HBICs of history » Marguerite Valois aka Queen Margot
Margaret of France (1553 – 1615) was Queen of France and of Navarre during the late sixteenth century. A royal princess of France by birth, she was the last of the House of Valois. She was the daughter of King Henry II of France and Catherine de’ Medici; Margot was famous for her beauty and sense of style (she was one of the most fashionable women of her time, influencing most of Europe’s Royal Courts with her clothing). She was also a gifted poet and writer, notable for both her own scandalous behavior and for revealing that of others. Margaret took many lovers both during her marriage and after her annulment. The most well-known were Joseph Boniface de La Môle, Jacques de Harlay, Seigneur de Chanvallon and Louis de Bussy d’Amboise. When imprisoned by her brother Henry III for eighteen years, she took advantage of the time to write her memoirs, which included a succession of stories relating to the disputes of her brothers with her husband Henry IV. The memoirs were published posthumously in 1628 and scandalised the population.
The marriage of the 19-year-old Margaret to Henry, who had become King of Navarre upon the death of his mother, took place in August 1572 at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. The groom, a Huguenot, had to remain outside the cathedral during the religious ceremony. Just six days after the wedding, on St Bartholomew’s Day, Roman Catholic factions instigated a targeted group of assassinations, followed by a wave of mob violence, both directed against the Huguenots.
After the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre Margaret has been credited with saving the lives of several prominent Protestants, including her husband’s, by keeping them in her rooms and refusing to admit the assassins. Henry of Navarre had to feign conversion to Catholicism.
After more than three years of confinement at court, Henry escaped Paris in 1576, leaving his wife behind. Finally granted permission to return to her husband in Navarre, for the next three and a half years Margaret and her husband lived in Pau. Both openly kept other lovers, and they quarrelled frequently.
Her life has inspired a variety of stories over the centuries, beginning with Shakespeare’s early comedy Love’s Labour’s Lost written during her lifetime, to Alexandre Dumas, père’s 1845 novel La Reine Margot; to a 1994 movie La Reine Margot.