On 17th December 1599 Henri IV of France finally obtained the divorce he sought from Marguerite de Valois, known to history as “Reine Margot”, after more than 27 years of a largely loveless marriage.
The marriage may not have been the happiest, but that does not mean that either party had deprived themselves when it came to night-time activities. Both had been notoriously unfaithful to each other, with Margot being especially busy in working her way through the aristocracy of France.
In 1586 Henri decided that he had had enough of listening to gossip about his wife’s illicit affairs and he placed her under house arrest at a castle in central France, well away from the political centre of Paris. This did not stop her from indulging in fun and games of her own, or from engaging in various eccentricities such as riding a camel through the streets of the nearby town.
Henri wanted a divorce so that he could marry his mistress, Gabrielle d’Estrées, who had already borne him several children, which Margot had failed to do. If he could marry Gabrielle the children would be legitimised and the succession to the throne would be secured.
However, Margot would not agree to a divorce, and neither would Pope Clement VIII. Margot’s motive appears to have been mainly spite, because she changed her mind in 1599 when Gabrielle suddenly died after giving birth to a stillborn son. The pope also relented, and the divorce proceedings continued to their conclusion on 17th December.
Henri was forced to seek another marriage partner, this being the far less exciting Marie de Medici, who at least brought with her an enormous dowry that made him feel a little better about things in general. She also proved to be fruitful as far as babies were concerned, producing six children to ensure the succession to the throne.
Margot was well treated under the divorce settlement and was allowed to return to Paris in 1605, where she became good friends with the new queen. She lived in luxury for another ten years until her death in 1615 at the age of 61.
© John Welford