Born in the French village of La Ferté-Bernard, Robert Garnier attended law school from 1564 to 1566 at Toulouse, then considered the finest school of law in France. His literary career apparently began in Toulouse, for he won prizes in various poetry competitions (called jeux floraux) and composed a number of occasional poems (one in honor of Charles IX’s visit to Toulouse in 1565). In late 1566, Garnier moved to Paris. As a young lawyer, he continued his literary avocation: He became the friend and companion of such poets as Pierre de Ronsard and Jean-Antoine de Baif, and in 1568, he published his first tragedy, Porcie. Pursuing a successful career as a magistrate, Garnier left Paris in 1569 to settle in Le Mans, in his native province of Maine.
Very little is known of Garnier’s personal life. In 1575, he married a witty and intelligent woman, Françoise Hubert, with whom he had two daughters, baptized in 1579 and 1582. His life apparently ended in tragedy. In 1583, his servants attempted to poison his entire family in order to loot the household. The attempt failed, but Garnier’s wife, her health ruined, died from the effects of the poison in 1588. Contemporary observers state that the catastrophe contributed greatly to Garnier’s death in 1590.
Despite his renown during his life as France’s foremost tragic poet, Garnier led a quiet and relatively obscure life. He apparently made very little effort to curry the favor of the court. He was never rewarded for his literary talents with royal pensions or gifts.