Charlotte Arbaleste Duplessis-Mornay – Faithful Chronicler, Devoted Wife, Loving Mother

“Truly did I not fear M. du Plessis' grief, whose love for me grows as my sorrow grows, I would fain not survive him.”

Wherever they went, Charlotte cultivated her husband’s friendships and supported his writing projects, such as his Treatise of the Church, an exhortation to right doctrine, and his Treatise on the Truth of Christianity, an apologetic work against atheism, Islam, and other beliefs. Philippe’s works were appreciated in other countries and readily translated into English.

 

Charlotte Arbaleste’s life changed drastically when a young man came to town. Native of Paris, she had found refuge in Sedan, in the French Ardennes, after the disastrous St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre. She had been a widow for five years and had no intention of remarrying. To many noblewomen, widowhood provided a quiet, independent life.

The man was Philippe Duplessis-Mornay, just a few years older than her. He had just returned from England, where he had fled after the massacre. Apart from their common experience of grief and flight, the two discovered they shared many interests.

For a start, they had both been raised in families with mixed religious beliefs. Philippe’s mother favored the Huguenots while the father had been a firm Roman Catholic. In Charlotte’s case, it was just the opposite. Both Philippe and Charlotte had become devout Protestants. In fact, he was offering his military services for the Huguenot cause.

They both loved reading, mathematics, painting, and especially writing. She had written an account of the Bartholomew’s Day massacre and encouraged him to write an essay on life and death – a necessary subject in such calamitous times.

For eight months, they spent two or three hours a day together. She was impressed by his talents and his “polished and honest conversation,”[1] but wondered about his intentions. Was he courting her? After asking him a few general questions about the expediency of soldiers marrying in dangerous times, she concluded his were just neighborly visits.

Still, she was concerned of what people would say, and decided it was best for her to move away. She was just making traveling plans when he proposed marriage – a surprising but welcome prospect. Before replying, Charlotte made sure his mother and brother agreed. Other relatives had contrasting opinions. Some warned Philippe that Charlotte was not rich, and offered other suggestions, but he was not interested in exploring other alternatives, nor in pursuing better financial options.

Being in the service of the Huguenot King Henry of Navarre, who aspired to the French throne, Philippe had to leave on a military campaign soon after his proposal. Mildly wounded, he was captured by the armies of the Roman Catholic Duke of Guise, and released only after Charlotte arranged to pay his ransom. Philippe and Charlotte married in January 1576. As a bridal present, he gave her the book she had urged him to write, A discourse of life and death.

A Life of Travels

Philippe continued to earn the trust of King Henry, who sent him on several diplomatic missions, including a trip to England from 1577 to 1578 and a trip to the Netherlands from 1581 to 1582. Charlotte joined him each time, as Philippe longed for them “he longed for us to be as much together as the misery of the age allowed.”[2] Their daughter Elizabeth was born in London and their son Philippe in Antwerp, Holland.

Wherever they went, Charlotte cultivated her husband’s friendships and supported his writing projects, such as his Treatise of the Church, an exhortation to right doctrine, and his Treatise on the Truth of Christianity, an apologetic work against atheism, Islam, and other beliefs. Philippe’s works were appreciated in other countries and readily translated into English.

Over the years, Charlotte and Philippe had eight children together: four boys and four girls. Of these, only two girls and one boy lived past infancy. In spite of his travels, Philippe made a point to be present at the babies’ births. Once, when he couldn’t make it back on time, he sensed the time when the baby was born.

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