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The Life of Marie de Medicis, Vol. 1 (of 3)
by Julia Pardoe
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The royal train then again moved forward, and Marie took possession of the stately abode which had been prepared for her, amid the firing of musketry, the pealing of bells, and the shouts of the excited people, in whom the affability and beauty of their new Queen had aroused the most ardent feelings of loyalty and hope.

On the following day the corporation of the city presented to their young sovereign a hundred and fifty medals of gold, some of which bore on their obverse her own profile, and others that of the King, their reverse being in every case a representation of the town by which the offering was made; and on the ensuing evening she attended a banquet given in her honour by the Papal vice-legate at the palace of Rouvre, where at the conclusion of the ball, as she was about to retire with her suite, the tapestry hangings of the saloon were suddenly withdrawn, and revealed a magnificent collation served upon three separate tables. Among other costly delicacies, the guests were startled by the variety and profusion of the ornamental sugar-work which glistened like jewellery in the blaze of the surrounding tapers; for not only were there representations of birds, beasts, and fishes, but also fifty statues, each two palms in height, presenting in the same frail material the effigies of pagan deities and celebrated emperors. So marvellous indeed had been the outlay of the prelate on this one luxury, that at the close of the repast three hundred baskets of the most delicate confectionery, consisting chiefly of fruits skilfully imitated in sugar, were distributed among the fair and astonished guests.[113]

During her sojourn at Avignon Marie received from the hands of M. de Rambure, whom the King had despatched from Savoy for that purpose, not only his renewed assurances of welcome, but also the costly gifts which he had prepared for her. "After the departure of the princes and cardinals," says the quaint old chronicler, "his Majesty desired my attendance in his chamber, and I had no sooner entered than he exclaimed: 'Friend Rambure, you must go and meet our future Queen, whom you must overtake two days before her arrival at Lyons; welcome her in my name, and present to her this letter and these two caskets of gems, together with these chests containing all the materials necessary for her first state-toilette; and having done this, bring me back her answer without delay. You will find a relay of horses awaiting you at every second league, both going and coming, in order that you may use all speed, and give me time to reach Lyons so soon as I shall know that she is to be there,'" This order could not, however, be implicitly obeyed, as the courtier was only enabled on his return to the King's presence to inform him that the Princess would enter Lyons that very day; upon which Henry instantly ordered post-horses, and accompanied by Sully, Rambure, and ten more of his favourite nobles, he commenced his journey, making, as he rode along, a thousand inquiries relative to his young wife, her deportment, and her retinue; asking with the utmost earnestness how she had received the presents which he had sent, and finally demanding of M. de Rambure if he were satisfied with the diamond ring that she had presented to him, a question which his messenger was careful to answer in the affirmative, at the same time assuring his Majesty that although he valued the jewel itself at a hundred pistoles, he prized it still more as the gift of so illustrious a Princess and Queen.[114]

On the 3d of December the Queen reached La Guillotiere, one of the faubourgs of Lyons, where she passed the night; and on the following morning she proceeded to Lamothe, where she assisted at the mass, and subsequently dined. At the close of the repast, all the several civic corporations paid their respects to their new sovereign, the Chancellor replying to their harangue in the name of the Queen; who, immediately that they had retired, ascended her carriage, and entered the city gates in the same state, and amid the same acclamations which had accompanied her entry into Avignon. The suave majesty of her demeanour, the magnificence of her apparel, and the flush of health and happiness which glowed upon her countenance, filled the people with enthusiasm.

As her ponderous coach with its heavy curtains drawn back crushed beneath its ungainly wheels the flowers and branches that had been strewn upon her path, she showed herself in all her imperial beauty, dividing her smiles between the richly-attired groups who thronged the windows and balconies and the tumultuous multitude who ran shouting and gesticulating at her side; and the popular enthusiasm was as great as though in her person each individual beheld an earnest of the future prosperity and happiness of the nation over which she had been called to reign. Triumphal arches, floating draperies, and emblematic devices were scattered over the city; and thus welcomed and escorted, she reached the cathedral, where an address was delivered by M. de Bellievre,[115] and a "Te Deum" was solemnly performed.

In the course of the afternoon the young Queen received M. de Roquelaure,[116] who had been despatched by the monarch to announce that he was already on his way to Lyons;[117] and her interview with this new messenger had no sooner terminated than she was invited to pass into the great saloon, where several costly vases of gold and silver were presented to her in the name of the citizens; after which she was permitted to take the repose which she so greatly needed while awaiting the arrival of the King.

Meanwhile Henry, who was not expected until the 10th of the month, reached Lyons on the previous evening just as the Queen had taken her seat at the supper-table; and being anxious to form his own judgment of her person and deportment before he declared his identity, he entered the apartment in an undress military uniform, trusting in this disguise to pass unnoticed among the throng of attendants. The Chancellor had, however, hurriedly seized an opportunity of intimating to Marie the arrival of her royal consort; while the King had no sooner crossed the threshold than he was recognized by several of the nobles; who, by hastily stepping aside to enable him to pass, created a movement which the quick eye of the Princess instantly detected, and of whose cause she did not remain one instant in doubt. Nevertheless, she betrayed no sign of her consciousness of the monarch's presence; while he, on his side, aware that all further incognito had become impossible, hastily retired.

When he had withdrawn, the Queen instantly ceased eating; and, as each succeeding dish was presented to her, silently motioned its removal. Thus the remainder of the repast was rapidly terminated; and at its close, she rose and retired to her private apartments, which she had scarcely reached when a loud stroke upon the door of the ante-room, so authoritatively given that she was at once made aware of the approach of her royal consort, caused her to rise from the arm-chair in which she was seated, and to advance to the centre of the floor. She had scarcely done so when the tapestry hanging was drawn aside, and M. le Grand[118] entered, followed by the impatient monarch. In an instant she was at his feet, but in the next she found herself warmly and affectionately welcomed; nor was it until he had spent half an hour in conversation with her, that the King, weary and travel-worn as he was, withdrew to partake of the refreshment which had been prepared for him. On the following afternoon their Majesties, occupying the same carriage, attended vespers with great pomp at the Abbey of Aisnay; after which they passed the ensuing days in a succession of the most splendid festivities, at which the whole of the Court were present (the cost of those of the 13th being entirely at the expense of the monarch, in celebration of his birthday), until the arrival of the Cardinal Aldobrandini, whom the King had invited from Chambery to be present at the public celebration of his nuptials, and who entered the city in state, when preparations were immediately made for the august rite upon which he was to confer his benediction.

At the close of a state dinner on the morrow (17th of December), the royal couple proceeded, accompanied by all the princes and great nobles of the Court, to the church of St. John; where the Papal legate, surrounded by the Cardinals de Joyeuse,[119] de Gondy,[120] and de Sourdis,[121] together with the prelates then residing in the city, were already awaiting them. The royal bride retained her Tuscan costume, which was overlaid with the splendid jewels that formed so considerable a portion of her dowry; the most conspicuous among them being an ornament serving as a stomacher, which immediately obtained the name of "the Queen's Brilliant." This costly decoration consisted of an octagonal framework of large diamonds, divided into sections by lesser stones, each enclosing a portrait in enamel of one of the princes of her house, beneath which hung three immense pear-shaped pearls. The King was attired in a vest and haut-de-chausses of white satin, elaborately embroidered with silk and gold, and a black cape;[122] and wore upon his head the velvet toque that had been introduced at the French Court by Henri III, to which a string of costly pearls was attached by a star of diamonds. Nor were the ladies and nobles of the royal retinue very inferior in the splendour of their appearance even to the monarch and his bride; feathers waved and jewels flashed on every side; silks and velvets swept the marble floor; and the brilliant uniforms of the royal guard were seen in startling contrast with the uncovered shoulders of the Court dames, which were laden with gems; while, to complete the gorgeousness of the picture, the high altar blazed with light, and wrought gold, and precious stones; and the magnificent robes of the prelates and priests who surrounded the shrine, formed a centre worthy of the rich framework by which it was enclosed.

At the termination of the ceremony, gold and silver coins were thrown to the crowd, and the procession returned to the palace in the same order as it had reached the church.

Great, however, as was the satisfaction which Henri IV had publicly expressed at his marriage, and lavish as were the encomiums that he had passed upon the grace and beauty of his wife, it is, nevertheless, certain that he by no means permitted this legitimate admiration to interfere with his passion for Madame de Verneuil, to whom he constantly despatched couriers, charged with both letters and presents; and whom he even permitted to speak of the Queen in her replies in a disrespectful manner. But the crowning proof of the inequality of the struggle which was about to ensue between the wife and the mistress, was the departure of the King from Lyons on the 18th of December, the second day after his marriage;[123] when, announcing his intention of travelling post to Paris, he left the Queen and her suite to follow at their leisure. That the haughty spirit of Marie de Medicis was stung by this abrupt abandonment, and that her woman-pride revolted, will admit of no doubt; nor is it wonderful that her indignation and jealousy should have been aroused when she discovered that, instead of pursuing his way to the capital, where the public arrangements necessitated by the peace with Savoy, which he had just concluded, required his presence, the King had embarked at Roanne, and then proceeded from Briare, where he landed, to Fontainebleau, whence on the morrow, after dining at Villeneuve, he had travelled at once to Verneuil, and remained there three days before he entered Paris. Nor even after his arrival in the capital was his conduct such as to reassure her delicacy; for Bassompierre has left it upon record that the newly-wedded sovereign took up his abode with M. de Montglat, at the priory of St. Nicolas-du-Louvre, where he constantly entertained ladies at supper, as well as several of his confidential courtiers.[124]

So singular and insulting a commencement of her married life was assuredly well calculated to alarm the dignity of the Tuscan Princess; and even brief as had been her residence in France, she had already several individuals about her person who did not suffer her to remain in ignorance of the movements of her royal consort; while, unhappily for her own peace, her Italian followers—revolted by an indifference on the part of the monarch which they considered as an insult to their mistress—instead of endeavouring to allay the irritation which she did not attempt to conceal, exasperated her feelings by the vehemence of their indignation. It was indeed but too manifest that the favourite retained all her influence; and the arrangements which had been formally made for the progress of the Queen to the capital involved so much delay, that it was not possible for her to remain blind to the fact that they had been organised with the view of enabling the monarch to enjoy uninterruptedly for a time the society of his mistress. In consequence of these perpetual stoppages on the road, the harangues to which she was constrained to listen, and the dreary ceremonies to which she was condemned, it was not until the 1st of February 1601 that Marie de Medicis reached Nemours, where she was met by the King, who conducted her to Fontainebleau, at which palace the royal couple made a sojourn of five or six days; and, finally, on the 9th of the month, the young Queen entered Paris, where the civic authorities were anxious to afford to her a magnificent state reception; a purpose which was, however, negatived by the monarch, who alleged as his reason the enormous outlay that they had previously made upon similar occasions, and who commanded that the ceremony should be deferred.[125] Whatever may have been the real motive of Henry for exhibiting this new slight towards his royal bride, it is certain that the partisans of Marie did not fail to attribute it to the malevolence of Madame de Verneuil; and thus another subject of animosity was added to the list.

Under these circumstances, the Queen entered the metropolitan city of her new kingdom without any of that pomp which had characterised her progress through the provinces; and alighted at the residence of M. de Gondy,[126] where the Princesses and the principal ladies of the Court and city hastened to pay their respects to her Majesty on her arrival.

It was rumoured that one motive for the visit of the King to Verneuil had been his anxiety to induce the insolent favourite (whom he resolved to present to the Queen in order that she might be authorized to maintain her place at Court) to treat her new sovereign with becoming respect; and with a view to render her presentation as dignified as possible, he commanded the Duchesse de Nemours[127] to officiate as her sponsor. The pride of Anne de Savoie revolted, however, against the function which was assigned to her, and she ventured respectfully to intimate her reluctance to undertake so onerous an office, alleging as her reason, that such a measure on her part must inevitably deprive her of the confidence of her royal mistress. Nevertheless the King insisted on her obedience;[128] and, accordingly, the mortified Duchess was compelled to lead the mistress of the monarch into the circle, and to name her to the agitated and outraged Queen. Marie de Medicis in this trying emergency was sustained by her Italian blood; and although her lip quivered, she vouchsafed no other token of displeasure; but after coldly returning the curtsey of the favourite, who was blazing with jewels and radiant with triumph, she turned abruptly aside to converse with one of the Court ladies, leaving the Marquise still standing before her, as though she had suddenly become unconscious of her existence. Nor did the Duchesse de Nemours receive a more gracious welcome when, having ventured to interpose in the conversation, she sought the eye of the Queen; for that eye was instantly averted, and she became aware that she had in truth incurred the displeasure which she had so justly apprehended.

But although the high-born and exemplary Duchess shrank from the anger of her young sovereign, the parvenue Marquise was far from feeling equally abashed. With a steady step, and a proud carriage she advanced a pace nearer to Marie, and in her turn took up the thread of the discourse; nor did the haughtiness of the Queen's deportment disturb her serenity for a moment. The great fascination of Madame de Verneuil existed, as we have already remarked, in her extraordinary wit, and the vivacity of her conversation; while so ably did she on this occasion profit by her advantage, that the disgust of Marie was gradually changed into wonder; and when, at the close of one of her most brilliant sallies, the insolent favourite even carried her audacity so far as to address her royal mistress personally, the Queen was startled into a reply.[129] She soon, however, recovered her self-possession; and pleading fatigue, broke up the circle by retiring to her own apartments.

The mortification of Madame de Nemours, whose highest ambition had been to secure the affection of her new sovereign, and whose pride had been sorely wounded by the undignified office that she had been compelled to fulfil, had not, however, yet reached its culminating point; for as on the approach of the King, who was in his turn preparing to withdraw, she awaited some acknowledgment of the submission with which she had obeyed his commands, she was startled to see a frown gather upon his brow as their eyes met; and still more so to hear herself rebuked for the ungracious manner in which she had performed her task; an exhibition of ill-will to which, as he averred, Madame de Verneuil was solely indebted for the coldness of her reception.

The Duchess curtseyed in silence; and Henry, without any other salutation, slowly pursued his way to the ante-room, followed by the officers of his household.

On the 12th of the month the Queen changed her residence, and took up her abode in the house of Zamet,[130] where she was to remain until the Louvre was prepared for her reception, a precaution which Henry had utterly neglected; and on the 15th she at length found herself established in the palace which had been opened to her with so much apparent reluctance. On the morrow Marie appeared in the costume of the French Court,[131] with certain modifications which at once became popular. Like those by whom she was now surrounded, she wore her bosom considerably exposed, but her back and shoulders were veiled by a deep ruff which immediately obtained the name of the "Medicis," and which bore a considerable resemblance to a similar decoration much in vogue during the sixteenth century. The "Medicis" was composed of rich lace, stiffened and supported by wire, and rose behind the neck to the enormous height of twelve inches.[132] The dress to which this ruff was attached was of the most gorgeous description, the materials employed being either cloth of gold or silver, or velvet trimmed with ermine; while chains of jewels confined it across the breast, descending from thence to the waist, where they formed a chatelaine reaching to the feet. Nor did the young Queen even hesitate to sacrifice to the prejudices of her new country the magnificent hair which had excited so much astonishment on her arrival; but, in conformity with the taste of the French Court, instead of suffering it, as she had previously done, to flow loosely over her shoulders, or to display its luxuriant braids like a succession of glossy diadems around her head, she caused it to be closely cut, and arranged in stiff rows of thickly-powdered curls.

Hitherto, since the accession of Henri IV, the French Court had been one of the least splendid in Europe; if, indeed, it could in reality have been said to exist at all—a circumstance to which many causes had conduced. During his separation from Marguerite, and before his second marriage, Henry had cared little for the mere display of royalty. His previous poverty had accustomed him to many privations as a sovereign, which he had sought to compensate by self-indulgence as a man; and thus he made a home in the houses of the most wealthy of his courtiers, such as Zamet, Gondy, and other dissipated and convenient sycophants, with whom he could fling off the trammels of rank, and indulge in the ruinously high play or other still more objectionable amusements to which he was addicted. On the arrival of the Tuscan Princess, however, all was changed; and, as though he sought to compensate to her by splendour and display for the mortifications which awaited her private life, the King began forthwith to revive the traditional magnificence of the Court.

Two days after their arrival at the Louvre, Henry conducted his Queen to the royal palaces of Fontainebleau and St. Germain; and on the 18th of the month, their Majesties, attended by the whole of their respective households, and accompanied by all the princes and great nobles then resident in the capital, partook of a superb banquet at the Arsenal, given by Sully in honour of his appointment as Grand-Master of the Artillery. At this festival the minister, casting aside the gravity of his functions and the dignity of his rank, and even forgetful, as it would appear, of the respect which he owed to his new sovereign, not satisfied with pressing upon his guests the costly viands that had been prepared for them, no sooner perceived that the Italian ladies of her Majesty's suite were greatly attracted by the wine of Arbois, of which they were partaking freely, quite unconscious of its potency, than he caused the decanters containing the water that they mingled with it to be refilled with another wine of equal strength, but so limpid as to be utterly undistinguishable to the eye from the purer liquid for which it had been substituted. The consequences of this cruel pleasantry may be inferred; the heat, the movement, and the noise by which they were surrounded, together with the increased thirst caused by the insidious draughts that they were unconsciously imbibing, only induced the unfortunate Florentines to recur the more perseveringly to their refreshing libations; and at length the results became so apparent as to attract the notice of the King, who, already prepossessed like Sully himself against the Queen's foreign retinue, laughed heartily at a piece of treachery which he appeared to consider as the most amusing feature of the entertainment.[133]

During the succeeding days several ballets were danced by the young nobles of the Court; and a tournament, open to all comers, and at which the Queen presented the prizes to the victors, was held at the Pont-au-Change.

At the close of Lent, the Duchesse de Bar, the King's sister, and her father-in-law, the Duc de Lorraine, arrived in France to welcome the new sovereign; who, together with her consort, met them at Monceaux, which estate, lately the property of la belle Gabrielle> Henry had, after her arrival in the capital, presented to his wife. Here the Court festivals were renewed; and had the heart and mind of Marie been at ease, her life must have seemed rather like a brilliant dream than a sober reality. Such, however, was far from being the case; for already the seeds of domestic discord which had been sown before her marriage were beginning to germinate. Madame de Verneuil was absent from the Court, and it was evident to every individual of whom it was composed, that the King rather tolerated than shared in the gaieties by which he was surrounded.

Bassompierre relates that during this sojourn at Monceaux, while Henry was standing apart with himself, M. de Sully, and the Chancellor, he suddenly informed them that the favourite had confided to him a proposal of marriage which she had received from a prince, on condition that she should be enabled to bring with her a dowry of a hundred thousand crowns; and inquired if they would advise him to sacrifice so large a sum for such a purpose. "Sire," replied M. de Bellievre, "I am of opinion that you would do well to give the young lady the hundred thousand crowns in order that she may secure the match." And when Sully, with his usual prudence, remarked that it was more easy to talk of such an amount than to procure it, the Chancellor continued, heedless of the interruption: "Nay more, Sire; I am equally of opinion that you had better give two or even three hundred thousand, if less will not suffice. Such is my advice." [134]

It is needless to say that it was not followed.

The only amusement in which Henri IV indulged freely and earnestly was play; and he was so reckless a gamester, that at no period has the Court of France been so thoroughly demoralized by that frightful vice as throughout his reign. Not only did his own example corrupt those immediately about him, but the rage for gaming gradually pervaded all classes. The nobility staked their estates where money failed; the citizens trafficked in cards and dice when they should have been employed in commerce or in science; the very valets gambled in the halls, and the pages in the ante-chambers. Play became the one great business of life throughout the capital; and enormous sums, which changed the entire destiny of families, were won and lost. One or two traits will suffice to prove this, and we will then dismiss the subject. In the year 1607, M. de Bassompierre relates in his Memoirs, that being unable from want of funds to purchase a new and befitting costume in which to appear at the christening of the Dauphin, he nevertheless gave an order to his tailor to prepare him a dress upon which the outlay was to be fourteen thousand crowns; his actual resources amounting at that moment only to seven hundred; and that he had no sooner done so, than he proceeded with this trifling sum to the hotel of the Duc d'Epernon, where he won five thousand; while before the completion of the costume, he had not only gained a sufficient amount to discharge the debt thus wantonly incurred, but, as he adds, with a self-gratulation worthy of a better cause, "also a diamond-hilted sword of the value of five thousand crowns, and five or six thousand more with which to amuse myself." [135]

In 1609, only one Year later, L'Etoile has left on record a still more astounding and degrading fact. "In this month" (March), he says, "several academies of play have been established, where citizens of all ages risk considerable sums, a circumstance which proves not only an abundance of means, but also the corruption of morals. The son of a merchant has been seen at one sitting to lose sixty thousand crowns, although he had only inherited twenty thousand from his father; and a man named Jonas has hired a house in the Faubourg St. Germain, in order to hold one of these academies for a fortnight during the fair, and for this house he has given fourteen hundred francs." [136]

D'Aubigny and several other chroniclers bear similar testimony; and while Bassompierre boasts of having won five hundred thousand pistoles in one year (each pistole being little inferior in value to our own sovereign), he nevertheless gives us plainly to understand that the King was a more reckless gamester than himself, a fact corroborated moreover by Sully, who tells us in his Memoirs, "The sums, at least the principal ones, that I employed on the personal expenses of Henry, were twenty-two thousand pistoles, for which he sent to me on the 18th of January 1609, and which he had lost at play; a hundred thousand livres to one party, and fifty-one thousand to another, likewise play debts, due to Edward Fernandes, a Portuguese.... A thousand pistoles for future play; Henry at first took only five hundred, but he subsequently sent Beringhen for the remainder for a different purpose. I carried him a thousand more for play when I went with the Chancellor to Fontainebleau." [137]

Only a short time subsequent to the establishment of the Court at the Louvre, what neither the desire and authority of the King himself nor the arts of his mistress had been able to accomplish, was achieved through the agency of the Queen's favourite attendant, Leonora Galigai,[138] who had accompanied her royal mistress and foster-sister from Italy at the period of her marriage. On the formation of the Queen's household, Henry had, among other appointments, honoured Madame de Richelieu[139] with the post of Mistress of the Robes; but Marie de Medicis having decided on bestowing this charge upon Leonora, refused to permit the Countess to perform the duties of her office, and requested the King to transfer it to her Italian protegee. This, however, was a concession to which Henry would not consent; and while the Queen persisted in not permitting the services of Madame de Richelieu, her royal bridegroom as pertinaciously negatived the appointment of parvenue lady of honour. The high-born countess bore the affront thus offered to her with the complacent dignity befitting her proud station; but such was far from being the case with the ambitious and mortified Leonora, who had not been a week at the French Court ere she became aware that all the Italian followers of the Queen were peculiarly obnoxious both to the King and his minister; and who felt that should she fail to push her fortunes upon the instant, she might one day be compelled to leave France as poor and as powerless as she had entered it. Not contented, therefore, with urging her royal mistress to persevere in her resolution of rejecting the attendance of Madame de Richelieu, she began to speculate upon the most feasible measures to be adopted in order to secure her own succession to the coveted dignity; and after considerable reflection, she became convinced that this could only be accomplished through the assistance of the Marquise de Verneuil. Once assured of the fact, Leonora did not hesitate; but, instead of avoiding, as she had hitherto done, the advances of the favourite—who, aware of her unlimited power over the mind of the Queen, had on several occasions treated her with a courtesy by no means warranted by her position at the Court—she began to court the favour of the Marquise in as marked a manner as she had previously slighted it; and ere long the intrigue of the two favourites was brought to a successful issue. Each stood in need of the other, and a compact was accordingly entered into between them. Madame de Verneuil, whose pride was piqued by her exclusion from the royal circle, was desirous to gain at any price the countenance of Marie, and to be admitted to her private assemblies, where alone she could carry out her more extended plan of ambition; while the wily Italian, rendered only the more pertinacious by difficulty, and anxious moreover to secure a post which would at all times enable her to remain about the person of the Queen, thought no price too great, even the dishonour of her royal foster-sister, to obtain her object, and thus a mutual promise was made; the Marquise pledging herself that, in the event of the Queen recognizing her right to attend her receptions, and treating her with the courtesy and consideration due to the rank conferred upon her by the King, she would effect the appointment courted by Leonora; while the Signora Galigai, with equal confidence, promised in her turn that she would without delay cause Madame de Verneuil to receive a summons to the Queen's presence.

Nor did either of these ladies over-estimate the amount of her influence; for the monarch no sooner learnt that the reception of his mistress by the haughty and indignant Princess could be purchased by a mere slight to Madame la Grande Prevoste, than he consented to sanction the appointment of the Italian suivante of Marie to the post of honour; while Leonora soon succeeded by her tears and entreaties in wringing from her royal mistress a reluctant acquiescence to her request.

Thus then, as before stated, a hollow peace was patched up between the unequal rivals; and Madame de Verneuil at length found herself in possession of a folding-seat in the Queen's reception room; while her coadjutress triumphantly took her place among the noblest ladies of the land; but scarcely had this result been accomplished, when Henry, profiting by so unhoped-for an opportunity of gratifying the vanity of the favourite, assigned to her a suite of apartments in the Louvre immediately above those of the Queen, and little, if at all, inferior to them in magnificence.

This, however, was an affront which Marie de Medicis could not brook; and she accordingly, with her usual independence of spirit, expressed herself in no measured terms upon the subject, particularly to such of her ladies as were likely to repeat her comments to the Marquise. The latter retorted by assuming all the airs of royalty, and by assembling about her a little court, for which that of the Queen herself was frequently forsaken, especially by the monarch, who found the brilliant circle of the favourite, wherein he always met a warm and enthusiastic welcome, infinitely more to his taste than the formal etiquette and reproachful frowns by which his presence in that of his royal consort was usually signalized.

Nor could the annoyance of the proud Florentine Princess be subject of astonishment to any rightly-constituted mind. The position was a monstrous and an unnatural one. Both the wife and the mistress were about to become mothers; and the whole Court was degraded by so unblushing an exhibition of the profligacy of the monarch. Still, however, the French ladies of the household forebore to censure their sovereign; and even sought to persuade the outraged Queen that when once she had given a Dauphin to France the favourite would be compelled to leave the palace; but Marie's Italian followers were far less scrupulous, and expressed their indignation in no measured terms. The Queen, wounded in her most sacred feelings, became gradually colder to the Marquise, who, as though she had only awaited this relapse to sting her still more deeply than she had yet done, retorted the slights which she constantly received by declaring that "the Florentine," as she insolently designated her royal mistress, was not the legal or lawful wife of the King, whose written promise, still in her possession, he was, as she asserted, bound to fulfil should she bear him a son. This surpassing assurance no sooner reached the ears of Marie de Medicis than she once more forbade Madame de Verneuil her presence; but the Marquise, strong in her impunity, merely replied by an epigram, and consoled herself for her exclusion from the Queen's private circle by assuming more state and magnificence than before, and by collecting in her saloons the prettiest women and the most reckless gamblers that the capital could produce. Thus attracted, the infatuated monarch became her constant guest; and his neglected wife, in weak health, and with an agonised heart, saw herself abandoned for a wanton who had set a price upon her virtue, and who made a glory of her shame.

Poor Marie! whatever were her faults as a woman, they were bitterly expiated both as a wife and as a mother!

Vain were all the efforts of the King on the one hand and those of Leonora on the other to terminate this new misunderstanding; the Queen was coldly resolute, and the Marquise insolently indifferent; nor would a reconciliation, in all probability, ever again have taken place, had not the interests of the Mistress of the Robes once more required it, when her influence over the mind of her royal foster-sister sufficed to overcome every obstacle.

Among the numerous Florentines who composed the suite of Marie de Medicis was Concino Concini,[140] a gentleman of her household, whose extreme personal beauty had captivated the heart of Leonora; while she saw, as she believed, in his far-reaching ambition and flexile character the very elements calculated, in conjunction with her own firmer nature and higher intellect, to lead her on to the most lofty fortunes. It is probable, however, that had La Galigai continued to attend the Queen in her original and obscure office of waiting-woman, Concini, who was of better blood than herself, and who could not, moreover, be supposed to find any attraction in the diminutive figure and sallow countenance of his countrywoman, would never have been induced to consent to such an alliance; but Leonora was now on the high road to wealth and honour, while his own position was scarcely defined; and thus ere long the consent of the Queen to their marriage was solicited by Concini himself.

Marie, who foresaw that by this arrangement she should keep both parties in her service, and who, in the desolation of a disappointed spirit, clung each day more closely to her foreign attendants, immediately accorded the required permission; but it was far otherwise with the King, who had no sooner been informed of the projected union than he sternly forbade it, to the great indignation of his consort, who was deeply mortified by this new interference with her personal household, and saddened by the spectacle of her favourite's unaffected wretchedness. In vain did the Queen expostulate, and, urged by Leonora and her suitor, even entreat of Henry to relent; all her efforts to this effect remained fruitless; and she was at length compelled to declare to the sorrowing woman that she had no alternative save to submit to the will of the King.

Such, however, was far from being the intention of the passionate Italian. Too unattractive to entertain any hope from her own pleadings with Henry himself, she once more turned in this new difficulty to Madame de Verneuil, who, in order to display how little she had been mortified or annoyed by the coldness of the Queen, and at the same time to prove to her that where the earnest entreaties of the latter had failed to produce any effect, her own expressed wish would suffice to ensure success, immediately bade Leonora dry her eyes and prepare her wedding-dress, as she would guarantee her prompt reception of the royal consent upon one condition, and that one so easy of accomplishment that she could not fail to fulfil it.

Marie de Medicis had been heard to declare that in the event of her becoming the mother of a Dauphin, she would, at the earliest possible period, dance a ballet in honour of the King, which should exceed in magnificence every exhibition of the kind that had hitherto been attempted; and the condition so lightly treated by the favourite was no less than her own appearance in the royal ballet, should it indeed take place. Even La Galigai herself was startled by so astounding a proposition; but she soon discovered, from the resolute attitude assumed by the Marquise, that her powerful intercession with the King was not otherwise to be secured; and it was consequently with even less of hope than apprehension that the agitated Mistress of the Robes kissed the hand of Madame de Verneuil, and assured her that she would leave no effort untried to obtain the consent of her royal mistress to her wishes. But when she had withdrawn, and was traversing the gallery which communicated with the apartments of Marie, she began to entertain serious misgivings: the pretension of the Marquise was so monstrous, that, even conscious as she was of the extent of her own influence over her foster-sister, she almost dreaded to communicate the result of her interview, and nearly despaired of success; but with the resolute perseverance which formed so marked a feature in her character, she resolved to brave the utmost displeasure of the Queen rather than forego this last hope of a union with Concini. It was, nevertheless, drowned in tears, and with a trembling heart, that she presented herself before Marie as the voluntary bearer of this new and aggravated insult; while, incomprehensible as it must appear in this age, whatever may have been the arguments and entreaties of which she was clever enough to avail herself, it is at least certain that they were ultimately successful; and that she was authorized by the Queen to communicate to Madame de Verneuil her Majesty's willingness to accede to her request, provided that the Marquise pledged herself in return to perform her portion of the contract.

That her partiality for her early friend induced Marie de Medicis to make, in this instance, a most unbecoming concession, is certain; while it is no less matter of record that, probably to prevent any opportunity of retractation on the part of Madame de Verneuil, she lavished upon her from that day the most flattering marks of friendship, and publicly treated her with a distinction which was envied by many of the greatest ladies at Court, even although it excited the censure of all.[141]

The comparative tranquillity which succeeded this new adjustment of the differences between the Queen and the Marquise continued until the month of September, on the 17th day of which Marie became the mother of a Dauphin (subsequently Louis XIII), at the palace of Fontainebleau, where, as had already been the case at the Louvre, the apartments of the favourite adjoined her own. Nothing could exceed the delight of Henry IV at the birth of his heir. He stood at the lower end of the Queen's apartment, surrounded by the Princes of the Blood, to each of whom the royal infant was successively presented; and this ceremony was no sooner terminated than, bending over him with passionate fondness, he audibly invoked a blessing upon his head; and then placing his sword in the tiny hand as yet unable to grasp it, "May you use it, my son," he exclaimed, "to the glory of God, and in defence of your crown and people." [142] He next approached the bed of the Queen: "M'amie" he said tenderly, "rejoice! God has given us what we asked." [143] Mezeray and Matthieu both assert that the birth of the Dauphin was preceded by an earthquake, which, with the usual superstition of the period, was afterwards declared to have been a forewarning of the ceaseless wars by which Europe was convulsed during his reign.[144]

Rejoicings were general throughout the whole country, and were augmented by the fact that more than eighty years had elapsed since the birth of a successor to the crown who had been eligible to bear the title of Dauphin,—Francis II having come into the world before his father Henri II was on the throne, who had himself only attained to that title after the death of his elder brother Francis, who was born in 1517.[145] "Te Deums" were chanted in all the churches; salvos of artillery were discharged at the Arsenal; fireworks, bonfires, and illuminations made a city of flame of Paris for several successive nights; while joyous acclamations rent the air, and the gratified citizens congratulated each other as they perambulated the streets as though each had experienced some personal benefit. The fact that Anne of Austria, the daughter of Philip III of Spain, was born only five days previous to the Dauphin, was another source of delight to the French people, who regarded the circumstance as an earnest of the future union of the two kingdoms, a prophecy which was afterwards fulfilled by the marriage of the two royal children.

We have already made more than one allusion to the belief in magic, sorcery, and astrology which at this period had obtained in France, and by which many, even of the most enlightened of her nobles and citizens, suffered themselves to be trammelled and deluded; and however much we of the present day may be inclined to pity or to despise so great a weakness, we shall do well to remember that human progress during the last sixty years has been more marked and certain than that which had taken place in the lapse of the three previous centuries. It is true that there were a few strong-minded individuals even at the period of which we treat who refused to submit their reason to the wild and illogical superstitions which were rife about them; but these formed a very small portion of the aggregate population, and from the peasant in his hovel to the monarch on his throne the plague-spot of credulity had spread and festered, until it presented a formidable feature in the history of the time. It is curious to remark that L'Etoile, the most commonplace and unimaginative of chroniclers, who might well have been expected in his realism to treat such phantasies as puerile and absurd, seems to justify to his own mind the extreme penalties of the scaffold and the stake as a fitting punishment for sorcerers and magicians: declaring them, as he records in his usual terse and matter-of-fact style, to be dictated by justice, and essential to the repression of an intercourse between men and evil spirits.

Gabrielle d'Estrees was the dupe, if, indeed, not the victim, of her firm faith in astrology. She had been assured that "a child would prevent her from attaining the rank to which she aspired;" [146] and the predisposition of an excited nervous system probably assisted the verification of the prophecy. The old Cardinal de Bourbon,[147] whom the Leaguers would fain have made their king, was seduced from his fidelity to the illustrious race from which he sprang by his weak reliance upon the predictions of soothsayers, who thus degraded him into the tool of the wily Due de Guise;[148] while his nephew, Charles II, also a Cardinal,[149] even more infatuated than himself, had been impelled to believe that the disease which was rapidly sapping his existence was the effect of the machinations of a Court lady by whom he had been bewitched! Traitors found excuse for their treason in the assertion that they had been deluded by false predictions or ensnared by magic;[150] princes were governed in their political movements by astral calculations;[151] a grave minister details with complacency, although without comment, various anecdotes of the operation of the occult sciences,[152] and even makes them a study; while a European monarch, strong in the love of his people and his own bravery, suffers the predictions of soothsayers and prophets to cloud his mind and to shake his purposes, even while he declares his contempt for all such delusions.[153]

That such was actually the case is proved by De Thou, who relates an extraordinary speech made by the King at the Louvre, in 1599, on the occasion of the promulgation of the Edict of Nantes, to the deputies of the Parliament of Paris, in the course of which he declared that, twenty-six years previously, when he was residing at the Court of Charles IX, he was about to cast the dice with Henri de Lorraine, Duc de Guise, his relative, amid a large circle of nobles, when at the instant in which they were prepared to commence their game drops of blood appeared upon the table, which were renewed without any apparent agency as fast as they were wiped away. Each party carefully ascertained that it could not proceed from any of the individuals present; and the phenomenon was so frequently repeated that Henry, as he averred, at once amazed and disturbed, declined to persevere in the pastime, considering the circumstance as an evil omen.[154] Whatever may be the opinion of the reader as to the actual cause of this apparent prodigy, it is at least certain that it was verified by subsequent events, as well as the extraordinary and multiplied prophecy that the King himself would meet his death in a coach.

Under these circumstances, combined with the almost universal credulity of the age and nation which he governed, it is scarcely matter of surprise that Henri IV, on so momentous an occasion as the birth of his son, should have sought, even while he feigned to disregard the result, to learn the after-destiny of the royal infant; and accordingly, a few days subsequently, he commanded M. de la Riviere,[155] who publicly professed the science of judicial astrology, to draw the horoscope of the Dauphin with all the accuracy of which the operation was susceptible. The command was answered by an assurance from La Riviere that the work was already in progress; but as another week passed by without any communication from the seer, Henry became impatient, and again summoned him to his presence in order to inquire the cause of the delay.

"Sire," replied La Riviere, "I have abandoned the undertaking, as I am reluctant to sport with a science whose secrets I have partially forgotten, and which I have, moreover, frequently found defective."

"I am not to be deceived by so idle a pretext," said the King, who readily detected that the alleged excuse was a mere subterfuge; "you have no such scruples, but you have resolved not to reveal to me what you have ascertained, lest I should discover the fallacy of your pretended knowledge or be angered by your prediction. Whatever may be the cause of your hesitation, however, I am resolved that you shall speak; and I command you, upon pain of my displeasure, to do so truthfully."

Still La Riviere excused himself, until perceiving that it would be dangerous to persevere in his pertinacity, he at length reluctantly replied: "Sire, your son will live to manhood, and will reign longer than yourself; but he will resemble you in no one particular. He will indulge his own opinions and caprices, and sometimes those of others. During his rule it will be safer to think than to speak. Ruin threatens your ancient institutions; all your measures will be overthrown. He will accomplish great deeds; will be fortunate in his undertakings; and will become the theme of all Christendom. He will have issue; and after his death more heavy troubles will ensue. This is all that you shall know from me, and even this is more than I had proposed to tell you."

The King remained for a time silent and thoughtful, after which he said coldly: "You allude to the Huguenots, I see that well; but you only talk thus because you have their interests at heart."

"Explain my meaning as you please," was the abrupt retort; "but you shall learn nothing more from me." And so saying, the uncompromising astrologer made a hurried salutation to the monarch and withdrew.[156]

A fortnight after this extraordinary scene another event took place at the Louvre sufficiently interesting to Henry to wean his thoughts for a time even from the foreshadowed future of his successor. In an apartment immediately contiguous to that of the still convalescent Queen, Madame de Verneuil became in her turn the mother of a son, who was baptized with great ceremony, and received the names of Gaston Henri;[157] and this birth, which should have covered the King with shame, and roused the nation to indignation, when the circumstances already detailed are considered, was but the pretext for new rejoicings.

On the 27th of October the Dauphin made his public entry into Paris. The infant Prince occupied a sumptuous cradle presented to him by the Grand Duchess of Florence; and beside him, in an open litter, sat Madame de Montglat, his gouvernante, and the royal nurse. The provost of the merchants and the metropolitan sheriffs met him at some distance from the gates, and harangued him at considerable length; and Madame de Montglat having replied in his name to the oration, the cortege proceeded to the house of Zamet. Two days subsequently he was conveyed in the same state to St. Germain-en-Laye, where, in order that the people might see him with greater facility, the nurse carried him in her arms. The enthusiasm of the crowd, by which his litter was constantly surrounded, knew no bounds; and the heart of that exulting mother, which was fated afterwards to be broken by his unnatural abandonment, beat high with gratitude to Heaven as her ear drank in the enthusiastic shouts of the multitude, and as she remembered that it was herself who had bestowed this well-appreciated blessing upon France.

FOOTNOTES:

[76] Charles de Neufville, Marquis d'Alincourt, Seigneur de Villeroy, secretary and minister of state, knight of the King's Orders, Governor of the city of Lyons, and of the provinces of Lyons, Forez, and Beaujolais.

[77] Mezeray, vol. x. pp. 124, 125.

[78] Sully, Mem. vol. iii. p. 317.

[79] Mezeray, vol. x. p. 125.

[80] Charles Emmanuel, Duke of Savoy, surnamed the Great, was born in the chateau of Rivoles on the 12th of January 1562. He greatly distinguished himself by his gallantry upon several occasions, but tarnished his reputation by an ambition which was unscrupulous. He was remarkable for his literary attainments and for his friendship for men of letters, and was generally esteemed one of the greatest generals of the age. He was also so thorough a diplomatist that it was commonly remarked that it was more difficult to penetrate his designs than the fastnesses of his duchy. He died at Savillan on the 26th of July 1630.

[81] Charles de Gontault, Due de Biron, Peer, Admiral, and Marshal of France, acquired great reputation alike for his valour and his services. He was honoured with the confidence of Henri IV, who created the barony of Biron into a duchy-peerage for his benefit, and loaded him with proofs of his favour; Biron, however, repaid his sovereign with the basest ingratitude by entering into a treaty with the Duke of Savoy and the Spaniards, who were both inimical to France. Having refused to acknowledge his fault, and thereby exhausted the forbearance of the King, he was put upon his trial, convicted of the crime of lese-majeste, and condemned to lose his head. The sentence was carried into execution in the court of the Bastille on the 31st of July 1602.

[82] Guichenon, Histoire de Savoie.

[83] Daniel, Histoire de France, vol. vii. p. 386.

[84] L'Etoile, Journal de Henri IV, vol. ii. p. 481.

[85] L'Etoile, vol. ii. pp. 436, 437.

[86] Mezeray, vol. x. p. 127.

[87] Sebastian Zamet was a wealthy contractor, of Italian origin, but who had caused himself to be naturalized in France, in 1581, together with his two brothers, Horace and John-Anthony Zamet. Although he ultimately became the father of an adjutant-general of the King's armies, and of a bishop, it was confidently asserted that during the preceding reign he had been a shoemaker. Be that as it may, it is no less certain that he must have possessed considerable talent, as even during the lifetime of Henri III he was already a rich contractor, and under Henri IV he was esteemed the richest in the kingdom. On the occasion of the marriage of one of his daughters, the notary who was employed to draw up the marriage contract, finding it difficult to define his real rank, inquired by what title he desired to be designated; upon which Zamet calmly replied: "You may describe me as the lord of seventeen hundred thousand crowns." His ready wit first procured for him the favour off Henri IV, which he subsequently retained by a system of complaisance of thoroughly Italian morality. His house was always open to the King, even for the most equivocal purposes; and so great was the familiarity with which he was treated by the dissolute monarch, that the latter constantly addressed him by a pet name, and held many of his orgies beneath his roof.

[88] L'Etoile, vol. ii. pp. 492, 493.

[89] Dreux du Radier, vol. vi. p. 58 n.

[90] L'Etoile, vol. ii. pp. 511, 512.

[91] Sully had recently been appointed grand-master of artillery.

[92] Saint-Edme, vol. ii. p. 207.

[93] Dreux du Radier, vol. vi. pp. 74-76.

[94] Louis de Comboursier, Seigneur du Terrail, commenced his military career as a cornet in the troop of the Dauphin. He was brave, but haughty and reckless, and was obliged to retire into Flanders in consequence of having killed a man under the eyes of the King, and within the precincts of the Louvre. After making a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Loretto, he profited by his return through Turin to pay his respects to the Duke of Savoy, to whom he offered his services and assistance in his project of taking the city of Genoa by surprise. The plot was, however, discovered by a valet, who apprised the authorities of the intended treachery; and Du Terrail together with a companion whom he had associated in the enterprise were imprisoned in the castle of Yverdun, and thence conveyed to Genoa, where they were both decapitated, in the year 1609.

[95] Charles de Crequy was the representative of one of the most ancient families in France, which traced its descent from Arnoul, called the Old, or the Bearded, who died in 897. The elder branch of the house became extinct in the person of Antoine de Crequy, Cardinal and Bishop of Amiens, born in 1531, and who at his death, which occurred in the year 1574, left all his personal wealth, together with the family possessions which he inherited from his brothers, to Antoine de Blanchefort, the son of his sister, Marie de Crequy, on condition that he should bear the name and arms of his mother. The son of Antoine was Charles de Crequy, de Blanchefort, and de Canaples, Prince de Poix, Governor of Dauphiny, peer and marshal of France, who became Due de Lesdiguieres by his marriage with Madelaine de Bonne, daughter of the celebrated Connetable de Lesdiguieres, in 1611. His duel with Don Philippino, the bastard of Savoy, in which he killed his adversary, acquired for him a great celebrity; but he secured a more legitimate and desirable reputation by his gallantry in the taking of Pignerol and La Maurienne, in 1630. Three years subsequently he was sent as ambassador to Rome; in 1636 he conquered the Spanish forces on the Ticino; and in 1638 he was killed by a cannon ball, at the siege of Bremen, in Hanover.

[96] Perefixe, Histoire de Henri le Grand, vol. ii. pp. 329-33.

[97] Saint-Edme, vol. ii. pp. 211, 212.

[98] Montfaucon, vol. v. p. 402.

[99] L'Etoile, vol. ii. pp. 534-537.

[100] Hist. des Reines et Regentes de France, vol. ii. p. 28.

[101] Malherbe, the favourite poet of Marie de Medicis, profited by the tediousness of her voyage to make it the subject of an allegory, in which he represents that Neptune

"Dix jours ne pouvant se distraire Au plaisir de la regarder, Il a, par un effort contraire, Essaye de la retarder."

A specimen of his godship's gallantry, with which the young sovereign would, in all probability, most willingly have dispensed.

[102] L'Etoile, vol. ii. p. 537.

[103] Valadier, year 1600.

[104] M. de Sillery.

[105] Henri I. de Montmorency, duke, peer, marshal, and Constable of France, Governor of Languedoc, etc., was the second son of the celebrated Anne de Montmorency. He rendered himself famous, during the lifetime of his father, under the name of the Seigneur de Damville, and made prisoner the Prince de Conde at the battle of Dreux in 1562. Having subsequently incurred the displeasure of Catherine de Medicis, he retired to the Court of the Duke of Savoy, and became the leader of the malcontents in Languedoc during the reign of Henri III. Henri IV restored him to all his honours, and made him Constable of France, and a knight of the Order of the Holy Ghost, in 1593. He died at an advanced age, in the town of Agde, in 1614.

[106] Charles Amedee de Savoie, Duc de Nemours, was the son of Jacques de Savoie and of Anne d'Este, whose first husband was the Duc de Guise. This lady made herself very conspicuous during the League. Charles Amedee married Elisabeth, the sister of Cesar de Vendome, Duc de Beaufort, and during the Fronde attached himself to the party of the princes; but having quarrelled with his brother-in-law, he was killed by him in a duel, in the year 1652.

[107] Anne de Levis, Duc de Ventadour, was the representative of one of the most ancient and illustrious families of France, which derived its name from the estate of Levis, near Chevreuse, where his ancestor, Guy de Levis, a famous general, founded in the year 1190 the abbey of La Roche.

[108] Valadier, year 1600.

[109] Guillaume du Vair, ultimately Bishop of Lisieux, and Keeper of the Seals, was the son of Jean du Vair, knight, and attorney-general of Catherine de Medicis and Henri de France, Duc d'Anjou. He was born at Paris on the 8th of March 1556, and was successively councillor of parliament, master of requests, first president of the Parliament of Provence, and finally (in 1616) keeper of the seals. He subsequently embraced the ecclesiastical profession, and was elevated to the see of Lisieux in 1618. He was a man of consummate talent; and his works, which were published in folio in Paris, in 1641, are still highly esteemed. Guillaume du Vair died at Tonnoins, in Agenois, in 1621, at the age of sixty-six years.

[110] Chronologie Septennaire, p. 184.

[111] Francois Suares, a celebrated scholar and theologian, was born at Granada in 1548, and in 1564 became a Jesuit. He taught theology, with great success, at Alcala, Salamanca, Rome, and Coimbra; and died at Lisbon in 1617. His collected works were published in twenty-three folio volumes, and are principally treatises on theology and morals. His treatise on the laws was reprinted in England.

[112] L'Etoile, Journal de Henri IV, vol. ii. p. 589.

[113] Cayet, p. 187. L'Etoile, vol. i. pp. 539, 540.

[114] Rambure, MS. Mem. vol. i. pp. 276, 277.

[115] Albert de Bellievre was the second son of the celebrated Chancellor Pomponne de Bellievre and of Marie Prunier, demoiselle de Grignon. He was a distinguished classic and an elegant scholar. Having become Archbishop of Lyons, he subsequently transferred that dignity to his younger brother Claude, and retired to his abbey of Jouy, where he died in 1621.

[116] Antoine de Roquelaure, Seigneur de Roquelaure in Armagnac, de Guadoux, etc., marshal of France, grand-master of the King's wardrobe, knight of the Orders of St. Michael and the Holy Ghost, perpetual mayor of Bordeaux, etc., was the younger son of Geraud Roquelaure, and the representative of an illustrious house. He was highly esteemed both by Jeanne d'Albret, Queen of Navarre, and by Henry IV, who loaded him with honours and distinctions in requital of his faithful and zealous services. He subsequently became governor of several provinces, and was created a marshal of France by Louis XIII, in 1615. He restored to their allegiance Clerac, Nerac, and several other revolted fortesses; and died at Lectoure in 1625, at the age of eighty-two years.

[117] Daniel, vol. vii. p. 398.

[118] Duc de Bellegarde.

[119] Francois de Joyeuse was the second son of Guillaume, Vicomte de Joyeuse, Marshal of France. He was born in the year 1562, and received a brilliant education, by which he profited so greatly as to become celebrated for his scientific attainments. He was successively Archbishop of Narbonne, of Toulouse, and of Rouen; and enjoyed the entire confidence of three monarchs, by each of whom he was entrusted with the most important state affairs. Highly esteemed, alike for his wisdom, prudence, and capacity, he died full of honours at the age of fifty-three years, at Avignon, where he had taken up his abode as senior cardinal. He left, as monuments of his piety, a seminary which he founded at Rouen, a residence for the Jesuits at Pontoise, and another for the Fathers of the Oratory at Dieppe.

[120] Pierre de Gondy (or Gondi), Bishop of Langres, and subsequently Archbishop of Paris, who was called to the Conclave by Pope Sixtus V in 1587. He died at Paris in February 1616, at the advanced age of eighty-four years. The Cardinal de Gondy was the first Archbishop of Paris, the metropolis having previously been only an episcopal see.

[121] Francois d'Escoubleau, better known under the name of Cardinal de Sourdis, was the son of Francois d'Escoubleau, Marquis d'Alliere, and was of an ancient and noble house. He distinguished himself so greatly by his mental and moral qualities as to secure the confidence and regard of Henri IV, who, in 1598, obtained for him a cardinal's hat; and in the following year he was created Archbishop of Bordeaux, in which city he died in 1628.

[122] Cayet, p. 191.

[123] L'Etoile, vol. ii. p. 546.

[124] Bassompierre, Mem. p. 25.

[125] L'Etoile, vol. ii. p. 549.

[126] Jerome (or Albert) de Gondy, peer of France, knight of the King's Orders, and first gentleman of the bedchamber, occupied the mansion which was subsequently known as the Hotel de Conde. He enjoyed the confidence of Catherine de Medicis and Charles IX so fully, that he had the honour of espousing, in the name of that monarch, the Princess Elizabeth of Austria, daughter of the Emperor Maximilian II. At the coronation of Henri III he represented the person of the Constable; and at that of Henri IV, he was proxy for the Comte de Toulouse.

[127] Anne d'Este, Duchesse de Nemours, was the mother of the Duc de Mayenne, and grandmother of the young Due de Guise who aspired to the throne. She was first married to Francois de Lorraine, Duc de Guise, and subsequently to Jacques de Savoie, Duc de Nemours, whose son, after his decease, also pretended to the crown.

[128] One historian (Sauval., Gallerie des Rois de France, vol. i.) asserts that the King himself presented his mistress to his wife; but he is unsupported in this statement save by Bassompierre, who also says: "The King presented Madame de Verneuil to her, who was graciously received" (Memoires, p. 25). Every other authority, however, contradicts this assertion, which is indeed too monstrous to be credible.

[129] L'Etoile, vol. i. p. 550.

[130] This residence, which was situated near the Bastille, and subsequently known as the Hotel de Lesdiguieres, was the same in which la belle Gabrielle had breathed her last.

[131] Bassompierre, Mem. p. 25.

[132] Wraxall, History of France, vol. vi. p. 187.

[133] L'Etoile, vol. ii. pp. 550, 551.

[134] Bassompierre, Mem. p. 25.

[135] Bassompierre, Mem. p. 50.

[136] L'Etoile, vol. iii. pp. 505, 506.

[137] Sully, Mem. vol. vii. pp. 180, 181.

[138] Leonora Dori, otherwise Galigai, was the daughter of the nurse of Marie de Medicis (who was the wife of a carpenter), and she was consequently the architect of her own fortunes. By her great talent and insinuating manners, she had, however, succeeded not only in securing the affection of her royal patroness, but also in exerting an influence over her actions never attained by any other individual, despite unceasing attempts to oust her.

[139] Suzanne de la Porte, wife of Francois du Plessis, Seigneur de Richelieu, Knight of the Royal Orders, and Grand Provost of France.

[140] Concino Concini was the son of a notary, who, by his talent, had risen to be secretary of state at Florence.

[141] Dreux du Radier, Memoires des Reines et Regentes de France, vol. vi. p. 81. Conti, Amours du Grand Alcandre, Cologne edition, 1652, p. 41.

[142] Perefixe, vol. ii. p. 346. L'Etoile, vol. ii. pp. 573, 574.

[143] Matthieu, vol. ii. p. 441.

[144] Mezeray, vol. x. p. 178.

[145] Daniel, vol. vii. p. 407.

[146] Matthieu, Hist. de Henri IV, vol. i. p. 307.

[147] Charles I. de Bourbon, Cardinal-Archbishop of Rouen, legate of Avignon, abbot of St. Denis, of St. Germain-des-Pres, of St. Ouen, of Ste. Catherine of Rouen, and of Orcamp, etc., was the son of Charles, Duc de Vendome, and was born in 1523. After the death of Henri III, in 1589, he was proclaimed King by the Leaguers and the Duc de Mayenne under the title of Charles X. Taken captive by Henri IV, of whom he was the paternal uncle, he was imprisoned at Fontenay, where he died in 1594.

[148] De Thou, vol. xi. pp. 154, 155.

[149] Charles, the natural son of Anthony of Navarre and of Mademoiselle de la Beraudiere de la Guiche, one of the maids of honour to Catherine de Medicis.

[150] Such was the plea of the Marechal de Biron during his imprisonment in the Bastille.

[151] Charles Emmanuel, Duke of Savoy, whose intellect had in other respects outrun his age, and whose shrewd good sense should have emancipated him from so gross an abuse of reason, never undertook any measure of importance without consulting the astrologers. See De Thou, vol. xiii. p. 538.

[152] See the Memoirs of Sully.

[153] It is a certain fact that Henri IV, however he might verbally despise the pretensions of those who exercised what has been happily designated as the "black art," nevertheless admitted more than once a conviction of their mysterious privileges.

[154] De Thou, vol. x. p. 375.

[155] M. de la Riviere had originally been the chief medical attendant of the Due de Bouillon, who ceded him to Henri IV, by whom he was appointed his body-surgeon, in which office he succeeded M. d'Aliboust. He was born at Falaise, in Normandy, and was the son of Jean Ribel, professor of theology at Geneva. He himself, however, embraced the reformed religion, and died in 1605, sincerely regretted by the monarch, to whom his eminent talents and unwearied devotion had greatly endeared him.

[156] Sully, Mem. vol. vi. pp. 46-49.

[157] Gaston Henri, the son of Henri IV and of Henriette d'Entragues, Marquise de Verneuil, originally took orders, and became the incumbent of several abbeys, among others that of St. Germain-des-Pres. He was subsequently made Bishop of Metz, and bore that title for a considerable time. On the 1st of January 1662, having been created a knight of the Order of the Holy Ghost, and in the following year a duke and peer, he took the title of Duc de Verneuil, and as such was sent to England in 1665 as ambassador extraordinary. Finally, in 1666, Louis XIV bestowed upon him the government of Languedoc, when he sold his church property, and married (in 1668) Charlotte Seguier, the widow of Maximilien-Francois de Bethune III, Duc de Sully. He died without issue, at Versailles, on the 28th of May 1682.



CHAPTER III

1602

Court festivities—The Queen's ballet—A gallant prelate—A poetical almoner—Insolence of the royal favourite—Unhappiness of the Queen—Weakness of Henry—Intrigue of Madame de Villars—The King quarrels with the favourite—They are reconciled—Madame de Villars is exiled, and the Prince de Joinville sent to join the army in Hungary—Mortification of the Queen—Her want of judgment—New dissension in the royal menage—Sully endeavours to restore peace—Mademoiselle de Sourdis—The Court removes to Blois—Royal rupture—A bewildered minister—Marie and her foster-sister—Conspiracy of the Dues de Bouillon and de Biron—Parallel between the two nobles—The Comte d'Auvergne—Ingratitude of Biron—He is betrayed—His arrogance—He is summoned to the capital to justify himself—He refuses to obey the royal summons—Henry sends a messenger to command his presence at Court—Precautionary measures of Sully—The President Jeannin prevails over the obstinacy of Biron—Double treachery of La Fin—The King endeavours to induce Biron to confess his crime—Arrest of the Duc de Biron and the Comte d'Auvergne—The royal soiree—A timely caution—Biron is made prisoner by Vitry, and the Comte d'Auvergne by Praslin—They are conveyed separately to the Bastille—Exultation of the citizens—Firmness of the King—Violence of Biron—Tardy repentance—Trial of Biron—A scene in the Bastille—Condemnation of the Duke—He is beheaded—The subordinate conspirators are pardoned—The Duc de Bouillon retires to Turenne—Refuses to appear at Court—Execution of the Baron de Fontenelles—A salutary lesson—The Comte d'Auvergne is restored to liberty—Revolt of the Prince de Joinville—He is treated with contempt by the King—He is imprisoned by the Duc de Guise—Removal of the Court to Fontainebleau—Legitimation of the son of Madame de Verneuil—Unhappiness of the Queen—She is consoled by Sully—Birth of the Princesse Elisabeth de France—Disappointment of the Queen—Soeur Ange.

The convalescence of the Queen was the signal for a succession of festivities, and the whole winter was spent in gaiety and dissipation; banquets, ballets, and hunting-parties succeeded each other with bewildering rapidity; and so magnificent were several of the Court festivals that even some of the gravest historians of the time did not disdain to record them. The most brilliant of the whole, however, and that which will best serve to exemplify the taste of the period, was the ballet to which allusion has already been made as given in honour of the King by his royal consort, and in which Marie de Medicis herself appeared. In order to heighten its effect she had selected fifteen of the most beautiful women of the Court, Madame de Verneuil being, according to the royal promise, one of the number; and the first part of the exhibition took place at the Louvre. The entertainment commenced with the entrance of Apollo and the nine Muses into the great hall of the palace, which was thronged with native and foreign princes, ambassadors, and ministers, in the midst of whom sat the King with the Papal Nuncio on his right hand. The god and his attendants sang the glory of the monarch, the pacificator of Europe; and each stanza terminated with the somewhat fulsome and ungraceful words:

"Il faut que tout vous rende hommage, Grand Roi, miracle de notre age."

Thence the whole gay and gallant company proceeded to the Hotel de Guise, where the eight maids of honour of the Queen performed the second act; and this was no sooner concluded than the brilliant revellers removed to the archiepiscopal palace, where the Queen appeared in person upon the scene, with her suite divided into four quadrilles. Marie herself represented Venus, and led by the hand Cesar de Vendome[158] attired as Cupid; when the splendour of her jewels produced so startling an effect that murmurs of astonishment and admiration ran through the hall. Gratified at the sensation caused by the unexampled magnificence and grace of his royal consort, Henry smilingly inquired of the Nuncio "if he had ever before seen so fine a squadron?"

"Bellissimo e pericolosissimo!" was the reply of the gallant prelate.

Each of the ladies composing the party of the Queen represented a virtue, an arrangement which, when it is remembered that Madame de Verneuil was one of the chosen, rendered their attributes at least equivocal. This royal ballet was nevertheless considered worthy of a poetical immortality by Berthault,[159] a popular bard of the day, who left little behind him worthy of preservation, but who enjoyed great vogue among the fashionables of the Court at that period. Its most important result was, however, the marriage of Concini and Leonora; to which, in consideration of the honour done to the favourite by the Queen, Henry withdrew his opposition; even authorizing his royal consort to bestow rich presents upon the bride, and to celebrate the nuptials with considerable ceremony.[160]

All these royal diversions were suddenly and disagreeably terminated some months afterwards by an intrigue which once more threw the King and his courtiers into a state of agitation and discomfort.

As regards Marie de Medicis herself, she had long ceased to derive any gratification from the splendid festivities of which she was one of the brightest ornaments; her ill-judged indulgence, far from exciting the gratitude of Madame de Verneuil, having rendered the insolent favourite still more arrogant and overbearing. To such an extent, indeed, did the Marquise carry her presumption, that she affected to believe herself indebted for the forbearance of the Queen to the conviction of the latter that she had a superior claim upon the monarch to her own; and while she permitted herself to comment upon the words, actions, and tastes, and even upon the personal peculiarities of her royal mistress, she declared her conviction of the legality of the written promise obtained by her from the King; and announced her determination, now that she had become the mother of a son, to enforce its observance.

These monstrous pretensions, which were soon made known to the Queen, at once wounded and exasperated her feelings; and she anxiously awaited the moment when some new imprudence of the favourite should open the eyes of the monarch to her delinquency, as she had already become aware that mere argument on her own part would avail nothing.

Several writers, and among them even female ones, yielding to the prestige attached to the name of Henri IV, have sought the solution of all his domestic discomfort in the "Italian jealousy" of Marie de Medicis; but surely it is not difficult to excuse it under circumstances of such extraordinary trial. Marie was a wife, a mother, and a queen; and in each of these characters she was insulted and outraged. As a wife, she saw her rights invaded—as a mother, the legitimacy of her son questioned—and as a queen her dignity compromised. What very inferior causes have produced disastrous effects even in private life! The only subject of astonishment which can be rationally entertained is the comparative patience with which at this period of her career she submitted to the humiliations that were heaped upon her.

In vain did she complain to her royal consort of the insulting calumnies of Madame de Verneuil; he either affected to disbelieve that she had been guilty of such absurd assumption, or reproached Marie with a want of self-respect in listening to the idle tattle of eavesdroppers and sycophants; alleging that her foreign followers, spoiled by her indulgence, and encouraged by her credulity, were the scourge of his Court; and that she would do well to dismiss them before they accomplished her own unhappiness. A hint to this effect always sufficed to silence the Queen, to whom the society and support of Leonora and her husband were becoming each day more necessary; and thus she devoured her tears and stifled her wretchedness, trusting that the arrogance and presumption of the Marquise would ultimately serve her better than her own remonstrances.

Such was the position of affairs when the intrigue to which allusion has been already made promised to produce the desired result; and it can create no surprise that Marie should eagerly indulge the hope of delivering herself from an obnoxious and formidable rival, when the opportunity presented itself of accomplishing so desirable an end without betraying her own agency.

During the lifetime of la belle Gabrielle, her sister, Juliette Hippolyte d'Estrees, Marquise de Cerisay, who in 1597 became the wife of Georges de Brancas, Duc de Villars, had attracted the attention of the King, whose dissipated tastes were always flattered by novelty; although if we are to credit the statements of the Princesse de Conti, this lady, so far from rivalling the beauty of her younger sister, had no personal charms to recommend her beyond her youth and her hair.[161] Being as unscrupulous as the Duchesse de Beaufort herself, Juliette exulted in the idea of captivating the King, and left no effort untried to secure her supposed conquest; but this caprice on the part of Henry was only momentary, and in his passion for Henriette d'Entragues, he soon forgot his passing fancy for Madame de Villars. The Duchess herself, however, was far from being equally oblivious; and listening to the dictates of her ambition and self-love, she became persuaded that she was indebted to the Marquise alone for the sudden coldness of the King; and accordingly she vowed an eternal hatred to the woman whom she considered in the light of a successful rival. Up to the present period, anxious as she was to avenge her wounded vanity, she had been unable to secure an opportunity of revenge; but having at this particular moment won the affection of the Prince de Joinville,[162] who had been a former lover of Madame de Verneuil, and with whom, as she was well aware, he had maintained an active correspondence, she made his surrender of the letters of that lady the price of her own honour. For a time the Prince hesitated; he felt all the disloyalty of such a concession; but those were not times in which principles waged an equal war against passion; and the letters were ultimately placed in the possession of Madame de Villars.

The Duchess was fully cognizant of the fact that it was from an impulse of self-preservation alone that M. de Joinville had been induced to forego his suit to the favourite, and to absent himself from the Court, a consideration which should have aroused her delicacy as a woman; but she was by no means disposed to yield to so inconvenient a weakness; and she had consequently no sooner secured the coveted documents than she prepared to profit by her good fortune.

Henriette d'Entragues had really loved the Prince—if indeed so venal and vicious a woman can be supposed capable of loving anything save herself—and thus the letters which were transferred to Madame de Villars, many of them having been written immediately after the separation of the lovers, were filled with regrets at his absence, professions of unalterable affection, and disrespectful expressions concerning the King and Queen; the latter of whom was ridiculed and slandered without pity. It is easy to imagine the triumphant joy of the Duchess. She held her enemy at her mercy, and she had no inclination to be merciful. She read and re-read the precious letters; and finally, after deep reflection, her plans were matured.

The Princesse de Conti was her personal friend, and was, moreover, attached to the household of the Queen, to whom Madame de Villars, from circumstances which require no comment, had hitherto been comparatively a stranger. Marie de Medicis, who had experienced little sympathy from the great ladies of the Court, having thrown herself principally upon her Italian followers for society, had in consequence been cold and distant in her deportment to the French members of her circle; who, on their side, trammelled by the rigorous propriety of her conduct, were quite satisfied to be partially overlooked, in order that their own less scrupulous bearing might pass unnoticed by so rigid a censor; and thus, when, upon the earnest request of Madame de Villars to be introduced to the more intimate acquaintance of the Queen, the Princess succeeded in obtaining for her the privilege of the petites entrees (unaware of the powerful passport to favour which she possessed), she found it difficult to account for the eagerness with which the ordinarily unapproachable Marie greeted the appearance and courted the society of the astute Duchess; nor did she for an instant dream that by facilitating the intercourse between them, she was undermining the fortunes of a brother whom she loved.

It appears extraordinary that of all the ladies about the Queen, Madame de Villars should have selected the sister of the Prince de Joinville to enable her to effect her purpose; but let her have acted from whatever motive she might, it is certain that day by day her favour became more marked; and the circumstance which most excited the surprise of Madame de Conti, was the fact that her protegee was often closeted with the Queen when, for reasons sufficiently obvious, she herself and even Leonora Galigai were excluded. In encouraging the vengeance of her new friend, Marie was well aware that she was committing an imprudence from which the more far-seeing Florentine would have dissuaded her; and thus, with that impetuosity which was destined through life to be her scourge, she resolved only to consult her own feelings. The secret of this new discovery was consequently not divulged to her favourite; and as her cheek burned and her eye flashed, while lingering over the insults to which she had been subjected by the unscrupulous mistress of the monarch, she urged Madame de Villars to lose no time in communicating the contents of the obnoxious letters to her sovereign.

The undertaking was difficult as well as dangerous; and in the case of the Duchess it required more than usual tact and caution. She had not only to encounter the risk of arousing the anger of Henry by accusing the woman whom he loved, but also to combat his wounded vanity when he should see his somewhat mature passion made a subject of ridicule, and, at the same time, to conceal her own motive for the treachery of which she was guilty. This threefold trial, even daring as she was, the Duchess feared to hazard. In communicating the fatal letters to the Queen, she had calculated that the indignation and jealousy of the Italian Princess would instigate her to take instant possession of so formidable a weapon against her most dangerous enemy, and to work out her own vengeance; but Marie had learnt prudence from past experience, and she was anxious to conceal her own agency in the cabal until she could avow it with a certainty of triumph. Perceiving the reluctance of Madame de Villars to take the initiative, she hastened to explain to her the suspicion which would naturally be engendered in the mind of the King, should he imagine that the affair had been preconcerted to satisfy her private animosity; and moreover suggested that the Duchess should, in her interview with the monarch, carefully avoid even the mention of her name. Encouragement and entreaties followed this caution; while a few rich presents sufficed to convince her auditor—and ultimately, Madame de Villars (who had too long waited patiently for such an opportunity of revenge to shrink from her purpose when it was secured to her), having gained the favour and confidence of the Queen at the expense of her rival, resolved to terminate her task.

The pretext of urgent business easily procured for her a private interview with the King, for the name of D'Estrees still acted like a spell upon the mind and heart of Henry, and the Duchess was a consummate tactician. Notice was given to her of the day on which the sovereign would visit St. Denis; and as she presented herself in the lateral chapel where he had just concluded his devotions, Henry made a sign for his attendant nobles to withdraw, when the Duchess found herself in a position to explain her errand, and to assure him that she had only been induced to make the present disclosure from her affection for his person, and the gratitude which she owed to him for the many benefits that she had experienced from his condescension. Having briefly dwelt on the contents of the letters which she delivered into his keeping, she did not even seek an excuse for the means by which they had come into her own possession, but concluded by observing: "I could not reconcile it to my conscience, Sire, to conceal so great an outrage; I should have felt like a criminal myself, had I been capable of suffering in silence such treason against the greatest king, the best master, and the most gallant gentleman on earth." [163]

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