Jacquette de Montbron

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Jacquette de Montbron
Spouses André de Bourdeille, sénéchal de Périgord
Birth date 1544
Death 1592
Biographical entries in old dictionaries

Entry by Madeleine Lazard, 2003

Jacquette de Montbron was the third daughter of François de Montbron (or Montberon), baron of Villefort and Beaulieu, captain of Blaye, and of Marie-Jeanne de Montpezat. She was married on June 27, 1558, to André de Bourdeille, seneschal of Périgord, the elder brother of the famous chronicler Pierre de Bourdeille, Lord of Brantôme. She was viscountess of Bourdeille and Aunay, baroness of Archiac and Mathas, and chatelaine of La Tour Blanche and Sertonville. The couple had four daughters and two sons. Jacquette was widowed in 1582, after twenty-four years of a successful marriage, and never would she accept to remarry. She proved such a shrewd household manager that she was able to pay off the heavy debts, amounting to some two hundred thousand francs, that her husband had contracted in the service of the king. Learning of the exemplary courage of the widowed Jacquette, Catherine de' Medici made her a lady-in-waiting in letters patent dated Nov. 21, 1587. Jacquette spent some time at the Valois court, where she became friends with Fulvia, the widow of Pico de la Mirandola and wife of Charles de La Rochefoucauld. She frequently returned home to her native south-west, however. Thanks to her gift for architecture and geometry, she herself, without recourse to professional architects, built a fine Renaissance castle -known locally as the château neuf- next to the old Bourdeille fortress. Her brother-in-law Brantôme specified that it was "all her own invention and design". She supervised the construction site, "taking up the L-square and the T-square and drawing her future home with her own hands". She planned to draw the queen mother to the finished castle in the hope of obtaining an allowance from her. However, the queen mother died in 1589 before such a sojourn occurred. Jacquette then became lady-in-waiting to Louise de Lorraine, wife of Henri III.

During the final war of religion, the Prince of Condé threatened to besiege her castle in Mathas, now Matha (Charente Maritime), but she steadfastly refused to hand over the Catholic notables who had come to her for protection. Encouraged by her brother-in-law, she replied that she feared "neither his cannon nor his siege". The threat was lifted when the prince died in March 1588. In 1592, grief-stricken at the death of her daughter Renée, Jacquette died in Archiac (Charente-Maritime).

The chronicles of Brantôme are virtually the sole source providing information about Jacquette. He clearly admired her and loved her in secret, even wishing to marry her after his brother's death. However, he had to content himself with being close to her and helping her out whenever he could. In his chronicles, he sings her praises, lauding her virtue and marital fidelity and dubbing her an exemplary widow. He also praised her exceptional intelligence and kind-heartedness, her skill at household management, and her generosity -a paramount virtue for the nobility. He wrote of her "excellent and subtle mind" and her "firm and solid" judgement, adding "the two are not always united in the same person". He was evidently proud of the many letters that Jacquette exchanged with the highest figures in the realm and of her ability to converse on a wide range of subjects, including theology and history. He noted that she wrote "very beautiful poetry and other fine works in prose", and that she was always reading, day and night.

Jacquette is remembered above all for the highly unusual feat of having designed her own castle, although she has only been singled out in the context of the history of the region and of her family. A. Dujarric-Descombe wrote an article in praise of her in 1922, with the express aim of filling in the gap left by the omission of her name from the Dictionnaire portatif des femmes célèbres (1788).

(translated by Susan Pickford)

Selected bibliography

- Babelon, Jean-Pierre, et Rémy, Christian. «Les châteaux de Bourdeille», Extrait du Congrès du Périgord, Paris, Société française d'archéologie,1999, p.136-137.
- Bourdeille, Marquis de. Maison de Bourdeille en Périgord, Filiation complète établie sur titres depuis 1011 jusqu'en 1893, Troyes, Lenglen, 1895.
- Brantôme, Pierre de Bourdeille, abbé de. Recueil des Dames, poésies et tombeaux, éd. É. Vaucheret. Paris, Gallimard, 1991: Recueil des Dames, Livre II, Discours IV, p.533-534, Discours VII,passim; Oraison funèbre de feu Mme de Bourdeille..., p.967-977; Tombeaux, p.978-991.
- Dujarric-Descombes, A. Jacquette de Montbron, dame de Bourdeille et de la Tour Blanche. Angoulême, Imprimerie Ouvrière, 1822.
- Lazard, Madeleine. «Jacquette de Montbron, une bâtisseuse humaniste», in K. Wilson-Chevalier et E. Viennot (dir.) Royaume de Fémynie. Pouvoirs, contraintes, espaces de liberté des femmes de la Renaissance à la Fronde. Paris, Champion, 1999, p.17-26.

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