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Women of Modern France By Hugo P. Thieme Characters: 62820

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

Woman in Family Life, Education, and Letters

The queens of France exerted little or no influence upon the cultural or political development of that country. Frequently of foreign extraction and reared in the strict religious discipline of Catholicism, they spent their time in attending masses, aiding the poor and, with the little money allowed them, erecting hospitals and other institutions for the weak and needy. Thus, they are, as a rule, types of gentleness, virtue, piety, and self-sacrifice.

The little information which history gives concerning them is confined mainly to their matrimonial alliances. To them, marriage represented nothing more than a contract-a union entered into for the purpose of settling some political negotiation; thus they were often cast upon strange and unfriendly soil where intrigues and jealousy immediately affected them.

Seldom did they venture to interfere with the intrigues of the mistress; in their uncertain position, any manifestation of resentment or opposition resulted in humiliation and disgrace; if wise, they contented themselves with quietly performing their functions as dutiful wives. Such women were Claude, daughter of Louis XII., and Eleanor of Spain-wives of Francis I.; lacking the power to act politically, both passed uneventful and virtuous lives in comparative obscurity. The wife of Charles IX.-Elizabeth of Austria, daughter of Maximilian II.-had absolutely no control over her husband; however, he condescended to flatter himself with having, as he said, "in an amiable wife, the wisest and most virtuous woman not only of France and Europe, but of the universe." Her nature is well portrayed in the answer she gave to the remark made to her, after the death of her husband: "Ah, Madame, what a misfortune that you have no son! Your lot would be less pitiful and you would be queen-mother and regent." "Alas, do not suggest such a disagreeable thing!" she replied. "As if France had not afflictions enough without my producing another to complete its ruin! For, if I had a son, there would be more divisions and troubles, more seditions to obtain the administration and guardianship during his infancy and minority; all would try to profit themselves by despoiling the poor child-as they wanted to do with the late king, my husband." Returning to Austria, she erected a convent, treated the nuns as friends and refused to marry again even to ascend the throne of Spain.

Louise de Vaudemont, wife of Henry III, was a French woman by birth and blood. After the death of the Princess of Condé, whom he passionately loved and desired to marry, Henry conceived an intense affection for Louise, daughter of Nicholas of Lorraine, Count of Vaudemont-a young lady of education and culture-"a character of exquisite sweetness lends distinction to her beauty and her piety; her thorough Christian modesty and humility are reflected in her countenance." Brant?me wrote: "This princess deserves great praise; in her married life she comported herself so wisely, chastely, and loyally toward the king that the nuptial tie which bound her to him always remained firm and indissoluble,-was never found loosened or undone,-even though the king liked and sometimes procured a change, according to the custom of the great who keep their full liberty." Soon after the marriage, however, Henry began to make life unpleasant for the queen, one of his petty acts being to deprive her of the moral ladies in waiting whom she had brought with her.

Louise de Vaudemont was a striking contrast to the perverted woman of the day; the latter, no longer charmed by the gentler emotions, sought the exaggerated and the eccentric, extraordinary incidents, dramatic situations, unexpected crises, finding all amusements insipid unless they involved fighting and romantic catastrophes. "Billets doux were written in blood and ferocity reigned even in pleasure."

In the midst of this turmoil, Louise busied herself with charity, appearing among the poor and distributing all the funds which her father gave her for pocket money; the evils of her surroundings threw her virtues, by contrast, into so much the brighter light. Though she held herself aloof from intrigues and rivalries, favoring no one and encouraging no slander, she was, strange to say, respected, admired and honored by Protestants and Catholics alike.

Calumny and all the agitations about her did not disturb Louise in her prayers. "The waves of the angry ocean broke at the foot of the altar as the queen knelt; but Huguenots and Catholics, leaguers and royalists, united to pay her homage. They were amazed to see such purity in an atmosphere so corrupt, such gentleness in a society so violent. Their eyes rested with satisfaction on a countenance whose holy tranquillity was undisturbed by pride and hatred. The famous women of the century, wretched in spite of all their amusements and their feverish pursuit of pleasure, made salutary reflections as they contemplated a woman still more highly honored for her virtues than for her crown." That she was not a mother was, with her, an enduring sorrow; even that, however, did not alter her calmness and benign resignation.

Louise de Vaudemont was indeed a bright star in a heaven of darkness-one of the best queens of whom French history can boast; she is an example of goodness and gentleness, of purity, charity, and fidelity in a world of corruption, cruelty, hatred, and debauch-where sympathy was rare and chastity was ridiculed. Although a highly educated woman, the faithful performance of her duties as queen and as a devout Catholic left her little time for literature and art; she remains the type of piety and purity-an ideal queen and woman.

A heroine in the fullest sense of that word was Jeanne d'Albret, the great champion of Protestantism; she was the mother of Henry IV. and the wife of the Duke of Bourbon, Count of Vend?me, a direct descendant of Saint Louis. This despotic, combative, and war-loving queen reigned as absolute monarch, and was as autocratic and severe as Calvin himself, confiscating church property, destroying pictures and altars-even going so far as to forbid the presence of her subjects at mass or in religious processions. "Her natural eloquence, the lightning flashes from her eyes, her reputation as a Spartan matron and an intractable Calvinist, all contributed to give her great influence with her party. The military leaders-Coligny, La Rochefoucauld, Rohan, La Noue-submitted their plans of campaign to her."

Though Jeanne was, perhaps, as fanatical, intolerant, and cruel as her adversaries, she was driven to this by the hostility shown her by the Catholic party-a party in which she felt she could place no confidence. Her retreat was amid rocks and inaccessible peaks, whence she defied both the pope and Philip II. She brought up her son-the future Henry IV.-among the children of the people, exercising toward him the severest discipline, and inuring him to the cold of the winter and the heat of the summer; she taught him to be judicious, sincere, and compassionate-qualities which she possessed to a remarkable degree. Chaste and pure herself, she considered the court of France a hotbed of voluptuousness and debauchery, and at every opportunity strengthened herself against its possible influence.

The political and religious troubles of Jeanne d'Albret began when Pope Paul IV. invested Philip II. of Spain with the sovereignty of Navarre-her territory; she resisted, and, following the impulses of her own nature, formally embraced Calvinism, while her weak husband acceded to the commands of the Church, and, applying to the pope for the annulment of his marriage, was prepared, as lieutenant-general of the kingdom, a position he accepted from the pontiff, to deprive his wife of her possessions. His death before the realization of his project made it possible for Jeanne to retain her sovereignty; alone, an absolute monarch, she declared Calvinism the established religion of Navarre. After the assassination of Condé she remained the champion of the Huguenots, defying her enemies and scorning the court of France.

So great were her power and influence over the soldiery that Catherine de' Medici, her bitter enemy, desiring to bring her into her power, or, at least, to conciliate her, planned a marriage between Jeanne's son and Marguerite of Valois-sister of Charles IX. When the suggestion that the marriage should take place came from the king of France, Jeanne d'Albret suspected an ambush; with the determination to supervise personally all arrangements for the nuptials, she set out for the French court. Venerated by the Protestants, and hated but admired by the Catholics, she had become celebrated throughout Europe for her beauty, intelligence, and strength of mind; thus, her arrival at Paris created a sensation.

She was so scandalized at the luxury and bold debauchery at court that she decided to give up the marriage; she had detected the intrigues and falsity of both the king and Catherine, and had a foreboding of evil. She wrote to her son Henry:

"Your betrothed is beautiful, very circumspect and graceful, but brought up in the worst company that ever existed (for I do not see a single one who is not infected by it) ... I would not for anything have you come here to live; this is why I desire you to marry and withdraw yourself and your wife from this corruption which (bad as I supposed it to be) I find still worse than I thought. Here, it is not the men who invite the women, but the women who invite the men. If you were here, you could not escape contamination without a great grace from God."

In the meantime, Catherine, undecided whether to strike immediately or to wait, was redoubling her kindness and courtesy and her affectionate overtures; her enemies were in her hands. Although Jeanne suspected that Catherine was capable of every perfidy, she at times believed that her suspicions were unjust or exaggerated. The situation between these two great women was indeed a dramatic one: both were tactful, powerful, experienced in war and diplomacy; both were mothers with children for whose future they sought to provide. Jeanne's hesitancy, however, was fatal; physically exhausted from suffering and sorrow, worry and excitement, she suddenly died, in the midst of her preparations for the marriage. While it is not absolutely certain that her death was due to poison, subsequent events lead strongly to the belief that Catherine was instrumental in causing it-that, probably, being but the first act toward the awful catastrophe she was planning.

"A few hours before her agony, Jeanne dictated the provisions of her will. She recommended her son to remain faithful to the religion in which she had reared him, never to permit himself to be lured by voluptuousness and corruption, and to banish atheists, flatterers, and libertines.... She begged him to take his sister, Catherine, under his protection and to be, after God, her father. 'I forbid my son ever to use severity towards his sister; I wish, to the contrary, that he treat her with gentleness and kindness; and that-above all-he have her brought up in Béarn, and that she shall never leave there until she is old enough to be married to a prince of her own rank and religion, whose morals shall be such that the spouses may live happily together in a good and holy marriage.'" D'Aubigné wrote of her: "A princess with nothing of a woman but sex-with a soul full of everything manly, a mind fit to cope with affairs of moment, and a heart invincible in adversity."

It was in deep mourning that her son, then King of Navarre, arrived at Paris; the eight hundred gentlemen who attended him were all likewise in mourning. "But," says Marguerite de Valois, "the nuptials took place in a few days, with triumph and magnificence that none others, of even my quality, had ever beheld. The King of Navarre and his troop changed their mourning for very rich and fine clothes, I being dressed royally, with crown and corsage of tufted ermine all blazing with crown jewels, and, the grand blue mantle with a train four ells long borne by three princesses. The people down below, in their eagerness to see us as we passed, choked one another." (Thus quickly was Jeanne d'Albret forgotten.) The ceremonies were gorgeous, lasting four days; but when Admiral Coligny, the Huguenot leader, was struck in the hand by a musket ball, the festive aspect of affairs suddenly changed. On the second day after the wounding of Coligny, and before the excitement caused by that act had subsided, Catherine accomplished the crowning work of her invidious nature, the tragedy of Saint Bartholomew.

Peace and quiet never appeared upon the countenance of Catherine de' Medici-that woman who so faithfully represents and pictures the period, the tendencies of which she shaped and fostered by her own pernicious methods; and Charles IX., her son, was no better than his mother. Saint-Amand, in his splendid picture of the period, gives a truthful picture of Catherine as well: "It is interesting to observe how curiously the later Valois represented their epoch. Francis I. had personified the Renaissance; Charles IX. sums up in himself all the crises of the religious wars-he is the true type of the morbid and disturbed society where all is violent; where the blood is scorched by the double fevers of pleasure and cruelty; where the human soul, without guide or compass, is tossed amid storms; where fanaticism is joined to debauchery, superstition to incredulity, cultured intelligence to depravity of heart. This wholly unbalanced character-which stretches evil to its utmost limits while preserving the knowledge of what is good, which mistrusts everybody and yet has at least the aspiration toward friendship and love, if not its experience-is it not the symbol and living image of its time?"

Marguerite de Valois, sister of Charles IX. and wife of Henry IV., by her own actions and intrigues exercised little influence politically; she was, above all else, a woman of culture and may be taken as an example of the type which was largely instrumental in developing social life in France. Famous for her beauty, talents, and profligacy, it seems that historians are prone to dwell too exclusively upon the last quality, overlooking her principal r?le-that of social leader.

She first came into prominence through her relations with the Duke of Guise who paid assiduous court to her for some time; for a while, no topic was more discussed than that of their marriage. When, however, Charles IX. heard that the duke had been carrying on a secret correspondence with his sister, he exclaimed, savagely: "If it be so, we will kill him!" Thereupon, the duke hurriedly contracted a marriage with Catherine of Clèves. That Marguerite, at this early date, had become the mistress of Henry of Guise is hardly likely and becomes even less probable when it is considered how closely she was watched by her mother, Catherine de' Medici.

Her marriage, previously mentioned, to Henry of Navarre was a mere political match, there being absolutely no love, no affection, no sympathy. This union was looked upon as the surest covenant of peace between Catholicism and Protestantism and put an end to the disastrous religious wars that had been carried on uninterruptedly for years; both the parties to this contract lived at court, leading an existence of pleasure and immorality. Remarkably intelligent, Marguerite was a scholar of no mean ability; she displayed much wit and talent, but no judgment or discretion; though conveying the impression of being rather haughty and proud, she lacked both self respect and true dignity. Her beauty was marvellous, but "calculated, to ruin and damn men rather than to save them."

Henry, the husband of Marguerite, was constantly sneered at and taunted by the Catholics; although Catholic in name he was Protestant at heart and keenly felt his false position. During Catherine's short term as queen-regent, he was held in captivity until the arrival of Henry III., when he escaped to his own Béarn people; for this, Marguerite was held responsible and kept under guard.

Although hating his religion, his wife went to live with him, tolerating his infidelities while he refused to tolerate her religion. The unhappiness of this marriage was not due to Marguerite alone; the first trouble arose when she discovered his love for his mistress, Gabrielle d'Estrées, and, thinking herself equally privileged, she began to indulge in the same excesses. The result of so many annoyances and debaucheries, so much vexation, was an illness; as soon as she became convalescent, she returned to her mother at court where she speedily gained the ill will of the king by her profligate habits, her quarrels with both Catholics and Protestants, her intimacy with the Duke of Guise, her plottings with her younger brother, her cutting satires on court favorites.

She was sent back to Henry, upon the way meeting with the mishap of being insulted by archers and, with her maids, led away prisoner. Her husband was with difficulty persuaded to receive her, and, finding him all attentive to his mistress, Marguerite fled to Agen, where she made war upon him as a heretic; unable to hold her position there on account of her licentious manner of living and the exorbitant taxes imposed upon the inhabitants, she fled again and continued moving from one place to another, causing mischief everywhere, "consuming the remainder of her youth in adventures more worthy of a woman who had abandoned her husband than of a daughter of France." At last, she was seized and imprisoned in the fortress of Usson; here she was supported mainly by Elizabeth of Austria, widow of Charles IX.

When her husband became King of France, he refused to liberate her until she should renounce her rank; to this condition she refused to accede until after the death of her rival, the mistress of Henry-Gabrielle d'Estrées, Duchess de Beaufort. After the annulment of the marriage, Marguerite said: "If our household has been little noble and less bourgeois, our divorce was royal." She was permitted to retain the title of queen, her debts were paid and other great concessions granted. Her subsequent relations with Henry IV. were very cordial and fraternal; she even revealed political plots to him.

When, after nearly twenty years of captivity, Marguerite returned to Paris (1605), she gained the favor of everybody-the king, dauphin, and court ladies. She was present at the coronation of Marie de' Medici, and, by being tactful enough to keep apart from all intrigues, quarrels, and jealousies, she managed to win the good will of the king's favorites. She became the social leader, the queen inviting her to all court ceremonies and consulting her on all disputed questions of etiquette-even going so far as to intrust her with the reception of the Duke of Pastrana, who had come to ask the hand of Elizabeth of France. It is reported that in her last years she led a worse life than in her earlier days-she had become a woman of the bad world, resorting to every possible means to hide her age and to gain any vantage ground. In order to be well supplied with blond wigs, she kept fair-haired footmen who were shorn from time to time to furnish the supply. In the latter part of her life, spent at Paris and its vicinity, she fell a victim to hypochondria, suffering the most bitter pangs of remorse and terrible fear at approaching death. To alleviate this, she founded a convent where she taught the children music. She died in 1615, in Paris, "in that blended piety and coquetry which formed the basis of a character unable to give up gallantries and love."

One of the very few historians who give due credit to her social importance and assign her the position she may rightfully command among French women of the sixteenth century is M. Du Bled. According to him, she was the leader of fashion, and in all its components she showed excellent taste and judgment. Forced to marry the king of Navarre, she said, after the ceremony: "I received from marriage all the evil I ever received, and I consider it the greatest plague of my life. They tell me that marriages are made in heaven; heaven did not commit such an injustice;" and this seems to be the secret of her "vicious life."

As soon as she discovered that the king's favorites were determined to make life hard and disagreeable for her, she sought consolation in love and the toilette, in balls and fêtes, in ballets and hunting, in promenades and gallant conversations, in tennis and carousals, and in an infinite variety of ingeniously planned pleasures. The spirit of chivalry, the habits of exalted devotion, were again in full sway about her. She worried little about virtue: "She had the gift of pleasing, was beautiful, and made full use of the liberality of the gods. Whatever may be said of her morals, it can truthfully be stated that she showed art in her love and practised it more in spirit than with the body." Music was a favorite art with her; she encouraged and rewarded singing, especially in the convent which she founded and where she spent almost all of her later days instructing the children.

Her court at Usson, where, as a prisoner, she lived for twenty years, was the most brilliant and least material of all France; there poets, artists, and scholars were held in high esteem, and were on familiar footing with Marguerite; the latter showed no despotism, but, with the most consummate skill, directed conversations and proposed subjects, encouraging discussion, and skilfully drawing from her friends the most brilliant repartees. She received people of distinction without ceremony.

She introduced the two elements which were combined in the eighteenth-century salon: a fine cuisine and freedom among her friends from the restraint usually imposed by distinction. She was, also, one of the first to have a circle-well organized according to modern etiquette-where the highest aristocracy, men of letters, magistrates, artists, and men of genius met on equal terms and in familiar and social intercourse; Montaigne, Brant?me, and other great writers dedicated their works to her. She also directed a select few, an academy, to instruct and distract herself. It is said that every coquette, every bourgeois woman, and almost every court lady endeavored to imitate her. When she died, at the age of sixty-two, poets and preachers sang and chanted her merits, and all the poor wept over their loss; she was called the queen of the indigent. Richelieu mentioned her devotion to the state, her style, her eloquence, the grace of her hospitality, her infinite charity. "She remains, par excellence, the one great sympathetic woman of the sixteenth century; her admirers, during life and after death, were legion. She shared in the lesser evils of the century, but it cannot be said that she participated in the brutalities, grossness, or glaring immoralities of her time; her weaknesses, compared with the great debauches of the age, seemed like virtues."

Such is this great woman of the sixteenth century, who has received almost universal condemnation at the hands of historians. It is to be taken into consideration that she was forced to marry a man whom she did not love, and to live in a country utterly uncongenial to her nature and opposed to the religion in which she was reared; furthermore, that her husband first defiled the marital union, thus driving her to follow the general tendencies of the time or to seek solace in religious activity, for which she had too much energy. After due consideration of the extenuating circumstances, her faults and vices, such as they were, may easily be condoned. Because she was the wife of a powerful Protestant king, she was condemned by Catholics and by them regarded with suspicion; and, in order to save herself, she was forced to commit unwise acts and even follies.

In fine, whatever may be said against Marguerite de Valois, whom despair drove to acts which are not generally pardoned, she stands foremost among the social leaders and cultured women of the sixteenth century, a century whose prominent women were notorious for their licentiousness and lack of conscience rather than famous for their virtue and womanly accomplishments. Undeniably powerful and brilliant, these unscrupulous women were never happy; usually proud, they finally suffered the most cruel humiliations; "voluptuous, they found anguish underlying pleasure." Their misfortunes are, possibly more interesting than those successes of which chagrin anxiety, and heavy hearts were the inseparable associates.

Religion, which in the sixteenth century was so badly understood, and practised even worse-obscured and falsified by fanaticism, disfigured and exaggerated by passion and hatred-was the secret cause of all downfalls crimes, horrors, intrigues, and brutality. Yet, it alone survives, and all the important figures of history return to it after a period of negligence and forgetfulness. In their religious aspect, the women of the sixteenth century differ as a rule, from those of the eighteenth, who, though equally powerful, witty, refined, sensual, frivolous, and scoffing, were far less devout; for "'tis religion which restores the great female sinners of the sixteenth century 'tis religion which saves a society ploughed up by so many elements of dissolution and so many causes of moral and material ruin, rescuing it from barbarism, vandalism, and from irretrievable decay;" but the women of the eighteenth century clung, to the end, to the scepticism and material philosophy which served them as their religion, their God.

Among the conspicuous women of the sixteenth century to whom, thus far, we have been able to attribute so little of the wholesome and pleasing, the womanly or love-inspiring, there is one striking exception in Marguerite d'Angoulême, a representative of letters, art, culture, and morality. With the study of this character we are taken back to the beginning of the century and carried among men of letters especially, for she formed the centre of the literary world. She, her mother, Louise of Savoy, and her brother, Francis I., were called a "trinity," to the existence of which Marguerite bore witness in the poem:

"Such boon is mine-to feel the amity

That God hath putten in our trinity

Wherein to make a third, I, all unfitted

To be that number's shadow, am admitted."

Marguerite inherited many of her qualities from her mother, "a most excellent and a most venerable dame," though anything but moral and conscientious; she, upon discovering that her daughter possessed rare intellectual gifts, provided her with teachers in every branch of the learning of the age. "At fifteen years of age, the spirit of God began to manifest itself in her eyes, in her face, in her walk, in her speech, and in all her actions generally." Brant?me says: "She had a heart mightily devoted to God and she loved mightily to compose spiritual songs. She devoted herself to letters, also, in her young days and continued them as long as she lived, in the time of her greatness, loving and conversing with the most learned folks of her brother's kingdom, who honored her so greatly that they called her their M?cenas." Tenderness, particularly for her brother, seemed to develop in her as a passion.

Marguerite was a rare exception in a period described by M. Saint-Amand as one in which women were Christian in certain aspects of their character and pagan in others, taking an active part in every event, ruling by wit and beauty, wisdom and courage; an age of thoughtless gaiety and morbid fanaticism, and of laughter and tears, still rough and savage, yet with an undercurrent of subtle grace and exquisite politeness; an age in which the extremes of elegance and cruelty were blended, in which the most glaring scepticism and intense superstitions were everywhere evident; an age which was religious as well as debauched and whose women were both good and evil, innocent and intriguing. Everything was fluctuating; there was inconstancy even in the things most affected: pleasure, pomp, display. The natural outcome of this undefined restlessness was dissatisfaction; and when dissatisfaction brought in its train the inevitable reaction against falseness and immorality, Marguerite d'Angoulême stood at the head of the movement.

With her begins the cultural and moral development of France. It was she who encouraged that desire for a new phase of existence, which arose through contact with Italian culture. The men of learning-poets, artists, scholars-who soon gathered about the French court received immediate recognition from the king's sister, who had studied all languages, was gay, brilliant, and ?sthetic. While her mother and brother were in harmony with the age, no better, no worse than their environment, Marguerite aspired to the most elevated morals and ideals; thus, she is a type of all that is refined, sensitive, loving, noble, and generous in humanity, a woman vastly superior to her time; in fact, the modern woman, with her highest attributes.

In Marguerite d'Angoulême contemporaries admired prudence, chastity, moderation, piety, an invincible strength of soul, and her habit of "hiding her knowledge instead of displaying it." "In an age wholly depraved, she approached the ideal woman of modern times; in spite of her virtue, she was brilliant and honored, the centre of a coterie that delighted in music, verse, ingenious dialogues and gossip, story telling, singing, rhyming. Deeply afflicted by the sad and odious spectacle of the vices, abuses, and crimes which unroll before her, she suffers through her imagination, mind and heart." Serious and sympathetic, she was interested in every movement, feeling with those who were persecuted on account of their religious opinions.

Various are the names by which she is known: daughter of Charles of Orléans, Count of Angoulême, Duchesse d'Alen?on through her first marriage, and Queen of Navarre through her second, she was called Marguerite d'Angoulême, Marguerite of Navarre, of Valois, Marguerite de France, Marguerite des Princesses, the Fourth Grace, and the Tenth Muse. A most appreciative and just account of her life is given by M. Saint-Amand, which will be followed in the main outline of this sketch.

She was born in 1492, and, as already stated, received a thorough education under the direction of her mother, Louise of Savoy. At seventeen she was married to Charles III., Duke of Alen?on; as he did not prove to be her ideal, she sought consolation in love for her brother, sharing the almost universal admiration for the young king, whose tendency to favor everything new and progressive was stimulated by her. She became his constant and best adviser in general affairs as well as in those of state. The foreign ambassadors sought her after having accomplished their mission, and were referred to her when the king was busy; they were enraptured, and carried back wonderful reports of Marguerite.

The world of art was opened to the French by a bevy of such painters and sculptors as Leonardo da Vinci, Rosso, Primaticcio, Benvenuto Cellini, and Bramante, and t

hey were encouraged and fêted by Marguerite especially. In those days a new picture from Italy by Raphael was received with as much pomp and ceremony as, in olden times, were accorded the holiest relics from the East.

Men of letters gathered about the sister of the king, forming what might be termed a court of sentimental metaphysics; for the questions discussed were those of love. This refined gallantry, empty and vapid, formed the foundation of the seventeenth-century salon, where the language and fine points of sentiment were considered and cultivated until sentiment acquired poise, grandeur, and an air of dignity and reserve.

The period was one in which, during times of trial and misfortune, the presence of an underlying religious sentiment became unmistakable. In such an atmosphere, the propensity toward mysticism, which Marguerite had manifested as a child, grew more and more apparent. When Francis I. was captured at the battle of Pavia, his sister immediately sought consolation in devotion, the nature of which is well illustrated in a letter to the captive king:

"Monseigneur, the further they remove you from us, the greater becomes my firm hope of your deliverance and speedy return, for the hour when men's minds are most troubled is the hour when God achieves His masterstroke ... and if He now gives you, on one hand, a share in the pains which He has borne for you, and, on the other hand, the grace to bear them patiently, I entreat you, Monseigneur, to believe unfalteringly that it is only to try how much you love Him and to give you leisure to think how much He loves you. For He desires to have your heart entirely, as, for love, He has given you His own; He has permitted this trial, in order, after having united you to Him by tribulation, to deliver you for His own glory-so that, through you, His name may be known and sanctified, not in your kingdom alone, but in all Christendom and even to the conversion of the infidels. Oh, how blessed will be your brief captivity by which God will deliver so many souls from that infidelity and eternal damnation! Alas, Monseigneur! I know that you understand all this far better than I do; but seeing that in other things I think only of you, as being all that God has left me in this world,-father, brother, husband,-and not having the comfort of telling you so, I have not feared to weary you with a long letter, which to me is short, in order to console myself for my inability to talk with you."

After his incarceration in the gloomy prison in Spain where he was taken ill, Francis asked for the safe conduct of Marguerite; this was gladly granted. Ignorant of her future duty in Spain, she wrote: "Whatever it may be, even to the giving of my ashes to the winds to do you a service, nothing will seem strange, difficult or painful to me, but will be only consolation, repose, and honor." So impatient was she to arrive at her brother's side that she could not travel fast enough.

Her presence only increased his fever and a serious crisis soon came on, the king remaining for some time "without hearing or seeing or speaking." Marguerite, in this critical time, implored the assistance of God. She had an altar erected in her chamber, and all the French of the household, great lords and domestics alike, knelt beside the sick man's sister and received the communion from the hands of the Archbishop of Embrun, who, drawing near the bed, entreated the king to turn his eyes to the holy sacrament. Francis came out of his lethargy and asked to commune likewise, saying: "It is my God who will heal my soul and body; I entreat you that I may receive him." Then, the Host having been divided in two, the king received one half with the greatest devotion, and his sister the other half. The sick man felt himself sustained by a supernatural force; a celestial consolation descended into the soul that had been despairing. Marguerite's prayer had not been unavailing-Francis I. was saved.

She then proceeded to visit different cities and royalties, endeavoring to secure concessions for her brother. From the people in the streets as well as from the lords in their houses, she received the most unmistakable proofs of friendly feeling; in fact, her favor was so great that Charles V. informed "the Duke of Infantado that, if he wished to please the emperor, neither he nor his sons must speak to Madame d'Alen?on." The latter, unable to secure her brother's release, planned a marriage between him and Eleanor of Portugal, sister of Charles V.; her successes at court and in the family of the emperor furthered this scheme. Brant?me says: "She spoke to the emperor so bravely and so courteously that he was quite astonished, and she spoke even more to those of his council with whom she had audience; there she produced an excellent impression, speaking and arguing with an easy grace in which she was proficient, and making herself rather agreeable than hateful or tiresome. Her reasons were found good and pertinent and she retained the high esteem of the emperor, his court and council."

Although she failed in her attempts to free the king, she succeeded, by arranging the marriage, in completely changing the rigorous captivity to which Charles had subjected him. Finally, by giving his two eldest sons as hostages, the king obtained his release, and in March, 1526, he again set foot, as sovereign, on French soil. Thus the king's life was saved and he was permitted to return to his country, Marguerite's devotion having accomplished that in which the most skilled diplomatist would have failed.

All historians agree that Marguerite d'Angoulême was a devout Catholic, but that she was too broad and liberal, intelligent and humane, to sanction the unbridled excesses of fanaticism. The acknowledged leader of moral reform, she protected and assisted those persecuted on account of their religious views and sympathized with the first stages of that movement which revolted against abuses, vice, scandals, immorality, and intrigue. With her, the question was not one of dogma, but concerned, instead, the religion which she considered most conducive to progress and reform. It grieved her to see her religion defile itself by cruel and inhuman persecutions and tortures, by intolerance and injustice. She felt for, but not with, the heretics in their errors. "She typifies her age in all that is good and noble, in artistic aspirations, in literary ideals, in pure politics-in short,-in humanity; in her is not found the chaotic vagueness which so often breaks out in license and licentiousness, cruelty, and barbarism."

During the absence in Spain of Francis I. and Marguerite, the mother-regent sought to gain the support and favor of Rome by ordering imprisonments, confiscations, and punishments of heretics; but upon the return of the king and his sister, the banished were recalled and tolerance again ruled. When (in 1526) Berquin was seized and tried for heresy, he found but one defender. Marguerite wrote to her brother, still at Madrid:

"My desire to obey your commands was sufficiently strong without having it redoubled by the charity you have been pleased to show poor Berquin according to your promise; I feel that He for whom I believe him to have suffered will approve of the mercy which, for His honor, you have had upon His servant and your own."

Marguerite had saved Berquin and had even taken him into her service. Her letter to the constable, Anne de Montmorency, shows her esteem of men of genius and especially of Berquin:

"I thank you for the pleasure you have afforded me in the matter of poor Berquin whom I esteem as much as if he were myself; and so you may say you have delivered me from prison, since I consider in that light the favor done me."

When on June 1, 1528, a statue of the Virgin was thrown down and mutilated by unknown hands, a reversion of feeling arose immediately, and even Marguerite was not able to save poor Berquin, and he was burned at the stake. Upon learning of his imminent peril, she wrote to Francis from Saint-Germain:

"I, for the last time, very humbly make you a request; it is that you will be pleased to have pity upon poor Berquin, whom I know to be suffering for nothing other than loving the word of God and obeying yours. You will be pleased, Monseigneur, so to act that it be not said that separation has made you forget your most humble and obedient sister and subject, Marguerite."

Encouraged by their success in that instance, the intolerant party began furious attacks upon her, one monk going so far as to say from the pulpit that she should be put into a sack and thrown into the Seine. Upon her publication of a religious poem, Miroir de l'ame pécheresse, in which she failed to mention purgatory or the saints, she was vigorously attacked by Beda, who had the verses condemned by the Sorbonne and caused the pupils of the College of Navarre to perform a morality in which Marguerite was represented under the character of a woman quitting her distaff for a French translation of the Gospels presented to her by a Fury. This was too much even for Francis, and he ordered the principal and his actors arrested; it was then that Marguerite showed her gentleness, mercy, and humanity by throwing herself at her brother's feet and asking for their pardon.

After but a short respite the persecution broke out anew, and with the full sanction of the king, who, upon finding at his door a placard against the mass, went even so far as to sign letters patent ordering the suppression of printing (1535). While away from the soothing influence of his sister, Francis I. was easily persuaded to sign, for the Catholic party, any permit of execution or cruelty. The life of Marguerite herself was constantly in danger, but in spite of persistent efforts to turn brother against sister, the king continued to protect and defend the latter; and though she gradually drew closer to Catholicism, she continued to protect the Protestants. She founded nunneries and showed a profound devotion toward the Virgin; although realizing the dangers and follies of the new doctrine, she had too much humanity to encourage cruelty.

The husband whom the king forced upon her was twelve years her junior, poor, and subsidized by Francis; by him she had a daughter, Jeanne d'Albret, who became the champion of Protestantism. Her married life at Pau, where she had erected beautiful buildings and magnificent terraces, was not happy; the subjects of love that formerly had amused her had lost their charm; and the incurable disease with which her brother was stricken caused her constant worry and mental suffering. When banquets, the chase, and other amusements no longer attracted Francis, he summoned Marguerite to comfort and console him; her devotion and goodness never failed. Unable to recover from the grief caused by his death in 1547, she expressed her sorrow in the most beautiful poems.

She gave the remainder of her life to religion and charity, abandoning her literary ambitions and plans. "The life after death gave her much trouble and many moments of perplexity and uneasiness. She survived her brother only two years, dying in 1549; the helper and protector of good literature, the defence, consolation, and shelter of the distressed, she was mourned by all France more than was any other queen." Sainte-Marthe says: "How many widows are there, how many orphans, how many afflicted, how many old persons, whom she pensioned every year, who now, like sheep whose shepherd is dead, wander hither and thither, seeking to whom to go, crying in the ears of the wealthy and deploring their miserable fate!" Poets, scholars, all learned and professional men, commemorated their protectress in poems and funeral orations. France was one large family in deep mourning.

Marguerite d'Angoulême must first be considered as the real power behind the supreme authority of her period, her brother the king; secondly, as a furtherer of the development and encouragement of good literature, good taste, high art, and pure morals; thirdly, as a critic of importance. She is entitled to the first consideration by the fact that as the confidential adviser of Francis I. she moulded his opinions and checked his evil tendencies: the affairs of the kingdom were therefore, to a large extent, in her hands. She collected and partly organized the chaotic mass of material thrown upon the sixteenth-century world, leaving its moulding into a classic French form to the next century; and by her spirit of tolerance she endeavored to further all moral development: thus is she entitled to the second consideration. Gifted with rare delicacy of taste, solidity of judgment, and the ability to select, discriminate, and adapt, she set the standards of style and tone: therefore, she is entitled to the third consideration.

The love of Marguerite for her brother, and her unselfish devotion to his interests, is a precedent unparalleled in French history until the time of Madame de Sévigné. In all her letters we find the same tenderness, gentleness, passion, inexhaustible emotion, sympathy, and compassion that distinguished her actions.

In her Contes (the Heptameron) de la Reine de Navarre we have an accurate representation of society, its manners and style of conversation; in it we find, also, remnants of the brutality and grossness of the Middle Ages, as well as reflections of the higher tendencies and aspirations of the later time. In having a thorough knowledge of the tricks, deceits, and follies of the professional lovers of the day, and of their object in courting women, Marguerite was able to warn her contemporaries and thus guard them against immorality and its dangers. In her works she upheld the purity of ideal love, exposing the questionable and selfish designs of the clever professional seducers. A specimen may be cited to show her style of writing and the trend of her thought:

"Emarsuite has just related the history of a gentleman and a young girl who, being unable to be united, had both embraced the religious life. When the story is ended, Hircan, instead of showing himself affected, cries: 'Then there are more fools and mad women than there ever were!' 'Do you call it folly,' says Oisille, 'to love honestly in youth and then to turn all love to God?' ... 'And yet I have the opinion,' says Parlemente, 'that no man will ever love God perfectly who has not perfectly loved some creature in this world.' 'What do you by loving perfectly?' asks Saffredant; 'do you call perfect lovers who are bashful and adore ladies from a distance, without daring to express their wishes?' 'I call those perfect lovers,' replies Parlemente, 'who seek some perfection in what they love-whether goodness, beauty or kindness-and whose hearts are so lofty and honest that they would rather die than perform those base deeds which honor and conscience forbid; for the soul which was created only to return to its Sovereign Good cannot, while it is in the body, do otherwise than desire to win thither; but because the senses, by which it can have tidings of that which it seeks, are dull and carnal on account of the sin of our first parents, they can show it only those visible things which most nearly approach perfection; and the soul runs after them, believing that in visible grace and moral virtues it may find the Sovereign Grace, Beauty and Virtue. But without finding whom it loves, it passes on like the child who, according to his littleness, loves apples, pears, dolls and other little things-the most beautiful that his eye can see-and thinks it riches to heap little stones together; but, on growing larger he loves living things, and, therefore, amasses the goods necessary for human life; but he knows, by the greatest experiences, that neither perfection nor felicity is attained by possessions only, and he desires true felicity and the Maker and Source thereof.'"

In her writings, much apparent indelicacy and grossness are encountered; but it must be remembered for whom she was writing, the condition of morality and the taste of the public at that time, and that she aimed faithfully to depict the society that lay before her eyes. It is argued by some critics that these indecencies could not have emanated from a pure, chaste woman; that Marguerite must have experienced the sins she depicted; but such reasoning is not sound. The expressions used by her were current in her time; there was greater freedom of manners, and coarseness and drastic language-examples of which are found so frequently in the writings of Luther-were very common.

Marguerite was less remarkable for what she did than for what she aspired to do. "She invoked, against the vices and prejudices of her epoch, those principles of morality and justice, of tolerance and humanity, which must be the very foundation of all stable society. She wished to make her brother the protector of the oppressed, the support of the learned, the crowned apostle of the Renaissance, the promoter of salutary reforms in the morals of the clergy; in politics, he was to follow a straight line and methodically advance the accomplishment of the legitimate ambitions of France."

She expressed the most modern ideas on the rights of woman, particularly on her relative rights in the married state:

"It is right that man should govern us as our head, but not that he should abandon us or treat us ill. God has so well ordered both man and woman, that I think marriage, if it is not abused, one of the most beautiful and secure estates that can be in this world, and I am sure that all who are here, no matter what pretense they make, think as much or more; and as much as man calls himself wiser than woman, so much the more grievously will he be punished if the fault be on his side. Those who are overcome by pleasure ought not to call themselves women any longer, but men, whose honor is but augmented by fury and concupiscence; for a man who revenges himself upon his enemy and slays him for a contradiction is esteemed a better companion for so doing; and the same is true if he love a dozen other women besides his wife; but the honor of woman has another foundation: it is gentleness, patience, chastity."

Désiré Nisard says that Marguerite d'Angoulême was the first to write prose that can be read without the aid of a vocabulary; in verse, she excels all poets of her time in sympathy and compassion; her poetry is "a voice which complains-a heart which suffers and which tells us so." "It is not so much her own deep sentiment that is reflected, but her emotion, which is both intellectual and sympathetic, volitional and spontaneous." Her letters were epoch-making; nothing before her time nor after her (until Madame de Sévigné) can equal them in precision, purity of language, sincerity and frankness of expression, passion and religious fervor.

In spite of what may be said to the contrary, her life was an ideal one, an example of perfect moral beauty and elevation; noble, generous, refined, pious, and sincere, she possessed qualities which were indeed rare in her time. She was attacked for her charity, and is to-day the victim of narrow sectarian and biased devotees. Her act of renouncing all gorgeous dress, even the robes of gold brocade so much worn by every princess, in order to give all her money to the poor; her protection of the needy and persecuted; her court of poets and scholars; her visits to the sick and stricken; even her untiring love for her brother and her acts of clemency-all have frequently been misinterpreted.

The greatest poets and men of letters of the sixteenth century were encouraged financially and morally or protected by Marguerite d'Angoulême-Rabelais, Marot, Pelletier, Bonaventure-Desperiers, Mellin de Saint-Gelais, Lefèvre d'Etaples, Amyot, Calvin, Berquin. Charles de Sainte-Marthe says: "In seeing them about this good lady, you would say it was a hen which carefully calls and gathers her chicks and shelters them with her wings."

Many critics believe that her literary work was imitative rather than original; even if this be true, it in no measure detracts from her importance, which is based upon the fact that she was the leading spirit of the time and typified her environment. Her followers, and they included all the intellectual spirits, looked up to her as the one incentive for writing and pleasing. Her disposition was characterized by restlessness, haste-too great eagerness to absorb and digest and appropriate all that was unfolded before her. She imitated the Decameron and drew up for herself a Heptameron; her poetry showed much skill and great ease, but little originality. Her extreme facility, her wonderfully active mind, her power of causerie, and her ability to discuss and write upon philosophical and religious abstractions, won the deep admiration and respect of her followers, who were not only content to be aided financially by her, but looked to her for guidance and counsel in their own work, though she never imposed her ideas and taste upon others. By her tact, she was able practically to control and guide the entire literary, artistic, and social development of the sixteenth century. Every form of intellectual movement of this period is impregnated with the spirit of Marguerite d'Angoulême.

With her affable and loving manners, her refined taste and superior knowledge, she was able to influence her brother and, through him, the government. Just as her mother controlled in politics, so did Marguerite in arts and manners. In her are found the main characteristics to which later French women owed their influence-a form of versatility which included exceptional tact and enabled the possessor to appreciate and sympathize with all forms of activity, to deal with all classes, to manage and be managed in turn.

The writings of Marguerite are quite numerous, consisting of six moralities or comedies, a farce, epistles, elegies, philosophical poems, and the Heptameron, her principal work-a collection of prose tales in which are reflected the customary conversation, the morals of polite society, and the ideal love of the time. They are a medley of crude equivocalities, of the grossness of the fabliaux, of Rabelais, and of the delicate preciosity of the seventeenth century. Love is the principal theme discussed-youth, nobility, wealth, power, beauty, glory, love for love, the delicate sensation of feeling one's self loved, elegant love, obsequious love; perfect love is found in those lovers who seek perfection in what they love, either of goodness, beauty, or grace-always tending to virtue.

Thoroughly to appreciate Marguerite d'Angoulême's position and influence and her contributions to literature, the conditions existing in her epoch must be carefully considered. It was in the sixteenth century that the charms of social life and of conversation as an art were first realized; all questions of the day were treated gracefully, if not deeply; woman began to play an important part, to appear at court, and, by her wit and beauty, to impress man. From the semi-barbaric spirit of the Middle Ages to the Italian and Roman culture of the Renaissance was a tremendous stride; in this cultural development, Marguerite was of vital importance. In intellectual attainments far in advance of the age, among its great women she stands out alone in her spirit of humanity, generosity, tolerance, broad sympathies, exemplary family life, and exalted devotion to her brother.

Of the other literary women of the sixteenth century, mention may be made of two who have left little or no work of importance, but who are interesting on account of the peculiar form of their activity.

Mlle. de Gournay, fille d'alliance of Montaigne, is a unique character. Having conceived a violent passion for the philosopher and essayist, she would have no other consort than her honor and good books. She called the ladies of the court "court dolls," accusing them of deforming the French language by affecting words that had apparently been greased with oil in order to facilitate their flow. She was one of the first woman suffragists and the most independent spirit of the age. In 1592, to see the country of her master, she undertook a long voyage, at a time when any trip was fraught with the gravest dangers for a woman.

She is a striking example of the effect of sixteenth-century sympathy, admiration, and enthusiasm; she was protected by some of the greatest literary men of the age-Balzac, Grotius, Heinsius; the French Academy is said to have met with her on several occasions, and she is said to have participated in its work of purifying and fixing the French language. Her adherence to the Montaigne cult has brought her name down to posterity.

M. du Bled relates a droll story in connection with her meeting Richelieu. Mlle. de Gournay was an old maid, who lived to the ripe age of eighty. Being a pronounced féministe, she-like her sisters of to-day-cultivated cats. The story runs as follows:

"Bois-Robert conducted her to the Cardinal, who paid her a compliment composed of old words taken from one of her books; she saw the point immediately. 'You laugh over the poor old girl, but laugh, great genius, laugh! everybody must contribute something to your diversion.' The Cardinal, surprised at her ready wit, asked her pardon, and said to Bois-Robert: 'We must do something for Mlle. de Gournay. I give her two hundred écus pension.' 'But she has servants,' suggested Bois-Robert. 'Who?' 'Mlle. Jamyn (bastard), illegitimate daughter of Amadis Jamyn, page of Ronsard.' 'I will give her fifty livres annually.' 'There is still dear little Piaillon, her cat.' 'I give her twenty livres pension, on condition that Piaillon shall have tripes.' 'But, Monseigneur, she has had kittens!' The Cardinal added a pistole for the little kittens."

A woman of large fortune, she spent it freely in study, in her household, and especially in alchemy. Her peculiar ideas about love kept her from falling prey to the wealth-seeking gallants of the time. She was one of the few women who made a profession of writing; she compiled moral dissertations, defences of woman, and treatises on language, all of which she published at her own expense; while they are of no real importance, they show a remarkable frankness and courage.

Mlle. de Gournay was, possibly, the first woman to demand the acceptance of woman on an equal status with man; for she wrote two treatises on woman's condition and rank, insisting upon a better education for her, though she herself was well educated. Following the events of the day with a careful scrutiny and interpreting them in her writings, she showed a remarkable gift of perspective and deduction and an intimate knowledge of politics. The fact that she was severely, even spitefully, attacked in both poetry and prose but proves that her writings on women were effective.

Some writers claim that the founding of the French Academy had its inception at her rooms, where many of the members met and where, later on, they discussed the work of the Academy. Her one desire for the language was to have it advance and develop, preserving every word, resorting to old ones, accepting new ones only when necessary. Thus, among French female educators, Mlle. de Gournay deserves a prominent place, because of her high ideals and earnest efforts in the study of the language, for the courage with which she advanced her convictions regarding woman, and for the high moral standard which she set by her own conduct.

In Louise Labé-La Belle Cordière-we meet a warrior, as well as a woman of letters. The great movement of the Renaissance, as it swept northward, invaded Lyons; there Louise Labé endeavored to do what Ronsard and the Pléiade were doing at Paris. A great part of her youth she passed in war, wearing man's apparel and assuming the name of "Captain Loys"; at an early age, she left home with a company of soldiers passing through Lyons on the way to lay siege to Perpignan, where she showed pluck, bravery, and skill. Upon her return, she married a merchant ropemaker, whence her sobriquet-La Belle Cordière.

She soon won a reputation by gathering about her a circle of men, who complimented her in the most elegant language and read poetry with her. Science and literature were discussed and the praises of love sung with passionate, inflamed eloquence. In this circle of congenial spirits, "she gave rise to doubts as to her virtue." As her husband was wealthy, she was able to collect an immense library and to entertain at her pleasure; she could converse in almost any language, and all travellers stopped at Lyons and called to see her at her salon. Her writings consisted of sonnets, elegies, and dialogues in prose; her influence, being too local, is not marked. Her greatest claim to attention is that she encouraged letters in a city which was beyond the reach of every literary movement. Such were the women of the sixteenth century; in no epoch in French history have women played a greater r?le; art, literature, morals, politics, all were governed by them. They were active in every phase of life, hunting with men, taking part in and causing duels, intriguing and initiating intrigues. "In the midst of battle, while cannon-balls and musket-shots rained about her, Catherine de' Medici was as brave and unconcerned as the most valiant of men. Diana of Poitiers was called the most wondrous woman, the woman of eternal youth, the beautiful huntress; it was she whom Jean Goujon sculptured, nude and triumphant, embracing with marble arms a mysterious stag, enamoured like Leda's swan."

In general, the women of that century "liked better to be feared than loved; they inspired mad passions, insensate devotions, ecstatic admirations. The epoch was one in which life counted for little, when balls alternated with massacres; when virtue was befitting only the lowly born and ugly (Brant?me recommends the beautiful to be inconstant because they should resemble the sun who diffuses his light so indiscriminately that everybody in the world feels it). It was the age of beauty-a beauty that fascinated and entranced, but the glow of which melted and killed; but this glow also reacted upon them that caused it and they became victims of their own passions-through either jealousy or their own weaknesses. No age was ever more luxurious, pompous, elegant, brilliant, and wanton, yet beneath all the glitter there were much misery and bitter repentance; amongst the violent wickedness there were noble and pure women such as Elizabeth of Austria and Louise de Vaudemont."

The whole century seemed to be afire and to tingle with that spirit of liberty, imitation, and experimentation, which, so often abused, led to much disaster. In spite of that unsettled and excited condition, the sixteenth century attained greater development, had more avenues of intellectual activity opened to it, imitated, thought and imagined more and produced as much as any other century; in every field, we find the names of its masters. As M. Faguet says, the sixteenth century was, in France, the century créateur par excellence; and in this, woman's part was, above all, political, her social, moral, and literary influence being less marked.

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