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Jeanne d'Albret - Jeanne of Navarre

French Huguenot Leader (1528-1572)


Known for: Huguenot leader and religious reformer; mother of Henry IV of France; ruler of Navarre
Dates: 1528-1572
Also known as: Jean of Albret, Jeanne of Navarre, Jeanne III of Navarre

Jeanne of Navarre Biography:

Jeanne d'Albret was a key leader in the Huguenot party in France in the 16th century. Her son became King of France, though he abandoned his mother's Protestantism in assuming the throne.

Jeanne d'Albret was brought up and educated by her mother in Normandy until she was 10. As a cousin of the French king Henry III, she was likely to be used as a marital pawn in royal diplomacy.

Jeanne was married at fourteen to the Duke of Cleves -- a marriage desireable for the alliance it would seal -- but she resisted this marriage and had to be carried to the altar by the constable of France. Alliances shifted, and before the marriage was consummated, it was annulled with papal approval.

In 1548 Jeanne married Antoine de Bourbon, Duke of Vendome. Letters show that it was a playful and loving relationship though he was not faithful. Antoine was a member of the House of Bourbon which would succeed to the French throne under Salic Law if the ruling family, the House of Valois, produced no male heirs.

In 1555, Jeanne's father died, and Jeanne became ruler of Navarre in her own right, Antoine becoming titular king-consort of Navarre. Thus she is also known as Jeanne of Navarre. Jeanne declared, on Christmas of 1560, her conversion to the Reformed faith, probably under the influence of Theodore Beza, Calvin's successor. This confession came just a few weeks after the King died, and the pro-Catholic Guise faction was weakened.

Antoine, too, seemed to be leaning to the Reformed position. Then Antoine was offered Sardinia by the King of Spain if he returned to the Church of Rome. Jeanne's allegiance remained with the Huguenots (the Protestant faction).

With the Massacre at Vassy, France became more polarized on the religious division, and so did the family of Antoine and Jeanne. He imprisoned her over her religious views, and threatened divorce. They fought over how their son, only eight, would be raised, religiously speaking.

Jeanne left Paris in 1562, for Vendome, where Huguenots rioted and targeted the church and Bourbon tombs. Jeanne regretted this uprising, and proceeded to Bearn, where she encouraged Protestants.

War between the factions continued. The Duke of Guise, of the Roman faction, was assassinated. Antoine died after being part of the Catholic forces besieging Rouen, and Jeanne assumed rulership of Bearn as sole sovereign. Their son Henry was held at court as a hostage.

In 1561, Jeanne issued an edict which put Protestantism on an equal footing with the Roman church. While she tried to establish peaceful tolerance in her own domain, she found herself more and more involved in the French civil war, opposing the Guise family.

When Cardinal d'Armagnac was unable to persuade Jeanne to forsake her Protestant path, Philip of Spain planned a kidnapping of Jeanne so she could be subject to the Inquisition. The plot failed.

Then the Pope demanded that Jeanne appear in Rome or forfeit her domains. But neither Catherine de Medici nor Philip of Spain would support this papal power play, and in 1564 Jeanne expanded religious liberty for Huguenots. At the same time she went to court, seeking to maintain her relationship with Catherine, and one result was regaining contact with her son. He returned at age 13 and was given a Protestant education and military training under Jeanne's direction. Part of his military education was under Gaspard de Coligny, who was the target of Catherine de Medici later near the time of Henry's wedding.

Jeanne continued to issue edicts which protected the Reformed faith and limited Roman practices. The Basque part of Navarre revolted, and Jeanne first suppressed the rebellion and then pardoned the rebels. Both sides used mercenaries in the fight, leading to a higher incidence of brutalities.

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