20 Queens at the Jardin du Luxembourg

20 Queens at the Jardin du Luxembourg
Among the many delights of the Jardin du Luxembourg is a stroll past the 20 statues of queens which encircle the boating pond in front of the Palais du Luxembourg. The larger-than-life marble statues are mounted on plinths, reminders of many different periods of history: the Dark Ages, the medieval period, the Renaissance. Their faces look out at you from across the centuries and their romantic names exert a pull: Sainte Clotilde, Clémence Isaure, Valentine de Milan. Clémence Isaure. Photo credit: Marian Jones But there is mystery too, because in over a thousand years of monarchy, France never had a queen who ruled in her own right. A mix of law, tradition and raw male determination to hold on to power saw to that. Marie Antoinette and Eleanor of Aquitaine, for example, were queen consorts, that is queens only because they were married to a king. And, to add to the intrigue, neither of them features here. The selection was made personally by King Louis-Philippe in the 1840s: 20 women who came to be known collectively as “Reines de France et Femmes Illustres.” That is “Queens of France and other Remarkable Women.” Who, then, were they? Perhaps we should start with Marie de Medici, (1573-1642) whose home and garden this once was. She was crowned as queen consort in 1610, the wife of Henri IV. But on her husband’s assassination the very next day, she became regent, ruling on behalf of their 8 year-old son, the future Louis XIII. Four years later, she refused to resign, as had been agreed, and was removed in a coup. Perhaps she felt that at only 12, Louis would be manipulated by those around him, although her later actions tell us that she was also reluctant to relinquish her powers. By 1619, she was organizing an uprising against her son, the so-called “War between Mother and Son.” Eventually, after exile, she returned to Paris, settled in the Palais du Luxembourg and spent her last years in Paris redesigning its grounds. Further intrigue and conflict with Cardinal Richelieu led her to depart France again in 1631, never to return. She died in exile in Cologne, Germany in 1642. Marie de Medici. Photo credit: Marian Jones There are other queens here who ruled as regents. Blanche de Castille (1188-1252), wife to Louis VIII, also ruled twice on behalf of their son, Louis IX. On the death of her husband, the new king was a minor, but his fearsome mother made sure he was crowned within a month, out-manoeuvering all who objected. Blanche then traveled south with Louis, where rebellions needed to be quelled, neatly avoiding those who sought to capture them. When Louis became king, Blanche retained a powerful influence at his court and later in his reign, when Louis left France to go on crusade, it was his mother whom he asked to rule in his place. One of the 15th century’s most powerful women was Anne de Beaujeu (1460-1522), who ruled as regent until her brother, Charles VIII came of age. Although in a caretaker role, she was shrewd and capable, respected throughout Europe as “Madame la Grande.”

Lead photo credit : Jardin du Luxembourg. Photo credit: Rdevany/ Wikimedia commons

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Recently retired from teaching Modern Languages (French and German), Marian now has time to develop her interests in travel and European culture and history. She will be in Paris as often as she can, visiting places old and new, finding out their stories and writing it all up as soon as she gets home. Marian also runs the weekly podcast series, City Breaks, offering in-depth coverage of popular city break destinations, with lots of background history and cultural information. She has covered Paris in 22 episodes but looks forward to updating the series every now and then with some Paris Extra episodes.