Marguerite de Navarre, A Renaissance Woman By Amina Radoncic
In a typical AP European History class, students are taught all about Martin Luther in all his glory, John Calvin and the long-lasting impact he had on religion, and Ulrich Zwingli’s determination toward reformation. The Protestant Reformation is yet another historical movement that does not hesitate to accredit every last man with helping lead to astronomical change within Europe. Many of these supposedly powerful men have done so much as to simply live within their time frame, but the results of their actions have apparently been profound. All the while, there were women who were rarely even brought up amongst historians, let alone a high school textbook or classroom discussion.
An astonishing example of a woman who has lived in the shadows of male reformers is Marguerite de Navarre, who demonstrates all the characteristics of a Renaissance woman. Navarre was a “poet, playwright, diplomat, cultural leader, royal adviser, and patroness of the arts and learning” (Sztersky). Born in 1492, she spent the early years of her life immersing herself in her studies, learning how to speak Latin, Greek, and Italian, and developing exceptional knowledge of literature, philosophy, history, and theology. Soon enough, she developed connections to Anne Boleyn, who would soon marry King Henry VII of England. During the time in which Boleyn was considered to be a lady-in-waiting in France, it is said that she exposed Navarre to Reformation ideals, thus sparking her interest in the movement.
Of her most celebrated accomplishments, her poem “Le Miroir de l'âme pécheresse”, translated to “Mirror of the Sinful Soul”, is certainly the most known amongst the masses. It is a work that maintains a reformist theme, exploring the ideas of religion, salvation, and sin. Her writing is by far the most impactful of all her achievements. In fact, she is “Protestantism’s first published female poet” (Sztersky). Another one of her most notable pieces is Heptameron, a collection of 72 short stories about a cluster of travelers. Navarre’s impact exceeds that of the literary world, as she also was relatively close to other reformers and helped inspire reformist movements. She had close connections with both John Calvin and Marie Dentiere, both of whom were major figures of the Protestant Reformation in Geneva. She financially supported the translations of Calvin’s works to make them more accessible to the general public, as well as inspiring the open letter “Marie Dentiere’s A Very Useful Epistle” in which Dentiere pushed for an expansion of the roles of women in the Reformation, as well as the expulsion of the Catholic clergy from France (Mark). Put quite simply, the effect that Marguerite de Navarre had on the Reformation was ubiquitous, despite her efforts rarely being praised or even acknowledged. Even so, Navarre was truly an exceptional woman who did much more for the Protestant Reformation than most would ever know.
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Amina Radoncic (she/her) is a sixteen-year-old writer from Long Island, New York. She is a lover of classic literature, her favorite reads include To Kill A Mockingbird and Little Women. While she chooses to spend most of her time reading or writing, you can also find her watching history documentaries, listening to music ranging from Taylor Swift to Vivaldi, and spending time with her dog.