Marguerite de Navarre 1492-1549

Marguerite de Navarre 1492-1549

In this blog, we take a look at the life and works of another queen, this time from across the pond in France. Marguerite de Navarre was born on 11th April 1492 to learned parents, who were known to keep large libraries. Although from a privileged background, Marguerite did much for the poor and underprivileged as well as being a religious mediator and later, a respected Renaissance writer and philosopher. Her work, Heptameron, a collection of short stories written in 1558, being the most memorable of her works.


She frequently met with some of the great religious reformers of her time, including Martin Luther and John Calvin. She was also a patron of Leonardo da Vinci, who died in a Chateau owned by Marguerite’s brother, King Francis I. A friend to the poor and unwed mothers, she established hospitals, alms-houses, and orphanages. She wrote incessantly; plays and poems as well as religious works whilst still attending to her duties at court. Like Elizabeth I, Marguerite was tutored by scholars from a young age and learned Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish and later German and Hebrew. She also studied scripture and classical philosophy, often reading the works of Plato, Cicero and Virgil.


Marguerite was particularly drawn to poetry and as a young girl would often practise and share short rhyming verses with her brother. In 1509, Marguerite was married to Charles, Duke of Alençon, her first husband. He was not as learned as her and preferred the hunt to books. Marguerite was notably upset and wept often during the wedding ceremony. However, Marguerite was able to have some of her books from the libraries of Amboise, Blois and Cognac as well as some orders for other books from European printers.


It was during this marriage that Marguerite began her philanthropic work and in the early 1520s she persuaded her brother to found Le Hôpital des Infants Rouges (Red Children Hospital) in Paris for orphaned and abandoned children. The hospital was so named because of the red clothing the children were given to wear. Once opened, Marguerite would continue to be involved (as with all of her philanthropic work) with the hospital and in particular made sure that the rules of hygiene and diet were strictly adhered to.          


Marguerite’s works were numerous. She was a model queen and a great hero of her sex. There is much to be read about this fascinating figure, and I encourage all to go and read about her. Even after she died, many wrote and spoke of her qualities. The French biographer of the sixteenth century Pierre de Bourdeille would say that “she was a great princess, but in addition to all of that, she was very kind, gentle, gracious, charitable and a great disperser of alms and friendly to all.” In other words, a truly model queen!


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