Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Marguerite de Navarre

Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University

Marguerite de Navarre — an online resource.

Marguerite de Navarre — contains numerous useful links.

The French “discovered” the Italian Renaissance through travel and military invasions in the late 1400s, and the very accomplished Marguerite de Navarre is said to embody “the most complete expression of the French Renaissance.” She was the daughter of Charles of Orleans; her younger brother became King Francis I in 1515, after a batch of unexpected deaths among closer heirs to the throne.

Marguerite received an education in Latin, Italian, Spanish, German, and later, Greek and Hebrew. At 17, she was politically married to a duke, a feudal lord culturally not her match. When her brother ascended to the throne, she became a major cultural influence: she had Leonardo da Vinci and Benvenuto Cellini work at the court of Francis I. This brother was taken prisoner during a war on Italian soil with Charles V of Spain, the Holy Roman Emperor. And her husband died. So Marguerite went to Madrid and negotiated the Treaty of Madrid in 1526, and she assisted her sick brother. She also reformed monasteries and convents, and built hospitals.

In 1527 she became “Queen of Navarre” by marrying the much younger Henri d’Albret — king in title only because of his lands. (In the Heptameron, Henri probably is represented by Hircan — flashy, dashing, flighty, and intellectually disappointing.)

During the time of the Reformation movements, Marguerite was preoccupied with religious and ethical issues: like Erasmus, her philosophy was that of “Christian humanism,” and she protected writers and thinkers accused or suspected of Protestant leanings, including Rabelais. She corresponded with Erasmus and Calvin. As with Rabelais, the conservative Paris university, the Sorbonne, disapproved of her.

HEPTAMERON:The idea of the framed narratives came from Boccaccio; she apparently intended a “deca”-meron, but the work remained incomplete, so it’s a “hepta” (= 7). The 17 manuscripts and book editions of this work differ; and there are confusing issues of attribution. Did Marguerite serve primarily as a general editor?

The natural disaster frame is similar to Boccaccio’s but this time involves floods; a bridge will take ten to twelve days to repair. Ten cultivated people are involved, but these have come together piecemeal because of bandits, etc. Here we set up afternoons of pastime activity in a meadow setting.

Parlemente (= Marguerite? similarly Neo-Platonic) is the wife of Hircan (Henri?).
Lady Oisille (Marguerite’s mother?) is a Humanist/evangelical authoritative female figure.
Dagoucin is so intent upon the secrecy of his pure love that he will never even tell the lady.

All have read Boccaccio’s Decameron (a translation was done at court under Marguerite’s orders). The Heptameron plan is less literary and rhetorical than Boccaccio’s: all must have witnessed the events of the tales here or have heard them from an authority, excluding people who were studied or men of letters. There’s no real aesthetic self-consciousness here; the tales are related as factual, informative, and unadorned, usually with blunt openings.

Love serves as topic and theme: indulgence, spirituality, renunciation. It’s mixed with social and religious themes, so often seems more decorous than Boccaccio. The social and ethical codes of married life are very present, and the battle of the sexes seems rather more dire here. Friars represent old corruption and misogyny, and the tales include apparent gossip about aristocratic peers.

The discussions after each story are often more intense than the stories (fabliaux and novella) themselves, concerning moral and social implications: so we have a combination of narratives and mini-treatises (in dialogue form), and a variety of voices or interpretations on the same material, all enclosed within the literature.