The Last of the Valois

  May 18, 2014 at 6:48 am by

Marguerite de Valois, Princess of France was born at the Royal Chateau of Saint-Germain-en-Laye on May 14, 1553, the youngest surviving daughter of Henri II of France and Catherine de Médici.

Marguerite de Valois, c 1566

The Princess was named in honour of her father’s devoted sister, Marguerite de France, Duchess de Berry. The young Marguerite – who was known simply as Margot by her family – was raised at the sophisticated French Valois court. Marguerite had three older and one younger brothers, François, Charles, Henri and Hercule François, and two older sisters, Elisabeth and Claude. In 1558, her eldest brother, the Dauphin François, married Mary, Queen of Scots.

In July 1559, her idyllic childhood came crashing to an end when her father, King Henri II, was seriously wounded in a jousting accident and died several days later. Marguerite’s eldest brother succeeded as King François II with her mother acting as Queen Regent. This was a period of great instability for the Kingdom of France, which was about to be torn apart by a bitter civil war between the Catholic majority and the Protestant, or Huguenot, minority. Catherine de Médicis wanted to avert civil war but was thwarted in her efforts by the ultra Catholic Duke and Cardinal of Guise, who held great influence over King François II, who was married to their niece, Mary.

By this stage both of Margot’s sisters had been married off: Elisabeth to Philip II of Spain and Claude to the Duke of Lorraine, who was a cousin of the Duke of Guise. François II died childless in December 1560, and was succeeded by his younger brother, Charles IX, with Catherine de Médicis again installed as Queen Regent. Civil War erupted in 1562, but was successfully ended by Catherine in 1563. Marguerite accompanied her mother and brothers on a grand royal tour of the Kingdom of France from 1564 to 1566. Margot’s Huguenot cousin, Jeanne III of Navarre, with her son, Prince Henri of Navarre, and daughter Princess Catherine also joined the French Royal Family on the grand tour of the Kingdom

Civil War erupted again in 1567 following an unsuccessful plot by the Huguenots to seize the King and his mother, who were residing at the Chateau of Meaux. Margot’s sister, Elisabeth died in October 1568; Catherine de Médicis tried in vain to marry Margot off to Philip II, which the Spanish King declined. Marguerite was famed for her both her beauty, grace and intelligence.

In 1570, Catherine began lengthy negotiations with Jeanne III of Navarre in a bid to marry Margot to Jeanne’s son, Henri. Jeanne III wanted Margot to convert to Protestantism, which Margot refused, and the negotiations dragged on. Henri de Bourbon was also a French Prince of the Blood, and was directly in line to the French throne after the three remaining sons of Henri II. Finally on August 11, 1572 at Chenonceaux, Catherine and Jeanne reached agreement and signed the marriage contract between Henri de Bourbon and Marguerite de Valois. The Queen of Navarre died suddenly in June 1572, she was succeeded by her son, who was now King Henri III of Navarre

An image to celebrate the marriage of Prince Henri of Navarre and Marguerite de Valois

The marriage of Henri and Marguerite was celebrated on August 18, 1572 outside Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Thousands of Huguenots descended on the city for the celebrations which lasted several days. By her marriage, Margot was now Queen Consort.

On August 24, royalist troops, aided by the ultra Catholic Parisians, began to massacre all the Huguenots in Paris. This brutal episode became known as the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre; Margot’s husband Henri III was spared as he recanted and converted back to Catholicism. Charles IX of France died in 1574 with no male heir, and was succeeded by his brother Henri. In 1576 the King of Navarre escaped from Paris and fled to Navarre, where he renounced his conversion to Catholicism and took up leadership of the Huguenot cause. Margot did not accompany her husband and preferred to remain behind in Paris at her brother’s court. The Queen of Navarre was granted permission a year later to travel to her husband at his court in Pau, but the reconciliation was short lived and both of them soon took lovers.

By 1582, the Queen of Navarre, having fallen out with her husband, was back in Paris and after several romantic scandals, was imprisoned in 1586 by her brother at Usson, in Auvergne, where she remained for the next 18 years. Her relationship with her mother, which had always been strained, was at an all-time low, and Catherine did not intercede on Marguerite’s behalf with the King. In January 1589, Catherine de Médicis died and was followed to the tomb by her only remaining son, Henri III, who was assassinated in August 1589. It is interesting to note that Catherine left nothing to Marguerite in her will.

Queen Marguerite’s husband was now King Henri IV of France. He did not release her from her prison at Usson, but did begin negotiations in the 1590s to have their fruitless marriage annulled by the Pope. Henri IV converted back to Catholicism in 1593 and in 1599 his marriage to Marguerite de Valois was formally annulled by the Pope. Marguerite did however retain her title of Queen, and as the last of the Valois dynasty, was given the Duchy of Valois for the rest of her lifetime.

Marguerite de Valois at the coronation of Marie de Medici

During her long imprisonment, Queen Margot used her time to write her memoirs. In 1605, now old and quite plump, Marguerite de Valois returned to Paris and took up residence near the Louvre Palace. Her new court became a celebrated meeting place for writers and artists, the Queen of Navarre also enriched many of the nearby churches with donations. Marguerite now enjoyed a good relationship with her former husband and his new wife, Marie de Medici, whom he married in 1600. In 1608, she acted as godmother to Henri IV’s son, Gaston de France, Duke d’Orléans. In 1610, she attended the coronation of Marie de Medici at St Denis Abbey and wore the robes and mantle of a Queen. Henri IV was assassinated in May 1610 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Louis XIII. Marguerite attended his lavish coronation at Reims Cathedral in October 1610 and became quite close to the new king and his mother.

On March 27, 1615, Marguerite de Valois, the last survivor of that royal dynasty and a Daughter of France, died at her Paris residence. Louis XIII ordered the French court into royal mourning out of respect. Queen Margot’s remains were taken to Saint Denis Abbey with very little pomp and buried in the chapel of the Valois near her parents and brothers. Her famed memoirs were published posthumously in 1628 and caused a huge sensation and aroused much controversy.

In October 1793 her remains were desecrated and later dumped in a common pit by a revolutionary mob who sacked the Royal Abbey and vaults.

Filed under French Royals, Historical Royals, Spanish Royals
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