Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Harrowing Journey, à la Sixteenth Century

Welcome to all those traveling today on the rounds of Angela Nickerson's Blogapolooza! Angela asked the thirty or so bloggers participating to recount a strange or scary travel journey. Try as I might, I could think of no harrowing journey of my own to share, so I decided to borrow one from Marguerite de Navarre . This is the opening to Marguerite's book of tales, The Heptameron (published in 1558, although composed during the 1540's). Flooded inns, washed-out bridges, drowned companions, lame horses, murderous bandits, hungry bears: it's enough to make one more than grateful for the comforts and relative safety of modern travel.

"On the 1st of September, when the baths of the Pyrenees begin to have efficacy, several persons from France, Spain and other countries were assembled at those of Cauterets, some to drink the waters, some to bathe in them, and others to be treated with mud; remedies so marvelous, that patients given over by physicians go home cured from Cauterets. [...] [A]s they were preparing to return home, there fell such excessive and extraordinary rains, that it seemed as though God had forgotten his promise to Noah that he would never again destroy the world with water. The houses of Cauterets were so flooded that it was impossible to abide in them. [...] [T]he French lords and ladies, thinking to return to Tarbes as easily as they had come from it, found the rivulets so swollen as to be scarcely fordable; and when they came to the Béarnese Gave, which was not two feet deep when they crossed it on their way to the baths, they found it so enlarged and so impetuous that they were forced to turn out of their direct course and look for bridges. These, however, being only of wood, had been carried away by the violence of the current. Some attempted to break its force by crossing it several together in one body; but they were swept away with such rapidity that the rest had no mind to follow them. They separated, therefore, either to look for another route, or because they were not of the same way of thinking...

"[A] widow of long experience, named Oisille, resolved to banish from her mind the fear of bad roads, and repair to Notre Dame de Serrance. [...] She met with no end of difficulties; but at last she arrived, after having passed through places almost impracticable, and so difficult to climb and descend, that notwithstanding her age and her weight, she was compelled to perform the greater part of the journey on foot. But the most piteous thing was that most of her servants and horses died on the way, and that she arrived with one man and one woman only at Serrance, where she was charitably received by the monks.

"There were also among the French two gentlemen who had gone to the baths rather to accompany the ladies they loved than for any need they themselves had to use the waters. These gentlemen, seeing that the company was breaking up, and that the husbands of their mistresses were taking them away, thought proper to follow them at a distance, without acquainting any one with their purpose. The two married gentlemen and their wives arrived one evening at the house of a man who was more a bandit than a peasant. The two young gentlemen lodged at a cottage hard by, and hearing a great noise about midnight they rose with their varlets, and inquired of their host what was all that tumult. The poor man, who was in a great fright, told them it was some bad lads who were come to share the booty that was in the house of their comrade the bandit. The gentlemen instantly seized their arms and hastened with their varlets to the aid of the ladies, holding it a far happier fate to die with them than to live without them. On reaching the bandit's house they found the first gate broken open and the two gentlemen and their servants defending themselves valorously; but as they were outnumbered by the bandits, and the married gentlemen were much wounded, they were beginning to give way, having already lost a great number of their servants. The two gentlemen, looking in at the windows, saw the two ladies weeping and crying so hard, that their hearts swelled with pity and love, and falling on the bandits like two enraged bears from the mountains, they laid about them with such fury, that a great number of the bandits fell, and the rest fled for safety to a place well known to them. The gentlemen having defeated these villains, the owner of the house being among the slain, and having learned that the wife was still worse than himself, despatched her after him with a sword-thrust. They then entered a room on the basement, where they found one of the married gentlemen breathing his last. The other had not been hurt, only his clothes had been pierced and his sword broken; and seeing the aid which the two had rendered him, he embraced and thanked them, and begged they would continue to stand by him, to which they assented with great good-will. After having seen the deceased buried, and consoled the wife as well as they could, they departed under the guidance of Providence, not knowing whither they were going.

"[...] They were in the saddle all day, and towards evening they descried a belfry, to which they made the best of their way, not without toil and trouble, and were humanely welcomed by the abbot and the monks. The abbey is called St. Savin's. The abbot, who was of a very good house, lodged them honorably, and on the way to their lodgings begged them to acquaint him with their adventures. After they had recounted them, he told them they were not the only persons who had been unfortunate, for there were in another room two ladies who had escaped as great a danger, or worse, inasmuch as they had encountered not men but beasts; for these poor ladies met a bear from the mountain half a league this side of Peyrchite, and fled from it with such speed that their horses dropped dead under them as they entered the abbey gates; and two of their women, who arrived long after them, reported that the bear had killed all their men-servants. The two ladies and the three gentlemen then went into the ladies' chamber, where they found them in tears, and saw they were Nomerfide and Ennasuite. They all embraced, and after mutually recounting their adventures, they began to be comforted through the sage exhortations of the abbot, counting it a great consolation to have so happily met again; and next day they heard mass with much devotion, and gave thanks to God for that he had delivered them out of such perils." (Excerpted from Walter Kelly's online English translation)

Several other of the original companions at the baths show up at the abbey, after having endured similar adventures; while waiting the twelve days necessary to construct a new bridge, the group amuses itself by telling and discussing tales of love--a most excellent activity for those inevitable dead hours that occur on every trip. If you're not one for telling tales yourself, you can read Marguerite's next time you're stuck in an airport somewhere. I assure you, lost luggage or a cancelled flight will no longer seem like a "harrowing travel adventure" when you're through.

A big thank you to Angela for inviting me to take part in her Blogapalooza. Be sure to visit her fabulous travel and book blog, Just Go!, and register for one of the three marvelous goodie bags she's giving away. You'll also find links to all the other blogs participating in the party. Please visit as many as you can and comment. I'm sure you'll be adding several of them to your blog roll.

Bon voyage!

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Second Unrealized Tudor Match

As I revealed in my last post, François's sister Marguerite d'Angoulême was offered as a child bride to the young Henry VIII of England. Fortunately for her, perhaps, she was rejected. Another match between the Tudors and the Valois--this one between François's second son, Henri, and Henry VIII's first daughter, Princess Mary--came much closer to fruition.

Mary was three years older than Henri, and discussions regarding the union of the two royal children grew serious around 1530, while the young prince was being held hostage by Charles V in Spain [subject for a post of its own]. The Peace of Cambrai (1529), which secured the ransom of François's sons, included a clause affirming the French-English marriage. But in October 1530, negotiations with England stalled, for two reasons: François suspected Henry VIII intended to use Henri as security for the debt François owed him, and secondly, questions over Mary's legitimacy were beginning to cloud the issue. Henry VIII was by this time seeking an annulment of his marriage with Mary's mother, Catherine of Aragon, and François feared marrying his son to a bastard. Negotiations did continue until 1532, but once the outcome of Henry VIII's suit became evident, François abandoned the match. Instead, he wed Henri in 1533 to Caterina Maria de Medici, the cousin (often called the niece) of Pope Clement VII. 

How would the match between Henri and Mary, had it occurred, have changed history? It's interesting to speculate. It doesn't seem as though it would have derailed Henry VIII from his quest to rid himself of Catherine of Aragon, since he continued with his suit even as he negotiated with France. What is interesting is what would have happened once Henri became Dauphin. At the time of the negotiations, he was only second in line to the French throne. However, his older brother François died in 1536. The couple would eventually have ruled both France and England. This surely would have had great repercussions on the playing out of the religious question in the two countries.

[Source: Henry II, King of France 1547-1559 by Frederic Baumgartner (Duke UP, 1988)]

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Pearl among Pearls: Marguerite de Navarre

Two posts ago, I told you about Louise de Savoy, the mother who concentrated all her energy and sacrificed her physical and personal freedom to ensure her son François became king. A third, equally devoted individual complimented this mother-son pair: François's older sister, Marguerite, the eventual Queen of Navarre. François and Marguerite maintained throughout their lives the close affectional bond nurtured during the childhood years they passed as virtual prisoners with their mother. Playing upon one of the meanings of her name, the king fondly--and proudly, given his sister's accomplishments--referred to her as "La Marguerite des marguerites," a pearl among pearls.

Marguerite was born in 1492, two years before François. Raised in enforced seclusion by their mother after their father died and François became the heir presumptive to the throne, Marguerite shared in the expansive humanist education Louise provided for her son. Tutored by the finest of scholars, she learned to read Latin and to speak Italian fluently. Her love of letters and learning remained constant throughout her life. As princess and queen, she supported writers and poets and animated literary circles at court. She herself wrote poems and plays and authored the Heptaméron,  a collection of tales and debates about love modeled after Boccacio's Decameron. The Heptaméron, one of the earliest works of prose fiction written in French, first appeared in print in 1558, although it circulated in manuscript form well before that.

Much of Marguerite's work is religious in nature, as she was a strong supporter of the burgeoning Protestant faith. Although she herself never broke with the Catholic church, she supported the early evangelicals Guillaume Briçonnet and Jacques Lefèvre d'Etaples, humanists who called for reform from within the church itself. She protected writers such as Clément Marot and Bonaventure Des Périers when they got into trouble with religious authorities. She invited Guillaume Farel to preach at her court in Nérac and corresponded with Jean Calvin. Several of her own works came under censure by the Sorbonne for their unorthodox religious content, although her proximity to the king protected her from punishment. It was primarily through her influence that François remained tolerant of the new faith for as long as he did.

When Marguerite was eleven, her mother had tried to marry her to Henry VIII, but was refused. Marguerite's one true love, Gaston de Foix, died a hero in the Italian wars in 1512. At seventeen, Marguerite was married to Charles d'Alençon in a political match; after he died a few years later, she wed Henri II, King of Navarre. She bore Henri a daughter, Jeanne d'Albret, in 1528; her only son, born when she was 38, died in infancy. Sister to one king, Marguerite became the grandmother of another: her daughter Jeanne's son Henri became King of France (as Henri IV) in 1589.

In addition to her learning and openness to new ideas, Marguerite de Navarre was known for her great charity and kindness. In her later years, she devoted herself to good works and provided education for poor children in her kingdom. Born two years before her beloved brother, she died two years after he did, in 1549. This "pearl among pearls" was indeed one of the most influential women of the Renaissance. Her poems, plays and prose allow us to witness the evolution of evangelical thought in France and provides us a vivid example of the curious mingling of the earthly with the divine that characterizes Renaissance culture.

If you'd like to read some of Marguerite's tales, you can find an English translation of the Heptaméron here.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

100th Post!

This post is the hundredth post on Writing the Renaissance. When I began the blog back in January, I was worried that I wouldn't have anything to say. Somehow, that hasn't been a problem! I've been amazed at how subjects for posts often seem to fall in my lap just when I need them. I've found I have a lot to say, but unfortunately, not enough time to say it all. 

I've really enjoyed sharing my passion for historical fiction and the sixteenth century with you. I thank all my regular readers for their faith that I might actually say something interesting! I'm humbled and inspired that you return again and again to read and to share. I'd also like to thank authors Michelle Moran, C. W. Gortner, and Catherine Delors for graciously sharing their time and expertise by answering interview questions and participating in discussions. I have made many new friends in the historical fiction community since beginning this blog, and I value each and every one of them. Thank you all for welcoming me into the writerly blogosphere. I've had a wonderful time and look forward to participating for years to come.

In honor of the centennial, I'd like to open the post up to you. What do you like especially about the blog? What would you like to see more (or less) of? Should I expand the focus a bit or are you happy with the spotlight on France? I'm open to any and all suggestions--I want to keep this blog interesting for you, the reader.

And if you don't have any comments about the blog, I'm curious to know--what is it about the sixteenth century that draws you in? If you could go back to sixteenth century France for a day, what would you most like to see?

Thanks again for your support! I'm looking forward to reading your comments.