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Madame de La Fayette (labibliothèquedesev.wordpress)

I taught La Princesse de Clèves (The Princess of Cleves) year after year for several decades and told my students who the characters were, including their ancestry. It was easy then, but eighteen years later, it is no longer so easy. I remember the main names, but a few names confused me. Some characters have several titles and some characters have the same title. These are hereditary, so it is a matter of lineage.

The Prince of Cleves’ father is the Duke of Nevers, but he remains a Clèves (See List of Counts of Dukes of Vendôme, Wikipedia.) Clèves/Kleve is a comté (county) in Germany. Le Chevalier de Guise, the Prince de Clèves’ rival, has a brother who is Cardinal of Lorraine, but Cardinal de Lorraine is a title. He remains a Guise. Individuals, mostly aristocrats, can have several titles. Moreover, a Marguerite de Navarre may follow a Marguerite de Navarre. Navarre is a title.

Were it not for the two Marguerites, finding a legitimate heir to the throne of France after the death of Henri III would be difficult. Henri II and Catherine de’ Medici had three sons who reigned, but no heir was born to these three sons. However, because Marguerite de Valois-Vendôme was a Queen consort of Navarre, Henri III of Navarre has Bourbon ancestry. He is the son of Antoine de BourbonDuke of Vendôme and Jeanne d’Albret, the Queen of Navarre. He was baptised a Catholic and raised as a Huguenot. (See Henri IV of France, Wikipedia.) His ancestor was François de Bourbon-Vendôme. (See List of Counts of Dukes of Vendôme, Wikipedia.) Therefore, Henri III of Navarre can ascend the throne of France as Henri IV of France, when Henri III, King of France and Poland, is murdered without issue.

Portrait of Marguerite d’Angoulême by Jean Clouet, ca. 1527
Portrait of Princess Margaret of Valois by François Clouet, 16th century. Margaret was considered in her time beautiful, cultured, refined and flirtatious: for this, she was called the “pearl of the Valois.” (Wikipedia)

Marguerite de Navarre: l’Heptaméron & La Reine Margot

We have two Marguerites de Navarre, but there may be more. Our first Marguerite de Navarre (1492–1549) is Marguerite de Valois-Angoulême, François 1er‘s sister. This Marguerite de Navarre is the author of an collection of 72 novellas (unfinished) entitled the Heptaméron. She found her inspiration in Giovanni Boccaccio‘s Decameron (1313–1375), a compendium of novellas told by young people who have fled the plague. The Decameron exerted influence on Madame de La Fayette. Both l’Heptaméron and La Princesse de Clèves describe intrigues at the Court of France.

Our second Marguerite de Navarre (1553-1615), also born a Valois or Marguerite de France, is Alexandre Dumas père‘s La Reine Margot, but it is unlikely that she was as depraved as Dumas depicted her. This Marguerite is the daughter of Henri II and Catherine de’ Medici. She married Henri III of Navarre, whom she did not love and who became Henri IV, King of Navarre and France. He converted to Catholicism. He is remembered for saying that Paris was well worth a Mass: Paris vaut bien une messe. Marguerite de France had a brother named Henri III de France. He was King of France and Poland and was assassinated by Jacques Clément, a “Catholic fanatic,” in 1589 (see Henri III of France, Wikipedia). Henri II and Catherine de’ Medici had three sons who reigned but there was a second François. He was their last child. He died in 1585, four years before Henri III, King of France, was murdered. Marguerite de Valois protected her husband during the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.

So, there are two Marguerite de Navarre, both of whom were initially Marguerite de France, of the House of Valois. “France” is the name given to the children of the King of France. Marguerite de France, the second Marguerite, could not have children, so her marriage to Henri IV was annulled in 1599. She then lived in Paris and befriended Henri IV and his wife, Marie de’ Medici. She lived comfortably and had a castle built. Marguerite liked entertaining artists and writers.

As for La Princesse de Clèves‘ characters, despite the multitude named or mentioned in Madame de La Fayette’s novel, few are truly important, although all play a role. The Princesse de Clèves has “digressions” that mirror the main narrative, which, to a certain extent, is a frame story.

La Carte de Tendre, attributed to engraver François Chauveau
  • The princess of Clèves is the former Mademoiselle de Chartres,
  • The prince of Clèves is the Princess’ husband, whom she marries because he is “moins répugnant,” less repulsive, than other men.
  • The Duke of Nemours is the man the Princesse of Clèves truly loves: inclination. This kind of love is the central river in Mademoiselle de Scudéry‘s Carte de Tendre, Tendre-sur-Inclination. The map of love shows two other rivers: Tendre-sur-Estime and Tendre-sur-Reconnaissance. The Prince de Clèves dies of grief but the Princesse de Clèves will not marry le Duc de Nemours. She fears that if he has nothing to wish for, his love will die.
  • The Vidame de Chartres is the recipient of the letter that falls out of the Duke of Nemours’ pocket.
  • Mary Queen of Scots, Marie Stuart, is Queen Dauphine and Queen of France as wife of François II of France.

We will continue to discuss La Princesse de Clèves. but central to its intrigue are her confession (l’aveu) and a letter that falls out of the Duc de Nemours’ pocket after un jeu de paume, today’s tennis. The Princess of Cleves thinks the Duc de Nemours, whom she loves with a passion, is unfaithful. After reading the letter, she feels so betrayed and jealous that love and jealousy become inextricably linked in her mind.

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© Micheline Walker
1 January 2021
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