Double Speech
De Venize - intro
Avantnaiss..  intro
Double Speech

Epistre envoyée de Venize à Madame la Duchesse de Ferrare par Clement Marot

  • Composition summer 1536,
  • unpublished in the 16th century,
  • two manuscript versions available.


  1. Recueil Montmorency, 1538 (facsimile and transcription published by Fr. Rigolot, Droz, 2010)
  2. Ms. B.N. fonds français 4967 (undated manuscript), first published in the 19th Century by Guiffrey (vol. III); present in any edition afterwards, Mayer (vol I, Epistres), Defaux (vol. II), Rigolot (vol. II).
  3. Harvard - Houghton library - Ms. 337 (acquired in 1981). A curious story surrounds this manuscript : this manuscript was already transcribed by Ch. du Mont and published by Herminjard in the 19th Century (Correspondance VI), then got lost; it was bought by the Houghton library in 1981 but not properly studied. In 2005 F. Rouget identified this MS as the lost manuscript and published an article about its origin (Turin, the court of Marguerite de Berry (Duchess of Savoye); she probably had met Marot in her childhood, certainly cherished his memory, and definitely protected his tomb and epitaph in the Turin Cathedral against demolition as long as she lived she; see my article about Marot's tomb and epitaph). The text is almost identical to Ms. 4967. The few differences suggest that Ms. Harvard 337 might well a copy of the the original Epistle, sent to Renée in Ferrara. In Ms. 4967 'coquilles' in the text are corrected and in one case a superior reading is present (v. 40 Pieces de bois is poetically less attractive than images peints, because of the close connection with v. 43, where images vives are present in opposition).

Here you find a short introduction; the text of the two different versions - juxtaposed - are on a separate page (for layout reasons)


This Epistle Marot sent to Renée, duchess of Ferrara, from Venice (hence the title: envoyée de Venize). Mid 1536 Marot had left Ferrara, in quite obscure circumstances, but probably because he was wanted by the Inquisition. With the help of the French Ambassador of Venice, George de Selve, he had fled Ferrara (overnight it seems, hiding in his escort), a narrow escape. As already announced in the general introduction, the most intriguing aspect of this epistle is that it is known in two versions, one with a quite explicit attack on the corruption in/of the Church, and the other in which all reminiscences to this evangelical attack are carefully removed,[1] because the addressee was no longer Renée who sympathised with the Reformation, but the new Constable of France, Anne De Montmorency, known for his rigorous conservatism in religious matters. Both share a severe critique of the materialism and low morals of the Venetians. This harangue as such was a topos,[2] but in the longer version the root of the evil is not sought in epicurism, but in the total depravation of the Church and its worship.

Adoration in ‘spirit and truth’ has been replaced by the adoration of ‘images peinctz, qu’à grandez despens ilz dorent’ (v. 40) and this happens at the expense of the ‘ymaiges vives’ (sc. human beings) which have to live in poverty and are languishing away (vv. 43–4). The Church itself is completely poisoned and populated only by ‘caphardz,’ except for a chosen remnant of truly faithful (vv. 52–6). Joining the popular anti–papal brawl, the apocalyptic image of the great whore of Babylon is evoked (vv. 57-66)[3] :

O Seigneur Dieu, faictz que le demourant
Ne voyse pas les pierres adorant!
C’est ung abus d’ydollastres sorty,

Entre Chrestiens plusieurs foys amorty,

Et remys sus tousjours par l’avarice

De la paillarde et grande meretrice,

Avec qui ont faict fornication

Les roys de terre, & dont la potion

Du vin public de son calice immonde

A si longtemps enyvré tout le monde.

O Lord God, make that what remains
should not witness stones being worshipped.
That is an abuse, originated by idolaters,
Several times abolished amongst Christians
But ever again restored by the avarice
Of that great lecherous whore
with whom have committed fornication
the kings of this earth, and of whom the potion
of public wine in her noisome cup
has so long intoxicated the entire world.

Even if the level of this anti–papal sentiment had been raised to reflect the sentiments of the addressee, Renée, who was harassed by the Duke’s campaign against her French–speaking and Evangelical entourage, the virtuoso way in which Marot plays the apocalyptic language register to defame the Pope strongly suggests that Marot airs his own convictions as well. After a long description of the wonders of the port of Venice present in both versions, the two poems end on different lines (vv. 125–6). I am here juxtaposing them, the Recueil version on the right:

Parquoy clorray ma lettre mal aornée,
Te suppliant, Princesse deux foys née,
Te souvenir, tandis qu’icy me tien,
De cestuy là que retiras pour tien

Quand il fuyoit la fureur serpentine                            …la fureur et les ruses
Des enemys de la belle Christine.
[4]                  Des enemys d’Apollo et des Muses.

The last lines refer to the reason of Marot’s flight to Ferrara, which in the original version is linked to persecution by the enemies of the true Church, personified as ‘la belle Christine,’ with the enemies linked to the source of all evil, ‘la fureur serpentine’ (the snake’s fury). Even this veiled reference to the religious background of his flight must have appeared to Marot as too hazardous to maintain in the Recueil, so he changed it into a harmless cultural one. In the epistle to Marguerite we again encounter similar and similarly veiled references to the religious side of the matter, when metaphors are used to refer to the sisterhood and brotherhood of the Evangelicals.[5] I am convinced that the Recueil version is a later adaptation of the original Epistle to Renée (two reasons 1. internal consistency and 2. it was after all addressed to Renée first).

First I offer both texts in juxtaposition (as far as possible, since some elements are moved and/or rephrased), that the reader may judge for himself. Next to the parts they really have in common, I used colours and italics to mark phrases that are unique to both versions or in which there is a similarity. First I offer both texts in juxtaposition (as far as possible, since some elements are moved and/or rephrased), that the reader may judge for himself. I used colours and italics to mark phrases that are unique to both versions or in which there is a similarity or contrast. Sometimes the reader has to look a little further to discover that lines or elements are inserted at a different place (orthographical differences and minor differences not affecting meaning I leave aside)


[1] The changes are quite sophisticated, because the offending passages were integrated into the general description and re–occur several times. Purging them from the text necessitated a rearrangement and a partial rewriting (to restore or suggest narrative logic). The version in Ms. 4967 seems to be the original, since the line of thought is more consistent and the transitions are fluent, whereas in the version in the Recueil Montmorency this is not always the case (especially the first cut after v. 32 leaves the preceding line of thought hanging in the air, a torso). This is also the assessment of Mayer, vol. 1 [Les Epîtres], p. 64, n. 2, but is questioned by both Tinguely (‘Marot et le miroir vénitien,’ in CC, pp. 365–77) and Mélançon (‘La Personne de Marot,’ in Actes de Colloque de Cahors, pp. 519–20). Defaux, while considering the longer version the original, judges that the shorter version must have been made “sous l’étroit contrôle du poète” (Defaux II, p. 880). Marot is a professional: if he inflects his voice, he does so convincingly.

[2] To criticise the ostentation, hypocrisy and conceit of the Venetians was a topos. In 1509 Marot’s two shining examples, Jean Lemaire de Belges (Legende des Venitiens) and his father Jean Marot (Voyage de Venise), had written similarly, the first also inserting some anti–papism. Tinguely devotes the second part of his article to the interpretation of Marot’s poem as an intentional revisitation of the poem of his father (Tinguely, ‘Marot et le miroir vénitien,’ in CC, pp. 370–7).

[3] “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who is seated upon many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and with the wine of whose fornication the dwellers on earth have become drunk.” (Rev. 17,1–2). Mayer calls this passage “la satire la plus violente contre la papauté” ever written by Marot. He signals that this critique can also be found in the coq–à–l’ânes and that Marot goes one better than the ordinary Gallican criticism of Popery, as not only abuses are criticised but also the institution itself is put into question by equating it with the Antichrist (Mayer, La religion, p. 114, n. 51).

[4] The presence of the ‘Lutherans’ at Renée’s court in Ferrara, besides a matter of jurisdiction (who was authorised to investigate heresy among Renée’s guests: the Ferrara inquisition, the French inquisition, or the Pope?) was a main element in the political tug–of–war between the Duke of Ferrara, the Pope, the Habsburg emperor, and the French king. For a survey, see Becker, Clement Marot, pp. 112–9.

[5] Epistre A la Royne de Navarre (Defaux II, pp. 118–23; notes, pp. 898–902).