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Marguerite de Navarre, Marguerites

Mary McKinley on Marguerite de Navarre:


Marguerite (1492–1549), queen of Navarre and sister of the king of France, Francis I (1494–1547) collected her poems in a small volume titled Marguerites de la marguerite des princesses (not pictured).The title is a play on the word marguerite in French; in English it becomes Pearls of the Pearl of Princesses Better known today as the author of the Heptameron, Marguerite, an advocate for reform within the Catholic Church, had been writing deeply religious poetry at least since the 1520s.  In 1531, her mystical poem Mirror of the Sinful Soul was printed in Alençon, to be re-printed in Paris in 1533.  By then, Marguerite had aroused the anger of the conservative Parisian theologians, who attacked the Mirror before royal pressure intervened and made them retreat.  The young Elizabeth Tudor, future Queen Elizabeth I of England, later translated the Mirror into English, working from a copy brought from France by her mother, Anne Boleyn. 


Efforts to reform the French Church became increasingly perilous after 1534, when a group of radical reformers from Switzerland posted in Paris and widely throughout France broadsheets attacking the Catholic Mass.  Shaken by threats to the order of his kingdom, Francis ordered harsh persecution of those perceived to be heretics.  Court poet Clement Marot and young John Calvin were forced to flee and sought refuge at Marguerite’s court in Nérac before escaping to Italy.  During those trying times, Marguerite wrote prolifically, but it was not until 1547, the year of her brother’s death, that she collected many of her works in the first edition of the Marguerites, published by Jean de Tournes in Lyon, France. The book on exhibit appeared two years later, also in Lyon.  It carries the name of Pierre de Tours and contains essentially the same poems as the first edition.  Its appearance suggests that there was high demand for Marguerite’s collected works, and its smaller format would have made it more affordable. 


The Marguerites has an intricate frame around the title.  Its leafy garlands, masks, and playful winged putti are typical of frames produced by artists in the School of Fontainebleau who flourished under the patronage of King Francis I. 




Mary McKinley is editor and translator of Marie Dentière's Epistle to Marguerite de Navarre. She focuses on early modern French literature, especially Montaigne, Marguerite de Navarre, and Marie Dentière. She is Douglas Huntly Gordon Professor of French at the University of Virginia.


Case 5 -- Gaspara Stampa >>>

Princess Marguerite of Angouleme, c.1530.

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Audio Stop: Mary McKinley on Marguerite de Navarre

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