Warriors and Builders

De Beze

Full image.



Théodore de Bèze
French, 1519–1605
Portrait of Marguerite de Valois, in Les vrais portraits des hommes illustres
(The True Portraits of Famous Men)
, 1557
Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library


Marguerite de Valois (1492–1549) is commonly known as Marguerite de Navarre for her later marriage to Henri d’Albret, King of Navarre. Two years older than her illustrious brother, King François I, Marguerite was in many ways just as important a patron of the arts and letters. Having been carefully educated, despite her gender, along with her brother under the watchful eye of their mother, Louise de Savoie, Marguerite not only supported such French literary figures as François Rabelais and Pierre de Ronsard, but was herself a gifted playwright and poet, author of devotional works like the Heptaméron and the Miroir de l’âme pècheresse (Mirror of the sinful soul), among many others.


Théodore de Bèze fled France for Geneva because of his unwelcome status as a Protestant. Despite this, de Bèze did share one important link to the royal court, in that he continued the first French translation of the Psalms begun by François’s court poet, Clément Marot, who also held reformist sympathies. De Bèze’s inclusion of Marguerite among the mostly Protestant luminaries in this book indicates both his respect for her as an influential figure in French history, and also his acknowledgment of her reformist beliefs, a risky stance which her royal brother nonetheless tolerated, at least during the earlier years of his reign.

This woodcut image is modeled after a portrait drawing of Marguerite now in the Musée Condé in Chantilly, which shows Marguerite in her late forties. Compared with the original portrait drawing, in which Marguerite wears an almost mirthful expression, the lines of the woodcut image lend a seriousness to the sitter, which is in keeping with de Bèze’s praise for her piety. Indeed de Bèze praises her highly, saying that “her valor fills all France,” and ceding her, along with François, “one of the most honored places in this book.”


The verses in italics at the bottom of the page facing her portrait read, in part :


Despite Error and her sad cortege,
God gave us the well-skilled Marguerite,
Who with her luster embellished the universe.
With her valor, she filled all France,
She honored Christ, combated ignorance,
And in her verses, triumphed over death.