The Life of Marie de Medicis, Vol. 1 (of 3)
by Julia Pardoe
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All the existing records of European royalty do not, probably, comprise the annals of a life of greater vicissitude than that which has been chosen as the subject of the present work. We find numerous examples in history of Queens who have suffered exile, imprisonment, and death; but we believe that the unfortunate Marie de Medicis is the only authenticated instance of a total abandonment on the part alike of her family and friends, which terminated almost in starvation. Certain it is that after having occupied the throne of France, presided over its Councils, and given birth to the ancestor of a long line of Princes, she was ultimately indebted to the sympathy and attachment of a foreign artist, of whom she had once been the zealous patron, for a roof under which to terminate her miserable existence! The whole life of this ill-fated Queen is, indeed, full of startling contrasts from which the mind shrinks back appalled; and her entire career is so freighted with alternate grandeur and privation that it is difficult to reconcile the possibility of their having fallen to the share of the same individual; and this too in an age when France, above all other nations, boasted of its chivalry, and when some of the greatest names that have ever figured in its annals gave grace and glory to its history.

The times were, moreover, as remarkable as the men by whom they were illustrated; for despite the civil and foreign wars by which they were so unhappily distinguished, the arts flourished, and the spread of political liberty became apparent; although it is equally certain that they were at the same time fatal alike to the aristocracy and to the magistrature; and that they rapidly paved the way to the absolutism of Louis XIV, to the shameless saturnalia of the Regency, and to the dishonouring and degrading excesses of Louis XV, who may justly be said to have prepared by his licentiousness the scaffold of his successor.

During several centuries the French monarchs had indulged in a blind egotism, which rendered them unable to appreciate the effects of their own errors upon their subjects. L'ETAT C'EST MOI had unfortunately been practically their ruling principle long ere Louis XIV ventured to put it into words. To them the Court was the universe, the aristocracy the nation, and the Church the corner-stone of the proud altar upon which they had enthroned themselves, and beyond which they cared not either to look or listen. A fatal mistake fatally expiated! Yet, as we have already remarked, the system, dangerous and hollow as it was, endured for centuries—endured until crime was heaped on crime, and the fearful holocaust towered towards Heaven as if to appeal for vengeance. And that vengeance came! It had been long delayed; so long indeed that when the brilliant courtiers of Versailles were told of disaffection among the masses, and warned to conciliate ere it was too late the goodwill of their inferiors, they listened with contemptuous carelessness to the tardy caution, and scorned to place themselves in competition with those untitled classes whom they had long ceased to regard as their fellow-men. But the voice of the people is like the stroke of the hammer upon the anvil; it not only makes itself heard, but, however great may be the original resistance, finishes by fashioning the metal upon which it falls after its own will.

During the reign of Louis XIII this great and fatal truth had not yet been impressed upon the French nation, for the popular voice was stifled beneath the ukase of despotism; and even the tiers-etat—important as the loyalty of that portion of a kingdom must ever be to its rulers—were treated with disdain and contumely; but beneath all the workings of his government (or rather the government of his minister, for the son of Marie de Medicis was a monarch only in name), may be traced the undercurrent of popular indignation and discontent, which, gradually swelling and rising during the two succeeding reigns, finally overthrew with its giant waves the last frail barrier which still upreared itself before a time-honoured throne.

The incapacity of the King, the venality of the Princes, the arrogance of the hierarchy, the insubordination of the nobles, the licentiousness of the Court, the despotism of the Government; all the errors and all the vices of their rulers, were jealously noted and bitterly registered by an oppressed and indignant people; but it required time to shake off a yoke which had been so long borne that it had eaten into the flesh; nor, moreover, were the minds of the masses in that age sufficiently awakened to a sense of their own collective power to enable them, as they did in the following century, to measure their strength with those upon whom they had been so long accustomed to look with fear and awe.

There cannot, moreover, exist the slightest doubt that the wantonness with which Richelieu, in furtherance of his own private interests, poured out so freely on the scaffold some of the proudest blood of France, did much towards destroying that prestige which had hitherto environed the high nobility. When Biron perished upon the block, although his death was decreed by the sovereign, and that sovereign, moreover, was their own idolized Henri IV, the people marvelled and even murmured; but in after-years they learned through the teaching of the Cardinal that nobles were merely men; while the exile of the persecuted Marie de Medicis, and the privations to which she was exposed through his agency, taught them that even royalty itself was not invulnerable to the malice or vengeance of its opponents; and unhappily for those by whom Richelieu was succeeded in power, the lesson brought forth its fruits in due season.

Thus much premised, I shall confine myself to a brief explanation of the manner in which I have endeavoured to perform my self-imposed task. For one wilful, but as I trust excusable, inaccuracy, I throw myself on the indulgence of my critics. Finding my pages already overloaded with names, and that they must consequently induce a considerable strain upon the memory of such readers as might not chance to be intimately acquainted with the domestic history of the period under consideration, I have, from the commencement of the work, designated the Duc de Sully by the title which he ultimately attained, and by which he is universally known, rather than confuse the mind of my readers by allusions to M. de Bethune, M. de Rosny, and finally M. de Sully, when each and all merely signified the same individual; and I feel persuaded that this arrangement will be generally regarded as a judicious one, inasmuch as it tends to lessen a difficulty already sufficiently great; a fact which will be at once apparent on reference to the biographical table at the head of each volume.

On the other hand I have, contrary to my previous system, but in justice to myself, carefully, and even perhaps somewhat elaborately, multiplied the footnotes, in order to give with precision the several authorities whence I deduced my facts; and I must be excused should this caution appear uselessly tedious or pedantic to the general reader, as I am anxious on this occasion to escape the accusation which was once brought against me when it was equally undeserved, of having "quoted at secondhand," and even drawn my materials from "historical romances of the time." It is, of course, easy to make assertions of this nature at random; but when a writer feels that he or she has conscientiously performed a duty voluntarily undertaken, it is painful to be misjudged; especially when, as in the present instance, nearly three years have been devoted to the work.

For the facsimile letters by which my volumes are enriched I am indebted to the kindness of M. de la Plane, a member of the Institut Royal de France, of whose extensive and valuable cabinet of ancient records they now form a part; and by whom their publication was obligingly authorized. The authenticity of these letters admits of no doubt, as it is known that they originally formed a portion of the rich collection of autographs in the possession of the Marechal de Bassompierre, to whom they were severally addressed; and that at his death they were transferred to the library of the Fathers of the Oratory at St. Magloire in Paris; whence (it is believed at the Revolution) they fell into the hands of a member of that celebrated society, Le Pere de Mevolhon, formerly Canon and Vicar-General of the diocese of St. Omer, by whom they were presented to M. de la Plane.

At the time when he so kindly entrusted to me the letters above named, the same obliging friend also confided to my care, with full permission to make whatever use of it I should see fit, an unpublished MS. consisting of nearly twelve thousand pages closely written, and divided into twenty-four volumes small quarto, all undeniably the work of one hand. This elaborate MS. was entitled "Memoirs of M. le Commandeur de Rambure, Captain of the regiment of French Guards, Gentleman of the Bedchamber under the Kings Henri IV, Louis XIII, and Louis XIV surnamed the Great, with all the most memorable events which took place during the reigns of those three Majesties, from the year 1594 to that of 1660."

The author of this voluminous MS., who, at the age of eighty-one, inscribes his work to his uncle, Monseigneur de Rambure, Bishop of Vannes, and who professes to have ventured thus tardily upon his Herculean undertaking at the request, and for the instruction, of his nephew the Marquis de Rambure, lays strict injunctions upon his successors to keep the record of his life to themselves; alleging as his reason a dread of injuring by his revelations the interests of the young courtier, who had succeeded to his own post of Gentleman of the Bedchamber; "and that," as he proceeds to say, "to the greatest King in the world, by whom he has the honour to be loved and esteemed; therefore I pray you that this writing may never be printed, in order not to make him enemies, who are too ready to come without being sought by our imprudence; and because I have only composed these Memoirs for myself and my kindred." [1]

The author states that the work is not in his own handwriting, but in that of his secretary, to whom he dictated during eleven years four hours each day, two in the morning, and two in the afternoon—and that he commenced his formidable task in the year 1664, when he was living in retirement in his Commanderie of St. Eugene in Limousin; and, despite his advanced age, "in possession of all his faculties as perfectly as when he had only reached his twenty-fifth year."

It is but recently that the present proprietor of the Memoirs, rightly judging that the time has elapsed in which the disclosures of the chronicler in question could conduce to the injury of any one connected with him, has consented to permit of their perusal; and that only by a few literary friends, all of whom have been astonished by their extraordinary variety of information, marvellous detail, and intimate acquaintance, not only with the principal events of the seventeenth century (the writer having lived to the patriarchal age of ninety-six years), but also with the leading actors in each of them.

In conclusion, I may say that these volumes are, through the kindness of MM. d'Inguimbert and de la Plane, enriched by numerous curious extracts from these unpublished Memoirs, no part of which has previously appeared in print.

LONDON, May 1852.


[1] This curious manuscript is at present the property of the Comte d'Inguimbert d'Avignon; who, having lost his father at an early age, is not aware of the precise manner in which it fell into the possession of his family. Thus much, however, is certain, that it has for a considerable length of time been religiously preserved by his ancestors; and that the Countess his mother (sister of the last Comte de Bruges, aide-de-camp to Charles X), who died a few years ago at an advanced age, had never ventured, in obedience to the injunction above mentioned, to entrust it to any one.—J.P.






Marriages of Henri IV—Marguerite de Valois—Her character—Her marriage with the King of Navarre—Massacre of Saint Bartholomew—Henri, Duc d'Anjou, elected sovereign of Poland—Death of Charles IX—Accession of Henri III—Conspiracy of the Duc d'Alencon—Revealed by Marguerite—Henry of Navarre escapes from the French Court—Henry of Navarre protests against his enforced oath—Marguerite is imprisoned by her brother—The Duc d'Alencon returns to his allegiance—Marguerite joins her husband in Bearn—Domestic discord—Marriage-portion of Marguerite—Court of Navarre—Dupin insults the Queen of Navarre—Catherine de Medicis induces Marguerite to return to France—The Duc d'Alencon again revolts—Marguerite arrests a royal courier—She is banished with ignominy from the French Court—She is deprived of her attendants—Henry of Navarre refuses to receive her in the palace—Marguerite returns to Agen—Her licentiousness—Agen is stormed and taken by the Marechal de Matignon—Marguerite escapes to the fortress of Carlat—The inhabitants of the town resolve to deliver her up to the French King—She is made prisoner by the Marquis de Canillac, and conveyed to Usson—She seduces the governor of the fortress—Death of the Duc d'Alencon—Poverty of Marguerite—Accession of Henri IV—He embraces the Catholic faith—His dissipated habits—The Duc de Bouillon heads the Huguenot party—Henri IV proceeds to Brittany, and threatens M. de Bouillon—Festivities at Rennes—Henri IV becomes melancholy—He resolves to divorce Marguerite, and take a second wife—European princesses—Henry desires to marry la belle Gabrielle—Sully expostulates—Sully proposes a divorce to Marguerite—The Duchesse de Beaufort intrigues to prevent the marriage of the King with Marie de Medicis—She bribes Sillery—Diplomacy of Sillery—Gabrielle aspires to the throne of France—Her death—Marguerite consents to a divorce—The Pope declares the nullity of her marriage—Grief of the King at the death of Gabrielle—Royal pleasures—A new intrigue—Mademoiselle d'Entragues—Her tact—Her character—A love-messenger—Value of a royal favourite—Costly indulgences—A practical rebuke—Diplomacy of Mademoiselle d'Entragues—The written promise—Mademoiselle d'Entragues is created Marquise de Verneuil.



Sully resolves to hasten the King's marriage—Ambassadors are sent to Florence to demand the hand of Marie de Medicis—The marriage articles are signed—Indignation of Madame de Verneuil—Revenge of her brother, the Comte d'Auvergne—The Duke of Savoy visits Paris—His reception—His profusion—His mission fails—Court poets—Marie de Medicis is married to the French King by procuration at Florence—Hostile demonstrations of the Duke of Savoy—Infatuation of the King for the favourite—Her pretensions—A well-timed tempest—Diplomacy of Madame de Verneuil—Her reception at Lyons—War in Savoy—Marie de Medicis lands at Marseilles—Madame de Verneuil returns to Paris—The Duc de Bellegarde is proxy for the King at Florence—He escorts the new Queen to France—Portrait of Marie de Medicis—Her state-galley—Her voyage—Her reception—Henry reaches Lyons—The royal interview—Public rejoicings—The royal marriage—Henry returns to Paris—The Queen's jealousy is awakened—Profligate habits of the King—Marie's Italian attendants embitter her mind against her husband—Marie reaches Paris—She holds a court—Presentation of Madame de Verneuil to the Queen—Indignation of Marie—Disgrace of the Duchesse de Nemours—Self-possession of Madame de Verneuil—Marie takes possession of the Louvre—She adopts the French costume—Splendour of the Court—Festival given by Sully—A practical joke—Court festivities—Excessive gambling—Royal play debts—The Queen's favourite—A petticoat intrigue—Leonora Galigai appointed Mistress of the Robes—Reconciliation between the Queen and Madame de Verneuil—The King gives the Marquise a suite of apartments in the Louvre—Her rivalry of the Queen—Indignation of Marie—Domestic dissensions—The Queen and the favourite are again at war—Madame de Verneuil effects the marriage of Concini and Leonora—Gratitude of the Queen—Birth of the Dauphin—Joy of the King—Public rejoicings—Birth of Anne of Austria—Superstitions of the period—Belief in astrology—A royal anecdote—Horoscope of the Dauphin—The sovereign and the surgeon—Birth of Gaston Henri, son of Madame de Verneuil—Public entry of the Dauphin into Paris—Exultation of Marie de Medicis.



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



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 Bueil—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 Bueil—Henry embellishes the city of Paris and undertakes other great national works.



Trial of the conspirators—Pusillanimity of the Comte d'Auvergne—Arrogant attitude assumed by Madame de Verneuil—She refuses to offer any defence—Defence of the Comte d'Entragues—The two nobles are condemned to death—Madame de Verneuil is sentenced to imprisonment for life in a convent—A mother's intercession—The King commutes the sentence of death passed on the two nobles to exile from the Court and imprisonment for life—Expostulations of the Privy Council—Madame de Verneuil is permitted to retire to her estate—Disappointment of the Queen—Marriage of the Duc de Rohan—Singular ceremony—A tilt at the Louvre—Bassompierre is dangerously wounded—His convalescence—Death of Clement VIII—Election of Leo XI—His sudden death—Election of Paul V—The Comte d'Entragues is authorized to return to Marcoussis—Madame de Verneuil is pardoned and recalled—Marriage of the Prince de Conti—Mademoiselle de Guise—Marriage of the Prince of Orange—The ex-Queen Marguerite—She arrives in Paris—Gratitude of the King—Her reception—Murder at the Hotel de Sens—Execution of the criminal—Marguerite removes to the Faubourg St. Germain—The King condoles with her on the loss of her favourite—Her dissolute career—Her able policy—Death of M. de la Riviere—Execution of M. de Merargues—Attempt to assassinate Henri IV—Magnanimity of the monarch—Henry seeks to initiate the Queen into the mysteries of government—Madame la Regente—A timely warning.



New Year's Day at Court—The royal tokens—A singular audience—A proposition—Birth of the Princesse Christine—Public festivities—A ballet on horseback—The King resolves to humble the Duc de Bouillon—Arguments of the Queen—Policy of Henry—The Court proceeds to Torcy—Surrender of Bouillon—The sovereigns enter Sedan—Rejoicings of the citizens—State entry into Paris—The High Court of Justice assigns to the ex-Queen Marguerite the county of Auvergne—The "Te Deum"—Marguerite makes a donation of her recovered estates to the Dauphin—Inconsistencies of Marguerite—The Queen's jealousy of Madame de Moret—Increasing coldness of the King towards that lady—The frail rivals—Princely beacons—Indignation of the Queen—Narrow escape of the King and Queen—Gratitude of the Queen to her preserver—Insolent pleasantry of the Marquise de Verneuil—A disappointment compensated—-Marriage of the Duc de Bar—The King invites the Duchess of Mantua to become sponsor to the Dauphin, and the Duc de Lorraine to the younger Princess—The Mantuan suite—Preparations at Notre-Dame—The plague in Paris—The Court removes to Fontainebleau—The royal christenings—Increase of the plague—Royal disappointments—The Duchesse de Nevers—Discourtesy of the King—Dignity of the Duchess.



Profuse expenditure of the French nobles—Prevalence of duelling under Henri IV—Meeting of the Prince de Conde and the Duc de Nevers—They are arrested by the King's guard—Reconciliation of the two nobles—The Duc de Soubise is wounded in a duel—Profligacy of Madame de Moret—The King insists upon her marriage with the Prince de Joinville—Indignation of the Duchesse de Guise—A dialogue with Majesty—The Prince de Joinville is exiled—Madame de Moret intrigues with the Comte de Sommerive—He promises her marriage—He attempts to assassinate M. de Balagny—He is exiled to Lorraine—Mademoiselle des Essarts—Birth of the Duc d'Orleans—Peace between the Pope and the Venetians—The Queen and her confidants—Death of the Chancellor of France—Death of the Cardinal de Lorraine—Royal rejoicings—The last ballet of a dying Prince—Betrothal of Mademoiselle de Montpensier to the infant Duc d'Orleans—Sully as a theatrical manager—The Court gamester—Death of the Duc de Montpensier—The ex-Queen Marguerite founds a monastery—Influence of Concini and Leonora over the Queen—Arrogance of Concini—Indignation of the King—A royal rupture—The King leaves Paris for Chantilly—Sully and the Queen—The letter—Anger of the King—Sully reconciles the King and Queen—Madame de Verneuil and the Duc de Guise—Court gambling—Birth of the Duc d'Anjou—Betrothal of the Duc de Vendome and Mademoiselle de Mercoeur—Reluctance of the lady's family—Celebration of the marriage—Munificence of Henry—Arrival of Don Pedro de Toledo—His arrogance—Admirable rejoinder of the King—Object of the embassy—Passion of Henry for hunting—Embellishment of Paris—Eduardo Fernandez—The King's debts of honour—Despair of Madame de Verneuil—Defective policy—A bold stroke for a coronet—The fallen favourite.



Death of the Grand Duke of Tuscany—The Queen's ballet—Mademoiselle de Montmorency—Description of her person—She is betrothed to Bassompierre—Indignation of the Due de Bouillon—Contrast between the rivals—The Duc de Bellegarde excites the curiosity of the King—The nymph of Diana—The rehearsal—Passion of the King for Mademoiselle de Montmorency—The royal gout—Interposition of the Duc de Roquelaure—Firmness of the Connetable—The ducal gout—Postponement of the marriage—Diplomacy of Henry—The sick-room—An obedient daughter—Henry resolves to prevent the marriage—The King and the courtier—Lip-deep loyalty—Henry offers the hand of Mademoiselle de Montmorency to the Prince de Conde—The regal pledge—The Prince de Conde consents to espouse Mademoiselle de Montmorency—Invites Bassompierre to his betrothal—Royal tyranny—A cruel pleasantry—The betrothal—Court festivities—Happiness of the Queen—Royal presents to the bride—The ex-Queen's ball—Jealousy of the Prince de Conde—Indignation of the Queen—Henry revenges himself upon M. de Conde—Madame de Conde retires from the Court—The King insists on her return—The Prince de Conde feigns compliance—The Prince and Princess escape to the Low Countries—The news of their flight reaches Fontainebleau—Birth of a Princess—Unpleasant surprise—Henry betrays his annoyance to the Queen—He assembles his ministers—He resolves to compel the return of the Princess to France—Conflicting counsels—M. de Praslin is despatched to Brussels—Embarrassment of the Archduke Albert—He refuses an asylum to M. de Conde, who proceeds to Milan—The Princess remains at Brussels—She is honourably entertained—Interference of the Queen—Philip of Spain promises his protection to the Prince de Conde—He is invited to return to Brussels—The Marquis de Coeuvres endeavours to effect the return of the Prince to France—His negotiation fails—Madame de Conde is placed under surveillance—Her weariness of the Court of Brussels—The Duc de Montmorency desires her return to Paris—M. de Coeuvres is authorized to effect her escape from Brussels—The plot prospers—Indiscretion of the King—The Queen informs the Spanish minister of the conspiracy—Madame de Conde is removed to the Archducal palace—Mortification of the King—The French envoys expostulate with the Archduke, who remains firm—Henry resolves to declare war against Spain and Flanders—Fresh negotiations—The King determines to head the army in person—Marie de Medicis becomes Regent of France—She is counselled by Concini to urge her coronation—Reluctance of the King to accede to her request—He finally consents—"The best husband in the world"—Fatal prognostics—Signs in the heavens—The Cure of Montargis—The Papal warning—The Cardinal Barberino—The Sultan's message—Suspicious circumstances—Supineness of the Austrian Cabinet—Prophecy of Anne de Comans—Her miserable fate—The astrologer Thomassin—The Bearnais noble—The Queen's dream—Royal presentiments—The hawthorn of the Louvre—Distress of Bassompierre—Expostulation of the King—Melancholy forebodings.


A brief memoir, with a portrait on steel, of Miss Pardoe will be found prefixed to "The Court and Reign of Francis the First."




Duc de Guise (Henri de Lorraine, Le Balafre). Duchesse de Guise. Prince de Conde (Henri I. de Bourbon). Ambroise Pare. Mlle. de Torigni. Duchesse de Bar. Duc de Joyeuse. Le Pere Ange. Marechal de Matignon. Marquis de Canillac. Comtesse de Guiche. Gabrielle d'Estrees (Duchesse de Beaufort). Duc de Bouillon. Comte d'Aubigny. Isabella, Infanta of Spain. Princess Arabella Stuart. Isabeau de Baviere. Prince Maurice of Orange. Marie de Medicis. Mlle. de Guise. Mlle. de Mayenne. Mlle. d'Aumale. Mlle. de Longueville. Mlle. de Rohan. Mlle. de Luxembourg. Mlle. de Guemenee. Cardinal de Marquemont. Cardinal d'Ossat. Cardinal Duperron. Duc de Piney-Luxembourg. M. de Sillery. Duc de Bellegarde. Duc de Lude. M. de Thermes. Marquis de Castelnau. Marquis de Montglat. M. de Frontenac. Baron de Bassompierre. Marquise de Verneuil. Queen Louise. Comte d'Auvergne. M. de Villeroy. Duke of Savoy. Duc de Biron. Sebastian Zamet. M. du Terrail. Marquis de Crequy. Duc de Montmorency (Henri I.). Duc de Nemours. Duc de Ventadour. M. du Vair. Le Pere Suares. M. Albert de Bellievre. M. de Roquelaure. Cardinal de Joyeuse. Cardinal de Gondy. Cardinal de Sourdis. Marquis de Gondy. Duchesse de Nemours. Leonora Galigai (Marquise d'Ancre). Madame de Richelieu. Concini (Marechal d'Ancre). Charles I., Cardinal de Bourbon. Charles II, Cardinal de Bourbon. M. de la Riviere. Duc de Verneuil. Duc de Vendome. M. de Berthault. Prince de Joinville. Mademoiselle de Sourdis. Caterina Selvaggio. Duc de la Tremouille. Duc d'Epernon. Conde de Fuentes. Baron de Luz. M. de la Fin. M. Descures. M. Jeannin. Comte de Soissons (Charles de Bourbon-Conti). Marquis de Vitry. Marquis de Praslin. Marechal de Montigny. M. de Montbarot. Baron de Fontenelles. Duc de Mayenne. Duc de Guise (Charles de Lorraine). Madame Elisabeth de France. Mademoiselle de Bourbon. M. de Sobole. M. d'Arquien. Duc de Deux-Ponts. Comte de Beaumont. M. de Bellefonds. Comte de St. Pol. Bishop of Nevers. M. de Barrault. Comte de Rochepot. Comte de Brienne. M. d'Argouges. M. de Maisse. M. de Gevres. Mademoiselle de Bueil. M. de la Houssaye. M. Murat. M. de Nerestan. Comtesse d'Auvergne. M. Defunctis. Marquis de Spinola. Comtesse d'Entragues. M. de Chevillard. M. de la Varenne. M. du Plessis-Mornay. M. Achille de Harlay. M. Servin. Mademoiselle d'Entragues. Duc de Rohan. Comte de Laval. Baron de Thermes. M. de Saint-Luc. Comte de Sault. Clement VIII. Paul V. Comte de Giury. Princess of Orange. Bishop of Bourges. M. de Merargues. Madame de Drou. Mademoiselle de Piolant. Madame Christine de France. Comte de Sommerive. Duc de Nevers. Duc de Montpensier. Baron de la Chataigneraie. Duchess of Mantua. Leo XI. Baron de la Chatre. Comte de Liancourt. Marechal de Fervaques. Marquis de Bois-Dauphin. Marquis de Lavardin. Duc de Montbazon. Duchesse d'Angouleme. Prince de Vaudemont. Marquis de Rosny. Duchesse de Montpensier. Duchesse de Nevers. Duc de Soubise. Comte de Moret. M. de Balagny. Mademoiselle des Essarts. Comte de Beaumont-Harlay. Cardinal de Guise. Cardinal de Lorraine. Mademoiselle de Montpensier. Gaston Jean Baptiste de France. Mademoiselle de Mercoeur. Don Pedro de Toledo. Mademoiselle de Montmorency. Seigneur de Montespan. Comte d'Elbene. Marquis de Coeuvres. Marquis de Gevres. Duc de la Force. Archduke of Austria. M. de Chateauneuf. Madame Henriette de France. M. de Preau.




2. HENRI DE LORRAINE, DUC DE GUISE. Engraved by Hopwood.

3. THE EVE OF SAINT BARTHOLOMEW. Engraved by Follet from a Painting by Raffet.


5. MARECHAL DE BIRON. Engraved by Colin from the Original by Gallait.

6. DUC DE SULLY. Engraved by Hopwood.









Marriages of Henri IV—Marguerite de Valois—Her character—Her marriage with the King of Navarre—Massacre of Saint Bartholomew—Henri, Duc d'Anjou, elected sovereign of Poland—Death of Charles IX—Accession of Henri III—Conspiracy of the Duc d'Alencon—Revealed by Marguerite—Henry of Navarre escapes from the French Court—Henry of Navarre protests against his enforced oath—Marguerite is imprisoned by her brother—The Duc d'Alencon returns to his allegiance—Marguerite joins her husband at Bearn—Domestic discord—Marriage-portion of Marguerite—Court of Navarre—Dupin insults the Queen of Navarre—Catherine de Medicis induces Marguerite to return to France—The Duc d'Alencon again revolts—Marguerite arrests a royal courier—She is banished with ignominy from the French Court—She is deprived of her attendants—Henry of Navarre refuses to receive her in the palace—Marguerite returns to Agen—Her licentiousness—Agen is stormed and taken by the Marshal de Matignon—Marguerite escapes to the fortress of Carlat—The inhabitants of the town resolve to deliver her up to the French King—She is made prisoner by the Marquis de Canillac, and conveyed to Usson—She seduces the governor of the fortress—Death of the Duc d'Alencon—Poverty of Marguerite—Accession of Henri IV—He embraces the Catholic faith—His dissipated habits—The Duc de Bouillon heads the Huguenot party—Henri IV proceeds to Brittany, and threatens M. de Bouillon—Festivities at Rennes—Henri IV becomes melancholy—He resolves to divorce Marguerite, and take a second wife—European princesses—Henry desires to marry la belle Gabrielle—Sully expostulates—Sully proposes a divorce to Marguerite—The Duchesse de Beaufort intrigues to prevent the marriage of the King with Marie de Medicis—She bribes Sillery—Diplomacy of Sillery—Gabrielle aspires to the throne of France—Her death—Marguerite consents to a divorce—The Pope declares the nullity of her marriage—Grief of the King at the death of Gabrielle—Royal pleasures—A new intrigue—Mademoiselle d'Entragues—Her tact—Her character—A love-messenger—Value of a royal favourite—Costly indulgences—A practical rebuke—Diplomacy of Mademoiselle d'Entragues—The written promise—Mademoiselle d'Entragues is created Marquise de Verneuil.

However celebrated he was destined to become as a sovereign, Henri IV of France was nevertheless fated to be singularly unfortunate as a husband. Immediately after the death of his mother, the high-hearted Jeanne d'Albret, whom he succeeded on the throne of Navarre, political considerations induced him to give his hand to Marguerite, the daughter of Henri II and Catherine de Medicis, a Princess whose surpassing beauty and rare accomplishments were the theme and marvel of all the European courts, and whose alliance was an object of ambition to many of the sovereign princes of Christendom.

Marguerite de Valois was born on the 14th of May 1552, and became the wife of Henry of Navarre on the 18th of August 1572, when she was in the full bloom of youth and loveliness; nor can there be any doubt that she was one of the most extraordinary women of her time; for while her grace and wit dazzled the less observant by their brilliancy, the depth of her erudition, her love of literature and the arts, and the solidity of her judgment, no less astonished those who were capable of appreciating the more valuable gifts which had been lavished upon her by nature. A dark shadow rested, however, upon the surface of this glorious picture. Marguerite possessed no moral self-government; her passions were at once the bane and the reproach of her existence; and while yet a mere girl her levity had already afforded ample subject for the comments of the courtiers.

Fortunately, in the rapid sketch which we are compelled to give of her career, it is unnecessary that we should do more than glance at the licentiousness of her private conduct; our business is simply to trace such an outline of her varying fortunes as may suffice to render intelligible the position of Henri IV at the period of his second marriage.

After the death of Francis II, when internal commotion had succeeded to the feigned and hollow reconciliation which had taken place between Charles IX and Henri de Lorraine, Duc de Guise,[2] Marguerite and her younger brother, the Duc d'Alencon, were removed to the castle of Amboise for greater security; and she remained in that palace-fortress from her tenth year until 1564, when she returned to Court, and thenceforward became one of the brightest ornaments of the royal circle. Henri de Guise was not long ere he declared himself her ardent admirer, and the manner in which the Princess received and encouraged his attentions left no doubt that the affection was reciprocal. So convinced, indeed, were those about her person of the fact, that M. du Gast, the favourite of the King her brother, earnestly entreated His Majesty no longer to confide to the Princess, as he had hitherto done, all the secrets of the state, as they could not, he averred, fail, under existing circumstances, to be communicated to M. de Guise; and Charles IX so fully appreciated the value of this advice, that he hastened to urge the same caution upon the Queen-mother. This sudden distrust and coldness on the part of her royal relatives was peculiarly irritating to Marguerite; nor was her mortification lessened by the fact that the Duc de Guise, first alarmed, and ultimately disgusted, by her unblushing irregularities, withdrew his pretensions to her hand; and, sacrificing his ambition to a sense of self-respect, selected as his wife Catherine de Cleves, Princesse de Portien.[3]

At this period Marguerite de Valois began to divide her existence between the most exaggerated devotional observances and the most sensual and degrading pleasures. Humbly kneeling before the altar, she would assist at several masses during the day; but at twilight she cast off every restraint, and careless of what was due, alike to her sex and to her rank, she plunged into the grossest dissipation; and after having played the guest at a riotous banquet, she might be seen sharing in the disgraceful orgies of a masquerade.[4] A short time after the marriage of the Duc de Guise, the hand of the Princess was demanded by Don Sebastian, King of Portugal; but the Queen-mother, who witnessed with alarm the increasing power of the Protestant party, and the utter impossibility of inspiring confidence in their leaders save by some bold and subtle stroke of policy, resolved to profit by the presence of the Huguenot King of Navarre, in order to overcome the distrust which not even the edict of 1570 had sufficed to remove; and to renew the project which had been already mooted during the lifetime of Jeanne d'Albret, of giving Marguerite in marriage to the young Prince, her son.

The consciousness that she was sacrificing her daughter by thus bestowing her hand upon the sovereign of a petty kingdom might perhaps have deterred Catherine, had she not already decided upon the means by which the bonds of so unequal an alliance might be rent assunder; and it is even possible that the hatred which she bore to the reformed faith would in itself have sufficed to render such an union impossible, had not the crafty and compunctionless spirit by which she was animated inspired her with a method which would more than expiate the temporary sin. It is at all events certain that having summoned Henry of Navarre to her presence, she unhesitatingly, and with many professions of regard for himself, informed him of the overtures of the Portuguese monarch, assuring him at the same time, that although the King of Spain was opposed to the alliance from motives of personal interest, it was one which would prove highly gratifying to Gregory XIII; but adding that both Charles IX and herself were so anxious to perform the promise which they had made to his mother, and to prove their good faith to his own person, that they were willing to refuse the crown of Portugal and to accept that of Navarre for the Princess.

Henry of Bearn hesitated. He was aware that the chiefs of the Protestant party, especially the Admiral de Coligny, whom he regarded as a father, were desirous that he should become the husband of Elizabeth of England. Past experience had rendered them suspicious of the French, while an alliance with the English promised them a strong and abiding protection. Nor was Henry himself more disposed to espouse Marguerite de Valois, as her early reputation for gallantry offended his sense of self-respect, while a strong attachment elsewhere rendered him insensible to her personal attractions. As a matter of ambition, the alliance was beyond his hopes, and brought him one step nearer to that throne which, by some extraordinary prescience, both he and his friends anticipated that he was destined one day to ascend;[5] but he could not forget that there were dark suspicions attached to the strange and sudden death of a mother to whom he had been devoted; and he felt doubly repugnant to receive a wife from the very hands which were secretly accused of having abridged his passage to the sovereignty of Navarre. Like Marguerite herself, moreover, he was not heart-whole; and thus he clung to the freedom of an unmarried life, and would fain have declined the honour which was pressed upon him; but the wily Catherine, who instantly perceived his embarrassment, bade him carefully consider the position in which he stood, and the fearful responsibility which attached to his decision. Charles IX, in bestowing upon him the hand of his sister, gave to the Protestants the most decided and unequivocal proof of his sincerity. It was evident, she said, that despite the edict which assured protection to the Huguenot party, they still misdoubted the good-faith of the monarch; but when he had also overlooked, or rather disregarded, the difference of faith so thoroughly as to give a Princess of France in marriage to one of their princes, they would no longer have a pretext for discontent, and the immediate pacification of the kingdom must be the necessary consequence of such a concession. The ultimate issue of so unequal a conflict could not, as she asserted, be for one moment doubtful; but the struggle might be a bloody one, and he would do well to remember that the blood thus spilt would be upon his own head.

Henry then sought, as his mother had previously done, to create a difficulty by alleging that the difference of faith between himself and the Princess must tend to affect the validity of their marriage; but the wily Italian met this objection by reminding him that Charles IX had publicly declared that "rather than that the alliance should not take place, he would permit his sister to dispense with all the rites and ceremonies of both religions."

It is well known that the motive of the French King in thus urging, or rather insisting upon, a marriage greatly beneath the pretensions of the Princess, was simply to attract to Court all the Huguenot leaders, who, placing little faith in the conciliatory edict, had resolutely abstained from appearing in the capital; but Catherine alluded so slightly to this fact that it awoke no misgivings in the mind of the young monarch.

Thus adjured, Henry of Navarre yielded; nor did the Princess on her part offer any violent opposition to the marriage. She objected, it is true, her religious scruples, and her attachment to her own creed; but her arguments were soon overruled, the hand of the King of Portugal was courteously declined, Philip of Spain was assured that his representations had decided the French Court, and immediate preparations were made for the unhappy union, whose date was to be written in blood. The double ceremony, exacted by the difference of faith in the contracting parties, was performed, as we have said, on the 18th of August 1572, the public betrothal having taken place on the preceding day at the Louvre; and it was accompanied by all the splendour of which it was susceptible. The marriage-service was performed by the Cardinal de Bourbon, on a platform erected in front of the metropolitan church of Notre-Dame; whence, at its conclusion, the bridal train descended by a temporary gallery to the interior of the Cathedral, and proceeded to the altar, where Henry, relinquishing the hand of his new-made wife, left her to assist at the customary mass, and meanwhile paced to and fro along the cloisters in conversation with the venerable Gaspard de Coligny and others of his confidential friends, the whole of whom were sanguine in their anticipations of a bright and happy future.

At the conclusion of the mass the King of Navarre rejoined his bride, and taking her hand, conducted her to the episcopal palace, where, according to an ancient custom, the marriage-banquet awaited them.[6] The square of the Parvis Notre-Dame was crowded with eager spectators, and the heart of the Queen-mother beat high with exultation as she glanced at the retinue of the bridegroom, and recognised in his suite all the Huguenot leaders who had hitherto refused to pass the gates of the capital.

Save her own, however, all eyes were rivetted upon Marguerite; and many were the devout Catholics who murmured beneath their breath at the policy which had determined the monarch to bestow a Princess of such beauty and genius upon a heretic. In truth, nothing could be more regal or more dazzling than the appearance of the youthful bride, who wore, as Queen of Navarre, a richly-jewelled crown, beneath which her long and luxuriant dark hair fell in waving masses over an ermine cape (or couet) clasped from the throat to the waist with large diamonds; while her voluminous train of violet-coloured velvet, three ells in length, was borne by four princesses.[7] And thus in royal state she moved along, surrounded and followed by all the nobility and chivalry of France, amid the acclamations of an admiring and excited people, having just pledged herself to one whose feelings were as little interested in the compact as her own.

The bridal festivities lasted throughout three entire days; and never had such an excess of luxury and magnificence been displayed at the French Court. Towards the Protestants, the bearing both of Charles IX and his mother was so courteous, frank, and conciliating, that the most distrustful gradually threw off their misgivings, and vied with the Catholic nobles both in gallantry and splendour; and meanwhile Catherine, the King, the Duc d'Anjou, and the Guises were busied in organizing the frightful tragedy of St. Bartholomew!

The young Queen of Navarre had scrupulously been left in ignorance of a plot which involved the life of her bridegroom as well as those of his co-religionists; nor was she aware of the catastrophe which had been organised until Paris was already one vast shambles. Startled from her sleep at the dead of night, and hurriedly informed of the nature of the frightful cries that had broken her rest, she at once sprang from her bed, and throwing on a mantle, forced her way to the closet of her royal brother, where, sinking on her knees, she earnestly implored the lives of Henry's Protestant attendants; but for a time Charles was obdurate; nor was it until after he had reluctantly yielded to her prayers that she recognised, with an involuntary cry of joy, the figure of her husband, who stood in the deep bay of a window with his cousin, M. de Conde.[8]

By one of those caprices to which he was subject, the King had refused to sacrifice either of these Princes; and he had accordingly summoned them to his presence, where he had offered them the alternative of an instant abjuration of their heresy.

Shrieks and groans already resounded on all sides; the groans of strong men, struck down unarmed and defenceless, and the shrieks of women struggling with their murderers; while through all, and above all, boomed out the deep-toned bells of the metropolitan churches—one long burial-peal; and amid this ghastly diapason it was the pleasure of the tiger-hearted Charles to accept the reluctant and informal recantation of his two horror-stricken victims; after which he compelled them without remorse to the agony of seeing their friends and followers butchered before their eyes.

Enraged by what they denounced as the weak and impolitic clemency of the King, in having thus shielded two of the most powerful leaders of the adverse faction, Catherine de Medicis and the Guises, having first wreaked their vengeance upon the corpse of the brave and veteran de Coligny, which they induced the King to dishonour himself by subjecting to the most ignominious treatment, next endeavoured to alienate Marguerite from her husband, and to induce her to solicit a divorce. It had formed no part of the Queen-mother's intention that the Princess should remain fettered by the bonds which she had herself wreathed about her; nor could she brook that after having accomplished a coup-de-main which had excited the indignation of half of Europe, Henry of Navarre should be indebted for an impunity which counteracted all her views to the alliance which he had formed with her own family. Marguerite, however, resolutely refused to lend herself to this new treachery, declaring that as her husband had abjured his heresy, she had no plea to advance in justification of so flagrant an act of perfidy; nor could the expostulations of her mother produce any change in her resolve.

It is probable that the perfect freedom of action for which she was indebted to the indifference of her young bridegroom had great influence in prompting this reply, and that the crown which had so recently been placed upon her brow had at the same time flattered her ambition; while the frightful carnage of which she had just been a witness might well cause her to shrink from the probable repetition of so hideous a catastrophe. Be her motives what they might, however, neither threats nor entreaties could shake the resolution of the Princess; and she was supported in her opposition by her favourite brother, the Duc d'Alencon, who had secretly attached himself to the cause of the Protestant Princes.

This was another source of uneasiness to the Queen-mother, who apprehended, from the pertinacity with which Marguerite clung to her husband, that she would exert all her influence to effect an understanding between the two brothers-in-law which could not fail to prove fatal to the interests of the Duc d'Anjou, who, in the event of the decease of Charles IX, was the rightful heir to the throne. Nor was that decease a mere matter of idle speculation, for the health of the King, always feeble and uncertain, had failed more than ever since the fatal night of the 24th of August; and he had even confessed to Ambroise Pare,[9] his body-surgeon, that his dreams were haunted by the spectres of his victims, and that he consequently shrank from the sleep which was so essential to his existence. The Duc d'Anjou meanwhile was absent at the siege of Rochelle, while his brother, d'Alencon, was about the person of the dying monarch, and had made himself eminently popular among the citizens of Paris. The crisis was an alarming one; but it was still destined to appear even more perilous, for, to the consternation of Catherine, intelligence at this period reached the Court that the Polish nation had elected the Duc d'Anjou as their King, and that their ambassadors were about to visit France in order to tender him the crown. In vain did she represent to Charles the impolicy of suffering a warlike prince like Henri d'Anjou to abandon his country for a foreign throne, and urge him to replace the elder by the younger brother, alleging that so long as the Polish people could see a prince of the blood-royal of France at the head of their nation, they would care little whether he were called Henry or Francis; the King refused to countenance such a substitution. He had long been jealous of the military renown of the Duc d'Anjou; while he was also perfectly aware of the anxiety with which both the Queen-mother and the Prince himself looked forward to his own death, in order that Henry might succeed him; and he consequently issued a command that the sovereign-elect should immediately repair to Paris to receive at the hands of the foreign delegates the crown which they were about to offer to him.

The summons was obeyed. The ambassadors, who duly arrived, were magnificently received; Henri d'Anjou was declared King of Poland; and, finally, he found himself compelled to depart for his own kingdom. Unfortunately for Marguerite, she had not sufficient self-control to conceal the joy with which she saw the immediate succession to the French throne thus transferred to her favourite brother; and her evident delight so exasperated the Queen-mother, that she communicated to Charles the suspicions which she herself entertained of the treachery of the Princess; but the King, worn down by both physical and mental suffering, treated her warnings with indifference, and she was consequently compelled to await with patience the progress of events.

The death of the French monarch, which shortly afterwards took place, and the accession of Henri d'Anjou, whom a timely warning had enabled to abandon the crown of Poland for that of France, for a time diverted the attention of Catherine from the suspected machinations of her daughter, when, as if to convince her of her injustice, she suddenly received secret intelligence from the young Queen of Navarre, that the Duc d'Alencon had entered into a new league with the Bourbon Princes. It is difficult to account for the motive which led Marguerite to make this revelation, when her extraordinary affection for her brother, and the anxiety which she had universally exhibited for the safety of her husband, are remembered; thus much, however, is certain, that she did not betray the conspiracy (which had been revealed to her by a Lutheran gentleman whom she had saved during the massacre of St. Bartholomew) until she had exacted a pledge that the lives of all who were involved in it should be spared. In her anxiety to secure the secret, the Queen-mother, on her side, gave a solemn promise to that effect, and she redeemed her word; while from the immediate precautions which she caused to be taken the plot was necessarily annihilated.

The Princess had, however, by the knowledge which she thus displayed of the movements of the Huguenot party, only increased the suspicions both of the Queen-mother and her son; and the Court of France became ere long so distasteful to Henry of Navarre, from the constant affronts to which he was subjected, and the undisguised surveillance which fettered all his movements, that he resolved to effect his escape from Paris, an example in which he was imitated by the Duc d'Alencon and the Prince de Conde, the former of whom retired to Champagne, and the latter to one of his estates, and with both of whom he shortly afterwards entered into a formidable league.

Henri III, exasperated by the departure of the three Princes, declared his determination to revenge the affront upon Marguerite, who had not been enabled to accompany her husband; but the representations of the Queen-mother induced him to forego this ungenerous project, and he was driven to satiate his thirst for vengeance upon her favourite attendant, Mademoiselle de Torigni,[10] of whose services he had already deprived her, on the pretext that so young a Princess should not be permitted to retain about her person such persons as were likely to exert an undue influence over her mind, and to possess themselves of her secrets. In the first paroxysm of his rage, he even sentenced this lady to be drowned; nor is it doubtful that this iniquitous and unfounded sentence would have been really carried into effect, had not the unfortunate woman succeeded in making her escape through the agency of two individuals who were about to rejoin the Duc d'Alencon, and who conducted her safely to Champagne.[11]

One of the first acts of Henry of Navarre on reaching his own dominions had been to protest against the enforced abjuration to which he was compelled on the fatal night of St. Bartholomew, and to evince his sincerity by resuming the practices of the reformed faith, a recantation which so exasperated the French King that he made Marguerite a close prisoner in her own apartments, under the pretext that she was leagued with the enemies of the state against the church and throne of her ancestors. Nor would he listen to her entreaties that she might be permitted to follow her husband, declaring that "she should not live with a heretic"; and thus her days passed on in a gloomy and cheerless monotony, ill suited to her excitable temperament and splendid tastes. Meanwhile, the Duc d'Alencon, weary of his voluntary exile, and hopeless of any successful result to the disaffection in which he had so long indulged, became anxious to effect a reconciliation with the King; and for this purpose he addressed himself to Marguerite, to whom he explained the conditions upon which he was willing to return to his allegiance, giving her full power to treat in his name. Henri III, who, on his side, was no less desirous to detach his brother from the Protestant cause, acceded to all his demands, among which was the immediate liberation of the Princess; and thus she at length found herself enabled to quit her regal prison and to rejoin her royal husband at Bearn.

During the space of five years the ill-assorted couple maintained at least a semblance of harmony, for each apparently regarded very philosophically those delicate questions which occasionally conduce to considerable discord in married life. The personal habits of Henry, combined with his sense of gratitude to his wife for her refusal to abandon him to the virulence of her mother's hatred, induced him to close his eyes to her moral delinquencies, while Marguerite, in her turn, with equal complacency, affected a like ignorance as regarded the pursuits of her husband; and thus the little Court of Pau, where they had established their residence, rendered attractive by the frank urbanity of the sovereign, and the grace and intellect of the young Queen, became as brilliant and as dissipated as even the daughter of Catherine de Medicis herself could desire. Poets sang her praise under the name of Urania;[12] flatterers sought her smiles by likening her to the goddesses of love and beauty, and she lived in a perpetual atmosphere of pleasure and adulation.

The marriage-portion of Marguerite had consisted of the two provinces of the Agenois and the Quercy, which had been ceded to her with all their royal prerogatives; but even after this accession of revenue the resources of Henry of Navarre did not exceed those of a private gentleman, amounting, in fact, only to a hundred and forty thousand livres, or about six thousand pounds yearly. The ancient kingdom of Navarre, which had once extended from the frontier of France to the banks of the Ebro, and of which Pampeluna had been the capital, shorn of its dimensions by Ferdinand the Catholic at the commencement of the sixteenth century, and incorporated with the Spanish monarchy, now consisted only of a portion of Lower Navarre, and the principality of Bearn, thus leaving to Henry little of sovereignty save the title. The duchy of Albret in Gascony, which he inherited from his great-grandfather, and that of Vendome, his appanage as a Prince of the Blood-royal of France, consequently formed no inconsiderable portion of his territory: while the title of Governor of Guienne, which he still retained, was a merely nominal dignity whence he derived neither income nor influence; and so unpopular was he in the province that the citizens of Bordeaux refused to admit him within their gates.

Nevertheless, the young monarch who held his court alternately at Pau and at Nerac, the capital of the duchy of Albret, expended annually upon his household and establishment nearly twelve thousand pounds, and that at a period when, according to the evidence of Sully, "the whole Court could not have furnished forty thousand livres;" [13] yet so inadequately were those about him remunerated, that Sully himself, in his joint capacity of councillor of state and chamberlain, received only two thousand annual livres, or ninety pounds sterling. This royal penury did not, however, depress the spirits of the frank and free-hearted King, who eagerly entered into every species of gaiety and amusement. Jousts, masques, and ballets succeeded each other with a rapidity which left no time for anxiety or ennui; and Marguerite has bequeathed to us in her memoirs so graphic a picture of the royal circle in 1579-80, that we cannot resist its transcription. "We passed the greater portion of our time at Nerac," she says, "where the Court was so brilliant that we had no reason to envy that of France. The sole subject of regret was that the principal number of the nobles and gentlemen were Huguenots; but the subject of religion was never mentioned; the King, my husband, accompanied by his sister,[14] attending their own devotions, while I and my suite heard mass in a chapel in the park. When the several services were concluded, we again assembled in a garden ornamented with avenues of laurels and cypresses upon the bank of the river; and in the afternoon and evening a ballet was performed." [15]

It is much to be regretted that the royal biographer follows up this pleasing picture by avowals of her own profligacy, and complacent comments upon the indulgence and generosity with which she lent herself to the vices of her husband.

The temporary calm was not, however, fated to endure. Marguerite, even while she indulged in the most unblushing licentiousness, was, as we have already stated, devoted to the observances of her religion; and on her first arrival at Pau she had requested that a chapel might be provided in which the services of her church could be performed. This was a concession which Henry of Navarre was neither willing nor indeed able to make, the inhabitants of the city being all rigid reformers who had not yet forgiven the young monarch either his enforced renunciation of their faith or his Catholic marriage; and accordingly the Queen had been compelled to avail herself of a small oratory in the castle which would not contain more than six or eight persons; while so anxious was the King not to exasperate the good citizens, that no individual was permitted to accompany her to the chapel save the immediate members of her household, and the drawbridge was always raised until she had returned to her own apartments.

Thus, the arrival of Marguerite in the country, which had raised the hopes of the Catholic portion of the population, by no means tended to improve their position; and for a time her co-religionists, disheartened by so signal a disappointment, made no effort to resist the orders of the King; but on the day of Pentecost, 1579, a few zealous devotees, who had by some means introduced themselves secretly into the castle, followed the Queen to her oratory, where they were arrested by Dupin the royal secretary, very roughly treated in the presence of Marguerite herself, and only released on the payment of a heavy fine.

Indignant at the disrespect which had been shown to her, the Princess at once proceeded to the apartment of her husband, where she complained with emphatic bitterness of the insolence of his favourite; and she had scarcely begun to acquaint him with the details of the affair when Dupin entered unannounced, and in the most intemperate manner commented on her breach of good faith in having wilfully abused the forbearance of the sovereign and his Protestant subjects.

It was not without some difficulty that Henry succeeded in arresting this indecent flow of words, when, rebuking Dupin for his want of discretion and self-control, he commanded him immediately to crave the pardon of the Queen for his ill-advised interference and the want of deference of which he had been guilty towards her royal person; but Marguerite refused to listen to any apology, and haughtily and resolutely demanded the instant dismissal of the delinquent. In vain did Henry expostulate, declaring that he could not dispense with the services of so old and devoted a servant; the Princess was inexorable, and the over-zealous secretary received orders to leave the Court. Marguerite, however, purchased this triumph dearly, as the King resented with a bitterness unusual to him the exhibition of authority in which she had indulged; and when she subsequently urged him to punish those who had acted under the orders of the exiled secretary, he boldly and positively refused to give her any further satisfaction, alleging that her want of consideration towards himself left him at equal liberty to disregard her own wishes.

Angry and irritated, Marguerite lost no time in acquainting her family with the affront which she had experienced; and Catherine de Medicis, who believed that she had now found a pretext sufficiently plausible to separate the young Queen from her husband, skilfully envenomed the already rankling wound, not only by awakening the religious scruples of her daughter, but also by reminding her that she had been subjected to insult from a petty follower of a petty court; and, finally, she urged her to assert her dignity by an immediate return to France.

Marguerite, whom the King had not made a single effort to conciliate, obeyed without reluctance; and, in the year 1582, she left Navarre, and on her arrival in Paris took possession of her old apartments in the Louvre. She was received with great cordiality by Henri III, who trusted that her residence in France might induce her husband ere long to follow her; but he soon discovered that not even the warmth of his welcome could cause her to forget the past; and that, under his own royal roof, she was secretly intriguing with the Duc d'Alencon, who was once more in open revolt against him.

For a time, although thoroughly informed that such was the fact, his emissaries were unable to produce any tangible proof of the validity of their accusations; but at length, rendered bold by impunity, Marguerite was so imprudent (for the purpose of forwarding some despatches to the rebel Duke) as to cause the arrest of a royal courier, charged with an autograph letter of two entire sheets from the King to his favourite the Duc de Joyeuse,[16] who was then on a mission at Rome; when the unfortunate messenger, who found himself suddenly attacked by four men in masks, made so desperate an effort to save the packet with which he had been entrusted, that the sbirri of the Princess, who had anticipated an easy triumph, became so much exasperated that they stabbed him on the spot.

This occurrence no sooner reached the ears of Henri III, than he sent to desire the presence of his sister, when, utterly regardless of the fact that they were not alone, he so far forgot his own dignity as to overwhelm her with the coarsest and most cutting reproaches; and not satisfied with expatiating upon the treachery of which she had been guilty towards himself, he passed in review the whole of her ill-spent life, accusing her, among other enormities, of the birth of an illegitimate son,[17] and terminated his invectives by commanding her instantly "to quit Paris, and rid the Court of her presence." [18]

On the morrow Marguerite accordingly left the capital with even less state than she had entered it, for she had neither suite nor equipage, and was accompanied only by Madame de Duras and Mademoiselle de Bethune, her two favourite attendants. She was not, however, suffered to depart even thus without impediment, for she had only travelled a few leagues when, between Saint-Cler and Palaiseau, her litter was stopped by a captain of the royal guard, at the head of a troop of harquebusiers: she was compelled to remove her mask; and her companions, after having been subjected to great discourtesy, were finally conveyed as prisoners to the Abbey of Ferrieres, near Montargis, where they underwent an examination, at which the King himself presided,[19] and wherein facts were elicited that were fatal to the character of their mistress. Their replies were then reduced to writing; and Marguerite, who had been detained for this express purpose, was compelled by her inexorable brother to affix her signature to the disgraceful document; when, after she had been subjected to this new indignity, the daughter of Catherine de Medicis was at length permitted to pursue her journey; but she was compelled to do so alone, as her two attendants were forbidden to bear her company.

She had no sooner left Ferrieres than Henri III despatched one of the valets of his wardrobe to St. Foix, where the King of Navarre was for the moment sojourning, with an autograph letter, in which he informed him that he had considered it expedient to dismiss from the service of his royal sister both Madame de Duras and Mademoiselle de Bethune, having discovered that they were leading the most dissolute and scandalous lives, and were "pernicious vermin" who could not be permitted to remain about the person of a Princess of her rank.

Thus ignominiously driven from the Court of France, Marguerite, who had no resource save in the indulgence of her husband, travelled with the greatest speed to Nerac, where he was then residing, in the hope that she might be enabled by her representations to induce him to espouse her cause against her brother; but although, in order to preserve appearances, Henry received her courteously, and even listened with exemplary patience to her impassioned relation of the indignities to which she had been subjected, the coldness of his deportment, and the stern tone in which he informed her that he would give the necessary orders for a separate residence to be prepared for her accommodation, as he could never again receive her under his own roof, or accord to her the honour and consideration due to a wife, convinced her that she had nothing more to hope from his forbearance.

Even while he thus resented his own wrongs, however, Henry of Navarre no sooner comprehended that Marguerite had been personally exposed to insults which had affected his honour as her consort, than he despatched a messenger to the French King at Lyons, "to entreat him to explain the cause of these affronts, and to advise him, as a good master, how he had better act." [20] But this somewhat servile proceeding produced no adequate result, as his envoy received only ambiguous answers, and all he could accomplish was to extort a promise from Henri III that on his return to Paris he would discuss the affair with the Queen-mother and the Duc d'Alencon.

Unaware of the negotiation which was thus opened, Marguerite had, as we have said, lost all confidence in her own influence over her husband; and accordingly, without giving any intimation of her design, she left Nerac and retired to Agen, one of her dower-cities, where she established herself in the castle; but her unbridled depravity of conduct, combined with the extortions of Madame de Duras, her friend and confidante, by whom she had been rejoined, soon rendered her odious to the inhabitants.

In vain did she declare that the bull of excommunication which Sixtus V had recently fulminated against the King of Navarre had been the cause of her retiring from his Court, her conscience not permitting her to share the roof of a prince under the ban of the Church.[21] The Agenese, although Catholics and leagued against her husband, evinced towards herself a disaffection so threatening that her position was rapidly becoming untenable, when the city was stormed and taken by the Marechal de Matignon[22] in the name of Henri III.[23]

Convinced that the capture of her own person was the sole motive of this unprovoked assault, the fugitive Queen had once more recourse to flight; and her eagerness to escape the power of the French King was so great that she left the city seated on a pillion behind a gentleman of her suite named Lignerac, while Madame de Duras followed in like manner; and thus she travelled four-and-twenty leagues in the short space of two days, attended by such of the members of her little household as were enabled to keep pace with her.

The fortress of Carlat in the mountains of Auvergne offered to her, as she believed, a safe asylum; but although the Governor, who was the brother of M. de Lignerac, received her with respect, and promised her his protection, the enmity of Henri III pursued her even to this obscure place of exile.

At this period even the high spirit of Marguerite de Valois was nearly subdued, for she no longer knew in what direction to turn for safety. She had become contemptible in the eyes of her husband, she was deserted by her mother, hated by her brother, despised by her co-religionists from the licentiousness of her life, and detested by the Protestants as the cause, however innocently, of the fatal massacre of their friends and leaders. The memory of the martyred Coligny was ever accompanied by a curse on Marguerite; and thus she was an outcast from all creeds and all parties. Still, however, confident in the good faith of the Governor of Carlat, she assumed at least a semblance of tranquillity, and trusted that she should be enabled to remain for a time unmolested; but it was not long ere she ascertained that the inhabitants of the town, like those of Agen, were hostile to her interests, and that they had even resolved to deliver her up to the French King.

Under these circumstances, she had no alternative save to become once more a fugitive; and having, with considerable difficulty, succeeded in making her escape beyond the walls, she began to indulge a hope that she should yet baffle the devices of her enemy; she was soon, however, fated to be undeceived, for she had travelled only a few leagues when she was overtaken and captured by the Marquis de Canillac,[24] who conveyed her to the fortress of Usson.[25] As she passed the drawbridge, Marguerite recognised at a glance that there was no hope of evasion from this new and impregnable prison, save through the agency of her gaoler; and she accordingly lost no time in exerting all her blandishments to captivate his reason. Although she had now attained her thirty-fifth year, neither time, anxiety, hardship, nor even the baneful indulgence of her misguided passions, had yet robbed her of her extraordinary beauty; and it is consequently scarcely surprising that ere long the gallant soldier to whose custody she was confided, surrendered at discretion, and laid at her feet, not only his heart, but also the keys of her prison-house.

"Poor man!" enthusiastically exclaims Brantome, her friend and correspondent; "what did he expect to do? Did he think to retain as a prisoner her who, by her eyes and her lovely countenance, could hold in her chains and bonds all the rest of the world like galley-slaves?" [26]

Certain it is, that if the brave but susceptible marquis ever contemplated such a result, he was destined to prove the fallacy of his hopes; for so totally was he subjugated by the fascinations of the captive Queen, that he even abandoned to her the command of the fortress, which thenceforward acknowledged no authority save her own.

Marguerite had scarcely resided a year at Usson when the death of the Duc d'Alencon deprived her of the last friend whom she possessed on earth; and not even the security that she derived from the impregnability of the fortress in which she had found an asylum could preserve her from great and severe suffering. The castle, with its triple ramparts, its wide moat, and its iron portcullis, might indeed defy all human enemies, but it could not exclude famine; and during her sojourn within its walls, which extended over a period of two-and-twenty years, she was compelled to pawn her jewels, and to melt down her plate, in order to provide food for the famishing garrison; while so utterly destitute did she ultimately become, that she found herself driven to appeal to the generosity of Elizabeth of Austria, the widow of her brother Charles IX, who thenceforward supplied her necessities.

In the year 1589 Henry of Navarre ascended the throne of France, having previously, for the second time, embraced the Catholic faith;[27] but for a while the liaisons which he found it so facile to form at the Court, and his continued affection for the Comtesse de Guiche,[28] together with the internal disturbances and foreign wars which had convulsed the early years of his reign, so thoroughly engrossed his attention, that he had made no attempt to separate himself from his erring and exiled wife; nor was it until 1598, when the Edict of Nantes had ensured a lasting and certain peace to the Huguenots: and that la belle Gabrielle[29] had replaced Madame de Guiche, and by making him the father of two sons, had induced him to contemplate (as he had done in a previous case with her predecessor) her elevation to the throne, that he became really anxious to liberate himself from the trammels of his ill-omened marriage.

Having ascertained that the Duc de Bouillon,[30] notwithstanding the concessions which he had made to the Protestant party, had been recently engaged, in conjunction with D'Aubigny[31] and other zealous reformers, in endeavouring to create renewed disaffection among the Huguenots, Henry resolved to visit Brittany, and personally to express to the Duke his indignation and displeasure.

On his arrival at Rennes, where M. de Bouillon was confined to his bed by a violent attack of gout, the King accordingly proceeded to his residence; where, after having expressed his regret at the state of suffering in which he found him, he ordered all the attendants to withdraw, and seating himself near the pillow of the invalid, desired him to listen without remark or interruption to all that he was about to say. He then reproached him in the most indignant terms with his continual and active efforts to disturb the peace of the kingdom, recapitulating every act, and almost every word, of his astonished and embarrassed listener, with an accuracy which left no opportunity for denial; and, finally, he advised him to be warned in time, and, if he valued his own safety, to adopt a perfectly opposite line of conduct; assuring him, in conclusion, that should he persist in his present contumacy, he should himself take measures, as his sovereign and his master, to render him incapable of working further mischief.

The bewildered Duke would have replied, but he was instantly silenced by an imperious gesture from the King, who, rising from his seat, left the chamber in silence.

The presence of Henri IV in Brittany was the signal for festivity and rejoicing, and all that was fair and noble in the province was soon collected at Rennes in honour of his arrival; but despite these demonstrations of affection and respect, his watchful and anxious minister, the Duc de Sully, remarked that he occasionally gave way to fits of absence, and even of melancholy, which were quite unusual to him, and which consequently excited the alarm of the zealous Duke. He had, moreover, several times desired M. de Sully's attendance in a manner which induced him to believe that the King had something of importance to communicate, but the interviews had successively terminated without any such result; until, on one occasion, a few days after his interview with the Duc de Bouillon, Henry once more beckoned him to his side, and turning into a large garden which was attached to his residence, he there wreathed his fingers in those of the minister, as was his constant habit, and drawing him into a retired walk, commenced the conversation by relating in detail all that had passed between himself and the ducal rebel. He then digressed to recent political measures, and expressed himself strongly upon the advantages which tranquillity at home, as well as peace abroad, must ensure to the kingdom; after which, as if by some process of mental retrogression, he became suddenly more gloomy in his discourse; and observed, as if despite himself, that although he would struggle even to the end of his existence to secure these national advantages, he nevertheless felt that as the Queen had given him no son, all his endeavours must prove fruitless; since the contention which would necessarily arise between M. de Conde and the other Princes of the blood, when the important subject of the succession gave a free and sufficient motive for their jealousy, could not fail to renew the civil anarchy which he had been so anxious to terminate. He then, after a moment's silence, referred to the desire which had been formally expressed to him by the Parliament of Paris, that he should separate himself from Marguerite de Valois, and unite himself with some other princess who might give a Dauphin to France, and thus transmit to a son of his own line the crown which he now wore.

Sully, who was no less desirous than himself to ensure the prosperity of the nation to which he had devoted all the energies of his powerful and active mind, did not hesitate to suggest the expediency of his Majesty's immediate compliance with the prayer of his subjects, and entreat him in his turn to obtain a divorce, which by leaving him free, would enable him to make a happier choice; and he even assured the anxious monarch that he had already taken steps to ascertain that the Archbishop of Urbino and the Pope himself (who was fully aware of the importance of maintaining the peace of Europe, which must necessarily be endangered by a renewal of the intestine troubles in France) would both readily facilitate by every means in their power so politic and so desirable a measure.

Henry urged for a time his disinclination to contract a second marriage, alleging that his first had proved so unfortunate in every way, that he was reluctant to rivet anew the chain which had been so rudely riven asunder; but the unflinching minister did not fail to remind him that much as he owed to himself, he still owed even more to a people who had faith in his wisdom and generosity; and the frank-hearted King suffered himself, although with evident distaste, to be ultimately convinced.

He then began to pass in review all the marriageable princesses who were eligible to share his throne, but to each in succession he attached some objection which tended to weaken her claim. After what he had already undergone, as he declared, there were few women, and still fewer women of royal blood, to whom he would willingly a second time confide his chance of happiness. "In order not to encounter once more the same disappointment and displeasure," he said at length, "I must find in the next woman whom I may marry seven qualities with which I cannot dispense. She must be handsome, prudent, gentle, intellectual, fruitful, wealthy, and of high extraction; and thus I do not know a single princess in Europe calculated to satisfy my idea of feminine perfection."

Then, after a pause during which the minister remained silent, he added, with some inconsistency: "I would readily put up with the Spanish Infanta,[32] despite both her age and her ugliness, did I espouse the Low Countries in her person; neither would I refuse the Princess Arabella of England,[33] if, as it is alleged, the crown of that country really belonged to her, or even had she been declared heiress presumptive; but we cannot reasonably anticipate either contingency. I have heard also of several German princesses whose names I have forgotten, but I have no taste for the women of that country; besides which, it is on record that a German Queen[34] nearly proved the ruin of the French nation; and thus they inspire me only with disgust."

Still Sully listened without reply, the King having commenced his confidence by assuming a position which rendered all argument worse than idle.

"They have talked to me likewise," resumed Henry more hurriedly, as disconcerted and annoyed by the expressive silence of his companion he began to walk more rapidly along the shaded path in which this conference took place; "they have talked to me of the sisters of Prince Maurice;[35] but not only are they Huguenots, a fact which could not fail to give umbrage at the Court of Rome, but I have also heard reports that would render me averse to their alliance. Then the Duke of Florence has a niece,[36] who is stated to be tolerably handsome, but she comes of one of the pettiest principalities of Christendom; and not more than sixty or eighty years ago her ancestors were merely the chief citizens of the town of which their successors are now the sovereigns; and, moreover, she is a daughter of the same race as Catherine de Medicis, who has been alike my own enemy and that of France."

Once more the King paused for breath, and glanced anxiously towards his minister, but Sully was inexorable, and continued to listen respectfully and attentively without uttering a syllable.

"So much for the foreign princesses," continued Henry with some irritation, when he found that his listener had resolved not to assist him either by word or gesture; "at least, I know of no others. And now for our own. There is my niece, Mademoiselle de Guise;[37] and she is one of those whom I should prefer, despite the naughty tales that are told of her, for I place no faith in them; but she is too much devoted to the interests of her house, and I have reason to dread the restless ambition of her brothers."

The Princesses of Mayenne,[38] of Aumale,[39] and of Longueville,[40] were next the subject of the royal comments; but they were all either too fair or too dark, too old or too plain; nor were Mesdemoiselles de Rohan,[41] de Luxembourg,[42] or de Guemenee[43] more fortunate: the first was a Calvinist, the second too young, and the third not to his taste.

Long ere the King had arrived at this point of his discourse, the keen-sighted minister had fathomed his determination to raise some obstacle in every instance; and he began to entertain a suspicion that this was not done without a powerful motive, which he immediately became anxious to comprehend. Thus, therefore, when Henry pressed him to declare his sentiments upon the subject, he answered cautiously: "I cannot, in truth, hazard an opinion, Sire; nor can I even understand the bent of your own wishes. Thus much only do I comprehend—that you consent to take another wife, but that you can discover no princess throughout Europe with whom you are willing to share the throne of France. From the manner in which you spoke of the Infanta, it nevertheless appeared as though a rich heiress would not be unacceptable; but surely you do not expect that Heaven will resuscitate in your favour a Marguerite de Flandres, a Marie de Bourgogne, or even permit Elizabeth of England to grow young again."

"I anticipate nothing of the kind," was the sharp retort; "but how know I, even were I to marry one of the princesses I have enumerated, that I should be more fortunate than I have hitherto been? If beauty and youth could have ensured to me the blessing of a Dauphin, had I not every right to anticipate a different result in my union with Madame Marguerite? I could not brook a second mortification of the like description, and therefore I am cautious. And now, as I have failed to satisfy myself upon this point, tell me, do you know of any one woman in whom are combined all the qualities which I have declared to be requisite in a Queen of France?"

"The question is one of too important a nature, Sire, to be answered upon the instant," said Sully, "and the rather that I have never hitherto turned my attention to the subject."

"And what would you say," asked Henry with ill-concealed anxiety, "were I to tell you that such an one exists in my own kingdom?"

"I should say, Sire, that you have greatly the advantage over myself; and also that the lady to whom you allude must necessarily be a widow."

"Just as you please," retorted the King; "but if you refuse to guess, I will name her."

"Do so," said Sully with increasing surprise; "for I confess that the riddle is beyond my reach."

"Rather say that you do not wish to solve it," was the cold reply; "for you cannot deny that all the qualities upon which I insist are to be found combined in the person of the Duchesse de Beaufort."

"Your mistress, Sire!"

"I do not affirm that I have any intention, in the event of my release from my present marriage, of making the Duchess my wife," pursued Henry with some embarrassment; "but I was anxious to learn what you would say, if, unable to find another woman to my taste, I should one day see fit to do so."

"Say, Sire?" echoed the minister, struggling to conceal his consternation under an affected gaiety; "I should probably be of the same opinion as the rest of your subjects."


The King had, however, made so violent an effort over himself, in order to test the amount of forbearance which he might anticipate in his favourite counsellor, and was so desirous to ascertain his real sentiments upon this important subject, that he exclaimed impatiently: "I command you to speak freely; you have acquired the right to utter unpalatable truths; do not, therefore, fear that I shall take offence whenever our conversation is purely confidential, although I should assuredly resent such a liberty in public."

The reply of the upright minister, thus authorized, was worthy alike of the monarch who had made such an appeal, and of the man to whom it was addressed. He placed before the eyes of his royal master the opprobrium with which an alliance of the nature at which he had hinted must inevitably cover his own name, and the affront it would entail upon every sovereign in Europe. He reminded him also that the legitimation of the sons of Madame de Beaufort, and the extraordinary and strictly regal ceremonies which he had recently permitted at the baptism of the younger of the two (throughout the whole of which the infant had been recognized as a prince of the blood-royal, although the King had himself refused to allow the registry of the proceedings until they were revised, and the obnoxious passages rescinded), could not fail, should she ever become Queen of France, in the event of her having other children, to plunge the nation into those very struggles for the succession from which he had just declared his anxiety to preserve it.

"And this strife, Sire," he concluded fearlessly, "would be even more formidable and more frightful than that to which you so anxiously alluded; for you will do well to remember that not only the arena in which it must take place will be your own beloved kingdom of France, while the whole of civilised Europe stands looking on, but that it will be a contest between the son of M. de Liancourt and the King's mistress—the son of Madame de Monceaux, the divorced wife of an obscure noble, and the declared favourite of the sovereign; and, finally, between these, the children of shame, and the Dauphin of France, the son of Henri IV and his Queen. I leave you, Sire, to reflect upon this startling fact before I venture further."

"And you do well," said the monarch, as he turned away; "for truly you have said enough for once." [44]

It will be readily conceived that at the close of this conference M. de Sully was considerably less anxious than before to effect the divorce of the infatuated sovereign; nor was he sorry to remind Henry, when he next touched upon the subject, that they had both been premature in discussing the preliminaries of a second marriage before they had succeeded in cancelling the first. It was true that Clement VIII, in his desire to maintain the peace of Europe, had readily entered into the arguments of MM. de Marquemont,[45] d'Ossat,[46] and Duperron,[47] whom the Duke had, by command of the monarch, entrusted with this difficult and dangerous mission, when they represented that the birth of a dauphin must necessarily avert all risk of a civil war in France, together with the utter hopelessness of such an event unless their royal master were released from his present engagements; and that the sovereign-pontiff had even expressed his willingness to second the washes of the French monarch. But the consent of Marguerite herself was no less important; and with a view to obtain this, the minister addressed to her a letter, in which he expressed his ardent desire to effect a reconciliation between herself and the King, in order that the prayers of the nation might be answered by the birth of a Dauphin; or, should she deem such an event impossible, to entreat of her to pardon him if he ventured to take the liberty of imploring her Majesty to make a still greater sacrifice.

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