Margaret de Valois was a Queen of Navarre and France. She was also the main character of the famous novel Queen Margot by Alexander Dumas. This is a story of a woman who loved life and who broke many of society’s rules.
Margaret (Marguerite) was born on May 14, 1553, as a daughter of powerful Catherine de Medici and King Henry II of France. According to historians, she was a member of the last powerful generation of the famous House of Valois. She was also a sister to three kings: Francis II, Charles IX, and Henry III of France. Her sister was Elizabeth de Valois, a wife of King Phillip II of Spain.
Catherine and Henry’s marriage, painted seventeen years after the event. ( Public Domain )
Her Mother’s Daughter
Catherine de Medici was a woman of many talents who was very focused on ruling the country and maintaining power. Her biographers believe that she was one of the strongest and most important people of the French monarchy, even more than her husband King Henry II of France.
Margaret’s youth was focused on typical activities for a young princess, although she had bigger expectations for her life. Her mother also helped Margaret by sharing her knowledge of diplomacy, politics, alchemy, and other useful disciplines.
Margaret was also considered to be a very beautiful woman, and she liked to create her own clothing styles. With time, she became one of the most fashionable women of Europe and an icon for good style. Women all over Europe started to order clothes ”a’la Margot”.
Originally, Catherine planned to arrange the marriage of her daughter with Carlos, son of Phillip II of Spain. But when the negotiations failed, she decided to find a candidate who would be more grateful and loyal in the future.
During those times, Margaret was in what was probably her first romantic affair – with Henry of Guise, the son of the Duke of Guise. According to historical resources, Catherine discovered their relationship when she saw her daughter in bed with him. The lovers were punished by the queen and Henry was sent out of the court.
Eventually, Margaret married Henry of Navarre (her distant cousin) due to the decision of her brother Charles IX. This union was inspired by Catherine, who was worried about the future of the family’s dynasty. The main problem was the lack of a crown prince to become king after the death of Catherine and Henry’s three sons. Margaret got married and became the Queen of Navarre in 1572. Nonetheless, Catherine de Medici’s fears became reality, and when all of her sons died King Henry of Navarre became King Henry IV of France in 1589. He was the first king of France who came from the House of Bourbon.
Henry of Navarre and Margaret of Valois. ( Public Domain )
The marriage was connected with a religious scandal as well. The wedding took place between a Huguenot (French Calvinist Protestant) groom and a Catholic bride just six days after the famous St Bartholomew’s Day assassinations and violence against the Huguenots. Historians suggest that the massive attack on the Protestants was stirred by Catherine de Medici, but Margaret saved Henry and other important Protestants from death.
Painting by François Dubois of the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre. ( Public Domain ) Although Dubois did not witness the event himself, he depicts Admiral Coligny’s body hanging out of a window at the rear to the right. To the left rear, Catherine de’ Medici is shown emerging from the Château du Louvre to inspect a heap of bodies.
After the massacre, Catherine and her daughter’s relationship became strained. They were very similar, but at the same time they stood on two different sides of the conflict.
Soon after, Henry suggested that he convert to Catholicism although there were no real plans to go through with it. In 1576, the couple escaped to Pau near the Pyrenees. Far from Paris, they didn’t have to pretend they had a happy marriage anymore. They liked each other, but there was no love between the husband and wife. In fact, they openly had other lovers. Their freedom ended in 1582, when Margaret became ill and had to go back to Paris.
Margaret had many possessions, more than most people could dream of. She was powerful and wealthy. Her correspondence with other royal women, including Safiye Sultan (one of her favorite pen pals) shows a woman whose head was full of ideas and plans as well. However, she was unhappy in her marriage and she felt that she lived in a cage due to her position.