THE PRINCESS OF CLEVES
Madame de Lafayette
THE PRINCESS OF CLEVES
Grandeur and gallantry never appeared with more lustre in France, than in the last years of Henry the Second's reign. This Prince was amorous and handsome, and though his passion for Diana of Poitiers Duchess of Valentinois, was of above twenty years standing, it was not the less violent, nor did he give less distinguishing proofs of it.
As he was happily turned to excel in bodily exercises, he took a particular delight in them, such as hunting, tennis, running at the ring, and the like diversions. Madam de Valentinois gave spirit to all entertainments of this sort, and appeared at them with grace and beauty equal to that of her grand-daughter, Madam de la Marke, who was then unmarried; the Queen's presence seemed to authorise hers.
The Queen was handsome, though not young; she loved grandeur, magnificence and pleasure; she was married to the King while he was Duke of Orleans, during the life of his elder brother the Dauphin, a prince whose great qualities promised in him a worthy successor of his father Francis the First.
The Queen's ambitious temper made her taste the sweets of reigning, and she seemed to bear with perfect ease the King's passion for the Duchess of Valentinois, nor did she express the least jealousy of it; but she was so skilful a dissembler, that it was hard to judge of her real sentiments, and policy obliged her to keep the duchess about her person, that she might draw the King to her at the same time. This Prince took great delight in the conversation of women, even of such as he had no passion for; for he was every day at the Queen's court, when she held her assembly, which was a concourse of all that was beautiful and excellent in either sex.
Never were finer women or more accomplished men seen in any Court, and Nature seemed to have taken pleasure in lavishing her greatest graces on the greatest persons. The Princess Elizabeth, since Queen of Spain, began now to manifest an uncommon wit, and to display those beauties, which proved afterwards so fatal to her. Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland, who had just married the Dauphin, and was called the Queen-Dauphin, had all the perfections of mind and body; she had been educated in the Court of France, and had imbibed all the politeness of it; she was by nature so well formed to shine in everything that was polite, that notwithstanding her youth, none surpassed her in the most refined accomplishments. The Queen, her mother-in-law, and the King's sister, were also extreme lovers of music, plays and poetry; for the taste which Francis the First had for the Belles Lettres was not yet extinguished in France; and as his son was addicted to exercises, no kind of pleasure was wanting at Court. But what rendered this Court so splendid, was the presence of so many great Princes, and persons of the highest quality and merit: those I shall name, in their different characters, were the admiration and ornament of their age.
The King of Navarre drew to himself the respect of all the world both by the greatness of his birth, and by the dignity that appeared in his person; he was remarkable for his skill and courage in war. The Duke of Guise had also given proofs of extraordinary valour, and had, been so successful, that there was not a general who did not look upon him with envy; to his valour he added a most exquisite genius and understanding, grandeur of mind, and a capacity equally turned for military or civil affairs. His brother, the Cardinal of Loraine, was a man of boundless ambition, and of extraordinary wit and eloquence, and had besides acquired a vast variety of learning, which enabled him to make himself very considerable by defending the Catholic religion, which began to be attacked at that time. The Chevalier de Guise, afterwards called Grand Prior, was a prince beloved by all the world, of a comely person, full of wit and address, and distinguished through all Europe for his valour. The Prince of Conde, though little indebted to Nature in his person, had a noble soul, and the liveliness of his wit made him amiable even in the eyes of the finest women. The Duke of Nevers, distinguished by the high employments he had possessed, and by the glory he had gained in war, though in an advanced age, was yet the delight of the Court: he had three sons very accomplished; the second, called the Prince of Cleves, was worthy to support the honour of his house; he was brave and generous, and showed a prudence above his years. The Viscount de Chartres, descended of the illustrious family of Vendome, whose name the Princes of the blood have thought it no dishonour to wear, was equally distinguished for gallantry; he was genteel, of a fine mien, valiant, generous, and all these qualities he possessed in a very uncommon degree; in short, if anyone could be compared to the Duke de Nemours, it was he. The Duke de Nemours was a masterpiece of Nature; the beauty of his person, inimitable as it was, was his least perfection; what placed him above other men, was a certain agreeableness in his discourse, his actions, his looks, which was observable in none beside himself: he had in his behaviour a gaiety that was equally pleasing to men and women; in his exercises he was very expert; and in dress he had a peculiar manner, which was followed by all the world, but could never be imitated: in fine, such was the air of his whole person, that it was impossible to fix one's eye on anything else, wherever he was. There was not a lady at Court, whose vanity would not have been gratified by his address; few of those whom he addressed, could boast of having resisted him; and even those for whom he expressed no passion, could not forbear expressing one for him: his natural gaiety and disposition to gallantry was so great, that he could not refuse some part of his cares and attention to those who made it their endeavour to please him; and accordingly he had several mistresses, but it was hard to guess which of them was in possession of his heart: he made frequent visits to the Queen-Dauphin; the beauty of this princess, the sweetness of her temper, the care she took to oblige everybody, and the particular esteem she expressed for the Duke de Nemours, gave ground to believe that he had raised his views even to her. Messieurs de Guise, whose niece she was, had so far increased their authority and reputation by this match, that their ambition prompted them to aspire at an equality with the Princes of the blood, and to share in power with the Constable Montmorency. The King entrusted the Constable with the chief share in the administration of the Government, and treated the Duke of Guise and the Mareschal de St. Andre as his favourites; but whether favour or business admitted men to his presence, they could not preserve that privilege without the good-liking of the Duchess of Valentinois; for though she was no longer in possession of either of youth or beauty, she yet reigned so absolutely in his heart, that his person and state seemed entirely at her disposal.
The King had such an affection for the Constable, that he was no sooner possessed of the Government, but he recalled him from the banishment he had been sent into by Francis the First: thus was the Court divided between Messieurs de Guise, and the Constable, who was supported by the Princes of the blood, and both parties made it their care to gain the Duchess of Valentinois. The Duke d'Aumale, the Duke of Guise's brother, had married one of her daughters, and the Constable aspired to the fame alliance; he was not contented with having married his eldest son with Madam Diana, the King's daughter by a Piemontese lady, who turned nun as soon as she was brought to bed. This marriage had met with a great many obstacles from the promises which Monsieur Montmorency had made to Madam de Piennes, one of the maids of honour to the Queen; and though the King had surmounted them with extreme patience and goodness, the Constable did not think himself sufficiently established, unless he secured Madam de Valentinois in his interest, and separated her from Messieurs de Guise, whose greatness began to give her uneasiness. The Duchess had obstructed as much as she could the marriage of the Dauphin with the Queen of Scotland; the beauty and forward wit of that young Queen, and the credit which her marriage gave to Messieurs de Guise, were insupportable to her; she in particular hated the Cardinal of Loraine, who had spoken to her with severity, and even with contempt; she was sensible he took the party of the Queen, so that the Constable found her very well disposed to unite her interests with his and to enter into alliance with him, by marrying her granddaughter Madam de la Marke with Monsieur d'Anville, his second son, who succeeded him in his employment under the reign of Charles the Ninth. The Constable did not expect to find the same disinclination to marriage in his second son which he had found in his eldest, but he proved mistaken. The Duke d'Anville was desperately in love with the Dauphin-Queen, and how little hope soever he might have of succeeding in his passion, he could not prevail with himself to enter into an engagement that would divide his cares. The Mareschal de St. Andre was the only person in the Court that had not listed in either party: he was a particular favourite, and the King had a personal affection for him; he had taken a liking to him ever since he was Dauphin, and created him a Mareschal of France at an age in which others rarely obtain the least dignities. His favour with the King gave him a lustre which he supported by his merit and the agreeableness of his person, by a splendour in his table and furniture, and by the most profuse magnificence that ever was known in a private person, the King's liberality enabling him to bear such an expense. This Prince was bounteous even to prodigality to those he favoured, and though he had not all the great qualities, he had very many; particularly he took delight and had great skill in military affairs; he was also successful, and excepting the Battle of St. Quintin, his reign had been a continued series of victory; he won in person the Battle of Renti, Piemont was conquered, the English were driven out of France, and the Emperor Charles V found his good fortune decline before the walls of Mets, which he besieged in vain with all the forces of the Empire, and of Spain: but the disgrace received at St. Quintin lessened the hopes we had of extending our conquests, and as fortune seemed to divide herself between two Kings, they both found themselves insensibly disposed to peace.
The Duchess Dowager of Loraine had made some overtures about the time of the Dauphin's marriage, since which a secret negotiation had been constantly carried on; in fine, Coran in Artois was the place appointed for the treaty; the Cardinal of Loraine, the Constable Montmorency, and the Mareschal de St. Andre were plenipotentaries for the King; the Duke of Alva, and the Prince of Orange for Philip the II, and the Duke and Duchess of Loraine were mediators. The principal articles were the marriage of the Princess Elizabeth of France with Don Carlos the Infanta of Spain, and that of his majesty's sister with the Duke of Savoy.
The King, during the Treaty, continued on the frontiers, where he received the news of the death of Queen Mary of England; his Majesty dispatched forthwith the Count de Randan to Queen Elizabeth, to congratulate her on her accession to the Crown, and they received him with great distinction; for her affairs were so precarious at that time, that nothing could be more advantageous to her, than to see her title acknowledged by the King. The Count found she had a thorough knowledge of the interests of the French Court, and of the characters of those who composed it; but in particular, she had a great idea of the Duke of Nemours: she spoke to him so often, and with so much ernestness concerning him, that the Ambassador upon his return declared to the King, that there was nothing which the Duke of Nemours might not expect from that Princess, and that he made no question she might even be brought to marry him. The King communicated it to the Duke the same evening, and caused the Count de Randan to relate to him all the conversations he had had with Queen Elizabeth, and in conclusion advised him to push his fortune: the Duke of Nemours imagined at first that the King was not in earnest, but when he found to the contrary, "If, by your advice, Sir," said he, "I engage in this chimerical undertaking for your Majesty's service, I must entreat your Majesty to keep the affair secret, till the success of it shall justify me to the public; I would not be thought guilty of the intolerable vanity, to think that a Queen, who has never seen me, would marry me for love." The King promised to let nobody into the design but the Constable, secrecy being necessary, he knew, to the success of it. The Count de Randan advised the Duke to go to England under pretence of travelling; but the Duke disapproving this proposal, sent Mr. Lignerol, a sprightly young gentleman, his favourite, to sound the Queen's inclinations, and to endeavour to make some steps towards advancing that affair: in the meantime, he paid a visit to the Duke of Savoy, who was then at Brussels with the King of Spain. The death of Queen Mary brought great obstructions to the Treaty; the Congress broke up at the end of November, and the King returned to Paris.
There appeared at this time a lady at Court, who drew the eyes of the whole world; and one may imagine she was a perfect beauty, to gain admiration in a place where there were so many fine women; she was of the same family with the Viscount of Chartres, and one of the greatest heiresses of France, her father died young, and left her to the guardianship of Madam de Chartres his wife, whose wealth, virtue, and merit were uncommon. After the loss of her husband she retired from Court, and lived many years in the country; during this retreat, her chief care was bestowed in the education of her daughter; but she did not make it her business to cultivate her wit and beauty only, she took care also to inculcate virtue into her tender mind, and to make it amiable to her. The generality of mothers imagine, that it is sufficient to forbear talking of gallantries before young people, to prevent their engaging in them; but Madam de Chartres was of a different opinion, she often entertained her daughter with descriptions of love; she showed her what there was agreeable in it, that she might the more easily persuade her wherein it was dangerous; she related to her the insincerity, the faithlessness, and want of candour in men, and the domestic misfortunes that flow from engagements with them; on the other hand she made her sensible, what tranquillity attends the life of a virtuous woman, and what lustre modesty gives to a person who possesses birth and beauty; at the same time she informed her, how difficult it was to preserve this virtue, except by an extreme distrust of one's self, and by a constant attachment to the only thing which constitutes a woman's happiness, to love and to be loved by her husband.
This heiress was, at that time, one of the greatest matches in France, and though she was very young several marriages had been proposed to her mother; but Madam de Chartres being ambitious, hardly thought anything worthy of her daughter, and when she was sixteen years of age she brought her to Court. The Viscount of Chartres, who went to meet her, was with reason surprised at the beauty of the young lady; her fine hair and lovely complexion gave her a lustre that was peculiar to herself; all her features were regular, and her whole person was full of grace.
The day after her arrival, she went to choose some jewels at a famous Italian's; this man came from Florence with the Queen, and had acquired such immense riches by his trade, that his house seemed rather fit for a Prince than a merchant; while she was there, the Prince of Cleves came in, and was so touched with her beauty, that he could not dissemble his surprise, nor could Mademoiselle de Chartres forbear blushing upon observing the astonishment he was in; nevertheless, she recollected herself, without taking any further notice of him than she was obliged to do in civility to a person of his seeming rank; the Prince of Cleves viewed her with admiration, and could not comprehend who that fine lady was, whom he did not know. He found by her air, and her retinue, that she was of the first quality; by her youth he should have taken her to be a maid, but not seeing her mother, and hearing the Italian call her madam, he did not know what to think; and all the while he kept his eyes fixed upon her, he found that his behaviour embarrassed her, unlike to most young ladies, who always behold with pleasure the effect of their beauty; he found too, that he had made her impatient to be going, and in truth she went away immediately: the Prince of Cleves was not uneasy at himself on having lost the view of her, in hopes of being informed who she was; but when he found she was not known, he was under the utmost surprise; her beauty, and the modest air he had observed in her actions, affected him so, that from that moment he entertained a passion for her. In the evening he waited on his Majesty's sister.
This Princess was in great consideration by reason of her interest with the King her brother; and her authority was so great, that the King, on concluding the peace, consented to restore Piemont, in order to marry her with the Duke of Savoy. Though she had always had a disposition to marry, yet would she never accept of anything beneath a sovereign, and for this reason she refused the King of Navarre, when he was Duke of Vendome, and always had a liking for the Duke of Savoy; which inclination for him she had preserved ever since she saw him at Nice, at the interview between Francis I, and Pope Paul III. As she had a great deal of wit, and a fine taste of polite learning, men of ingenuity were always about her, and at certain times the whole Court resorted to her apartments.
The Prince of Cleves went there according to his custom; he was so touched with the wit and beauty of Mademoiselle de Chartres, that he could talk of nothing else; he related his adventure aloud, and was never tired with the praises of this lady, whom he had seen, but did not know; Madame told him, that there was nobody like her he described, and that if there were, she would be known by the whole world. Madam de Dampiere, one of the Princess's ladies of honour, and a friend of Madam de Chartres, overhearing the conversation, came up to her Highness, and whispered her in the ear, that it was certainly Mademoiselle de Chartres whom the Prince had seen. Madame, returning to her discourse with the Prince, told him, if he would give her his company again the next morning, he should see the beauty he was so much touched with. Accordingly Mademoiselle de Chartres came the next day to Court, and was received by both Queens in the most obliging manner that can be imagined, and with such admiration by everybody else, that nothing was to be heard at Court but her praises, which she received with so agreeable a modesty, that she seemed not to have heard them, or at least not to be moved with them. She afterwards went to wait upon Madame; that Princess, after having commended her beauty, informed her of the surprise she had given the Prince of Cleves; the Prince came in immediately after; "Come hither," said she to him, "see, if I have not kept my word with you, and if at the same time that I show you Mademoiselle de Chartres, I don't show you the lady you are in search of. You ought to thank me, at least, for having acquainted her how much you are her admirer."
The Prince of Cleves was overjoyed to find that the lady he admired was of quality equal to her beauty; he addressed her, and entreated her to remember that he was her first lover, and had conceived the highest honour and respect for her, before he knew her.
The Chevalier de Guise, and the Prince, who were two bosom friends, took their leave of Madame together. They were no sooner gone but they began to launch out into the praises of Mademoiselle de Chartres, without bounds; they were sensible at length that they had run into excess in her commendation, and so both gave over for that time; but they were obliged the next day to renew the subject, for this new-risen beauty long continued to supply discourse to the whole Court; the Queen herself was lavish in her praise, and showed her particular marks of favour; the Queen-Dauphin made her one of her favourites, and begged her mother to bring her often to her Court; the Princesses, the King's daughters, made her a party in all their diversions; in short, she had the love and admiration of the whole Court, except that of the Duchess of Valentinois: not that this young beauty gave her umbrage; long experience convinced her she had nothing to fear on the part of the King, and she had to great a hatred for the Viscount of Chartres, whom she had endeavoured to bring into her interest by marrying him with one of her daughters, and who had joined himself to the Queen's party, that she could not have the least favourable thought of a person who bore his name, and was a great object of his friendship.
The Prince of Cleves became passionately in love with Mademoiselle de Chartres, and ardently wished to marry her, but he was afraid the haughtiness of her mother would not stoop to match her with one who was not the head of his family: nevertheless his birth was illustrious, and his elder brother, the Count d'En, had just married a lady so nearly related to the Royal family, that this apprehension was rather the effect of his love, than grounded on any substantial reason. He had a great number of rivals; the most formidable among them, for his birth, his merit, and the lustre which Royal favour cast upon his house, was the Chevalier de Guise; this gentleman fell in love with Mademoiselle de Chartres the first day he saw her, and he discovered the Prince of Cleves's passion as the Prince of Cleves discovered his. Though they were intimate friends, their having the same pretentions gradually created a coolness between them, and their friendship grew into an indifference, without their being able to come to an explanation on the matter. The Prince of Cleves's good fortune in having seen Mademoiselle de Chartres first seemed to be a happy presage, and gave him some advantage over his rivals, but he foresaw great obstructions on the part of the Duke of Nevers his father: the Duke was strictly attached to the Duchess of Valentinois, and the Viscount de Chartres was her enemy, which was a sufficient reason to hinder the Duke from consenting to the marriage of his son, with a niece of the Viscount's.
Madam de Chartres, who had taken so much care to inspire virtue into her daughter, did not fail to continue the same care in a place where it was so necessary, and where there were so many dangerous examples. Ambition and gallantry were the soul of the Court, and employed both sexes equally; there were so many different interests and so many cabals, and the ladies had so great a share in them, that love was always mixed with business, and business with love: nobody was easy, or indifferent; their business was to raise themselves, to be agreeable, to serve or disserve; and intrigue and pleasure took up their whole time. The care of the ladies was to recommend themselves either to the Queen, the Dauphin-Queen, or the Queen of Navarre, or to Madame, or the Duchess of Valentinois. Inclination, reasons of decorum, resemblance of temper made their applications different; those who found the bloom worn off, and who professed an austerity of virtue, were attached to the Queen; the younger sort, who loved pleasure and gallantry, made their Court to the Queen-Dauphin; the Queen of Navarre too had her favourites, she was young, and had great power with the King her husband, who was in the interest of the Constable, and by that means increased his authority; Madame was still very beautiful, and drew many ladies into her party. And as for the Duchess of Valentinois, she could command as many as she would condescend to smile upon; but very few women were agreeable to her, and excepting some with whom she lived in confidence and familiarity, and whose humour was agreeable to her own, she admitted none but on days when she gratified her vanity in having a Court in the same manner the Queen had.
All these different cabals were full of emulation and envy towards one another; the ladies, who composed them, had their jealousies also among themselves, either as to favour or lovers: the interests of ambition were often blended with concerns of less importance, but which did not affect less sensibly; so that in this Court there was a sort of tumult without disorder, which made it very agreeable, but at the same time very dangerous for a young lady. Madam de Chartres perceived the danger, and was careful to guard her daughter from it; she entreated her, not as a mother, but as her friend, to impart to her all the gallantry she should meet withal, promising her in return to assist her in forming her conduct right, as to things in which young people are oftentimes embarrassed.
The Chevalier de Guise was so open and unguarded with respect to his passion for Mademoiselle de Chartres, that nobody was ignorant of it: nevertheless he saw nothing but impossibilities in what he desired; he was sensible that he was not a proper match for Mademoiselle de Chartres, by reason of the narrowness of his fortune, which was not sufficient to support his dignity; and he was sensible besides, that his brothers would not approve of his marrying, the marriages of younger brothers being looked upon as what tends to the lessening great families; the Cardinal of Loraine soon convinced him, that he was not mistaken; he condemned his attachment to Mademoiselle de Chartres with warmth, but did not inform him of his true reasons for so doing; the Cardinal, it seems, had a hatred to the Viscount, which was not known at that time, but afterwards discovered itself; he would rather have consented to any other alliance for his brother than to that of the Viscount; and he declared his aversion to it in so public a manner, that Madam de Chartres was sensibly disgusted at it. She took a world of pains to show that the Cardinal of Loraine had nothing to fear, and that she herself had no thoughts of this marriage; the Viscount observed the same conduct, and resented that of the Cardinal more than Madam de Chartres did, being better apprised of the cause of it.
The Prince of Cleves had not given less public proofs of his love, than the Chevalier de Guise had done, which made the Duke of Nevers very uneasy; however he thought that he needed only to speak to his son, to make him change his conduct; but he was very much surprised to find him in a settled design of marrying Mademoiselle de Chartres, and flew out into such excesses of passion on that subject, that the occasion of it was soon known to the whole Court, and among others to Madam de Chartres: she never imagined that the Duke of Nevers would not think her daughter a very advantageous match for his son, nor was she a little astonished to find that the houses both of Cleves and Guise avoided her alliance, instead of courting it. Her resentment on this account put her upon finding out a match for her daughter, which would raise her above those that imagined themselves above her; after having looked about, she fixed upon the Prince Dauphin, son of the Duke de Montpensier, one of the most considerable persons then at Court. As Madam de Chartres abounded in wit, and was assisted by the Viscount, who was in great consideration, and as her daughter herself was a very considerable match, she managed the matter with so much dexterity and success, that Monsieur de Montpensier appeared to desire the marriage, and there was no appearance of any difficulties in it.
The Viscount, knowing the power the Dauphin-Queen had over Monsieur d'Anville, thought it not amiss to employ the interest of that Princess to engage him to serve Mademoiselle de Chartres, both with the King and the Prince de Montpensier, whose intimate friend he was: he spoke to the Dauphin-Queen about it, and she entered with joy into an affair which concerned the promotion of a lady for whom she had a great affection; she expressed as much to the Viscount, and assured him, that though she knew she should do what was disagreeable to the Cardinal of Loraine her uncle, she would pass over that consideration with pleasure, because she had reasons of complaint against him, since he every day more and more espoused the interest of the Queen against hers.
Persons of gallantry are always glad of an opportunity of speaking to those who love them. No sooner was the Viscount gone, but the Queen-Dauphin sent Chatelart to Monsieur d'Anville, to desire him from her to be at Court that evening. Chatelart was his favourite, and acquainted with his passion for this Princess, and therefore received her commands with great pleasure and respect. He was a gentleman of a good family in Dauphiny; but his wit and merit distinguished him more than his birth: he was well received at Court. He was graceful in his person, perfect at all sorts of exercises; he sung agreeably, he wrote verses, and was of so amorous and gallant a temper, as endeared him to Monsieur d'Anville in such a degree, that he made him the confidant of his amours between the Queen-Dauphin and him; this confidence gave him access to that Princess, and it was owing to the frequent opportunities he had of seeing her, that he commenced that unhappy passion which deprived him of his reason, and at last cost him his life.
Monsieur d'Anville did not fail to be at Court in the evening; he thought himself very happy, that the Queen-Dauphin had made choice of him to manage an affair she had at heart, and he promised to obey her commands with the greatest exactness. But the Duchess of Valentinois being warned of the design in view, had traversed it with so much care, and prepossessed the King so much against it, that when Monsieur d'Anville came to speak to his Majesty about it, he plainly showed he did not approve of it, and commanded him to signify as much to the Prince de Montpensier. One may easily judge what the sentiments of Madam de Chartres were, upon the breaking off of an affair which she had set her mind so much upon, and the ill success of which gave such an advantage to her enemies, and was so great a prejudice to her daughter.
The Queen-Dauphin declared to Mademoiselle de Chartres, in a very friendly manner, the uneasiness she was in for not having been able to serve her: "You see, Madam," said she to her, "that my interest is small; I am upon so ill terms with the Queen and the Duchess of Valentinois, that it is no wonder if they or their dependents still succeed in disappointing my desires; nevertheless, I have constantly used my endeavours to please them. Indeed, they hate me not for my own sake, but for my mother's; she formerly gave them some jealousy and uneasiness; the King was in love with her before he was in love with the Duchess; and in the first years of his marriage, when he had no issue, he appeared almost resolved to be divorced from the Queen, in order to make room for my mother, though at the same time he had some affection for the Duchess. Madam de Valentinois being jealous of a lady whom he had formerly loved, and whose wit and beauty were capable of lessening her interest, joined herself to the Constable, who was no more desirous than herself that the King should marry a sister of the Duke of Guise; they possessed the deceased King with their sentiments; and though he mortally hated the Duchess of Valentinois, and loved the Queen, he joined his endeavours with theirs to prevent the divorce; but in order to take from the King all thoughts of marrying the Queen my mother, they struck up a marriage between her and the King of Scotland, who had had for his first wife the King's sister, and they did this because it was the easiest to be brought to a conclusion, though they failed in their engagements to the King of England, who was very desirous of marrying her; and that failure wanted but little of occasioning a rupture between the two Crowns: for Henry the Eighth was inconsolable, when he found himself disappointed in his expectations of marrying my mother; and whatever other Princess of France was proposed to him, he always said, nothing could make him amends for her he had been deprived of. It is certainly true, that my mother was a perfect beauty; and what is very remarkable, is, that being the widow of the Duke of Longueville, three Kings should court her in marriage. Her ill fortune gave her to the least of them, and placed her in a kingdom where she meets with nothing but trouble. They say I resemble her, but I fear I shall resemble her only in her unhappy destiny; and whatever fortune may seem to promise me at present, I can never think I shall enjoy it."
Mademoiselle de Chartres answered the Queen, that these melancholy presages were so ill-grounded, that they would not disturb her long, and that she ought not to doubt but her good fortune would accomplish whatever it promised.
No one now entertained any further thoughts of Mademoiselle de Chartres, either fearing to incur the King's displeasure, or despairing to succeed with a lady, who aspired to an alliance with a Prince of the blood. The Prince of Cleves alone was not disheartened at either of these considerations; the death of the Duke of Nevers his father, which happened at that time, set him at entire liberty to follow his inclination, and no sooner was the time of mourning expired, but he wholly applied himself to the gaining of Mademoiselle de Chartres. It was lucky for him that he addressed her at a time when what had happened had discouraged the approaches of others. What allayed his joy was his fear of not being the most agreeable to her, and he would have preferred the happiness of pleasing to the certainty of marrying her without being beloved.
The Chevalier de Guise had given him some jealousy, but as it was rather grounded on the merit of that Prince than on any action of Mademoiselle de Chartres, he made it his whole endeavour to discover, if he was so happy as to have his addresses admitted and approved: he had no opportunity of seeing her but at Court or public assemblies, so that it was very difficult for him to get a private conversation with her; at last he found means to do it, and informed her of his intention and of his love, with all the respect imaginable. He urged her to acquaint him what the sentiments were which she had for him, assuring her, that those which he had for her were of such a nature as would render him eternally miserable, if she resigned herself wholly up to the will of her mother.
As Mademoiselle de Chartres had a noble and generous heart, she was sincerely touched with gratitude for the Prince of Cleves's behaviour; this gratitude gave a certain sweetness to her words and answers, sufficient to furnish hopes to a man so desperately enamoured as the Prince was, so that he flattered himself in some measure that he should succeed in what he so much wished for.
She gave her mother an account of this conversation; and Madam de Chartres told her, that the Prince of Cleves had so many good qualities, and discovered a discretion so much above his years, that if her inclination led her to marry him, she would consent to it with pleasure. Mademoiselle de Chartres made answer, that she observed in him the same good qualities; that she should have less reluctance in marrying him than any other man, but that she had no particular affection to his person.
The next day the Prince caused his thoughts to be communicated to Madam de Chartres, who gave her consent to what was proposed to her; nor had she the least distrust but that in the Prince of Cleves she provided her daughter a husband capable of securing her affections. The articles were concluded; the King was acquainted with it, and the marriage made public.
The Prince of Cleves found himself happy, but yet not entirely contented: he saw with a great deal of regret, that the sentiments of Mademoiselle de Chartres did not exceed those of esteem and respect, and he could not flatter himself that she concealed more obliging thoughts of him, since the situation they were in permitted her to discover them without the least violence done to modesty. It was not long before he expostulated with her on this subject: "Is it possible," says he, "that I should not be happy in marrying you? and yet it is certain, I am not. You only show me a sort of civility which is far from giving me satisfaction; you express none of those pretty inquietudes, the concern, and impatience, which are the soul of love; you are no further affected with my passion, than you would be with one which flowed only from the advantage of your fortune, and not from the beauty of your person." "It is unjust in you to complain," replied the Princess, "I don't know what you can desire of me more; I think decency will not allow me to go further than I do." "It's true," replied he, "you show some appearances I should be satisfied with, were there anything beyond; but instead of being restrained by decency, it is that only which makes you act as you do; I am not in your heart and inclinations, and my presence neither gives you pain nor pleasure." "You can't doubt," replied she, "but it is a sensible pleasure to me to see you, and when I do see you, I blush so often, that you can't doubt, but the seeing you gives me pain also." "Your blushes, Madam," replied he, "cannot deceive me; they are signs of modesty, but do not prove the heart to be affected, and I shall conclude nothing more from hence than what I ought."
Mademoiselle de Chartres did not know what to answer; these distinctions were above her comprehension. The Prince of Cleves plainly saw she was far from having that tenderness of affection for him, which was requisite to his happiness; it was manifest she could not feel a passion which she did not understand.
The Chevalier de Guise returned from a journey a few days before the marriage. He saw so many insuperable difficulties in his design of marrying Mademoiselle de Chartres, that he gave over all hopes of succeeding in it; and yet he was extremely afflicted to see her become the wife of another: his grief however did not extinguish his passion; and his love was as great as ever. Mademoiselle de Chartres was not ignorant of it; and he made her sensible at his return, that she was the cause of that deep melancholy which appeared in his countenance. He had so much merit and so much agreeableness, that it was almost impossible to make him unhappy without pitying him, nor could she forbear pitying him; but her pity did not lead to love. She acquainted her mother with the uneasiness which the Chevalier's passion gave her.
Madam de Chartres admired the honour of her daughter, and she admired it with reason, for never was anyone more naturally sincere; but she was surprised, at the same time, at the insensibility of her heart, and the more so, when she found that the Prince of Cleves had not been able to affect her any more than others: for this reason, she took great pains to endear her husband to her, and to make her sensible how much she owed to the affection he had for her before he knew her, and to the tenderness he since expressed for her, by preferring her to all other matches, at a time when no one else durst entertain the least thoughts of her.
The marriage was solemnised at the Louvre; and in the evening the King and the two Queens, with the whole Court, supped at Madam de Chartres's house, where they were entertained with the utmost magnificence. The Chevalier de Guise durst not distinguish himself by being absent from the ceremony, but he was so little master of himself that it was easy to observe his concern.
The Prince of Cleves did not find that Mademoiselle de Chartres had changed her mind by changing her name; his quality of a husband entitled him to the largest privileges, but gave him no greater share in the affections of his wife: hence it was, that though he was her husband, he did not cease to be her lover, because he had always something to wish beyond what he possessed; and though she lived perfectly easy with him, yet he was not perfectly happy. He preserved for her a passion full of violence and inquietude, but without jealousy, which had no share in his griefs. Never was husband less inclined to it, and never was wife farther from giving the least occasion for it. She was nevertheless constantly in view of the Court; she frequented the Courts of the two Queens, and of Madame: all the people of gallantry saw her both there and at her brother-in-law the Duke of Never's, whose house was open to the whole world; but she had an air which inspired so great respect, and had in it something so distant from gallantry, that the Mareschal de St. Andre, a bold man and supported by the King's favour, became her lover without daring to let her know it any otherwise than by his cares and assiduities. A great many others were in the same condition: and Madam de Chartres had added to her daughter's discretion so exact a conduct with regard to everything of decorum, that everybody was satisfied she was not to be come at.
The Duchess of Loraine, while she was employed in negotiating the peace, had applied herself to settle the marriage of the Duke her son: a marriage was agreed upon between him and Madam Claude of France, the King's second daughter; and the month of February was appointed for the nuptials.
In the meantime the Duke of Nemours continued at Brussels, his thoughts being wholly employed on his design in England; he was continually sending or receiving couriers from thence; his hopes increased every day, and at last Lignerolly sent him word that it was time to finish by his presence what was so well begun; he received this news with all the joy a young ambitious man is capable of, who sees himself advanced to a throne merely by the force of his personal merit; his mind insensibly accustomed itself to the grandeur of a Royal State; and whereas he had at first rejected this undertaking as an impracticable thing, the difficulties of it were now worn out of his imagination, and he no longer saw anything to obstruct his way.
He sent away in haste to Paris to give the necessary orders for providing a magnificent equipage, that he might make his appearance in England with a splendour suitable to the design he was to conduct; and soon after he followed himself, to assist at the marriage of the Duke of Loraine.
He arrived the evening before the espousals, and that very evening waited on the King to give him an account of his affair, and to receive his orders and advice how to govern himself in it. Afterwards he waited on the Queens; but the Princess of Cleves was not there, so that she did not see him, nor so much as know of his arrival. She had heard everybody speak of this celebrated Prince, as of the handsomest and most agreeable man at Court; and the Queen-Dauphin had described him in such a manner, and spoke of him to her so often, that she had raised in her a curiosity and even impatience to see him.
The Princess employed the day of the wedding in dressing herself, that she might appear with the greater advantage at the ball and royal banquet that were to be at the Louvre. When she came, everyone admired both her beauty and her dress. The ball began, and while she was dancing with the Duke of Guise, a noise was heard at the door of the hall, as if way was making for some person of uncommon distinction. She had finished her dance, and as she was casting her eyes round to single out some other person, the King desired her to take him who came in last; she turned about, and viewing him as he was passing over the seats to come to the place where they danced, she immediately concluded he was the Duke of Nemours. The Duke's person was turned in so delicate a manner, that it was impossible not to express surprise at the first sight of him, particularly that evening, when the care he had taken to adorn himself added much to the fine air of his carriage. It was as impossible to behold the Princess of Cleves without equal admiration.
The Duke de Nemours was struck with such surprise at her beauty, that when they approached and paid their respects to each other, he could not forbear showing some tokens of his admiration. When they begun to dance, a soft murmur of praises ran through the whole company. The King and the two Queens, remembering that the Duke and Princess had never seen one another before, found something very particular in seeing them dance together without knowing each other; they called them, as soon as they had ended their dance, without giving them time to speak to anybody, and asked them if they had not a desire to know each other, and if they were not at some loss about it. "As for me, Madam," said the Duke to the Queen, "I am under no uncertainty in this matter; but as the Princess of Cleves has not the same reasons to lead her to guess who I am, as I have to direct me to know her, I should be glad if your Majesty would be pleased to let her know my name." "I believe," said the Queen-Dauphin, "that she knows your name as well as you know hers." "I assure you, Madam," replied the Princess a little embarrassed, "that I am not so good a guesser as you imagine." "Yes, you guess very well," answered the Queen-Dauphin; "and your unwillingness to acknowledge that you know the Duke of Nemours, without having seen him before, carries in it something very obliging to him." The Queen interrupted them, that the ball might go on; and the Duke de Nemours took out the Queen-Dauphin. This Princess was a perfect beauty, and such she appeared in the eyes of the Duke de Nemours, before he went to Flanders; but all this evening he could admire nothing but Madam de Cleves.
The Chevalier de Guise, whose idol she still was, sat at her feet, and what had passed filled him with the utmost grief; he looked upon it as ominous for him, that fortune had destined the Duke of Nemours to be in love with the Princess of Cleves. And whether there appeared in reality any concern in the Princess's face, or whether the Chevalier's jealousy only led him to suspect it, he believed that she was touched with the sight of the Duke, and could not forbear telling her, that Monsieur de Nemours was very happy to commence an acquaintance with her by an incident which had something very gallant and extraordinary in it.
Madam de Cleves returned home with her thoughts full of what had passed at the ball; and though it was very late, she went into her mother's room to give her a relation of it; in doing which she praised the Duke of Nemours with a certain air, that gave Madam de Chartres the same suspicion the Chevalier de Guise had entertained before.
The day following the ceremony of the Duke of Loraine's marriage was performed; and there the Princess of Cleves observed so inimitable a grace, and so fine a mien in the Duke of Nemours, that she was yet more surprised.
She afterwards saw him at the Court of the Queen-Dauphin; she saw him play at tennis with the King; she saw him run the ring; she heard him discourse; still she found he far excelled everybody else, and drew the attention of the company to him wherever he was; in short, the gracefulness of his person, and the agreeableness of his wit soon made a considerable impression on her heart.
The Duke de Nemours had an inclination no less violent for her; and hence flowed all that gaiety and sweetness of behaviour, which the first desires of pleasing ordinarily inspire a man with: hence he became more amiable than ever he was before; so that by often seeing one another, and by seeing in each other whatever was most accomplished at Court, it could not be but that they must mutually receive the greatest pleasure from such a commerce.
The Duchess of Valentinois made one in all parties of pleasure; and the King was still as passionately fond of her as in the beginning of his love. The Princess of Cleves being at those years, wherein people think a woman is incapable of inciting love after the age of twenty-five, beheld with the utmost astonishment the King's passion for the Duchess, who was a grandmother, and had lately married her granddaughter: she often spoke on this subject to Madam de Chartres. "Is it possible, Madam," said she, "that the King should still continue to love? How could he take a fancy to one, who was so much older than himself, who had been his father's mistress, and who, as I have heard, is still such to many others?" "'Tis certain," answered Madam de Chartres," it was neither the merit nor the fidelity of the Duchess of Valentinois, which gave birth to the King's passion, or preserved it; and this is what he can't be justified in; for if this lady had had beauty and youth suitable to her birth; and the merit of having had no other lover; if she had been exactly true and faithful to the King; if she had loved him with respect only to his person, without the interested views of greatness and fortune, and without using her power but for honourable purposes and for his Majesty's interest; in this case it must be confessed, one could have hardly forbore praising his passion for her. If I was not afraid," continued Madam de Chartres, "that you would say the same thing of me which is said of most women of my years, that they love to recount the history of their own times, I would inform you how the King's passion for this Duchess began, and of several particulars of the Court of the late King, which have a great relation to things that are acted at present." "Far from blaming you," replied the Princess of Cleves, "for repeating the histories of past times, I lament, Madam, that you have not instructed me in those of the present, nor informed me as to the different interests and parties of the Court. I am so entirely ignorant of them, that I thought a few days ago, the Constable was very well with the Queen." "You was extremely mistaken," answered Madam de Chartres, "the Queen hates the Constable, and if ever she has power, he'll be but too sensible of it; she knows, he has often told the King, that of all his children none resembled him but his natural ones." "I should never have suspected this hatred," said the Princess of Cleves, "after having seen her assiduity in writing to the Constable during his imprisonment, the joy she expressed at his return, and how she always calls him Compere, as well as the King." "If you judge from appearances in a Court," replied Madam de Chartres, "you will often be deceived; truth and appearances seldom go together.
"But to return to the Duchess of Valentinois, you know her name is Diana de Poitiers; her family is very illustrious, she is descended from the ancient Dukes of Aquitaine, her grandmother was a natural daughter of Lewis the XI, and in short she possesses everything that is great in respect of birth. St. Valier, her father, had the unhappiness to be involved in the affair of the Constable of Bourbon, which you have heard of; he was condemned to lose his head, and accordingly was conducted to the scaffold: his daughter, viz., the Duchess, who was extremely beautiful, and who had already charmed the late King, managed so well, I don't know by what means, that she obtained her father's life; the pardon was brought him at the moment he was expecting the fatal blow; but the pardon availed little, for fear had seized him so deeply, that it bereft him of his senses, and he died a few days after. His daughter appeared at Court as the King's mistress; but the Italian expedition, and the imprisonment of the present Prince, were interruptions to his love affair. When the late King returned from Spain, and Madam the Regent went to meet him at Bayonne, she brought all her maids of honour with her, among whom was Mademoiselle de Pisselen, who was since Duchess d'Etampes; the King fell in love with her, though she was inferior in birth, wit and beauty to the Duchess of Valentinois, and had no advantage above her but that of being very young. I have heard her say several times, that she was born the same day Diana de Poitiers was married, but she spoke this in the malice of her heart, and not as what she knew to be true; for I am much mistaken, if the Duchess of Valentinois did not marry Monsieur de Breze, at the same time that the King fell in love with Madam d'Etampes. Never was a greater hatred than that between these two ladies; the Duchess could not pardon Madam d'Etampes for having taken from her the title of the King's mistress; and Madam d'Etampes was violently jealous of the Duchess, because the King still kept correspondence with her. That Prince was by no means constant to his mistresses; there was always one among them that had the title and honours of mistress, but the ladies of the small band, as they were styled, shared his favour by turns. The loss of the Dauphin, his son, who died at Tournon, and was thought to be poisoned, extremely afflicted him; he had not the same affection and tenderness for his second son, the present King; he imagined he did not see in him spirit and vivacity enough, and complained of it one day to the Duchess of Valentinois, who told him she would endeavour to raise a passion in him for her, in order to make him more sprightly and agreeable. She succeeded in it, as you see, and this passion is now of above twenty years' duration, without being changed either by time or incidents.
"The late King at first opposed it; and whether he had still love enough left for the Duchess of Valentinois to be jealous, or whether he was urged on by the Duchess d'Etampes, who was in despair upon seeing the Dauphin so much attached to her enemy, it is certain he beheld this passion with an indignation and resentment, that showed itself every day by something or other. The Dauphin neither valued his anger or his hatred, nor could anything oblige him either to abate or conceal his flame, so that the King was forced to accustom himself to bear it with patience. This opposition of his to his father's will, withdrew his affections from him more and more, and transferred them to his third son, the Duke of Orleans, who was a Prince of a fine person full of fire and ambition, and of a youthful heat which wanted to be moderated; however, he would have made a very great Prince, had he arrived to a more ripened age.
"The rank of eldest, which the Dauphin held, and the King's favour which the Duke of Orleans was possessed of, created between them a sort of emulation, that grew by degrees to hatred. This emulation began from their infancy, and was still kept up in its height. When the Emperor passed through France, he gave the preference entirely to the Duke of Orleans, which the Dauphin resented so bitterly, that while the Emperor was at Chantilli, he endeavoured to prevail with the Constable to arrest him without waiting for the King's orders, but the Constable refused to do it: however, the King afterwards blamed him for not following his son's advice, and when he banished him the Court, that was one of the principal reasons for it.
"The discord between the two brothers put Madam d'Etampes upon the thought of strengthening herself with the Duke of Orleans, in order to support her power with the King against the Duchess of Valentinois; accordingly she succeeded in it, and that young Prince, though he felt no emotions of love for her, entered no less into her interest, than the Dauphin was in that of Madam de Valentinois. Hence rose two factions at Court, of such a nature as you may imagine, but the intrigues of them were not confined to the quarrels of women.
"The Emperor, who continued to have a great friendship for the Duke of Orleans, had offered several times to make over to him the Duchy of Milan. In the propositions which were since made for the peace, he gave hopes of assigning him the seventeen provinces, with his daughter in marriage. The Dauphin neither approved of the peace or the marriage, and in order to defeat both he made use of the Constable, for whom he always had an affection, to remonstrate to the King of what importance it was not to give his successor a brother so powerful as the Duke of Orleans would be with the alliance of the Emperor and those countries; the Constable came the more easily into the Dauphin's sentiments, as they were opposite to those of Madam d'Etampes, who was his declared enemy, and who vehemently wished for the promotion of the Duke of Orleans.
"The Dauphin commanded at that time the King's Army in Champaign, and had reduced that of the Emperor to such extremities, that it must have entirely perished, had not the Duchess d'Etampes, for fear too great successes should make us refuse peace, and the Emperor's alliance in favour of the Duke of Orleans, secretly advised the enemy to surprise Espemai and Cheteau-Thieni, in which places were great magazines of provisions; they succeeded in the attempt, and by that means saved their whole army.
"This Duchess did not long enjoy the success of her treason. A little after the Duke of Orleans died at Farmontiers of a kind of contagious distemper: he was in love with one of the finest women of the Court, and was beloved by her. I will not mention her name, because she has since lived with so much discretion, and has so carefully concealed the passion she had for that Prince, that one ought to be tender of her reputation. It happened she received the news of her husband's death at the same time as she heard of the Duke's, so that she had that pretext to enable her to conceal her real sorrow, without being at the trouble of putting any constraint upon herself.
"The King did not long survive the Prince his son; he died two years after; he recommended to the Dauphin to make use of the Cardinal de Tournon and the Admiral d'Annebault, but said nothing at all of the Constable, who was then in banishment at Chantilli. Nevertheless the first thing the King his son did was to recall him, and make him his Prime Minister.
"Madam d'Etampes was discarded, and received all the ill treatment she could possibly expect from an enemy so very powerful; the Duchess of Valentinois amply revenged herself both of that lady, and all those who had disobliged her; she seemed to reign more absolute in the King's heart than she did even when he was Dauphin. During the twelve years' reign of this Prince she has been absolute in everything; she disposes of all governments and offices of trust and power; she has disgraced the Cardinal de Tournon, the Chancellor, and Villeroy; those who have endeavoured to open the King's mind with respect to her conduct, have been undone in the attempt; the Count de Taix, great Master of the Ordnance, who had no kindness for her, could not forbear speaking of her gallantries, and particularly of that with the Count de Brissac, of whom the King was already very jealous. Nevertheless she contrived things so well, that the Count de Taix was disgraced, and his employment taken from him; and what is almost incredible, she procured it to be given to the Count de Brissac, and afterwards made him a Mareschal of France. Notwithstanding, the King's jealousy increased to such a height, that lie could no longer suffer him to continue at Court: this passion of jealousy, which is fierce and violent in other men, is gentle and moderate in him through the great respect he has for his mistress, and therefore he did not go about to remove his rival, but under the pretext of giving him the Government of Piemont. He has lived there several years; last winter he returned to Paris, under pretence of demanding troops and other necessaries for the Army he commands; the desire of seeing the Duchess of Valentinois again, and the fear of being forgotten by her, was perhaps the principal motive of this journey. The King received him very coldly; Messieurs de Guise, who have no kindness for him, but dare not show it on account of the Duchess, made use of Monsieur the Viscount, her declared enemy, to prevent his obtaining what he came to demand. It was no difficult matter to do him hurt. The King hated him, and was uneasy at his presence, so that he was obliged to return to Piemont without any benefit from his journey, except perhaps that of rekindling in the heart of the Duchess the flame which absence began to extinguish. The King has had a great many other subjects of jealousy, but either he has not been informed of them, or has not dared to complain of them.
"I don't know, daughter," added Madam de Chartres, "if I have not already told you more of these things, than you desired to know." "I am far, Madam, from complaining of that," replied the Princess of Cleves, "and if it was not for fear of being importunate, I should yet desire to be informed of several circumstances I am ignorant of."
The Duke de Nemours' passion for Madam de Cleves was at first so violent, that he had no relish left for any of the ladies he paid his addresses to before, and with whom he kept a correspondence during his absence; he even lost all remembrance of his engagements with them, and not only made it his business to find out excuses to break with them, but had not the patience to hear their complaints, or make any answer to the reproaches they laid upon him. The Queen-Dauphin herself, for whom his regards had been very tender, could no longer preserve a place in that heart which was now devoted to the Princess of Cleves. His impatience of making a tour to England began to abate, and he showed no earnestness in hastening his equipage. He frequently went to the Queen-Dauphin's Court, because the Princess of Cleves was often there, and he was very easy in leaving people in the opinion they had of his passion for that Queen; he put so great a value on Madam de Cleves, that he resolved to be rather wanting in giving proofs of his love, than to hazard its being publicly known; he did not so much as speak of it to the Viscount de Chartres, who was his intimate friend, and from whom he concealed nothing; the truth is, he conducted this affair with so much discretion, that nobody suspected he was in love with Madam de Cleves, except the Chevalier de Guise; and she would scarcely have perceived it herself, if the inclination she had for him had not led her into a particular attention to all his actions, but which she was convinced of it.
She no longer continued to have the same disposition to communicate to her mother what she thought concerning the Duke de Nemours, as she had to talk to her about her other lovers; though she had no settled design of concealing it from her, yet she did not speak of it. Madam de Chartres, however, plainly perceived the Duke's attachment to her daughter, as well as her daughter's inclination for him; the knowledge of this could not but sensibly afflict her, nor could she be ignorant of the danger this young lady was in, in being beloved by, and loving so accomplished a person as the Duke de Nemours: she was entirely confirmed in the suspicion she had of this business, by an incident which fell out a few days after.
The Mareschal de St. Andre, who took all opportunities to show his magnificence, desired the King, under pretence of showing him his house which was just finished, to do him the honour to sup there with the two Queens. The Mareschal was also very glad to display, in the sight of the Princess of Cleves, that splendid and expensive manner of life, which he carried to so great a profusion.
Some days before that appointed for the entertainment, the Dauphin, who had an ill state of health, found himself indisposed, and saw nobody; the Queen-Dauphin had spent all that day with him; and in the evening, upon his growing better, all the persons of quality that were in the anti-chamber were admitted; the Queen-Dauphin returned to her own apartment, where she found Madam de Cleves and some other ladies, with whom she lived in familiarity.
It being already very late, and not being dressed, she did not wait upon the Queen, but gave out that she was not to be seen, and ordered her jewels to be brought, in order to choose out some for the Mareschal de St. Andre's Ball, and present the Princess of Cleves with some, as she had promised her. While they were thus employed, the Prince of Conde entered; his great quality gave him free access everywhere. "Doubtless," said the Queen-Dauphin, "you come from the King my husband, what are they doing there?"
"Madam," said he, "they are maintaining a dispute against the Duke of Nemours, and he defends the argument he undertook with so much warmth, that he must needs be very much interested in it; I believe he has some mistress that gives him uneasiness by going to balls, so well satisfied he is that it is a vexatious thing to a lover to see the person he loves in those places."
"How," replied the Queen-Dauphin, "would not the Duke de Nemours have his mistress go to a ball? I thought that husbands might wish their wives would not go there; but as for lovers, I never imagined they were of that opinion." "The Duke de Nemours finds," answered the Prince of Conde, "that nothing is so insupportable to lovers as balls, whether they are beloved again, or whether they are not. He says, if they are beloved they have the chagrin to be loved the less on this account for several days; that there is no woman, whom her anxiety for dress does not divert from thinking on her lover; that they are entirely taken up with that one circumstance, that this care to adorn themselves is for the whole world, as well as for the man they favour; that when they are at a ball, they are desirous to please all who look at them; and that when they triumph in their beauty, they experience a joy to which their lovers very little contribute. He argues further, that if one is not beloved, it is a yet greater torment to see one's mistress at an assembly; that the more she is admired by the public, the more unhappy one is not to be beloved, and that the lover is in continual fear lest her beauty should raise a more successful passion than his own; lastly he finds, there is no torment equal to that of seeing one's mistress at a ball, unless it be to know that she is there, and not to be there one's self."
Madam de Cleves pretended not to hear what the Prince of Conde said, though she listened very attentively; she easily saw what part she had in the Duke of Nemours's opinion, and particularly as to what he said of the uneasiness of not being at a ball where his mistress was, because he was not to be at that of the Mareschal de St. Andre, the King having sent him to meet the Duke of Ferrara.
The Queen-Dauphin, and the Prince of Conde, not going into the Duke's opinion, were very merry upon the subject. "There is but one occasion, Madam," said the Prince to her, "in which the Duke will consent his mistress should go to a ball, and that is when he himself gives it. He says, that when he gave your Majesty one last year, his mistress was so kind as to come to it, though seemingly only to attend you; that it is always a favour done to a lover, to partake of an entertainment which he gives; that it is an agreeable circumstance for him to have his mistress see him preside in a place where the whole Court is, and see him acquit himself well in doing the honours of it." "The Duke de Nemours was in the right," said the Queen-Dauphin, smiling, "to approve of his mistress's being at his own ball; there was then so great a number of ladies, whom he honoured with the distinction of that name, that if they had not come, the assembly would have been very thin."
The Prince of Conde had no sooner begun to relate the Duke de Nemours's sentiments concerning assemblies, but Madam de Cleves felt in herself a strong aversion to go to that of the Mareschal de St. Andre. She easily came into the opinion, that a woman ought not to be at an entertainment given by one that professed love to her, and she was very glad to find out a reason of reservedness for doing a thing which would oblige the Duke of Nemours. However, she carried away with her the ornaments which the Queen-Dauphin had given her; but when she showed them her mother, she told her that she did not design to make use of them; that the Mareschal de St. Andre took a great deal of pains to show his attachment to her, and she did not doubt he would be glad to have it believed that a compliment was designed her in the entertainment he gave the King, and that under the pretence of doing the honours of his house, he would show her civilities which would be uneasy to her.
Madam de Chartres for some time opposed her daughter's opinion, as thinking it very singular; but when she saw she was obstinate in it, she gave way, and told her, that in that case she ought to pretend an indisposition as an excuse for not going to the ball, because the real reasons which hindered her would not be approved of; and care ought to be taken that they should not be suspected.
Madam de Cleves voluntarily consented to pass some days at her mother's, in order not to go to any place where the Duke of Nemours was not to be. However the Duke set out, without the pleasure of knowing she would not be at the ball.
The day after the ball he returned, and was informed that she was not there; but as he did not know the conversation he had at the Dauphin's Court had been repeated to her, he was far from thinking himself happy enough to have been the reason of her not going.
The day after, while he was at the Queen's apartments, and talking to the Queen-Dauphin, Madam de Chartres and Madam de Cleves came in. Madam de Cleves was dressed a little negligently, as a person who had been indisposed, but her countenance did not at all correspond with her dress. "You look so pretty," says the Queen-Dauphin to her, "that I can't believe you have been ill; I think the Prince of Conde, when he told us the Duke de Nemours's opinion of the ball, persuaded you, that to go there would be doing a favour to the Mareschal de St. Andre, and that that's the reason which hindered you from going." Madam de Cleves blushed, both because the Queen-Dauphin had conjectured right, and because she spoke her conjecture in the presence of the Duke de Nemours.
Madam de Chartres immediately perceived the true reason, why her daughter refused to go to the ball; and to prevent the Duke de Nemours discovering it, as well as herself, she took up the discourse after a manner that gave what she said an air of truth.
"I assure you, Madam," said she to the Queen-Dauphin, "that your Majesty has done my daughter more honour than she deserves; she was really indisposed, but I believe, if I had not hindered her, she would not have failed to wait on you, and to show herself under any disadvantages, for the pleasure of seeing what there was extraordinary at yesterday's entertainment." The Queen-Dauphin gave credit to what Madam de Chartres said but the Duke de Nemours was sorry to find so much probability in it nevertheless, the blushes of the Princess of Cleves made him suspect, that what the Queen-Dauphin had said was not altogether false. The Princess of Cleves at first was concerned the Duke had any room to believe it was he who had hindered her from going to the Mareschal de St. Andre; but afterwards she was a little chagrined that her mother had entirely taken off the suspicion of it.
Though the Congress of Cercamp had been broken off, the negotiations for the peace were continued, and things were so disposed, that towards the latter end of February the conferences were reassumed at Chateau-Cambresis; the same plenipotentiaries were sent as before, and the Mareschal de St. Andre being one, his absence freed the Duke de Nemours from a rival, who was formidable rather from his curiosity in observing those who addressed to Madam de Cleves, than from any advances he was capable of making himself in her favour.
Madam de Chartres was not willing to let her daughter see that she knew her sentiments for the Duke, for fear of making herself suspected in some things which she was very desirous to tell her.
One day she set herself to talk about him, and a great deal of good she said of him, but mixed with it abundance of sham praises, as the prudence he showed in never falling in love, and how wise he was to make the affair of women and love an amusement instead of a serious business: "It is not," added she, "that he is not suspected to have a very uncommon passion for the Queen-Dauphin; I observe he visits her very often; and I advise you to avoid, as much as possible, speaking to him, and especially in private; because, since the Queen-Dauphin treats you as she does, it would be said, that you are their confidant; and you know how disagreeable that sort of reputation is: I'm of opinion, if this report continues, that you should not visit the Queen-Dauphin so often, in order to avoid involving yourself in adventures of gallantry."
The Princess of Cleves had never heard before of the amour between the Duke de Nemours and the Queen-Dauphin; she was so much surprised at what her mother had told her, and seemed to see so plainly how she had been mistaken in her thoughts about the Duke, that she changed countenance. Madam de Chartres perceived it. Visitors came in that moment; and the Princess of Cleves retired to her own apartment, and shut herself up in her closet.
One can't express the grief she felt to discover, by what her mother had been just saying, the interest her heart had in the Duke de Nemours; she had not dared as yet to acknowledge it to her secret thoughts; she then found, that the sentiments she had for him were such as the Prince of Cleves had required of her; she perceived how shameful it was to entertain them for another, and not for a husband that deserved them; she found herself under the utmost embarrassment, and was dreadfully afraid lest the Duke should make use of her only as a means to come at the Queen-Dauphin, and it was this thought determined her to impart to her mother something she had not yet told her.
The next morning she went into her mother's chamber to put her resolves in execution, but she found Madam de Chartres had some touches of a fever, and therefore did not think proper to speak to her: this indisposition however appeared to insignificant, that Madam de Cleves made no scruple after dinner to visit the Queen-Dauphin; she was in her closet with two or three ladies of her most familiar acquaintance. "We were speaking," said she to her, as soon as she saw her, "of the Duke de Nemours, and were admiring how much he's changed since his return from Brussels; before he went there, he had an infinite number of mistresses, and it was his own fault, for he showed an equal regard to those who had merit, and to those who had none; since his return he neither knows the one nor the other; there never was so great a change; I find his humour is changed too, and that he is less gay than he used to be."
The Princess of Cleves made no answer; and it shocked her to think she should have taken all that they said of the change in the Duke for proofs of his passion for her, had she not been undeceived; she felt in herself some little resentment against the Queen-Dauphin, for endeavouring to find out reasons, and seeming surprised at a thing, which she probably knew more of than anyone else; she could not forbear showing something of it; and when the other ladies withdrew, she came up and told her in a low voice, "And is it I, Madam, you have been pointing at, and have you a mind to conceal, that you are she who has made such an alteration in the conduct of the Duke of Nemours?" "You do me injustice," answered the Queen-Dauphin, "you know I conceal nothing from you; it is true the Duke of Nemours, before he went to Brussels, had, I believe, an intention to let me know he did not hate me; but since his return, it has not so much as appeared that he remembers anything of what he has done; and I acknowledge I have a curiosity to know what it is has changed him so: it would not be very difficult for me to unravel this affair," added she; "the Viscount de Chartres, his intimate friend, is in love with a lady with whom I have some power, and I'll know by that means the occasion of this alteration." The Queen-Dauphin spoke with an air of sincerity which convinced the Princess of Cleves, and in spite of herself she found her mind in a more calm and pleasing situation than it had been in before.
When she returned to her mother, she heard she was a great deal worse than she had left her; her fever was redoubled, and the days following it increased to so great a degree, that she was thought to be in danger. Madam de Cleves was in extreme grief on this occasion, and never stirred out of her mother's chamber. The Prince of Cleves was there too almost every day and all day long, partly out of affection to Madam de Chartres, and partly to hinder his lady from abandoning herself to sorrow, but chiefly that he might have the pleasure of seeing her, his passion not being at all diminished.
The Duke de Nemours, who had always had a great friendship for the Prince of Cleves, had not failed to show it since his return from Brussels; during the illness of Madam de Chartres he frequently found means to see the Princess of Cleves, pretending to want her husband, or to come to take him out to walk; he enquired for him at such hours as he knew very well he was not at home, and under pretence of waiting for him stayed in Madam de Cleves's anti-chamber, where there were always a great many people of quality; Madam de Cleves often came there, and her grief did not make her seem less handsome in the eyes of the Duke de Nemours; he made her sensible what interest he had in her affliction, and spoke to her with so submissive an air, that he easily convinced her, that the Queen-Dauphin was not the person he was in love with.
The seeing him at once gave her grief and pleasure; but when she no longer saw him, and reflected that the charm he carried about him when present, was an introduction to love, she was very near imagining she hated him, out of the excessive grief which that thought gave her.
Madam de Chartres still grew worse and worse, so that they began to despair of her life; she heard what the physicians told her concerning the danger she was in with a courage worthy her virtue, and her piety. After they were gone, she caused everybody to retire, and sent for Madam de Cleves.
"We must part, my dear daughter," said she, stretching out her hand to her; "the danger I leave you in, and the occasion you have for me, adds to the regret I have to leave you: you have a passion for the Duke de Nemours; I do not desire you to confess it; I am no longer in a condition to make use of that sincerity for your good; I have perceived this inclination a great while, but was not willing to speak to you of it at first, for fear of making you discover it yourself; you know it at present but too well; you are upon the brink of a precipice; great efforts must be used, and you must do great violence to your heart to save yourself: reflect what you owe to your husband; reflect what you owe to yourself, and think that you are going to lose that reputation which you have gained, and which I have so much at heart; call up, my dear daughter, all your courage and constancy; retire from Court; oblige your husband to carry you away; do not be afraid of taking such resolutions, as being too harsh and difficult; however frightful they may appear at first, they will become more pleasant in time, than the misfortunes that follow gallantry: if any other motives than those of duty and virtue could have weight with you, I should tell you that if anything were capable of disturbing the happiness I hope for in the next world, it would be to see you fall like other women; but if this calamity must necessarily happen, I shall meet death with joy, as it will hinder me from being a witness of it."
Madam de Cleves bathed with tears her mother's hand, which she held fast locked in her own; nor was Madam de Chartres less moved. "Adieu, dear daughter," said she, "let us put an end to a conversation which melts us both; and remember, if you are able, all that I have been saying to you."
When she had spoke this, she turned herself on the other side, and ordered her daughter to call her women, being unwilling either to hear her reply, or to speak any more. Madam de Cleves went out of her presence in a condition one need not describe; and Madam de Chartres thought of nothing but preparing herself for death: she lived two days longer, during which she would not see her daughter again; her daughter was the only thing she had reluctance to part with.
Madam de Cleves was in the utmost affliction; her husband did not leave her, and no sooner was her mother expired, but he carried her into the country, that she might not have in her eye a place which could serve only to sharpen her sorrow, which was scarce to be equalled. Though tenderness and gratitude had the greatest share in her griefs, yet the need which she found she had of her mother to guard her against the Duke of Nemours added no small weight to them; she found she was unhappy in being left to herself, at a time when she was so little mistress of her own affections, and when she so much wished for somebody to pity and encourage her. The Prince of Cleves's behaviour to her on this occasion, made her wish more ardently than ever, never to fail in her duty to him; she also expressed more friendship and affection for him than she had done before; she would not suffer him to leave her, and she seemed to think that his being constantly with her could defend her against the Duke of Nemours.
The Duke came to see the Prince of Cleves in the country; he did what he could to pay a visit also to Madam de Cleves, but she refused to receive him; and being persuaded she could not help finding something dangerously lovely in him, she made a strong resolution to forbear seeing him, and to avoid all occasions of it that were in her power.
The Prince of Cleves went to Paris to make his Court, and promised his lady to return the next day, but however he did not return till the day after. "I expected you yesterday," said Madam de Cleves to him on his arrival, "and I ought to chide you for not having come as you promised; you know, if I was capable of feeling a new affliction in the condition I am in, it would be the death of Madam de Tournon, and I have heard of it this morning; I should have been concerned, though I had not known her; it is a melting consideration to think that a lady so young and handsome as she, should be dead in two days; but besides, she was the person in the world that pleased me most, and who appeared to have discretion equal to her beauty."
"I am sorry I could not return yesterday," replied the Prince of Cleves, "but my presence was so necessary to the consolation of an unhappy man, that it was impossible for me to leave him. As for Madam de Tournon, I do not advise you not to be concerned for her, if you lament her as a woman full of discretion, and worthy of your esteem." "You surprise me," answered Madam de Cleves, "I have heard you say several times, that there was not a lady at Court you had a greater respect for." "It is true," replied he, "but women are incomprehensible, and when I have seen them all, I think myself so happy in having you, that I cannot enough admire my good fortune." "You esteem me more than I deserve," answered Madam de Cleves, "you have not had experience enough yet to pronounce me worthy of you; but tell me, I beseech you, what it is has undeceived you with respect to Madam de Tournon." "I have been undeceived a great while," replied he, "and I know that she was in love with the Count de Sancerre, and that she gave him room to hope she would marry him." "I can't believe," said Madam de Cleves, "that Madam de Tournon, after so extraordinary an aversion as she has shown to marriage from the time she became a widow, and after the public declarations she has made that she would never marry again, should give hopes to Sancerre." "If she had given hopes to him only," replied the Prince of Cleves, "the wonder had not been so great; but what is surprising is, that she gave hopes likewise to Etouteville at the same time: I'll let you know the whole history of this matter."
"You know the friendship, there is betwixt Sancerre and me. Nevertheless about two years ago he fell in love with Madam de Tournon, and concealed it from me with as much care as from the rest of the world; I had not the least suspicion of it. Madam de Tournon as yet appeared inconsolable for the death of her husband, and lived in retirement with great austerity. Sancerre's sister was in a manner the only person she saw, and it was at her lodgings he became in love with her.
"One evening there was to be play at the Louvre, and the actors only waited for the coming of the King and Madam de Valentinois, when word was brought that she was indisposed, and that the King would not come. It was easy to see that the Duchess's indisposition was nothing but some quarrel with the King; everyone knew the jealousy he had had of the Mareschal de Brisac during his continuance at Court, but he had been set out some days on his return to Piemont, and one could not imagine what was the occasion of this falling out.
"While I was speaking of this to Sancerre, Monsieur d'Anville came into the room, and told me in a whisper, that the King was so exasperated and so afflicted at the same time, that one would pity him; that upon a late reconciliation between him and the Duchess, after the quarrel they had had about the Mareschal de Brisac, he had given her a ring, and desired her to wear it; and that as she was dressing herself to come to the play, he had missed it on her finger, and asked what was become of it; upon which she seemed in surprise that she had it not, and called to her women for it, who unfortunately, or for want of being better instructed, made answer they had not seen it four or five days.
"It was," continued Monsieur d'Anville, "precisely so long, since the Mareschal de Brisac left the Court, and the King made no doubt but she gave him the ring when she took her leave of him. The thought of this awaked in so lively a manner that jealousy which was not yet extinguished, that he fell into uncommon transports, and loaded her with a thousand reproaches; he is just gone into her apartment again in great concern, but whether the reason is a more confirmed opinion that the Duchess had made a sacrifice of the ring, or for fear of having disobliged her by his anger, I can't tell.
"As soon as Monsieur d'Anville had told me this news, I acquainted Sancerre with it; I told it him as a secret newly entrusted with me, and charged him to say nothing of it.
"The next day I went early in the morning to my sister-in-law's, and found Madam de Tournon at her bedside, who had no great kindness for the Duchess of Valentinois, and knew very well that my sister-in-law had no reason to be satisfied with her. Sancerre had been with her, after he went from the play, and had acquainted her with the quarrel between the King and the Duchess; and Madam de Tournon was come to tell it to my sister-in-law, without knowing or suspecting that it was I from whom her lover had it.
"As soon as I advanced toward my sister-in-law, she told Madam de Tournon, that they might trust me with what she had been telling her; and without waiting Madam de Tournon's leave she related to me word by word all I had told Sancerre the night before. You may judge what surprise I was in; I looked hard at Madam de Tournon, and she seemed disordered; her disorder gave me a suspicion. I had told the thing to nobody but Sancerre; he left me when the comedy was done, without giving any reason for it; I remembered to have heard him speak much in praise of Madam de Tournon; all these things opened my eyes, and I easily discerned there was an intrigue between them, and that he had seen her since he left me.