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Author photo. Margaret Valois of France (1553–1615)

Margaret Valois of France (1553–1615)

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Margaret or Marguerite de Valois, nicknamed Reine Margot, was born a princess of France and became queen consort of France by marriage. She was born at the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye near Paris, a daughter of King Henri II of France and his wife Catherine de' Medici. Her siblings were the future Kings Francis II, Charles IX, and Henri III, and Queen Elizabeth of Spain. In 1572 in Paris, she was married to her cousin Henri, King of Navarre, a match intended to lessen tensions between rival royal dynastic factions and warring Roman Catholics and Protestants (Huguenots). Less than one week after the wedding, on St. Bartholomew's Day, France was riven by a wave of violence and terror against the Huguenots. Marguerite is credited with saving her husband's life from a bloodthirsty mob. He fled back to Navarre, where she later joined him, but the marriage was unhappy. She was imprisoned in the fortress of Usson in the Auvergne for many years, during which she wrote poetry and her memoirs, not published until 1628. They were exceptional because no member of the French royal family had ever before written something so personal or provided such an intimate look a ruling dynasty. In 1589, her husband became King of France as Henri IV. The couple had no children, and the marriage was annulled in 1599. She built a house on the Left Bank and became a philanthropist and patron of the arts. Due in part to Alexandre Dumas, who fictionalized her life in his 1845 novel La Reine Margot, her political and literary achievements have been largely forgotten in favor of stories about her scandalous love affairs.
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