Jeanne d'Albret

Jeanne III

Jeanne III of Navarre
painted by François Clouet, 1570
Queen of Navarre
Reign 25 May 1555 – 9 June 1572
Coronation 18 August 1555 at Pau
Predecessor Henry II
Successor Henry III
Born 16 November 1528[1]
Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France
Died 9 June 1572(1572-06-09) (aged 43)
Burial Ducal Church of collégiale Saint-Georges, Vendôme
Spouse William, Duke of Jülich-Cleves-Berg
Antoine, King of Navarre
Issue Henry IV, King of France
Catherine, Hereditary Princess of Lorraine
House Albret
Father Henry II, King of Navarre
Mother Margaret of Angoulême
Religion Reformed Huguenot

Jeanne d'Albret (Occitan: Joana de Labrit; Basque: Joana Albretekoa; 16 November 1528 – 9 June 1572), also known as Jeanne III or Joan III, was the queen regnant of Navarre from 1555 to 1572. She married Antoine de Bourbon, Duke of Vendôme, and was the mother of Henry of Bourbon, who became King Henry III of Navarre and IV of France, the first Bourbon king of France. She became the Duchess of Vendôme by marriage.

She was the acknowledged spiritual and political leader of the French Huguenot movement,[2] and a key figure in the French Wars of Religion.

Early years and first marriage

Jeanne was born in the palace of the royal court at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France[3][4] at five o'clock in the afternoon on 16 November 1528,[5][6] the daughter of famed author Marguerite of Angoulême and her second husband, Henry II of Navarre. Her mother, the daughter of Louise of Savoy and Charles, Count of Angoulême, was the sister of King Francis I of France. The birth was officially announced the following 7 January when King Francis gave his permission for the addition of a new master in all cities where there were incorporated guilds "in honour of the birth of Jeanne de Navarre, the king's niece".[7] Since the age of two, as was the will of her uncle King Francis who took over her education, Jeanne was raised in the Château de Plessis-lèz-Tours in the Loire Valley (Touraine), thus living apart from her parents. She received an excellent education under the tutelage of humanist Nicolas Bourbon.[8]

Described as a "frivolous and high-spirited princess", she also, at an early age, displayed a tendency to be both stubborn and unyielding.[9] Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, offered to have her married to his son and heir, Philip, to settle the status of the Kingdom of Navarre.[10] In 1541, when Jeanne was 12, Francis I, for political reasons, forced her to marry William "the Rich", Duke of Jülich-Cleves-Berg, who was the brother of Anne of Cleves, the fourth wife of Henry VIII of England. Despite having been whipped into obedience,[11] she, nevertheless, continued to protest and had to be carried bodily to the altar by the Constable of France, Anne de Montmorency.[9] A description of Jeanne's appearance at her wedding revealed that she was sumptuously attired, wearing a golden crown, a silver and gold skirt encrusted with precious stones, and a crimson satin cloak richly trimmed with ermine.[12]

This political marriage was annulled four years later on the grounds that it had not been consummated. She remained at the royal court.

Second marriage

After the death of Francis in 1547 and the accession of Henry II to the French throne, Jeanne married Antoine de Bourbon, "first prince of the blood", at Moulins in the Bourbonnais on 20 October 1548. The marriage was intended to consolidate territorial possessions in the north and south of France.

Jeanne's marriage to Antoine was described by author Mark Strage as having been a "romantic match".[9] A contemporary of Jeanne said of her that she had

"no pleasure or occupation except in talking about or writing to [her husband]. She does it in company and in private . . . the waters cannot quench the flame of her love".[9]

Antoine was a notorious philanderer.[9] In 1554, he fathered an illegitimate son, Charles, by Louise de La Béraudière de l'Isle Rouhet, a court beauty known as "La belle Rouet". Antoine's frequent absences left Jeanne in Béarn to rule alone, and in complete charge of a household which she managed with a firm and resolute hand.

The couple had five children, of whom only two, Henry, king of France (1589 to 1610) and king of Navarre (1572 to 1610); and Catherine, duchess of Lorraine, lived to adulthood.

Queen of Navarre

Portrait of Jeanne d'Albret by an artist of the School of Francois Clouet, 2nd quarter of the 16th century

On 25 May 1555, Henry II of Navarre died, at which time Jeanne and her husband became joint rulers of Navarre. On accession to the throne, she inherited a conflict over Navarre and an independent territorial hold on Lower Navarre, Soule, and the principality of Béarn, as well as other dependencies suzerain to the Crown of France.

On 18 August 1555 at Pau, Jeanne and Antoine were crowned in a joint ceremony according to the rites of the Roman Catholic Church. The previous month, a coronation coin commemorating the new reign had been minted. It was inscribed in Latin with the following words: Antonius et Johanna Dei gratia reges Navarrae Domini Bearni.[13]

Jeanne was influenced by her mother, who died in 1549, with leanings toward religious reform, humanist thinking, and individual liberty.[14] This legacy was influential in her decision to convert to Calvinism. In the first year of her reign, Queen Jeanne III called a conference of beleaguered Protestant Huguenot ministers. She later declared Calvinism the official religion of her kingdom after publicly embracing the teachings of John Calvin on Christmas Day 1560. This conversion made her the highest-ranking Protestant in France. She became designated as an enemy of the Counter Reformation mounted by the Catholic Church.[15]

Following the imposition of Calvinism in her kingdom, priests and nuns were banished, Catholic churches destroyed, and Catholic ritual prohibited.[16] She commissioned the translation of the New Testament into Basque[lower-alpha 1] and Béarnese for the benefit of her subjects.

She was described as "small of stature, frail but erect", her face was narrow, her light-coloured eyes, cold and unmoving, and her lips thin. She was highly intelligent, but austere and self-righteous. Her speech was sharply sarcastic and vehement. Agrippa d' Aubigné, the Huguenot chronicler, described Jeanne as having "a mind powerful enough to guide the highest affairs".[16]

In addition to her religious reforms, Jeanne worked on reorganising her kingdom; making long-lasting reforms to the economic and judicial systems of her domains.[17]

In 1561, Catherine de' Medici, in her role as regent for her son King Charles IX, appointed Antoine Lieutenant General of France. Jeanne and Catherine had encountered each other at Court in the latter years of Francis I's reign and shortly after King Henry II's ascension to the French throne, when Catherine attained the rank of queen consort. The historian Mark Strage suggested that Jeanne was one of Catherine's main detractors, contemptuously referring to her as the "Florentine grocer's daughter".[16]

French Wars of Religion

The power struggle between Catholics and Huguenots for control of the French court and France as a whole, led to the outbreak of the French Wars of Religion in 1562. Jeanne and Antoine were at court, when the latter made the decision to support the Catholic faction, which was headed by the House of Guise; and in consequence, threatened to repudiate Jeanne when she refused to attend Mass. Catherine de' Medici, in an attempt to steer a middle course between the two warring factions, also pleaded with Jeanne to obey her husband for the sake of peace but to no avail. Jeanne stood her ground and staunchly refused to abandon the Calvinist religion, and continued to have Protestant services conducted in her apartments.[11] When many of the other nobles also joined the Catholic camp, Catherine had no choice but to support the Catholic faction. Fearing both her husband's and Catherine's anger, Jeanne left Paris in March 1562 and made her way south to seek refuge in Béarn.

When Jeanne had stopped for a brief sojourn at her husband's ancestral chateau in Vendôme on 14 May to break her lengthy homeward journey, she failed to prevent a 400-strong Huguenot force from invading the town. The troop marauded through the streets of Vendôme, robbed and sacked all the churches, abused the inhabitants, and pillaged the ducal chapel, which housed the tombs of Antoine's ancestors. In consequence, her husband adopted a belligerent stance with her. He issued orders to Blaise de Lasseran-Massencôme, seigneur de Montluc to have her arrested and returned to Paris where she would subsequently be sent to a Catholic convent.[18] She resumed her journey after leaving Vendôme and managed to elude her captors, safely passing over the frontier into Béarn before she could be intercepted by the seigneur de Montluc and his troops.

At the end of the year, Antoine was fatally wounded at the siege of Rouen and died before Jeanne could obtain the necessary permission to cross over enemy lines, in order to be at his bedside where she had wished to nurse him. His mistress instead was summoned to his deathbed. Jeanne henceforth ruled Navarre as the sole queen regnant; her sex being no impediment to her sovereignty. Her son Henry subsequently became "first prince of the blood". Jeanne often brought him along on her many progresses through her domains to oversee administrative affairs.[19] Jeanne haughtily refused an offer of matrimony issued by King Philip II of Spain who had hoped to marry her to his son, on the condition that she return to the Catholic faith.

Jeanne's position in the conflicts remained relatively neutral in the beginning, being mainly preoccupied with military defences, given Navarre's geographic location beside Catholic Spain. Papal envoys arrived to coax or coerce her into returning to Catholicism and abolishing heresy within her kingdom. Her response was to reply that "the authority of the Pope's legate is not recognised in Béarn". At one stage there was a plot led by Pope Pius IV to have her kidnapped and turned over to the Spanish Inquisition, where she would be imprisoned in Madrid, and the rulers of France and Spain invited to annex Navarre to their crowns. Jeanne was summoned to Rome to be examined for heresy under the triple penalty of excommunication, the confiscation of her property, and a declaration that her kingdom was available to any ruler who wished to invade it.[20] This last threat alarmed King Philip, and the blatant interference by the Papacy in French affairs also enraged Catherine de' Medici who, on behalf of Charles IX, sent angry letters of protest to the Pope. The threats never materialised. During the French Court's royal progress between January 1564 and May 1565, Jeanne met and held talks with Catherine de' Medici at Mâcon and Nérac.

The third war

Henry of Bourbon, Jeanne's only surviving son, whom she presented as one of the legitimate leaders of the Huguenot cause

When the third religious war broke out in 1568, however, she decided to actively support the Huguenot cause. Feeling that their lives were in danger from approaching French Catholic and Spanish troops, Jeanne and Henry sought refuge in the Protestant stronghold of La Rochelle.[lower-alpha 2] As Minister of Propaganda, Jeanne wrote manifestos and composed letters to sympathetic foreign rulers, requesting their assistance. Jeanne had visualised the province of Guyenne as a "Protestant homeland" and played a leading role in the military actions from 1569 to 1570 with the aim of seeing her dream come to fruition.

Whilst at La Rochelle, she assumed control of the fortifications, finances, Intelligence gathering, and the maintaining of discipline amongst the civilian populace. She used her own jewellery as security in a loan obtained from Queen Elizabeth I of England, and oversaw the well-being of the numerous refugees who sought shelter within La Rochelle. She often accompanied Admiral de Coligny to the battlefield where the fighting was at its most intense; together they inspected the defences and rallied the Huguenot forces.[21] Jeanne also established a religious seminary in La Rochelle, drawing the most learned Huguenot men in France within its walls.[22]

Following the Huguenot defeat on 16 March 1569 at the Battle of Jarnac where Jeanne's brother-in-law, Louis I de Bourbon, Prince de Condé was captured and subsequently executed, Gaspard de Coligny assumed command of the Huguenot forces nominally on behalf of her son Henry and Condé's son, Henri I de Bourbon, Prince de Condé. Jeanne had established them as the legitimate leaders of the Huguenot cause.

Peace of Saint-Germain-en-Laye

Queen Mother and French regent Catherine de' Medici. Following the Peace of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Jeanne and Catherine arranged a marriage of convenience between their respective children

Jeanne was the principal mover in negotiating the Peace of Saint-Germain-en-Laye which ended this "third war" in August 1570 after the Catholic army ran out of money. That same year, as part of the conditions set out in the peace treaty, a marriage of convenience Jeanne reluctantly agreed to was arranged between her son and King Charles IX's sister Marguerite. This was in exchange for the right of Huguenots to hold public office in France, a privilege which they had previously been denied. Jeanne, despite her mistrust of Catherine de' Medici, accepted the latter's invitation for a personal meeting to negotiate the marriage settlement.

Taking her daughter Catherine along, Jeanne went to Chenonceaux on 14 February 1572 where the two powerful women from opposing factions met. Jeanne found the atmosphere at Chenonceaux corrupt and vicious, and wrote letters to her son advising him about the promiscuity of the young women at Catherine's court, whose forward and wanton behaviour with the courtiers scandalised Jeanne's puritanical nature. In one of her letters to Henry, she issued the following warning: "Not for anything on earth would I have you come to live here. Although I knew it was bad, I find it even worse than I feared. Here it is the women who make advances to the men, rather than the other way around. If you were here you would never escape without special intervention from God".[23] She did, however, concede that his future wife Marguerite was beautiful.

Jeanne also complained to her son that the Queen Mother mistreated and mocked her as they negotiated terms of the settlement, writing on 8 March, "she treats me so shamefully that you might say that the patience I manage to maintain surpasses that of Griselda herself".[23]


The two women reached an agreement. Jeanne took leave of Catherine de' Medici following the signing of the marriage contract between Henry and Marguerite on 11 April. She set up residence in Paris where she went on daily shopping trips to prepare for the upcoming wedding. Anna d'Este described Jeanne during this period in a letter she wrote to a friend: "The Queen of Navarre is here, not in very good health but very courageous. She is wearing more pearls than ever".[24]

On 4 June 1572, two months before the wedding was due to take place, Jeanne returned home from one of her shopping excursions feeling ill. The next morning she woke up with a fever and complained of an ache in the upper right-hand side of her body. Five days later she died.[24] A popular rumour which circulated shortly afterward, maintained that Jeanne had been poisoned by Catherine de' Medici, who allegedly sent her a pair of perfumed gloves, skillfully poisoned by her perfumer, René, a fellow Florentine. This fanciful chain of events also appears in the Romantic writer Alexandre Dumas's 1845 novel La Reine Margot, as well as Michel Zevaco's 1907 novel L’Épopée d’Amour (in the Pardaillan series). An autopsy, however, proved that Jeanne died of natural causes. An autopsy, however, proved that Jeanne died of natural causes.[25]

After her funeral, a cortege bearing her body travelled through the streets of Vendôme. She was buried beside her husband at Ducal Church of collégiale Saint-Georges. The tombs were destroyed when the church was sacked in 1793 during the French Revolution. Her son Henry succeeded her, becoming King Henry III of Navarre. In 1589, he ascended the French throne as Henry IV; founding the Bourbon line of kings.


Like her mother, Jeanne was a skilled author and enjoyed writing poetry. She also wrote her memoirs in which she justified her actions as leader of the Huguenots.[11]


Statue of Jeanne III, from the Reines de France et Femmes illustres series in Paris.

By birth

By marriage

Marriages and children

In 1541 Jeanne married William, Duke of Jülich-Berg-Ravensberg-Kleve-Mark, a marriage that was annulled in 1545, with no children.

On 20 October 1548, she married Antoine de Bourbon and they had the following children:



  1. See the wikipedia entry on Joanes Leizarraga, the priest who did the translation. His manuscript is considered to be a cornerstone in Basque literature, and a pioneering attempt towards Basque language standardization.
  2. Departing on 23 August (Roelker 1968, p. 297) and arriving on 28 September (Roelker 1968, p. 301).
  1. Jeanne d'Albret, Corinne Wilson, Encyclopedia of Women in the Renaissance: Italy, France, and England, ed. Diana Maury Robin, Anne R. Larsen and Carole Levin, (ABC-CLIO, 2007), 2.
  2. Strage 1976, p. 148.
  3. Roelker, Nancy Lyman (1968). p.7
  4. Babelon, Pierre (1982). Henry IV. p.28
  5. Roelker 1968, p.7
  6. Babelon, p.27
  7. Roelker 1968, p.9
  8. Roelker 1968, p. 31.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 Strage 1976, p. 149.
  10. Reid 2009, p. 502.
  11. 1 2 3 Robin, Larsen & Levin 2007, p. 3
  12. Roelker 1968, p. 55.
  13. Bryson 1999, p. 75.
  14. Bryson 1999, p. 72.
  15. Roelker 1968, p. 154.
  16. 1 2 3 Strage 1976, p. 150.
  17. Roelker 1968, p. 210.
  18. Bryson 1999, p. 29.
  19. Strage 1976, p. 158.
  20. Bainton 1973, p. 61.
  21. Roelker 1968, pp. 301–312.
  22. Roelker 1968, p. 325.
  23. 1 2 Strage 1976, p. 153.
  24. 1 2 Strage 1976, p. 155.
  25. Strage 1976, pp. 155-6.


Further reading

External links

Jeanne d'Albret
Born: 16 November 1528 Died: 9 June 1572
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Henry II
Queen of Navarre
Countess of Foix

25 May 1555 – 9 June 1572
with Antoine
Succeeded by
Henry III
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