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  • Margueríte de Navarre: Mother of the Renaissance
  • Mary B. McKinley
Patricia F. Cholakian and Rouben C. Cholakian. Margueríte de Navarre: Mother of the Renaissance. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006. 448 pp. + 12 b/w pls. index. illus. bibl. $40. ISBN: 0-231-13412-6.

This very-well-written biography of the Heptam|$$|Aaeron's author draws on a rich variety of sources to offer a fresh portrait of Marguerite as political figure, prolific [End Page 1228] writer, supporter of religious reform, and woman. The Cholakians argue that Marguerite's own writings provide veiled but compelling evidence from which to reconstruct her biography. They focus particularly, but not exclusively, on two stories from the Heptam|$$|Aaeron (4 and 10) that recount attempts to rape a noblewoman. Sixteenth-century gossips suggested that the real-life victim of the assaults was Marguerite, and that the aggressor was Guillaume Gouffier, Seigneur de Bonnivet, childhood companion of her brother François in the days before he became King of France. The arch-gossip Brantôme, whose grandmother had been one of Marguerite's ladies-in-waiting, confirmed this rumor. The late Patricia Cholakian draws on this story in her 1991 study, Rape and Writing in the Heptaméron of Marguerite de Navarre. The new biography offers abundant additional detail from Marguerite's writing, and its scope covers her entire life (1492-1549).

Readers may feel uneasy about accepting so readily the poetry and fiction as reliable indications of the writer's life. However, the biography also includes abundant evidence from letters of key players, histories both recent and old, and earlier biographies of Marguerite and her contemporaries. It offers new interpretations of the available documents in order to question received opinion about Marguerite's life. For example, the authors challenge the image of Marguerite as a cold, distant mother that Nancy Roelker conveyed in her biography of Jeanne d'Albret. Examining the circumstances surrounding Jeanne's forced marriage to the Duke of Cleves, imposed by François in 1541, they offer an alternate script, one that shows Marguerite as a master strategist and protective mother. Reevaluating the relationship between Marguerite and her mother, Louise de Savoie, they show a callous mother, who often inflicted pain on the daughter, clearly favoring her son. They show that Marguerite's idealized image of François persisted through rocky episodes, like Jeanne's marriage and the disputes over Henri d'Albret's claims to Navarre.

Beyond her family, three men emerge as central figures in Marguerite's life: Guillaume Briçonnet, her spiritual advisor in the early 1520s, Anne de Montmorency, childhood friend, later constable under François, and, finally, Bonnivet. The authors show Marguerite turning to Briçonnet from the depths of a spiritual crisis brought on, in part, by Bonnivet's assaults and the mores that prevented her from accusing him. They argue that he made two attempts to rape her. The first is retold in Heptaméron story 10, in which the young Floride stands for Marguerite, attracted to her brother's dashing friend, and cruelly deceived when he tries to force himself on her. The parallels they draw between Bonnivet and Amadour in story 10 are convincing. The second assault, represented in story 4, is thought to have occurred years later, when Marguerite, then married to her first husband, Charles d'Alençon, accompanied François on a tour of new châteaux in the Loire valley, including Bonnivet's Neuville-aux-Bois. The rout at Pavia in 1525 led, not only to François's capture, but to the deaths of both Charles — who lingered under Marguerite's care — and of Bonnivet, an apparent suicide. It also marked the end of Marguerite's mystical correspondence with Briçonnet, and [End Page 1229] propelled her onto the international political stage as the negotiator for François's release from prison in Madrid. A fascinating undercurrent through those years is Marguerite's surprisingly intimate correspondence with Montmorency, whose political and religious allegiances eventually differed radically from hers. (Barbara Stephenson treats this correspondence in The Power and Patronage of Marguerite de Navarre [2004], published too late to be included in the Cholakians...


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