Today, I’d like to take you on a journey to the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, France. While strolling through, you’ll see 20 statues of women, each with her own unique story. Created in 1612 by Marie de Medici, the widow of King Henry IV, the statues were decorations for her private Luxembourg Palace. Now owned by the French Senate, this 23-acre garden is well-known for its lawns, tree-lined promenades, flowerbeds, and model sailboats — yet not so well-known for its girl queens.
1 – Jeanne d’Albret, Queen of Navarre
Jeanne was forced into marriage at the age of 12 to William “the Rich” Duke of Julich-Cleves-Berg. Despite heavy whippings, Jeanne protested the marriage. She had two documents signed by officers of her household which stated, “I, Jeanne de Navarre, persisting in the protestations I have already made, do hereby again affirm and protest by these present, that the marriage which is desired to contract between the duke of Cleves and myself, is against my will; that I have never consented to it, nor will consent.” Reportedly, she had be carried to the altar by the Constable of France. Four years later, Jeanne’s marriage to William was annulled — and he was sent off with the duchy of Guelders in exchange for his willful bride. Jeanne claimed the marriage had not been consummated, and asserted that she had been forced into it. Jeanne then married a prince of the blood, Antoine de Bourbon, in 1547, at the age of 19, presumably as a romantic and political match. Unfortunately, her new husband was a philanderer known for numerous affairs. While cavorting with his harlots, Jeanne ruled in her husband’s stead, reportedly with a firm and resolute hand. When she became Queen of Navarre in 1555, Jeanne declared Calvinism as the official religion, making her the highest-ranking Protestant in France at the time. Her choice led to conflict in her marriage during the French Wars of Religion, whose end left Jeanne as sole ruler of Navarre. She refused further offers of marriage, and tried to remain neutral through further religious wars. Unfortunately for Jeanne, the Huguenots were defeated in 1569. She went on to negotiate the Peace of Saint-Germain-en-Laye to end the war, and personally negotiated with Catherine de Medici for her kingdom and the marriage of her son, who went on to establish the Bourbon line of kings in France.
2 – Louise of Savoy
Our next girl-queen is Louise of Savoy, who married Charles of Orleans, Count of Angouleme, at age 11. The couple shared a love of books, and Louise is said to have raised both their children and Charles’s many illegitimate daughters. Widowed at age 19, Louise took an active interest in her children and politics, educating them in the spirit of the Italian Renaissance. In 1505, Louise’s son, Francis, was chosen to succeed to the throne and was married to Princess Claude. He became King Francis I, making Louise Duchess of Angouleme and Anjou. She remained politically active, acting as regent when her son was at war. As regent, she initiated friendly relations with the Ottoman Empire, and made the first steps toward the Franco-Ottoman alliance. She also negotiated the Treaty of Cambrai between France and the Holy Roman Empire in 1529, called “the Ladies’ Peace,” which put an end to the second Italian war.
3 – Margaret of Anjou
Born in Lorraine in 1430, and raised in Provence, Margaret was married to King Henry VI and crowned Queen Consort of England at age 15. Her marriage was a tough one. Henry, who had ruled since infancy, was known to be mentally unstable. By the time the couple had their first child, Edward, Henry had suffered a complete mental breakdown — sparking rumors that Edward was not the king’s son and instead had been fathered in an affair so as to ensure the continuation of the monarchy. As a result, Richard of York was named regent. During this time, the duke laid claim to the English throne and gathered support for a takeover of the crown. What really happened during this time is still highly debated by scholars, but Margaret was a force to be reckoned with as she clashed with the king’s advisors and Richard of York over the future of England.
So began the Wars of the Roses. Margaret played an active part — raising support for the Lancastrian cause in an attempt to oust the Duke of York and take the throne. In 1455, her husband was taken prisoner by the Duke, but only five short years later, the Lancastrian armies defeated and beheaded the Duke. Finally, in 1461, Margaret succeeded in retrieving her husband. Unfortunately, the Duke’s son — Edward IV — continued the fight and was successful in deposing the king. The royal couple fled to Wales and later Scotland, eventually making their way to France. Eventually, Edward IV defeated Margaret, killed her son, and took the throne of England. Despite all her machinations, Margaret failed to keep her throne — and instead lived her remaining years in exile in France. She died at the age of 52 in 1482, and was entombed at Angers Cathedral until revolutionaries scattered her remains during the French Revolution.
4 – Marguerite d’Angouleme
Raised solely by her widowed mother, Marguerite had an extensive and diverse education, developing a love for classical philosophy. At age 17, she married Charles, Duke of Alencon, but remained close to her brother, the future King Francis I. When her brother was captured by Emperor Charles V in 1525, Marguerite bargained for his safe return and, legend holds, rode horseback through wintry woods to meet the safe-conduct deadline. Widowed shortly after, she married King Henri II of Navarre at age 33, and became known for her diplomatic skills, independence, ministry to the poor, advocacy for public works systems, and activism in the Evangelist movement that wanted to reform the Catholic Church. She also became a published author and poet, holding a private salon known as New Parnassus with friends such as the Dutch humanist Erasmus. She is remembered today as the mother of modern French thought, and was praised by Jules Michelet, a historian living just after the French Revolution, as “Let us always remember this tender Queen of Navarre, in whose arms our people, fleeing from prison or the pyre, found safety, honor, and friendship. Out gratitude to you, Mother of our Renaissance! Your hearth was that of our saints, your heart the nest of our freedom.”
5 – Anne of France
In 1473, she married Peter of Bourbon and took up rule of the Beaujolais as her husband ceded his title to her (for reasons unknown). She was only 12 years old at the time. A decade later, she became co-regent for Charles VIII. Her regency lasted 8 years, during which the Mad War was waged. Despite this, she overcame unrest, supported Henry Tudor in his fight against Richard III of England, and negotiated the final treaty ending the Hundred Years’ War. Unfortunately, when her brother reached his majority, he hated Anne and forced her back to being solely Duchess of Bourbon. A strong, formidable woman, she was known as the “least foolish woman in France” and eventually published an advice book for her daughter about frugality and true nobility through being human, benign, and courteous.
Learn more about the girls of Luxembourg Gardens in our GirlSpeak podcast walkthrough.
– Tiffany Rhoades
Girl Museum Inc.