Catherine de L'Estang

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Entry by Gilbert Schrenck, 2005

The date of birth of Catherine de l'Estang, daughter of Jean de L'Estang, lord of Landes-Guinemer and Lady de la Borde, remains unknown. Her marriage to Jean d'Aubigné probably took place in June 1550.

Catherine was a highly cultured, well-read and refined woman, open, if not adhering to the new ideas of Humanism and the Protestant Reformation. She most certainly benefited from the intellectual climate surrounding the powerful d'Albret family when she entered the service of Antoinette de Pons, wife of the baron of Moissens d'Albret. Antoinette, like her mother Anne de Parthenay, who had known Marot at the court of Ferrara when she served as Renée of France's lady of honor, were in fact important women of letters won over to the Protestant cause; and each one exerted considerable influence over her entourage. Referring in one of his letters to his mother's intellectual activities, Agrippa d'Aubigné remembered her books clearly, which he states "I studied, having preciously preserved a Saint Basil in Greek with notes in her own hand («A mes filles touchant les femmes doctes de nostre siecle», OEuvres d'Agrippa d'Aubigné, H. Weber, J. Bailbé et M. Soulie eds., Paris, Gaillmard, «La Pléiade», 1969, p.854).

Yet on 8 February 1552, less than two years after her marriage, Catherine de L'Estang died while giving birth to the future writer. At the end of his own life d'Aubigné would describe "his mother dying during childbirth, in such a state that the doctors offered the choice of death for either the mother or the child. He was named Agrippa (as in aegre parus) [born in travail]" (Sa vie à ses enfants, G. Schrenck ed., Paris, STFM, 1986, p.50). He then inherited the property of Landes-Guinemer, located at Mer, near Blois.

For the rest of his life, d'Aubigné was obsessively haunted by his unknown mother, an exceptional woman, as this autobiographical anecdote shows: "At this age [of five] Aubigné, in bed waiting for his tutor, heard someone enter the room and approach his bed, clothes brushing against the curtains, which he immediately saw pulled aside, just as an extremely pale woman who had given him a kiss as cold as ice disappeared. Morel [his tutor] arrived to find that he had lost the ability to speak; and what made this vision credible was the continuous fever that overtook him for fourteen days" (Sa vie à ses enfants, p.51). On a literary plane, Catherine de L'Estang is one of the most hauntingly powerful figures in Albigné's imaginative production. She left her mark, notably, on Le Printemps and Les Tragiques, in which the representation of woman is characterized by strong contradictions and powerful impulses (love/guilt, repulsion/seduction, purity/filth...). For the time being, no research has yielded further information about this woman, who is known only to readers and specialists of Agrippa d'Aubigné.

(translated by Michelle Sommers)

Selected bibliography

- Schrenck, Gilbert, «Les origines d'Agrippa d'Aubigné», Bulletin de la Société de l'Histoire du Protestantisme Français, 1983, p.489-518.

Catherine de L'Estang
Title(s) Dame des Landes
Spouses Jean d'Aubigné
Birth date After 1500
Death 1552
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