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Court poets during the Renaissnce and the thorny issue of religion

Portrait of Clement Marot by Corneille de Lyon

The grands rhetoriqueurs of Anne of Brittany’s era continued to evolve during the French Renaissance, eventually morphing into official court poets. As France opened their minds to the classical world the landscape of French verse continued to evolve throughout the Sixteenth Century.

One of the last surviving grands rhetoriqueurs, Jean Bouchet lived through the reign of Charles VIII, first husband of Anne of Brittany, and in his later years dedicated poems to Marguerite de Navarre and Queen Eleanor, second wife of Francis I. These new poets were pieces of royal propaganda, celebrating royal marriages, births, and victories.

A son of a grands rhetoriqueurs, Clement Marot was one of the new breed of poets. Marot rose from Marguerite de Navarre’s secretary to compose a verse at the marriage of Princess Renee to the Duc de Ferria in 1528. As he gained notoriety, he turned towards his natural talent as a wordsmith. He is credited with a translation of the Psalms into French, which became popular at court. Flush with that success, he joined the push for classical elements to be included into French poetry. He appears in court records after writing a poem to celebrate Renee of France’s marriage to the Duc of Ferrara in 1528. He followed those achievements with a poem commemorating the return of Francis’ ransomed sons to France in 1529 and Queen Eleanor’s arrival at court in 1530.

He incurred the wrath of the conservatives at the Sorbonne, facing an accusation that he broke a Lenten fast in the 1530s. He continued to express evangelical beliefs that the Catholics at court found offensive and divisive.In 1534, after the Affair of the Placards, the authorities used his evangelical beliefs as an excuse to have him dismissed from court. Fearing for his life, he escaped to Marguerite de Navarre for protection, and later to Ferrara for Renee’s protection in Italy.

Marot tried to win Francis’ affections back in 1538 by composing flattering verses to commemorate Francis and Charles V’s meetings in France. Marguerite even came to his defense, and attempted to soothe the way for Marot to return to court. His efforts failed, and in 1542 he fled France for good for asylum in Geneva.

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