Engagement et écriture protestante au féminin : les Mémoires de Madame de Mornay

The important role played by women in the spread of the Reformation has long been established. They were drawn by a religion that enhanced their access to knowledge, at a time when such knowledge was not systematically available to them. The higher intellectual level these women thereby achieved helped to raise their role within their marital relationships, as well as the Protestant family. A clear example of this dynamic is given by Charlotte Duplessis-Mornay. Although she did not take up arms or participate in political assemblies, Madame Duplessis-Mornay was able—notwithstanding the restrictions imposed on women at that time – to carve out a significant space for her activities. In her Memoirs, dedicated to her son, she expresses an interest in the political and religious situation in France, and witnesses a deep understanding of its complex challenges and tensions. The example she provides of feminine memorialist writing, rare for its time, also has a militant side to it. Madame Duplessis-Mornay chronicles the French Wars of Religion, yet without compromising the historical accuracy of her Memoirs on account of their Protestant vantage point. Duplessis-Mornay thus demonstrates her independence, freedom of thought, and courage, without ever showing signs of being hampered by her gender. Cut off from the public sphere, she depicts the political and military activities of her husband, Philippe Duplessis-Mornay, secretary of state to Henry, the king of Navarre and future king of France. She analyzes her husband’s aims and achievements, and fully identifies herself with his decisions and actions, thereby presenting herself as a witness to his acts and as his ‘chronicler’. Her reflective evaluations, as well as the elegance and clarity of her style, place her on one level with the best of the male historians of the Wars of Religion. Her depiction of history and family also demonstrates the ability of women, Protestant or other, to make their voices heard at a time when that was discouraged.