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Marguerite de Valois

Marguerite de Valois, (1553-1615), "Queen Margot" of France and Navarre.

Born Marguerite Valois at the Royal Château in Saint-Germain-en-Laye on May 14, 1553 and nicknamed Margot by her brothers, she was the daughter of Henri II and Catherine de Medici. Three of her brothers became kings of France: François II , Charles IX and Henri III.

Her sister Elizabeth (b. April 2, 1545) became the third wife of King Philip II of Spain. Although Margot loved Henri, Duke of Guise, her ambitious mother would never allow the House of Guise any chance of controlling France. Instead, she offered to marry Margot to Philip II's son Don Carlos but that did not work out and Margot was made to marry another Henri, the son of the Protestant Queen of Navarre, a marriage that was designed to reunite the family ties and create harmony between the two clashing religions. Although Henri's mother, Jeanne d'Albret, Queen of Navarre, opposed the marriage, many of her nobles supported it, and the marriage was arranged.

On August 18, 1572, Margot married Henri. The groom, a Huguenot, remained outside the church for much of the wedding. It was reported that during the ceremony, the bride and groom stared straight ahead, never looking at each other. When the Cardinal asked Marguerite if she willingly took Henri to be her lawfully wedded husband, she did not answer; so King Charles IX, placed a hand on his sister's head, compelling her to nod in agreement.

Just six days after the wedding, on St Bartholomew's Day, Catherine de Medici orchestrated the slaughter by French Catholics of thousands of Huguenots, a massacre of such brutality that even Russia's Ivan the Terrible condemned it.

After the marriage and turmoil, Henri escaped Paris back to Navarre, leaving behind his wife. Under the control of her brother the king, Margot became a virtual prisoner in her own home. Finally granted permission to return to her husband, for the next three and a half years Margot and her husband lived a scandalous life in Pau. Both openly kept lovers and quarrelled frequently. After an illness in 1582, Marguerite returned to her brother's court in France. The beautiful and strong-minded Margot took many lovers, notably Joseph Boniface de La Molle[?] and Bussy d'Amboise[?]. In 1586, she was confined to the castle of Usson[?], in Auvergne, where she spent eighteen months. In 1592 negotiations began to dissolve her marriage to Henri IV. It would take seven years, but they were concluded in 1599 with an agreement that allowed her to maintain the title of queen. Her ex-husband would become one of France's most beloved monarchs.

During this time Queen Margot wrote her memoirs, which were published in 1658, years after her death. These writings consisted of a succession of stories relating to the reigns of brothers Charles IX, Henri III and her former husband, Henri IV that scandalized the population.

In the end, with her beauty fading, she lived in poverty hounded by creditors to the point of selling all of her jewels. Queen Margot died in Paris on May 27, 1615, and is buried in the Chapel of the Valois.

Alexandre Dumas's Queen Margot is a fictionalized account of the events surrounding Margot's marriage to Henri.

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