Week 11: Margaret of Navarre's Heptameron

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DAY 5 STORY 43: The Haughty Lady

Reading time: 5 minutes. Word count: 1000 words.

This is a story about a married woman who took a lover but, in this case not only kept it a secret from her husband - she even kept her identity secret from her own lover!

"There are people," Geburon continued, "who own no God, or who, if they believe there is one, think him so remote, that He can neither see nor know the bad acts they commit; or if He does, they suppose Him to be so careless and indifferent to what is done here below, that He will not punish them. Of this way of thinking was a lady, whose name I shall conceal for the honor of her race, and call her Jambicque. She used often to say that to care only for God was all very well, but the main point with her was to preserve her honor before men. But you will see, ladies, that her prudence and her hypocrisy did not save her. Her secret was revealed, as you shall find from her story, in which I will state nothing but what is true, except the names of the persons and the places, which I will change."

A PRINCESS of great eminence lived in a very handsome château, and had with her a lady named Jambicque, of a haughty and audacious spirit, who was, nevertheless, such a favorite with her mistress, that she did nothing but by her advice, believing her to be the most discreet and virtuous lady of her time. This Jambicque used to inveigh loudly against illicit love; and if ever she saw that any gentleman was enamored with one of her companions, she used to reprimand the pair with great bitterness, and tell a very bad tale of them to her mistress, so that she was much more feared than loved. As for her, she never spoke to a man except aloud, and with so much haughtiness, that she was universally regarded as an inveterate foe to love; but, in her heart, she was quite otherwise. In fact, there was a gentleman in her mistress's service with whom she was as much in love as a woman could be; but so dear to her was her good name, and the reputation she had made herself, that she entirely dissembled her passion.

After suffering for a year, without choosing to solace herself, like other women, by means of her eyes and her tongue, her heart became so inflamed, that she was driven to seek the ultimate remedy; and she made up her mind that it was better to satisfy her desire, provided none but God knew her heart, than to confide it to one who might betray her secret. Having come to this resolution, one day when she was in her mistress's chamber, and was looking out on a terrace, she saw the gentleman she loved so much walking there. After gazing on him until darkness concealed him from her sight, she called her little page, and, pointing out the gentleman to him, "Do you see," she said, "that gentleman in a crimson satin doublet, and a robe trimmed with lynx fur? Go and tell him that a friend of his wishes to see him, and is waiting for him in the gallery in the garden."

Whilst the page was doing his errand, she went out the back way, and went to the gallery, after putting on her mask and pulling down her hood. When the gentleman entered the gallery, she first fastened both the doors, so that no one should come in upon them, and then, embracing him with all her might, she said in a low whisper, "This long time, my friend, the love I have for you has made me long for place and time to speak with you; but my fear for my honor has been so great that I have been constrained, in spite of myself, to conceal my passion. But at last love has prevailed over fear; and as your honor is known to me, I declare that if you will promise to love me, and never to speak of it to any one, or inquire whom I am, I will be all my life your faithful and loving friend; and I assure you I will never love any but you; but I would rather die than tell you who I am."

The gentleman promised all she asked, and thereby encouraged her to treat him in the same way-that is to say, refuse him nothing. It was in winter, about five or six o'clock in the evening, when of course he could not see much. But if his eyes were of little service to him on the occasion, his hands were not so. Touching her clothes he found they were of velvet, a costly stuff in those times, and not worn every day, except by ladies of high family. As far as the hand could judge, all beneath was neat and in the best condition. Accordingly he tried to regale her to the best of his ability, she too performed her part equally well, and the gentleman easily perceived she was married.

When she was about to return to the place whence she came, the gentleman said to her, "Highly do I prize the favor you have conferred on me without my deserving it; but that will be still more precious to me which you will grant at my entreaty. Enchanted as I am by your gracious favor, I beg you will tell me if I am to expect a continuance of it, and in what manner I am to act; for, not knowing you, how am I to address you elsewhere to solicit the renewal of my happiness?"

"Give yourself no concern about that," replied the fair one, "but rely upon it that every evening after my mistress has supped, I shall be sure to send for you, if you are on the terrace where you were just now. But, above all things, do not forget what you have promised. When I simply send word that you are wanted, you will understand that I await you in the gallery; but if you hear speak of going to meat, you may either retire or come to our mistress's apartment. Above all, I beg you never to attempt to know who I am, unless you wish to break our friendship."

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • what kind of personality did Jambicque have?
  • how did she disguise herself when she met her lover?
  • what were the conditions she made her lover obey if they were to continue their relationship?

Source: The Heptameron by Margaret, Queen of Navarre. Translated by Walter K. Kelly. Website: A Celebration of Women Writers. (Kelly's translated is not dated; it is based on a French edition published in 1853.)

Modern Languages MLLL-2003. World Literature: Frametales. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:48 PM