Anne de Marquets

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Entry by Gary Ferguson, 2003

Anne de Marquets died on 11 May 1588, the eve of the Day of the Barricades, having spent her whole life at the Dominican Priory of Saint Louis in Poissy. In all likelihood, she was born around 1533 in Marques near Eu in Normandy, into a family of the provincial nobility, and was sent to the priory from her early youth. Founded in 1304 by Philippe IV le Bel to receive primarily noblewomen, the priory was known for the grandeur of its church and conventual buildings, the beauty of its gardens and setting, and its rich sources of revenue. It is probably here that Christine de Pizan had retired in her later years. In any case, she gives a laudatory description of the priory in her Dit de Poissy (c. 1400), emphasising the material well-being of the sisters, the refinement of their life, and the independence of this exclusively female community. Women's lives at Poissy were certainly subject to constraint; yet it was also a privileged place, favourable to their intellectual and cultural aspirations. At the priory school, Marquets received a solid cultural foundation, studying Latin and probably some Greek. In time, she would teach here herself, forming a younger generation of women, several of whom would write poetry, and among whom figures Marie de Fortia, the future editor of the Sonets spirituels.

In 1561, the Colloquy of Poissy brought together representatives of the Catholic and Protestant faiths in a failed attempt at reconciliation. For Marquets, the Colloquy provided the impetus for her first collection of poetry, Sonets, prieres et devises en forme de pasquins, which was dedicated to the Cardinal of Lorraine and accompanied by liminary verse in her honour by Dorat and Ronsard. Despite being the work of a woman, its publication was authorised, apparently even organised, by members of the Catholic hierarchy. The presence at the Colloquy of Marguerite de Valois and Claude d'Espence would prove equally decisive for Marquets's literary career: the king's sister and the theologian encouraged the writing and publishing of her second collection of poetry, Les Divines Poesies de Marc Antoine Flaminius (1568). The first part of the work offers a translation of Flaminius's De rebus divinis carmina; the second and longer part comprises a series of poems of Marquets's own composition.

Between 1568 and 1588, Anne de Marquets worked on the Sonets spirituels, her most important and original work, which was nevertheless published only seventeen years after her death. The four hundred and eighty poems of the collection, whose structure recalls that of the breviary or the missal, celebrate in turn the feasts and seasons of the Christian year. Successfully exploiting the aesthetic possibilities of both the lyric cycle and the liturgical cycle, the Sonets spirituels form a veritable "canzoniere divino" of remarkable range and conceptual unity. At once meditative and didactic, they draw their inspiration from the texts of the liturgy, the Bible, and traditional works of piety, most notably the Golden Legend. At the same time, they also reveal an interest in the poetry of the Pléiade and in classical mythology. Nor do they shy away from the major controversies of the day, such as the Reformation and the Quarrel about Women. While, for the most part, the theological and "feminist" ideas expressed in the sonnets are moderate and irenic in tenor, nevertheless, there is also sharp criticism both of those who reject Catholic doctrine and of misogynists. In addition, the Sonets spirituels present many characteristics which contribute to the "feminisation" of devotion, and which lend themselves to analysis in terms of gender: the use of imagery relating to motherhood, to the nursing and care of infants, and to the domestic realm; the valorisation of female exemplars (women saints and biblical figures); the textual elaboration of a feminine community; the emphasis on qualities traditionally attributed to women (humility, patience, obedience, tenderness, compassion, pity, and so on).

It would be unjust not to recognise the diversity, originality, and religious and social engagement of the works of Anne de Marquets. Received favourably by the poet's contemporaries, they are once again attracting the interest of critics.


- 1562 : Sonets, prieres et devises en forme de pasquins, pour l'assemblée de Messieurs les Prelats et Docteurs, tenue à Poissy, M.D.LXI, Paris, G. Morel -- Éd. André Gendre, in «Naissance des échanges polémiques à la veille des guerres civiles: Anne de Marquets et son adversaire protestant», Bibl. d'Humanisme et Renaissance, 62, 2000, p.317-357.
- 1563 : «Aenigme», in Claude d'Espence, Urbanarum meditationum in hoc sacro et civili bello elegiae duae. Eucharistia. Parasceve. Aenigma, Paris, F. Morel; la traduction du poème «Parasceve» lui a aussi été attribuée.
- 1566 : paraphrases en français des collectes et traduction du poème «Violae martiae descriptio», in Claude d'Espence, Collectarum ecclesiasticarum liber unus, Paris, veufve G. Morel.
- 1568 : Les Divines Poesies de Marc Antoine Flaminius etc., Paris, N. Chesneau.
- 1568-1588 : Sonets spirituels [...] sur les dimanches et principales solennitez de l'année, Paris, C. Morel, 1605 -- Éd. Gary Ferguson, Genève, Droz, 1997.

Selected bibliography

- Berriot-Salvadore, Evelyne. «'Une nonain latinisante': Anne de Marquets», in Pascale Blum et Anne Mantero (dir.), Poésie et Bible de la Renaissance à l'âge classique, 1550-1680. Paris, H. Champion, 1999, p.183-197.
- Ferguson, Gary. «Le Chapelet et la plume, ou, quand la religieuse se fait écrivain: le cas du prieuré de Poissy (1562-1621)». Nouv. Revue du Seizième Siècle, 19, 2001, p.83-99.
- Ferguson, Gary. «The Feminisation of Devotion: Gabrielle de Coignard, Anne de Marquets, and François de Sales», in Philip Ford et Gillian Jondorf (dir.),Women's Writing in the French Renaissance: Proceedings of the Fifth Cambridge French Renaissance Colloquium, 7-9 July 1997. Cambridge, Cambridge French Colloquia, 1999, p.187-206.
- Fournier, Hannah S. «La Voix textuelle des Sonets spirituels d'Anne de Marquets». Études littéraires, 20, 1987, p.77-92.
- Seiler, Mary Hilarine. Anne de Marquets, poétesse religieuse du XVIe siècle. Washington, D.C., Catholic Univ. of America Press, 1931, réimp. New York, AMS Press, 1969.


- «Anne de Marquets, damoiselle tres-docte en grec, latin et françois, natifve du conté d'Eu au Vexin françois, religieuse à Poissy [...]. Elle compose encores chacun jour, tant en vers latins, qu'en françois [...]. Elle florist à Poissy l'an 1584» (François Grudé de La Croix du Maine, Premier Volume de la Bibliothèque, Paris, A. L'Angelier, 1584, p.10).
- «La vivacité, la grâce de son entretien, n'étaient pas douteuses; son savoir l'eût été davantage, si l'on admettait sur elle l'opinion d'un très-habile connaisseur, mais aussi d'un très-malin critique, de Henri Estienne. Celui-ci prétendait qu'elle n'avait qu'une teinture médiocre du latin et plus encore du grec, s'étant vu obligé, disait-il, de prendre une peine extrême pour lui faire entendre son bréviaire. Mais est-il besoin de rappeler que l'auteur de l'Apologie d'Hérodote n'était pas toujours et pour tous également digne de foi?» (Léon Feugère, Les Femmes poètes au XVIe siècle, Paris, Didier, 1860, réimp. Genève, Slatkine, 1969, p.64).
- Les Sonets spirituels sont «far more advanced, in terms of the application of systematic devotional practice to poetry, than anything written in the 1570s and 1580s» (Terence Cave, Devotional Poetry in France c. 1570-1613, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1969, p.86).

Anne de Marquets
Birth date Around 1533
Death 1588
Biographical entries in old dictionaries
Dictionnaire Pierre-Joseph Boudier de Villemert
Dictionnaire Fortunée Briquet
Dictionnaire Hilarion de Coste
Dictionnaire Philibert Riballier et Catherine Cosson
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