother of the Renaissance. There is a Penguin paperback edition of The Heptameron, and for a wider selection of her work, there is Rouben Cholakian and Mary Skemp's Marguerite de Navarre: Selected Writings, a Bilingual Edition.