King’s sister, queen of dissent: Marguerite of Navarre (1492-1549) and her evangelical network
Jonathan Andrew Reid
University of Arizona: Doctor of Philosophy, Department of History (2001)
This study reconstructs the previously unknown history of the most important dissident group within France before the French Reformed Church formed during the 1550s. From edited and unpublished literary, institutional, diplomatic, and epistolary sources from across Europe, the dissertation demonstrates that King Francis I’s sister, Marguerite of Navarre (1492-1549), and a network of more than two hundred nobles, royal officers, humanists, literary writers, and prelates collaborated to promote a reformation of the French church based on their evangelical views. To this end, they attempted to steer Francis I into alliances with Henry VIII, the Protestant powers of the Empire and Switzerland, as well as, for a time, the Pope that favored the adoption of their reform agenda. Within France they strove to disseminate their beliefs by exploiting their administrative powers, sponsoring evangelical preaching, and publishing hundreds of vernacular books, including many adaptations of German Reformation tracts. An opposing conservative party stymied these efforts, yet Marguerite and her network managed, in turn, to prevent it from unleashing full-scale persecution, thereby enabling a broad dissenting movement to grow. Meanwhile, French reformers in exile, led by Guillaume Farel and John Calvin, former members of Marguerite’s network, became critical of their erstwhile colleagues and called on French evangelicals to reject the “papal” church.
After Marguerite’s death, members of her network and their heirs joined two successor parties during the Wars of Religion (1562-1598): the irenic royalists and the unyielding Calvinist Huguenots. Ultimately, the confessional historiographies of the Calvinist and Catholic ‘victors’ effaced the record of Marguerite and her network’s campaign for moderate evangelical renewal. This account revises the received interpretations of Marguerite and the early Reformation in France. Although Marguerite is well-known as a literary figure with heterodox beliefs, her leadership of a dynamic evangelical network has never been seen or reconstructed. This network’s actions reveal, moreover, that early sixteenth-century France was not, as it is universally portrayed, a period of “magnificent religious anarchy.” These evangelicals were not divergent in their beliefs, disunified, and hence hopelessly ineffective. Amidst growing persecution they failed to secure the adoption of their beliefs, but they did disseminate them and obtain a foothold for religious dissent without which the Reformed churches could not have emerged.