Monday, June 4, 2012

June 04, 2012

Jeanne d’Albret, Queen of Navarre
Huguenot Woman, Mover and Shaker of the 16th Century

Who was she? The Queen of Navarre. (Navarre was an autonomous French kingdom which existed separate of any other entities). Jeanne was born in 1528 to King Henri II de Navarre and Queen Marguerite de Angouleme. Her second marriage, to Antoine de Bourbon, proved not to be the love match she had anticipated, as just a few years after her adoption of the Protestant faith, he had her and their son Henri imprisoned for an indefinite amount of time. 

After her husband’s death she became an indomitable ruler in her own right, proud of her faith, unafraid of her detractors, and firm in her convictions despite the many challenges she faced. She was a lion of a queen, much like the storied Queen Elizabeth I of England who ruled at the same time. A contemporary described her as having a “mind powerful enough to guide the highest affairs.” That was saying a lot, considering that political struggles, religious affairs, and business troubles were mostly guided by men in the 16th century.

What did her faith mean to her and to her subjects? At this time in history (she lived from 1528 – 1572) it was extremely important for the often-beleaguered and much-hated Protestants to have strong Protestant entities that held sway in French politics. Jeanne d’Albret was one of those people. After 1560 she became an unabashed Calvinist and made absolutely certain that her subjects followed her doctrines. 

Jeanne was one of the most fiercely proactive Protestant women of the era. She hired translators to make Scripture and other writings available to the kingdom of Navarre, she established Calvinism as the official faith of the realm, and she lobbied tirelessly for equality in the Catholic world. Jeanne reportedly stated, “We have come to the determination to die, all of us rather than abandon our God and our Reformed religion which we cannot maintain unless allowed to worship publically any more than a human body can live without food or drink.”  

Jeanne d'Albret, mother of Henri de Navarre

How did she look and act? A contemporary described Jeanne d’Albret as “small of stature” and said she had light eyes. Portraits show her as having a quiet-featured face with what might be described as a “French nose,” wearing an austere high-necked dress livened by pearls. Unfortunately, friends and foes also said Jeanne had a tendency to speak sharply, to disregard others who did not agree with her opinion, and to utilize derision and haughtiness in speech and manner.

What were the pros and cons of Jeanne d’Albret’s persona? Admirably, Jeanne d’Albret was a very strong woman in a time when such women were stifled, hidden, or had neither the means nor the leeway to speak out for themselves. She never backed down from her faith and followed each dictate piously, becoming a heroine of the Reformation. Sadly, she could also be intolerant, decreeing destruction and desecration for Catholic places of worship and forbidding non-Protestant worship.

How did she die? In Jeanne’s time, speculation ran wild. The more conservative politiques (those who wished peace for France and believed religious wars could do nothing but harm) and many Catholics believed it was a problem with her lungs, while many Huguenots swore she had been poisoned by Queen Catherine de’ Medici (who apparently had sent Jeanne a gift just before the Queen of Navarre’s death. The Huguenots suspected poison.

Jeanne d’Albret was not perfect, yet she tried her best to keep the laws of God and to follow the pureness of Scripture. She was a faithful and resolute “mover and shaker” in a time of great religious and political chaos when the French Protestants desperately needed powerful leaders to give them a voice. She was a faithful Christian who trusted that Christ’s atonement would wash her clean of any mistakes she had made in life. 

Her less-than-perfect record with her enemies does not serve to demean her but only to prove that she was a human being like everyone else. She made missteps. There were rough edges that were likely wrought by the hardships of life. And God loved her so deeply, so mercifully, because she loved Him. Jeanne d’Albret will forever be remembered as one of the most important women of the Reformation era.

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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