Page images

first love was supplanted by that of Henry IV. The king was at that epoch thirty-three years of age, but the ardent pursuit of war and pleasure alike had already combined to furrow his face, his dark complexion had become almost black, his nose was hooked, and so long that it came down to his chin, leaving little space for his mouth, which was shaded by a grey moustache. But Henry, with so little prepossessing an exterior, and which has been so much embellished by art, was the most courageous and enterprising gallant of his day. His first interview with Gabrielle was at Cœuvres; it was the evening of a battle, and he was so struck with the beauty of Gabrielle, that from that moment he became a constant visitor. Gabrielle, although engaged to the Duke of Bellegarde, could not prevent herself being influenced by the prince whose white plume and military renown were in everybody's mouth.

The D'Estrée family enjoyed considerable influence with the middle party, which placed itself between the Huguenots and the Catholics, and had thus great weight with any pretender to the crown. Henry made love to Gabrielle by making her his confidant. He related to her all the incidents of his campaigns, and inspired her with all his hopes and ambitions. This tender intercourse, carried on at times by Henry disguised as a peasant, was marred for a moment by Gabrielle's marriage with Nicolas de Lamerval, Sire de Liancourt. This marriage is said to have been concluded by the Count d'Estrée, in order to avoid the scandal which the too frequent visits of Henry of Béarn might attach to his daughter's reputation. Sully and the Chronicles aver that the marriage was a vile complacency on the part of a gentleman; but M. Capefigue says Sully was the most inveterate enemy of Gabrielle's, and, what is perhaps more to the point, that Henry had neither power nor wealth at that epoch to obtain such complacencies.

France was at this time divided into three factions. The Catholics were organising the "League," the more zealous Huguenots were constituting themselves into a kind of federal republic under the Prince of Condé, while Henry of Béarn was at the head of the moderate party. Bent, even at that early period, upon a separation from Margaret of Valois, he swore, by his customary oath of ventre-saint-gris! that he would wed Gabrielle, and yet he allowed her to become another man's wife. When Henry III. abandoned the party of the League, the Kings of France and of Navarre became bosom friends. Henry of Béarn, avoiding the towns devoted to the League, marched directly upon Paris, and there he tendered at once his friendship and his allegiance to Henry of Valois. The followers of each did not, however, fraternise so readily. They had neither the same religion, nor the same habits and manners. Hence, the army of Henry IV. was grouped around the villa Saint Cloud, which originally belonged to the Gondi, followers of Catherine of Medicis, and which Henry II. had embellished in the Florentine fashion for Catherine herself. Henry of Béarn, on the contrary, was encamped with his Calvinistic soldiery at Montmartre. The house which he occupied was a mere hut attached to a mill a little beyond the abbey.

The Duke of Mayenne was at the head of the Leaguists within the city, and the energetic Duchess of Montpensier directed the municipal movement at the Hôtel de Ville. Such was the violence of factions that all Paris rejoiced when the sad news went forth that Henry III. had

been struck with a long knife at Saint-Cloud.

The event was celebrated in engravings, and in a distich too characteristic of those days of evil. passions:

Un jeune Jacobin, nommé Jacques Clément,
Dans le bois de Saint-Cloud, une lettre présente

A Henri de Valois, et vertueusement
Un couteau fort pointu dans la panse

lui plante.

Henry was obliged, in consequence of this terrible catastrophe, to raise the siege of Paris, and whilst the late king's troops withdrew into Touraine, he and his followers took the road to Rouen, in order to effect a junction with an auxiliary force of six thousand English and three thousand Scotch, who were disembarking at Havre, under the Earl of Essex. "Brave troops," says M. Capefigue, "who restored life and confidence to the cause of Henry IV." The bigoted Philip II. of Spain, whose forces were in the Low Countries, always took part, however, with the Leaguers, and before reopening the siege of Paris it was necessary to repel the Spaniards, who had also thrown reinforcements into the capital. This accomplished, Paris was once more laid siege to, and the inhabitants suffered all the horrors of war and famine. They were reduced to such distress as to devour les bêtes immondes, as is recorded in the registers of the Hôtel de Ville.

All the time that this second siege lasted, Gabrielle d'Estrées was with Henry. She inhabited a house on the summit of Montmartre, whence the view extended far and wide. Gabrielle loved a fair prospect, and she changed this residence for another on the opposite side of the hill, whence she could see the plain of Saint-Denis, and the whole bend of the Seine, and which was called Clignancourt. M. Capefigue believes that it is now the Château-Rouge. She bore a son at this epoch to Henry IV., whom she called Cæsar Monsieur, in honour of his father's courage. The king, in his delight, renewed his promise of marriage, always dependent, however, upon the eventuality of his dissolution of his royal union with Margaret of Valois. It was upon this occasion also that he conferred upon her the title of Marchioness of Montceaux, from a château in Brie, near Meaux, which was surrounded by fine orchards and extensive forests, but is now a ruin.

Gabrielle d'Estrées, at this epoch, enjoyed the king's sole affections; she was endowed both with courage and ambition, and she was, as it were, the complement of the defective parts of Henry's character. Never was the king so energetic, so zealous, and, at the same time, so frank and jovial, as he was when on this campaign. His white plume was to be seen wherever there was fighting going on, and in the evening, when the fighting was over, he was the most boon companion at table. It was upon this occasion that the well-known song

was composed.

Vive Henri Quatre,
Vive ce roi vaillant !
Ce diable à quatre

A le triple talent

De boire et de battre

Et d'être vert-galant

Tradition that the second stanza was composed by


Henry himself. It is certainly bad enough:

J'aimons les filles

Et j'aimons le bon vin;
De nos vieux drilles
Répétons le refrain :
J'aimons les filles

Et j'aimons le bon vin.

Gabrielle d'Estrées is also said to have contributed, by her counsel and advice, to the conversion of Henry to Catholicism. That prince felt that without some such step he could not keep the army of Biron-the followers of Henry III.-in his ranks. The Duke of Mayenne had relieved Paris by a diversion on his flanks, and he had been obliged himself to go to the relief of Rouen, which was besieged by the Catholics. He knew that France would be lost to him unless he adopted the faith of the majority, and ambition and his fair mistress prevailed. He abjured his faith on the 14th of July, 1590.

The king's conversion to Catholicism did not, however, by any means abate the anger that he experienced against those more active ecclesiastics who had so vigorously denounced him from their pulpits when he was a Huguenot. He had not been many days in Paris before he put in force the system of billets, by which any obnoxious person was exiled the city, or even the country, a system which Louis XIV. afterwards changed into that of lettres de cachet, by which a person was hurried away to the dungeons of the Bastille without inquiry or examination. The first to receive a billet was the worthy curé of Saint-Jacques; next day it was the curé of Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois, and many others. These multiplied billets threw the whole city into consternation, for many of the best citizens were among the proscribed. Henry knew that, notwithstanding his conversion, his obtaining possession of Paris was a transaction -a matter of money, and not of choice. He was always bitter upon the subject of la carte à payer. He had not been two days in the capital when he remarked, over his cups, to his aged secretary, Nicolas, who was as fond of good living as himself,

"What do you say at thus finding me in Paris?"

"I say, sire, that they have given to Cæsar what was Cæsar's, as we must give to God that which belongs to God."

"Ventre-saint-gris!" replied the king, "they have not done with me as they did to Cæsar, for they did not give it to me—they sold it."

This was said in the presence of the traitor M. de Brissac, of the provost, of the merchants, and others of the contracting parties. Du Bourg, who refused to sell the Bastille, not only publicly called Brissac a traitor, but challenged him to mortal combat, and declared that he would eat out his heart from his stomach!

While Henry attempted to conciliate some, and extended his clemency to the Duchesses of Montpensier and Nemours, the parliament prosecuted others to sad extremities. A Jesuit, Guignard, was hung and burnt merely because some satires upon Henry III. were found in his house. Never had Paris been so gloomy or so wretched; add to this, famine and sickness were still decimating the inhabitants. The visitation was attributed to having received as king one who had been excommunicated by the Pope -Henry the Huguenot-under the disguise of a Catholic. Some women even died out of mere horror at seeing the king in the city, and others

lost their senses; upon which it was cruelly remarked that they did not lose much. But the fair sex sometimes go to extremes in matters of religion. The general misery of the inhabitants was not relieved by the additional taxes which Henry was obliged to lay on for the support of his army. It was in vain that the king was assiduous in his attendance at mass, at vespers, and at all other Catholic ceremonials, that he even joined in monkish processions at the tail of relics. No one believed in these demonstrations, and even if it rained for an inordinate time, it was attributed to the same thing-receiving an excommunicated king. It was in this state of irritation of the public mind that the first attempt was made against the monarch's life.

"On Tuesday, December 27 (1594), as the king, returning from his journey into Picardy, entered, booted and spurred, into the room of Madame de Liancourt (Gabrielle d'Estrées), having with him the Count of Soissons, the Count of Saint-Pol, and other lords, MM. de Ragni and de Montegni presented themselves to kiss his hand, and as he was receiving them, a youth, named Jean Chastel, about nineteen years of age, son of a draper of Paris, who dwelt opposite the palace, and who had slid into the room in company with others unperceived, advanced close up to the king's person without being remarked, and strove with a knife that he held in his hand to strike the king in his throat; but his majesty being in the act of stooping to raise up those who had paid homage to him, and were embracing his knees, the blow (directed by a secret and admirable providence of God) struck him on the face instead of the throat, cutting the upper lip on the right side, and being stopped by a tooth. The king, feeling himself thus injured, looked at those who were around him, and seeing Mathurine, sa folle, exclaimed, 'Au diable soit la folle! she has wounded me.' But as she denied it, and ran at once and shut the door, she was the cause that this little assassin did not escape; and having been seized, he was examined, and the knife, still stained with blood, having fallen on the ground, he was obliged to confess the deed without further proceedings; whereupon the king ordered that he should be pardoned and allowed to go, and then, hearing it said that he was a disciple of the Jesuits, he said these words: Did the Jesuits require then to be convicted by my mouth ?'”

In consequence of this heinous attempt, however, the expulsion of the whole body of the company of Jesus was recommended by the king's counsellors. The king did not yield to these counsels, although he was less tolerant with regard to the excesses of the Dominicans and of the Capucins, who were proscribed the metropolis; but he, the gay, the gallant, the boisterous Henry, himself grew gloomy and discouraged. When spoken to on the subject, he said, "Ventre-saint-gris! how can I be otherwise than displeased to see a people so unjust towards its king? Whilst I am every day exerting myself to the utmost to please all parties, they are incessantly preparing new attempts at my life, for since I am here I see nothing else."

Gabrielle d'Estrées was at this epoch at the apogee of power and favour. She had renounced the name and arms of De Liancourt to assume those of the Marquisate of Montceaux; she had had another son since Cæsar Monsieur was born, and whom she also named Alexander, in honour of

his father's merits as a warrior. Henry IV. is constantly seen in contemporaneous engravings represented as Cæsar and Alexander. He is to be seen thus also at Fontainebleau. Gabrielle made her public entry into Paris with the state of a sovereign, and these favours shown to a mistress did not exalt the morality of Henry either with Catholics or with the more austere Calvinists. Gabrielle delighted in luxury and magnificence, without regard to the expenses which they entailed. Her love of display made the people of Paris murmur loudly. She appeared at the baptism of a son of her relative, Madame de Sourdis, clad in a garment of black satin so loaded with pearls and precious stones that she could scarcely bear the weight, and she was attended upon by Madame de Montpensier and De Nemours-a circumstance which was the cause of infinite scandal. But the hook-nosed monarch was so infatuated that he denied his mistress nothing; diamonds, pearls, Belgian and English lace, were at her command, and no one was too noble or too good to wait upon her. A single embroidered kerchief for the favourite, it is upon record, cost nineteen hundred crowns ready money. As to Gabrielle herself, she did not blush for the favours heaped upon her; on the contrary, like many who preceded and others who followed her, she actually took pride in them, and she relied, like them, upon her grace and beauty to overthrow and to confound her enemies.

There exist several portraits of Gabrielle d'Estrées, painted at this epoch in her career, and they are preserved in engravings. In figure she is represented as rounded, and almost childish; her eyes are dark and beautiful, her full forehead is crowned by a splendid head of hair, worn as it was in the time of the Valois, rolled over the forehead and temples, and bound with twists of pearls; her waist was of exceeding length, and rose up to a capacious frill that encircled the neck. Under these portraits are generally stanzas in honour of the favourite, of which here is one example:

Fleur des beautés du monde, astre clair de la France,
Qui vous voit vous admire et soupire en son cœur;
Mais tout en même temps votre regard vainqueur,
Donnant vie au désir, fait mourir l'espérance.

But whilst the poets wrote thus of the fair Gabrielle, the people thought differently. A citizen of Geneva, it is related, having gone to the Louvre on business, he met at the gateway of the said Louvre a lady magnificently dressed and well attended, to whom everybody paid the greatest respect. Not knowing who it was, and seeing the honours paid to her, he addressed himself to an archer of the guard to inquire. What was his surprise when he was answered aloud, “Friend, it is nothing of importance; it is only the king's mistress."*

But Gabrielle was more than the king's mistress, says Capefigue, for the project was at that very time maturing which would have raised her to the throne of France. One of the serious ambitions of Henry IV. was to continue his dynasty by a masculine and courageous posterity. Margaret of Valois, amidst all her frailties, had preserved her dignity and the pride of her race intact; if she complained in pathetic verses of being a wife without a husband, still she would not at any price return to that

Journal de Henri IV. (Lestoile.)

« PreviousContinue »