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Marguerite de Navarre


L’Heptameron was written by Marguerite de Navarre in 1549.  It was written as a framework narrative, similar to The Canterbury Tales and the Decameron.  These collections of stories are organized by day; the whole collection corresponds to a period of quarantine (the Decameron) or pilgrimage (to Canterbury).  In the Heptameron, the stories are connected through the characters that tell them, and in turn, these fictional narrators have their own adventures.  Many of the stories are romantic, some speak about religious matters (Marguerite de Navarre was pious), and a few deal with war and politics.  It is also clear that many of these stories contain elements of autobiography.  

Originally, there were supposed to be ten days, with ten stories apiece.  However, Marguerite de Navarre wrote the collection at the end of her life. The Heptameron was the last thing she wrote before dying in 1549, after the death of her brother, the king François I.  Thus, there are only 72 stories. She wrote them in private, and they were not found and published until 1558. 

Marguerite de Navarre uses architecture to convey a sense of place, to create a visual representation, and to help us distinguish between people in different scenarios.

Première Journée

Marguerite de Navarre wrote the first ten stories with the hope of setting up the background to all the stories that follow.  Many of the techniques she used in the first day’s stories are seen throughout the collection.  Places have a purpose and often act as a plot device.  This section defines what those places mean.  For example, a bedroom isn’t a place to sleep, especially not as a married couple: it is where you and your lover enjoy each other, where you plot court intrigues, or where a young maiden is locked away to keep her chaste.  The bedroom is inscribed or imbued with the secrets that the characters are trying to hide. Similarly, the remote villa in the countryside keeps the wife away from the husband, while he is in the city, enjoying his palatial residence and his mistress. The country villa becomes a prison warden of sorts, almost a character in the story. In that sense, places can act like characters in the Heptameron.

La Porte (the Door)

A door acts as an obstacle that the characters have to push through before they can reach their goal -- their lover, master, or a safe haven.  At the beginning, the door is closed. Once the mistress has confirmed her identity, a maiden has begged for help, or a maid has announced her title, the door opens, to the character’s relief.  It is one less trial they have to face in their own set of Labors.  In one interesting case, (I. 10. 787 « La porte fermée sur elle »), the door is initially open and closes in the character’s face; this emphasizes that it is just as possible to fail a trial as it is to pass it.

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La Maison (the House)

La Maison (the House):  The house is by far the most common location on the “First Day,” so it has the most complex meaning.  The familial home is not portrayed in a flattering light.  Rather, a house is a place where wives and daughters are kept to ensure they are chaste and pure; it is a place that must be escaped, or where a character is forced to return out of obligation and familial duty.  It is a prison warden that watches its occupants’ movements with a sharp eye and always draws them back into their cells.  In many cases, though, there are multiple homes that these wealthy characters own and frequent, and each has a particular meaning.

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La Compagyne/la Villa

(the Countryside/the villa)

A villa is another house that the wealthy owned.  It is out in the country, far from civilization.  Being sent to the country was not for one’s peace of mind.  It was a punishment because it took one out of court life, which often led to falling out of favor and being forgotten.  So, a suspicious wife, a pregnant girl, or an annoying mother-in-law would be sent there to keep them out of the public eye and to stop them from making more trouble for the men.

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La Château en ville

(the palace in the city)

The house in the city was the size of a palace by current standards. It was a play-castle for the husband.  It is where his family would come should they all have business to conduct.  However, when other family members were not present, the city home is where the men keep their mistresses and hold wild parties for which they commission extravagant decorations.

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La Chambre (the Bedroom)

The bedroom has the most contradictory meaning in the first ten stories.  As we mentioned, it is both an ornate prison to keep daughters locked away and an open book for lovers to write in.  It is not where a married couple expresses their love for one another.  It is where one has to meet their familial obligations and birth an heir, preferably a son.  It is where one hides one’s lovers and opens one’s heart to them.  A bedroom is never simply a place to sleep.

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La Garde-robe (the Wardrobe)

The wardrobe is not a piece of furniture that holds coats or a portal to a magical world. In this context, it is a large walk-in closet.  It is a hiding place for a lover to sleep when there is no easy escape in the dead of night.  It is a place to ambush and pleasantly surprise one’s mistress with a gift and a loving touch.  It is the perfect nook with plenty of hiding spots, as well as a location one step deeper into the house, so a brilliant hiding spot in its own right.

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L’Eglise (the Church)

A church is a place of worship, but not only of divinity.  It is a place to worship power by bidding for favor.  It is where you praise the beauty of other courtiers.  It is the one constant in any city.  It is always a few steps away and ready to offer help, like a guardian angel.

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La Chapelle (the Chapel)

The chapel is a true escape from all politics.  It is the one place where any character can find peace and be free.  It is quiet and a touch somber, but it is supposed to be a place only for prayers and dreams. However, the characters are always interrupted by the very person to whom they seem the least interested in speaking.  Thus, the chapel is a spatial equivalent of a paradox: it introduces a serene and wistful atmosphere, only to shatter it.

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Le Monastere (the Monastery)

The monastery acts as a safe haven through the last story of the “First Day.”  The monks and friars who inhabit the monastery offer knowledge, forgiveness, and counsel without judgment.  The monastery keeps a woman safe from all the outside forces trying to pull her into their clutches.  It is the place she leaves to have adventures. Later, she returns to its protective sanctuary.

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Les Murailles (the Walls)

The walls were the one thing from which the characters could never get away.  Be it in a chapel or a bedroom, the walls are the spies in the story.  They know and hide all the secrets of their occupants.  They act as a container for the characters and for their secrets.

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Featured Countries/Cities: Portugal, Spain, Saragosse, Languedoc, Paris, Barcelona, and Palamos

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Deuxième Journée

As suggested above, in the description of the Première Journée, places in the Heptameron act almost as characters in the story. This is also true for the Deuxième Journée. Here, Marguerite de Navarre adds a few more places.  On the second day, she also refers to numerous cities throughout Europe.  Although today these city names convey different associations from those of Marguerite, some still conjure up the same, specific images: typically, a site or landmark for which the city was famous.  Thus, throughout the travels of the second day and through her characters’ experiences, Marguerite de Navarre plots a map that consists of architectural sites. The Deuxième Journee is also where she scales up the grandeur, from house to chateau and from village to city, while still keeping the intimate spaces, such as a bedroom, relevant.

The locations such as Le Monastere (the Monastery), La Chapelle (the Chapel), and La Maison (the House) all keep the meaning from the previous day.  The ones that follow have slight alterations or are new to la deuxieme journee.

Le Logis (the dwelling)

II. 16. 814-817

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La Chambre (the Bedroom)

The bedroom becomes the most frequented place on the second day.  There is no longer a call for familial duty.  It becomes a place of beauty and passion, a loving environment in which to amuse oneself and entertain company.  The bedroom transforms into that which it should have always been: a lovers’ paradise.

808: the bedroom is described in some detail: “Et, entré qu’il fut en la chambre de la dame, la referma au coureil, et veit toute ceste chambre tendue de linge blanc, le pavement et le dessus de mesme, et ung lict, de thoille fort delyée, tant bien ouvré de blanc qu’il n’estoit possible de plus. . .” (II. 14. 808) 

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Les Portes des Chambres

(the doors to the bedroom)

As before, the door is an obstacle one must overcome in order to reach the prize.  The bedroom door is the final trial before the character gets to reach their long-awaited trophy.

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Les Galleryes (the Galleries)

Not in the sense of an art gallery, but a long, tall hallway or passageway filled with light from the wall of windows on at least one side.  Similar to the turns of a labyrinth, the galleries all look the same and are a trap, should one not know one’s way.  Like the door, they play with the characters and constitute a task or trial before they can reach their lovers.

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Les Murailles (the Walls)

Les Murailles (the Walls) : The walls continue their supportive role into the “Second Day.”  They continue to witness secrets no one is meant to know, and keep them in silence.  Paintings on the walls watch and gather information.  They also take an active role when they support a couple who cannot stop themselves from showing their love (II. 16. 826). 

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Countries mentioned: Italie, Ou pay de Dauphine (Dauphiné in France), Turquie, Allemagne,

Cities: Milan, Florence, Venice, Jerusalem, Marseille, Normandie, and Dijon!

Regions: Bourgogne and Mont de Syon (hill in Jerusalem where a Benedictine monastery is located)


Marguerite, Queen Consort of Henri II, King of Navarre, 1492-1549. «Marguerite, Queen, consort of Henry II, King of Navarre, 1492-1549. [ 1559 ] L'Heptaméron In Pierre Jourda, ed., Conteurs français du XVIe siècle. (Paris : Gallimard, 1956).» 1956. ARTFL FRANTEXT. Éd. University of Chicago. PhiloLogic4. Book. 15 July 2020. Link

I chose all the background pictures for L’Heptameron as symbolic representations; they are not from the period. The heading picture is Notre-Dame de Dijon, meant to highlight Marguerite de Navarre’s piety and love of the Church; the Gothic church may have been similar to the ones she frequented.  The picture for “La Première Journée” is the Abbaye de Fontenay: an abbey is the setting of the tenth story. The Cistercian abbey whose construction began in the twelfth century may have looked similar to the abbeys visited by Marguerite.  “La Deuxième Journée'' is illustrated with an aerial view of Dijon, representative of the cities mentioned in the narrative.

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