Today we have another poem from the sixteenth century, this time from that outstanding French court and nature poet, Pierre de Ronsard. It is a sonnet in tribute to Mary Queen of Scots, who had spent much of her youth at the French court and became the wife of the heir to the French throne. She returned to Scotland, where she had been Queen almost from birth, after the premature death of her husband at a young age. History might have been very different had he survived – perhaps an Act of Union between Scotland and France rather than between Scotland and England?
Anyway, Mary was extremely popular in France, and this poem from Ronsard is an expression of that popularity and support, at a time when Mary, back in Scotland, was facing a rebellion and uprising of her nobles which finally led to her fleeing to England where her cousin Elizabeth 1 had her executed as a potential threat to her own position. A sad and tragic story, indeed.
vii (A la Royne d’Ecosse.)
Pierre de Ronsard (1524–†1585)
ENCORES que la mer de bien loin nous separe,
Si est-ce que l’esclair de vostre beau soleil,
De vostre œil qui n’a point au monde de pareil,
Jamais loin de mon cœur par le temps ne s’egare.
Royne, qui enfermez une royne si rare,
Adoucissez vostre ire et changez de conseil;
Le soleil se levant et allant au sommeil
Ne voit point en la terre un acte si barbare.
Peuple, vous forlignez, aux armes nonchalant,
De vos ayeux Renauld, Lancelot et Roland,
Qui prenoient d’un grand cœur pour les dames querelle;
Les gardoient, les sauvoient, où vous n’avez, François,
Ny osé regarder ny toucher le harnois
Pour oster de servage une royne si belle.
In this sonnet, Ronsard acknowledges that Mary is gone from France across the sea, but her beauty and radiance continue to fill his heart. The second four lines implore Mary to change her course and get new counsel otherwise her difficulties will increase. The barbarous act, referred to in line 8 could be any number of things, either the murder of her second husband or her imprisonment at the hands of the Scottish nobles.
The final six lines are an appeal to the French people and king to rise up and go to Mary’s aid, following in the tradition of Roland and Lancelot, and free her from her peril. I think therefore the poem must have been written around the time of Mary’s last imprisonment in Scotland. However, the poet openly criticizes the French for not daring to take arms in her defense on this occasion.
This is a fascinating evocation of the complicated and intertwined politics of France and Scotland at this time and a reminder of the great popularity of Mary Queen of Scots in France, enduring long after she left that country.
The Poetry Dude