Clément Marot (1496 - 1544)

Clément Marot was born in Cahors in 1496. He spent his childhood with his mother in Cahors en Quercy, land of the Oc language. His father Jean Marot (1463-1526) was a court poet, one of the "great rhetoricians" of the time, in the service of Queen Anne of Brittany, wife of Louis XII.  In 1505, when Clement was only ten years old, his father brought him to Paris with the intention of making him a lawyer. Little motivated, the young man accepts a page job in the house of the Marquis Neuville de Villeroy (Nicolas 1er de Neuville, finance secretary of Louis XII) while starting to rhyme.  

He composed The Temple of Cupid for the marriage of François d'Angoulême and Claude de France (May 18, 1514), an allegorical poem noticed at court. Clement then entered as a page in the service of the influential Marguerite d'Alençon, elder sister of François I and future queen of Navarre.  After the death of his father (1526), ​​Marot did everything to succeed him as "valet de chambre du roi" with François 1st. The charge requires being present at court, entertaining the sovereign (even on the battlefield), glorifying his reign.  

His sympathies for new ideas and the Reformation, his frequentation, his great freedom of mind attracted him many setbacks and made him some irreducible enemies, in particular at the Sorbonne. In 1529, accused of heresy, he was put in jail. Released on the intervention of François Ier, he becomes the official poet of the court.  

In 1532, Marot published under the title L'Adolescence clémentine all of the poems he had composed. The collection “in beautiful book form” groups and classifies rondeaux, epigrams, elegies, epistles, ballads, epitaphs and songs (intended for music). The work reflects the fine palette of the poet-courtier's talents and heralds the Renaissance and the spirit of the Pleiade. Again worried in 1532, then in 1534 after the affair of the cupboards (displayed up to the door of the king's bedroom at the Amboise castle), the poet took refuge in Nérac with his protector Marguerite d'Angoulême who became queen of Navarre by his remarriage (1527).  

Clément Marot not feeling safe, takes refuge in Ferrara where he is welcomed by Renée de France, daughter of Louis XII and Anne of Brittany. The ducal court, one of the most brilliant of the Italian Renaissance, is the refuge of many persecuted Protestants. Marot named "secretary" of the duchess, meets Calvin there. He translated into French and into verse Six Sonnetz on the death of his lady Laure du Canzoniere from Pétrarque and wrote the first sonnet in French, dedicated to the Duchess of Ferrara, immediately imitated by the poets of the Lyonnaise School.  

Pope Paul III intervenes with the Duke. Marot must take refuge in Venice. Pardoned by the king, Marot abjured Protestantism in Lyon in 1536 in the hands of Cardinal François de Tournon, theFrançois 1er's  "Richelieu". Back to Paris in 1537, he regained the status of official poet of the court and translated the psalms of David into French, in verses and stanzas, so that they could be more easily memorized, in order to be sung.

In 1539, Marot presented to King François I the manuscript of the first thirty psalms. Before they are even printed, they are sung at court and throughout France. The success is considerable, as much with the Catholics as with the Protestants. Musicians set them to music. Like Claudin de Sermisy and later Claude Goudimel (1561) and Claude Le Jeune (1564).

In 1542, the re-edition of one of his works, L’Enfer, satirizing people of justice written after his detention at Châtelet, earned him a new charge of heresy. He then took refuge in Geneva with Calvin who encouraged him to resume the translation and putting into "French rhymes" of the psalms.

He died in Turin in 1544, poor and miserable, without having been able to complete his task. He is buried in the Saint-Jean church. His Poitevin friend Lyon Jamet, secretary of Renée de France, made him erect a monument of marble with epitaphs which have disappeared.  

After Marot death, Calvin commissioned Théodore de Bèze to continue his work and translate Cent psaulmes de David, printed in Geneva. Finally, the psalms, sung first by Catholics and Protestants, are thanks to Calvin introduced into the cult of the Reforms.  

Clément Marot remains remarkable in our literature for his hectic life (rebel and provocative) and also for the extent of his talent. Far from the "elegant banter" which Boileau gratifies him, the poet is one of the first to use in virtuoso, in French and in verse, a clear, strong and elegant language, somewhat renewed. Representative of his time at the crossroads of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, painfully torn between traditions and Reformation, his work never departed from a musicality, an accent, which we find underlying each rhyme, from the songs from the Adolescence clémentine to the last psalms.

© Didier Chagnas