La reine Margot, or Margeurite de Valois by Alexandre Dumas

On Monday, the 18th of August, 1572, there was a splendid festival at the Louvre.

The court was celebrating the marriage of Madame Marguerite de Valois, daughter of Henry II and sister of KIng Charles IX, with Henry de Bourbon, King of Navarre.

So this novel is Dumas’ fictional version of the life and times of Marguerite de Valois. It’s about the enmity between the Catholics (led and symbolized by Catherine de Medici and her son Charles) and the Huguenots (Marguerite’s new husband, Henry Bourbon was a Protestant.). It’s about the paradoxes and contradictions of politics. Catherine and her son arranged this marriage of the Catholic Marguerite to the Huguenot Henry, but they also arranged the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre six days after the wedding, which was supposed to have been a peace-making political marriage.

Alas, this bloodbath of a beginning to Marguerite’s married life was only a harbinger of things to come. Her marriage to Henry of Nvarre was an unhappy one, and both spouses were unfaithful to the other. The story includes slaughter, poisoning, attempted assassination, political intrigue, and general nastiness. The book ends before Henry of Navarre became King of France, which he did eventually, but it’s already obvious at the end of the novel that Henry and Marguerite were not meant to be together, and indeed they lived apart for much of their marriage.

Catherine de Medici is the arch-villainess of this piece, plotting and finagling behind the scenes in the novel to bring down Henry and in the process, her own daughter Marguerite, in order to make sure that Catherine de Medici’s third son, Henry, becomes the next king of France. In the meantime, Marguerite is busily bringing about her own downfall by pursuing a Protestant soldier lover named La Mole. Henry also takes a mistress, and there’s hardly anyone in the book worthy of admiration or sympathy. However, if you enjoy a good story of royal intrigue and political maneuvering, Marguerite de Valois is your book.

You can read the book (in English) here.
Or here, if you’re up to reading it in French.

Visit The Classics Circuit for more Dumas this week and next.

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