Tuesday, April 8, 2008

So Close and Yet (Fortunately?) So Far

Tudormania is all the rage these days. It seems that every other historical novel published features another of Henry VIII's unfortunate wives. None of these women were French, although one Frenchwoman did come precariously close to wedding Henry: none other than François I's own sister, Marguerite d'Angoulême.

Marguerite (generally known as Marguerite de Navarre) was two years older than François and his only sibling. Like François, she was attractive, intelligent, and extremely well-educated. François's predecessor, his cousin Louis XII, tried to marry young Marguerite off to Arthur, Prince of Wales, and later to Arthur's younger brother, the future Henry VIII. But at the time of Louis's proposal, François's accession to the throne of France was not certain; there remained a chance that the elderly Louis, married to a younger queen, might still produce a son who would inherit the throne before his cousin. Because of this uncertainty, the proposal did not entice the English king, Henry VII, who turned it down. Henry did eventually change his mind and ask for Marguerite's hand either for himself or for his son Henry, but by that time it was Louis who was not interested in a match with England. Marguerite herself hoped for a French match, and in 1509 she married her first husband, the duc d'Alençon. Widowed, she later married Henri d'Albret and became Queen of Navarre. (R. Knecht, Renaissance Warrior and Patron, p. 113-114)

How might history have been different had Marguerite and Henry VIII married? Marguerite, though she never outwardly embraced Calvinism, showed herself to be open to reform of the Catholic Church from within and protected many censured theologians at her court in Navarre. Would she and Henry have introduced reform into the Church in England without severing ties with Rome? Would Henry, who had been quite loyal to Rome as a young man, ever have become embroiled in theological disputes if he had married Marguerite and produced a male heir? The questions are many, the answers unknown.

One can only be happy that Marguerite did not wind up as one of Henry's discarded wives. A woman of great accomplishment, she not only wrote poetry and prose at a time when women's voices were seldom heard, but she became an accomplished diplomat and an arbiter of learning and culture at both her brother's and her husband's courts. I often wonder what Marguerite felt as she witnessed the tragic destinies of the women who shared Henry's throne and bed.

7 comments:

Catherine Delors said...

Well, all we can do is offer Marguerite our retrospective congratulations.

It must be just me, but I find Henry VIII revolting at every possible level.

Julianne Douglas said...

No, I agree. Marguerite definitely "lucked out," as we say!

elena maria vidal said...

How interesting! Thank you for putting a spotlight on this intriguing lady!

Julianne Douglas said...

Elena Maria,

She's always fascinated me; I wrote a lot about her during my graduate work. I'm playing with some ideas concerning her for my third novel...

I used to complain that I couldn't think of anything to write about, but lately I've been getting more ideas than I know what to do with! Now, there's just that little problem with a thing called time...

elena maria vidal said...

Oh, I have the same problem.

Catherine Delors said...

Same here. And, Julianne, I have noticed that you now add pictures to your posts. Beautiful! I particularly like the colors in this portrait of Marguerite.

Julianne Douglas said...

Catherine,

I adore this portrait of Marguerite as a young woman. It was painted by Jean Clouet, Francois I's court painter, whom I will blog about at a later date.

The more popular portrait of Marguerite is one of her in her later years. Maybe I'll display that one in a new post.