On this day four-hundred-and-one years ago, Marguerite de Valois, heroine of Médicis Daughter, died. The last of the Valois was initially buried at the Basilica of St Denis, traditional resting place of French Royals and the place where both her parents and her brothers lay. Unfortunately, the French Revolution showed no respect for the dead. So the bodies of the Bourbon and Valois monarchs were removed from the Basilica to “celebrate” the October 1793 execution of Marie Antoinette, and given ignominious trench burials. The monument that marked Marguerite’s grave was destroyed. Today the location of Marguerite’s tomb is not on maps of burial places at St. Denis, although her brother Henri III and her parents Catherine de Médicis and Henri II are still listed.
Today is Maundy Thursday. The final Thursday before Easter, Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper—the event which established the Holy Eucharist. Historically Maundy Thursday is associated with powerful figures washing the feet of the marginalized (a King might wash the feet of a pauper—see the stained-glass depiction below—and this year Pope Francis will wash the feet of a dozen refugees) as Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. Evidence of the rite of Pedilavium (the Church’s term for this ceremonial foot washing) goes back to very ancient times and is considered a joyous rather than a solemn ceremony. The word “Maundy” comes from Latin for “command” and refers to Christ’s commandment to his disciples to “love one another as I have loved you.”
I cannot say when or why exactly I became slightly fixated on this particular religious observance, but Maundy Thursday makes multiple appearances in my work. It was included in the original draft of The Sister Queens (Louis, seen at the right, was a hugely penitent man who not only frequently washed the feet of the less fortunate but liked to eat the leftovers of meals consumed by his favorite leper). King Charles IX and Queen Catherine de Médicis observe the Lenten foot-washing tradition in Chapter 2 of Médicis Daughter. An occasion that finds a teenage Margot in no very good mood:
“Why do you pout?” My brother sidles up to me where I stand, watching Charles and Mother receive basins and ewers from the Cardinal de Bourbon. Nearby, a collection of Troyes’s paupers—mostly women and children—sit on a long bench, prepared to be the objects of royal Lenten piety.
“I did not realize I would be left out of some of the grandest ceremonies of the journey.”
Yesterday the King made a magnificent Entry into Troyes—riding beneath a canopy supported by dignitaries past elaborate set pieces and stopping to hear recitations of poetry written for the occasion. The residents of the city, from the wealthiest to the urchins roaming its streets, were permitted to witness it all. I was not. It seems the women of the court, even the Valois women, are not included in the proceedings that constitute a Royal Entry.
As for What’s Next . . . I can tell you this, Chapter 4 of my latest novel begins with a mumbled, “Last Supper” and Maundy Thursday marks some very dramatic events.
Today is a bloody anniversary.
Four-hundred and fifty-four years ago, on March 1, 1562 a massacre that began the first of France’s eight Wars of Religion occurred: the Massacre of Vassy. Just six weeks earlier the Crown—young King Charles IX was on the throne and his mother Catherine de Médicis was regent—had signed the “Edict of January,” granting Protestants within French borders certain rights of conscience. The powerful Guise family—uber Catholic and thinking they knew better—wanted that edict rescinded. The Duc de Guise (Francis, father of the Duc in my latest novel, Médicis Daughter) saw a chance to make that happen when, while traveling to his estates, he stopped in Vassy to hear Mass and happened upon a group of French Huguenot civilians worshiping in barn near the Catholic Church. Francis and his men attacked. Seventy-four members of the Protestant congregation were slain, and more than one-hundred injured. Both numbers included women and children.
Not surprisingly, the massacre resulted in a newly militant attitude among French Protestants. In the wake of Vassy the national synod of the reformed church appealed to the Prince de Condé to become “Protector of the Churches,” and he and those in his sway accepted the task. This marked a switch in church leadership away from various pastors and towards “noble protectors.” It also set the stage for decades of military clashes in the name of religion.
Hoping to cool matters down and in response to French Protestant calls for “justice” Catherine de Médicis appointed the Cardinal de Bourbon governor of Paris. The Cardinal in turn immediately ordered both the Duc de Guise and the Protestant Prince de Condé to leave the city, but Guise refused (Condé left as ordered). Catherine knew right then if she hadn’t known before that the Guises were going to be a serious thorn in her side.