Let’s take a look at a woman of the Reformation who was highly influential. Many of the most important women during the Reformation were royalty. It was the virtue of their birth that gave them power to influence the religious scene. Jeanne d’Albret is one of those women. She was the daughter of Marguerite de Navarre, a woman who tried to use diplomacy to make changes in the political and religious structures of the sixteenth century. Jeanne was influenced by her mother’s beliefs in the Reformation movement, but she took her own path.
A Princess With a Mind of Her Own
Jeanne was born in a palace in France in November 1528. She was a princess in her own right, as the daughter of Henry II, King of Navarre. But she had powerful relatives. King Francis, Jeanne’s uncle, officially announced the birth in January. He would also take over her education. The humanist Nicolas Bourbon was her tutor. Her education from him would influence her later, when she ruled Navarre.
It’s said that Jeanne was a stubborn and high-spirited princess. When she was 12, she was married to the duke of Cleves, the brother of Anne of Cleves, who was the fourth wife of Henry VIII. Jeanne protested the marriage. It’s said that she was “whipped into obedience,” and still, she would not consent. Four years later, the marriage was annulled, because the marriage had never been consummated.
Her Conversion to Calvinism
In 1548, Jeanne married Antione de Bourbon. Although it’s thought that the marriage was a romantic match, it was also good for the politics of France, consolidating territorial possessions. When Jeanne’s father died, she and Antione became rulers of Navarre. They would be crowned rulers in a ceremony that adhered to the rites of the Roman Catholic Church. However, during the first year she was in power, she converted to Calvinism. The Catholic Church then determined her to be an enemy of the church. She banished Catholicism from the realm, forbidding Catholic rites in the country. A few years later, she would name Calvinism the official religion of Navarre.
Antoine and Jeanne would return to the French court in Paris. When the first war broke out in France over religion, Antoine chose to support the Catholic faction. Jeanne refused to attend Mass with him, going as far as having Protestant services in her apartments at court. Most of the French nobles supported Catholicism, causing Jeanne to leave Paris and seek refuge in Bearn. Her husband attempted to have her captured and returned, so he could place her in a convent. She evaded her captors. Antoine was fatally wounded in a siege. Jeanne became sole queen regnant. Her son was not quite 10 years old, too young to rule on his own. She would take him on her progresses through her country to teach him how to rule.
Ruling Through Wars
During the first and second religious war, Jeanne tried to remain neutral. During the third war, she became the de facto leader of the Huguenots, the French Protestants. She rallied the troops and worked closely with the leaders of the men. It’s said that Pope Pius IV plotted to have her kidnapped to be given to the Spanish Inquisition. King Phillip II of Spain wanted her to marry his son, but she would have had to return to the Catholic faith.
Jeanne was instrumental in the Peace of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, which ended the third war between the Catholics and Huguenots. She was able to give the Huguenots the right to hold public office in France by arranging a marriage between her son and Marguerite de Valois, who was the daughter of Henry II of France and Catherine de’Medici. Jeanne died before the marriage took place. Her son succeeded her as ruler of Navarre. Years later, he would ascend to the French throne as king, founding the Bourbon line. He supported the Huguenots, even though it almost tore France apart.
Jeanne was vital to the progress of the Reformation in Europe.