Marguerite de Valois
BUT YOU CAN CALL HER QUEEN MARGOT, 1553-1615: LISTEN TO YOUR HEART, EXCEPT YOUR FAMILY IS FUCKING PSYCHOTIC AND WANTS TO KILL YOU, SO MAYBE DON’T.
I have a theory that a true biopic of Queen Margot’s life would just be an action adventure, à la Tomb Raider, just with heavy velvet dresses, more gore and way more sex.
Marguerite de Valois, or as she was known to her “friends” and “family,” Margot, was born in 1553 to the original Cersei Lannister, Catherine de Medici, and King Henri II. She was the second-youngest of her siblings. Her father died when she was young (he took a jousting lance to the eye, as many of us do) and she subsequently lived away from court whilst her mother was plotting to secure the throne for her brother, King Charles IX.
Some context: Margot had the pleasure of living at the height of the Protestant Reformation, which was causing major problems for the royal family, who were all VERY CATHOLIC. (France is still a deeply Catholic country, even after all that anti-religion Enlightenment stuff that happened during the Revolution, so you can guess how this will turn out for the Protestant Huguenots). In short, her mother betrothed her at eight years old to her Huguenot first cousin, Henri de Bourbon de Navarre (what was formerly a separate country in what is now the south of France), to keep the peace. Even at that age, Margot wasn’t feeling it, but eventually the time came to follow through with the marriage, and although she did try not to - she refused to bow her head and say “I do,” so her brother shoved her head down - it happened. However, wily Catherine de Medici ended up using the the fact that nearly all of France’s most prominent Huguenots were in Paris for the wedding as an opportunity to kill them all in what is now known as the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (surely you remember this from your high school European history class!). Not exactly a great way for your Protestant husband to learn to trust, or even like, you.
Queen Margot’s name nowadays, if it connotes anything, usually implies nymphomania and an addiction to romance, with bloody results, mostly due to the popular fictionalized novel that Alexandre Dumas wrote two hundred years after her death. But there is some truth to it.
Margot was fucking gorgeous, and she knew it. Totally despised by everyone but her younger brother, it’s clear that she craved love and positive attention. When she was sixteen, she fell in love with her other first cousin, another Renaissance hottie: Henri, Duc de Guise (there’s a lot of dudes named Henri in this one). It’s heavily implied that she was sleeping with him long before she was married, and when their affair was found out, her brother AND mother beat her senseless. So, when she had to get hitched to this other Henri, who was a Protestant, and according to many contemporary accounts, smelled mostly of garlic and B.O. (even by Renaissance standards, he didn’t bathe much), she obviously needed an outlet.
Enter the first of many doomed lovers: Joseph Boniface de la Môle. In the early days of her marriage, Margot took him as her lover, but unfortunately got him entangled in a plot to raise her youngest brother and only familial ally, François d’Alençon, to the throne. Charles IX was dying, and her brother, also named Henri, was next in line. She might’ve had good reason, because the subsequent King Henri III was absolutely batshit crazy.
Anyway, Charles IX, Catherine and Henri III found out about the plot and sentenced La Môle to death. The legend has it that after he was decapitated, Margot snuck into the dungeons where his body was kept, stole his head and kept it embalmed in a jewelled casket. Cute!
Two more lovers of Margot’s would be killed on orders from Henri III over several years and after several murder plots on both sides. Plenty did survive. The one who helped her brother François escape a castle via a rope and a window, didn't.
What is extraordinary about Margot was her involvement in the politics of her time. Much of this has been erased from history, most likely because her romantic life was so colorful. But without Margot, French history would not be what it is today. She protected her (often ungrateful) husband from murder multiple times, and in the process, often willingly, transferred the target from his back to hers. (And yes, it was always her mother and brother who were trying to eliminate her). By doing so, she helped ensure Henri’s eventual accession to the throne, and then helped him remain on it. By the time Henri IV was crowned, Margot was the last of the Valois dynasty of rulers. Henri IV was to be the first of the Bourbon branch, who gave us such hits as Louis “The Sun King” “ask me about my priceless citrus plants” XIV; Louis “so what if I spent the entire French treasury on my mistress, I’m sure it won’t be a problem later” XV; and, of course, Louis “we are too young to reign” XVI.*
After a ton of push and pull between Paris and Navarre, resulting in Margot’s 20-year exile from both territories and her disinheritance from her mother’s fortune, King Henri IV came to the throne and eventually, the marriage was annulled, based mostly on the fact that neither party consented to it.
And, after years of belittling and taking his wife for granted - often flaunting his pregnant mistresses in front of her at time when he knew she was desperate to conceive, or just flat-out ignoring her - King Henri IV and Queen Margot became friends. So close did they become that, in fact, he eventually requested she live next door to the Louvre so he could better visit to ask her political opinions, which was almost daily. She became close to Henri’s second wife, Marie de Medici, and considered their children, including the future King Louis XIII, to be like her own.
Finally, Queen Margot, while in exile, took it upon herself to record her version of the story, and wrote her memoirs. They are considered by historians to be the first memoirs written by a woman of her rank. In it, she writes of a moment where Henri III harangues her. To this, she says:
“His words inspired me with resolution and powers I did not think myself possessed of before. I had naturally a degree of courage, and, as soon as I recovered from my astonishment, I found I was quite an altered person. His address pleased me, and wrought in me a confidence in myself; and I found I was become of more consequence than I had ever conceived I had been.”
*This is what Louis XVI actually said when he found out that he had become King of France.