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boorish monarch, half Huguenot, ill-favoured, and living without shame with his mistresses. Henry IV. could not, therefore, expect descendants from that quarter, while, on the contrary, if he wedded Gabrielle, there was a posterity all ready, in the shape of two fat strong boys, with grandiose names. But a difficulty arose here. Natural children could be legitimised by subsequent marriage, but were they qualified to succeed to the crown? There were hopes that any objections which might arise on that score would be got over. The council of Huguenots of La Rochelle had taken the initiative, by voting a purse of two thousand crowns to the king's charming little son. This was quite enough to set the party represented up to the present day by M. Capefigue against Cæsar Monsieur, just as they delight to dress up the Huguenot Henry IV. as an ill-favoured boor, a rude and unmannerly prince, and a recreant monarch. It was thought that the posterity of Henry would be favourable to the Huguenots, and they were ready on their part to defend their rights. Whilst some of the more far-seeing chiefs of the Calvinists wished to bring about a dissolution of the king's marriage with Margaret of Valois, in order that he might wed a Princess of Orange, the mass of the Huguenots did not look so far, they were satisfied with the succession of Gabrielle's posterity, the more so as she herself had entered into engagements with the Calvinist party, as opposed to that of the Valois. Gabrielle was also aided and abetted by Sebastian Zameti, an Italian banker and financier, who was higher in favour with Henry than Sully or the Count d'O, both of whom, however, like the Italian, were aggrandising themselves at the expense of the king and people. Zameti declared that, for a consideration, he would obtain the desired divorce from the Pope; he was one of those men who believe in the power of money over states-general, monarchs, and even popes. He judged of others by himself, and felt no delicacy in purposing transactions of such a delicate description. It was Zameti who, by force of financial influence, had paved the way for Henry's entrance into Paris. He extended his power of corruption in every direction, he bribed heads of parties, provincial magnates, and had nearly entangled the Duke of Mayenne in his nets. This adventurer-Florentine in his tastes-had had an elegant hotel built for himself in the Marais, near the Tournelle. The king was often there, with the Marchioness of Montceaux. Sully lived in a kind of fortified house in the Rue St. Antoine.
Never did Paris present such extreme contrasts as at this epoch. Whilst the streets and squares were filled with poverty-stricken people, plans were being drawn up for embellishing the streets and quays the whole length of the Seine, in imitation of the borders of the Arno, at Pisa and at Florence. Whilst the crowd, struck down by famine and disease, huddled together in by-lanes, dancing, banqueting, and gambling never ceased at the Louvre and at the hotel of the marchioness. The king won one night from M. de Lesdiguière five thousand crowns, and from Saucy a string of pearls worth eight thousand crowns. Another night, Gabrielle making her appearance in a royal dress of green damask, the king, contemplating her, said she had not sufficient brilliants in her hair; there were only twelve, she must have at least fifteen. There was as much extravagance practised at the banquets of the day, as there was in dress. It is upon record, that at a repast given by Henry, first Duke
of Montmorency, and Constable of France, there were sturgeons at one hundred and seventy crowns each, and pears (bons chrétiens) at a crown each. "Après la panse vint la danse, au fond de laquelle il semblait que nous voulussions ensevelir tous nos malheurs," says quaintly a contemporaneous journal-L'Etoile for 1595.
The responsibility for this state of things-all the luxuries, revelries, and excesses of the day-were naturally laid to the account of the favourite. She was considered to be the real cause of the great public misery. Gabrielle d'Estrées was treated, indeed, as Queen of France; she even negotiated for the king, she received and feasted the Duke of Mayenne in his name at Fontainebleau, and her children were considered as "vrais fils de France." But little progress was in reality making with the Pope towards removing the magic excommunication under which the king was still living, or obtaining the desired dissolution of marriage. Thanks, however, to Cardinal d'Ossat and Du Perron, a pervert of Geneva, who did penance in their own persons, and by proxy, at the holy seat, Henry obtained his absolution on the 17th of September, 1595.
With respect to the proposed divorce there were greater difficulties in the way. There were the claims of the Spanish dynasty, of the Lorraines, and of the Condés, to the throne of France, all opposed to the legitimising of the Bourbons, as represented by Gabrielle's sons. Above all, there was la Reine Margot, as she was vulgarly called-the haughty, clever Margaret of Valois-who was not herself opposed to a divorce so much as she was opposed to being supplanted by a person whom, in the language of the day, she spoke of, and wrote of in her letters and memoirs, in terms that cannot be used in the present time. Margaret's mainstay, as the representative of the race of Valois, was at this epoch her gallant nephew, the Count d'Angoulême, the son of Charles IX., by the fair daughter of a surgeon-apothecary of the city of Orleans, Mary Touchet by name. Charles IX. had dearly loved this beautiful Orleanist; she was, indeed, so fair, and she relied so confidently on her charms, that when the policy of the Calvinists had imposed upon Charles a marriage with Elizabeth, daughter of the Emperor of Germany, Mary Touchet contemptuously remarked, "I have no fear of that redheaded German." She preserved, indeed, the affections of Charles to the last, and it was in her honour that, in 1570, the anagram became current, "Je charme tout."
Charles of Valois, Count of Angoulême, son of Charles IX. and of Mary Touchet, was destined for the Order of Malta, and he had obtained, when he took orders, the abbey of la Chaise en Dieu. Catherine of Medicis, however, made him quit the cloth to wed Charlotte, daughter of the Constable Henry of Montmorency. His mother, Mary Touchet, after the decease of Charles IX., married the Sieur François de Balzac d'Entraigue, governor of Orleans. She had two daughters; the first, it is said, a child of Charles IX., became celebrated in the history of Henry IV.'s amours as the Marchioness of Verneuil, whilst the Count of Angoulême distinguished himself in battle for all the adventurous bravery that was so characteristic of the Valois.
Paris was afflicted during the whole winter of 1596 by a kind of cholera, which did not even cease with spring and the return of the leaf. Nothing but funerals were to be seen by tens and twenties, at Saint
Eustache and Saint-Gervais, and at Notre-Dame. The poorer classes were suffering at the same time from extreme penury. Orders were issued, at the sound of the trumpet and by the public crier, to all poor strangers and beggars to quit the city, for fear of contagion; but such orders were much easier to issue than to put into force, and nobody attended to them. The unpopularity of Henry was, if possible, increased at such a moment by the fall of Calais, which the Spaniards had succeeded in obtaining possession of. Add to all this, the Black Huntsman, with his fantastic pack of hounds, had been seen in the Forest of Fontainebleau. Notwithstanding all this sadness and misery, notwithstanding all these sinister warnings, to which were added the advice of some, and the placards of others, posted even on the walls of the Louvre, and in which were such lines as,
La femme d'autrui tu rendras
En le faisant te garderas
Henry and Gabrielle were never apart; one affected grey colours, and the other green, and they rode side by side accoutred, Gabrielle as a man, all in green, and Henry with a doublet of pearl-grey. Thus they went together to Rouen, where Henry had to address the States, in order to obtain subsidies for the war. When he had concluded, the first whose opinion he asked as to his speech, was Gabrielle. The favourite declared that she had never heard anything better, only she was somewhat surprised to hear him say that he would place himself at their mercy. "Ventre-saint gris!" exclaimed the king, "it will be with my sword by my side." The king's attachment to his son was no less sincere than that which bound him to his mother, and when he created the latter Duchess of Beaufort, with a revenue of forty thousand francs, he also granted the succession to the dukedom to Cæsar Monsieur, afterwards created Duke of Vendôme.
Amiens, in the mean time, had followed the fate of Calais, and the "regimentos" were showing themselves in the direction of Chantilly and of Creil. The old martial spirit of Henry IV. was once more aroused. "Ma maîtresse," he said to Gabrielle, "il faut quitter nos délices et monter à cheval pour faire une autre guerre." Gabrielle burst into tears on hearing that her hero was about to expose himself to new dangers. She asked to accompany him, but this was refused her. She then withdrew to her château of Montceaux, where the tower is still shown from whence she used to look out for messengers sent to her by the king. It was upon this occasion that Henry, to whose poetical compositions we have before had occasion to refer, wrote, or got written, the popular
L'amour, sans nulle peine,
To which Gabrielle d'Estrées is said to have replied in more feminine and poetic accents, only that the authority of the verses has in neither case been well proven:
Héros dont la présence,
Fait mes plus doux plaisirs,
Quoi, toujours aux alarmes
Henry was, however, successful at Amiens, the enemy was obliged to capitulate, and the treaty of Vervins put an end to the long struggle between France and Spain without extinguishing the rivalry of the two nations. The negotiation of this treaty led, however, to Fontainebleau two distinguished diplomatists and intriguers, the Cardinal of Medicis and Brother Bonaventura, general of the order of Cordeliers. The Turks were at that moment advancing victoriously from the East, and at such a crisis the Pope deemed it prudent that the war between the two great Catholic powers, which he had before secretly connived at, should be brought to an end. The papal emissaries were commissioned at the same time to broach the subject of divorce and marriage with Henry. The king explained to them his views and his wish to ensure a successor by wedding Gabrielle d'Estrées. This the legates declared to be out of the pale of the law. Henry must marry again, and they proposed Mary of Medicis, niece of the Pope. They had, in fact, come prepared with this charming alternative, which would place the throne of France at the feet of the Holy See.
Henry had the weakness to yield to the arguments of these priestly intriguers; he knew that his Catholicism was universally doubted and disbelieved. If he was only to wed the Pope's niece, he would be received into the bosom of the Church, and become forthwith "his most Catholic majesty," and that with the countenance of Christ's vicar. All he insisted upon was secrecy, and he continued his attentions to Gabrielle, who was at that time enceinte, and melancholy as if by a presentiment of evil, and he caressed his children just as if he sought their welfare as much as ever. The Duke of Vendôme, at that epoch four years of age, was affianced to Françoise de Lorraine at Angers in presence of Henry and Gabrielle, and Alexander, the second son, had the succession to the duchy of Beaufort assigned to him, while another child, a girl, called by
the king after himself, Henriette, was affianced in her cradle to Henry II. of Lorraine.
Gabrielle, however, like all loving hearts that are alarmed, became superstitious. She consulted a famous magician, who showed her a mirror, in which she saw herself seized by the throat by a demon. Cayet, who had devoted his life to drawing horoscopes, had also foretold that her last child-bearing would be disastrous. Amid these omens of evil, Gabrielle left Fontainebleau to reside in the hotel of Zameti, before alluded to, during the Holy Week. The king accompanied her as far as Melun, parting from her in the boat which was to convey her to Paris with regret, as if he also had a presentiment that misfortune was about to attend her. Zameti, it would appear, had the imprudence (probably he was employed to do it) to inform Gabrielle on her arrival at his house of the negotiations which had been entered upon for the marriage of Henry with Mary of Medicis. The old intriguer, who had laboured in the cause of Gabrielle, might have done this in vexation of spirit at being baffled by the worthy cardinal and his coadjutor, the able general of the Cordeliers. Be this as it may, the effect upon Gabrielle in her then condition was, it is said, disastrous. She was taken with violent convulsions, and when she had somewhat recovered, she had herself removed to the house of Madame de Sourdis, her relative, who resided in the cloisters of Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois, and where the fits returned upon her more grievously than ever. On Saturday, the 10th of April, she died, about seven o'clock in the morning, in so violent a paroxysm of convulsions that her mouth was turned towards the back of her neck, and her aspect was so hideous that it was painful to contemplate. Her body was opened, but the child was found dead.
There were not wanting those who attributed this catastrophe to Italian poison, nor others who attributed it to demoniacal intervention. The physician Rivière, on witnessing this extraordinary scene, said, "Hic est manus Domini." Sully says that Gabrielle and the wife of Henry of Montmorency were addicted to the practices of magic, and that it was not surprising that the master of the science should visit them at their death! M. de Vanne hinted at a repast which Gabrielle had partaken of at Zameti's. What might not indeed be expected from such a character? The death of Gabrielle d'Estrées, albeit admitting of explanation, scarcely seems to come within the pale of natural causes. Henry IV. was, or pretended to be, sorely afflicted by the intelligence: he mounted his horse, but having received news of her sudden decease, he returned, and is said to have given manifestations of the utmost grief. He went into mourning for three months. The funeral of the Duchess of Beaufort was carried out with the utmost splendour; her body and that of her dead infant lay in state at Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois, whence they were conveyed to the abbey of Maubuisson, and her obsequies were attended by her six sisters, upon which the heartless populace sang:
J'ai vu passer sous ma fenêtre
Un "Requiescat in pace"
Pour le septième trépassé!