RECIRC aims to produce a large-scale, quantitative analysis of how women’s texts and reputations gained traction in the early modern period. It addresses writers who were translated and read in English as well as women born and resident in Anglophone countries.
One early modern French woman writer whose works were being read and translated into English during the seventeenth century was Marguerite de Valois, Queen of Navarre and France (1553-1615). As Eliane Viennot (1999: 324-29) has shown, Marguerite de Valois’s autobiographical Mémoires was a bestseller in France after its first printing in 1628. Marguerite’s Mémoires was also translated into English during the seventeenth century and ran into several printed English editions between 1641 and 1665.
The 1642 English translator of the Mémoires, Wye Saltonstall (1642: 1), praises ‘the workes of this most illustrious Lady [Marguerite de Valois]’ and posits that the Mémoires are ‘full of State and Truth, and Wit’.
Although Saltonstall presents a positive reception of the Mémoires, his contemporary, Robert Codrington, is much more ambivalent. Codrington’s The History of the Most Illustrious Lady Queen Margaret (1649) claims to be based on Marguerite de Valois’s Mémoires and compliments Marguerite for being a ‘great Princesse’ (1649: sig. A1r), but it has as its subtitle the following: ‘Truly representing the Contrivance and prosecution of the Bloody Massacre [of St Bartholomew’s day] and the growth and fury of the Civill War in that Kingdome, occasioned by the policy and ambition of the Catholick Nobility, and by the pernicious Counsell of some Bishops’. Vivienne Larminie (2004) suggests that Codrington may have been using Marguerite de Valois’s Mémoires as a means to draw parallels between the conflicts in late sixteenth-century France and 1640s Britain. Marguerite de Valois’s Mémoires thus offers an intriguing case study as to how one French queen’s text was being received, adapted and politically manipulated in seventeenth-century Britain.
It was not only Marguerite de Valois’s Mémoires that was being read in English, but her pro-woman prose text, Discours docte et subtil (‘The Learned and Subtle Discourse’), which was printed in French in Paris in 1614 and 1618. As Kathleen Wellman (2013: 313) points out, Marguerite’s Discours was written in response to the Jesuit, François Loryot’s treatise, Les fleurs des secretz moraux (1614, ‘The Flowers of Moral Secrets’), in which Loryot had argued that women should be honoured by men for their weakness. Marguerite de Valois, however, in her Discours asserts that women should not be praised for their weakness, but for their excellence and worth (Viennot, 1999: 270).
I have not yet been able to find any early modern printed English edition of Marguerite de Valois’s Discours. However, on a recent archival trip to the Bodleian Library, Oxford, I came across an English translation of the Discours in the seventeenth-century manuscript miscellany, MS Rawlinson C. 574:
The anonymous transcribers of this manuscript explicitly cite Marguerite de Valois as the author of the Discours and also provide the specific Loryot context:
The anonymous translator(s) are clearly interested in Marguerite de Valois’s Discours and may have read the 1614 or 1618 French printed editions of it. Moreover, the translator(s) do not shy away from trying to capture Marguerite’s political and spiritual ideology: ‘wee should not say any more, the world was made for man, and man for God, but the world was made for man, the man for the woman and the woman for God’.
Although the compilers of MS Rawlinson C. 574 are anonymous, we do know that this manuscript was owned in the seventeenth century by the Irish historian, Sir James Ware (1594-1666, see O’Sullivan, 1997: 75). MS Rawlinson C. 574 thus provides crucial and fascinating evidence as to how Marguerite de Valois was being received in seventeenth-century Europe – both as a queen and as an author.
This is a complex and multilayered case study and will certainly keep me occupied for some time to come – wish me luck!
Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS Rawlinson C. 574.
Codrington, Robert. trans. 1641. The Memorialls of Margaret de Valoys. London: R. H.
——. trans. 1649. The History of the Most Illustrious Lady Queen Margaret. London: R. H.
Larminie, Vivienne. 2004. ‘Codrington, Robert (1601/2-1665?)’. In the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/5798 [accessed on 16 August 2016]).
O’Sullivan, William. 1997. ‘A Finding List of Sir James Ware’s Manuscripts’. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. Section C: Archaeology, Celtic Studies, History, Linguistics, Literature 97C: 69-99.
Saltonstall, Wye. trans. 1642. The Workes of the Most Excellent and Illustrious Lady, Margaret, Queen of France. London: I. C.
Viennot, Eliane. ed. 1999. Marguerite de Valois. Mémoires et autres écrits, 1574-1614. Paris: Honoré Champion.
Wellman, Kathleen. 2013. Queens and Mistresses of Renaissance France. New Haven: Yale University Press.