(1524 – 1585)
Pierre de Ronsard is considered by many scholars to be the greatest poet of the French Renaissance. He founded and led a small group of like-minded writers known first as the Brigade and later as the Ple´iade who sought to create a French literature. Ronsard’s body of literary works shaped French poetry long after his death, giving direction to the idealistic voices of the nineteenth-century romantics.
Pierre de Ronsard was born at La Poissonnie`re on September 11, 1524, the youngest of the four surviving children of Jeanne Chaudrier and Louis de Ronsard. Jeanne was the daughter of a Poitevin family with ties to several prominent bloodlines of sixteenth-century France; Louis was a country gentleman whose distinction as a knight in the Italian campaigns of Charles VIII and Louis XII earned him the position of royal diplomat and maıˆtre d’hotel. As Louis was frequently absent, Ronsard was strongly influenced by his relation with his cleric uncle, Jean de Ronsard. Thought to have played an important role in his nephew’s earliest education,
Jean de Ronsard was a writer of verses, and he possessed a substantial library to which Ronsard became heir upon his uncle’s death. In 1533 Ronsard left his home to receive formal instruction in Paris at the academically and religiously conservative Colle`ge de Navarre. In spring 1534, after only one semester of study, the boy was peremptorily withdrawn from the school and returned to the paternal manor. This departure has been ascribed both to the young Ronsard’s homesickness and to his father’s fear that his son might become associated with the position taken by the college against the reformist leanings of the king’s sister, Marguerite de Navarre.
Cruel Fortune and the Inevitability of Death
Louis took advantage of his office in the royal household to secure his son a position as page to the dauphin Francis. A mere six days after joining Francis in the Rhoˆne Valley, the dauphin died, and Ronsard, not yet twelve years old, found himself attending the prince’s autopsy—an event he recalled, some thirty-nine years later, among the verses of his Le Tombeau de tres-illustre Princesse Marguerite de France, Duchesse de Savoye (1575; Tomb for the Most Illustrious Princess, Marguerite de France, Duchess of Savoie). This shocking experience was followed by others. While in Lyon on October 7, 1536, Ronsard was witness, on orders from a vengeful Charles V, to the quartering of the dauphin’s foreign-born squire, who was wrongly convicted of poisoning his master.
On July 2, 1537, barely a month and a half after arriving in Scotland as a page in the service of Madeleine de France, Ronsard watched as the ravaging effects of tuberculosis, a highly contagious and often deadly disease, extinguished the lady’s life before she reached her seventeenth birthday. Biographers and literary critics have speculated that these encounters with human mortality at an early age account for the themes of cruel fortune and the inevitability of death throughout Ronsard’s poetry. Read the rest of this entry