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The Life of Marie de Medicis, Vol. 1 (of 3)
by Julia Pardoe
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Henry was not proof against this compliment. He believed himself to be all that the Duchess had asserted, but he liked to hear his own opinion confirmed by the lips of others; and, although smarting under the mortification of wounded vanity occasioned by the contents of the letters of his perfidious mistress, he smiled complacently upon Madame de Villars, thanking her for her zeal and attachment to his person, and assuring her that both were fully appreciated.

She had no sooner retired than, as the Queen had previously done, he repeatedly read over each letter in turn until his patience gave way under the task; when hastily summoning the Duc de Lude, he desired him to forthwith proceed to the apartments of the Marquise, and inform her in his name that "she was a perfidious woman, a monster, and the most wicked of her sex; and that he was resolved never to see her again." [164]

At this period Madame de Verneuil had quitted the palace, and was residing in an hotel in the city, which had been presented to her by the King: a fortunate circumstance for the envoy, who required time and consideration to enable him to execute his onerous mission in a manner that might not tend to his own subsequent discomfiture; but on the delivery of the royal message, which even the courtly De Lude could not divest of its offensive character, Madame de Verneuil (who was well aware that the King, however he might yield to his momentary anger, was even less able to dispense with her society than she herself was to lose the favour which alone preserved her from the ignominy her conduct had justly merited) did not for an instant lose her self-possession. "Tell his Majesty," she replied, as calmly as though a sense of innocence had given her strength, "that being perfectly assured that I have never been guilty of word or deed which could justly incur his anger, I cannot imagine what can have induced him to treat me with so little consideration. That some one has traduced me, I cannot doubt; but I shall be revenged by a discovery of the truth." [165]

She then rose from her seat, and retired to her private room, much more alarmed and agitated than she was willing to betray. De Lude had, during the interview, suffered a few remarks to escape him from which she was enabled to guess whence the blow had come; and conscious of the enormity of her imprudence, she lost no time in confiding to her most confidential friends the difficulty of her position, and entreated them to discover some method by which she might escape its consequences.

As had been previously arranged with the Queen, Madame de Villars, at her audience of the King, had carefully abstained from betraying the share which his consort had taken in the intrigue, and had assumed to herself the very equivocal honour of the whole proceeding; and it was, consequently, against the Duchess alone that the anger of the favourite was excited. Even the Prince de Joinville was forgiven, when with protestations of repentance he threw himself at the feet of the Marquise, and implored her pardon—he could scarcely fail to be understood by such a woman, when he pleaded the extremes to which passion and disappointment could urge an ardent nature—while the Duc de Bellegarde was no sooner informed by the Princesse de Conti that the fortune, and perhaps even the life, of her brother were involved in the affair, than he devoted himself to her cause.

We have already stated that the time was not one of unnecessary scruple, and the peril of the Marquise was imminent. The letters not only existed, but were in the hands of the King: no honest or simple remedy could be suggested for such a disaster; and thus, as it was imperative to clear Madame de Verneuil from blame in order to save the Prince, it was ultimately determined to deny the authenticity of the documents, and to attribute the forgery to a secretary of the Duc de Guise, who was celebrated for his aptitude in imitating every species of handwriting. The attempt was hazardous; but the infatuation of Henry for the fascinating favourite was so well known, that the conspirators were assured of the eagerness with which he would welcome any explanation, however doubtful; and they accordingly instructed the Marquise boldly to disavow the authorship of the obnoxious packet. The advice was, unfortunately, somewhat tardy; as, in her first terror, Madame de Verneuil had declared her inability to deny that she had written the letters which had aroused the anger of the King; but she modified the admission, by declaring that her hand had betrayed her heart, and that she had never felt what, in a moment of pique and annoyance, she had permitted herself to express. These were, however, mere words; and she had no sooner become cognizant of the expedients suggested by her advisers than she resolved to gainsay them; and accordingly, without a moment's hesitation, she despatched a message to the monarch to entreat that he would allow her to justify herself.

For a few days Henry remained inexorable, but at length his passion triumphed over his pride; and instead of summoning the Marquise to his presence as a criminal he proceeded to her residence, listened blindly to her explanations, became, or feigned to become, convinced by her arguments, and ultimately confessing himself to have been sufficiently credulous to be the culprit rather than the judge, he made a peace with his exulting mistress, which was cemented by a donation of six thousand livres.

As is usual in such cases, all the blame was now visited upon her accusers. Madame de Villars was exiled from the Court—a sentence to her almost as terrible as that of death, wedded as she was to a court-life, and by this unexpected result, separated from the Prince de Joinville, whose pardon she had hoped to secure by her apparent zeal for the honour of the monarch. The Prince himself was directed to proceed forthwith to Hungary to serve against the Turks; and the unfortunate secretary, who had been an unconscious instrument in the hands of the able conspirators, and whom it was necessary to consider guilty of a crime absolutely profitless to himself whatever might be its result, was committed to a prison; there to moralize at his leisure upon the vices of the great.

No mortification could, however, equal that of the Queen; who, having felt assured of the ruin of her rival, had incautiously betrayed her exultation in a manner better suited to a jealous wife than to an indignant sovereign; and who, when she became apprised of the reconciliation of the King with his wily mistress, expressed herself with so much warmth upon his wilful blindness, that a fortnight elapsed before they met again.

Nothing could be more ill-judged upon the part of Marie than this violence, as by estranging the King from herself she gave ample opportunity to the Marquise to resume her empire over his mind. It nevertheless appears certain that although he resented the sarcasms of the Queen, he was less the dupe of Madame de Verneuil than those about him imagined; he was fascinated, but not convinced; and it is probable that had Marie de Medicis at this moment sufficiently controlled her feelings to remain neuter, she might, for a time at least, have retained her truant husband under the spell of her own attractions. Such, however, was not the case; and between his suspicion of being deceived by his mistress, and his irritation at being openly taunted by his wife, the King, who shrank with morbid terror from domestic discomfort, instead of finding repose in the privacy of his own hearth, even while he was anxious to shake off the trammels by which he had been so long fettered, and to abandon a liaison which had ceased to inspire him with confidence, only sought to escape by transferring his somewhat exhausted affections to a new object. The struggle was, however, a formidable one; for although the Marquise had forfeited his good opinion, she had not lost her powers of fascination; and she so well knew how to use them, that, despite his better reason, the sensual monarch still remained her slave.

Thus his life became at this period one of perpetual worry and annoyance. Marie, irritated by what she justly considered as a culpable weakness and want of dignity on the part of her royal consort, persisted in exhibiting her resentment, and in loading the favourite with every mark of contempt and obloquy; while Madame de Verneuil, in her turn, renewed her assertions of the illegality of the Queen's marriage, and the consequent illegitimacy of the Dauphin. The effect of such a feud may be readily imagined: the Court soon became divided into two distinct factions; and those among the great ladies and nobles who frequented the circle of the Marquise were forbidden the entrance of the Queen's apartments. One intrigue succeeded another; and while Marie, with jealous vindictiveness, endeavoured to mar the fortunes of those who attached themselves to the party of Madame de Verneuil, the Marquise left no effort untried to injure the partisans of the Queen. This last rupture was an irrevocable one.[166]

In vain did Sully endeavour to restore peace. He could control the finances, and regulate the defences of a great nation; but he was as powerless as the King himself when he sought to fuse such jarring elements as these in the social crucible; and while he was still striving against hope to weaken, even if he could not wholly destroy, an animosity which endangered the dignity of the crown, and the respect due to one of the most powerful monarchs of Christendom, that monarch himself, wearied of a strife which he had not the moral courage either to terminate or to sustain, sought consolation for his trials in the smiles of Mademoiselle de Sourdis,[167] whose favour he purchased by giving her in marriage to the Comte d'Estanges. This caprice, engendered rather by ennui than affection, was, however, soon terminated, as the new favourite could not, either personally or mentally, sustain a comparison with Madame de Verneuil; and great coldness still existed between the royal couple when the Court removed to Blois.

During the sojourn of their Majesties in that city, a misunderstanding infinitely more serious than any by which it had been preceded took place between them; and at length became so threatening, that although the night was far advanced, the King despatched D'Armagnac, his first valet-de-chambre, to desire the immediate presence of M. de Sully at the castle. Singularly enough, the Duke in his Memoirs affects a morbid reluctance even to allude to this outbreak, and professes his determination, in accordance with his promise to that effect made to both parties, not to reveal the subject of dispute; while at the same time he admits that, after a long interview with Henry, he spent the remainder of the night in passing from one chamber to the other, endeavouring to restore harmony between the royal pair, during which attempt many of the attendants of the Court were enabled at intervals to hear all parties mention the names of the Grand Duke and Duchess of Florence, the Duchess of Mantua, Virgilio Ursino, Don Juan de Medicis, the Duc de Bellegarde, Joannini, Concini, Leonora, Trainel, Vinti, Caterina Selvaggio,[168] Gondy, and more frequently still, of Madame de Verneuil;[169] a circumstance which was quite sufficient to dispel all mystery, as it at once became evident to those who mentally combined these significant names, that the royal quarrel was a recriminatory one, and that while the Queen was indulging in invectives against the Marquise, and her champion M. le Grand, the King retorted by reproaching her with the insolence of her Italian favourites, and her own weak submission to their thrall.[170]

Capefigue, in his history, has shown less desire than Sully to envelop this royal quarrel in mystery; and plainly asserts, although without quoting his authority for such a declaration, that after mutual reproaches had passed between Henry and his wife, the Queen became so enraged that she sprang out of bed, and throwing herself upon the monarch, severely scratched him in the face; a violence which he immediately repaid with interest, and which induced him to summon the minister to the palace, whose first care was to prevail upon the King to retire to another apartment.[171]

Marie, exasperated by the persevering infidelity of her husband, considered herself, with some reason, as the aggrieved party: she had given a Dauphin to France; her fair fame was untainted; and she persisted in enforcing her right to retain and protect her Tuscan attendants. Henry, on his part, was equally unyielding; and it was, as we have already shown, several hours before the bewildered minister of finance could succeed in restoring even a semblance of peace. To every argument which he advanced the Queen replied by enumerating the libertine adventures of her husband (with the whole of which she proved herself to be unhappily only too familiar), and by declaring that she would one day take ample vengeance on his mistresses; strong in the conviction that to whatever acts of violence she might be induced by the insults heaped upon her, no rightly thinking person would be found to condemn so just a revenge.[172]

This declaration, let Sully modify it as he might, could but aggravate the anger of the King; and accordingly, he replied by a threat of banishing his wife to one of his distant palaces, and even of sending her back to Florence, with the whole of her foreign attendants.

From this project, if he really ever seriously entertained it, Henry was, however, at once dissuaded by his minister; who, less blinded by passion than himself, instantly recognised its enormity when proportioned to the offence which it was intended to punish; and consequently he did not hesitate to represent the odium which so unjust a measure must call down upon the head of the King.[173] The Queen, whose irritation had reached its climax, was less easily persuaded; or the astute Concini, who was ever daring where his personal fortunes might be benefited, sacrificed his royal mistress to his own interests; for we find it recorded that some time subsequently, when Madame de Verneuil was residing at her hotel in Paris, the Florentine favourite privately informed the monarch that Marie had engaged some persons on whom she could rely, to insult the Marquise; upon which Henry, after expressing his thanks for the communication, caused the favourite to leave the city under a strong escort.[174]

Had the King been less unscrupulously inconstant, there is, however, no doubt that Marie de Medicis, from the strict propriety of her conduct to the last, and under every provocation, would ultimately have become an attached and devoted wife. Her ambition was satisfied, and her heart interested, in her maternal duties; but the open and unblushing licentiousness with which Henry pursued his numerous and frequently ignoble intrigues, irritated her naturally excitable temper, and consequently tended to throw her more completely into the power of the ambitious Italians by whom she was surrounded; among whom the most influential was Madame de Concini, a woman of firm mind, engaging manners, and strong national prejudices, who, in following the fortunes of her illustrious foster-sister, had deceived herself into the belief that they would be almost without a cloud; and it is therefore probable that a disappointment in this expectation, which, moreover, involved her own personal interests, rendered her bitter in her judgment of the debonnaire and reckless monarch who showed himself so indifferent to the attractions of her idolized mistress.

The subsequent ingratitude of Marie, indeed, only tends to increase the admiration of a dispassionate critic for the ill-requited Leonora; to whom it would appear, after a close analysis of her character, that ample justice has never yet been done; for ambitious as she was, it is certain that this unfortunate woman ever sought the welfare of the Queen, to whom she owed her advancement in life, even when the more short-sighted selfishness of her husband would have induced him to sacrifice all other considerations to his own insatiable thirst for power.

Unfortunately, however, the very excess of her affection rendered her a dangerous adviser to the indignant and neglected Princess, from whose private circle Henry at this period almost wholly absented himself.

Nor were these domestic anxieties the only ones against which the French King had to contend at this particular crisis; for while the Court circle had been absorbed in banquets and festivals, the seeds of civil war, sown by a few of the still discontented nobles, began to germinate; and Henry constantly received intelligence of seditious movements in the provinces. On the banks of the Loire and the Garonne the symptoms of disaffection had already ceased to be problematical; while at La Rochelle and Limoges the inhabitants had assaulted the government officers who sought to levy an obnoxious tax.

Little doubt existed in the minds of the monarch and his ministers that these hostile demonstrations were encouraged, if not suggested, by the secret agents of Philip III of Spain, and the Duke of Savoy, who had been busily engaged some time previously in dissuading the Swiss and Grisons from renewing the alliance which they had formed with Henri III, and which became void at his death. This attempt was, however, frustrated by an offer made to them by Sillery of a million in gold, as payment of the debt still due to them from the French government for their past services; which enormous sum reached them through the hands of the Duc de Biron, to whom, as well as to the memory of his father, the old Marechal, many of the Switzers were strongly and personally attached.

Day by day, also, the King had still more serious cause of apprehension, having ascertained almost beyond a doubt that the Duc de Bouillon, the head of the Huguenot party, who were incensed against Henry for having deserted their faith, was secretly engaged in a treaty with Spain, Savoy, and England, a circumstance rendered doubly dangerous from the fact that the Protestants still held several fortified places in Guienne, Languedoc, and other provinces, which would necessarily, should the negotiation prove successful, be delivered into his hands. There can be no doubt, moreover, that the monarch keenly felt the ingratitude of this noble, whom he had himself raised to the independent sovereignty of the duchy whence he derived his title; but his mortification was increased upon ascertaining that the Marechal de Biron, who had been one of his most familiar friends, and in whose good-faith and loyalty he had ever placed implicit trust, was also numbered among his enemies, and endeavouring to secure his own personal advancement by betraying his master.

No two men could probably have been selected throughout the whole nation more fitted to endanger the stability of the royal authority. Both were marshals of France, and alike celebrated for their talent as military leaders, as well as for their insatiable ambition. Of the two, perhaps, however, the Due de Bouillon was likely to prove the most formidable enemy to the sovereign; from the fact of his being by far the more able and the more subtle politician, and, moreover, gifted with a caution and judgment which were entirely wanting in the impetuous and reckless Biron.

Bouillon, who possessed great influence in the counsels of the Huguenots, was supported by the Due de la Tremouille,[175] his co-religionist, another leader of the reformed party; and secretly also by the Duc d'Epernon,[176] whose fortunes having greatly deteriorated since the death of Henri III, considered himself harshly treated, and was ready to join every cabal which was formed against that King's successor, although he always avoided any open demonstration of hostility which might tend to compromise his personal safety.

A third individual pointed out to the King as one of his most active enemies was Charles de Valois, Comte d'Auvergne, the step-brother of Madame de Verneuil; to whom not only in consideration of his royal blood, but also as the relative of the Marquise, Henry had ever shown a favour which he little merited. Such an adversary the monarch could, however, afford to despise, for he well knew the Count to be more dangerous as a friend than as an enemy; his cowardly dread of danger constantly impelling him, at the merest prospect of peril, to betray others in order to save himself; while his cunning, his gratuitous and unmanly cruelty, and the unblushing perfidy which recalled with only too much vividness the character of his father, Charles IX, rendered him at once unsafe and unpleasant as an associate. Despite all these drawbacks, Biron with his usual recklessness had nevertheless accepted him as a partner in his meditated revolt, D'Auvergne having declared that he would run all risks in order to revenge the dishonour brought upon his family by the King; but in reality the Comte only sought to benefit himself in a struggle where he had little to lose, and might, as he believed, become a gainer.

The madness of the Duc de Biron in betraying the interests of a sovereign who had constantly treated him with honour and distinction, can only find its solution in his overweening vanity, as he was already wealthy, powerful, and popular; and had, moreover, acquired the reputation of being one of the first soldiers in France. He had been appointed admiral, and subsequently marshal; and had even been entrusted with the command of the King's armies at the siege of Amiens, where he bore the title of marshal-general, although several Princes of the Blood and the Connetable himself were present. He was decorated with all the Royal Orders; was a duke and peer of the realm, and Governor of Bordeaux; and, in fine, every attainable dignity had been lavished upon him; while he yielded precedence only to royalty, and to the Duc de Montmorency, to whose office it was vain to aspire during his lifetime.[177]

Such was the Marechal de Biron, when, in the vainglorious hope of one day becoming the sovereign of certain of the French provinces, he voluntarily trampled under foot every obligation of loyalty and gratitude, and leagued himself with the enemies of his royal master, to wrest from him the sceptre which he so firmly wielded. The first intelligence of the Duke's defection which reached the monarch—to whom, however, his conduct had long appeared problematical—was obtained through the treachery of the Marechal's most trusted agent; a man whom Biron had constantly employed in all his intrigues, and from whom he had no secrets. This individual, who from certain circumstances saw reason to believe that the plans of the Duke must ultimately fail from their very immensity, and who feared for his own safety in the event of his patron's disgrace, resolved to save himself by communicating the whole conspiracy to the King; for which purpose he solicited an audience, declaring that he had important matters to reveal, which involved not only the throne of the sovereign, but even his life; and he so confidently insisted upon this fact, that an interview was at length accorded to him at Fontainebleau; where, in the presence of Henry and the Duc de Sully, he confessed that conceiving himself to have been ill-used by the Court, he had from mortified vanity adopted the interests of M. de Biron, and even participated in the conspiracy of which he was now anxious to anticipate the effects, and from which he had instantly retired when he discovered that it involved the lives of his Majesty and the Dauphin.

He then solemnly asserted that when the Marechal de Biron proceeded to Flanders to receive the oath of peace from the Archduke Albert, the Spaniards, who at once detected the extent of his vanity and ambition, had flattered his weakness and encouraged his hopes; and that they had ultimately despatched to him an individual named Picote, who for some crime had been exiled from Orleans, and who was authorized to give him the assurance that it only depended upon the Duke himself to secure a brilliant position through their agency, should he see fit to become their ally. The Marechal, his associate went on to say, listened eagerly to the proposition, and expressed his willingness to treat with Spain whenever it might be deemed expedient to confide to him the real meaning of the message; a reply which satisfied the Spaniards that with proper caution they should find it no difficult undertaking to attach him entirely to their interests, or, failing in this attempt, to rid themselves of a dangerous adversary by rendering him the victim of his own treason.

Elated by the brilliant prospect which thus opened upon him, Biron gradually became less energetic in the service of his legitimate master; and after the peace of Vervins, finding his influence necessarily diminished, he began to murmur, affecting to believe that the services which he had rendered to the sovereign had not been duly recognized; and it was at this period, according to his betrayer, that their acquaintance had commenced, an acquaintance which so rapidly ripened into friendship that ere long he became the depository of his patron's most cherished secrets.

After many and anxious consultations, principally caused by the uncertainty of the Duke as to the nature of the honours which were to be conferred upon him, it had been at length resolved between the two conspirators that they should despatch a priest to the Duke of Savoy, a monk of Citeaux to Milan, and Picote himself to Spain, to treat with the several Princes in the name of the Marechal; and what was even more essential to the monarch to ascertain, was the fact that a short time subsequently, and before he visited Paris, the Duke of Savoy had entered into a secret negotiation with Biron, and even led him to believe that he would bestow upon him the hand of one of his daughters, by which marriage the Marechal would have become the cousin of the Emperor of Germany, and the nephew of the King of Spain, an alliance which, to so ambitious a spirit, opened up an opportunity of self-aggrandizement never to be realized in his own country and under his own sovereign.

In return for this concession, Biron had pledged himself to his wily ally that he would provide so much occupation for Henry in the interior of his kingdom, that he should have no leisure to attempt the invasion of the marquisate of Saluzzo, a pledge which more than any other gratified M. de Savoie, who lived in constant dread of being driven from his territories. During the war the Marechal nevertheless took several of the Duke's fortresses in Brescia; but a perfect understanding had been established between them which rendered this circumstance comparatively unimportant; and on the refusal of Henry to permit the appointment of a governor of his own selection for the citadel of Bourg, Biron became so incensed by what he designated as the ingratitude of his sovereign—though he was fully aware that by countenancing such an arrangement the King must necessarily leave the fortress entirely in his power—that he no longer restrained himself, but declared that the death of the French sovereign was essential to the accomplishment of his projects; and meanwhile he gave the Duke of Savoy, whom he thenceforward regarded as his firmest friend, constant information of the state and movements of the hostile army.

A short time afterwards it was definitely arranged between the conspirators that the Duke of Savoy should give his third daughter in marriage to the Marechal, with a dowry of five hundred thousand golden crowns; that the Spanish monarch should cede to him all his claims of sovereignty upon the duchy of Burgundy; and that the Conde de Fuentes[178] and the Duke of Savoy should march their combined forces into France, thus disabling Henry from pursuing his design of reconquering the long-coveted duchy.

This treasonable design, owing to circumstances upon which the impetuous Biron had failed to calculate, proved, however, abortive; and he had no sooner convinced himself of the fact, and comprehended the perilous position in which he had been placed by his imprudence, than he hastened to Lyons, where the King was then sojourning; and having obtained an audience, he confessed with a seeming frankness irresistible to so generous and unsuspicious a nature as that of Henry, that he had been sufficiently misled by his ambition secretly to demand from the Duke of Savoy the hand of his younger daughter; and that, moreover, in the excess of his mortification at the refusal of his Majesty to appoint a governor of his own selection at Bourg, he had even been induced to plot against the state, for both which crimes he humbly solicited the royal pardon.

Full well did Henry and his minister remember this occurrence; nor could the King forget that although he had urged the Marechal to reveal to him the whole extent of the intrigue, he had dexterously evaded his most searching inquiries, and constantly recurred to his contrition. Henry owed much to Biron, whom he had long loved; and with a magnanimity worthy of his noble nature, after a few expostulations and reproaches, he not only pardoned him for what he believed to have been a mere temporary abandonment of his duties, but even assured him of his future favour, and bade him return in all security to his post.

Unhappily, however, the demon of ambition by which the Duke was possessed proved too powerful for the generous clemency of the King, and he resumed his treasonable practices; but a misunderstanding having ensued between himself and the false friend by whom he was now betrayed, all the private documents which had been exchanged between himself and the foreign princes through whose aid he trusted to obtain the honours of sovereignty, were communicated on this occasion to the monarch whose dignity and whose confidence he had alike outraged.

A free pardon was accorded to the traitor through whose means Henry was made acquainted with the extent of the intrigue, on condition that he should reside within the precincts of the Court and lend his assistance to convict the Duke of his crime, terms to which the perfidious confidant readily consented; while with a tact worthy of his falsehood, he soon succeeded in reinstating himself in the good graces of the Duke, by professing to be earnestly engaged in France in furthering his interests, and by giving him reason to believe that he was still devoted to his cause.

To this deception, and to his own obstinacy, Biron owed his fate.[179]

The alarming facts which had thus been revealed to them were communicated by Henry and his minister to certain members of the privy council, by whom a report was drawn up and placed in the hands of the Chancellor; and, this preliminary arrangement completed, it was determined to recall the Marechal to Court either to justify himself, or to undergo the penalty of his treason. In order to effect this object, however, it was necessary to exercise the greatest caution, as Biron was then in Burgundy; and his alarm having already been excited by the evasion of his most confidential agent, they felt that he might, should his suspicions be increased, place himself at the head of the troops under his command, by whom he was idolized, and thus become doubly dangerous. It was, consequently, only by a subterfuge that there was any prospect of inducing him to approach the capital; and the King, by the advice of Sully, and not without a latent hope that he might be enabled to clear himself of blame, openly asserted that he put no faith in the disclosures which had been made to him, and that he would advise the Marechal to be careful of those about him, whose envy or enmity led them to put a misconstruction upon his motives as well as upon his actions. The Baron de Luz,[180] the confidential friend of Biron, for whose ear these declarations were especially designed, did not fail to communicate them on the instant to the accused party; while La Fin,[181] by whom he had been betrayed, likewise wrote to assure him that in revealing the conspiracy to the King and the ministers he had been cautious not to utter a word by which he could be personally implicated. It is certain, however, that the Duke placed little reliance either upon the assertions of Henry, or the assurances of his treacherous agent; as on the receipt of a letter from the sovereign, announcing his own instant departure for Poitou, where he invited Biron to join him, in order that he might afford him his advice upon certain affairs of moment, the latter wrote to excuse himself, alleging, as a pretext for his disobedience to the royal command, the rumour of a reported aggression of the Spaniards, and the necessity of his presence at a meeting of the States of Burgundy which had been convoked for the 22d of May, where it would be essential that he should watch over the interests of his Majesty.[182]

The King did not further insist at that moment; but having ascertained on his return from Poitou that fresh movements had been made in Burgundy, in Saintonge, in Perigord, and in Guienne, which threatened to prove inimical to his authority, and that couriers were constantly passing from one of these provinces to the other, he sent to desire the presence of the Sieur Descures,[183] an intimate friend and follower of the Marechal, whom he commanded to proceed with all speed to Burgundy, and to inform his lord that if he did not forthwith obey the royal summons, the sovereign would go in person to bring him thence. This threat was sufficiently appalling; and the rather as Sully, by his authority as grand-master of artillery, had taken the precaution, on pretext of recasting the cannon and improving the quality of the powder in the principal cities of Burgundy, to cripple Biron's resources, and to render it impossible for him to attempt any rational resistance to the royal will. The Marechal soon perceived that he had been duped, but, nevertheless, he would not yield; and Descures left him, firm in his determination not to trust himself within the precincts of the Court.

The King, who, from his old attachment to Biron, had hitherto hoped that he had been calumniated, and that, in lieu of crimes, he had only been guilty of follies, offended by so resolute an opposition to his will, began, like his ministers, to apprehend that he must in truth thenceforward number the Duke among his enemies; and he consequently suffered himself, shortly after the return of his last messenger, to be persuaded to despatch the President Jeannin[184] as the bearer of a third summons to the Marechal, and to represent to him how greatly he was increasing the displeasure of the sovereign by his disobedience, as well as strengthening the suspicions which were already entertained against him. Finally, the president was instructed to assure the haughty and imperious rebel that the King had not forgotten the good service which he had rendered to the nation; and that he ascribed the accusations which had reached him rather to the exaggerations of those who in making such reports sought to increase their own favour at Court than to any breach of trust on the part of the Marechal himself.[185]

Somewhat reassured by these declarations, and unconscious of the extent of La Fin's treachery, Biron allowed himself to be persuaded by the eloquence of Jeannin, and reluctantly left Dijon for Fontainebleau, where he arrived on the 13th of June. As he was about to dismount, La Fin approached to welcome him; and while holding his stirrup whispered in his ear: "Courage, my master; speak out boldly, for they know nothing." The Duke silently nodded his reply, and at once proceeded to the royal chamber, where Henry received him with a gay countenance and open arms, declaring that he had done well to accept his invitation, or he should assuredly have gone to fetch him in person as he had threatened. Biron excused himself, but with a coldness extremely displeasing to the King, who, however, forebore to exhibit any symptom of annoyance; and after a short conversation in which no further allusion was made to the position of the Marechal, Henry, as he had often previously done, proposed to show him the progress of the new buildings upon which he was then actively engaged; and, leading the way to the gardens, he did in fact for a time point out to him every object of interest. This done, he suddenly turned the discourse upon the numerous reasons for displeasure which the recent acts of Biron had given him (being careful, nevertheless, not to betray the extent of his knowledge), and earnestly urged him to confess the real amount of the imprudence of which he had been guilty, pledging his royal word, that should he do so with frankness and sincerity, the avowal would ensure his pardon.

But this the infatuated Duke had no intention of conceding. The whispered assurance of La Fin still vibrated on his ear, and he also calculated largely on his intimacy with D'Auvergne, which secured to him the influence of Madame de Verneuil. He consequently replied, with an arrogance as unbecoming as it was misplaced, that he had not come to Court to justify himself, but in order to ascertain who were his accusers; and, moreover, added that, having committed no crime, he did not require any pardon; nor could either Henry himself or the Duc de Sully, with whom he had subsequently a lengthened interview, succeed in inducing him to make the slightest confession.

The noonday repast was no sooner over than the King sent to summon the Marechal to his closet, where he once more exerted every effort to soften the obduracy of the man to whose valour he was well aware that he had been greatly indebted for his crown, and whom he was consequently anxious to save from dishonour and ignominy; but, unfortunately for his own interests, Biron retained as vivid a recollection of the fact as Henry himself; and he so highly estimated the value of his services, that he resolved to maintain the haughty position which he had assumed, and to persist in a denial that was fated to cost him his life. Instead, therefore, of throwing himself upon the clemency of the King by an undisguised avowal of his treason, he merely replied to the appeal by again demanding to know who were his accusers; upon which Henry rose from his seat, and exclaiming: "Come, we will play a match at tennis," hastily left the room, followed by the culprit.

The King having selected the Comte de Soissons[186] as his second against the Duc d'Epernon and the Marechal, this ill-assorted party continued for some time apparently absorbed in the game; and so thoroughly did it recall past scenes and times to the mind of the monarch, that he resolved, before he abandoned his once faithful subject to his fate, to make one last endeavour to overcome his obstinacy. He accordingly authorized M. de Soissons to exert whatever influence he possessed with the rash man who was so blindly working out his own ruin, and to represent to him the madness of persisting in a line of conduct which could not fail to provoke the wrath of his royal master.

"Remember, Monsieur," said the Prince, who was as anxious as the monarch himself that the scandal of a public trial, and the certainty of an ignominious death, should be spared to so brave a soldier—"remember that a sovereign's anger is the messenger of destruction." [187]

Biron, however, persisted in declaring that he had no reason to fear the displeasure of Henry, and had consequently no confession to make; and with this fatal answer the Count was fain to content himself.

The King rose early on the following morning, full of anxiety and apprehension. He could not look back upon the many gallant acts of the unfortunate Marechal without feeling a bitter pang at the idea that an old and formerly zealous servant was about to become a victim to expediency, for the spirit of revolt, which he had hitherto endeavoured to suppress by clemency, had now risen hydra-headed, threatening to dispute his right of reprisal, and to involve the nation once more in civil war. He painfully felt, that under circumstances like these, lenity would become, not only a weakness, but a crime, and possessing, as he did, the most indubitable proofs of Biron's guilt, he saw himself compelled to forget the friend in the sovereign, and to deliver up the attainted noble to the justice of his betrayed country.

A privy council was consequently assembled, at which Henry declared his determination to arrest the Duke, and to put him upon his trial, if, after mature deliberation, it was decided that he deserved death, as otherwise he was resolved not to injure his reputation by any accusations which might tarnish his renown or embitter his existence. To this last indication of relenting he received in reply an assurance that no further deliberation was requisite, as the treason of the Marechal was so fully proved, and the facts so amply authenticated, that he would be condemned to the axe by every tribunal in the world.

On finding that his councillors were unanimous in this opinion, the King summoned MM. de Vitry[188] and de Praslin,[189] and gave them orders to arrest both the Duc de Biron and the Comte d'Auvergne, desiring them at the same time to act with the greatest caution, and carefully to avoid all noise and disorder.

When their Majesties had supped they retired to the private apartments, where, among other courtiers, they were joined by the two conspirators, both of whom were peculiarly obnoxious to the Queen—D'Auvergne from his general character, as well as his relationship to Madame de Verneuil, and Biron from his intimacy with the brother of the favourite, who had renewed her pretended claim to the hand of Henry, a subject which always tortured the heart of Marie, involving, as it did, the legitimacy of her son, and her own honour. It was not, therefore, without a great exertion of self-command that she replied to the ceremonious compliments of the Duke by courtesies equally lip-deep, and, at the express desire of the King, was induced to accept him as her companion at the card-table. During the progress of the game, a Burgundian nobleman named Merge approached the Marechal and murmured in a low voice, as he affected to examine his cards, that he was about to be arrested, but Biron being at that moment deeply absorbed in his occupation, did not hear or heed the warning, and he continued to play on in the greatest security until D'Auvergne, to whom Merge had communicated the ill-success of his own attempt, in his turn drew near the royal table, and whispered as he bowed profoundly to the Queen, by which means he brought his lips to a level with the Duke's ear: "We are not safe here."

Biron did not for an instant lose his presence of mind; but without the movement of a muscle again gathered up his cards, and pursued his game, which was only terminated at midnight by an intimation from the King that it was time for her Majesty to retire. Henry then withdrew in his turn; but before he left the room he turned towards the Marechal and said with marked emphasis: "Adieu, Baron de Biron, you know what I have told you." [190]

As the Duke, considerably startled by this extraordinary address, was about to leave the antechamber, Vitry seized his right arm with one hand, and with the other laid a firm grasp upon his sword, exclaiming: "Monsieur, the King has confided the care of your person to me. Deliver up your sword." A few of the gentlemen of the Duke's household who were awaiting him made a show of resistance, but they were instantly seized by the guard; upon which the Marechal demanded an interview with the monarch.

"His Majesty has retired," replied Vitry. "Give me your sword."

"Ha! my sword," said Biron with a deep sigh of indignant mortification, "that sword which has rendered him so much good service;" and without further comment or expostulation he placed the weapon in the hands of the captain of the guard, and followed him to the chamber in which he was to pass the night.

The Comte d'Auvergne had meanwhile also been arrested at the gate of the palace by M. de Praslin, and conducted to another apartment.

The criminals were no sooner secured than the King despatched a messenger to Sully to inform him of the fact, and to desire his immediate attendance at the palace; and on his arrival, after narrating to him the mode of their capture, Henry desired him to mount his horse, and to repair without delay to the Bastille, in order to prepare apartments for them in that fortress. "I will forward them in boats to the water-gate of the Arsenal," he pursued; "let them land there, but be careful that they are seen by no one; and convey them thence to their lodgings as quietly as possible across your own courts and gardens. So soon as you have arranged everything for their landing, hasten to the Parliament and to the Hotel-de-Ville; there explain all that has passed, and say that on my arrival in the capital I will communicate my reasons for what I have done, of which the justice will be at once apparent." [191]

This arrangement was made upon the instant, and on the morrow the prisoners were embarked in separate boats upon the Seine, under a strong escort of the King's bodyguard; and on their arrival at the Bastille they were delivered into the express keeping of the Duc de Sully; while upon his subsequent entrance into Paris on the afternoon of the same day, Henry was received with acclamation by the citizens, who were aware of the fruitless efforts made by the monarch to induce the Marechal to return to his allegiance, and whose joy was of the most enthusiastic description at the escape of their beloved sovereign from a foul conspiracy.[192] The Marechal de Biron, like all men who have attained to a high station, and whose ambition prompts them to conciliate the goodwill of those by whom they are approached, possessed many friends; but the accusation of lese-majeste under which he laboured was one of so formidable a nature that they remained totally passive; and it was only his near relatives who ventured to peril their own favour by making an appeal in his behalf. Their supplications, earnest and humble though they were, failed, however, to shake the resolution of Henry, whose pride had, in this instance, been doubly wounded alike as a monarch and as a man. He felt that not only had the King of France to deal with a rebel, but that the confiding friend, who had been ready upon the slightest appearance of regret or repentance once more to forgive, had been treated with distrust and recompensed by falsehood.

While those closely connected with him were endeavouring, by every means in their power, to appease the just indignation of the sovereign, and to intercede in his behalf, Biron himself, as though his past services must necessarily suffice to secure his impunity, was indulging, even within the formidable walls of the Bastille, in the grossest and most ill-judged vituperations against the King; and boasting of his own exploits, rather like a maniac than a brave and gallant soldier who had led armies into the field, and there done his duty unflinchingly.[193] He partook sparingly of the food which was presented to him; and instead of taking rest, spent the greater portion of the night in pacing to and fro the narrow apartment. It was evident that he had firm faith either in the royal pardon, or in the means of escape being provided for him by his friends; but as day by day went by, and he received no intelligence from without, while he remarked that every individual who entered his chamber was fully armed, and that the knives upon his table were not pointed, in order that he should be unable to convert them into defensive weapons, he became somewhat less violent; and he no sooner ascertained that Henry had refused to comply with the petition of his family than he said, with a bitter laugh: "Ha! I see that they wish me to take the road to the scaffold." Thenceforward he ceased to demand justice on his accusers, became less imperious, and even admitted that he had no rational hope save in the mercy of the monarch.[194]

On the 27th of July, the preliminary arrangements having been completed, the Marechal was conducted to the Palais de Justice by the Sieur de Montigny,[195] the Governor of Paris, in a covered barge escorted by twelve or fifteen armed men. Previously, however, to his being put upon his trial, he was privately interrogated by the commissioners chosen for that purpose; but this last judicial effort to save him only tended to secure his ruin. When confronted with his judges, Biron appeared to have lost all consistency of character; the soldier was sunk in the sophist; he argued vaguely and inconsistently; and compromised his own cause by the very clumsiness of the efforts which he made to clear himself. Unaware of the revelations of La Fin, when he was confronted with him he declared him to be a man of honour, his relative, and his very good friend; but the depositions of the Burgundian noble were no sooner made known to him than he retracted his former assertion, branding him as a sorcerer, a traitor, an assassin, and the vilest of men, with other epithets too coarse for repetition.[196] These terrible accusations, however, came too late to serve his cause; he had already committed himself by his previous panegyric; and, perceiving that such was the case, he hastened to support his testimony against his former accomplice by asserting that were Renaze alive and in France, he should be able to prove the truth of what he advanced, and to justify himself. Unfortunately for the success of this assurance, Renaze in his turn made his appearance in court; having, by a strange chance, recently escaped from Savoy, where the Duke had held him a prisoner; and Biron had the mortification of finding that this, another of his ancient allies, had not been more faithful to him in his adversity than La Fin. These two witnesses, indeed, decided his fate; as the letters which were produced against him were proved to have been written before the previous pardon granted to him by Henry at Lyons, and they were consequently of no avail as regarded the present accusation.

The Parliament was presided over by Messire Pomponne de Bellievre, Chancellor of France, beside whom the Marechal was requested to take his place upon a low wooden stool. Matthieu asserts that, although neither duke nor peer had obeyed the summons of the Chambers, the number of Biron's judges nevertheless amounted to one hundred and twelve;[197] and it is probable that this very fact gave him confidence, as during the two long hours occupied by his trial he never once lost his self-possession, but argued as closely and as sagaciously as though he had yielded to no previous intemperance of language. He urged the pardon previously accorded to him by the King; earnestly protested that he had never entered into any cabal against the throne or dignity of his sovereign; and denied that any man could be proved a traitor, whatever might be his wishes, so long as he made no effort to realize them. He admitted that he might have talked rashly, but appealed to his judges whether he had not proved himself equally reckless in the field; and required them to declare if so venial a fault had not, by that fact, already been sufficiently expiated. He then recapitulated the events of his career as a military leader; but he did so temperately and modestly, without a trace of the arrogant bombast for which he had throughout his life been celebrated. So great was the effect of this unexpected and manly dignity, that many members of the court were seen to shed tears; and had his fate been decided upon the instant, it is probable that his calm and touching eloquence might have saved his life; but so much time had already been exhausted that enough did not remain for collecting the votes, and the result of the trial was consequently deferred; the Marechal meanwhile returning to the Bastille under the same escort which had conveyed him to the capital.[198]

On the 29th, the Chambers having again assembled, they remained in deliberation from six o'clock in the morning until two hours after mid-day, when sentence of death was unanimously pronounced against the prisoner; and he was condemned to lose his head in the Place de Greve, "as attainted and convicted of having outraged the person of the King, and conspired against his kingdom; all his property to be confiscated, his peerage reunited to the Crown; and himself shorn of all his honours and dignities."

On the following day, the decision of the Parliament having been made public, immense crowds collected in the Place de Greve in order to witness the execution; scaffoldings were erected on every side for the accommodation of the spectators; and the tumult at length became so great that it reached the ears of the Marechal in his prison-chamber. Rushing to the window, whence he could command a view of some portion of the open fields leading to the Rue St. Antoine, along which numerous groups were still making their eager way, he exclaimed, in violent emotion: "I have been judged, and I am a dead man." One of his guards hastened to assure him that the outcry was occasioned by a quarrel between two nobles, which was about to terminate in a duel; and the unhappy prisoner thus remained for a short time in uncertainty as to his ultimate fate. Yet still, as he sat in his dreary prison, he heard the continued murmur of the excited citizens, who, believing that he was to be put to death by torchlight, persisted in holding their weary watch until an hour before midnight.[199]

The King had, however, determined to postpone the execution until the morrow; when, apparently yielding to the solicitations of the Duke's family, but, as many surmised, anxious to avoid a tumult which the great popularity of Biron with the troops, and the numerous friends and followers whom he possessed about the Court, led him to apprehend might prove the result of so public a disgrace to his surviving relatives, Henry consented to change the place of execution to the court of the Bastille, where the Marechal accordingly was beheaded at five o'clock in the evening. The circumstances attending his decapitation are too painful for detail; suffice it that his last struggles for life displayed a cowardice which ill accorded with his previous gallantry, and that it was only by a feint that the executioner at length succeeded in performing his ghastly office; while so great had been the violence of the victim, that his head bounded three times upon the scaffold, and emitted more blood than the trunk from which it had been severed.

It was said that the father of the culprit, the former Marechal, had on one occasion, during an exhibition of the violence in which Biron so continually indulged, bitterly exclaimed: "I would advise you, Baron, as soon as peace is signed, to go and plant cabbages on your estate, or you will one day bring your head to the scaffold." [200] A fearful prophecy fearfully fulfilled.

The corpse was conveyed to the church of St. Paul, where it was interred without any ceremony, but surrounded by a dense mass of the populace, many of whom openly pitied his fate, and lamented over his fall.[201]

La Fin and Renaze were pardoned; but Hubert, the secretary of the Marechal, suffered "the question," both ordinary and extraordinary, and was condemned to perpetual imprisonment, having refused to make any confession. He was, however, a short time subsequently, restored to liberty; but the remembrance of all that he had undergone rankled in his heart, and he no sooner found himself once more free than he abandoned his country, and withdrew to Spain, where he passed the remainder of his life.

The Baron de Luz, who had revealed all he knew of the conspiracy on the promise of a free pardon, was not only forgiven for the share which he had taken in the plot, but had, moreover, all his appointments confirmed; and was made governor of the castle of Dijon and the town of Beaune. The governorship of Burgundy, vacant by the death of Biron, was given to the Dauphin; and the lieutenancy of the province was conferred upon the Duc de Bellegarde, by whom the young Prince was ultimately succeeded in the higher dignity.

A Breton nobleman, named Montbarot,[202] was committed to the Bastille on suspicion of being involved in the cabal; but no proof of his participation having transpired, he was shortly afterwards liberated.

The Duc de Bouillon, who was conscious that he had not been altogether guiltless of participation in the crime for which the less cautious Biron had just suffered death, deeming it expedient to provide for his own safety, took refuge in his viscounty of Turenne, where, however, he did not long remain inactive; and reports of his continued disaffection having reached the ears of the King, he was, in his turn, summoned to the royal presence in order to justify himself; but the example of his decapitated friend was still too recent to encourage him to such a concession; and instead of presenting himself at Court he despatched thither a very eloquent letter, in which he informed the monarch that, being aware of the falsehood and artifice of his accusers, he entreated him to dispense with his appearance in the capital; and to approve instead, that, for the satisfaction of his Majesty, the French nation, and his own honour, he should present himself before the Chamber of Castres; that assembly forming an integral portion of the Parliament of Toulouse, which held jurisdiction over his own viscounty of Turenne. Having forwarded this missive to the sovereign, he hastened to Castres, where he appeared as he had suggested, and caused his presence to be registered. The determination of Henry to compel his attendance at Paris was, however, only strengthened by this act of defiance; and having ascertained that the King was about to despatch a messenger to compel his obedience, M. de Bouillon left Castres in haste for Orange, whence he proceeded, by way of Geneva, to Heidelberg, and placed himself under the protection of the Prince Palatine, after having declared his innocence to Elizabeth of England and the other Protestant sovereigns, and entreated their support and mediation.

Thus far, with the exception of Biron himself, all the members of this famous conspiracy had escaped with their lives, and some among them without loss, either of freedom or of property; one of their number, however, was fated to be less fortunate, and this one was the Baron de Fontenelles,[203] a man of high family, who had for several years rendered himself peculiarly obnoxious to the King and his ministers, and whose atrocious barbarities caused him to fall unpitied. This wretched man, after having been put to the torture, was, by the sentence pronounced against him by the council, broken alive upon the wheel, where he suffered the greatest agony during an hour and a half. His lieutenant was condemned to the gallows for having been the medium of his communication with the Spanish Government; although, even as he was ascending the fatal ladder, he continued to declare that he had always been ignorant of the contents of the packets which he was charged to deliver, and could neither read nor write.[204]

With the life of Biron, the conspiracy had terminated; while his fate had not failed to produce universal consternation. His devotion to the early fortunes of the King had been at once so great and so efficient, his military renown was so universally acknowledged, and his favour with the monarch was so apparently beyond the reach of chance or change, that his unhappy end pointed a moral even to the proudest, and so paralysed the spirit of those who might otherwise have felt inclined to question the royal authority, that even the nearest and dearest of his friends uttered no murmur; while those individuals who had dreaded to find themselves compromised by his ruin, and who, to their equal surprise and satisfaction, discovered that, while he had unguardedly preserved all the papers which could tend to his own destruction, he had destroyed every vestige of their criminality, rejoiced at their escape, and flattered themselves that their participation in his treachery would for ever remain undiscovered; a circumstance which rendered them at once patient and silent.

That the necessity for taking the life of the Marechal had been bitterly felt by the King himself, we have already shown; and it was further evinced when he declared to those who interceded for the doomed man, that had his personal interests alone been threatened by the treason of the criminal, he should have found it easy to pardon the wrong that had been done him; but that, when he looked into the future, and remembered that the safety of the kingdom which had been confided to him, and of the son who was to succeed him upon the throne, must both be compromised by sparing one who had already proved that his loyalty could not be purchased by mercy, he held himself bound to secure both against an evil for which there was no other safeguard than the infliction of the utmost penalty of the law.

Many argued that, having spared the lives of the Ducs d'Epernon, de Bouillon, and de Mayenne,[205] all of whom had at different times been in arms against him, Henry might equally have shown mercy to Biron; but while they urged this argument, they omitted to remember that the political crime of these three nobles had not been aggravated, like that of the Marechal, by private wrong; and that they had not, by an unyielding obstinacy, and an ungrateful pertinacity in rebellion, exhausted the forbearance of an indulgent monarch. Moreover, Biron, in grasping at sovereignty, had not hesitated to invite the intrusion of foreign and hostile troops into French territory, or to betray the exigencies and difficulties of the army under his own command to his dangerous allies; thus weakening for the moment, and imperilling for the future, the resources of a frank and trusting master; two formidable facts, which justified the severity alike of his King and of his judges.

The lesson was a salutary one for the French nobility, who had, from long impunity, learnt to regard their personal relations with foreign princes as matters beyond the authority of the sovereign, and which could involve neither their safety nor their honour; for it taught them that the highest head in the realm might fall under an accusation of treason; and that, powerful as each might be in his own province or his own government, he was still responsible to the monarch for the manner in which he used that power, and answerable to the laws of his country should he be rash enough to abuse it.

That Henry felt and understood that such must necessarily be the effect produced by the fate of the Marechal there can be little doubt, as well as that he was still further induced to impress so wholesome a conviction upon the minds of his haughty aristocracy by the probability of a minority, during which the disorders incident to so many conflicting and imaginary claims could not fail to convulse the kingdom and to endanger the stability of the throne; while it is no less evident that, once having forced upon their reason a conviction of his own ability to compel obedience where his authority was resisted, and to assert his sovereign privilege where he felt it to be essential to the preservation of the realm, he evinced no desire to extend his severity beyond its just limits. Thus, as we have seen, with the exception of the Baron de Fontenelles, who had drawn down upon himself the terrible expiation of a cruel death, rather by a long succession of crime than by his association in the conspiracy of Biron, all the other criminals already judged had escaped the due punishment of their treason; while the Comte d'Auvergne, after having been detained during a couple of months in the Bastille, was restored to liberty at the intercession of his sister, Madame de Verneuil, who pledged herself to the monarch that he was guilty only in so far as he had been faithful to the trust reposed in him by the Marechal, and had forborne to betray his secret, while he had never actively participated in the conspiracy. She moreover assured Henry, who was only anxious to find an opportunity of pardoning the Count—an anxiety which the tears and supplications of the Marquise, as well as his own respect for the blood of the Valois inherited by D'Auvergne from his royal father, tended naturally to increase—that the prisoner was prepared, since the death of Biron had freed him from all further necessity for silence, to communicate to his Majesty every particular of which he was cognizant. The concession was accepted; the Count made the promised revelations; and his liberation was promptly followed by a renewal of the King's favour.

Towards the close of the year, intelligence having reached Henry that the Prince de Joinville, who was serving in the army of the Archduke, had, in his turn, suffered himself to be seduced from his allegiance by the Spaniards, he gave instant orders for his arrest; but the Prince no sooner found himself a prisoner than he declared his readiness to confess everything, provided he were permitted to do so to the King in person and in the presence of Sully. His terms were complied with; and, as both Henry and his minister had anticipated from the frivolous and inconsequent character of their new captive, it at once became apparent that no idea of treason had been blent with the follies of which he had been guilty, but that they had merely owed their origin to his idle love of notoriety. A correspondence with Spain had become, as we have shown, the fashion at the French Court; and Joinville had accordingly, in order to increase his importance, resolved to effect in his turn an understanding with that country. During his audience of the King he so thoroughly betrayed the utter puerility of his proceedings that the monarch at once resolved to treat him as a silly and headstrong youth, towards whom any extreme measure of severity would be alike unnecessary and undignified; and he had consequently no sooner heard Joinville's narration to an end than he desired the presence of his mother the Duchesse de Guise and his brother the Duke,[206] and as they entered the royal closet, somewhat startled by so sudden a summons, he said, directing their attention to the delinquent: "There stands the prodigal son in person; he has filled his head with follies; but I shall treat him as a child and forgive him for your sakes, although only on condition that you reprimand him seriously; and that you, my nephew," addressing himself particularly to the Duke, "become his guarantee for the future. I place him in your charge, in order that you may teach him wisdom if it be possible."

In obedience to this command M. de Guise, who was well aware with how rash and intemperate a spirit he was called upon to contend, at once, with the royal sanction, reconducted Joinville to his prison, where during several months the young Prince exhausted himself in threats, murmurs, and every species of verbal extravagance, until wearied by the monotony of confinement he finally subsided into repentance, and was, upon his earnest promise of amendment, permitted to exchange his chamber in the Bastille for a less stringent captivity in the Chateau de Dampierre.[207] Such was the lenient punishment of the last of the conspirators; and it was assuredly a clever stroke of policy in the monarch thus to cast a shade of ridicule over the close of the cabal, which, having commenced with a tragedy, had by his contemptuous forbearance almost terminated in an epigram.

The Court, after having passed a portion of the summer at St. Germain, removed in the commencement of August to Fontainebleau, the advanced pregnancy of the Queen having rendered her anxious to return to that palace. But any gratification which she might have promised herself, in this her favourite place of residence, was cruelly blighted by the legitimation of the son of Madame de Verneuil, which was formally registered at this period. Nor was this the only vexation to which she was exposed, the notoriety of the King's intrigues becoming every day more trying alike to her temper and to her health; while the new concession which had been made to the vanity—or, as the Marquise herself deemed it, to the honour—of the favourite, induced the latter to commit the most indecent excesses, and to increase, if possible, the almost regal magnificence of her attire and her establishment, at the same time that her deportment towards the Queen was marked by an insolent disrespect which involved the whole Court in perpetual misunderstandings.

As it had already become only too evident that the unfortunate Marie de Medicis possessed but little influence over the affections of her husband, however he might be compelled to respect the perfect propriety and dignity of her character, the cabal of the favourite daily increased in importance; and the measure of the Queen's mortification overflowed, when, soon after the royal visit to Fontainebleau, Henry took leave of her in order to visit Calais, and she ascertained that he had on his way stopped at the Chateau de Verneuil, whither he had been accompanied by the Marquise. It was in vain that M. de Sully—to whom the King had given strict charge to endeavour by every method in his power to reconcile the Queen to his absence, and to provide for her amusement every diversion of which she was in a condition to partake—exerted himself to obey the command of the monarch; Marie was too deeply wounded to derive any consolation from such puerile sources, nor was it until the return of her royal consort, when his evident anxiety and increased tenderness once more led her to believe that she might finally wean him from his excesses and attach him to herself, that she once more became calm.

On the 11th of November the anticipated event took place, and the Queen gave birth to her eldest daughter[208] in the same oval chamber in which the Dauphin first saw the light.[209] The advent of Elisabeth de France was not, however, hailed with the same delight by Marie as had been that of her first-born; on the contrary, her disappointment was extreme on ascertaining the sex of the infant, from the fact of her having placed the most entire confidence in the assurances of a devotee named Soeur Ange, who had been recommended to her notice and protection by the Sovereign-Pontiff, and who had, before she herself became cognizant of the negotiations for her marriage, foretold that she would one day be Queen of France. This woman, who still remained in her service, had repeatedly assured her that she need be under no apprehension of bearing daughters, as she was predestined by Heaven to become the mother of three princes only; and after having, with her usual superstition, placed implicit faith in the flattering prophecy, Marie no sooner discovered its fallacy than she abandoned herself to the most violent grief, refusing to listen to the consolations of her attendants, and bewailing herself that she should have been so cruelly deceived, until the King, although he in some measure participated in her annoyance, succeeded in restoring her to composure by bidding her remember that had she not been of the same sex as the child of which she had just made him the father, she could not have herself realised the previous prediction of Soeur Ange; an argument which, coupled with the probability that the august infant beside her might in its turn ascend a European throne, was in all likelihood the most efficacious one which could have been adopted to reconcile her to its present comparative insignificance.

FOOTNOTES:

[158] Cesar de Vendome was the son of Henri IV and la belle Gabrielle. He became Governor of Brittany, and superintendent-in-chief of the national navigation. Henry also bestowed on him as an appanage the duchy of Vendome. He married the daughter of Philip Emmanuel of Lorraine, Duc de Mercoeur, by whom he had three children: Isabelle, who became the wife of Charles Amedee, Duc de Nemours; Louis, who died single; and Francois, Duc de Beaufort.

[159] Jean de Berthault (or Bertaut) was born at Caen in 1552. He was first-almoner of Catherine de Medicis, Abbot of Aulnai, and subsequently Bishop of Seez. He was a pupil of Ronsard, and a friend of Desportes. He wrote a great number of sacred and profane poems, psalms, and sonnets. He also produced a "Funeral Oration on Henri IV," and a "Translation of St. Ambroise." He died in 1611.

[160] Amours du Grand Alcandre, p. 41.

[161] Amours du Grand Alcandre, p. 42.

[162] Claude de Lorraine, Prince de Joinville, was the fourth son of Henri, Duc de Guise, surnamed the Balafre, brother of Charles, Duc de Mayenne, and of Louis, Cardinal de Guise. He married Marie de Rohan, Duchesse de Chevreuse, the daughter of Hercule de Rohan, Duc de Montbazon, and peer of France, and was subsequently known as Duc de Chevreuse. He died in 1657.

[163] Amours du Grand Alcandre, pp. 272, 273.

[164] Dreux du Radier, vol. vi. p. 85. Saint-Edme, p. 218.

[165] Amours du Grand Alcandre, p. 274.

[166] Amours du Grand Alcandre, p. 276.

[167] Mademoiselle de Sourdis was the daughter of Francois d'Escoubleau, Seigneur de Jouy, de Launay, Marquis de Sourdis, etc., and of Isabelle Babou, Dame d'Alluie, daughter of Jean Babou, Seigneur de la Bourdaisiere, and aunt of Gabrielle d'Estrees. He was deprived of the government of Chartres by the League; but was restored by Henri III at the entreaty of Gabrielle.

[168] Caterina Selvaggio was one of the Queen's favourite Italian waiting-women.

[169] Sully, Mem. vol. iv. pp. 93, 94.

[170] Rambure, MS. Mem. vol. i. p. 332.

[171] Capefigue, Hist, de la Reforme, de la Ligue, et du Regne de Henri IV, vol. viii. pp. 147, 148.

[172] Histoire de la Mere et du Fils, a continuation of the Memoirs of Richelieu, incorrectly attributed to Mezeray, vol. i. p. 7.

[173] Sully, Note to Memoirs, vol. iv. pp. 95, 96.

[174] Richelieu, La Mere et le Fils, vol. i. p. 7.

[175] Claude, Seigneur de la Tremouille, second Duc de Thouars, peer of France, Prince de Talmond, was born in the year 1566, and first bore arms under Francois de Bourbon, Duc de Montpensier. He embraced the reformed religion, and attached himself to the fortunes of Henri de Navarre, subsequently King of France, whom he followed to the sieges of Rouen and Poitiers, and the battle of Fontaine-Francaise; after which the King conferred upon him the rank of peer of France. He was the brother-in-law of the Duc de Bouillon. He died in the castle of Thouars, to which he had retired, suspected of treason, after refusing to return to Court to justify himself, on the 25th of October 1604, in his thirty-eighth year.

[176] Jean Louis de Nogaret de la Valette, Due d'Epernon, was the younger son of an old Gascon family, who sought his fortunes at the French Court under the name of Caumont. After the death of Charles IX, he offered his services to Henri de Navarre, subsequently Henri IV; but was ultimately admitted to the intimacy of Henri III, who caused him to be instructed in politics and literature, and made him one of his mignons. He was next created Duc d'Epernon, first peer and admiral of France, colonel-general of infantry, and held several governments. On the death of Henri III, this ennobled adventurer once more became a partisan of his successor, and commanded the royal forces during the war in Savoy; but throughout the whole of this reign he lived in constant misunderstanding with the Court and the King, and was even suspected of the act of regicide which deprived France of her idolised monarch. It was the Duc d'Epernon who, immediately after that event, convoked the Parliament, caused the recognition of Marie de Medicis as Regent, and formed a privy council over which he presided. Banished by the Concini during their period of power, he reappeared at Court after their fall, but Richelieu would not permit him to hold any government office, and, moreover, deprived him of all his governments save that of Guienne. He died in 1642.

[177] Daniel, vol. vii. p. 408.

[178] Pedro Henriques Azevedo, Conde de Fuentes.

[179] Montfaucon, vol. v. pp. 405-407.

[180] Edme de Malain, Baron de Luz, Lieutenant-Governor of Burgundy, was the son of Joachim de Malain and Marguerite d'Epinac. He was deeply involved in the conspiracy of the Marechal de Biron, and would infallibly have perished with him had he not been induced by the President Jeannin to reveal all that he knew of the plot to Henri IV, on condition of a free pardon. He survived his treachery for ten years, and in 1613 was killed in a duel by the Chevalier de Guise. His son, Claude de Malain, having sworn to avenge his death, in his turn challenged M. de Guise, at whose hands he met with the same fate as his father.

[181] Jacques de Lanode, Sieur de la Fin, was a petty Burgundian nobleman, whose spirit of intrigue was perpetually involving those to whom he attached himself in cabals and factions. He had been actively engaged at one time in the affairs of the Duc d'Alencon, and at another, he was no less busily engaged in instigating Henri III to aggressive measures against the Duc de Guise. Since that period he had negotiated with the ministers of Spain and Savoy, and by these means he had contracted a great intimacy with the Duc de Biron, to whom he affected to be distantly related, and over whom he acquired such extraordinary ascendancy by his subtle and unceasing flattery that the weak Marechal became a mere puppet in his hands, and, misled by his vanity, suffered himself to be persuaded that his merit had been overlooked and his services comparatively unrewarded, and that he was consequently fully justified in aspiring even to regal honours, and in using every exertion to attain them.

[182] Matthieu, Histoire des Derniers Troubles arrivez en France, book ii. p. 411.

[183] Pierre Fougeuse, Sieur Descures.

[184] Pierre Jeannin was the architect of his own fortunes. He was born at Autun in 1540, where his father followed the trade of a tanner, and was universally respected alike for his probity and his sound judgment. The future president, after receiving the rudiments of his education in his native town, was removed to Bourges, where he became a pupil of the celebrated Cujas. In 1569 he was entered as an advocate at the Parliament of Burgundy, where he greatly distinguished himself during the space of two years, at the expiration of which time he was appointed provincial advocate and member of the Burgundian States; and in this capacity he justified, by his extraordinary talents, the choice of his fellow-citizens. On one occasion a wealthy individual, enchanted by his eloquence, waited upon him at his house, and expressed a desire to have him for a son-in-law, inquiring, however, at the same time, the amount of his property. Jeannin, by no means disconcerted at the abruptness of his visitor, pointed with a smile first to his head and then to his books: "You see it before you," he said with honest pride; "I have not, nor do I require, a greater fortune." Tradition is silent as regards the termination of the interview. In the following year (1572) Jeannin was present at the council which was held during the frightful massacre of St. Bartholomew, where he secured the friendship of the Comte de Charny, at that period Grand Equerry of France, Lieutenant-General of Burgundy, and provisional governor of the province during the absence of the Duc d'Aumale, then Governor of Paris; and in the same year he was deputed from the tiers-etat of Burgundy to the States-General, convoked at Blois by Henri III. It was on that occasion that he began to comprehend the designs of the Guises, and made the celebrated speech in favour of religious toleration which does so much honour to his memory. By Henri III he was successively appointed governor of the chancelry of Burgundy, councillor of the provincial Parliament, and subsequently president.—Petitot.

[185] Daniel, vol. vii. pp. 414, 415. Perefixe, vol. ii. p. 367. Matthieu, Hist. des Derniers Troubles, book ii. p. 411.

[186] Charles de Bourbon-Conti, Comte de Soissons, espoused the cause of the King of Navarre, whom he accompanied to the battle of Coutras in 1587. Henry promised to him the hand of his sister, Catherine de Navarre, to whom he presented him immediately afterwards, when a reciprocal affection was the result. M. de Soissons, however, abandoned the reform party, and did not return to it until after the death of Henri III. He served actively and zealously during the League; but having discovered that the King did not intend to fulfil his promise of marrying him to the Princess, he quitted him during the siege of Rouen in 1592, on the pretext of illness, and hastened to Bearn, hoping to induce Catherine to become his wife before the King could interfere to prevent their union, and by engaging himself to support his brother, the Cardinal de Bourbon, to make himself master of the possessions of the house of Navarre beyond the Loire. On reaching Bearn, however, he found Henry already there, and was obliged to withdraw without having accomplished either object. A short time subsequently he renewed his friendship with that monarch, and officiated as Duke of Normandy at his coronation at Chartres in 1594.

[187] Perefixe, vol. ii. p. 369.

[188] Louis de l'Hopital de Vitry, knight of all the Royal Orders, and Captain of the King's bodyguard, was descended from the illustrious and ancient family of the Marquis de Sainte-Meme and de Montpellier, Comtes d'Entremons.

[189] Charles de Choiseul, Marquis de Praslin, the representative of one of the most illustrious families of France, was a descendant of the ancient Comtes de Langres. He distinguished himself at the siege of La Fere in 1580, at that of Paris in 1589, and at the battle of Aumale in 1592. Henri IV made him a captain of his bodyguard, and Louis XIII, in 1619, bestowed upon him the baton of marshal of France. He died in 1626, in his sixty-third year.

[190] Mezeray asserts, and with greater probability, that Henry's parting words were: "Since you will not speak out, adieu, Baron" (Hist, de France, vol. x. p. 201); while Perefixe gives a third version, asserting that the King took leave of him by saying: "Well then, the truth must be learnt elsewhere; adieu, Baron de Biron" (Hist, de Henri le Grand, vol. ii. p. 371).

[191] Sully, Mem. vol. iv. pp. 108, 109.

[192] Daniel, vol. vii. pp. 415-417. Matthieu, Hist, des Derniers Troubles, book ii. pp. 413-415. Mezeray, vol. x. pp. 196-202. Perefixe, vol. ii. pp. 369-372.

[193] Mezeray, vol. x. p. 203.

[194] Matthieu, Hist. des Troubles, book ii. pp. 415, 416.

[195] Francois de la Grange d'Anquien, Seigneur de Montigny, Sery, etc., afterwards known as the Marechal de Montigny, served with the Catholics at Coutras, where he was taken prisoner. In 1601 Henri IV made him Governor of Paris; in 1609, lieutenant of the King in the Three Bishoprics; and subsequently, in 1616, Marie de Medicis procured for him the baton of Marshal of France. He commanded the royal army against the malcontents in Nivernais, and died in the same year (1617). He had but one son, who left no male issue; but his brother had, among other children, Henri, Marquis d'Anquien, whose daughter, Marie Casimire, married Sobieski, King of Poland, and died in France, in 1716, two years after her return to her native country.

[196] Mezeray, vol. x. p. 204.

[197] L'Etoile computes them at one hundred and twenty-seven.—Journ. de Henri IV, vol. iii. p. 21.

[198] Mezeray, vol. x. p. 205.

[199] Matthieu, Hist. des Troubles, book ii. pp. 426, 427.

[200] Monttaucon, vol. v. p. 410.

[201] Perefixe, vol. ii. p. 377. Mezeray, vol. x. p. 209.

[202] Rene de Maree-Montbarot, Governor of Rennes in 1602. Wrongly suspected of complicity with Biron, he made no effort to evade the consequences of the accusation, but suffered himself to be arrested in the seat of his government, whence he was conveyed to the Bastille; and although he succeeded in establishing his innocence, he found himself, on his liberation, deprived of his office.

[203] Guy Eder de Beaumanoir de Lavardin, Baron de Fontenelles, was a Breton noble, who, according to De Thou, had been a celebrated Leaguer and brigand. From the year 1597 he had held, in the name of the Duc de Mercoeur, the fort of Douarnenez in Brittany, and the island of Tristain in which it is situated. Since that period he had continually been guilty of acts of piracy upon the English, and had even extended his system of theft and murder indiscriminately both on sea and land. He might, had he been willing so to do, have profited by the benefit of the edict accorded to the Duc de Mercoeur in 1598, but he affected to hold it as a point of honour to obtain a distinct one for himself, and he even appears to have continued in the enjoyment of his government despite this obstinacy; but having been convicted, during a period of profound peace, of maintaining an intelligence with the Spaniards, he was made prisoner by a stratagem, by Nicolas Rapin, provost of the connetablie (or constable's jurisdiction), as an accomplice of the Duc de Biron, as he was on the point of delivering up both the fort and the island to his dangerous allies.

[204] L'Etoile, vol. x. pp. 36, 37.

[205] Charles de Lorraine, Duc de Mayenne, was the second son of Francois de Lorraine, Duc de Guise, and was born in 1554. He distinguished himself at the sieges of Poitiers and La Rochelle, and at the battle of Montcontour, and fought successfully against the Calvinists in Guienne and Saintonge. His brothers having been killed at the States of Blois in 1588, he declared himself chief of the League, and assumed the title of lieutenant-general of the kingdom and crown of France; and by virtue of this self-created authority, caused the Cardinal de Bourbon to be declared King, under the name of Charles X. Having inherited the hatred of his brothers for Henri III, and his successor Henri IV, he marched eighty thousand men against the latter Prince, but was defeated, both at Arques and Ivry. He annihilated the faction of the Sixteen; and was ultimately compelled to effect a reconciliation with the King in 1599, when Henri IV, with his usual clemency, not only pardoned his past opposition, but bestowed upon him the government of the Isle of France. The Duc de Mayenne died in 1611, leaving by his wife, Henriette de Savoie, daughter of the Comte de Tende, one son, Henri, who died without issue in 1621.

[206] Charles de Lorraine, Duc de Guise, born in 1571, was the son of Henri, Duc de Guise, who was assassinated at the States of Blois in 1588. At the period of his father's death he was conveyed to the castle of Tours, where he was retained a prisoner until August 1591, when he effected his escape, a circumstance which materially changed the fortunes of the League. The general impression in the capital had been that he would become the husband of the Infanta Isabel, the daughter of Philip II of Spain, who would cause him to be proclaimed King, an arrangement which the Duque de Feria, the Spanish ambassador, proposed to the League in 1593. The Legate, the Sixteen, and the doctors of the Sorbonne, alike favoured this election, and the negotiations proceeded so far that the Spaniards and Neapolitans in Paris rendered him regal honours. The young Prince, who had at this period only attained his twenty-second year, expressed great indignation at being made the puppet of so absurd a comedy, feeling convinced that neither the Duc de Mayenne nor the Duc de Nemours, both of whom coveted the crown, would finally favour his accession; and there can be little doubt that the state of extreme poverty to which he was reduced at the time caused him to consider the project as still more extravagant than he might otherwise have done, it being stated (Mem. pour l'Hist. de France) that his servants were, on one occasion, compelled to pawn one of his cloaks and his saddle-cloth in order to furnish him with a dinner.

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