‘Frenchwomen,’ said a critic, ‘are very devout in seeming, but in point of fact they are very light and very free. Every one of them, even if she be a courtesan, wishes to be treated as an honest woman, and there is no lady of bad fame who has not some objection to make to the morals of her neighbour.’
Nuns, apparently, were worse. But then many were quite secular in their habits, certainly Henry IV of France enjoyed affairs with several, including Marie de Beauvilliers, abbess of Montmartre. He did like to spread his favours. But then women often chose to enter a nunnery, considering this a better option than marrying a man they didn’t care for. And who could blame them since women often had little control over their choice of husband.
Many Renaissance women, however, were independent and well educated. Marguerite de Valois was proficient in French, Italian, Latin, Greek, music and mathematics as well as her devotions. But it wasn’t only royalty and the aristocracy who believed in education. The bourgeoisie were also great advocates of such refinements. It was considered that an educated woman was better able to maintain her family’s health, raise her children well, make her husband content and keep a household in order. The reformation also encouraged education for girls so that they were able to read the scriptures for themselves and be spiritually closer to God.
Men grumbled, of course, at women’s independence, just as they do now. Nothing changes! They complained that their wives talked too much, stopping to gossip with passers-by in the street. They objected about their readiness to go alone to church or market, often being out and about for hours at a time, and ‘their husbands never daring to ask where they were.’ So a passion for women’s rights obviously simmered beneath the surface. One amusing rule I found for widows, was that they were obliged to wear a high necked dress, long cloak and a veil, and the authorities felt obliged to pass a law restricting the style as widows’ veils had become ‘dangerously attractive.’ You can’t keep a bad girl down.
Henriette d’Entragues was clearly of an independent mind, being highly ambitious and manipulative, with her sights set upon wearing a crown. But while Henry IV might have been sufficiently besotted to agree to anything to get her into his bed, his political advisers and ministers were another matter altogether. A King was not expected to marry his mistress. Could Henriette raise her status and break the rules of etiquette? She was very determined to try.
About Freda Lightfoot
Born in Lancashire, Freda has been a teacher, bookseller and, in a mad moment, a smallholder on the freezing fells of the English Lake District where she attempted to live the ‘good life’. She has now given up her thermals to live in an olive grove in Spain, where she produces her own olive oil and sits in the sun. She began her writing career by publishing over 50 short stories and articles, and has published 39 novels including many bestselling family sagas and historical novels.
Henriette d’Entragues isn’t satisfied with simply being the mistress of Henry IV of France, she wants a crown too.
Despite his promises to marry her, the King is obliged by political necessity to ally himself with Marie de Medici, an Italian princess who will bring riches to the treasury.
But Henriette isn’t for giving up easily. She has a written promise of marriage which she intends to use to declare the royal marriage illegal. All she has to do to achieve her ambition is to give Henry a son, then whatever it takes through intrigue and conspiracy to set him on the throne.