Canadian History With New Eyes- Women in the Wars of Religion

Seven French Noblewomen Used by God in Canada’s Foundation

The story of Canada started in the mind of God, long before the French landed on our shores… that is, if you believe that God is the one who sets up and takes down nations (Daniel 2:21).

This is my premise in a nutshell: During the reign of Henry IV (who was raised as a Huguenot) Huguenot noblemen were given the FIRST fur-trading monopoly to New France. They were also the FIRST to build permanent settlements in both Acadia and New France and the FIRST to plant wheat in North America. Since then, others have built upon their foundations. 

When I was a young girl in high school, I had to write an essay defending the idea that ‘The hand that rocked the cradle ruled the world’

Now, as I study the earliest Christian influences in France that led to the establishment of Canada, and listen to the stories of the Old Testament I have come to realize that the truer statement should be, ‘The hands that rock the cradle INFLUENCE nations’

For the purpose of monitoring the changes in France during the early Reformation (From Francis I), until the near elimination of the Huguenots from France and New France (to Louis XIV), I will trace the influential roles that women played in education, training, wars, and ruling France, all in God’s providence.   

Many noblewomen played key roles in the outcome of the Reformation in France and all of Europe, by either contributing to the conflict between both sides, or ruling as Queen Regents because their sons (the heirs) were too young to inherit the throne. In the case of Francis 1, when he was away from France waging wars his mother (Louise of Savoy), reigned on his behalf. 

On the other hand, some of these women supported the work of the Reformation by giving refuge to the persecuted Protestants. Some of these women were also integral to mediating treaties and edicts, or even used as pawns in arranged marriages.

There are so many ‘back stories’ of God’s Providential rule and reign in the lives of some of these women.

In the case of Jeanne D’Albret of Navarre, she demonstrated the adage of ‘the little mouse that roared’ when she declared that HER country was a Calvinist, Christian country.   

#1. Anne de Beaujeu / & #2 Louise of Savoy (Francis I’s mother)

Bemberg fondation Toulouse – Portrait de Louise de Savoie, mère de François Ier – École De Jean Clouet 

Louise of Savoy  was educated and trained by another woman  (Anne de Beaujeu, also called Anne of France) who was ruling France as Regent on behalf of the young King Charles VIII. 

Because of Anne de Beaujeu, Louise benefited from a classical education which she passed on to her two children, Francis I and Marguerite D’Angouleme (who became Marguerite of Navarre).

Philosophy, Theology and Humanism (which in those days was religious in nature), were among the many disciplines they were taught.

That gave Marguerite the foundations she needed to consider deep theological questions, and to author  several books on theological subjects. 

Francis I, because of his penchant for learning, amassed the largest collection of books and original source documents in those days. He even hired a Protestant philosopher as his librarian (Jacques Lefèvre d’Etaples). Jacques also educated his niece, Jean D’Albret (Marguerite’s daughter).

In time, Francis I would persecute the Huguenots and Marguerite would give them refuge in Navarre. 

#3. Queen Marguerite of Navarre

Louise of Savoy, the mother of Francis I, was Regent while her son went to war for many years. She and the Catholic noblemen, used Francis’ absence to persecute the French Protestant noblemen of whom Francis was still tolerant.

Marguerite of Navarre offered refuge to those persecuted. This character sketch of Francis I and Marguerite reminds me of the story in the Old Testament about Jacob and Esau. Same parents, different plans for them by God. The choice was an act of God’s Sovereign will as reported in Romans 9:13-15.

During a time of severe persecution of the Protestants under Francis, Marguerite protected John Calvin helping him to escape France to Geneva. By her example, Marguerite trained her daughter, Jeanne D’Albret, to protect the Huguenots (French Protestants) in her country of Navarre. 

#4. Renee of France

Francis  had two step-sisters – Claude of Brittany and Renee of France.

They were the daughters of his guardian, King Louis XII (and Louis’ wife, Anne of Brittany).  Since Louis had no male heir, Francis became the heir apparent and he was made to marry Claude when he was about six years old. 

While in Francis’ court, Renee became a close friend of Marguerite of Navarre, and moved in the same theological, philosophical, humanist circles as Marguerite did before she got married.

Renee was married to Ercole II d’Este, of Italy. She gave refuge to John Calvin at her palace in Italy for 3 weeks before his secret escape to Geneva. He stayed with her under the assumed name of  Charles d’Espeville.

She was made to pay dearly for harbouring ‘the fugitive’ John CalvinRenee was tried by the Inquisition and was found guilty of being a heretic. She was sentenced to life imprisonment and her daughters sent to a convent.

Her daughter, Anne married Francois de Guise who initiated the French Wars of Religion. His supporters blamed Admiral de Coligny  for his death. de Coligny was the first Huguenot to be killed in the ‘killing spree’ that was The St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre

All the important Huguenots had come to Paris to witness the marriage of Henry of Navarre to Marguerite of Valois (Catherine’s daughter).  They hung around Paris for The Feast of St. Bartholomew. That gave the Catholic nobles the opportunity they needed for revenge.

The killing spree went on for many months, beginning in August.  It began in Paris and soon spread to all of France.   

#5. Jeanne D’Albret

In December 2019, I wrote a blog-The Tale of Two Virgins which compared the many ways Jeanne, even as a preteen virgin, displayed God’s Sovereignty in her life as He did in choosing the virgin Mary to be the the Mother of Jesus.

God raised up Jeanne D’Albret to give protection to French Reformers of note. She helped them to escape France by giving them refuge in Navarre. 

On another occasion, Queen Jeanne joined persecuted Huguenots in the walled city of La Rochelle. She took the name ‘Minister of Propaganda’ and was the spiritual and military leader of the Huguenots.  It is said that she sold some of her crown jewels to help in the war effort.

In an effort to bring peace, Catherine de Medici (as Regent) proposed, and Jeanne agreed, to the marriage of her son – Henry III of Navarre to Catherine’s daughter Marguerite of Valois. 

#6. Catherine De Medici,

Queen Catherine De Medici, ruled for 15 years cumulatively as Regent, because her sons were too young to rule.  In the early years of her rule, she was sympathetic to the Protestant cause and made concessions to them.

Not having experience in managing the affairs of state, and surrounded by influential and vengeful Catholic noblemen, she plunged her country into The French Wars of Religion which culminated in The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. 

Her last son who inherited the throne (Henry III) finally brought the war to a head, paving the way for the Huguenot Henry of Navarre to inherit the throne.  

#7. Marie de Medici

Jeanne D’Albret’s son (Henry III of Navarre) was raised as a Huguenot and at Jeanne’s death he was the de facto leader of the Huguenot army.  The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre happened shortly after his wedding while most of the Huguenot leaders were all gathered in the same place… inside the walls of Paris. God preserved Henry’s life because in His divine plan, Henry would become the King of France many years later. 

Under Henry’s short 12-year rule, Huguenot noblemen were given freedoms by the Edict of Nantes. This allowed them to pursue dreams of conquest and exploration bringing them to our shores.

These Huguenot noblemen (de Tonnetuit, Du Gua de Monts, Grave Du Pont and Champlain) were the first to build permanent settlements in Tadoussac, Acadia, Port Royal and Quebec City. Du Gua was also the FIRST to plant wheat in North America. 

Unfortunately, Henry’s second marriage to an Italian banker’s daughter, who was a staunch Catholic – Marie de Medici,  brought even more trouble for the Huguenots after his death. She was another inept Regent who sold out her country’s fortunes before she was stopped. By the time her son – Louis XIII was old enough to rule, the damage was irrevocable.

Because of Marie de Medici, all the French Protestant nobility were kicked out of the royal court immediately after Henry’s death. This affected Champlain in his work in Quebec.

Marie de Medici’s advisor was Cardinal Richelieu who became Louis XIII’s first advisor followed by Cardinal Mazarin. 

These hands – Anne de Beaujeu’s, Louise of Savoy’s, Marguerite of Navarre’s, Jeanne D’Albret’s and Renee of Ferrara’s, and even Marie de Medici, rocked the cradle of great men, and by God’s Sovereign decree influenced the course of world events in France and New France. 

THIS is the rock-bottom foundation of Canada – visionary leadership, hard work, diligence, dedication, and dogged determination. That’s the stuff that nation-builders were made of. 

Do YOU agree that ‘the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world?’ Send me your thoughts at:

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