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Marguerite de Valois of France, Duchess of Berry (June 5, 1523 – September 15, 1574)

Family

Marguerite de Valois was born at the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, was the youngest daughter of King François I of France and Claude, Duchess of Brittany.

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Marguerite de Valois of France, Duchess of Berry

Claude of France (1499-1524) was a queen consort of France by marriage to François I. She was also ruling Duchess of Brittany from 1514. She was a daughter of the French King Louis XII of France and Anne of Brittany.

Because her mother, Anne, Duchess of Brittany, had no surviving sons, Claude was heir presumptive to the Duchy of Brittany. The crown of France, however, could pass only to and through male heirs, according to Salic Law. Eager to keep Brittany separated from the French crown.

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François I, King of France

On August 10, 1501 at Lyon was signed the marriage contract between Claude and the future Holy Roman Emperor Charles V by François de Busleyden, Archbishop of Besançon, William de Croÿ, Nicolas de Rutter and Pierre Lesseman, all ambassadors of Duke Philippe of Burgundy, (Felipe I of Spain) Charles’ father.

In 1505, King Louis XII of France was very sick, fearing for his life and not wishing to threaten the reign of his only heir, cancelled the engagement in the Estates Generals of Tours, in favor of the young Duke of Valois, the future François I. Indeed, previously Louise of Savoy obtained from the king a secret promise that Claude could be married to her son.

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Anne, Duchess of Brittany (grandmother)

Louise of Savoy was married to Charles d’Orléans (1459-1496) was the Count of Angoulême from 1467 until his death. Charles was a grandson of Louis I, Duke of Orléans, a younger son of King Charles V of France. He was thus a member of the Orléans cadet branch of the ruling House of Valois. The Orléans came to the throne in 1498 in the person of Charles’s nephew Louis XII, who was followed in 1515 by Charles’s own son François I.

Anne of Brittany, furious to see the triumph of Marshal of Gié, exerted all her influence to obtain his conviction for treason before the Parliament of Paris.

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Henri II, King of France (Brother)

On January 9, 1514, when her mother died, Claude became Duchess of Brittany; and four months later, on May 18, she married her cousin François at Saint-Germain-en-Laye. With this union, it was secured that Brittany would remain united to the French crown, if the third marriage of Louis XII with Mary of England (celebrated on October 9, 1514) would not produce the long-waited heir. However, the union was short-lived and childless: Louis XII died less than three months later, on January 1, 1515, reputedly worn out by his exertions in the bedchamber. François and Claude became king and queen, the third time in history that the Duchess of Brittany became Queen of France.

Early Life

Marguerite de Valois was very close to her paternal aunt, Marguerite de Navarre, who took care of her and her sister Madeleine during her childhood, and her sister-in-law Catherine de’ Medici.

Near the end of 1538, her father and Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, agreed that Marguerite should marry Charles’ son, the future Felipe II of Spain. However, the agreement between François and Charles was short-lived and the marriage never took place.

On April 29, 1550 at the age of 26 she was created suo jure Duchess of Berry.

Marriage

Shortly before her 36th birthday, a marriage was finally arranged for her by her brother King Henri II of France and her former suitor Felipe II of Spain as part of the terms stipulated in the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis which was signed by the ambassadors representing the two monarchs on April 3, 1559.

The husband selected for her was Felipe II’s ally, and a cousin of Marguerite, Emanuele Filiberto, Duke of Savoy, Prince of Piedmont. At the time, Marguerite was described as having been a “spinster lady of excellent breeding and lively intellect”.

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Emanuele-Filiberto I, Duke of Savoy

Emanuele-Filiberto was the only child of Carlo III, Duke of Savoy, and Beatrice of Portugal to reach adulthood. His mother was sister-in-law to Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and the future duke served in Charles’s army during the war against his future father-in-las, François I of France.

The wedding took place in tragic circumstances. On June 30, 1559 just three days after her marriage contract had been signed, King Henri II was gravely injured during a tournament celebrating the wedding of his eldest daughter Elisabeth to the recently widowed King Felipe II.

A lance wielded by his opponent the Count of Montgomery accidentally struck his helmet at a point beneath the visor and shattered. The wooden splinters deeply penetrated his right eye and entered his brain. Close to death, but still conscious, the king ordered that his sister’s marriage should take place immediately, for fear that the Duke of Savoy might profit from his death and renege on the alliance.

The ceremony did not take place in Notre Dame Cathedral as had been planned. Instead it was a solemn, subdued event conducted at midnight on July 9, in Saint Paul’s, a small church not far from the Tournelles Palace where Margaret’s dying brother was ensconced. Among the few guests was the French queen consort Catherine de’ Medici who sat by herself, weeping. King Henri II died the following day.

Marguerite and her husband had only one surviving child: Charlo-Emanuele I, Duke of Savoy who was born in January 1562, when Marguerite was 38 years of age. He later married Infanta Catherine-Michelle of Spain, the daughter of King Felipe II by his marriage to Marguerite’s niece, Elisabeth de Valois.

Marguerite died on September 15 1574 at the age of 51. She was buried in Turin at the Cathedral of Saint Giovanni Battista.