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Histoire de France

Some biographical highlights

Clément Marot was born in Cahors (probably in 1496 and perhaps on 23rd of November (because the patron saint of that day is Clemens)); he died in Turin on 12 September 1544 and was buried in the crypt of the Turin Cathedral.

Son of the court poet Jean Marot Clément tried to follow in the footsteps of his father. Although he always refers to his place of birth (Clément Marot de Cahors en Quercy), he probably did not live there very long. Already in 1518 (just over 20 years young) he succeeded in getting a post as secretaire at the court of Marguerite of Navarre, sister of Francis I, King of France. This court was a center of culture and in the 1520s became the hotbed of ecclesial reform. She corresponded intensely with the Bishop of Meaux, who in his diocese was organizing one of the most promising experiments of church renewal (Meaux = just north of Paris). She was the sponsor and certainly the protector, if not background coordinator. Her personal scholar, the par of Erasmus, Lefèvre d'Etaples, supervised the experiment. Next to this she was quite a learned woman and a gifted poet (and posthumous: storyteller and playwright). Marot's religious inspired poetry, like his first Psalm versification and simple prayers in French have their natural habitat in her sphere. His first Psalm (nr. 6) was added to a reprint of Marguerite's Miroir de l`âme pècheresse, 1533) and the prayers appeared in a closely annexed pamphlet about the reform of orthography.

In 1527 Marot had become valet de chambre du roi (court poet, a honorary function) and his fame increased.
 All of Paris was familiar with him through some of his poems that circulated and occasionally were printed. A huge success he scored with his chansons, published by Attaingnant. In 1534 he had to leave the country because of the Affaire des placards: fierce broadsheets against the 'popish Mass' were hung everywhere in and around Paris and anyone suspected of sympathies for "Lutheranism", as it is then called, was in acute danger. After finding shelter in Navarre (with... Marguerite, now married to king of Navarre) he traveled to Ferrara, where the half-sister of the king, Renée de France, held court, not only entertaining the French in Italy, but at the same time actively stimulating intellectual, moral and ecclesial renewal. After two years of exile Marot could only return to France because he publicly abjured his 'errors' and explicitly confirmed his allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church (December 1536, in Lyon). He was restored to his position and became the greatest poet of his time. From then on he kept silent about his innermost convictions. But his name stayed connected to the Reform movement, his Psalm versifications circulated in manuscript, and became associated with Calvinism ever since John Calvin used 13 of them in his first Hymnbook (Strasbourg, 1539). In 1542 a new wave of prosecutions made him decide to leave France. He departed for Geneva this time, where he was well received by Calvin, who actively supported him while he was expanding his versification of the Psalter. Marot left the city late 1543, wanting to return to France. He died on 12 September 1544, at the age of 47, in Turin where the French troops had their headquarters.
At his death, an epigram was carved out in marble and placed in the Turin Cathedral, where it was removed thirty years later on the explicit command of the Bishop of Turin.

As was normal procedure in those days poems circulated in manuscript, and only poems made for special occasions were printed. The texts of his songs (chansons) appeared in music editions (music Claudin de Sermisy, Clement Janequin, both court musicians; editor: Pierre Attaingnant. Precisely because of the enormous popularity Marot felt compelled to publish an anthology of his poems, both to differentiate between authentic and unauthentic texts and to provide correct (or improved) versions. He named this anthology: "Clément's youth", Adolescence Clementine  (1532, preface 1530). In this compilation he gathered the harvest of his first 30 years as a poet. Many old art forms (ballads, rondeaux) are present, but also new types can be found such as the chanson (new as an art-form). Also characteristic is the presence of translations (or imitations, re-creations) of the classical poets (Virgil, Horace, Ovid). Here Humanist influence can be surmised. Marot proved to be well versed in epistolary art, giving this classical form a very personal touch. Famous is his épistre au roy pour le delivrer du Prison (1527) and his au roy pour avoir été derobe (1532). During his exile he perfected this art form, with as a summit of his ability the épistre au roy, du temps de son exil à Ferrare (1535), in which he begs to be allowed to return from exile. 
Before he had to flee he had published La Suite de l'Adolescence Clementine, in which he brought together more poetry from his first period. Also a series of translations of Ovid's Metamorphoses appeared in print around the same time, as always 'dedicated to the King'. When Marot returned from exile he published a new version of his Works (also suppressing some of the more religiously risky poetry) in 1538, Oeuvres. Marot is often regarded as the poet who concluded the Middle Ages (Rhetoriqueurs) and ushered in a new era: the French Renaissance. In later years he specialized in epigrams - like Martial -. While still in exile, he reinvented the old genre of the blason challenging his fellow poets to describe a (small) part of the female body in the most charming way. His own Blason du beau Tetin was the example to follow. The combination of craftsmanship in writing and a witty mind made him the 'prince of the French poets of his days', loved and admired by many, feared by others. As a satirist he finished off his arch-enemy Sagon with the  l'épitre de Frippelippes (1537). His contemporary poems in which the text of the Hebrew psalms was reformulated in 16th century strophic form, made him a name in scholarly and religious circles. He translated apès la vérité Hebraicque, i.e. based on the original language (albeit via translations). This in itself purely Humanist idea (ad fontes, back to the sources) applied to the poetry of the Psalter became an unexpected hit in evangelical circles. The poems, initially made for private use (the Court), circulated in Reform oriented circles. In 1539 John Calvin gathered a good dozen of them and he had them set to music (melody) together with some of his own (and others?) exercises. This publication (Aulcuns Psaulmes, Strasbourg 1539) was the beginning of the habit of singing psalms in the reformed liturgy. In 1541 Marot himself published a first collection (Trente Psaumes) and in 1543 the definitive collection: Cinquante Psaumes (Geneva/Paris). In Geneva, Lausanne and Lyon composers could not wait to compose music (either like a motet, or like a chanson) to these texts. The Cinquante Psaumes (49 Psalms and the Canticle of Simeon) plus some other texts became the core of the Huguenot Psalter.

The new generation of French poets around the middle of the 16th century (the young wolves of the Pléiade like Ronsard, De Baïf etc.)) dismissed Marot'ss poetry as old-fashioned, mainly - of course - to promote themselves as the alternative. This criticism gave Marots poetry a bad name for centuries. Only in the late 20th century a revaluation of the Prince des Poètes françaises took place. He is now considered to be the first Renaissance poet in French literature and - based on his preference for translations - also as a Humanist who wanted to offer the texts of classical and biblical antiquity to the modern reader in his mother's tongue.

a table with a chronology of Marot's life, works and main events (in Dutch)


Clément Marot, Oeuvres Poétiques, two volumes, Ed.
 G. Defaux, Classiques Garnier, 1990/1993

 Mayer, Clément Marot, Paris 1972 (the introduction of the abovementioned edition can be used as an update and in some parts a counter-balance)


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