In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Jeanne d’Albret, queen of Navarre

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Renaissance and Reformation Jeanne d’Albret, queen of Navarre
Amanda Eurich
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 July 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0400


Jeanne d’Albret, queen of Navarre, was one of the most powerful political women of 16th-century Europe. Along with Elizabeth I of England and Catherine de’ Medici in France, Jeanne d’Albret played a leading role in the religious and political conflicts that marked the second half of the 16th century. Born in 1528 in the royal palace of Saint Germain-en-Laye near Paris, Jeanne was the only child of Marguerite d’Angoulême and Henry II of Navarre. The celebrated author of numerous works of spiritual devotion and courtly novellas such as the Heptaméron, Marguerite d’Angoulême was an early patron of Reformed ideas and reform-minded theologians. Jeanne’s father, Henry, was king of Navarre, a tiny sovereign state poised between two great superpowers of the 16th century: France and Spain. He also claimed suzerainty over various territories in southern France, including the semi-independent Pyrenean principality of Béarn. In 1547 Jeanne married Antoine de Bourbon (1518–1562), a titled “prince of the blood.” The couple had five children together, although only two—Henry (1553), the future Henry IV of France, and Catherine (1559)—survived to adulthood. After the death of her father, Jeanne and Antoine ruled jointly over their territories in southwestern France. Like her mother, Jeanne was gradually drawn to Reformed ideas. She publicly embraced Protestantism in 1560 and instituted Reformed practices throughout Béarn, transforming the principality into a Protestant bastion. With the outbreak of religious war in the 1560s, Jeanne deployed her vast fortunes, mobilized patronage networks, and leveraged her political influence at Court to advance the cause of her co-religionaries. In 1568 facing the twin threat of a noble rebellion and a royal invasion of her territories, Jeanne (with her children in tow) took refuge in the Huguenot stronghold of La Rochelle. Behind the massive fortifications of the Atlantic port city, she continued to direct the Protestant insurgency. A year later, the queen of Navarre penned a detailed memoir, entitled Ample Declaration, in which she defended her actions and those of her Protestant allies. She died in Paris in June 1572 of complications from tuberculosis and never witnessed the royal nuptials between her son, Henry de Navarre, and Marguerite de Valois, the daughter of Henry II and Catherine de Medici, that triggered the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre in August 1572 and several more decades of religious strife.

General Overviews

Holt 2002 brings together distinguished Anglophone historians of early modern France whose essays reflect recent approaches to the study of early modern France. Jouanna 2006 takes the long view of 16th-century France, culminating with the Edict of Nantes, which brought an end to the 16th-century Wars of Religion. Mentzer and van Ruymbeke 2016 focuses on the evolution of French Calvinism and Calvinist communities over the course of three centuries.

  • Holt, Mack, ed. Renaissance and Reformation France 1500–1648. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

    Thematic essays by American scholars provide a coherent overview of political, social, economic, and cultural developments in early modern France, with particular attention to changes in religious sensibilities, rituals, and practice in both Catholicism and Protestantism.

  • Jouanna, Arlette. La France du XVIe siècle, 1493–1598. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2006.

    Well-balanced, readable survey of early modern France by a highly regarded 16th-century historian. The Wars of Religion receive especially detailed, chronological treatment.

  • Mentzer, Raymond A., and Bertrand van Ruymbeke. A Companion to the Huguenots. Boston and Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2016.

    Essays by noted specialists of early modern French Calvinism. The volume takes an interdisciplinary approach, exploring the distinctive features of Huguenot material culture, religious and social practice, and institutional organization. Later essays in the volume explore the internationalization of the conflict and the impact of the 17th- and 18th-century Huguenot diaspora. Several authors touch on the role of women.

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