Visit to Castelmoron: A day in the life of Jeanne D’Albret.

It is late in the day of 8th September 1568. A royal carriage is being escorted by cavalry along a stone paved road between La Reole and Sauveterre de Guyenne. Within is Jeanne D’Albret, a woman beheld as Queen Jeanne 111 of Navarre.

She looks tiredly out of the window at the passing vineyards, pastel fields and forests. The sun is waning, a breeze is stirring bringing a chill. Ahead she glimpses the rooftops of the fortified city, Castelmoron D’Albret. There she knows she will be welcomed for the night by friends. Her carriage rolls past a water mill, that straddles a narrow river, then up a steep incline toward the gate of the city. The portal is open and the carriage drives through.

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The city stands on a crag, with cliff drops on two sides giving it advantage if under attack. Within the walls the city is extremely small, just a central covered market place, a circumference road, a side street or two and  another that leads out of the city towards the crossroad at Gautier. Stone houses squat comfortably alongside the streets. Jeanne D’Albret’s carriage passes the market place, turns right and a few metres further is pulled into a courtyard.GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA To Jeanne’s right and taking up the corner of the courtyard stands a simple lodge, three stories high with a plain facade of several windows and an arched main entrance door. On her left are stables and servants quarters. Off centre of the courtyard is a large well that must be thirty metres deep. GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA Servants stand before the lodge, the door is open and stepping out is the Gendarme of Castelmoron D’Albret, recruited by Jeanne’s husband, Antoine de Bourbon, Lieutenant General of France. Jeanne steps down from her carriage. She is a woman of forty years, petite and frail, that  belies the stubborn streak behind her blue eyes. She wears a travelling black wool gown and cape. Covering the decollàge of the bodice is white lace cuffing her neck and clasped with a single pearl brooch. Her once rich, auburn curly hair is faded and tightly concealed under a french hood. Her face is gaunt now, her lips thinner but her smile warm as she accepts the hand of her host and friend François de Pichard.

After a few words of greeting, François leads Jeanne through the entrance door into a vast reception room. There she is welcomed by François’ wife and children. To one side is a great stone chimney with logs burning that warm the room pleasantly.  A chair is offered next to the fire which Jeanne takes gladly and accepts a drink. Later she is shown to the guest room adjacent to the family rooms on the second floor. It is a simply furnished room having a large bed with crisp white linen and a pale pastel blue eiderdown quilt. Against one wall stands a high armoire and alongside the window a dressing table and chair. GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERAJeanne looks out and realises with surprise that there is a vertical drop of twenty metres to the ground below. She can see over the treetops to the low hills beyond. She turns and retires until called to supper.

The evening is spent convivially around the dining table with her hosts. Inevitably the conversation comes back time and time again to the subject of much passion, the current religious war between the Catholic and Protestant churches. Jeanne is an ardent follower of Calvinism, which she had declared the official religion of her kingdom of Navarre in 1560. Her support of The Protestant Reformed Church of France has made her an enemy of the Counter Reformation cause of the Catholic church.

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Tonight Jeanne casts aside her anxieties and sleeps soundly. She rises early the next morning to slip away from the lodge and walk through the streets past the romanesque chapel to the temple of the protestants. There she sits quietly in contemplation and prayer  before coming out into the morning sunshine and turning downward to stroll through the city, descending the many steps that take her to the water basin.GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA She sees two women kneeling along the edge of the water rinsing soapy clothes, while chatting to each other. She calls a greeting to them, they scramble to their feet and curtsy. Jeanne smiles, retreats back up the steps and returns to her hosts.

In the afternoon Jeanne takes to her carriage to visit the parishes of nearby Caumont, Rimons and St. Martin le Puy, visiting Heugonot families, those faithful to the Reformed church. This land was granted her through the blood line of the house of Albret and she holds a great affection for the place and its people.

Jeanne spends a second evening before a simple meal with her friends then retires early, knowing that tomorrow she will be returning to her home in Nerac. As she makes her farewells in the morning she already knows that she will return and promises so. Jeanne has found a place of welcome and respite in this small community.

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Prologue,

On 11th April 1569, Jeanne D’Albret returns to Castelmoron where she is greeted at the crossroad with a great bonfire, and again in 1571 to open a Temple nearby for the faithful of the reformed religion.

A year later, Jeanne dies of pnuemonia in Paris at 44 years of age. She leaves an autobiography, poesies and letters in testimony of her life and passions.

Her son becomes Henri 1V , King of France in 1572.

painted byFrançois Clouet 1572.
Painted by François Clouet 1572.
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