Marguerite de Valois (1553-1605) was one of the most beautiful women in her time. Her blue eyes, lovely face, black hair and fair figure made young Marguerite one of the most desired women in the king’s court. Don Juan de Austria was stunned when he saw her, and wrote in his journal, “she looks more like the goddess of the sky than a princess ruling upon the earth. Her charms are better suited to destroy a man than to save him. Her beauty was created to haunt us”. Therefore, it is not surprising that in her lifetime, Marguerite – who, thanks to the writings of Alexandre Dumas is known to us as Queen Margot – had many love affairs with many lovers. Unfortunately for those lovers, though, the lives of many of them ended in a not-quite-pleasant manner.
Queen Margot saving her husband on St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre
Margot’s mother, who only saw her as a peon in her political game of chess, decided to marry her in 1572 to Henri de Navarre (future Henri IV), leader of the protestant public in France, in order to try and end the religion war that roamed wild in the country at that time. Margot, who at that time was in love with the duke of Guise, didn’t agree to marry Henri, who, among the rest of his virtues, smelled like goats, and the Queen had to bring her to church by force. In truth, Margot never said the words “I do”, as is accepted in catholic weddings, because when the priest asked her if she would agree to marry Henri de Navarre, she chose to remain silent.
After seconds of embarrassing silence, Henri Duke of Anjou (future Henri III) gave her a push from behind, and for the priest, Margot’s nod was enough for the two to be wed. However, soon enough it was revealed that the wedding was no more than a trap laid by Catherine de Médicis, with the sole purpose of grouping together the heads of the protestants in Paris, and finish them once and for all. Six days after the wedding started the blood bath, which was known as St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre, during which thousands of protestants were murdered in Paris and several other cities in France. As we already mentioned, Margot didn’t love her husband, but she still defended him fiercely from the Catholics, and didn’t allow them to hurt him. This experience turned the two into allies, and they remained married for political reasons only, each taking their own lovers.
Shortly after her wedding, Margot took her first in a long row of lovers. Joseph Boniface de La Môle (1526-1574) was a gifted dancer, and one of the most handsome men in the court of the king of France. Soon enough he fell in love with the young Navarre queen, but this love affair didn’t last long. A wax sculpture was found in his room, and he was accused of planning to murder Margot’s brother, Charles IX (who ruled between the years 1560-1574), using magic. Margot’s mother, Catherine de Médicis, ordered his execution, before which he underwent a series of terrible tortures in the Conciergerie.
Legend tells that before he was beheaded, he asked the crowd to tell queen Margot that she was in his last thoughts. On her part, after hearing about his execution, Margot decided to wear mourning attire, and some say she even managed to obtain her lover’s skull, and provide it a proper burial (the bodies of men who were executed for attempting to harm the king were burnt or hung and turned into crow food). Had Queen Margot only known that La Môle was only the first in a long row of lovers, who would hurt her or lose their lives as a result of their love affair, she might have chosen to retire to a convent…
Before we continue: some very interesting exhibitions in Paris
Fate continues to be cruel to the Queen’s lovers
Shortly after the death of her first lover, Margot took her next lover, Jacques de Harlay, who died in 1630 (and there were even rumours that at the same time, she slept with her younger brother, duke of Alençon (1555-1584). Her brother, Henri III (ruled between 1574-1589) despised her sexual freedom, and decided to teach her a lesson/ He asked his sister to host a banquet he was planning to throw in the Louvre palace.
However, in the middle of the banquet, before all the guests, he accused her for being pregnant from de Harlay. The King continued to tell of all her romantic relationship, and hadn’t missed even a single piquant detail. After he was finished, he ordered her to rid the King’s court from her “sick presence”. Jacques de Harlay realized that staying in a relationship with Margot may well risk his own life, and abandoned her (and as a result, he became one of her only lovers who lived to see old age). Following the banquet, Margot decided to escape Paris and live in Agen, in the Auvergne region.
Margot’s bad luck, as far as it concerned her love life, followed her there, too. Some time after she moved to the castle she fell ill and almost died. The one who nursed her and brought her back to health was the son of the local apothecary, who fell hopelessly in love with her. However, one of Margot’s bodyguards was also in love with her, and one day, in a fit of jealousy, he burst into the bedroom and stabbed Margot’s lover to death. Margot did not despair, and found another lover, this time a capitan in the French army.
She described her lover as “a character, which, in previous centuries would have easily become an inspiration for troubadours and their songs”. However, Henri III, who heard about the love affair, sent his troops to find and catch this new lover. Margot tried, in vain, to hide him in the chimney shaft in her room, but he was found and executed in her presence. The unfortunate lover was hung, feet up, until his head filled up with blood. While still breathing, he was thrown into an open grave, and was buried alive, still holding a piece from the edge of her dress.
Queen Margot was rid of her brother in 1589, when he was murdered by Jacques Clément. Her husband became Henri IV, and decided to divorce her so that he could find a younger wife to provide him with a legal heir (he already had plenty of bastards). Margot agreed, in exchange for keeping the title of Queen and a large sum of money, and so she became one of the richest women in France.
But, as the saying goes, money can’t buy love, and Queen Margot continued her search for lovers, which she took from all levels of the French society. And so, among her list of lovers we can find a tenor singer from one of the cathedrals, the son of a carpenter, a shepherd, a servant, and even a minstrel. Finally Margot managed to convince Henri IV to let her return to Paris, but at that time she was already a shadow of her younger self. Now, in her 50s, Margo gained weight and lost most of her hair, which she replaced for enormous blond wigs. To provide a sufficient amount of hair for her wigs, she kept blond servants, who, at any moment of her choice, were required to donate their hair for a new wig for her. And despite her old age, her unfortunate love affairs continued.
While she was waiting for the construction of her palace, in the left bank, to be completed, Margot resided in Hôtel de Sens, where she took Comte de Vermond as her lover. However, the Comte’s performance didn’t satisfy Marguerite’s desire, and she decided to take, in his place, another young lover named Julien Datte. Alas, this love affair was also quite short, since jealously-filled Comte de Vermond killed Julien on her doorstep. Queen Margot was overwhelmed with rage and grief, and ordered the execution of the Comte on the next day, in the exact spot where he killed her lover. After watching the execution from her home window, the ex-queen left Hôtel de Sens and moved to live by the Louvre.
There, she got the nickname “Queen Venus”, after the love parties she hosted. Her ex-husband, Henri IV, begged her to stop seeing all those young lovers, and to act as appropriate to her age. The Archbishop of Paris also came out against her, and claimed that her deep cleavage inspire young women, and by that corrupt them. It was told about her that she was too fat to get through some of the doors, and that she hides wigs beneath her dresses, in case of “accidents”. And finally, it was even said that she keeps little bags that contain the hearts of her dead lovers.
And despite all that, Queen Margot continued living her last years in the exact same way she had always lived. Her wild lifestyle didn’t stop her from outliving her entire family, including her ex-husband, who was murdered in 1610. She died in her palace in the left bank, surrounded by young lovers, shortly before her 62nd birthday. Unfortunately for us, the palace is now long gone, and in its place was built, among the rest, École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, the Paris Arts School. It is a shame, though, for had her splendid palace survived, imagined the stories its walls could tell us…