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- The Life of John of Barneveld, 1609-10 - 1/7 -
Passion of Henry IV. for Margaret de Montmorency--Her Marriage with the Prince of Conde--Their Departure for the Country--Their Flight to the Netherlands-Rage of the King--Intrigues of Spain--Reception of the Prince and Princess of Conde by the Archdukes at Brussels-- Splendid Entertainments by Spinola--Attempts of the King to bring the Fugitives back--Mission of De Coeuvres to Brussels--Difficult Position of the Republic--Vast but secret Preparations for War.
"If the Prince of Conde comes back." What had the Prince of Conde, his comings and his goings, to do with this vast enterprise?
It is time to point to the golden thread of most fantastic passion which runs throughout this dark and eventful history.
One evening in the beginning of the year which had just come to its close there was to be a splendid fancy ball at the Louvre in the course of which several young ladies of highest rank were to perform a dance in mythological costume.
The King, on ill terms with the Queen, who harassed him with scenes of affected jealousy, while engaged in permanent plots with her paramour and master, the Italian Concini, against his policy and his life; on still worse terms with his latest mistress in chief, the Marquise de Verneuil, who hated him and revenged herself for enduring his caresses by making him the butt of her venomous wit, had taken the festivities of a court in dudgeon where he possessed hosts of enemies and flatterers but scarcely a single friend.
He refused to attend any of the rehearsals of the ballet, but one day a group of Diana and her nymphs passed him in the great gallery of the palace. One of the nymphs as she went by turned and aimed her gilded javelin at his heart. Henry looked and saw the most beautiful young creature, so he thought, that mortal eye had ever gazed upon, and according to his wont fell instantly over head and ears in love. He said afterwards that he felt himself pierced to the heart and was ready to faint away.
The lady was just fifteen years of age. The King was turned of fifty- five. The disparity of age seemed to make the royal passion ridiculous. To Henry the situation seemed poetical and pathetic. After this first interview he never missed a single rehearsal. In the intervals he called perpetually for the services of the court poet Malherbe, who certainly contrived to perpetrate in his behalf some of the most detestable verses that even he had ever composed.
The nymph was Marguerite de Montmorency, daughter of the Constable of France, and destined one day to become the mother of the great Conde, hero of Rocroy. There can be no doubt that she was exquisitely beautiful. Fair-haired, with a complexion of dazzling purity, large expressive eyes, delicate but commanding features, she had a singular fascination of look and gesture, and a winning, almost childlike, simplicity of manner. Without feminine artifice or commonplace coquetry, she seemed to bewitch and subdue at a glance men of all ranks, ages, and pursuits; kings and cardinals, great generals, ambassadors and statesmen, as well as humbler mortals whether Spanish, Italian, French, or Flemish. The Constable, an ignorant man who, as the King averred, could neither write nor read, understood as well as more learned sages the manners and humours of the court. He had destined his daughter for the young and brilliant Bassompierre, the most dazzling of all the cavaliers of the day. The two were betrothed.
But the love-stricken Henry, then confined to his bed with the gout, sent for the chosen husband of the beautiful Margaret.
"Bassompierre, my friend," said the aged king, as the youthful lover knelt before him at the bedside, "I have become not in love, but mad, out of my senses, furious for Mademoiselle de Montmorency. If she should love you, I should hate you. If she should love me, you would hate me. 'Tis better that this should not be the cause of breaking up our good intelligence, for I love you with affection and inclination. I am resolved to marry her to my nephew the Prince of Conde, and to keep her near my family. She will be the consolation and support of my old age into which I am now about to enter. I shall give my nephew, who loves the chase a thousand times better than he does ladies, 100,000 livres a year, and I wish no other favour from her than her affection without making further pretensions."
It was eight o'clock of a black winter's morning, and the tears as he spoke ran down the cheeks of the hero of Ivry and bedewed the face of the kneeling Bassompierre.
The courtly lover sighed and--obeyed. He renounced the hand of the beautiful Margaret, and came daily to play at dice with the King at his bedside with one or two other companions.
And every day the Duchess of Angouleme, sister of the Constable, brought her fair niece to visit and converse with the royal invalid. But for the dark and tragic clouds which were gradually closing around that eventful and heroic existence there would be something almost comic in the spectacle of the sufferer making the palace and all France ring with the howlings of his grotesque passion for a child of fifteen as he lay helpless and crippled with the gout.
One day as the Duchess of Angouleme led her niece away from their morning visit to the King, Margaret as she passed by Bassompierre shrugged her shoulders with a scornful glance. Stung by this expression of contempt, the lover who had renounced her sprang from the dice table, buried his face in his hat, pretending that his nose was bleeding, and rushed frantically from the palace.
Two days long he spent in solitude, unable to eat, drink, or sleep, abandoned to despair and bewailing his wretched fate, and it was long before he could recover sufficient equanimity to face his lost Margaret and resume his place at the King's dicing table. When he made his appearance, he was according to his own account so pale, changed, and emaciated that his friends could not recognise him.
The marriage with Conde, first prince of the blood, took place early in the spring. The bride received magnificent presents, and the husband a, pension of 100,000 livres a year. The attentions of the King became soon outrageous and the reigning scandal of the hour. Henry, discarding the grey jacket and simple costume on which he was wont to pride himself, paraded himself about in perfumed ruffs and glittering doublet, an ancient fop, very little heroic, and much ridiculed. The Princess made merry with the antics of her royal adorer, while her vanity at least, if not her affection, was really touched, and there was one great round of court festivities in her honour, at which the King and herself were ever the central figures. But Conde was not at all amused. Not liking the part assigned to him in the comedy thus skilfully arranged by his cousin king, never much enamoured of his bride, while highly appreciating the 100,000 livres of pension, he remonstrated violently with his wife, bitterly reproached the King, and made himself generally offensive. "The Prince is here," wrote Henry to Sully, "and is playing the very devil. You would be in a rage and be ashamed of the things he says of me. But at last I am losing patience, and am resolved to give him a bit of my mind." He wrote in the same terms to Montmorency. The Constable, whose conduct throughout the affair was odious and pitiable, promised to do his best to induce the Prince, instead of playing the devil, to listen to reason, as he and the Duchess of Angouleme understood reason.
Henry had even the ineffable folly to appeal to the Queen to use her influence with the refractory Conde. Mary de' Medici replied that there were already thirty go-betweens at work, and she had no idea of being the thirty-first--[Henrard, 30].
Conde, surrounded by a conspiracy against his honour and happiness, suddenly carried off his wife to the country, much to the amazement and rage of Henry.
In the autumn he entertained a hunting party at a seat of his, the Abbey of Verneuille, on the borders of Picardy. De Traigny, governor of Amiens, invited the Prince, Princess, and the Dowager-Princess to a banquet at his chateau not far from the Abbey. On their road thither they passed a group of huntsmen and grooms in the royal livery. Among them was an aged lackey with a plaister over one eye, holding a couple of hounds in leash. The Princess recognized at a glance under that ridiculous disguise the King.
"What a madman!" she murmured as she passed him, "I will never forgive you;" but as she confessed many years afterwards, this act of gallantly did not displease her.'
In truth, even in mythological fable, Trove has scarcely ever reduced demi-god or hero to more fantastic plight than was this travesty of the great Henry. After dinner Madame de Traigny led her fair guest about the castle to show her the various points of view. At one window she paused, saying that it commanded a particularly fine prospect.
The Princess looked from it across a courtyard, and saw at an opposite window an old gentleman holding his left hand tightly upon his heart to show that it was wounded, and blowing kisses to her with the other: "My God! it is the King himself," she cried to her hostess. The princess with this exclamation rushed from the window, feeling or affecting much indignation, ordered horses to her carriage instantly, and overwhelmed Madame de Traigny with reproaches. The King himself, hastening to the scene, was received with passionate invectives, and in vain attempted to assuage the Princess's wrath and induce her to remain.
They left the chateau at once, both Prince and Princess.
One night, not many weeks afterwards, the Due de Sully, in the Arsenal at Paris, had just got into bed at past eleven o'clock when he received a visit from Captain de Praslin, who walked straight into his bed-chamber, informing him that the King instantly required his presence.
Sully remonstrated. He was obliged to rise at three the next morning, he said, enumerating pressing and most important work which Henry required to be completed with all possible haste. "The King said you would be very angry," replied Praslin; "but there is no help for it. Come you must, for the man you know of has gone out of the country, as you said he would, and has carried away the lady on the crupper behind him."
"Ho, ho," said the Duke, "I am wanted for that affair, am I?" And the two proceeded straightway to the Louvre, and were ushered, of all apartments in the world, into the Queen's bedchamber. Mary de' Medici had given birth only four days before to an infant, Henrietta Maria, future queen of Charles I. of England. The room was crowded with ministers and courtiers; Villeroy, the Chancellor, Bassompierre, and others, being stuck against the wall at small intervals like statues, dumb, motionless, scarcely daring to breathe. The King, with his hands behind him and his grey beard sunk on his breast, was pacing up and down the room in a paroxysm of rage and despair.
"Well," said he, turning to Sully as he entered, "our man has gone off
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