"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players."  --William Shakespeare

Entries in royal wedding (2)


Queen Margot

Henri IV and Margot de Valois, adapted from Wikipedia

I spent the weekend editing the memoir/novel of a friend named Margo, then met her Tuesday night for dinner to discuss the book. It’s called Vagrant, and it will be published soon. It’s the lusty version of Eat, Pray, Love. Do not buy it—I repeat—do not buy it, if you are a puritan. But if you are drawn to Paris, Hawaii, the quest for love and the quest for God, loneliness, beauty, poetry, sex, this is the book for you.

The sun and moon are in Taurus and that made me think of the goddess Aphrodite and lusty women. I’ve heard comments about how decadent the royal wedding of William and Kate was last week, but perhaps these commentators don’t know about the Renaissance Queen Margot, a truly lusty woman. (Again, you puritans can stop reading right now.)

Marguerite de Valois was born May 14, 1553. At the age of 19, she had an affair with Henri de Lorraine, Duc de Guise and wanted to marry him. But her mother, Catherine of Medici, had other plans for Margot.

This was an era of violent wars between Catholics and Protestants, and Catherine thought her daughter’s marriage ought to serve some practical political purpose, such as uniting the two warring religious factions.



On August 18, 1572, Margot was married off to Henri de Navarre, a Protestant Huguenot in Notre Dame Cathedral. Because Henri was not Catholic, he was kept out of the cathedral for most of the ceremony. (And so was his mother, Jeanne, who had just died, probably from putting on a pair of poisoned gloves that Catherine of Medici had given her as a wedding gift.)

Henri and Margot were both passionate people, just not about each other. Soon after their wedding, they took other lovers. But Margot protected Henri from being murdered six days later when Catherine of Medici called on her Catholic supporters to massacre the Huguenots gathered in Paris from all over France for the wedding. This is now known as the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. Mothers-in-law can be difficult.



The two royals continued to protect and support each other, while enjoying busy love lives. But after some years, they grew apart, and Henri wanted to marry Marie de Medici. Queen Margot refused to divorce him, until the king gave her some money and allowed her to keep the title of Queen.

Reconciled to her former husband and his second wife, Marie de Medici, Queen Margaret became a patron of the arts and benefactress of the poor. She often helped plan events at court and nurtured the children of Henry IV and Marie. Rather like Bruce Willis and Demi Moore after their divorce.

Margot was known for her dazzling sense of style and fashion, and was a gifted poet and writer. Her memoir was published after her death in 1615. It was considered absolutely scandalous, and that is no easy thing to do, to scandalize the French.

Since I love outrageous people and lusty women (though you could say that Margot took it too far), some years ago, I wrote this persona poem, in her voice:


L'Hôtel de Sens, in the Marais




The French call me Chère Margot.

The doors of L'Hôtel de Sens


had grown too narrow

by the time they released me from prison.


Doorway, L'Hôtel de Sens

At 52, I’d grown stout

and bald, though it hardly mattered,


the declining power of skin balanced

by shapelier soul.


I had blond wigs fashioned

from the locks of my valets’ hair,


had the doors of the palace widened.

Though 18 years, it wasn’t so bad at Usson.


The jailer in my bed each night;

by day my memoir


about my lovers,

and prayers to Saint Jacob for release.         


I’d never had illusions about                        

fairness between women and men.


I “knew love” at age 11,

courtesy of my brother,


the very one who incited the king

to imprison me for “insatiable desire,”


my husband, Henri IV—that’s right,

the one with 52 mistresses.


Life was full again. I built

a little chateau,


Henri remarried, left me alone

with my 20-year-old Count—


but then the 18-year-old carpenter’s son        

arrived from Usson.


I returned from church one day,

my head full of songs for Saint Jacob,


when the Count shot my carpenter                 

before my very eyes.               


Strangle him with my garters! I cried.

They removed his head. He’s the only dead lover          


whose bit of heart is missing from the girdle

strung with lockets round my waist.



I moved to the chateau, finished

the garden convent I’d promised Jacob,


hired 14 Augustine fathers to sing

his praises round the clock.                                        


I wrote all the lyrics and music myself. Jacob

was the only one who stayed with me to the end. 



Richard and I began spending time in Paris every spring after our honeymoon here in 1997. We usually stayed in the apartment of friends, an apartment we now own. From here, we often walked across the Pont des Tournelles to the Marais. And just as you emerge from the Île St. Louis onto the Right Bank, there was a little chateau that intrigued me. I didn’t know why, but I slowed down and lingered in front of it each time we passed it.

A few years later, I finally stopped to read the plaque in front of it. L'Hôtel de Sens, it said. This was the chateau that Henri had provided for Margot when she was released from prison in Usson. Isn’t that strange? A place has a fascination for you and you later discover its connection to someone you’ve written about.

Even later, I was doing research on family names. My father’s middle name was Farrand. I traced it back to the Auvergne region in southern France, Ferrand, which later became the town of Clermont-Ferrand. In the volcanic mountains close by was the chateau Usson, where Margot spent 18 years writing her memoir. Is it possible that places and historical figures have resonance for us because the thread has come down in our DNA from our own ancestors? I think I read that a Ferrand lived in this castle, but I’m not sure. I’ve been looking for this genealogical information today and cannot find it. It may not be much of a link at all.

But the connection keeps coming up. I’ve just read that my new literary paramour, essayist Michel de Montaigne, was friends with Henri IV and Queen Margot. What an intricate web connects us all to one another, all of us, through all time, through books, imagination, DNA, kindred spirits.

(You can learn more about Queen Margot by reading Alexandre Dumas, pere’s 1845 novel, La Reine Margot, or see the 1994 French film La Reine Margot. And Shakespeare’s comedy, Love’s Labour’s Lost (1594-5) dramatizes an attempt at reconciliation in 1578 between Margaret and Henri. And Margot is played by Constance Talmadge in D. W. Griffiths’ 1916 film, Intolerance.

 But you'll have to wait until 2012 to read Margo Berdeshevsky's Vagrant.) 





A Cat May Look at a King

Chanoir is a graffiti artist based in Barcelona, Spain, who began his career in Paris. Click photo for his website.

Here in Paris, Marley and I watched the royal wedding in London Friday. We approached the event from an anthropological perspective, curious about how the Brits do royalty in 2011.

I asked him whether he preferred to watch it in French or English and he just looked at me as if to say, Do I care?

I stretched out on the couch and surfed the channels, while he stretched out on my chest.

I stopped at the Luxe channel to listen to various commentators wax eloquent on the bride’s dress.

“This one?” I asked him.

He yawned and began to purr.

Kate Middleton’s dress was designed by Sarah Burton of the house of Alexander McQueen. It was white.



“Did you know that Queen Victoria started the white-dress-for-your-wedding tradition?” Marley asked me.

“Really,” I said. “Where did you hear that?”

 Marley closed his eyes.

 The dress had a full creamy skirt, nipped in at the waist with lace sleeves and bodice. Kate wore a tiara that King George VI, the one who stammered, had given his bride, Elizabeth, in 1936; attached to it was a simple veil.

Marley said, “I like the way she covers all her bases: hair up (in front), loose (in back); dress revealing (strapless corset beneath) and covered up (high-necked, long-sleeved lace bodice on top, incorporating hand-cut embroidered flowers, the rose, thistle, daffodil and shamrock and made of English Cluny lace); expression open (warm smile) and closed (modest glance downwards).”

“I hadn’t noticed that,” I said.

“Yes,” he said, “and another thing (the cameras were now inside Westminster Abbey), would you look at those hats!”

“What is it with the Brits and hats?” I said.

“It’s amazing, isn’t it,” Marley went on. “In what other country would you dare leave the house wearing that thing on your head?”

“I know,” I said, “it looks like Athena’s Medusa shield with lethal snakes looped around it.”

“I think that’s Fergie’s daughter,” said Marley.

“How would you know that?” I asked.

“You know how I love a good show,” he said. “I pay attention to these things. Oh! Oh! Look at that hat—two pheasant feathers! I’d love to get my paws on that!”



“And look at the chocolate cake hat!”

“That’s nothing compared to that licorice flying saucer. And the DNA spirals dangling off the dove-colored hat that Victoria Beckham is wearing.”

“Okay. I know you love the visuals, but are you listening to the words?”

“Not really,” he said, smiling.

“This cardinal or bishop or archbishop with a voice to die for just said, 'Be who God intended you to be and you will set the world on fire.'”

“He just made that up?”

“No, he’s quoting St. Catherine of Siena. He’s telling the bride and groom that marriage is meant to help a man and woman (or let’s be fair, a woman and woman, or a man and a man) inspire each other to become what they are meant to be.”

“I wouldn’t know about that,” Marley said.

“No, but I think that’s right. Now the Bishop of London is saying, “Every wedding is a royal wedding. Every bride and groom a king and queen.”


Olivia, sculpture by Jane Kitchell. Click photo for her website.

“Who needs a queen to be king,” said Marley, turning his noble profile to best advantage.

“You’re the prince,” I said (pronouncing it the way the French do, prance). “Richard’s the king in this house.”

Marley turned sulkily away.

“Don’t pout now,” I said. “Listen to this!”

“‘There must be no coercion if the spirit is to flow. Each must give the other space and freedom,’ the bishop said, and quoted Chaucer, "When mastery cometh, the god of love anon beateth his wings and farewell he is gone."

“Why can’t he speak plain English? That just sounds affected.”

“Imagine thatChaucer was telling us in the 14th century that the minute one person dominates another, love flies out the door. Magnificent! One of the greatest writers of all time. A quintessentially exuberant English writer!”

The tenor and baritone voices of the men in the choir, soared in harmony with the sopranos of the boys.



“That just hurts my ears,” Marley said.

“It’s exquisite harmony,” I said. “Do you want me to plug in my earbuds?”

“No, no, then you can’t hear moi purring.


“Our Father, which art in heaven,

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come...”



“This brings me back to chapel at The Bishop’s School for Girls,” I said.

“I don’t remember that,” said Marley.

“You weren’t born yet. I hadn’t met Richard yet. That was in the future.”

Marley squinted his eyes. “Future?”

“It’s too complicated to explain. Anyway, I like your gift for living in the present.”

Marley closed his eyes and stretched a paw up to my chin.

“Wait!” I said. “Wake up!” Now they’re singing a song with words by William Blake, another exuberant English poet.

Bring me my bow of burning gold!

Bring me my arrows of desire!

Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!

Bring me my chariot of fire.

Marley opened his eyes a slit. “The queen’s dress—it’s duckling yellow. And look at that white eggbeater hat! And the mauve one with steak knives fanned out on its brim! You just want to swat them ‘til they clatter to the floor, then bat them around like a soccer ball.”

“Well, maybe not today,” I said. “Just look at that cathedral! The long red carpet that leads up to the altar, the diamond checkerboard floor.”

“I like the young green trees inside,” said Marley. “You could chew on their leaves.”

“Yes, and the gold and blue row of mini-cathedrals along the lower walls, the high silvery arches and the stained glass windows above!”

“And the red and gold of William’s Irish Guards uniform. Even the choir boys have little red beefeater jackets on!”

We were on a roll.

“Marley, you know what this makes me think of?”

“No,” he said, closing his eyes again.

“The Rolling Stones. No one puts on a better show than the Stones. All that prancing and dancing.”



“I don’t see anyone prancing or dancing in Westminster Cathedral,” said Marley.

“No, I mean the pomp and circumstance, the pageantry. Everyone putting on a good show, having fun, enjoying being British.”

“Putting on a good show—that’s the genius of the Brits,” said Marley. “I like to think it’s mine, too.” He dipped his head modestly and I thought of Catherine’s similar gesture.

“And the poetry,” I said. “Don’t forget the poetry. Now the choir is singing a song with the words of Milton! They could all hang out in that cathedral for ten years and never run out of great literary quotes. Great British quotes. And no one’s even mentioned Shakespeare yet.”



Marley jumped off my stomach. “Just looking at that duckling yellow dress makes me hungry,” he said, and sauntered off to the kitchen to rustle up a meal.