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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. Each generation may have a Marguerite who is born a Valois, but marries a King of Navarre. Our Margarets are an aunt, a sister and a daughter to Henri II. By birth, they are Valois princesses, but two married the King of Navarre.

Marguerite de Valois-Angoulême (1492-1549)

Were it not for our first Marguerite, finding a legitimate heir to the throne of France after the death of Henri III of France would be difficult. Henri II, King of France, and Catherine de’ Medici had three sons who reigned, but no heir was born to these three Kings. However, because Marguerite de Valois-Angoulême was a Queen consort of Navarre, Henri III of Navarre had Bourbon ancestry. He was the son of Antoine de BourbonDuke of Vendôme and Jeanne d’Albret, the Queen of Navarre.

Henri III of Navarre 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 could ascend the throne of France as Henri IV King of France and Navarre, which he did when Henri III, King of France and Poland, was murdered without issue. Marguerite de Valois-Angoulême, our first Marguerite, was first married to Charles IV de Valois, Duc d’Alençon. He died in 1525.

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. L’Heptaméron exerted influence on Madame de La Fayette. Both l’Heptaméron and La Princesse de Clèves describe intrigues at the Court of France.

Portrait of Marguerite de Valois-Angoulême by Jean Clouet, ca. 1527

Marguerite de Valois, duchesse de Berry (1523-1574)

Portrait of Marguerite de Valois, Duchesse de Berry par  François Clouet

Marguerite de Valois, duchesse de Berry was the daughter of Francis I of France and the sister of Henri II, King of France or Madame Sœur du Roi. When King Henri II died accidentally, he was celebrating his sister’s marriage to Emmanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy and Élisabeth de France‘s marriage to Philip II of Spain.

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 Valois (1553-1615): La Reine Margot

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 Valois, the second Marguerite de Navarre, 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 loved literature and enjoyed entertaining artists and writers.

In short, there are three Marguerites de Valois, an aunt, a sister and a daughter of Henri II King of France. They belong to three generations. However, only two of our Marguerites were Queens consort of Navarre. Marguerite de Valois, Sœur du Roi, and Marguerite de Valois who married Henri III of Navarre, the future Henri IV, King of France and Navarre. All three are featured or mentioned in La Princesse de Clèves.


Arcangelo Corelli‘s Christmas Concerto

© Micheline Walker
1 January 2021