The Power and Patronage of Marguerite de Navarre
Although recent book-length studies devoted to Marguerite de Navarre focus on her literary legacy, Barbara Stephenson foregrounds her political role in Renaissance France. She demonstrates that Marguerite's position was unique as well as illustrative of ways royal noblewomen wielded power through formal and informal channels. Stephenson examines how Marguerite's various spheres of influence enabled her to advance her personal goals as well as those of her clients. She gives ample examples of Marguerite as client, patron and broker, and the political impact of each role. Her conclusions are supported by a careful analysis of letters written by and to Marguerite between 1516 and 1549. Stephenson's statistical findings are significant in their own right. Of the 886 surviving letters, the greatest number date from 1525, the year of the king's imprisonment, during which Marguerite served as diplomat and negotiator for his release. Stephenson divides the correspondence into separate chapters that provide insights into the political power deployed by Marguerite in her roles as sister, reformer and humanist. Besides discussing the letters' content, Stephenson analyses nuances in expressions of courtesy to show that, within a clientage relationship, letter writers used subtle variations in formulaic language to signal superiority, dependence, as well as varying degrees of affection. She postulates that those involved in the interchanges understood these subtleties.
The book's shortcomings are generally editorial in nature and involve inconsistencies. Although Stephenson devotes an entire footnote to the meaning of écuyer d'écurie (p. 35), she leaves in French the majority of nobiliary titles, often [End Page 381] significant ones. Because the book is designed for an English-reading public, a glossary of all foreign terms would have been the most expeditious solution. Because Stephenson is so meticulous in her footnotes, moments when she is less thorough stand out. Omission of page numbers, especially important when citing lengthy books (for example, p. 70, n. 112), becomes problematic to the specialist when Stephenson cites sixteenth-century Brantôme twice as the source for information about Marguerite. In neither case does Stephenson provide the page numbers in the footnoted Vaucheret edition. Consequently, Stephenson will surprise Brantôme scholars with her assertion that the incestuous relationship between Marguerite and her brother was 'a rumor first seen in the works of the sieur de Brantôme' (p. 119). Because Stephenson offers no page number in her footnote, this serious claim remains unsubstantiated. As for the enmity between Marguerite and Montmorency, Stephenson correctly notes that Brantôme describes the public humiliation of Montmorency at Jeanne d'Albret's wedding (p. 70), but her footnote offers no page reference. This omission becomes problematic three pages later when she cites Montmorency's advice to the king that he eliminate the heretics in his kingdom by beginning with Marguerite. Stephenson attributes this remark to Samuel Putnam's 1935 study of Marguerite, noting that she has 'found no other source that corroborates this', but in truth this anecdote can be found in the same paragraph in Brantôme that describes the wedding incident (p. 178 in the Vaucheret edition). Shortcomings aside, Stephenson's contribution is an ambitious and welcome addition to both Marguerite de Navarre and gender-related studies. Clearly written and thoroughly researched, it demonstrates a solid grasp of both archival materials and other researchers' related work. Stephenson makes a convincing argument for the political power that Marguerite exercised through her extensive and varied clientage networks. The English translations of the cited French correspondence make accessible material previously available only to readers of French. Let us hope that it will inspire others to undertake a much needed, complete translation of this important correspondence. The book's interdisciplinary approach offers a productive theoretical framework, which can readily be applied to future studies, thus expanding our knowledge of patronage and women's power networks in the early modern period.