« PreviousContinue »
MARGARET OF VALOIS.
- It was
ALREADY, in our sketches from the lives of Catharine Luther, Catharine Melancthon, Catharine Zell, and Anna Zwingle, we have sought to exhibit before the minds of our readers, at least a faint portraiture of those noble and faithful women who, by the grace of God, adorned the period of the glorious Reformation in Germany and Switzerland; but our gallery would be incomplete without some sketches from the Reformation in France.
We have seen, in our notices of the life of Zwingle, that the Reformation in Switzerland was altogether independent of that of Germany, and so also the Reformation in France was equally independent of both. not” (as has been remarked by the great historian of the Reformation) " in France a foreign importation ; it was born on French soil. The work commėnced about the same time in different countries without any communication one with the other; as in a battle all the divisions begin to move at the same moment, although one has not told the other to march, because one and the same command issuing from a higher power has been heard by all. Such facts demonstrate that the great revolution of the sixteenth century was a work of God."
Margaret of Valois, born in the year 1492, was the daughter of Charles of Orleans, Duke of Angoulême, and of Louisa of Savoy. She was brought up at the court of Louis XII. Her brother, young Francis of Angoulême, cousin and son-in-law to Louis, afterwards ascended the French throne, in the year 1515. Francis I., by his beauty, his address, his valour, and his ardent love of pleasure, was justly regarded as the first knight of his age. He had VOL. IV.- NEW SERIES.
also nobler aims; he aspired at the same time to be a great and a good king, only he would have all things bend to his sovereign pleasure, valour, literary taste, and love of gallantry. These three qualifications express the character of Francis and the leading spirit of his age; the same features were in after years prominently exhibited in Henry IV. and Louis XIV. But these royal persons were wanting in that which only the Gospel of Christ can give ; and, though at all times there have existed in the French nation elements of Christian holiness and true elevation, yet it may be affirmed that these three illustrious kings have stamped on modern France the impress of their characters, or, rather, that they were themselves faithful images of the character of their nation. Had the Gospel entered France with the most illustrious of the Valois family, it would have imparted to the nation what it does not possess--a spiritual tendency, a Christian holiness, a knowledge of divine things, and would thus have perfected it in what constitutes the real strength and greatness of a people.*
The friends of infidelity long cherished hopes that Margaret of Valois, the sister whom Francis peculiarly loved, and whom he was wont to speak of as his darling, might be reckoned among the number of their adherents. Brother and sister were distinguished by similar tastes and similar acquirements. In person Margaret was not less beautiful than her brother, and, along with the strength and energy that belongs to all great characters, she had all the softer graces which win men's hearts. In the court of the king and the emperor, and in the world at large, she shone without a rival and captivated all who saw her. Endowed with rare mental capacity and devoted to the acquirement of knowledge, she employed her hours of solitude in earnest study and thought; but, says her biographer, Brantome, she was not less earnest in seeking to do good and to prevent evil; this, indeed, seemed her ruling passion. After any men of learning had been presented to the king they would then go and pay their respects to Margaret ; they were (as the old chronicler quaintly remarks) mightily enchanted with her, and would report of her to their own countrymen. Sometimes the king would submit the most important matters to her, leaving them wholly to her decision.
Margaret was not less remarkable for the purity of her morals; and, surely it must be regarded as little less than a miracle of divine grace, that in the court of Louisa of Savoy, herself a woman of dissolute character, should have been found a being gifted with so tender a conscience and so pure a heart as Margaret of Valois.
This young creature, so beautiful, so full of genius, and so much admired, and dwelling amid the corruptions and fascinations of a court, was yet one of the first to be brought under the influence of the great religious movement then at work in France. She felt within her soul wants which nothing in the gay scenes in which she had been brought up were able to satisfy. To satisfy
* For various particulars contained in this memoir, which are not mentioned by D'Aubigné, the reader is roforred to a large memoir, in two volumes, by Martha Walker Freer.
these wants the Gospel of Christ was sent to her, and, as long before the Apostle Paul had visited Rome, Christianity numbered among its followers some from the dissolute court of Nero and the household of Narcissus, so, at the period of its renovation, it made its way into the court of Francis ; noble ladies and lords held discourse together concerning the faith of Christ, and Margaret, trembling and insecure in the dangerous atmosphere that surrounded her, sought and found a firm support in her unseen Lord and King. She turned eagerly towards the fresh breath that was now revivifying the world, and drank in the heavenly blessing with strange delight. Some of her ladies made her acquainted with the teaching of “the new doctors ;" they lent her their published writings; they spoke to her of the primitive Church, of the pure word of God, of worship in spirit and in truth, and of the glorious liberty of Christ which rejects the yoke of superstition and of human tradition, and brings the soul into immediate contact with the living God.
After some time, Margaret was introduced to and held converse with the great 'originators of the Reformation in France, Lefevre, Farel, and Roussel. Their zeal, their piety, the purity of their morals, deeply impressed the heart of Margaret; but, among all the devont men of that period, none more entirely enjoyed her confidence than Briconnet, bishop of Meaux, to whom, through a long period of years, she had recourse as her spiritual guide in the path of faith. Thus it was that in the midst of the brilliant court of Francis I. and the profligate household of Louisa of Savoy, there was accomplished one of those conversions of the heart tɔ God, from the love of things earthly to things spiritual and unseen, which in every age is the peculiar work of God's word and Spirit.
In her after writings, Margaret recorded the deep experiences of her soul at this momentous period of her life, and by these we are enabled to trace the path by which she was led. A sense of sin appears to have taken deep hold of her conscience, and she bewailed her former indifference to the wickedness of the world around her ; the evil which once she overlooked she now found everywhere and most of all within her own heart.
" I feel,” she says,
carry within me the root of the evil which is all around me, in branch and leaf, and flower and fruit.' And, shrinking from the condition of her own soul, she was led to look towards the redeeming God. “My God," she cried, " Thou hast come down to earth for me who am but a naked worm.” Soon the sweet sense of God's love to her in Christ Jesus was shed abroad in her heart, and she exclaimed, “My Father-oh! what a Father !-immortal, invisible
, unchangeable, wilt Thou, out of pure grace, pardon my every sin ? Thus I lay myself
, Jesus Immanuel, as a criminal, at Thy feet; Thou art Thyself at once the altar and the sacrifice. Word of God, Redeemer, Jesus Christ, only Son of the Eternal Creator, Thou hast at last Thyself alone restored all things. Thou art Bishop, King, victorious Hero; through Thine own death Thou hast satisfied death. By faith in Thee, man becomes the child of God. By faith in Thee, man attains a perfect righteousness. By faith in Thee, man becomes strong in Thy might. By faith I myself have wholly found Christ; I was ignorant, poor, and weak ; Thou hast given me wisdom, riches, strength." Yet still she felt the evil in her nature struggling against the good, and creating within her a discord which she expressed in these words :-“ Spiritually noble, yet by nature a slave ; born from above, and yet tending earthwards; no longer my own but God's, and yet sometimes as a vessel for vile uses ; partaker of the living bread of heaven, and yet eating the very dust; I would flee from sin, and yet I love it, I love the good and yet forsake it.”
Seeking in nature for symbols by which to express the desires and longings of her soul Margaret chose as her emblem the sun-flower, which has so much affinity with the sun that wherever it is placed it turns towards its light. She added this motto
“Non inferiora secutus."
“I seek not things below.” “ Thus signifying,” says Brantome, “that she directed all her actions, thoughts, and affections towards the great sun, even God Himself.”
It was not long before Margaret began to be suspected of leaning towards Lutheranism, and very soon she experienced the truth of that word, “Yea, all who will live godly in Jesus Christ must suffer persecution.” Her new views began to be talked of in the court. Is it possible, men said, can the sister of the king really take part with such people? The matter was brought before Francis himself, and for a time it seemed as if ruin must fall on Margaret ; but the king loved his sister tenderly, and gave no heed to the accusation which he affected to think a calumny. The loveliness of Margaret's own character also gradually disarmed hostility towards her. “Every one,” says Brantome, “ loved her. She was very kind, gentle, gracious, accessible, and beneficent, and gained all hearts by her endearing qualities.”
Gradually Margaret was left to stand alone in the dissolute court at Paris ; all her friends—Briconnet, Lefevre, and the rest having been successively driven by the persecution of the Sorbonne to take refuge elsewhere. Her only companion who lived in intimate friendship with her at this time was Philiberta of Savoy, a young half-sister of her mother. Philiberta had been given in marriage by Francis to Julian the Magnificent, brother to Leo X., December, 1515, in confirmation of the Concordat. After her marriage she made a journey to Rome, where the Pope, delighted with so illustrious an alliance, expended the sum of 150,000 ducats in sumptuous festivities on the occasion. Julian, who then commanded the Papal army, died in the year 1516, leaving his widow, only eighteen years of age. In her widowhood Philiberta drew closely towards Margaret, and sorrow opened her heart to the consolations of religion, and very soon the widow of the late Papal commanderin-chief experienced the preciousness of the Gospel of Christ. Margaret taught her all she herself knew, but both were young and inexperienced ; and Margaret often trembled at the thought of her great weakness, and the snares that surrounded her. Her love to the king, and dread of causing him displeasure sometimes led her to act contrary to the dictates of her enlightened conscience. Then in anguish of soul she would humble herself before the Lord, and in Him she ever found a Brother far more tender and compassionate
your cohe welfare of hours sets out. If, th
than the king. To this Friend, who is not ashamed to call Himself the brother of every true penitent, she addressed the following lines :
“Sweet Brother, who when thou mightest iustly chide
Thy foolish sister, tak’st her to thy side,
That I such grace should yet receive from Thee ?” Feeling sad and solitary amid the festivities and frivolities of the gay court, Margaret turned in thought towards her true friends, who had found refuge in Meaux, which was the first town in France where a reformed Christianity established its authority. She was at this time more alone than ever. Her husband, the Duke of Alencon, was setting out to join the army; her young aunt Philiberta was going to Savoy, and it was in these circumstances that she commenced that most touching and remarkable correspondence with Briconnet, which has been preserved in the royal library at Paris. “My Lord Bishop of Meaux,” she writes on this occasion, “knowing that one thing is needful' I turn to you, entreating you to intercede by prayer for the Duke of Alencon, who, by command of the king, is now setting out as general-in-chief of the army, praying that he may be guarded and guided by the holy will of God, and knowing that besides your concern for the universal weal of the empire, you have a tender care also for the welfare of his soul and mine, I ask you for spiritual help. To-morrow my aunt of Nemours sets out for Savoy. I have many things to care for that cause me much anxiety. If, therefore, Master Michael could undertake a journey here, it would be a consolation to me, which I desire only for the glory of God." Michael of Aranda, whose aid Margaret thus asked for, was a member of the Evangelical Society at Meaux, who was afterwards exposed to great persecution for the preaching of the Gospel. Margaret now saw with grief and alarm that the opposition to the truth was becoming stronger every day. The agents both of the Government and of the Sorbonne filled her with terror, and this was the cause of her present distress and appeal to the bishop.
Briconnet replied :—"The gentle Jesus has declared in the Gospel that he came to bring a sword on the earth, and also a fire-a fire to transform the earthly into the divine. With all my heart I long to help you, but from my nothingness expect nothing except the will. Whoever hath faith, hope, and love has all he needs, and wants no other help or support. God alone is all in all, and out of Him can nothing be found. In order to fight you must have on your side that mighty hero-invincible love. The war must be carried on by love. Jesus demands the presence of the heart; woe to him who withdraws himself from Jesus. Whoso fighteth in his own person is sure of the victory. He often faileth who fighteth by others.” The Bishop of Meaux was beginning to know in his own experience what it is to fight for the word of God. The monks and learned men, irritated by his protection of the friends of the Reformation, accused him and strongly that his brother, the Bishop of St. Malo, came to Paris to make inquiry into the matter. On this