The little village of Tusson in south west France lies between Poitiers and Angouleme on one of the pilgrim ways from Tours to Santiago de Compostella. I spent a morning there exploring its medieval remnants and houses from the renaissance period. There are a number of 16th century buildings and a gothic church – Saint-Jacques. The church was originally built in the 13th century but suffered significant damage during the Wars of Religion and was rebuilt in the 15th century. The town seems to be a centre for artisans; there is a sculptor, a tiler specialising in large artworks, and a potter in residence, which makes it an interesting village to wander through. There are also stunning flowers and gardens everywhere, roses, roses all the way.
There’s one particular 16th century building that has been restored and now houses the Maison du Patrimoine, a small museum which shows how the house may have been furnished during the Renaissance.
It also has a beautiful garden created by a local community group working to accurately recreate a medieval garden, including fragrant, medicinal and potager sections.
It once belonged to Margaret of Angoulême (1492–1549), who was one of the most famous and influential women of the French Renaissance. I’m always looking out for interesting women who share my name (that aren’t Margaret Thatcher). This Margaret was a humanist, author, poet and advocate for religious reform. She was the sister of the French King Francis I, who ruled from 1515–1547, and became duchess of Alençon through her first marriage and Queen of Navarre by her second marriage to Henry d’Albret in 1527. On her travels she used to stay at the house, which she had requested be built for her near where there had once been a medieval priory.
Thanks to the efforts of her mother she and her brother Francis were educated by some of the leading humanists of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. She, her mother and her brother operated together as a trinité, which ruled over the French court in the early 16th century. She was an intellectual who corresponded with many European humanists during her lifetime. A devout Catholic, interested in religious reform of the Church from within, including translating the Scriptures into the vernacular and encouraging women to read and understand them, she sometimes angered the church authorities through her efforts. She wrote poetry, and a collection of her short stories was published as the Heptaméron, a very significant achievement for a woman of her times. She was also politically savvy and helped negotiate her brother’s release from hostage in Spain, and for the whole of her life was devoted to supporting him in his role as king. She died at 57, a woman of extraordinary influence, who lived courageously and authentically.
“In Marguerite the Renaissance and the Reformation were for a moment one. Her influence radiated throughout France. Every free spirit looked upon her as protectoress and ideal …. Marguerite was the embodiment of charity. She would walk unescorted in the streets of Navarre, allowing any one to approach her and would listen at first hand to the sorrows of the people. She called herself ‘The Prime Minister of the Poor’. Henri, her husband, King of Navarre, believed in what she was doing, even to the extent of setting up a public works system that became a model for France. Together he and Marguerite financed the education of needy students.” – Will Durant
She was not a woman to mess with, one of a long line of powerful and influential women that the world should know more about.