Jeanne d’Albret cover

Jeanne d’Albret

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Jeanne d’Albret (1528-72) Jeanne d’Albret, later Queen Jeanne of Navarre, was born on November 16, 1528, at St Germain-en-Laye, in France. She was the daughter of Henri d’Albret, King of Navarre, and of Marguerite de Valois, Queen of Navarre, and niece to King Francis I of France. Little is known about Jeanne’s early years because female children, even those of royals and nobles, were not considered noteworthy until they became of an age to marry and bear children.

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Jeanne d’Albret

Jeanne D’Albret

Jeanne d’Albret, later Queen Jeanne of Navarre, was born on November 16, 1528, at St Germain-en-Laye, in France.

She was the daughter of Henri d’Albret, King of Navarre, and of Marguerite de Valois, Queen of Navarre, and niece to King Francis I of France. Little is known about Jeanne’s early years because female children, even those of royals and nobles, were not considered noteworthy until they became of an age to marry and bear children.

Portrait of Jeanne d'Albret

Portrait of Jeanne d'Albret

Relationship To Her Mother

It is likely that Jeanne was raised in the care of her mother’s friend Aymée de Lafayette, who lived on the outskirts of Alençon at the estate Lonray.

It is known for sure that Aymée was Jeanne’s governess after 1532, but Jeanne is not even mentioned in her mother’s correspondence until that year. Jeanne rarely saw her mother or her father; her father is known to have visited Alençononly twice during Jeanne’s childhood. Although Jeanne was raised in wealth and comfort, she lacked companions her own age and did not experience “family life” in any way. Her education was directed by the French poet and humanist Nicolas Bourbon.

Seeking Advantage

In 1537, King Francis insisted that Jeanne and her household move to the chateau Plessis-les-Tours, which was closer to the French court.

Francis wanted to use Jeanne to his own advantage in foreign policy, and so thwart the plans of her father, King Henri of Navarre, who sought to deploy Jeanne to the advantage to the kingdom of Navarre. Against Jeanne’s will, Francis gave her in marriage to William de la Marck, the duke of Cleves in 1540 when she was 11 years old.

Imposing What Should Be A Choice

Her parents, Marguerite and Henri, did not approve of the marriage, and “were stunned and hurt by the arbitrary decision of the king who, disregarding their…wishes, had imposed his choice of a husband for their daughter.”

Jeanne was distraught; she was weighed down by her dress at the wedding and could not make her own way down the aisle, but had to be carried. Hays writes that the nuptials were never completed.

Another Perspective

Another Perspective

Portrait of Jeanne d'Albret by an artist of the School of Francois Clouet, 2nd quarter of the 16th century.

Dissolving The Marriage

Although it is still unclear, both Marguerite and Jeanne petitioned to have the marriage annulled, which was finally granted by Pope Paul III in 1545, after the duke himself agreed to the annulment in 1543.

Roelker writes that Paul III agreed to dissolve the marriage “on the grounds that Jeanne had consented only because of the violence applied, that she had never ceased protesting, and that the marriage had never been consummated.”

Second Marriage

Jeanne had not moved from Navarre to Germany to join the duke of Cleves, since she had not yet reached puberty when the two were married, and Marguerite “exhausted all excuses to postpone her departure” until the marriage could be annulled.

In October of 1548, Jeanne married for a second time, at Moulins, to Antony de Bourbon, the duke of Vendome.Roelker writes that Jeanne was “delighted” with this match. Jeanne and Antony worked hard to arrange meetings despite his military career, and their correspondence suggests mutual affection. In one letter, dated from 1552, Antony writes to Jeanne asking her to get permission from her father for Antony to come see her at Bearn or for her to travel to meet him.

Unfortunate Events

He writes, “I must see you, either here or there, as I cannot live any longer without you.”

In 1551, Jeanne gave birth to her first son, Henri, who died in 1553. The exact cause of the boy’s death is unknown, but several sources state that it was from accidental suffocation by Aymee de Lafayette, Jeanne’s foster mother and governess, who kept him swaddled in an airless room to ward off disease.

Aymee was later dismissed from service by Jeanne. On December 15, 1553, she had her second son, Henri, who would succeed her to the throne of Navarre and eventually become King Henri IV of France. In 1555, Jeanne had a third son, who died in 1557.

Henry of Bourbon

Henry of Bourbon

Jeanne's only surviving son, whom she presented as one of the legitimate leaders of the Huguenot cause.

Becoming The Queen

When Jeanne’s father, King Henri of Navarre, died on May 25, 1555, Jeanne became queen of Navarre.

During this time Europe was swept by Reformist ideas, teachings, and writings, which Jeanne’s mother Marguerite strongly supported. Jeanne shared her mother’s belief in the ideals of the Reformation, but due to threats from the French king, Henri II, she and her husband could not declare publicly their Protestant sympathies.

Scholars continue to debate whether or not Antony ever believed in the Calvinist doctrine: he declared for it in 1560, then renounced it again in 1562, and finally spoke in favor of the Reformation on his deathbed.

Dispel The Rumors

In 1555, however, Jeanne and Antony thought it wise to make a trip to Paris to visit the French court to dispel the rumors regarding their religious beliefs.

On this trip, however, they inexplicably allowed an ex-monk, Pierre David, to travel with them and preach Reformist teachings in the towns along the way. Because of this, Hays writes, “the doctrines of theReformation took root, spread themselves, and were never afterwards eradicated.”

When Antony and Jeanne arrived in France with David in tow, King Henri II took offense and, feeling threatened, David “betrayed his cause and undertook to restore his patrons to Catholicism.” Antony and Jeanne ultimately left France in disgust. In 1557, several ministers traveled to Navarre to instruct the royal court in the principles of the Reformation.

The Reformation Began

Having been imprisoned with his brother, the Prince of Condé, during the reign of Francis I, and saved only by Francis’ death, Jeanne’s husband Antony had a deep-seated hatred for France, especially after his favor was not restored with the succession of King Henri II.

With Jeanne, he began to fraternize publicly with Huguenot leaders and “boasted that, within a year, he would cause the pure gospel to be preached throughout France.” With his support, the Reformation began to take hold, even within the French court.

The Strategy

However, due to Catherine de Medici’s strategy that included appealing offers from Philip IIand the Pope, Antony ultimately deserted his cause and returned to the side of the Catholics.

He attempted to convince Jeanne to abandon the Protestants as well, but Jeanne resisted; displeased with his mistreatment of her, she left France and returned to Navarre. Calvin wrote Jeanne a letter saluting her courage, saying, “I know that you do not need my advice…to take arms and do battle against… the difficulties that will assail you.”

Supporting The Teachings And Ideals

King Antony was now “despised by the party he espoused, abhorred by that he had betrayed, and condemned by the honest and upright of both,” and he died a short time after on November 17, 1562, from a wound received at the siege of Rouen.

On his deathbed, he vowed that, should a longer life be granted to him, he would again support the teachings and ideals of the Reformation, and he denounced the Catholics for a final time.Jeanne was not at her husband’s bedside when he died, and when she received word of his death, she prayed privately for several weeks.



Statue of Jeanne d'Albret in the Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris

LPLT/Wikimedia Commons

(CC BY-SA 3.0)

Declaring Her Beliefs

On Christmas Day 1562, she publicly declared her Reformist religious beliefs.

Roelker writes that it was on Christmas Day of 1560 that Jeanne publicly declared for her true faith. Since Jeanne and Anthony were estranged for the last few years of his life, this could be possible, but it is equally likely that she waited until his death to declare herself a Calvinist. She also fortified Bearn at this time in preparation for a rumored attack by the Spanish.

It is also likely that she was aware that battles between the Catholics and Huguenots might occur within the borders of Navarre, and so ordered these extra fortifications and controls proactively.

Getting Supporters

Jeanne encouraged and “established Protestantism throughout her dominions…. abolishedpopery, seized the effects of the ecclesiastics, and applied them to the support of the ministers and schools.”

Without the threat of poor treatment by her husband, Jeanne was able to openly afford protection to Huguenots and Reformist supporters, although she did not join forces with the Huguenot army. She took full control of the affairs of the state and distributed loyal senechals around her lands to administer smaller issues and make sure that religious, social, and political affairs were handled in a manner she deemed appropriate.

Eliminate The Financial Corruption

Roelker writes that Jeanne also made a point to eliminate the financial corruption that had run rampant while her husband was the king:

“Jeanne tightened the supervision of accounts and promised the estates that she would dismiss any malefactors.” Jeanne worked hard to maintain at least a tenuous diplomatic relationship with Catherine de Medici.

A Big Debt

In 1563, Jeanne was issued a citation by Rome.

The pope declared that Jeanne not appear for her trial, her position, lands, and authority would all be confiscated, and she would be tried as a heretic. At the last moment, the court of France, spurred on by Catherine de Medici, revoked the citation.

This was fortunate for Jeanne because she did not have to deal with the stress of such a trial; in addition, because she was not required to appear for trial she remained in Navarre to deal with the troubles created there by her Catholic subjects. Jeanne felt she was in Catherine’s debt for many years afterwards.

Under Pressure

In the mid-1560s, Jeanne was under constant pressure from all sides.

Catherine de Medici and King Charles IX threatened her with exile and seizure of her lands if she did not comply with Catholic doctrine personally and politically. Additionally, when Jeanne signed the Ordinances of July 1566 which “renewed and extended the prohibitions against Catholic ceremonies and instituted the first ‘puritan’ laws against blasphemy, drunkenness, gambling, and prostitution,” protests ran rampant in Navarre.

There were three organized rebellions between the spring of 1567 and the summer of 1569 in Navarre, each of which Jeanne dealt with “first [by] military suppression; then, when she had regained the upper hand, replacement of brute force by political pressure and legal action, accompanied by concessions, compromises, and general pardons for the ‘little people.’”

Reformist Movements

In 1568, Jeanne left Navarre to join some Protestant leaders in Cognac to be more involved in the strategizing and execution of events as part of the Reformist movement.

There, she had a conference with her brother-in-law the prince of Condé and presented her son Henri, the prince of Navarre, to him. Henri was also devoted to the Reformist cause, having been taught Protestant ideals by his mother since his birth. Jeanne contributed most of her jewels and valuables at this time, to be sold to raise money for Reformist troops who were still engaged with French troops at various locations, as the French Wars of Religion dragged on.

New Challenges

After spending time in Cognac, Jeanne traveled to La Rochelle, where she wrote letters to foreign royals, including Queen Elizabeth I, explaining the cause of the Reformists and justifying her support of continued fighting.

Jeanne assumed leadership among the women who had taken refuge at La Rochelle, strategizing, planning, and negotiating in the war. La Rochelle remained the center of Huguenot activity, intellectual, political, and military, until it was ultimately destroyed in 1628.

Unfortunately, while Jeanne was away, the Catholics took control over much of Navarre, and after Reformist troops finally quashed the rebellion, several Catholic leaders were put to death, which violated the articles of capitulation and caused renewed unrest and protest.

Letters to the Queen

Letters to the Queen

Beginning To Forge Peace

On the pretense of beginning to forge peace, a betrothal between Henri, prince of Navarre, and Margaret of France, sister of Charles IX, was proposed.

Jeanne battled against this proposition for many months, but eventually gave up, for reasons unknown. She was ill on and off during the early 1570s, and it is likely that her strength and will to protest ultimately gave out. Jeanne traveled to Paris to prepare for these “inauspicious nuptials” and, upon her arrival, became suddenly ill and died on June 10, 1572.

Suspecting The Causes

Hays writes that poison was suspected by many to be the cause of Jeanne’s death, but Woodacre notes that there is no discernable evidence for this claim.

Other proposals for the reason behind her death, including tuberculosis and an infection in her breast, have also been unconfirmed, so the true cause is not known.However, it is known that tuberculosis ran in Jeanne’s family and that she was ill periodically throughout her life. This adds merit to the cause of her death ultimately being tuberculosis.

Her premature death allowed her to escape the horrors of the St. Bartholomew Massacre, when Charles IX and his mother Catherine de Medici ordered the slaughter of hundreds of Protestants and Huguenot leaders. Before her death, Jeanne had begged her son to persevere in the causes of the Reformation.

The Death Of Jeanne

Jeanne requested to be buried in the same tomb as her father, without any unnecessary pomp.

With the legacy of her efforts in the Reformist religious cause and her strength as a ruler of Navarre, Jeanne was lauded for her published pieces of both prose and verse. Of Jeanne, the French writer and historian Theodore-Agrippa d’Aubigne said, “She possessed a manly mind, an elevated capacity, a magnanimity and fortitude of soul, proof against all the storms of adversity.”

Complete citation: Project Continua (CC BY-SA 4.0)