Margaret of Valois (French: Marguerite, 14 May 1553 – 27 March 1615) was a French princess of the Valois dynasty who became queen consort of Navarre and later also of France. By her marriage to Henry III of Navarre (later Henry IV of France), she was queen of Navarre and then France at her husband's 1589 accession to the latter throne.
Margaret was the daughter of King Henry II of France and Catherine de' Medici and the sister of kings Francis II, Charles IX and Henry III. Her union with the king of Navarre, which had been intended to contribute to the reconciliation of Roman Catholics and Protestant Huguenots in France, was tarnished six days after the marriage ceremony by the St Bartholomew's Day massacre and the resumption of the French Wars of Religion. In the conflict between Henry III and the Malcontents, she took the side of Francis, Duke of Anjou, her younger brother, and this caused the king to have a deep aversion towards her.
As Queen of Navarre, Margaret also played a pacifying role in the stormy relations between her husband and the French monarchy. Shuttled back and forth between the two courts, she endeavored to lead a happy conjugal life, but her sterility and the political tensions inherent in the civil conflict led to the end of her marriage. Mistreated by a brother quick to take offence and rejected by a fickle and opportunistic husband, she chose the path of opposition in 1585. She took the side of the Catholic League and was forced to live in Auvergne in an exile which lasted twenty years. In 1599, she consented to a "royal divorce" – i.e. the annulment of the marriage – but only after the payment of a generous compensation.
A well-known woman of letters and an enlightened mind as well as an extremely generous patron, she played a considerable part in the cultural life of the court, especially after her return from exile in 1605. She was a vector of Neoplatonism, which preached the supremacy of platonic love over physical love. While imprisoned, she took advantage of the time to write her Memoirs. She was the first woman to have done so. She was one of the most fashionable women of her time, and influenced many of Europe's royal courts with her clothing.
After her death the anecdotes and slanders circulated about her created a legend, which was consolidated around the nickname La Reine Margot invented by Alexandre Dumas père, handed down through the centuries the myth of a nymphomaniac and incestuous woman. At the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century, historians have reviewed the extensive chronicles of her life, concluding that many elements of her scandalous reputation stemmed from anti-Valois propaganda and from a factionalism capable of denigrating the participation of women in politics, created by Bourbon dynasty court historians in the 17th century.