Royal of the Month: Jeanne III of Navarre

  June 27, 2014 at 8:34 am by

For the month of June, I have chosen Jeanne d’Albret as my feature royal. Though largely a forgotten historical figure, Jeanne III of Navarre was a major power player during the dying days of the French Valois Dynasty.

Jeanne d’Albret

Jeanne d’Albret was born at the Chateau de Pau on January 7, 1528, the daughter of Marguerite d’Angoulême and Henri II of Navarre. Her mother was the only sister of King François I of France, and Jeanne was born a member of both the Royal Houses of Navarre and France. She was raised at the French court of her uncle, where she received an excellent education befitting a Princess of her rank.

In October 1541, her uncle forced her to marry William, Duke of Jülich-Cleves-Berg, despite Jeanne having refused to agree to this union. The marriage was political, William was the brother of Henry VIII’s forth Queen, Anne of Cleves. This very unhappy political marriage was later annulled by the Pope as it had not been consummated. King François died in March 1547 and was succeeded by his son, Henri II.

In October 1548, Jeanne married Antoine de Bourbon, Duke of Vendome at  Moulins. Antoine was a French Prince of the Blood, and was directly in line for the French throne after the sons of Henri II. In December 1549, Jeanne’s mother Marguerite died aged 57 at Odos in Southern France. The marriage of Jeanne and Antoine produced two surviving children: the future Henri IV of France, who was born in 1553, and Catherine de Bourbon, born in 1559.

In May 1555, Jeanne became Queen of Navarre following the death of her father, Henri II of Navarre. As well as being Queen of Navarre, Jeanne was also in her own right Duchess d’Albret, Countess of Limoges, Foix, Armagnac, Bigorre and Périgord, Viscountess of Bearn; and by marriage was Duchess of Vendôme and Beaumont and Countess of Marle, La Fère and Soissons. Jeanne and Antoine held vast domains within the Kingdom of France.

It was also around this time that Jeanne secretly began to take an interest in the Calvinist faith and its Huguenot movement in Catholic France. The King of France was a conservative Catholic and heavily persecuted French Protestants, who were also known as Huguenots. Under this regime, Jeanne outwardly professed Catholicism but her sympathies lay secretly with the Huguenots. In July 1559, Henri II of France died and was succeeded by his weak 15 year old son, François II, who had his shrewd mother, Catherine de Médici, as Regent. In December 1560, François II died childless and was succeeded by his younger brother, Charles IX, again with Catherine as Regent.

On Christmas Day 1560, Jeanne publicly broke with Catholicism and converted to Calvinism. Antoine de Bourbon’s brother, Louis, Prince de Conde, had joined the Huguenot cause and assumed its leadership. In 1561, Jeanne outlawed Catholicism in her domains and established Calvinism as the state religion. However her husband had changed his religion a few times but was now back in the Catholic camp, and at the court of Catherine de Médici and her son. This caused major strain in the once happy marriage; as Antoine, under orders from Queen Catherine, threatened to repudiate Jeanne if she did not abjure the Protestant faith. Catherine de Médici had also recently forbidden the celebration of Protestant services at the French Royal Court, but Jeanne openly ignored this command and continued to hold services in her private apartments.

Fearing both Catherine de Médicis and Antoine de Bourbon, Jeanne left the Paris in March 1562 just as the First War of Religion erupted. In May 1562, on her journey to Navarre, Jeanne and her 400-strong armed escort stopped off at her husband’s Chateau de Vendôme, where she did nothing to stop her troops pillaging the Catholic churches in the town, and worse, she allowed them desecrate the Vendôme Ducal Chapel which housed the remains of Antoine’s ancestors.

When word reached Antoine of the desecration, he ordered the Seigneur de Montluc to capture his wife and imprison her in a convent. Jeanne managed to escape and arrived safely at Béarn, her capital in Navarre. In November 1562, Antoine was wounded during the Catholic siege of Rouen and died a few days later, leaving Jeanne a widow.

From January 1564 to May 1565, Jeanne III and her children accompanied Catherine de Médici, Charles IX and the royal family on a royal tour of the Kingdom. In 1568, during the Third War of Religion, Jeanne again enraged Catherine by supporting the Huguenot troops. Catherine retaliated by sending an army south to occupy Navarre. Jeanne and her children, along with an escort, fled to the fortress city of La Rochelle, where she rallied the Huguenot cause.

Following the defeat of the Huguenots at Jarnac in 1569, where her Protestant brother-in-law Louis, was killed, Jeanne presented her son Henri de Navarre to her troops as their new leader. The Queen of Navarre began selling her jewels and valuables to finance the Huguenot army, she also secretly received support from Queen Elizabeth I of England. With Jeanne in La Rochelle, Catherine de Médici and Charles IX had Catholic royalist troops occupy Jeanne’s lands.

Despite the frosty atmosphere, the Queen of Navarre and Catherine de Médici began peace talks in 1570, and the Peace of Saint-Germain-en-Laye ended the Third War of Religion.

Jeanne, like her mother was a skilled writer and loved poetry, she was highly intelligent but was described as being very haughty, sarcastic and with a sharp tongue. In February 1572, despite not trusting Catherine de Médici, Jeanne accepted her invitation to join her at Chenonceaux, where she was accompanied by her own daughter, Catherine. Both Queens began the complex marriage negotiations between Jeanne’s son, Henri, and Catherine’s youngest daughter, Marguerite.

The marriage was a political one and Catherine hoped it would cement an alliance between the Royal Family and the House of Bourbon. Jeanne had insisted that Marguerite must convert to Calvinism, which both Catherine and Marguerite refused. After weeks of wrangling, the marriage contract was signed on April 11, 1572. Jeanne and her daughter then departed to Paris, where they took up residence and began to prepare for the wedding.

Suddenly, the Queen of Navarre fell ill with a fever and died at her Parisian residence on June 9, 1572. Following a Calvinist funeral service, the Queen’s coffin was buried at the Ducal Chapel Collégiale de Saint-Georges in Vendôme beside her husband. The tombs were destroyed and remains lost in 1793 when the chapel was pillaged during the French Revolution and the chapel was then demolished.

Jeanne was succeed by her son Henri as monarch of Navarre, in 1589 he also became King Henri IV of France following the death of the last Valois King.

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