Extraordinary Women of the Medieval and Renaissance World: A Biographical Dictionary

By Carole Levin; Debra Barrett-Graves et al. | Go to book overview

MARGUERITE DE VALOIS
(1553-1615)

France
Queen and Writer of Memoirs

Praised by many for her beauty, intelligence, courage, and joie de vivre but vilified by others for her scandalous behavior, the colorful Marguerite de Valois was a member of the controversial Valois monarchy of sixteenth-century France. Although her father, three of her brothers, and her husband all reigned as kings of France, Marguerite never ruled as her country's queen, but she had a marked influence on the Valois dynasty. Marguerite recorded events from her tumultuous life in one of the first memoirs ever written by a woman; Les Memoires de la Reine Marguerite are admired for their literary as well as their historical value.

Known throughout her life as Margot, Marguerite de Valois was the third daughter of King Henry II of France and his dauntless queen, Catherine de' Medici. Marguerite was said to be a lovely, affectionate, and intelligent child, but like many royal children, she lived apart from her parents during her early childhood. When she was six years old, her father was accidentally killed in a jousting accident. Her brother, François II, succeeded the throne, but he died only four years later, leaving the kingship to the next brother in line, Charles IX. Nine years later, Charles died and yet a third brother became king, Henry III. During the reigns of her sons, the Queen Mother Catherine assumed a great deal of power. In spite of her aptitude for politics, Catherine was unsuccessful at promoting bonds of affection and loyalty among her children. Marguerite was never able to fully trust any of her brothers, although she remained closest to her youngest brother, the Duc d'Alençon.

As a royal princess, Marguerite was destined to be a pawn in the game of political marriages. When she was seventeen she was betrothed to Henry of Navarre, a Protestant Huguenot prince of Navarre, a small but strategically significant kingdom in southwest France on the Spanish border. The Queen Mother and King Charles

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