The crown fit Jeanne d’Albret well. Four days after her coronation in 1555, she secretly wrote a letter to a Protestant nobleman. She wanted to talk about how matters of the Reformation could be helped along in Navarre. But she had to be careful. Even though she agreed with the doctrines of Calvin, she continued to worship at the Roman Catholic Cathedral at Pau. The times were not safe for those who believed such new “opinions.”
Her husband, Antoine, let it be known that he was Protestant through and through. He did not go along with her to the grand cathedral, and he invited Huguenot (French Calvinistic Protestant) ministers to Navarre and to the castle at Pau to preach for them there. The Pope and those who ruled in France saw what he did. They threatened him with war because of it. Jeanne was right. She had to be careful.
But ought she be so careful? She could “halt between two opinions” only so long.
It had been five years since she had received her crown. She looked out one of the castle windows onto the grounds below. Henry, her son, was seven years old and was playing with other young boys of Pau. They were all dressed in the simple clothes of the peasantry, including Prince Henry. Jeanne was glad. She wanted him to have a childhood unlike her own. At only four years of age she had been sent away to another castle to be educated there, apart from her mother and father. Her uncle, King Francis I of France, had wanted it so. It had made for an unhappy childhood. Yes, she was glad to watch Henry laughing and playing now with the other boys. Princess Catherine had joined the family in the royal house as well. Jeanne wished a happy childhood for this little one-year-old daughter, too.
But what might be the carefree joys of childhood were far past for Jeanne. Trouble was brewing in nearby France. A plot had begun to try to overthrow the young new king there, a king who was Catholic and who was greatly influenced by his very Catholic mother and men at court. This king was only sixteen years old. Some noblemen in France wanted Louis de Bourbon on the throne instead. There would be relief from the lack of law and order if Louis ruled, as well as relief for persecuted Huguenots. Louis was, by blood, in line to the throne, and he was very Protestant. But the plot had failed. Those noblemen behind it were punished with death. Why might all this trouble Jeanne? Because her husband, Antoine, was Louis’ brother. Now, did the King of France, his mother, and the court think that Louis and Antoine had played a part in that plot too?
Disobeying and overthrowing the civil authority of a king was a serious matter. Scripture had things to say about that. Calvin had been consulted as well, and he had advised against it. The outcome could not go well.
Louis and Antoine were tricked into visiting France. Louis was imprisoned there, and Antoine was put under house arrest. All Huguenots all over France were in grave danger of being killed in a matter of days. Soldiers were coming even now to Pau to force Jeanne to arrest her own Huguenot ministers in Navarre—which she would refuse to do. On top of that, Spain was threatening to take over Navarre from her border below. Jeanne fled with young Henry and Catherine to a safer town.
No, being careful could not help her anymore. The queen of Navarre knew she must have the courage to stand with the Huguenots, or give in to all.
Jeanne d’Albret chose to stand with the Huguenots.