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The Life of Marie de Medicis, Vol. 1 (of 3)
by Julia Pardoe
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[207] Sully, Mem. vol. iv. pp. 128, 129. Daniel, vol. vii. p. 423. Mezeray, vol. x. p. 219.

[208] Elisabeth de France, who married in 1615 Philip IV of Spain.

[209] Bassompierre, Mem. p. 26.



CHAPTER IV

1603

Court festivities—Madame de Verneuil is lodged in the palace—She gives birth to a daughter—Royal quarrels—Mademoiselle de Guise—Italian actors—Revolt at Metz—Henry proceeds thither and suppresses the rebellion—Discontent of the Duc d'Epernon—The Duchesse de Bar and the Duc de Lorraine arrive in France—Illness of Queen Elizabeth of England—Her death—Indisposition of the French King—Sully at Fontainebleau—Confidence of Henri IV in his wife—His recovery—Renewed passion of Henry for Madame de Verneuil—Anger of the Queen—Quarrel of the Comte de Soissons and the Duc de Sully—The edict—Treachery of Madame de Verneuil—Insolence of the Comte de Soissons—A royal rebuke—Alarm of Madame de Verneuil—Hopes of the Queen—Jealousy of the Marquise—The dinner at Rosny—The King pacifies the province of Lower Normandy—The Comte de Soissons prepares to leave the kingdom—Is dissuaded by the King—Official apology of Sully—Reception of Alexandre-Monsieur into the Order of the Knights of Malta—Death of the Duchesse de Bar—Grief of the King—The Papal Nuncio—Treachery near the throne—A revelation—The Duc de Villeroy—A stormy audience—Escape of L'Hote—His pursuit—His death—Ignominious treatment of his body—Madame de Verneuil asserts her claim to the hand of the King—The Comte d'Auvergne retires from the Court—Madame de Verneuil requests permission to quit France—Reply of the King—Indignation of Marie—The King resolves to obtain the written promise of marriage—Insolence of the favourite—Weakness of Henry—He asks the advice of Sully—Parallel between a wife and a mistress—A lame apology—The two Henrys—Reconciliation between the King and the favourite—Remonstrances of Sully—A delicate dilemma—Extravagance of the Queen—The "Pot de Vin"—The royal letter—Evil influences—Henry endeavours to effect a reconciliation with the Queen—Difficult diplomacy—A temporary calm—Renewed differences—A minister at fault—Mademoiselle de la Bourdaisiere—Mademoiselle de Beuil—Jealousy of Madame de Verneuil—Conspiracy of the Comte d'Auvergne—Intemperance of the Queen—Timely interference—Confidence accorded by the Queen to Sully—A dangerous suggestion—Sully reconciles the royal couple—Madame de Verneuil is exiled from the Court—She joins the conspiracy of her brother—The forged contract—Apology of the Comte d'Entragues—Promises of Philip of Spain to the conspirators—Duplicity of the Comte d'Auvergne—He is pardoned by the King—His treachery suspected by M. de Lomenie—D'Auvergne escapes to his government:—Is made prisoner and conveyed to the Bastille—His self-confidence—A devoted wife—The requirements of a prisoner—Hidden documents—The treaty with Spain—The Comtesse d'Entragues—Haughty demeanour of Madame de Verneuil—The mistress and the minister—Mortification of Sully—Marriage of Mademoiselle de Beuil—Henry embellishes the city of Paris and undertakes other great national works.

A few weeks after the birth of Madame Elisabeth the Court returned to Paris, where, in honour of the little Princess, several ballets were danced and a grand banquet was given to the sovereigns by the nobility; but the heart of the Queen was too full of chagrin to enable her to assist with even a semblance of gratification at the festivities in which those around her were absorbed. The new-born tenderness lately exhibited by her husband had gradually diminished; while the assumption of the favourite, who was once more in her turn about to become a mother, exceeded all decent limits. The daily and almost hourly disputes between the royal couple were renewed with greater bitterness than ever, and when, on the 21st of January, Madame de Verneuil, like herself, and again under the same roof, gave birth to a daughter,[210] Marie de Medicis no longer attempted to suppress the violence of her indignation; nor was it until the King, alike chafed and bewildered by her upbraidings, declared that should she persist in rendering his existence one of perpetual turmoil and discomfort he would fulfil his former threat of compelling her to quit the kingdom, that he could induce her to desist from receiving him with complaints and reproaches. Henry was aware that he had discovered, by the assertion of this resolve, a certain method of silencing his unfortunate consort, who, had she been childless, would in all probability gladly have sacrificed her ambition to her sense of dignity; but Marie was a mother, and she felt that her own destiny must be blended with that of her offspring. Thus she had nothing left to her save to submit; and deeply as she suffered from the indignities which were heaped upon her as a wife, she shrank from a prospect so appalling as a separation from the innocent beings to whom she had given life.

Meanwhile the King, wearied alike of the exigencies of his mistress and the cold, unbending deportment of the Queen, again made approaches to Mademoiselle de Guise, upon whom he had already, a year or two previously, lavished all those attentions which bespoke alike his admiration and his designs; but he was not destined to be more successful with this lady than before, her intimacy with the Queen, to whose household she was attached, rendering her still more averse than formerly to encourage the licentious addresses of the monarch. The excitement of this new passion nevertheless sufficed for a time to wean him from his old favourite; and forgetting his age in his anxiety to win the favour of the beautiful and witty Marguerite, he appeared on the 19th of February in a rich suit of white satin in the court of the Tuileries, where he had invited the nobles of his Court to run at the ring, and acquitted himself so dexterously that he twice carried it off amid the acclamations of the spectators.

From this period until the end of the month the royal circle were engaged in one continual succession of festivities, wherein high play, banquets, ballets, balls (at the latter of which a species of dance denominated Braules, and corrupted by the English into Brawls, which became afterwards so popular at the Court of Elizabeth, was of constant occurrence, as well as the Corranto, a livelier but less graceful movement), and theatrical representations formed the principal features. An Italian company invited to France by the Queen, under the management of Isabella Andreini, also appeared before the Court, but no record is left of the nature of their performance.[211]

From this temporary oblivion of all political anxiety Henry was, however, suddenly aroused by a rumour which reached the Court of a revolt in the town of Metz, which proved to be only too well founded. For some time previously great discontent had existed among the citizens, who considered themselves aggrieved by the tyranny of the two lieutenants[212] of the Duc d'Epernon their governor; and to such a height had their opposition to this delegated authority at length risen that the Duke found himself compelled to proceed to the city, in order, if possible, to reconcile the conflicting parties. This intelligence had no sooner been communicated to the King than he resolved to profit by so favourable an opportunity of repossessing himself, not only of the town itself, but of the whole province of Messin, in order to disable the Duc d'Epernon (against whom his suspicions had already been aroused) from making hereafter a disloyal use of the power which his authority over so important a territory afforded to him of contravening the measures of the sovereign. The fortress was one of great importance to Henry, who was aware of the necessity of placing it in the safe keeping of an individual upon whom he could place the fullest and most perfect reliance; and the more so that M. d'Epernon had, during the reign of Henri III, rather assumed in Metz the state of a sovereign prince than fulfilled the functions of its governor, and that he would, as the King at once felt, if not opposed, resist any encroachment upon his self-constituted privileges. The revolt of the Messinese (for, as was soon ascertained, the disaffection was not confined to the city, but extended throughout the whole of the adjoining country) afforded an admirable opening for the royal intervention, and Henry instantly decided upon visiting the province in person, accompanied by his whole Court, before the two factions should have time to reconcile their differences and to deprecate his interference. At the close of February he accordingly commenced his journey, despite the inclemency of the weather and the unfavourable condition of the roads, which rendered travelling difficult and at times even dangerous for the Queen and her attendant ladies; and pretexting a visit to his sister the Duchesse de Bar, he advanced to Verdun, where he remained for a few days ere he finally made his entry into Metz.

So unexpected an apparition paralyzed all parties. M. d'Epernon having refused to consent to the removal of Sobole, who was, as he knew, devoted to his interests, had failed to appease the indignation of the Messinese, who were consequently eager to obtain justice from the King; while Sobole himself, after a momentary vision of fortifying the citadel and defying the royal authority, became convinced that his design was not feasible; and he accordingly obeyed without a murmur the sentence of banishment pronounced against him, gave up the fortress unconditionally, and left the province.

Sobole had no sooner resigned his trust than the King appointed M. de Montigny lieutenant-governor of the province of Messin, and his brother, M. d'Arquien,[213] lieutenant-governor of the town and fortress; while the garrison was replaced by a portion of the bodyguard by which the monarch had been accompanied from the capital.

The vexation of the Duc d'Epernon was extreme, but he dared not expostulate, although he at once perceived that his power was annihilated. So long as his lieutenants had been creatures of his own, his dominion over the province had been absolute; but when they were thus replaced by officers of the King's selection, his influence became merely nominal; so great, moreover, had been the tact of Henry, that he had found means to compel the Duke himself to solicit the dismissal of Sobole and his brother, in order to assure his own tenure of office; and he was consequently placed in a position which rendered all semblance of discontent impossible, while the citizens, delighted to find themselves thus unexpectedly revenged upon their oppressors, and proud of the presence of the sovereigns within their walls, were profuse in their demonstrations of loyalty and attachment.

A slight indisposition having detained the King for a longer period than he had anticipated at Metz, the Duchesse de Bar, the Duc de Lorraine, and the Duc and Duchesse de Deux-Ponts, arrived on the 16th of March to welcome him to the province. Thereupon a series of entertainments was given to these distinguished guests which was long matter of tradition among the Messinese; and which resulted in the betrothal of Mademoiselle de Rohan and the young Duc de Deux-Ponts.[214]

While still sojourning at Metz, information reached Henry of the serious illness of Elizabeth of England; a despatch having been forwarded to the monarch by the Comte de Beaumont,[215] his ambassador at the Court of London, informing him of the apprehensions which were entertained that her Majesty could not survive so grave a malady. The effect of this intelligence was to induce the King to hasten his return to his capital, and he accordingly prepared for immediate departure; but he was finally prevailed upon to sojourn for a few days at Nancy, where Madame (his sister) had prepared a magnificent ballet, which was accordingly performed, greatly to the admiration of the two Courts. Henry, however, whose anxiety exceeded all bounds, caused courier after courier to be despatched for tidings of the illustrious invalid, and took little share in the festivities which were designed to do him honour. He was probably on the eve, as he declared in a letter to the Due de Sully, of losing an ally who was the enemy of his enemies, and a second self, while he was totally ignorant of the views and feelings of her successor.

His forebodings were verified, for ere the Court left Nancy, Elizabeth had breathed her last; which intelligence was immediately conveyed to him, together with the assurance that her council had secured the person of the Lady Arabella Stuart, the cousin of the King of Scotland, and that there was consequently nothing to fear as regarded the succession. The death of Elizabeth did not in fact in any respect affect the relative position of the two countries, neither Henri IV nor James I. being desirous to terminate the good understanding which existed between them; and on the 30th of July a treaty of confederation was concluded between the two sovereigns by Sully, in which they were mutually pledged to protect the United Provinces of the Low Countries against their common enemy Philip of Spain.

But, notwithstanding the apparent certainty of a continuance of his amicable relations with England, whether it were that this fatal intelligence operated upon the bodily health of the King, or that his hasty journey homeward had overtaxed his strength, it is certain that on reaching Fontainebleau he had so violent an attack of fever as to be compelled to countermand the council which had been convened for the third day after his arrival. The Court physicians, bewildered by so sudden and severe an illness, declared the case to be a hopeless one; while Henry himself, believing that his end was approaching, caused a letter to be written to Sully to desire his immediate attendance.[216] So fully, indeed, did he appear to anticipate a fatal termination of the attack, that while awaiting the arrival of the minister, he caused the portrait of the Dauphin to be brought to him; and after remaining for a few seconds with his eyes earnestly fixed upon it, he exclaimed, with a deep sigh: "Ha! poor child, what will you have to suffer if your father should be taken from you!" [217]



Sully lost no time in obeying the melancholy summons of the King; and, on arriving at Fontainebleau, at once made his way to the royal chamber, where he indeed found Henry in his bed, but with no symptoms of immediate dissolution visible either in his countenance or manner. The Queen sat beside him with one of his hands clasped in hers; and as he remarked the entrance of the Duke, he extended the other, exclaiming: "Come and embrace me, my friend; I rejoice at your arrival. Within two hours after I had written to you I was in a great degree relieved from pain; and I have since gradually recovered from the attack. Here," he continued, turning towards the Queen, "is the most trustworthy and intelligent of all my servants, who would have assisted you better than any other in the preservation alike of my kingdom and of my children, had I been taken away. I am aware that his humour is somewhat austere, and at times perhaps too independent for a mind like yours; and that there would not have been many wanting who might, in consequence, have endeavoured to alienate from him the affections of yourself and of my children; but should it ever be so, do not yield too ready a credence to their words. I sent for him expressly that I might consult with both of you upon the best method to avert so great an evil; but, thanks be to God, I feel that such a precaution was in this instance unnecessary." [218]

Sully, in describing this scene, withholds all comment upon the King's perfect confidence in the heart and intellect of his royal consort; but none can fail to feel that the moment must have been a proud one for Marie, in which she became conscious that the nobler features of her character had been thoroughly appreciated by her husband. The vanity of the woman could well afford to slumber while the value of the wife and of the Queen was thus openly and generously acknowledged.

And truly did Marie de Medicis need a remembrance like this to support her throughout her unceasing trials; for scarcely had the King recovered sufficient strength to encounter the exertion than he determined to remove to Paris; and, having intimated his wish to the Queen, immediate preparations were made for their departure. They arrived in the capital totally unexpected at nine o'clock in the morning, and alighted at the Hotel de Gondy, where Henry took a temporary leave of his wife, and hastened to the residence of Madame de Verneuil, with whom he remained until an hour after mid-day; thence he proceeded to the abode of M. le Grand, with whom he dined; nor was it until a late hour that he rejoined the Queen,[219] who at once became aware that the temporary separation between the monarch and his favourite, occasioned by the journey to Metz, had failed to produce the effect which she had been sanguine enough to anticipate.

Nor did Marie deceive herself; for, during the sojourn of the Court at Paris, which lasted until the month of June, Henry abandoned himself with even less reserve than formerly to his passion for the Marquise; while the forsaken Queen—who hourly received information of the impertinent assumption of that lady, and who was assured that she had renewed with more arrogance, and more openly than ever, her pretended claim to the hand of the sovereign—unable to conceal her indignation, embittered the casual intercourse between herself and her royal consort with complaints and upbraidings which irritated and angered the King; and at length caused an estrangement between them greater than any which had hitherto existed. There can be little doubt that this period of Marie's life was a most unhappy one. Deprived even of the presence of her children, who, from considerations of health, had been removed to St. Germain-en-Laye, and who could not in consequence be the solace of every weary hour, she found her only consolation in the society of her immediate household, and the zealous devotion of Madame de Concini; to whose first-born child she became joint sponsor with M. de Soissons, greatly to the annoyance of the King, who watched with a jealous eye the ever-increasing influence of the Florentine favourite.

Previously to her marriage with the Duc de Bar, Madame, the King's sister, had affianced herself to M. de Soissons; but the circumstance no sooner became known to Henry than he expressed his extreme distaste at such an union, and directed the Due de Sully to expostulate with both parties, and to induce them, should it be possible, to abandon the project, and to give a written promise never to renew their engagement. In this difficult and delicate mission the minister ultimately succeeded; but since that period a coldness had existed between the two nobles which at length terminated in mutual dissension and avoidance. It was, consequently, with considerable surprise that while preparing for his embassy to England, where he was entrusted with the congratulations of his own sovereign to James I. on his accession, M. de Sully found himself on one occasion addressed by the Prince in an accent of warmth and friendliness to which he had long been unaccustomed from his lips; and heard him cordially express his obligation for some service which, in his official capacity, the minister had lately rendered him, and declare that thenceforward he should never recur to the past, but rather trust that for the future they might be firm and fast friends. Sully answered in the same spirit; and thus a misunderstanding which had disturbed the whole Court, where each had partisans who violently defended his cause, and thus rendered the schism more serious than it might otherwise have been, was apparently terminated; but the Duke had no sooner returned to France than it was renewed more bitterly than ever, to the extreme annoyance of the King, who was reluctant to interfere; the high rank of M. de Soissons on the one hand, and the eminent services of Sully on the other, rendering him equally averse to dissatisfy either party.

In the month of August 1603 the Comte de Soissons, whose lavish expenditure made it important for him to increase his income by some new concession on the part of the monarch, held an earnest consultation with Madame de Verneuil, with whom he was on the closest terms of intimacy, as to the most feasible method of effecting his object, and it was at length determined that the Prince should solicit the privilege of exacting a duty of fifteen sous upon every bale of cloth, either imported or exported throughout the kingdom; while the Marquise pledged herself to exert her influence to induce the King to consent to the arrangement, for which service she was to receive one-fifth of the proceeds resulting from the tax. Extraordinary as such a demand must appear in the present day, it was, according to Sully, by no means an unusual one at that period; when, by his rigorous retrenchments, he had greatly reduced the revenues of the Court nobles, and put it out of the power of the monarch to bestow upon them, as he had formerly done, the most lavish sums from his own privy purse; thus inducing them to adopt every possible expedient in order to increase their diminished incomes. Sympathizing with the annoyance of his impoverished courtiers, and anxious to silence their murmurs, the good-natured and reckless sovereign seldom met their requests with a denial, and from this abuse a number of petty taxes, each perhaps insignificant in itself, but in the aggregate amounting to a heavy infliction upon the people, were levied on all sides, and under all pretences; and the evil at length became so serious that the prudent minister found it necessary to expostulate respectfully with his royal master upon the danger of such a system, and to entreat of him to discountenance any further imposts which had no tendency to increase the revenues of the state, but merely served to encourage the prodigality of the nobles.

It was precisely at this unpropitious moment that M. de Soissons proffered his demand, which was warmly seconded by Madame de Verneuil, who represented to the monarch the impossibility of his refusing a favour of this nature to a Prince of the Blood, when he had so frequently made concessions of the same nature to individuals of inferior rank; and the certainty that, were his request negatived, M. de Soissons would not fail to feel himself at once injured and aggrieved. Still, mindful of the promise which had been extorted from him by Sully, the King hesitated; but upon being more urgently pressed by the favourite, he at length demanded what would be the probable yearly produce of the tax, when he was assured by the Count that it could not exceed ten thousand crowns; upon which Henry, who was anxious not to irritate him by a refusal where the favour solicited was so comparatively insignificant, at once signified his compliance; and as the subject had been cleverly mooted by the two interested parties at Fontainebleau, while the minister of finance was absent in the capital, Madame de Verneuil, by dint of importunity, succeeded in inducing the monarch to sign an order for the immediate imposition of the duty in favour of M. de Soissons; but before he was prevailed upon to do this, he declared to the Prince that he should withdraw his consent to the arrangement, if it were proved that the produce of the tax exceeded the yearly sum of fifty thousand francs, or that it pressed too heavily upon the people and the commercial interests of the kingdom. This reservation was by no means palatable to M. de Soissons, who had, when questioned as to the amount likely to be derived from the transaction, answered rather from impulse than calculation; but as the said reservation was merely verbal, while the edict authorizing the levy of the impost was tangible and valid, the Prince, after warmly expressing his acknowledgments to the monarch, carried off the document without one misgiving of success.

Henry, however, when he began to reflect upon the nature of the concession which he had been prevailed upon to make, could not suppress a suspicion that it was more important than it had at first appeared; and, conscious that he had falsified his promise to the minister, he resolved to ascertain the extent of his imprudence. He accordingly, the same evening, despatched a letter to Sully, in which, without divulging what had taken place, he directed him to ascertain the probable proceeds of such a tax, and the effect which it was likely to produce upon those on whom it would be levied.

So unexpected an inquiry startled the finance minister, who instantly apprehended that a fresh attack had been made upon the indulgence of the monarch; and he forthwith anxiously commenced a calculation, based upon solid and well-authenticated documents, which resulted in the discovery that the annual amount of such an impost could not be less than three hundred thousand crowns; while it must necessarily so seriously affect the trade in flax and hemp, that it was likely to ruin the provinces of Brittany and Normandy, as well as a great part of Picardy.

Under these circumstances it was decided between Henry and his minister, that the latter should withhold his signature to the order which had been extorted from the King; without which, or a letter from the sovereign specially commanding the registration of the edict by the Parliament, the document was invalid. There can be no doubt that the most manly and dignified course which the monarch could have adopted, would have been to inform M. de Soissons of the result of the verification which had been made; and to have declared that, in accordance with his expressed determination when conditionally conceding the edict, he had resolved, upon ascertaining the magnitude of the sum which must be levied by such a tax, not to permit its operation. This was not, however, the manner in which Henry met the difficulty. He felt that his position was an onerous one, and he gladly transferred his responsibility to M. de Sully; who accordingly, upon the application of the Prince for his signature, in order that the document might be laid before the Parliament and thus rendered available, declined to accede to the request; alleging that the affair was one of such extreme importance, that he dared not take upon himself to forward it without the concurrence of the council.

M. de Soissons urged and expostulated in vain; the minister was inflexible; and at length the Prince withdrew, but not before he had given vent to his indignation with a bitterness which convinced his listener that thenceforward all kindly feeling between them was at an end.

But if the Count thus suffered himself to be defeated by a first refusal, Madame de Verneuil was by no means inclined to follow his example. Baffled but not beaten, she resolved upon returning to the charge; and accordingly she drove to the residence of the minister, and met him at the door of his closet as he was about to proceed to the Louvre, in order to have an interview with the King.

There was an expression of haughty defiance in the eye of the favourite, and a heightened colour upon her cheek, which at once betrayed to Sully the purpose of her visit; while he on his side received her with a calm courtesy which was ill-calculated to inspire her with any hope of success; and she had scarcely seated herself before he gave her reason to perceive that he was as little inclined to temporize as herself. When they met he held in his hand a roll of paper, which, even after she had entered the apartment, he still continued to grasp with a pertinacity that did not fail to attract her attention.

"And what may be the precious document, Monsieur le Ministre," she demanded flippantly, "of which you find it so impossible to relax your hold?"

"A precious document indeed, Madame," was the abrupt reply, "and one in which you figure among many others." So saying, he unrolled the scroll, and read aloud a list of edicts, solicited or granted, similar to that of the Comte de Soissons, one of which bore her own name.

"And what are you about to do with it?" she asked.

"To make it the subject of a remonstrance to his Majesty."

"Truly," exclaimed the Marquise, no longer able to control her rage, "the King will be well-advised should he listen to your caprices, and by so doing affront twenty individuals of the highest quality. Upon whom should he confer such favours as these, if not upon the Princes of the Blood, his cousins, his relatives, and his mistresses?"

"That might be very well," replied the minister, totally unmoved by her insolence, "if the King could pay these sums out of his own privy purse; but that they should be levied upon the merchant, the artizan, and the labourer, is entirely out of the question. It is they who feed both him and us; and one master is enough, without their being compelled to support so many cousins, relatives, and mistresses." [220]

Madame de Verneuil could bear no more; but rising passionately from her chair, she left the room without even a parting salutation to the plain-spoken minister, who saw her depart with as much composure as he had seen her enter; and quietly rolling up the obnoxious document which had formed the subject of discussion between them, he in his turn got into his carriage, and proceeded to the Louvre.

Furious alike at her want of success and at the affront which had been put upon her, the Marquise drove from the Arsenal to the hotel of M. de Soissons; where, still smarting under the rebuff of the uncompromising Duke, she did not scruple sufficiently to garble his words to give them all the appearance of a premeditated and wilful insult to the Prince personally. She assured him that in reply to her remark that the relatives of the monarch possessed the greatest claim upon his liberality, M. de Sully had retorted by the observation that the King had too many kinsmen, and that it would be well for the nation could it be delivered from some of them.

This report so exasperated M. de Soissons, that on the following morning he demanded an audience of the sovereign, during which he bitterly inveighed against the arrogance and presumption of the minister, and claimed instant redress for this affront to his honour and his dignity as a Prince of the Blood; haughtily declaring that should the King refuse to do him justice, he would find means to avenge himself.

The unseemly violence of the Count, by offending the self-respect of the monarch, could not have failed, under any circumstances, to defeat its own object; but aware as he was that Sully had sought only the preservation of his master's interests, Henry was even less inclined than he might otherwise have been to yield to a dictation of this imperious nature. The very excess of his indignation consequently rendered him calm and self-possessed, and thus at once gave him a decided advantage over his excited interlocutor. Instead of retorting angrily, and involving himself in an undignified dispute, he replied to the intemperate language of the Count by calmly inquiring if he were to understand that M. de Sully had addressed the obnoxious remark which was the subject of complaint to the Prince himself, or if it had merely been reported to him by a third person. To this question M. de Soissons impatiently replied that the insult had not indeed been uttered to himself personally, but that the individual by whom it was communicated to him was above all suspicion; while he moreover considered that his assurance of its truth ought to suffice, as he was incapable of falsehood.

"Were it so, cousin," said Henry coldly, "you would differ greatly from the other members of your family, especially your elder brother; but since you appear to place so perfect a reliance on the veracity of your informant, you have only to name him to me, and to explain precisely what he alleges to have passed, and I shall then understand what is necessary to be done, and will endeavour to satisfy you as far as I can reasonably do so."

M. de Soissons was not, however, prepared to involve Madame de Verneuil in a quarrel which threatened the most serious results; and he consequently declared that he had plighted his word not to divulge the identity of his informant; a promise which he, moreover, considered to be utterly unnecessary, as he was ready to pledge himself to the entire truth of what he had advanced.

"So, cousin," said the King with an ambiguous smile, "you screen yourself under the shadow of an oath from revealing to me what I desire to know; then I, in my turn, swear not to believe one syllable of your complaint beyond what M. de Sully may himself report to me; for I hold his veracity in as great estimation as you do that of the nameless partisan to whom you are indebted for the fine story you have inflicted upon me."

It was in somewhat the same frame of mind in which the Marquise had quitted the finance minister that M. de Soissons, as the King rose and thus indicated the termination of the interview, passed from the royal closet; nor did he retire until he had indulged in such unrestrained threats of vengeance that Henry considered it expedient to despatch Zamet without delay to the Arsenal to warn Sully to be upon his guard against the impetuous Prince, and not to venture abroad without a sufficient suite; while at the same time the messenger was instructed to inquire if the obnoxious expression had indeed been used, and to whom.

On being apprised of the visit which had been paid by Madame de Verneuil to the Duke, the King instantly comprehended the whole intrigue, and at once declared that it was useless to search further; as he well knew that she possessed both malice and invention enough to distort the words of the minister to her own purposes; an admission which indicated for the moment a considerable decrease of infatuation on the part of her royal lover.[221]

That this had, however, already become evident, was exemplified by the fact that upon some rumour of the kind being addressed to the Duchesse de Rohan, coupled with an inference that the infidelity of Madame de Verneuil had become known to the King, the young Duchess had gaily replied: "What could he anticipate? How was it possible for love to nestle between a mouth and chin which are always interfering with each other?" [222]

It is scarcely doubtful that the present incautious proceeding of the Marquise tended to shake the confidence which Henry had hitherto felt in an affection so admirably simulated that it might have inspired trust in an individual of far inferior rank. He could not overlook the fact that Madame de Verneuil had presumed to declare herself hostile to his favourite minister, and had even made a tool of one of the Princes of the Blood; an affront to himself which he resented after his accustomed fashion, by withdrawing himself from her society, and assiduously appearing in the private circle of the Queen.

On this occasion, however, week succeeded week, and the monarch still continued to avoid the enraged favourite; and even occasionally alluded to her with a contempt which stung her haughty and presumptuous spirit beyond endurance. She saw her little Court melting away, her flatterers dispersing, and her friends becoming estranged; nor could she conceal from herself that if she failed shortly to discover some method of estranging Henry from the Queen, and once more asserting her own influence, all her greatness would be scattered to the winds. Her vanity was also as deeply involved as her ambition, for she had hitherto believed her power over the affections of the King to be so entire that he could not liberate himself from her thrall; yet now, in the zenith of her beauty, in the pride of her intellect, and in the very climax of her favour, she found herself suddenly abandoned, as if the effort had not cost a single struggle to her royal lover.

Marie de Medicis, meanwhile, was happy. She cared not to look back upon the past; she sought not to look forward into the future; to her the present was all in all, and she began to encourage bright dreams of domestic bliss, by which she had never before been visited since the first brief month of her marriage. So greatly indeed did her new-born happiness embellish the exulting Queen, that it was at this period that the profligate monarch declared to several of his confidential friends, that had she not been his wife, his greatest desire would have been to possess her as a mistress.[223] The whole of her little Court felt the influence of her delight; she lavished on all sides the most costly gifts; she surrounded the King with amusements of every description, and day after day the heart of the irritated favourite was embittered by the reports which reached her of the unprecedented gaiety and splendour of the Queen's private circle.

As the dissension which had arisen between Sully and the Comte de Soissons rather increased in intensity than yielded to the royal expostulation, Henry resolved to give a public proof of his continued regard for the minister; and for this purpose he caused him to be informed that on his way to Normandy (whither he was about to proceed in order to investigate the truth of certain rumours which had reached him of a meditated insurrection in that province) he would pass by Rosny, and should claim his hospitality for one day with his whole Court. As the King was on the eve of his departure, Sully at once left the capital, and by travelling with great speed, he reached the chateau four days before his expected guests, for whose reception he made the most magnificent preparations of which so brief an interval would admit. As the approaches to the domain were not yet completed, and it was necessary to level the road by which their Majesties would arrive, the Duke, in order to accomplish this object, incautiously caused a canal by which it was traversed, and over which the bridge was still unbuilt, to be dammed up; and this arrangement made, he directed his whole attention to the internal decorations of the castle. Unfortunately, however, while his royal and noble guests were still seated at the elaborate and costly banquet which had been prepared for them, a terrific storm burst over the edifice, and information was brought to the host that the waters had become so swollen as to have overflowed their banks, while the pent-up canal which he had just driven back had inundated the court, and was pouring itself in a dense volume through the offices. The alarm instantly became general; the Queen, the Princesses, and the ladies of the Court sought refuge in the upper rooms of the castle, whither, as the danger momentarily increased, they were soon followed by Henry and his retinue; and meanwhile Sully gave instant orders that workmen should be despatched to clear the bed of the canal, and thus afford an escape for the invading element. This was happily accomplished without any loss of life, and the accident entailed no further evil consequence than the destruction of all the fruits and confectionary by which the banquet was to have terminated.[224] After this misadventure the Court proceeded to Caen, where at the close of a patient investigation the King withdrew the government of the city from M. de Crevecoeur-Montmorency, who was accused of being engaged in a treasonable correspondence with the Duc de Bouillon, the Comte d'Auvergne, and the Duc de la Tremouille, his relative, and bestowed it upon M. de Bellefonds.[225] Thence the royal party removed to Rouen, where Henry succeeded in re-establishing perfect order throughout the whole province of Lower Normandy.

On his return to Paris the King learnt that M. de Soissons, who had declined to accompany him in his journey, so deeply resented his visit to Rosny, the purpose of which he had comprehended upon the instant, that he had resolved in consequence to quit the kingdom. As the voluntary expatriation of the Princes of the Blood tended alike to weaken his resources and to undermine his authority, Henry at once directed MM. de Bellievre and de Sillery to wait upon the Count, and to assure him that, so soon as he produced certain proof of the culpability of the Duc de Sully, he should receive ample satisfaction for the alleged affront, but that until such proof was furnished he should continue to protect the minister, and to consider him innocent of the offence imputed to him. The Chancellor was, moreover, instructed to inquire into the motive which had induced the Prince to declare his intention of leaving France.

To this message M. de Soissons coldly replied by observing that he had been insulted by the Duke, to whom he had given no cause of offence; but that as it nevertheless appeared by the statement to which he had just listened, that it was the pleasure of his Majesty to defend the accused rather than the accuser, he considered that he need not advance any further reason for absenting himself from the kingdom. After the departure of MM. de Bellievre and de Sillery, however, the Prince requested the Duc de Montbazon[226] and the Comte de St. Pol[227] to wait upon the sovereign, in order to explain to him his reason for quitting the country; to assure him of the regret which he felt that recent circumstances had left him no other alternative; and to entreat his Majesty to pardon him if he ventured to take his leave through the medium of these his friends, rather than, by appearing in person, incur the risk of aggravating his displeasure.

Having seen the two nobles depart upon their mission, M. de Soissons mounted his horse and at once proceeded to Paris, to make the necessary preparations for the journey which he contemplated; but before he had taken any definite measures to that effect he was rejoined by his friends, who had been directed by the King to follow him with all speed, and to explain to him that he had altogether mistaken the message entrusted to the Chancellor, as the only protection which his Majesty had declared his intention of affording to M. de Sully was against his own threats of personal violence; while in the second place they were instructed to inform him that the King strictly enjoined him not to quit Paris, as a want of obedience upon this point would prove very prejudicial to his Majesty's interests; and finally, they were authorized to assure him that, in the event of his compliance with the royal wishes, he should receive ample satisfaction for the affront of which he complained.

In reply, M. de Soissons maintained that he had given no ground for the apprehensions expressed by the monarch for the safety of his minister, and that he had never entertained any design to injure the interests of the sovereign, while the knowledge that his withdrawal from the country might have such a tendency was a more powerful preventive to his departure than "though he had been fettered by a hundred chains"; and that all he required from his adversary was a public acknowledgment of the offence which he had committed against him.

This concession of the irate Prince was followed by a still greater one on the part of the minister, who, anxious to relieve the mind of his royal master from the annoyance which he felt at a quarrel in which every noble of the Court had taken part, and which threatened to become still more inveterate from day to day, addressed a letter to M. de Soissons, wherein, although he explicitly denied "having uttered the expression which was imputed to him," he overwhelmed the Prince with the most elaborate and hyperbolical assurances of respect and devotion, declaring "that he would rather die than so forget himself."

This submissive letter was accepted as an apology, and a hollow peace between the disputants was thus effected, which restored for a time the tranquillity of the Court.

On the 2nd of February 1604 the Queen was invited to participate in a ceremony which, had she been less happy and hopeful than she chanced to be at that particular period, could not have failed to excite in her breast fresh feelings of irritation and annoyance. This was the reception of Alexandre-Monsieur, the second legitimated son of the monarch and Gabrielle d'Estrees, into the Order of the Knights of Malta. The King having decided that such should be the career of the young Prince, was anxious that he should at once assume the name and habit of the Order, and he accordingly wrote to the Grand Master to request that he would despatch the necessary patents, which were forwarded without delay, accompanied by the most profuse acknowledgments on the part of that dignitary. In order to increase the solemnity and magnificence of the inauguration, Henry summoned to the capital the Grand Commanders both of France and Champagne, instructing them to bring in their respective trains as many other commanders and knights as could be induced to accompany them; and he selected as the scene of the ceremony the Church of the Augustines, an arrangement which was, however, abandoned at the entreaty of the Commandeur de Villeneuf, the Ambassador of the Order, who deemed it more dignified that the inauguration should take place in that of the Temple, which was one of their principal establishments.

At the hour indicated the two sovereigns accordingly drove to the Temple in the same carriage, Alexandre-Monsieur being seated between them; and on alighting at the principal entrance of the edifice, the King delivered the little Prince into the hands of the Grand Prior who was there awaiting him, attended by twelve commanders and twelve knights, by whom he was conducted up the centre aisle. The church was magnificently decorated, and the altar, which blazed with gold and jewels, was already surrounded by the Cardinal de Gondy, the Papal Nuncio, and a score of bishops, all attired in their splendid sacerdotal vestments. In the centre of the choir a throne had been erected for their Majesties, covered with cloth of gold, and around the chairs of state were grouped the Princes, Princesses, and other grandees of the Court, including the ambassadors of Spain and Venice, the Connetable-Duc de Montmorency, the Chancellor, the seven presidents of the Parliament, and the knights of the Order of the Holy Ghost.

The coup d'oeil was one of extraordinary splendour. The whole of the sacred edifice was brilliantly illuminated by the innumerable tapers which lit up the several shrines, and which casting their clear light upon every surrounding object, brought into full relief the dazzling gems and gleaming weapons that glittered on all sides. The organ pealed out its deepest and most impressive harmony; and not a sound was heard throughout the vast building as the Grand Prior, with his train of knights and nobles, led the youthful neophyte to the place assigned to him. The ceremony commenced by the consecration of the sword, and the change of raiment, which typified that about to take place in the duties of the Prince by his entrance into an Order which enjoined alike godliness and virtue. The mantle was withdrawn from his shoulders, and his outer garment removed by the knights who stood immediately around him, after which he was presented successively with a vest of white satin elaborately embroidered in gold and silver, having the sleeves enriched with pearls, a waist-belt studded with jewels, a cap of black velvet ornamented with a small white plume and a band of large pearls, and a tunic of black taffeta. In this costume the Prince was conducted to the high altar by the Duc and Duchesse de Vendome, followed by a commander to assist him during the ceremony, and they had no sooner taken their places than Arnaud de Sorbin,[228] Bishop of Nevers, delivered a short oration eulogistic of the greatness and excellence of the brotherhood of which he was about to become a member. The same prelate then performed a solemn high mass, and when he had terminated the reading of the gospel, Alexandre-Monsieur knelt before him with a taper of white wax in his hand, to solicit admission into the Order. He had no sooner bent his knee than the King rose, descended the steps of the throne, and placed himself by his side, saying aloud that he put off for awhile his sovereign dignity that he might perform his duty as a parent, by pledging himself that when the Prince should have attained his sixteenth year, he should take the vows, and in all things conform himself to the rules of the institution. The procession then passed out of the church in the same order as it had entered, and the young Prince was immediately put into possession of the income arising from his commandery, which was estimated at forty thousand annual livres.[229]

This ceremony was followed by a series of Court festivals, which were abruptly terminated by the arrival of a courier from Lorraine with the intelligence of the death of the Duchesse de Bar, an event which it was so well known would deeply affect the King, that the principal personages of the Court, and the members of his council, determined to go in a body to communicate it, in order that they might offer him the best consolation in their power. This, however, was a grief beyond their sympathy, the affection which Henry bore towards his sister having been unshaken throughout their lives; and the distressing intelligence was no sooner imparted to him than he burst into a passionate flood of tears, and desired that every one should withdraw, and leave him alone with God. He was no sooner obeyed than he caused the windows of his closet to be closed, and admittance refused to all comers; after which he threw himself upon his bed, and abandoned himself to all the bitterness of a sorrow alike unexpected and irremediable. Several days passed away in this ungovernable grief, and when its violence at length partially subsided, the King issued an order that the whole Court should assume the deepest mourning, and that no one should presume to approach him in any other garb. Not only, therefore, were all the great officers of the Crown, and all the Court functionaries, from M. le Grand to the pages and lacqueys in the ante-chambers, clad in the same sable livery, but even the foreign ambassadors, anxious alike to avoid giving offence to the monarch, and to escape the inconvenience of being excluded from his presence and thus rendered incapable of furthering the interests of their several sovereigns, adopted a similar habit. The mourning of the Queen and her household more than satisfied all the exigencies of the King; for Marie de Medicis not only sympathized deeply with the sufferings of her royal consort, but also felt that in Madame Catherine she had lost a sincere friend—that rarest of all luxuries to a crowned head!—and it was not consequently in her outward apparel alone that she gave testimony of her unfeigned regret, for in abandoning her usual garb, she also abandoned every species of amusement, and forbade all movement in her immediate circle beyond that which was necessitated by the service of her attendants.

There was, however, one exception to this general concession, and that one was consequently so conspicuous as to excite instant remark. The Papal Nuncio had exhibited no intention of conforming to the universal demonstration which had draped the throne and palaces of France in sables; and the monarch no sooner ascertained the fact than he caused it to be made known to the prelate that he had no desire to oblige him to assume a garb repugnant to his feelings, but that he requested to be spared his presence until the period of his own mourning was at an end. This announcement greatly embarrassed the Nuncio, who at once felt that by persisting in the course he had adopted he should be deprived of the frequent audiences that were essential to the interests of the Sovereign-Pontiff, and accordingly he resolved no longer to offer any opposition to the express wishes of the King; but after having written to Rome to explain that he had put on mourning simply to secure himself against the threatened exclusion, and thereby to be enabled to watch over the welfare of the Holy See, he ultimately followed the example of those around him, and demanded permission in his turn to offer his compliment of condolence to the monarch.

This he did, however, in a manner little calculated to reconcile Henry to the reluctance which he had exhibited in performing this duty; for after having declared his earnest sympathy with the grief of his Majesty, he went on to remark that those who knew who he was, and for whom he spoke, could not fail to be startled by such an assertion, although he on his part, could assure his Majesty of his sincerity, as while others were weeping over the body of Madame, who had died a Protestant and a heretic, his master and himself were mourning for her soul.

To this unexpected exordium the King replied, with considerable indignation, that he had more faith in the mercy of God than to believe that a Princess who had passed her life in the fulfilment of all her social duties was destined to be condemned from the nature of her creed, and that he himself entertained no doubt of her salvation.[230] After which he diverted the conversation into another channel, with a tone and manner sufficiently indicative to the Nuncio that he must not presume to recur to so delicate a subject.

The body of Madame was, at the King's desire, conveyed to Vendome, and deposited beside that of her mother, a dispensation to this effect having been, after many delays, accorded by the Pope; although too late for the Duchess to have been made aware that this the earnest wish of her heart had been conceded.

At this period a new cause of uneasiness aroused the sovereign from his private grief. To his extreme surprise he had received intelligence from the Sieur de Barrault[231] that all the most secret deliberations of his council were forthwith communicated to the King of Spain, without a trace of the source whence this important information could be derived; and for a time the mystery defied all the investigations which were bestowed upon it by Henry and his ministers. At length, however, long impunity rendered the culprit daring, and it was ascertained that Philip III was in possession of copies of the several letters written by the French monarch to the King of England, the Prince of Orange, and other friendly powers, all inimical to Spain, a circumstance which at once rendered it apparent that this treachery must be the work of some official in whom the greatest confidence had hitherto been placed; and steps were forthwith taken to secure the identification of the traitor, which was effected through the agency of another equally unworthy subject of Henry himself. A certain native of Bordeaux, named Jean Leyre (otherwise Rafis), who had been one of the most violent partisans of the League, and who had been banished from France, had entered the Spanish service, and long enjoyed a pension from the sovereign of that country, in recompense of the zeal and ardour with which he rendered every evil office in his power to the kingdom whence he had been cast out.

Circumstances, however, tended to make Leyre less useful to Philip, who had, as we have shown, secured a much more efficient agent, and the ill-acquired pension had accordingly been diminished, while the traitor had no difficulty in perceiving that the favour which he had hitherto experienced from his new master was lessened in the same proportion, a conviction which determined him to make a vigorous effort to obtain the permission of his offended sovereign to return to France. In order to effect this object, Leyre attached himself to such of his countrymen as were, like himself, domiciliated in Spain, and finally he made the acquaintance of one Jean Blas, who in a moment of confidence revealed to him that a secretary of the Comte de Rochepot[232] (the predecessor of M. de Barrault as ambassador at the Court of Madrid), who had subsequently returned to the service of the Duc de Villeroy, still maintained a secret correspondence with the Spanish secretaries of state, Don Juan Idiaque Franchesez, and Prada, to whom, in consideration of a pension of twelve hundred crowns of gold, he betrayed all the most important measures of the French cabinet.

This man, whose name was Nicholas L'Hote, was the son of an old and trusted follower of the Duc de Villeroy, to whose family his own ancestors had been attached for several generations, while he himself was the godson of the Duke, who had obtained for him the honourable office of secretary to M. de Rochepot, when that nobleman accepted the embassy to Spain. On the return of the Count to France, L'Hote, whose services were no longer necessary to him, was dismissed, and upon an application to his old patron, was unhesitatingly received into his bureau; where, believing that his loyalty and devotion to himself were beyond all suspicion, he was employed by M. de Villeroy in deciphering his despatches; an occupation which afforded the traitor ample means of continuing his nefarious correspondence with his Spanish confederates.

Leyre had no sooner obtained this important information, and moreover convinced himself of its probability by various circumstances connected with L'Hote which he was careful to learn from other sources, than he proceeded to the residence of M. de Barrault, and solicited an interview on business connected with his government. The ambassador, who was still striving by every method in his power to discover the author of the active and harassing treason by which his official measures were perpetually trammelled, with a vague hope that the object of this request might prove to be connected with the mystery which so disagreeably occupied his thoughts, at once granted the required audience; when Leyre, having explained his own position, and expressed the deepest contrition for his past disloyalty, together with his ardent desire to obliterate, by an essential service to his rightful sovereign, a fault which was now irreparable, proceeded to inform M. de Barrault that he was prepared to reveal a system of treachery which was even at that moment in operation to the prejudice of France; but added that, as in communicating this secret he should be compelled immediately to escape from Spain, he would not consent to do so until the ambassador pledged himself that he should be permitted to return to his own country with a free pardon, and a sufficient pension to secure him against want; and concluded by saying that should it be beyond the power of M. de Barrault to give such a pledge without the royal authority, and that should he consider it necessary to mention him by name, and to state the nature of the promised service to his government, he must entreat him to make this revelation solely to the monarch, and by no means to commit the affair to writing.

To these terms M. de Barrault readily agreed; but after the departure of Leyre, conceiving that the extreme mystery enjoined by that personage was merely intended to enhance the implied value of his revelation; and convinced, moreover, that the sovereign would immediately communicate such a circumstance to his ministers, he addressed himself, as he was in the habit of doing, to the Duc de Villeroy, from whom he shortly afterwards received the required promise of both pardon and pension.

These were, however, no sooner placed in the hands of the astute Leyre, than, perceiving that they bore the counter-signature of Villeroy, instead of that of Lomenie,[233] which would have been the case had they been forwarded through the personal medium of the King, he revealed the whole transaction to M. de Barrault; representing that the traitor being under the roof of the minister by whom they had been despatched, and entirely in his confidence, must already be apprized of his danger, as well as fully prepared to avert it by the destruction of his betrayer; and accordingly he declared that, in order to save his life, he must at once get into the saddle, and endeavour to distance the pursuit which could not fail to be made with a view to seize his person.

This reasoning was so valid that the ambassador not only consented to his immediate departure, but also caused him to be accompanied by his own secretary, M. Descartes, by whom he was to be introduced to the sovereign. The precaution proved salutary, as no later than the following morning the officers of the law were sent to the house of Leyre, and being unable to find him, forthwith mounted in their turn and took the road to France. Fortunately for the fugitives they had, however, already travelled a considerable distance; and although hotly pursued, they were enabled to reach Bayonne without impediment, whence they proceeded to Fontainebleau to report their arrival to the King.

Before they reached their destination, they encountered the Duc de Villeroy, who was on his way to his chateau of Juvisy, and to whom Descartes considered it expedient to declare their errand, without concealing the name of the culprit whom they were about to accuse. The Duke listened incredulously; and when the travellers offered, should it meet with his approbation, to return at once to Paris and arrest his secretary, in order that he might himself deliver him up to the monarch, he declined to profit by the proposal, desiring them to fulfil their mission as the service of the King required; and adding, that he should shortly join them at Fontainebleau, where he was to be met on the morrow by the accused party, when the necessary steps for ascertaining the truth of the statement might be at once taken; but that until he had obtained an audience of the monarch, and ascertained his pleasure, all coercive measures would be premature.

With this unsatisfactory reply Leyre and his companion were fain to content themselves; and having, as they were desired to do, delivered into the hands of the Duke the detailed despatch of M. de Barrault with which they had been entrusted, they saw him calmly resume his way to Juvisy, while they continued their route to Fontainebleau.

Early the next day M. de Villeroy in his turn reached the palace, and at once proceeded to the royal closet; where, at the command of the King, he began to read aloud the papers which had been thus obtained; but he had not proceeded beyond the name of the accused when Henry vehemently interrupted him by exclaiming:

"And where is this L'Hote, your secretary? Have you caused him to be arrested?"

"I think, Sire," was the reply, "that he is at my hotel; but he is still at liberty."

"How, Sir!" said the King still more angrily; "you think that he is at your hotel, and you have not had him seized? This is strange negligence! What have you been about since you were informed of this act of treason, to which you should at once have attended? See to it instantly, and secure the culprit."

The Duc de Villeroy quitted the royal presence in anxious haste, and made his way to the capital with all speed, feeling convinced that should he fail in arresting his delinquent secretary he could not escape the suspicion of the King. L'Hote had, however, profited by the intervening time to explain his predicament to the Spanish ambassador, who instantly perceived that not a moment must be lost. Horses were accordingly provided, and the detected traitor, accompanied by the steward of the ambassador, made the best of his way to Meaux, whence they were to travel post to Luxembourg.

Orders had, meanwhile, been despatched to all the postmasters not to supply horses to any traveller answering the description of L'Hote; but as he wore a Spanish costume similar to that of his companion he might still have passed undetected, had he not, while endeavouring to mount at Meaux, trembled so violently as to fall from his saddle; a circumstance which attracted the attention of the groom who held his stirrup, and who immediately inferred that he must be some criminal who was flying from justice. On re-entering the house he related the incident to his master; and upon comparing the height, and bulk, and features of the fugitive with the written detail furnished by the authorities, both parties became convinced that they had suffered the very individual whom they were commissioned to arrest to pursue his journey to the frontier through their own agency; and thus impressed, the terrified postmaster hastened to the Prevot des Marechaux,[234] who lost no time in following upon his track. The fugitives had, however, changed horses before the anxious functionary and his attendants could arrive to interpose their authority; but despite the darkness of the night, which prevented them from obtaining even a glimpse of those whom they were endeavouring to overtake, they persevered with confidence, being aware that before the close of the second stage a ferry must be passed, which would necessarily detain the travellers.

The event proved the accuracy of their calculation, the lateness of the hour compelling L'Hote and his companion to rouse the reluctant ferryman from his rest, a process which involved considerable delay; and they were consequently scarcely half way across the river when they heard the clatter of horses' hoofs upon the bank, and the voice of the Marechal hoarsely shouting to their conductor instantly to return, or he should be hanged for his disobedience.

The fugitives at once felt that they were lost should they permit him to comply; and accordingly the Spaniard drew his sword, threatening to bury it in the heart of the affrighted ferryman should he retreat an inch; while L'Hote, as craven as he was traitor, could only urge the boat forward by the rope, groaning at intervals: "I am a dead man! I am a dead man!"

On gaining the opposite shore neither of the two attempted to remount; but, abandoning their horses, they set off at their best speed on foot; while the postilion by whom they had been accompanied had great difficulty, during the return of the boat, in securing the three animals who were thus suddenly committed to his sole charge.

L'Hote, terrified and bewildered by the voices of the Prevot and his men, who had, in their turn, passed the ferry, and unable in the darkness to discern any path by which he might secure his escape, parted from his companion, and continued his course along the river bank; until, attracted by some sallows which he supposed to be an island in the middle of the stream, he threw himself into the water in order to reach it; but soon getting beyond his depth, and being unable to regain the shore, as well as alarmed by the rapid approach of his pursuers, he perished miserably; and was found on the following morning not twenty yards from the spot where he had abandoned the land.

The Spanish steward, who was captured on the morrow in a hayloft about two leagues from the river, was conducted to Paris with the corpse, which was consigned to the prison of the Chatelet, where it was publicly exposed during two days, and then drawn upon a hurdle to the place of execution, where it was torn asunder by horses; the quarters of the body being subsequently attached to four wheels which were placed in the principal roads leading to the capital.

The ignominy with which the body was treated was, as Sully asserts, in accordance with the earnest request of the Due de Villeroy, who could not disguise from himself the difficulty of his own position; nor was it until after several days' deliberation that Henry, remembering the extent of the confidence placed by the Duke in the traitor by whom his interests had been so seriously compromised, could sufficiently control his indignation to assure him that he in no wise suspected him of complicity, but should continue to regard him with the same trust and favour as heretofore. The people were, however, less amenable; nor did they scruple to accuse M. de Villeroy of participation in the crime of his follower. They could not forget that he had been an active member of the League; and they looked with jealousy upon every transaction in which he was involved; while, fortunately for the Duke, the King was ultimately prevailed upon to believe in the sincerity of his regret, and to remember that since he had attached himself to the royal cause he had rendered essential service to the country; nor did the murmurs of his enemies, who had begun to hope that the treason of his secretary must involve his own ruin, induce the monarch to exhibit towards him either distrust or severity. So lenient, indeed, did the King show himself, that after having being detained for a short time in prison, the Spaniard who had been taken with L'Hote was set at liberty, as too insignificant for trial, and as the mere tool of his master.[235]

While this affair had monopolized the attention of the King, Madame de Verneuil, enraged by a continual estrangement which threatened the most dangerous results to herself, and resolved at all hazards to recall the attention of the monarch, began to assert more openly and arrogantly than ever her claim upon his hand, and the right of her son to the succession; while at the same time her brother, the Comte d'Auvergne, pretexting a quarrel with M. de Soissons, quitted the Court, and proceeded to the Low Countries, where he had for some time past been actively engaged in organizing a conspiracy, in support of this extravagant and hopeless pretension.

The double personage enacted by the Marquise was one which necessitated the utmost tact and caution, for she was aware that it involved her liberty, if not her life; and consequently, in order to secure the sympathy of the people, while she was at the same time exciting the passions of those discontented nobles who being remnants of the League still retained an unconquerable jealousy of the power by which they had been prostrated, she affected the deepest and most bitter repentance for her past errors, and solicited the permission of the King to retire from France with her children, that she might expiate, by a future of retirement and piety, the faults of which she had been guilty. To this request Henry, without a moment's hesitation, replied by the assurance that she was at perfect liberty to withdraw from the country whenever she saw fit to do so; adding, however, that he would not permit the expatriation of her children, and that before her own departure she must deliver into his hands the written promise of marriage, which, although according to the decision of all the high ecclesiastics of the kingdom totally void and valueless, she had nevertheless been so ill-advised as to render a source of uneasiness and annoyance to the Queen.

This demand was, however, arrogantly rejected, the Marquise declaring that she would neither part with her children nor with a document that rendered her the legal wife of the King; a decision which so incensed Marie de Medicis that she vehemently reproached her royal consort for an act of weakness by which her whole married life had been embittered, and refused to listen to any compromise until the obnoxious paper should be restored.

Thus circumstanced, Henry at length resolved to exert all his authority, and despairing of success through the medium of a third person, he determined himself to visit the Marquise and to exact the restitution of the document. At this period, however, Madame de Verneuil was too deeply involved in the conspiracy of her brother to prove a willing agent in her own defeat, and she accordingly received the monarch with an unyielding insolence for which he was totally unprepared; violently declaring that the promise had been freely given, and that the birth of her son had rendered it valid. In vain did the King insist upon the absurdity of her pretensions; she only replied by sneering at the extraction of the Queen, and asserting her own equality with a petty Tuscan princess, whose gestures and language were, as she declared, the jest of the whole Court. The King, outraged by so gross an impertinence, imperatively commanded her silence upon all that regarded the dignity or pleasure of his royal consort, a display of firmness which more and more exasperated the favourite, who retorted by observing that since the monarch had seen fit to retract a solemn engagement, and thus to brand herself and her children with disgrace, it only remained for her to reiterate her demand for permission to leave the country, with her son and daughter, and her father and brother, both of whom were prepared to share her fortunes, gloomy as they might be, the fear of God not permitting her to recur to the past without the most profound repentance.

To this persistence Henry coldly answered that in his turn he reiterated his declaration that she was at liberty to retire to England whenever she thought proper to do so, and to place herself under the protection of her kinsman, the Earl of Lennox, but that he would not suffer any other member of her family to share her exile; nor should she herself be permitted to reside either in Spain or the Low Countries, where the treasonable practices of the Comte d'Auvergne and the party of the discontented nobles with whom she had recently allied herself, had already given him just cause for displeasure.

Madame de Verneuil, perfectly unabashed by this reproach, assured the King, with a smile of haughty defiance, that she could be as firm as himself where her own honour and that of her children was involved, and added that should he persist in demanding the restoration of the written promise by which he had triumphed over her virtue, he might seek it where it was to be obtained, as he should never receive it from her hands; while as regarded her estrangement from himself, it had ceased to be a subject of regret, as since he had become old he had also become distrustful and suspicious, and his affected favour only tended to render her an object of public jealousy and indignation.

Outraged by this last insult, the King rose angrily from his seat, and without vouchsafing another word to the imperious Marquise quitted the room. It was not, however, in the nature of Henri IV to find himself once more in the presence of his mistress unmoved, and although the indignity to which he had been subjected throughout the interview just described should have sufficed to inspire him only with disgust for the woman who had thus emancipated herself from every observance of respect towards his own person and decency towards the Queen, it is nevertheless certain that his very anger was mingled with admiration; and that not even his sense of what was due to him both as a monarch and as a man could overcome the attraction of Madame de Verneuil. Their temporary separation, during which he had failed to find any equivalent for her wit and vivacity, gave an added charm to every word she uttered; he yearned to see her once more brilliant and happy, devoting her intellect and her fascinations to his amusement; and even while complaining to Sully of her impertinent and uncompromising boldness, he could not forbear uttering a panegyric upon her better qualities, which convinced the minister that their misunderstanding was not destined to be of long duration, an opinion in which he was confirmed when the weak and vacillating Henry, at the close of this enthusiastic apostrophe, proceeded to institute a comparison between the Marquise and the Queen, in which the latter suffered on every point. The earnest wish to please of the favourite was contrasted with the coldness of Marie de Medicis, the wit of the one with the haughty superciliousness of the other; in short, the longer that the King discoursed upon the subject, the more perfect became the conviction of his listener that the late meeting, tempestuous as it was, had sufficed to restore to Madame de Verneuil at least a portion of her former power.

"I have no society in my wife," pursued the monarch; "she neither amuses nor interests me. She is harsh and unyielding, alike in manner and in speech, and makes no concession either to my humour or my tastes. When I would fain meet her with warmth she receives me coldly, and I am glad to escape from her apartments to seek for amusement elsewhere. My poor cousin De Guise is my only refuge; and although she occasionally tells me some home-truths, yet she does it with so much good humour that I cannot take offence, and only laugh at her sallies." [236]

It was sufficiently evident at that moment that even the "poor cousin" of the monarch, beautiful and accomplished though she was, faded into insignificance before the pampered and presuming favourite.

"Perhaps," says Sully, with a calm sententiousness better suited to some question of finance, "the Queen had only herself to blame for not having released him from the snares of her rival, and detached him from every other affair of gallantry, as he appeared to me perfectly sincere when he urged me to induce her to conform to his tastes and to the character of his mind."

M. de Sully, great as he was in his official capacity, evidently possessed little knowledge of a woman's nature, and the workings of a woman's pride. We have seen what were the "tastes" of Henri IV, and what was the "character of his mind"; and although it would undoubtedly have proved both pleasant and convenient to the harassed minister that Marie de Medicis should have devoured her grief and mortification, and have received the mistresses of the King as the intimates of her circle, it was a result little to be anticipated from a pure-hearted wife, who saw herself the victim of every intriguing beauty whose novelty or notoriety sufficed to attract the dissolute fancy of her consort. Even at the very moment in which M. de Sully records this inferential reproach upon the Queen, he admits that Henry was once more in the thrall of the Marquise, and, moreover, the obsequious friend of Mademoiselle de Guise; and yet he seeks to visit upon Marie the odium of a disunion which can only be, with any fairness, attributed to the King himself, who, even while professing to return to his allegiance as a husband, was openly indulging in a system of licentiousness calculated to degrade him in the eyes of a virtuous and exemplary woman.

That Marie de Medicis had many faults cannot be denied by her most zealous biographer, but that she was outraged both as a wife and as a mother is no less certain; and adopting, as we have a right to do, the conjectural style of M. de Sully,—perhaps, we say in our turn, had the Queen, from the period of her marriage, been treated with the deference and respect which were her due, the harsher features of her character might have become softened, and the faults which posterity has been compelled to couple with her name might never have been committed. Assuredly her period of probation was a bitter one, and it may be doubted whether the axe of our own eighth Henry were not after all more merciful in reality than the wire-drawn and daily-recurring torture to which his namesake of France subjected the haughty and high-spirited woman who was fated to find herself the victim of his vices.

The foreboding of M. de Sully was verified, for within a few days of the interview just recorded between the King and Madame de Verneuil, and during the continuance of his estrangement from his wife, it soon became known that the favourite had re-assumed her empire. In vain did the mortified minister protest against this new weakness, and assure his royal master that it could not fail to increase the anger and indignation of Marie de Medicis; Henry only replied by asserting that when Sully should have succeeded in inducing the Queen to change her humour and to exert herself to please him, instead of persisting in closeting herself with her foreign followers, and permitting them to criticise his conduct and to aggravate his defects, he would forthwith relinquish his liaison with the Marquise. Such an answer, however, did not check the zeal of his anxious adviser; who, fearful lest this last schism should prove more important than those by which it had been preceded, and undeterred even by the impatience with which the King listened to his representations, persisted in assailing him with arguments, remonstrances, and warnings, peculiarly unpalatable at all times, but especially so at the very moment in which he had effected a reconciliation with the favourite that promised a renewal of the entertaining intercourse whence he derived so much gratification.

"You have now, Sire," resolutely urged the undaunted counsellor, "an admirable opportunity of terminating in a manner worthy of your exalted rank the difficulty by which you are beset, and of ensuring your own future tranquillity. Assume the authority which appertains to you as a sovereign; compel the Queen to silence; above all, strictly forbid her any longer to indulge in public in those idle murmurs and lamentations by which your dignity suffers so severely in the eyes of your subjects; and visit with the most condign punishment every disrespectful word of which others may be guilty either towards yourself or her. This effort, Sire, will be insignificant beside others which you have made, and in which your personal tranquillity was not involved; be no less courageous in your own cause, and do not suffer your reputation to be tarnished by a weakness incomprehensible in so great and powerful a monarch. By exacting the consideration and obedience which are your due, you are guilty of no tyranny; for it is the indisputable privilege of every crowned head to enforce both. Let me then entreat of your Majesty at once to assert yourself, and thus put a period to the domestic differences by which the whole Court is convulsed."

"Your advice may be good," was the evasive reply of the King, "but you do not yet understand me, or you would be aware that I cannot bring myself to exercise severity against persons with whom I am in habits of familiar intercourse, and especially against a woman."

"In that case, Sire," said Sully, "you have but one alternative. Exile your mistress from the Court, and make the required concessions to the Queen."

"I am prepared to do so," said Henry hastily, "if, in return for this sacrifice on my part, she will pledge herself no longer to annoy me by her jealousy and violence, and to meet me in the same spirit; but I have little hope of such a result: she is perfectly unable to exercise the necessary self-command, and is perpetually mistaking the impulse of temper for that of reason. Her intolerance and rancour forbid all prospect of sincere harmony between us. She is perpetually threatening with her vengeance every woman upon whom I chance to turn my eyes; and even the children of Gabrielle, who were in being before her arrival in the kingdom, are as hateful to her as though she had been personally injured by their birth; nor have I the least reason to anticipate that she will ever overcome so irrational an antipathy. Nor can she be won by kindness and indulgence. Not only have I ever treated her with the respect and deference due to the Queen of a great nation, but even in moments of pecuniary pressure I have been careful, not merely to supply her wants, but also to satisfy her caprices; and that too when I was aware that the sums thus bestowed were to be squandered upon the Italian rabble whose incessant study it has been to poison her mind against both myself and her adopted country. Would to Heaven, Rosny, that I had followed your advice on her arrival, and compelled the mischievous cabal to recross the Alps; but it is now too late for such regrets; and if you can indeed succeed in inducing the Queen to become more amenable to my wishes, and more indulgent to my errors, Ventre Saint-Gris! you will effect a good work, in which I shall be ready to second you. But mark, you must do this apparently upon your own responsibility, and be careful not to let her learn that I have authorized such a measure, or you will only defeat your own purpose, and render her more impracticable than ever." [237]

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