Friday, January 29, 2016

The scandalous life of Queen of Navarre and France - Margaret de Valois

Marguerite de Valois
1553 - 1615

The daughter of Queen Catherine de Medici and King Henry II, she was born a Princess of France, and through marriage, she rose to the rank of Queen of France and Queen of Navarre. Like her bold mother, Margaret was no shrinking violet. She was strong and independent, with a zest for high fashion. At a very young age, she fell in love with Henry I, Duke of Guise. 

While her parents were arranging a political marriage for her with her distant cousin, King Henry III of Navarre, (everyone was called Henry in those days) they discovered her clandestine relationship with Guise. So in bold Catherine de Medici style, she had her daughter hauled from her bed and had her soundly beaten. 

Margaret's marriage to her distant cousin would prove to be a challenge right from the start. You see, in France, there were plenty of struggles between the Catholics and the Huguenots (Protestants) and her new husband was definitely, but quietly, Huguenot. A royal wedding draws great crowds, and both Catholics and Huguenots gathered. Assassinations and mob violence ensued. Between 5,000 and 30,000 people throughout France lost their lives that day. Not an auspicious beginning for the young married couple. During the massacre which lasted nearly a week, Margaret saved numerous lives, including that of her new husband.  

Nevertheless, Marguerite soon figured out that marriage need not prevent her from pursuing the life she dreamed of. A true beauty who was obsessed with her appearance and clothes, she adopted and indulged in a wanton, debauched lifestyle, taking on and discarding lovers as swiftly as shedding her clothes. 

Her brother, the new king Henry III, was so scandalized by her her licentious behavior and sinful reputation, he banished her from his court and had her imprisoned in a castle, but amid the luxury she had always been used to. Later, her husband would extend her imprisonment and divorce her. She wrote her own memoirs which were published after her death. When she died she was buried in the funerary chapel of the Valois in the Basilica of St Denis, but her remains are subsequently missing. No one knows where they are, but it is believed that either her body went missing during renovations or that they were destroyed during the French Revolution. 

Author Sophie Perinot has penned a beautiful novel of Margaret's life entitled MEDICI'S DAUGHTER. 

Winter, 1564. Beautiful young Princess Margot is summoned to the court of France, where nothing is what it seems and a wrong word can lead to ruin. Known across Europe as Madame la Serpente, Margot's intimidating mother, Queen Catherine de Médicis, is a powerful force in a country devastated by religious war. Among the crafty nobility of the royal court, Margot learns the intriguing and unspoken rules she must live by to please her poisonous family.
Eager to be an obedient daughter, Margot accepts her role as a marriage pawn, even as she is charmed by the powerful, charismatic Duc de Guise. Though Margot's heart belongs to Guise, her hand will be offered to Henri of Navarre, a Huguenot leader and a notorious heretic looking to seal a tenuous truce. But the promised peace is a mirage: her mother's schemes are endless, and her brothers plot vengeance in the streets of Paris. When Margot's wedding devolves into the bloodshed of the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, she will be forced to choose between her family and her soul.
Médicis Daughter is historical fiction at its finest, weaving a unique coming-of-age story and a forbidden love with one of the most dramatic and violent events in French history.

This is a story of love, passion, intrigue, betrayal, and cruel violence - a true representation of this turbulent time in history. Plenty has been written about Catherine de Medici, so I found it incredibly fascinating to read about her daughter and the struggles she would have had living under her mother's controlling thumb. I quite enjoyed learning some of the machinations and descriptions of the The St Bartholemew's Day Massacre. The author did an outstanding job in bringing this turbulence to life in a very realistic and easy to understand fashion. 

Although Margaret de Valois has been much maligned throughout history, I liked how her motivations were presented and it helped to understand some of the hard choices Margaret had to make to survive in the tumultuous French and Italian courts. 

Everything about this story appealed to me - the era, the political climate, and the religious difficulties facing France and the French people. This fictional account of her life was well rendered and magically delivered. Definitely recommended!

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