WOMEN OF THE REFORMATION: Jeanne d’Albret; Uncommonly Favoured; Uncommonly Fettered, and Uncommonly Faithful: The Deborah of the Hugeonots
by Deejay O’Flaherty
The only one unlike her mother, Marguerite, Queen of Navarre and her cousin and Renee of France (Ferrara) who came out publically and claimed openly the Protestant faith as her own. Her mother Queen Marguerite of Navarre was called the Nursing Mother of the Reformation. She was a Princess, a future queen; given a fine education, and was born uncommonly favoured.
However her status also came with a price that left her uncommonly fettered. At age 12 at the demands of her Uncle, King of France (of whom the opening epistle of Calvin’s institutes was addressed to) she was betrothed against her will to the Duke of Cleeves as a political pawn, because her uncle saw it as a hope for a French and German alliance. She made a written protest against this which even at that age showed her free spirit, and courage like that of a caged bird longing to be set free. Along with David as she sighed her silent tears when separated from her parents in the months leading up to her betrothal she must have wished for the wings of a dove so that she could fly away and be at rest.
"For my father and my mother have forsaken me, But the LORD will take me up." ~ Psalm 27:10
Her written protest read:
" I Jehanne de Navarre, continuing my protests already made, in which I persist, say and declare and protest again by these presents that the marriage proposed between me and the Duke of Cleves is against my will, that I have never consented to it, and that I never will. Anything that I may say or do after this because of which it could be said that I had given my consent, will have been because of force, against my will, out of fear of the King [Francis I], of my father the King, and of my mother the Queen, who had me threatened and beaten by… my governess…. [who said] that I would be the cause of the ruin and destruction of my mother and father and of their house. …I do not know to whom to appeal except to God, when I see that my mother and father have abandoned me. …I have told them that I would never love the Duke of Cleves and I do not want to have anything to do with him."
After the marriage she was not to live with her husband as his wife till she was 15 years old and she went back to live with her parents. Her mother at this point took over her education and brought in the best of Reformed teachers to bring her up in the Reformed faith. Both William Farrel and John Calvin were visitors at the royal home. However, 18 months after her marriage, the Duke of Cleeves made an unholy alliance with Charles V, the Emperor of the [un]holy roman empire, and he renounced his alliance with France, turned his back on the Protestant faith and sought to get Catholicism restored. The Duke’s sister however, Sabella stood up against Charles V and defied him, and defended the city against him while her brother seemed to make very little resistance. She, another woman, made her stand.
Queen Marguerite and her brother the King of France were outraged at this turn of events and wanted Jeanne’s marriage annulled. The Duke of Cleeves also no longer desired Jeanne as a wife. The marriage had never been consummated and they used her earlier protest which she had written in staunch defiance as an appeal to the pope as legitimate reason for annulment, so Jeanne was set free. The next three years, were probably what would be the most free of the rest of her life. She had many suitors including the King of Portugal and the infamous Duke of Guise. However she made her own choice in matrimony in that of the person of Antoine de Bourbon who was ten years her senior. Jeanne loved him, and for a while they were happily married. He was a courageous and somewhat remarkable soldier and very dashing in appearance.
Jeanne’s mother, Margueritte worn out by the battle of the day, of defending the cause of true religion died only a year after Jeanne was married. Their first child was born around two years after their marriage, a son, but he died at around one year old due to the neglect of his nurses. The second born child died also. Eventually she gave birth to Henry, who would later become Henry IV of France. Two years after Henry was born, Jeanne’s father died and she became Queen of Navarre at around 27 years old.
Two months after her father died, inspired by her cousin Renee of Ferrara (of France) she made a public profession of the Reformed faith. The Jezebel of the day, Catherine De Medici was plotting to destroy Jeanne and hatched a plot to separate Jeanne from her husband; her aim was to try to lure him back to the Roman Catholicism and take away all of their estate and lands in Navarre.
Jeanne knew what was happening and raised an army to protect the Kingdom of Navarre. The more she was threatened and persecuted for her adhering to the Reformed faith, the bolder she was in defending it and speaking out in favour of it and her God. Her husband however, though strong and courageous on the battlefield proved weak in this battle and soon went over to the side of the Guises and went back to Roman Catholicism renouncing the Reformed faith. He went to Paris, demanding that his wife join him. She didn’t want to leave her Kingdom which had become a safe haven for the Huguenot’s but she submitted to her husbands wishes. He then demanded that she go to mass with him. Catherine De Medici also put pressure on her to do so. Her response to their demands was: “Had I my kingdom in one hand, and my son in the other I would throw them both into the depths of the sea rather than go to mass.” For this act of defiance, Antoine took their son away from her and gave him a Roman Catholic upbringing, yet the boy remained loyal to his mother.
Antoine became a notorious infidel and was unfaithful again and again to his wife. Her kingdoms were sought from all sides. Spain wanted them, as did Rome, yet she stood firm holding onto her Lord and His cause and never faltered. On the death of her husband she sought to advance the Reformed faith in her Kingdom of Navarre. Theordore Beza at her request sent a dozen ministers to preach the gospel in Navarre. One of these preachers said of her: “The Queen of Navarre has banished all idolatry from her dominion and set an example of virtue with incredible courage.”
When the Spanish Ambassador told her they would not tolerate Calvinism so near to the borders of Spain, Jeanne replied: “Although I am just a little Princess, God has given me the government of this country so I may rule it according to the Gospel and teach it God’s laws. I rely on God who is more powerful than the King of Spain.”
Jeanne played a dangerous yet clever game by pitting all the powers that be that sought her destruction, Philip of Spain, Catherine De Medici and the pope, against each other by her actions. A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. (Matthew 12:25) Both her life and kingdom were held in the balance by her enemies, yet she trusted in God.
She continued to advance the cause of Christ in her kingdom and when she heard of the plot for a massacre of the Huguenots she gathered mountain troops in Navarre, so the St. Bartholomew’s massacre by the strength and fortitude of this “little Princess” was thwarted for about eight years. She declared: “The cause of God is dearer to me than my son.”
When forced to flee to La Rochelle she encouraged and rallied the troops; one young soldier who was protesting against having his arm amputated, she stood by his side speaking comforting words to him and held his hand why the surgeons amputated the other one. At the death of one of the great generals when the morale of the army was very low and she herself was also grieving over the death of General and dear friend, she re-dedicated herself, her lands, her wealth her son and her life to God and the Huguenot cause. She went out to the troops in an attempt to stir them up and encourage morale and said: “Children of God and of France-make proof of your valour soldiers, I offer you everything I have; my dominion, my treasure, my life, my child and all that’s dear to me; I swear to defend to my last the Holy cause that now unites us.”
She had the New Testament translated into the language of her people. She personally bore the financial cost of also having the Geneva Catechism translated and distributed among her subjects. In a peace treaty she helped form that lasted for two years she set about restoring her ravished kingdom. Even today she is spoken of as the good Queen who caused Navarre to prosper.
When Catherine De Medici and her army ordered her to lay down her arms, Jeanne replied: “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.” This defiant stand caused again peace to reign again for a while, though it was a very tentative peace.
Catherine De Medici wanted Jeanne’s son Henry to marry her daughter, Marguerite. Jeanne knew that to refuse this flat-out could be the ruin of the Huguenot’s. She visited Paris to negotiate about the wedding and was horrified at the wickedness and debauchery rampant in the royal court. She wrote her son saying they wanted him there to separate him from God and from herself and that no one could live there in that atmosphere of wickedness and remain unscathed or get out alive spiritually speaking. However, she agreed to the marriage as long as Henry took his bride after the wedding and they lived in retirement from the royal court of the De Medici’s.
Jeanne arrived in Paris for the wedding of her son, and immediately started to become severely ill. It has since been proven that she was poisoned; another victim of the evil De Medici’s. One of the last things she said was “the many afflictions I have bore from my youth, I desire to retire and leave to be with God.” It is said she died with the sweetest, most beautiful smile on her lips. Two months after her death, the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre finally happened that she had managed to hold off almost single-handedly for eight years. Once she was gone, the power to stop it was gone. She gave her all for the cause of Christ. Health, wealth life, kingdom, ALL. She was the Deborah of the Huguenot’s who lived out that God’s grace was sufficient, who offered herself as a living sacrifice. She gave it all, and loved her God with all her heart, soul, and mind, and just like Deborah she could have also said:`So may all your enemies perish, O LORD! But your friends be like the sun as he rises in his might.’ [Judges 5:31]
The legacy of Jeanne d’Albret is that she is a figure in which we can see she lived out to trust God in all circumstances and conditions. To not value worldly things above the glory of God or heavenly things. To be willing to pick up our cross and follow Him even if we lose everything by so doing.
Her favourite Psalm was Psalm 31 and ironically it almost is a mirror of her life. Written by a persecuted, harassed, oppressed, godly King David. And lived out again, by “just a little princess” Jeane d’Albret, Queen of Navarre, of whom the world was not worthy. A Queen who was born uncommonly favoured; had a life uncommonly fettered, and remained uncommonly faithful.
Praise God for the wonderful cloud of witnesses we have to encourage and strengthen us in our own faith.
About the Author: Deejay O’Flaherty lives in the United Kingdom with her darling cat, Meanie. She blogs at A Puritan at Heart where she daily posts inspirational Christian quotes by the Puritans.