J. Clouet
ca. 1568-70
Jeanne d'Albret
Version française

Jeanne d’Albret, queen of Navarre, only daughter of Henri d’Albret, King of Navarre, and of Marguerite d’Angouleme, was born in Pau in 1528.  Jeanne’s life was a dramatic series of crises during the endless succession of power struggles with her royal family and the drawn out confrontation with Catherine de Medici.

From her youth, forced by Charles Quint into a marriage with the Duke of Cleves, she demonstrated a rebellious nature, by publicly opposing the union.  In 1548, she agreed to marry Antoine de Bourbon, Duke of Vendome.  She assumed the crown of Navarre two years later, at the death of her father.

The next ten years were filled with bitter disputes with Henri II, who wanted to reunite Navarre with his territories. During this unsettled period, she had to confront the inconsistency of her husband who deeply involved himself in the protestant movement only to deny it a short time later.

Her husband’s corruption, at the hands’ the Catholic court of the Valois where Catherine de Medici governed as regent, was one of the most humiliating aspects of Jeanne’s life.  Antoine’s false indifference towards “the Huguenot cause” dashed the hopes of the Calvinist party, igniting a rebellion.  The turning point for the Huguenot cause took place after the Colloquy of Poissy.  This, however, clearly was also Jeanne’s own turning point.

Although only a spectator at the Colloquy, Jeanne realized how great was the gap separating the Catholics from the Protestants.  No agreement was reached but the Colloquy was an important factor in precipitating the civil wars and led Jeanne to publicly espouse Calvinism with all the risks that accompanied it.

During the religious wars, Jeanne was under constant attack from anti-reformists, suffering excommunication, invasion of her lands and isolation from the Court.  She courageously maintained her power even though fearful of riots, and brought about a freedom of conscience that would allow the coexistence of the two beliefs.

Jeanne exercised an undeniable influence in the political and religious arenas of sixteenth century France.  Her career as a feudal ruler in southwest France illustrates the changing relations between the high nobility and the crown while her role as a co-leader with Coligny, of the Calvinist party, contributes to an understanding of the French Reformation.

Throughout her Mémoires, a composite of her life and a harangue against her enemies for their treachery and their injustice, one sees the conscience of a queen, the responsibility of a mother for the rearing of a future king (Henri IV), and the determination of a woman faithful to a cause that she considered just.

She died in 1572.   “So died”, said Agrippa d’Aubigné in a tribute that reflects the gender bias of his era, “this queen who was a woman only insofar as concerns her gender, but a man in spirit, invincible to adversity”.

Sources :

d’Albret, Jeanne.  Mémoires et poésies. Genève:  Slatkine Reprints, 1970.

Roelker, Nancy.  Queen of Navarre, Jeanne d’Albret. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1968.