After him was born the Queen of Spain, and then consecutively, that fine and illustrious progeny whom we have all seen, besides others who were no sooner born than they died, by great misfortune and fatality. For this reason the King, her husband, loved her more and more, and in such manner that he, who was naturally of an amorous temperament, and who greatly liked to make love and to vary his loves, often said that of all the women in the world there was none who excelled his wife for love-making, nor did any equal her.
He had good cause for saying this, for she truly was a princess beautiful as well as lovable. She was of fine and stately presence; of great majesty, at the same time gentle when occasion required it; of noble appearance and good grace, her face handsome and agreeable, her bosom full, beautiful, and exquisitely fair, her body also very fair, the flesh firm, the skin smooth, as I have heard from several ladies-in-waiting; of a good plumpness as well, the leg and thigh well formed (as I have heard too from the same ladies).
She also took great pride in being well shod and in having her stockings tightly drawn up without wrinkles. Besides all this she possessed the most beautiful hand that was ever seen, as I believe. The poets once praised Aurora for her fine hands and tapering fingers; but I think our Queen would surpass her in that; and she carefully guarded and maintained this beauty to her dying day.
King Henry III, her son, inherited much of this beauty of the hand.
Moreover she always dressed herself well and superbly, often with some new and pretty conceit. In short, she had many charms in herself to make her well loved. I remember that at Lyons one day she went to see a painter named Corneille who had painted and exhibited in a spacious room portraits of all the great seigneurs, princes, cavaliers, queens, princesses, ladies and maids of honour of the Court, and she being in this room with us we all saw there her portrait painted true to life, showing her in all her beauty and perfection, apparelled as a Frenchwoman with a cap, showing her great pearls, and a gown whose wide sleeves of silver tissue were trimmed with lynx—the whole picture, which also showed the portraits of her three daughters, was so perfect that speech alone seemed lacking.
The Queen took great pleasure in seeing the portrait, and the assembled company did likewise, and praised and admired her beauty above all.
She herself was so ravished at the sight of the portrait that she could not take her gaze from it, until M. de Nemours came to her and said, "Madame, I think you are so well portrayed there that there remains nothing more to be said, and it seems to me, too, that your daughters do you great honour, for they do not excel you, nor surpass you."
To this the Queen replied, "My cousin, I think you can remember the period, the age, and the dress represented in this portrait, so that you can judge better than anyone present, you who have seen me dressed as I am represented in this portrait, and can say whether I was esteemed as much as they say, and whether I ever looked as I am portrayed there."
There was not one in the whole company who did not lavish praise and estimate her beauty highly, and who did not say that the mother was worthy of the daughters and the daughters of the mother. And this beauty remained her portion through life, while married and while widowed, until her death; not that she had the freshness of her more blooming and younger years, but still she remained well preserved, always agreeable, always desirable.
Besides she was very good company, always of a good humour; loving any becoming exercise, such as dancing, in which she exhibited great grace and dignity.
She also greatly loved hunting; about which I heard a lady of the Court tell this tale: King Francis having chosen and gathered a few of his Court whom he called "the little band of Court ladies," which included the handsomest, daintiest and most favoured, often escaped from the Court and went to other estates to hunt deer and while away the time, sometimes staying thus in retreat eight days, ten days, sometimes more, sometimes less, just as the humour took him.
Our Queen (who was then simply Madame la Dauphine) seeing that such parties were made up without her, and that even Mesdames her sisters-in-law were included while she was left at home, begged the King to always take her with him, and to further honour her by never allowing her to go about without being accompanied by him.
It's said that she, who was always shrewd and clever, did this as much or more to watch the King's movements and to learn his secrets and to be able to hear and know all that went on, as she did it from pure liking for the chase.
King Francis was so pleased with this request, showing, as it seemed, the love she had for his company, that he heartily granted her request. He loved her more now than ever before and showed delight in giving her the pleasures of the hunt, which she followed, riding at full speed and ever by his side.
She was a good and fearless horseback rider, sitting her horse with easy grace, and was the first to ride with the leg around the pommel, which was more graceful and becoming than the former mode of sitting with feet upon a board. She loved to ride horseback even up to the time she was sixty years old and over, and when her growing feebleness prevented her riding she pined for it. It was one of her greatest pleasures to ride far and fast, though she had many falls, even breaking her leg and bruising her head so severely that it had to be trepanned. After she became a widow and had charge of the King and the kingdom, she accompanied the King everywhere and took all her children with her; and when the King, her husband, was still living she generally accompanied him to the stag and other hunts. If he played pall-mall she often watched him, and sometimes played herself. She was also fond of shooting baked clay balls with a cross-bow, and she shot well too; so that she always took with her her cross-bow when riding, in order if any game was seen she could shoot it. When she was kept indoors by bad weather she was forever devising some new dance or beautiful ballet. She invented games as well and passed her time by these devices, being quite unreserved, but knowing how to be grave and austere when occasion demanded it.
She was fond of seeing comedies and tragedies enacted, but after "Sophonisbe," a tragedy written by M. de Saint-Gelais, was well presented at Blois by her daughters, maids-of-honor and other ladies as well as gentlemen of her Court during the celebration attendant on the marriages of M. du Cypiere and the Marquis d'Elboeuf, she took the notion that tragedies were unlucky for state affairs and so would not let them be played again. But she still listened readily enough to comedies and tragi-comedies, even such as "Zani" and "Pantaloon" and took great pleasure in them, laughing as heartily as anyone, for she liked laughter, being naturally of a happy disposition, loving a witty word and being ever ready with a witty rejoinder, knowing well when to cast a jest or a stone, and when to withhold it.
In the afternoons she passed her time at work on her silk embroideries, in which she was as perfect as possible.
In short the Queen liked and practiced all healthy exercises, and there was not one that was worthy of herself or her sex that the Queen did not wish to essay and practice.
This is a brief description, avoiding prolixity, of the beauty of her person and of her various exercises.
When she called anyone "my friend" it was because she either thought him a fool or was angry with him. This was so well known that once when she had thus addressed one of her attendant gentlemen, named M. de Bois-Fevrier, he made reply, "Alas, Madame, I would rather have you call me 'enemy,' for to call me your friend is the equivalent of saying either I am a fool or that you are angry with me, for I have long known your nature."
As for her mind, it was great and admirable, as is shown by so many fine and striking acts, by which her life has been made illustrious forever.
The King, her husband, as well as his Council of State esteemed her so highly that when the King left the kingdom on his journey to Germany, he established and placed her as Regent and Governor throughout his dominions during his absence by royal declaration solemnly made before the Houses of Parliament in Paris. This trust she exercised so wisely that there was no disturbance, change, nor alteration in the State because of the King's absence; but, on the contrary, the Queen so carefully saw to affairs that she was able to assist the King with money, means, and men, and other kinds of aid; which greatly aided him in his return and for the conquest which he made of cities in the duchy of Luxembourg, such as Yvoy, Montmedy, Dampvilliers, Chimay and others.
I leave it to you what must be thought of him who wrote that fine life when he slanders her by saying that never did the King, her husband, allow her to put her nose into matters of state.
Was not this making her Regent in his absence giving her ample opportunities to have full knowledge of them? And she did this during all the trips he made yearly in going to his armies.
What did she do after the battle of Saint-Laurens, when the state was so shaken and the King had hastened to Compiegne to raise a new army?
She became so wrapped up in state affairs that she so aroused and stirred up the gentlemen of Paris that they gave prompt aid to their King, which came at a good time, and included money and other things very necessary in war.
Furthermore, when the King, her husband, was wounded, persons who were there and saw it cannot be uninformed of the great care she took for his cure, and the vigils she kept by his bedside; the prayers she offered continuously; the processions and visitations she made to the churches; and the hurried journeys she made in all directions for doctors and surgeons. But the King's hour had come; and when he passed from this world to the next, her grief was so great and she shed so many tears that it would seem she never could control them, and ever after, whenever his name was spoken the tears welled up from the depths of her eyes. For this reason she assumed a device in keeping and suitable to her tears and mourning, namely, a mound of quicklime over which the drops from heaven fall abundantly, with these words in Latin as a motto: Adorem extincta testantur vivere flamma (Although the flame is extinguished, this testifies that the fire still lives). The drops of water, like her tears, show ardour, though the flame has been extinguished. This device is allegorical of the nature of quicklime, which when watered burns strangely and shows its fire though the flame is wanting. Thus did our Queen show her zeal and affection by her tears, though the flame, which typified her husband, was now extinct. And this was the same as saying that, although he was dead, she wished to show by her tears that she could never forget him, but would love him always.
A similar device was formerly borne by Madame Valentine de Milan, Duchess d'Orleans, after the death of her husband, who was killed in Paris, for whom she grieved so much, that as a solace and comfort in her mourning, she assumed as device a watering pot, above which was an S, meaning, it is said, Seule, souvenir, soucis, soupirer (Lonely, remembrance, solicitude, sighing). And around the watering-pot were inscribed these words, Rien ne m'est plus; plus ne m'est rien (Nought is more to me; more is to me nothing). This device is still to be seen in her chapel in the Church of the Franciscans at Blois.
Good King Rene of Sicily having lost his wife Isabel, Duchess de Lorraine, suffered such great grief that he never was happy afterwards; and when his intimate friends and favourites tried to console him he was wont to lead them to his bedroom and there show them a picture, painted by himself (for he was an excellent painter), depicting a Turkish bow unstrung, beneath, which was written, Arco per lentare piaga non sana (The bow although unstrung heals not the wounds).
Then King Rene would thus address them: "My friends, with this picture I answer all your arguments. By unstringing a bow, or by breaking the string, the harm done by the arrow can quickly be prevented, but the life of my dear spouse being broken and extinguished by death, the wound to the loyal love that ever filled my heart for her while she lived cannot be cured." In various places in Angers these Turkish bows with broken strings can be seen, with these words inscribed beneath, Arco per lentare piaga non sana (The loosened bow does not heal the wound). The same is seen on the Franciscan church, in the Chapel of Saint-Bernardin, which he decorated. He assumed this device after the death of his Queen, although during her lifetime he had used another one.
Our Queen, around her device, which I have described, placed many trophies, such as cracked mirrors, fans, rumpled plumes, pearls, broken quivers, precious stones and jewels scattered about, bits of broken chains, the whole to signify the abandoning of all worldly pomp, since, now that her husband was dead, her mourning for him was never to cease, and without the grace of God and the courage which He had given her, she would have succumbed to her great grief and distress. But she saw that her young children, as well as France, needed her aid, as we ourselves have seen since by experience; for, like a Semiramis, or a second Athalie, she foiled, saved, guarded and preserved these same young children from many enterprises planned against them during their early years; and accomplished this with so much prudence and industry that all thought her wonderful.
She was Regent of this kingdom after the death of King Francis, her son, and during the minority of our kings by the ordinance of the Estates of Orleans, and this, which well might have been given to the King of Navarre, who as premier prince of the blood wished to be Regent in her place, and to be Governor over all. But she won over so easily and dexterously the said Estates that if the King of Navarre had not gone elsewhere, she would have had him attainted of the crime of lese-majeste.
And it is possible that but for Madame de Montpensier, who had great influence over her, she would still have done so on account of the intrigue against the Estates into which he forced the Prince de Conde.
So the aforementioned King was obliged to content himself to serve under her, and this was one of the shrewd and subtle moves she made in the beginning of her management of affairs. Afterwards she knew how to maintain her rank and authority so imperiously that no one dared deny it, no matter how grand or how strenuous he might be, as was shown after a period of three months when, during a stay of the Court at Fontainebleau, this same King of Navarre, wishing to show the resentment still in his heart, took offence because M. de Guise had the keys of the King's palace brought to him each night, and kept them all night in his room exactly like a grand master of the household (for that was one of his appointments), so that no one could go out without his permission.
This angered greatly the King of Navarre, who himself wished to keep the keys. On being refused the keys, he grew spiteful and rebellious to such an extent that one morning he suddenly came to the King and Queen and announced his intention of taking leave of the Court, and of taking with him all the princes of the blood, whom he had won over, including M. le Connetable de Montmorency, his children and nephew.
The Queen, who did not expect this move, was astounded at first, and did all in her power to avert the blow, giving assurances to the King of Navarre that if he would but be patient he would some day be satisfied with affairs.
But fair words gained her nothing with the King, who was determined to leave.
It was then that our Queen decided on this shrewd plan: She sent orders to M. le Connetable, as principal, first and oldest officer of the crown, to remain near the person of the King, his master, as then his office demanded, and not to take his departure.
M. le Connetable, being a wise and judicious man, and being zealous for his master's interests as well as alert to his grandeur and honour, after reflecting on his duty and the orders sent him, went to the King and announced himself ready to fulfil his office.
This greatly astonished the King of Navarre, who was on the point of mounting his horse, waiting only the arrival of M. le Connetable to depart.
M. le Connetable when he came explained his duty and the responsibility of his office and endeavoured to persuade the King of Navarre himself not to budge or take his departure. This he did so well that the King of Navarre at his urging went to see the King and Queen, and after conferring with their majesties he gave up his journey and countermanded his orders for his mules, they having by that time arrived at Melun.
So peace once more reigned, to the great joy of the King of Navarre.
Not that M. de Guise diminished any of his claims pertaining to his office, or yielded one atom of his honour, for he retained his pre-eminence and all that belonged to him, without being shaken in the least, although he was not the stronger; but in such affairs he was a man of the world and was never bewildered, but knew well how to face things courageously and to keep to his rank, and to hold what he had.
It cannot be doubted, as all the world knows, but that, if the Queen had not bethought herself of this scheme regarding M. le Connetable, all that party would have gone to Paris and stirred up trouble for us, for which reason great credit should be given the Queen for her makeshift.
I know, for I was there, that many said that the plan was not of her invention, but rather that of Cardinal de Tournon, a wise and judicious prelate; but this is false, for, old hand as he was for prudence and counsel, my faith, the Queen knew more tricks than he, or all the Council of the King put together.
For often, when he was at fault, she would help him and put him on the track of what he ought to know, of which I might give many examples; but it will be enough to cite this one instance, which is recent, and about which the Queen herself did me the honour to disclose.
It is as follows:
When she went to Guyenne, and, later, to Coignac to reconcile the princes of the Religion and those of the League, and so give peace to the kingdom again—for she saw that it would soon be ruined by this division—she determined to declare a truce in order to formulate this peace; because of which the King of Navarre and the Prince de Conde became very discontented and mutinous—for the reason, they said, that this proclamation did them great harm because of their foreign troops, who, having heard of it, might repent of their coming, or might delay in coming, thinking that the Queen had made it with that very intention.
And they declared and resolved not to see the Queen nor to treat with her until the said truce was revoked.
Her Council, whom she had with her, though composed of able men, she found to be without much sense and weak, because they could find no means by which this truce could be rescinded.
The Queen then said to them, "Truly, you are very stupid as to finding a remedy. Don't you know any better? There is only one solution to this. You have at Maillezais the Huguenot regiment of Neufvy and of Sorlu. Send for me from here, from Niort, all the arquebusiers you can muster and cut the regiment to pieces and so you will have the truce broken and rescinded without any further trouble."
And as soon as she commanded it, it was done, the arquebusiers started, led by Captain l'Estelle, and forced their fort and barricades so well that the Huguenot regiment was defeated, Sorlu killed, who was a valiant man, Neufvy taken prisoner and many others killed. Their flags were all captured and brought to the Queen at Niort. She showed her accustomed clemency by pardoning all, and sent them away with their ensigns and flags, which, as regards flags, is a very rare thing.
But she wished to make this concession, she told me, on account of its very rarity, so that the princes would now know that they had to deal with a very able princess, and that they should not apply to her such mockery as to make her revoke a truce by the very heralds who had proclaimed it. For while they were planning to give her this insult, she had fallen upon them, and now sent word to them by the prisoners that it was not for them to affront her by demanding of her unseemly and unreasonable things, since it remained in her power to do them good or evil.
In this manner this Queen knew how to give and drill in a lesson to her Council. I might tell of other instances, but I have other points to treat upon, the first of which will be to answer those whom I have often heard accuse her of being the first to fly to arms, thus being the cause of our civil wars.
Whoever will look to the source of the thing will not believe it; for, the triumvirate being created, with the King of Navarre at its head, she, seeing the plots that were being concocted, and knowing the change of faith made by the King of Navarre—who from being Huguenot and very strict, had turned Catholic—and knowing by this change she had cause to fear for the King, for the kingdom, and for herself, and that he might move against them, she reflected and wondered to what tended such plots, such numerous meetings, colloquies and secret audiences; and, not being able to fathom the mystery, it is said that one day she bethought herself to go to the room above which the secret session was being held, and there, by means of a tube which she had caused to be surreptitiously inserted under the tapestry, she listened unperceived to all their plans.
Among other things she heard one that was very terrible and bitter for her, and that was when Marechal de Saint-Andre, one of the triumvirate, proposed that the Queen be taken, put in a sack and flung into the river, since otherwise they would never succeed in their plans.
But the late M. de Guise, who was always fair and generous, said that such a thing must not be, for it was going too far, and was too unjust to thus cruelly slay the wife and mother of our kings, and that he was utterly opposed to the plan.
For this the said Queen has always loved him, and proved it by her treatment of his children, after his death, by giving them his entire possessions.
I leave to your imagination what such a sentence meant to the Queen, hearing it as she did with her own ears, and also whether she did not have cause for fear, notwithstanding her defence by M. de Guise.
From what I have heard told by one of the Queen's intimates, the Queen feared, as indeed she had cause to, that they would strike the blow without the knowledge of M. de Guise. For, in a deed so detestable, an upright man is to be distrusted, and should never be informed of the act. She was thus compelled to look out for her own safety, and to employ for it those who were already under arms (the Prince de Conde and the leaders of the Protestant party), imploring them to have pity for a mother and her children.
Such as it was, this was the sole cause of the Civil War.
For this reason she would never go, with the others, to Orleans, nor allow them to have the King and her children, as she could have done; and she felt glad, and with reason, that amongst the uproar and rumour of strife, she and the King, her son, and her other children were in safety.
Moreover she begged and obtained the promise from others, that when she should summon them to lay down their arms that they would do so, but this they would not do when the time came, notwithstanding the appeals she made to them, and the trouble she took, and the great heat she endured at Talsy, trying to induce them to listen to terms of peace which she could have made favourable and lasting for France had they only listened to her. And this conflagration, and others which we have seen lighted from this first brand, would have been stamped out forever in France had they but believed in her. I know the zeal she showed, and I know what I myself have heard her say, with tears in her eyes.
This is why they cannot tax her with the first spark of the Civil War, nor yet with the second, which was that day's work at Meaux, for at that time she was thinking only of the hunt, and of giving pleasure to the King at her beautiful house at Monceaux.
The warning came that M. le Prince and those of the Religion were under arms and in the field to surprise and seize the King under pretext of presenting a request.
God knows who was the cause of this new disturbance, and had it not been for the six thousand Swiss troops, newly raised, no one knows what might not have happened.
This levy of Swiss troops was the pretext for them to take up arms, and of saying and spreading broadcast that it was done to force them into war.
But it was they themselves who requested this levy of troops from the King and Queen, as I know from being then at Court, on account of the march of the Duke of Alva and his army, fearing that, under pretext of marching on Flanders, he might descend upon the frontiers of France, and besides urging that it was always the custom to strengthen the frontiers whenever a neighbouring state was arming.
No one can be uniformed of how urgently they pressed this upon the King and Queen, both by letters and by embassies. Even M. le Prince himself and M. l'Admiral (Coligny) came to see the King on this subject, at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, where I saw them.
I should also like to ask (for all that I write here I saw myself), who it was who took up arms on Shrove Tuesday, and who bribed and begged Monsieur, the King's brother, and the King of Navarre to listen to the schemes for which Mole and Coconas were executed in Paris?
It was not the Queen, for it was by her wisdom that she prevented them from uprising, holding Monsieur and the King of Navarre so imprisoned in the forest of Vincennes that they could not break out, and on the death of King Charles she held them as tightly in Paris and the Louvre, even barring their windows one morning—at least those of the King of Navarre, who was lodged on the lower floor (this I know from the King of Navarre, who told it me with tears in his eyes), and kept such strict watch over them that they could not escape as they intended.
Their escape would have greatly embroiled the state and prevented the return of Poland to the King, a thing for which they were striving.
I know this from having been invited to the fracas, which was one of the finest strokes of policy ever made by the Queen.
Starting from Paris, she carried them to the King at Lyons so watchfully and skilfully that no one who saw them would think that they were prisoners.
They journeyed in the same coach with her, and she herself presented them to the King, who pardoned them soon after their arrival.
Again, who was it that enticed Monsieur, the King's brother, to leave Paris one fine night, casting off the affection of his brother who loved him so much, and to take up arms and embroil all France?
M. de La Noue knows all this, and the plots which began at the siege of La Rochelle, and what I told him about them.
It was not the Queen Mother, for on this open and abrupt departure by her son, she felt such grief to see one brother banded against another brother, his King, that she swore she would die of grief if she could not reunite them as they were before, which she accomplished. I have heard her say at Blois, in conversation with Monsieur, that she prayed for nothing so much as that God would grant the favour of this re-union, after which He might send her death and she would accept it with the best of heart. Or else she would retire to her houses of Monceaux and Chenonceaux and never again meddle with the affairs of France, willing to end her days in tranquillity.
In fact she really wished to do this, but the King begged her to refrain, for both he and his kingdom had great need of her.
I am assured that had she not gained peace by this re-union, all would have been up with France, for there were then fifty thousand foreigners scattered over France who would have gladly helped to humble and destroy her.
It was not, therefore, the Queen who brought about this taking up of arms, nor was it the State Assembly at Blois, who wanted but one religion and proposed to abolish all contrary to their own, and who demanded that, if the spiritual sword did not suffice to abolish it, recourse should be had to the temporal.
Some have stated that the Queen bribed them; this was wrong, for in each province there were authorities who would not have yielded to her wishes. I do not say that she did not win them over later; that was a fine stroke of policy, showing her resourcefulness. But it was not she who summoned the Assembly. On the contrary, she laid all the blame on it, because it lessened both the King's authority and her own. It was the Church party which had long demanded the Assembly, and voluntarily called it together, and required by the articles of the last peace that it should be convened and held; to which the Queen strongly objected, foreseeing this abuse of power. Nevertheless, to quiet their incessant clamour, they were allowed to convoke it, to their own confusion and injury, not to their profit and contentment as they had thought; and for this reason they resorted to arms. Again it was not the Queen who did so.
Neither was it she who caused certain of them to be seized when they captured Mont-de-Marsan, La Fere in Picardy, and Cahors. I recall what the King said to M. de Moissans, who came to him on behalf of the King of Navarre. He repulsed him roughly, telling him that while these men were cajoling him with fine speeches, they were taking up arms and seizing cities.
This, then, is the way in which the Queen was the fomenter of all our wars and civil fires, the which she not only did not light but employed all her energies and efforts to extinguish, abhorring to see the death of so many nobles and landed gentlemen. And without that and her commiseration, those who bore against her a mortal enmity would have found themselves in dire straits, themselves laid beneath the sod, and their party not flourishing as it now is. All this must be imputed to her goodness of heart, of which we now stand in sore need—so everybody agrees and the poor people cry: "We no longer have the Queen Mother to make peace for us!" It was not through lack of her efforts that she did not succeed when she went to Guienne recently to treat for peace, at Coignac and Jarnac, with the King of Navarre and the Prince de Conde. I know that which I have witnessed—the tears in her eyes and the regret in her heart to which these princes would not yield; and the result we possibly see in the evils which afflict us to-day.
They have wished to accuse her of having been implicated in the War of the League. Why, then, should she have undertaken to conclude the peace I have just mentioned, if she had been? Why should she have appeased the riots of the barricades of Paris; and why reconciled the King with the Duc de Guise, as we have seen, if it were only to destroy the latter?
In short, no matter how much they slander her, never shall we have in France another so active in peace.
But the chief accusation against her is the massacre of Paris [of Saint Bartholomew]. All that is a sealed book to me, for I was just then setting out by boat from Brouage; but I have heard it said on good authority that she was not the prime mover in it. Three or four others, whom I might name, were much more active in it than she, pushing her forward and making her believe, from threats made upon the wounding of Admiral Coligny, that the King was to be killed, with herself and all her children, or else that the country was to be still worse involved in arms. Certainly the Church party were very wrong to utter such threats as they are said to have made, for they hastened the downward steps of the poor Admiral and procured his death. If they had kept their own counsel and uttered no word, and allowed the Admiral's wounds to heal, he could have left Paris in safety and quiet, and nothing else would have happened. M. de La Noue has been strongly of this opinion. Indeed, he and M. de Strozze and I have talked it over more than once, and he has never approved the bravados, the bold threats and the like which were openly made in the King's Court and his city of Paris. And he blamed no less strongly his brother-in-law, M. de Theligny, who was one of the hottest heads of them all, calling him a downright fool and blockhead. The Admiral never was guilty of this loud talk, at least not in public. I do not say that in secret or with his closest friends he did not say things. And this was the true cause of his death and of the massacre of his friends, and not the Queen, as was charged, although there are many who never have been able to get the idea out of their heads that this was a train long laid and a fuse well concealed. It is false. The least passionate agree with me, and the more violent and obstinate think otherwise; and thus very often we credit to kings and great princes the ordering of the natural course of events, and say afterwards how prudent and provident they were and how well they could dissimulate; when all the while they knew nothing more about it than a plum.
To return again to the Queen, her enemies have given it out that she was not a good Frenchwoman. God knows with what zeal she urged that the English be driven from Havre de Grace, and what she said about it to M. le Prince, and how she made him go, with many cavaliers of his party, with the crown-companies of M. Andelot, and other Huguenots, and how she herself led this army, usually on horseback, like a second beautiful Queen Marfisa, exposing herself to the arquebusades and the cannonades like one of her captains, always watching the batteries, and saying that she would never be at ease until she had taken this city, and driven the English out of France, and hating worse than poison those who had sold it to them. And she accomplished so much that finally she restored it to France.
When Rouen was besieged I saw her in the greatest of fury, when she saw enter English reinforcements, by means of a French galley captured the year before, fearing that this place, failing to be captured by us, might fall into the control of the English. For this reason she "pushed hard at the wheel," as the saying is, to capture it, and never failed to come each day to the fort Sainte-Catherine to hold council and to watch the bombardment.
I have often seen her passing along the covered way to Sainte-Catherine, while the arquebusades and cannonades rained shot around her, and her paying no attention to them. Those who were there saw it as well as I. There are living to-day ladies who accompanied her, to whom the firing was not pleasant (I know this for I saw them there), and when M. le Connetable and M. le Guise remonstrated with her, telling her some accident might happen to her, she merely laughed and said that she saw no reason why she should spare herself more than they, since her courage was as good as theirs, although her sex had denied her the same strength. As for hardship, she endured that very well, either on foot or horseback. I think that for a long time there never was a better queen or princess on horseback, nor one who sat her mount with better grace; not seeming for all that like a masculine woman, formed like some fantastic Amazon, but a noble princess, beautiful, gracious and sweet.
It was said of her that she was strongly Spanish. Certainly while her good daughter was alive [Elizabeth, wife of Philip II of Spain] she loved the Spanish. But after her daughter died we knew—at least some of us—whether she had cause to love either the land or the people. It is true that she was always so prudent that she desired to receive the Spanish King always as a good son-in-law, to the end that he should treat her daughter the better, as is the way with good mothers; and also that he might never come to trouble us in France, nor make war here according to his warlike tastes and natural ambition.
Others have charged that she never liked the nobles of France and was always glad to shed their blood. I refute that by the many times she made peace and spared bloodshed; and in addition to this one should take notice of the fact that while she was Regent and her children in their minority, there were not seen at Court so many quarrels and duels as we have seen since, for she would not countenance them, giving express orders against such things and punishing those who disobeyed her. At other times, I have often seen her at Court when the King had gone away for some time leaving her absolutely alone, at a time when quarrels were rife and duels common—which she never would permit—I have seen her suddenly give orders to the captain of the guards to make arrests, and to the marshals and officers to regulate all such quarrels; so that, to speak the truth, she was more feared than the King, for she well knew how to deal with the disobedient and unruly and could reprimand them severely.
I remember once, when the King had gone to the baths at Bourbon, that my late cousin La Chastaignerie had a quarrel with Pardailhan. She sent to seek him, warning him on his life not to fight a duel; but being unable to find him for two whole days she had him shadowed so well that, on a Sunday morning, the Grand Provost found him on the island of Louviers, where he was awaiting his enemy, arrested him there, and took him as a prisoner to the Bastille, by the Queen's orders. But he remained there only overnight, and then she sent for him and gave him a reprimand partly sharp, partly gentle, for she was naturally of good heart, and harsh only when she wished to be. I know very well what she said to me also, inasmuch as I was to be my cousin's second: that as I was older I ought to know better.
The year that the King returned from Poland, a quarrel began between De Grillon and D'Entaigues, both brave and valiant gentlemen, who being called out and ready to fight, the King gave orders for their arrest of M. de Rambouillet, one of his Captains of the Guards on duty; and also ordered M. de Nevers and Marshal de Retz to reconcile the two men, which they failed to do. The Queen thereupon summoned them both, that evening, to her room; and as their quarrel was in regard to two great ladies of her household, she commanded them sternly and then besought them gently to leave to her the settlement of their differences; for since she had done them the honour to meddle in it, and the princes, marshals, and captains had failed to bring them together, she wished to have the credit and honour for so doing. By this means she made them friends, and they embraced unreservedly, taking all from her; so that by her prudence the subject of the quarrel, which touched upon the honour of the two ladies and was rather delicate, was never known publicly. This shows the great goodness of the Princess! And then to charge that she never liked the nobility! Ha! If the truth were known she liked and esteemed it too much. I believe that there was not a house in her kingdom with whom she was not personally acquainted. It is said that she learned all about them from the great King Francis, who knew all the genealogies of the great families of his kingdom; while as for her husband, the King, he had this faculty that after he had once seen a gentleman he recognised him ever after, knowing not only his face but also his deeds and his reputation. I have seen this Queen, frequently and as a usual thing, when her son the King was a minor, take the trouble to present to him personally the gentlemen of his realm, reminding him that "This one has rendered good service to the King, your grandfather," and such and such things "to the King, your father," and so on; and commanding him to be mindful of them, to cherish them, look after their interests, and remember them by name. And that he heeded her advice was seen later, for, through this instruction, the King was thoroughly informed of the gentlemen of rank and honourable race who resided in his kingdom.
These detractors have also said that she never loved her people. This does not appear. Did she ever levy as many taxes, subsidies, imposts and other duties, while she directed the Government during the minority of her children, as has been levied since in a single year? Have they ever discoverd any hoards of money here or in the banks of Italy, as has been believed? On the contrary, after her death they never found a solitary coin; and I have heard some of her creditors and ladies say that after her death she was found to be in debt to the sum of eight thousand crowns, the wages of her ladies, gentlemen, and officers of her household for an entire year, and the income of a year spent in advance; so that, some months before her death, her bankers remonstrated with her over this deficit. But she laughed and said that one must praise God for everything and enjoy it while one was alive.
This, then, was her avarice, and the great wealth which she is said to have amassed. She never saved anything, for she had a heart wholly noble, liberal and magnificent, in every way the equal of that of her great-uncle, the Pope Leo, and of the celebrated Lorenzo de Medici. She spent and gave everything away; erecting buildings or applying it to memorable spectacles; and taking delight in giving entertainments to her people or Court, such as festivals, balls, dances, combats, and tourneys, three specially superb events being given during her lifetime. The first was at Fontainebleau, a carnival after the first troubles, where there were tourneys, and breaking of lances, and combats at the barrier; in brief, all sorts of joustings, followed by a comedy on the subject of the beautiful Genevra of Ariosto which was played by Madame d'Angouleme and her most beautiful and virtuous princesses and ladies and demoiselles of her Court, who certainly played it very well, so that nothing more beautiful was ever seen. The next was at Bayonne, at the interview between the Queen and her daughter, the Queen of Spain, where the magnificence was such in all things that the Spaniards, who are very disdainful of other countries besides their own, swore that they had never seen anything more splendid, and that their King could hardly rival it; and so they returned home greatly edified.
I know that many in France blamed this expense as quite unnecessary. But the Queen said she had done it to show other nations that France was not so totally ruined and poverty-stricken by reason of her recent wars as was supposed; and that, since she was able to spend so much for frivolity, she would be able to do far more for affairs of consequence and importance; and that France was all the more to be esteemed and feared, whether through the sight of so much wealth and richness, or the spectacle of so great an array of gentlemen, so brave and adroit at arms—for certainly there was a goodly number and worthy to be admired. And so it was for good and sufficient reason that our most Christian Queen made this splendid festival; for be assured that if she had not done so, the visitors would have derided us and returned home with a poor opinion of France.
A third exceedingly fine entertainment was given by her on the arrival of the Polish envoys in Paris, whom she dined superbly at the Tuileries; and afterwards in a grand ball-room made especially for the spectacle and entirely enclosed by a countless number of torches, she presented the most beautiful ballet ever seen on earth (if I may say so), which comprised sixteen ladies and demoiselles who were best suited to it. They appeared in a great grotto of silver, being seated in niches and clad as though in vapour about its sides. These sixteen ladies represented the sixteen provinces of France, with the most melodious music possible; and after having made, in this grotto, the round of the hall like a review of troops, giving an opportunity for all to see them, they descended from the grotto and formed themselves into a little company fantastically arranged, while an orchestra of thirty violins discoursed sweet music, and marched to the melody of these violins by a beautiful dance step, approaching and halting before their majesties. After this they danced their ballet, so fantastically invented, with so many turns and convolutions, twinings and twistings, in which no lady failed to find her own place again, that all the spectators were amazed at the accuracy and grace of the evolutions. This unique ballet lasted for at least an hour, after which the ladies representing, as I have said, the sixteen provinces advanced to the King, the Queen, the King of Poland, Monsieur his brother, the King and Queen of Navarre, and other notables of France and Poland, tendering to each a golden salver as large as the palm of the hand, finely enamelled and engraved, showing the fruits and products peculiar to each province, as for example: In Provence, citrons and oranges; in Champagne, cereals; in Burgundy, wines; in Guienne, soldiers—certainly a great honour to Guienne!—and so on through the various other provinces.
At Bayonne similar gifts were bestowed, and a combat was fought which I would willingly describe, but it would take too much space. But at Bayonne the men presented gifts to the ladies, while here it was the ladies giving to the men. And note that all these inventions were derived from no other bounty and brain than that of the Queen. She was mistress and deviser of everything. She had such a knack that, no matter what spectacles were offered at Court, hers surpassed all the others. So they had a saying that only the Queen Mother knew how to do fine things. And if such shows were expensive, they also gave great pleasure, and people used to say that she wished to imitate the Roman emperors, who studied how to exhibit games to the people and give them pleasure, and so amuse them that they had no time to get into mischief.
In addition to the fact that she delighted to give pleasure to her people, she gave them much money to earn; for she greatly preferred all kinds of skilled workmen and paid them well. Each was kept busy at his own work, so that they never lacked employment, especially masons and architects, as will be seen in her beautiful mansions—the Tuileries (still unfinished), Saint Maur, Monceaux, and Chenonceaux. Also she favoured men of genius and gladly read, or had read to her, the works which they presented to her or which she knew they had written, even the high-flown invectives which they launched against her, at which she scoffed and laughed, but took no other notice of, calling the writers prattlers and penny-liners.
She wished to know everything. On the journey to Lorraine, during the second uprising, the Huguenots took with them a very fine culverin which they nicknamed the "queen mother." They were obliged to bury it at Villenozze as they were unable to drag it further because of its excessive weight and poor harness; and they were never able to find it again. The Queen Mother was curious to know why they had named the gun for her, when she heard about it. Finally some one, after being strongly pressed by her for the reason, replied: "Because, Madame, she has a greater calibre and is larger than any of the others." The Queen was the first to laugh at this reply.
The Queen spared no pains to read anything which struck her fancy. On one occasion I saw her embarking at Blaye on her way to dine at Bourg, and occupying the whole journey by reading from a parchment, like some reporter or lawyer, a deposition made by Derdois, favourite secretary of the late M. le Connetable, concerning certain actions and information of which he had been accused and for which imprisoned at Bayonne. She never lifted her eyes until she had finished reading the whole thing, and there were more than ten pages of it. When she was not prevented she herself read all letters of importance addressed to her, and often wrote the reply with her own hand, whether to the most exalted or insignificant person. I saw her once, after dinner, indite twenty such letters of considerable length.
She wrote and spoke French very well, although an Italian. She even addressed those of her own nation often in French, so much did she honour it, making special effort to exhibit its fine diction to strangers and ambassadors who came to pay her their respects after seeing the King. She would reply to them very pertinently, with grace and dignity, just as I have heard her speak to the courts of parliament both publicly and privately; often keeping them well in hand when they were extravagant or over-cautious, and did not wish to yield to the royal edicts or to the wishes of the King or herself. You may be sure that she spoke as a Queen and made herself feared as such. I saw her once at Bordeaux when she took her daughter, the Queen of Navarre, to her husband. She had commanded the Court to come with her and spoke urgently on the subject to these gentlemen, who did not wish to abolish a certain fraternity which they had founded and adhered to, and which she wished to dissolve, foreseeing that it might lead to some end prejudicial to the state. They came to visit her in the Bishop's garden, where she was walking one Sunday morning. One of them, the spokesman, showed to her the usefulness of this fraternity and its good offices for the people. She, without preparation, responded so well, with such apt words and cogent reasons to show why it was badly founded and odious, that there was none present who could help but admire the spirit of the Queen or remain astonished and confused at her logic. She concluded with these words: "No, I wish it, and the King my son wishes that this order shall be abolished and that the subject may never again be discussed, for secret reasons which I shall not give you, in addition to those which I have given; otherwise I shall make you sensible of what it means to disobey the King and me." After that they all went their way, and nothing more was heard of the matter.
She assumed this manner very often and kept in line the princes and haughty lords when they had committed some large indiscretion and made her angry. Then she put on her grandest air, and no other living person could be so proud and disdainful as she, when it was necessary, sparing the truth to no one. I have seen the late M. de Savoie, who was a friend of the Emperor, the King of Spain, and many notables, fear and respect her more than if she had been his mother; and M. de Lorraine the same—in short, all the great people of Christendom. I could cite many instances, which at another time and in their own place I may do, but at present what I have said will suffice.
Among all her other fine qualities, she was a good Christian and very devout, always observing her fast days and never failing to attend daily service, either mass or vespers, which she made very agreeable to worshippers by the good singers in her chapel, being careful to select the finest artists. She had a natural taste for music and often entertained the Court in her own apartment, which was never closed to right-minded ladies and gentlemen. She saw each and every one, not denying admittance as was the custom in Spain and also in her own country, Italy; nor yet as our other Queens, Elizabeth of Austria and Louise of Lorraine, have done; but saying, like King Francis, her father-in-law, whom she greatly honoured as he had raised her to her high position, that she wished to maintain the true French spirit as the King her husband had also desired. So her rooms were always accessible to the Court.
Generally, she had very beautiful and virtuous maids of honour, who could be seen every day in her antechamber chatting with us and entertaining us so sensibly and modestly that none of us would have dared do otherwise; for the gentlemen who fell short of this were denied admittance, or warned of even worse punishment, until she pardoned them and extended her favour again, which out of her good heart she was ready to do.
In a word, her company and her Court were a real Paradise in this world, and a school of honesty and virtue, the ornament of France, as was well known and spoken of by its visitors; for they were all well received, and in their honour her ladies were commanded to adorn themselves like goddesses and devote themselves to these guests instead of elsewhere; otherwise she would scold and reprimand them severely.
Indeed, such was her Court, that when she died all said that we would never have such another, and that never again would France have a real Queen Mother. What a Court it was! Its equal, I believe, was never held by an Emperor of Rome, in respect to its ladies, nor by any of our Kings of France. It is true that the great Emperor Charlemagne took great delight in maintaining a splendid and overflowing Court, with many peers, dukes, counts, paladins, barons, and chevaliers of France, with their wives and daughters, and many from other countries to keep their company at Court—as we read in many of the old romances of the time—and that there were many jousts, tourneys and magnificent pageants. But what of that? These gorgeous assemblages did not come together more than three or four times a year, and at their close they departed and retired to their own estates, to remain until the next time. Moreover, others say that Charlemagne in his old age was much given to women, although they were always of good family, and that Louis the Debonair on ascending the throne was obliged to banish some of his sisters from Court, by reason of scandalous love affairs which they had with men; and also that he dismissed a large number of ladies who were of the joyous band. These courts, moreover, of Charlemagne were never long maintained in comparison to his long reign, for he was chiefly devoted to his wars, as we read in the old romances; and in his old age the Court was too dissolute, as I have said. But the Court of our King, Henry II, and the Queen his wife, was an established thing both in war and peace, and whether held in one place or another for months at a time, either in the pleasure houses or castles of our kings who were never lacking in them, having more than any other sovereigns. This elegant and distinguished company always kept together, at least for the greater part of the time, going and coming with the Queen; so that as a usual thing her Court contained at least three hundred ladies and maids of honour.
The chiefs of households and royal stewards affirmed that they always occupied at least one-half of all the apartments, as I myself have seen during the thirty-three years that I lived at Court, except during time of war, or while in foreign countries. But upon my return I was habitually there, for life there was most agreeable to me, and I never saw anything so attractive elsewhere. And I think that the world, since then, has never seen its equal; and as the list of those fair dames who assisted our Queen to ornament the Court should not be slighted, I shall mention some of them here as they occur to me, whom I saw after the Queen's marriage and during her widowhood. Before that time I was too young.
First of all, there were Mesdames, the daughters of France [the Royal Princesses]. I head the list with them because they never lost their high rank, and belong before all the others, so grand and noble was their house, viz.: Madame Elizabeth of France, afterwards Queen of Spain.
Madame Claude, since Duchess of Lorraine.
Madame Marguerite, afterwards Queen of Navarre.
Madame, the King's sister, afterwards Duchess of Savoie.
Mary Queen of Scots, afterwards Dauphiness and Queen of France.
The Queen of Navarre, Jeanne d'Albret.
Madame Catharine, her daughter, now Madame, the King's sister.
Madame Diane, natural daughter of King Henry II, afterwards legitimatised and made Duchess d'Angouleme.
Madame D'Enghien, heiress of Estouteville.
Madame the Princess of Conde.
Madame de Nevers.
Madame de Guise.
Madame Diane de Poitiers [the King's favourite].
Mesdames, the Duchesses d'Aumale and de Bouillon, and their daughters.
Madame de Montpensier.
[Footnote 1: The author here continues with a long catalogue of names including some one hundred and fifty other ladies of the Court, belonging to various noble houses of France.]
But why name any others? No, for my memory could not supply them all. Indeed, there are so many other ladies and maidens that I beg of them to excuse me if I pass them by with a stroke of the pen. Not that I do not hold and esteem them highly, but I should dream over them and devote myself to them too much. I will say, to conclude this, that in all this company I can name none who might be found fault with, for beauty abounded everywhere, and all was majesty, gentleness and grace. Lucky was the man who might be touched with the love of such fair ones, and very lucky he who could escape it. I swear to you that I have named none who were not very beautiful, agreeable and accomplished, and so endowed as to fire the whole world with passion. Indeed, some of them in their zenith did set fire to a good part of it, including those of us gentlemen of the Court who approached too close to the flames. Also to many were they sweet, amiable, favourable, and courteous. I allude now to certain ones of whom I wish to relate good stories in this book before I have ended it, and of others who are not included. But all will be told so quietly and without scandal that none can take offence, for the curtain of silence will cover their names; so that if any of them should happen to read stories of themselves they will not be displeased. For although the pleasures of love cannot last forever, on account of too many hindrances, accidents and changes, the memories of past joys delight us none the less.
Now, in order to give proper consideration to them, it would be necessary to see for oneself all this lovely array of dames and demoiselles, creatures more divine than human; it would be necessary to represent them in their entrances into Paris and other cities, or at the holy and splendid nuptials of the royal family—such as those of the Dauphin, King Charles, King Henry III, the King of Spain, Madame de Lorraine, the Queen of Navarre, as well as other grand weddings of princes and princesses, such as that of M. de Joyeuse, which would have surpassed them all if the Queen of Navarre had been present. Nor must we forget the interview at Bayonne, the Polish embassy, and an infinite number of similar spectacles which I should never be able to finish counting, where could be seen an array of these ladies, each seemingly more beautiful than the rest, and some more handsomely apparelled than others, since at such festivities, in addition to their own wealth, the King or the Queen gave them splendid liveries of different kinds.
In a word, no one ever saw anything finer, more dazzling, attractive, superb. The glory of Niquee [in the enchanted palace of "Amadis"] never approached it; for one could see all this glowing in the ballrooms at the Palace or the Louvre, like the stars of heaven in the clear sky. The Queen desired and commanded that they should always appear in lovely and expensive apparel, although she herself, during her widowhood, never dressed in worldly silks, unless of subdued tints, but always in good taste and well-fitting, so that she looked the Queen above all others. It is true that on the wedding days of her sons Charles and Henry she wore robes of black velvet, wishing, she said, to solemnise these occasions in this way beyond all others. But while her husband the King was alive, she dressed very richly and superbly, and looked the great lady that she was. It was a privilege to see and admire her, in the general processions which were held both at Paris and elsewhere, such as that of the Fete Dieu, and that of Palm Sunday, carrying palms and torches with such grace, and that of Candlemas Day, when all carried lighted candles whose flame vied with their own splendour. In these three processions, which are the most noteworthy, assuredly one could see nothing but beauty, grace, noble bearing, stately I marching and fine array—at sight of which all the bystanders were spellbound.
It was also a fine sight in the earlier days to see the Queen going about in her litter, or on horseback, when she was attended by forty or fifty ladies all well mounted on handsome steeds finely caparisoned and sitting their mounts with such ease that the men could not exceed them, either in horsemanship or accoutrement. Their hats were richly decorated with plumes which floated back in the air seeming to offer a challenge of love or war. Virgil, who attempted to write of the beautiful apparel of Queen Dido when she went hunting, does not rival in description the luxury of our Queen and her ladies, whom I do not wish to displease, as I have already said.
This Queen, established by the hand of the great King Francis, who introduced this beautiful pageantry, did not wish to forget or neglect anything that she ever learned, but always wished to imitate it, to see if she could surpass it. I have heard her talk on this subject three or four times. Those who have seen all the things that I have will feel the same delight of the soul that I do, for what I say is true and I have seen it myself.
This, then, was the Court of our Queen. How unfortunate was the day she died! I have heard it related that our present King [Henry IV], some eighteen months after he saw his prospects brightening to become King, one day began to talk over with the late Marshal de Biron the designs and projects which he would set on foot to make his Court well established, elegant, and closely similar to that which our Queen maintained; for it was then in the heyday of its lustre and splendour. The Marshal replied: "It is not in your power, nor in that of any King who is to succeed, unless you make a compact with God that He resuscitate the Queen Mother and bring her back to your aid." But that was not what the King desired, for there was no one, at the time she died, whom he hated so much, and without reason that I could see. But he ought to know better than I.
How unlucky indeed was the day when such a Queen died, and at the time when we had the greatest need of her, as we still have!
She died at Blois from melancholy over the massacre which occurred there, and the sad tragedy which was enacted, seeing that unthinkingly she had caused the princes to come there, thinking to do the right thing; whereas, on the contrary, as the Cardinal de Bourbon said to her: "Alas, Madame! you have led us all to the slaughter, without intending it." That so touched her heart, and also the death of these poor gentlemen, that she took to her bed, having been previously ill, and never again rose from it.
They say that when the King told her of M. de Guise's death, saying that now he was King indeed, without rival or master, she asked him if he had put the affairs of his kingdom in order before striking the blow. He replied that he had. "God grant it, my son!" said she. Very prudent that she was, she foresaw clearly what might happen to him and to all the kingdom.
Various reports have gone about concerning her death, some even saying that it was from poison. Possibly so, possibly not; but she is believed to have died of despair of soul, as she had reason for. She was placed upon her bed of state, as I have heard said, by one of her ladies, in pomp neither more nor less than Queen Anne, of whom I have spoken elsewhere, and clad in the same royal vesture, which has not served since her death for any others; and was then carried into the church of the castle, in the same pomp and solemnity as at the funeral of Queen Anne, where she still lies and reposes. The King had wished to carry her body to Chartres, and thence to Saint Denis, to place it by the side of the King her husband, in the same imposing vault which he had caused to be built, but the ensuing war prevented him.
This is what I can say at this time of our great Queen, who has assuredly given us so worthy a subject to speak in praise of her, that this brief essay is not long enough to sing her praises. I know it well, and also that the quality of my mind does not suffice, since better speakers than I would still be inadequate. However, such as it is, I lay this discourse in all humility and devotion at her feet. And also I wish to avoid too great prolixity, for which indeed I feel myself liable. But I earnestly hope that in my discourse I shall not defraud her of much, although I am silent on many things, speaking only of essential matters and those which her beautiful and unequalled virtues demand of me; giving me ample material since I have seen all that I write concerning her; while as for that which took place before my day, I received it from very illustrious persons.
This queen the mother of so many kings, And queens as well, within our realm of France, Died when we needed her in many things, For none save she could give us such assistance.