"Les hommes ont toute l'autorité": Madeleine des Roches and the Querelle between women and the law

Emma Herdman*

*Corresponding author for this work

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A Renaissance querelle was primarily litigious. As such, it was heavily gendered: women, who were culturally expected to be conciliatory, not argumentative, were excluded from the law courts. This article uses the example of Madeleine des Roches—a widow, and so legally “capable,” like her unmarried daughter, Catherine—to consider how women negotiated the challenges of legal quarreling. It analyzes the strategies des Roches employed, in her poetry and in her published correspondence, to avoid being perceived as quarrelsome, to bind her judicially influential addressees in obligation to her, and to object to women’s exclusion from the law. It thus shows how des Roches’s references to the court cases that plagued her widowhood actively engaged both with the individual quarrels of these specific cases and with a more general quarrel with the injustices of an exclusive and often obstructive process of law. Des Roches’s rejection of overtly agonistic writing in favor of discreetly powerful methods of persuasion reflects her objection to quarreling—as an unwelcome distraction from the literary self-expression that she maintains is a woman’s intellectual right—even as she engaged with both the law courts and the querelle des femmes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)389-408
JournalRomanic Review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2021


  • Madeleine des Roches
  • Agnostic writing
  • Forms of obligation
  • The querelle des femmes
  • Women and the law


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