Charlotte Arbaleste

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Entry by Nadine Kuperty-Tsur, 2003

Charlotte was born on Feb. 1, 1548, to Guy Arbaleste and Madeleine Chevalier. She had three brothers and a sister. Guy Arbaleste, second of that name, Viscount of Melun (1552), Lord of la Borde, became president of the Paris Chamber of Accounts in 1555. He joined the Reform in 1569 and died on Aug. 15, 1570. Charlotte's mother, née Mlle de la Borde, Lady of Esprunes et des Vignaux, died in 1590, a Catholic to the end of her days.

In 1567, Charlotte married Jean de Pas, seigneur de Martinsart, younger son of the Marquis de Feuquières. Jean, also known as Frigallet, commanded a company of light cavalry and was governor of Roye in Picardy. He was a Huguenot who took part in the Amboise conspiracy and fought alongside the Admiral de Coligny. He died of his wounds at La Charité on May 23, 1569. He never saw his daughter Suzanne de Pas, born in Sedan on Dec. 29, 1568. Soon after, Charlotte learned of the deaths of her father, sister, and father-in-law in quick succession. She blamed her poor state of health later in life to this series of shocks. On Jan. 3, 1576, still in safety in Sedan, she married her second husband, the knight Philippe de Mornay, Lord of Duplessis-Marly, governor of Saumur, a leading French Protestant. He died in 1623. In spite of her weak constitution and the many hardships endured by the family, Charlotte had seven children, four of whom survived into adulthood. Marthe, born on Dec. 17, 1576, married Jean de Jaucourt in 1599; Elisabeth, born in England on June 1, 1578, married Jacques de Saint-Germain in 1601; Philippe, Lord des Bauves, was born in Antwerp on July 20, 1579; and Anne, born in 1583, married Jacques de Nouhes de la Tabarière in 1603 (she was widowed in 1632, and married Jacques Nompar de Caumont, Duc de La Force, in 1643).

Charlotte Duplessis-Mornay was an avid letter writer, but is above all remembered for her Mémoires, now in the Sorbonne library. The Mémoires de Charlotte Duplessis Mornay are the main source of information about her life, the manuscript copy of which, in her own hand, was only first published in 1824. The text is addressed to her son Philippe, with the aim of persuading him to defend the Protestant cause supported by a large part of her family. She believed that her second husband was charged with a divine mission and used her memoirs to transmit her family's story, including their devotion to the Protestant cause and the hardship that ensued. She recounts the flight of her daughter Suzanne and her husband as well as her own narrow escape from the events of St. Bartholomew's Day in August 1572, giving a first-hand account of the massacre. She also describes her own and her husband's childhoods, as well as the major political and military events and religious polemics to which Philippe de Mornay, a major Protestant thinker, devoted his career and his pen. She highlights the numerous missions which Henri of Navarre and his entourage had entrusted to Philippe Duplessis-Mornay. She kept a thorough record of all of her husband's writings, declarations, and political activities in the second half of the XVIth century up to the accession of Henri IV. Her observations, expressed in a clear, elegant, yet dense style that prefigures classical French, afford an accurate portrayal of contemporary events and reflect her excellent grasp of the complex and dangerous situation in which the French Protestant nobility found themselves. Her Mémoires trace the image of a woman deeply engaged in the Protestant cause alongside her husband, one of its leading French representatives. Together, they also project a new image of the Christian couple: spouses united by a higher cause, bound by a common interest in the upbringing of their children, their support for the Protestant cause, and their alliances. When she received the tragic news of the death of her son Philippe, killed fighting with the army of Prince Maurice at Gueldres on Oct. 23, 1605, Charlotte gave up her Mémoires, which she had been writing for him alone. She put down her pen on April 21, 1606, exhausted by grief and illness, and died on May 15 that same year. Her husband wrote an account of her death, in which he recorded that till the end she continued to affirm her Protestant faith.

(translated by Susan Pickford)


1595?-1606 : Mémoires de Mme de Mornay, Publié par A.-D. de La Fontenelle de Vaudoré et P.-R. Auguis, Paris, Treuttel et Würtz, 1824-1825 in 8. Reprint Geneve, Slatkine Reprints, 1969, 1er volume. -- Éd. Mme de Witt, Société de l'Histoire de France, Tome I et II, Paris, 1869, reprint Johnson reprint Corporation, 1968 (une édition critique est en préparation par N. Kuperty-Tsur, à paraître chez Honoré Champion)

Selected bibliography

- Berriot-Salvadore, Evelyne. Les femmes dans la société française de la Renaissance. Genève, Droz, 1990, p.127-133.
- Crouzet, Denis. La nuit de la Saint-Barthélemy. Paris, Fayard 1994, p.68-77.
- Daussy, Hugues. Les Huguenots et le roi. Genève, Droz, 2002, passim.
- Kuperty-Tsur, Nadine. Se dire à la Renaissance en France. Paris, Vrin, 1997.

Charlotte Arbaleste
Title(s) Dame de Mornay
Dame de Pas-Feuquières
Spouses Jean de Pas, seigneur de Martinsart
Philippe de Mornay, seigneur du Plessis-Marly
Also known as Madame de Mornay
Charlotte Duplessis-Mornay
Charlotte de Mornay
Birth date 1550
Death 1606
Biographical entries in old dictionaries
Dictionnaire Fortunée Briquet
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