I’m in the middle of reading Médici’s Daughter, a novel by Sophie Perinot about a 16th-century French Princess, Marguerite de Valois. Margeurite was the daughter of Catherine de Médici, an Italian princess who married Henri II of France. Marguerite was one of many children: if my count is right, there were four sons and three daughters (who survived childhood). Three of her brothers were successively kings of France while she was a young woman. But Marguerite didn’t necessarily get along with all of her fractious family. Her mother was apparently very scheming, and her brother Henri III ended up having her imprisoned for years. Before that, though, Marguerite was witness to one of the worst episodes in French history: the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. It happened in the middle of the celebrations for–and possibly because of–her marriage to Henry of Navarre, a Protestant lord. The marriage was loveless and would later be annulled, but Henry, as a Prince of the Blood, became king after all of Marguerite’s brothers died childless.
[Two notes on this: one, a Prince of the Blood is not at all like a prince in the English sense of the word. Princes and princesses of the blood were not children and grandchildren of monarchs but were further removed. Here I discuss titles a bit. Second, Henri became king through his own claim, through his father’s side of the family, because France had Salic law, which meant no one could inherit the throne through the female line.]
Henri IV, as he was, became a hero of French history for being moderate and for bringing some stability during the turbulent wars of religion in France. He remarried after the end of his marriage to Marguerite and had many legitimate children. He was the first of the House of Bourbon. Trace the male line down the centuries, and you come to Louis XVI, which itself links us to the Affair of the Diamond Necklace, because it was his wife, Marie-Antoinette, whose reputation was irreparably damaged by the Affair.
But let’s go backwards for just a moment, back to Marguerite de Valois, the daughter of one king and sister of three others. In fact, let’s go back further and talk about her father, Henri II. Henri died due to an infection following a jousting accident. Before dying though, he not only begot a whole crew of legitimate children, he also sired many bastards. (Really, it’s pretty remarkable what he accomplished in so little time on this earth . . . ) One of his mistresses was Nicole de Savigny; their son Henri was dubbed the Comte de Saint-Remy. If that sounds familiar, then congratulations, you’ve been paying attention!
If not, well, here’s Jeanne de Valois de St. Remy . . . the woman who almost single-handedly caused the Affair of the Necklace. (I say “almost” because she conspired with her husband, Nicolas de La Motte.)
That’s right. She was (very) distant cousins with Louis XVI. She even received an annuity from the crown (which she promptly sold for ready cash).She and her husband called themselves comtesse and comte, though they had no actual right to the title. And in spite of being directly descended from a king, the family was penniless yet had delusions of grandeur, which is part of what led Jeanne to defraud a Cardinal, steal a necklace, and blame a queen for the theft.
So Jeanne’s ancestor was half-brother to Marguerite, the main character and protagonist of Médici’s Daughter, which, I might add, I highly recommend. Go read it!