Part 5 out of 7
The tone and manner in which these words were said gave Catherine a
revelation of her son's true character; it was like a blow in the
"He speaks to me thus, he whom I made a king!" she thought.
"Monsieur," she said aloud, "the office of a king, in times like
these, is a very difficult one; you do not yet know the shrewd men
with whom you have to deal. You will never have a safer and more
sincere friend than your mother, or better servants than those who
have been so long attached to her person, without whose services you
might perhaps not even exist to-day. The Guises want both your life
and your throne, be sure of that. If they could sew me into a sack and
fling me into the river," she said, pointing to the Seine, "it would
be done to-night. They know that I am a lioness defending her young,
and that I alone prevent their daring hands from seizing your crown.
To whom--to whose party does your tutor belong? Who are his allies?
What authority has he? What services can he do you? What weight do his
words carry? Instead of finding a prop to sustain your power, you have
cut the ground from under it. The Cardinal de Lorraine is a living
threat to you; he plays the king; he keeps his hat on his head before
the princes of the blood; it was urgently necessary to invest another
cardinal with powers greater than his own. But what have you done? Is
Amyot, that shoemaker, fit only to tie the ribbons of his shoes, is he
capable of making head against the Guise ambition? However, you love
Amyot, you have appointed him; your will must now be done, monsieur.
But before you make such gifts again, I pray you to consult me in
affectionate good faith. Listen to reasons of state; and your own good
sense as a child may perhaps agree with my old experience, when you
really understand the difficulties that lie before you."
"Then I can have my master back again?" cried the king, not listening
to his mother's words, which he considered to be mere reproaches.
"Yes, you shall have him," she replied. "But it is not here, nor that
brutal Cypierre who will teach you how to reign."
"It is for you to do so, my dear mother," said the boy, mollified by
his victory and relaxing the surly and threatening look stamped by
nature upon his countenance.
Catherine sent Gondi to recall the new grand-almoner. When the Italian
discovered the place of Amyot's retreat, and the bishop heard that the
courtier was sent by the queen, he was seized with terror and refused
to leave the abbey. In this extremity Catherine was obliged to write
to him herself, in such terms that he returned to Paris and received
from her own lips the assurance of her protection,--on condition,
however, that he would blindly promote her wishes with Charles IX.
This little domestic tempest over, the queen, now re-established in
the Louvre after an absence of more than a year, held council with her
closest friends as to the proper conduct to pursue with the young king
whom Cypierre had complimented on his firmness.
"What is best to be done?" she said to the two Gondis, Ruggiero,
Birago, and Chiverni who had lately become governor and chancellor to
the Duc d'Anjou.
"Before all else," replied Birago, "get rid of Cypierre. He is not a
courtier; he will never accommodate himself to your ideas, and will
think he does his duty in thwarting you."
"Whom can I trust?" cried the queen.
"One of us," said Birago.
"On my honor!" exclaimed Gondi, "I'll promise you to make the king as
docile as the king of Navarre."
"You allowed the late king to perish to save your other children,"
said Albert de Gondi. "Do, then, as the great signors of
Constantinople do,--divert the anger and amuse the caprices of the
present king. He loves art and poetry and hunting, also a little girl
he saw at Orleans; /there's/ occupation enough for him."
"Will you really be the king's governor?" said Catherine to the ablest
of the Gondis.
"Yes, if you will give me the necessary authority; you may even be
obliged to make me marshal of France and a duke. Cypierre is
altogether too small a man to hold the office. In future, the governor
of a king of France should be of some great dignity, like that of duke
"He is right," said Birago.
"Poet and huntsman," said Catherine in a dreamy tone.
"We will hunt and make love!" cried Gondi.
"Moreover," remarked Chiverni, "you are sure of Amyot, who will always
fear poison in case of disobedience; so that you and he and Gondi can
hold the king in leading-strings."
"Amyot has deeply offended me," said Catherine.
"He does not know what he owes to you; if he did know, you would be in
danger," replied Birago, gravely, emphasizing his words.
"Then, it is agreed," exclaimed Catherine, on whom Birago's reply made
a powerful impression, "that you, Gondi, are to be the king's
governor. My son must consent to do for one of my friends a favor
equal to the one I have just permitted for his knave of a bishop. That
fool has lost the hat; for never, as long as I live, will I consent
that the Pope shall give it to him! How strong we might have been with
Cardinal de Tournon! What a trio with Tournon for grand-almoner, and
l'Hopital, and de Thou! As for the burghers of Paris, I intend to make
my son cajole them; we will get a support there."
Accordingly, Albert de Gondi became a marshal of France and was
created Duc de Retz and governor of the king a few days later.
At the moment when this little private council ended, Cardinal de
Tournon announced to the queen the arrival of the emissaries sent to
Calvin. Admiral Coligny accompanied the party in order that his
presence might ensure them due respect at the Louvre. The queen
gathered the formidable phalanx of her maids of honor about her, and
passed into the reception hall, built by her husband, which no longer
exists in the Louvre of to-day.
At the period of which we write the staircase of the Louvre occupied
the clock tower. Catherine's apartments were in the old buildings
which still exist in the court of the Musee. The present staircase of
the museum was built in what was formerly the /salle des ballets/. The
ballet of those days was a sort of dramatic entertainment performed by
the whole court.
Revolutionary passions gave rise to a most laughable error about
Charles IX., in connection with the Louvre. During the Revolution
hostile opinions as to this king, whose real character was masked,
made a monster of him. Joseph Cheniers tragedy was written under the
influence of certain words scratched on the window of the projecting
wing of the Louvre, looking toward the quay. The words were as
follows: "It was from this window that Charles IX., of execrable
memory, fired upon French citizens." It is well to inform future
historians and all sensible persons that this portion of the Louvre
--called to-day the old Louvre--which projects upon the quay and is
connected with the Louvre by the room called the Apollo gallery (while
the great halls of the Museum connect the Louvre with the Tuileries)
did not exist in the time of Charles IX. The greater part of the space
where the frontage on the quay now stands, and where the Garden of the
Infanta is laid out, was then occupied by the hotel de Bourbon, which
belonged to and was the residence of the house of Navarre. It was
absolutely impossible, therefore, for Charles IX. to fire from the
Louvre of Henri II. upon a boat full of Huguenots crossing the river,
although /at the present time/ the Seine can be seen from its windows.
Even if learned men and libraries did not possess maps of the Louvre
made in the time of Charles IX., on which its then position is clearly
indicated, the building itself refutes the error. All the kings who
co-operated in the work of erecting this enormous mass of buildings
never failed to put their initials or some special monogram on the
parts they had severally built. Now the part we speak of, the
venerable and now blackened wing of the Louvre, projecting on the quay
and overlooking the garden of the Infanta, bears the monograms of
Henri III. and Henri IV., which are totally different from that of
Henri II., who invariably joined his H to the two C's of Catherine,
forming a D,--which, by the bye, has constantly deceived superficial
persons into fancying that the king put the initial of his mistress,
Diane, on great public buildings. Henri IV. united the Louvre with his
own hotel de Bourbon, its garden and dependencies. He was the first to
think of connecting Catherine de' Medici's palace of the Tuileries
with the Louvre by his unfinished galleries, the precious sculptures
of which have been so cruelly neglected. Even if the map of Paris, and
the monograms of Henri III. and Henri IV. did not exist, the
difference of architecture is refutation enough to the calumny. The
vermiculated stone copings of the hotel de la Force mark the
transition between what is called the architecture of the Renaissance
and that of Henri III., Henri IV., and Louis XIII. This archaeological
digression (continuing the sketches of old Paris with which we began
this history) enables us to picture to our minds the then appearance
of this other corner of the old city, of which nothing now remains but
Henri IV.'s addition to the Louvre, with its admirable bas-reliefs,
now being rapidly annihilated.
When the court heard that the queen was about to give an audience to
Theodore de Beze and Chaudieu, presented by Admiral Coligny, all the
courtiers who had the right of entrance to the reception hall,
hastened thither to witness the interview. It was about six o'clock in
the evening; Coligny had just supped, and was using a toothpick as he
came up the staircase of the Louvre between the two Reformers. The
practice of using a toothpick was so inveterate a habit with the
admiral that he was seen to do it on the battle-field while planning a
retreat. "Distrust the admiral's toothpick, the /No/ of the
Connetable, and Catherine's /Yes/," was a court proverb of that day.
After the Saint-Bartholomew the populace made a horrible jest on the
body of Coligny, which hung for three days at Montfaucon, by putting a
grotesque toothpick into his mouth. History has recorded this
atrocious levity. So petty an act done in the midst of that great
catastrophe pictures the Parisian populace, which deserves the
sarcastic jibe of Boileau: "Frenchmen, born /malin/, created the
guillotine." The Parisian of all time cracks jokes and makes lampoons
before, during, and after the most horrible revolutions.
Theodore de Beze wore the dress of a courtier, black silk stockings,
low shoes with straps across the instep, tight breeches, a black silk
doublet with slashed sleeves, and a small black velvet mantle, over
which lay an elegant white fluted ruff. His beard was trimmed to a
moustache and /virgule/ (now called imperial) and he carried a sword
at his side and a cane in his hand. Whosoever knows the galleries of
Versailles or the collections of Odieuvre, knows also his round,
almost jovial face and lively eyes, surmounted by the broad forehead
which characterized the writers and poets of that day. De Beze had,
what served him admirably, an agreeable air and manner. In this he was
a great contrast to Coligny, of austere countenance, and to the sour,
bilious Chaudieu, who chose to wear on this occasion the robe and
bands of a Calvinist minister.
The scenes that happen in our day in the Chamber of Deputies, and
which, no doubt, happened in the Convention, will give an idea of how,
at this court, at this epoch, these men, who six months later were to
fight to the death in a war without quarter, could meet and talk to
each other with courtesy and even laughter. Birago, who was coldly to
advise the Saint-Bartholomew, and Cardinal de Lorraine, who charged
his servant Besme "not to miss the admiral," now advanced to meet
Coligny; Birago saying, with a smile:--
"Well, my dear admiral, so you have really taken upon yourself to
present these gentlemen from Geneva?"
"Perhaps you will call it a crime in /me/," replied the admiral,
jesting, "whereas if you had done it yourself you would make a merit
"They say that the Sieur Calvin is very ill," remarked the Cardinal de
Lorraine to Theodore de Beze. "I hope no one suspects us of giving him
"Ah! monseigneur; it would be too great a risk," replied de Beze,
The Duc de Guise, who was watching Chaudieu, looked fixedly at his
brother and at Birago, who were both taken aback by de Beze's answer.
"Good God!" remarked the cardinal, "heretics are not diplomatic!"
To avoid embarrassment, the queen, who was announced at this moment,
had arranged to remain standing during the audience. She began by
speaking to the Connetable, who had previously remonstrated with her
vehemently on the scandal of receiving messengers from Calvin.
"You see, my dear Connetable," she said, "that I receive them without
"Madame," said the admiral, approaching the queen, "these are two
teachers of the new religion, who have come to an understanding with
Calvin, and who have his instructions as to a conference in which the
churches of France may be able to settle their differences."
"This is Monsieur de Beze, to whom my wife is much attached," said the
king of Navarre, coming forward and taking de Beze by the hand.
"And this is Chaudieu," said the Prince de Conde. "/My friend/ the Duc
de Guise knows the soldier," he added, looking at Le Balafre, "perhaps
he will now like to know the minister."
This gasconade made the whole court laugh, even Catherine.
"Faith!" replied the Duc de Guise, "I am enchanted to see a /gars/ who
knows so well how to choose his men and to employ them in their right
sphere. One of your agents," he said to Chaudieu, "actually endured
the extraordinary question without dying and without confessing a
single thing. I call myself brave; but I don't know that I could have
endured it as he did."
"Hum!" muttered Ambroise, "you did not say a word when I pulled the
javelin out of your face at Calais."
Catherine, standing at the centre of a semicircle of the courtiers and
maids of honor, kept silence. She was observing the two Reformers,
trying to penetrate their minds as, with the shrewd, intelligent
glance of her black eyes, she studied them.
"One seems to be the scabbard, the other the blade," whispered Albert
de Gondi in her ear.
"Well, gentlemen," said Catherine at last, unable to restrain a smile,
"has your master given you permission to unite in a public conference,
at which you will be converted by the arguments of the Fathers of the
Church who are the glory of our State?"
"We have no master but the Lord," said Chaudieu.
"But surely you will allow some little authority to the king of
France?" said Catherine, smiling.
"And much to the queen," said de Beze, bowing low.
"You will find," continued the queen, "that our most submissive
subjects are heretics."
"Ah, madame!" cried Coligny, "we will indeed endeavor to make you a
noble and peaceful kingdom! Europe has profited, alas! by our internal
divisions. For the last fifty years she has had the advantage of
one-half of the French people being against the other half."
"Are we here to sing anthems to the glory of heretics," said the
"No, but to bring them to repentance," whispered the Cardinal de
Lorraine in his ear; "we want to coax them by a little sugar."
"Do you know what I should have done under the late king?" said the
Connetable, angrily. "I'd have called in the provost and hung those
two knaves, then and there, on the gallows of the Louvre."
"Well, gentlemen, who are the learned men whom you have selected as
our opponents?" inquired the queen, imposing silence on the Connetable
by a look.
"Duplessis-Mornay and Theodore de Beze will speak on our side,"
"The court will doubtless go to Saint-Germain, and as it would be
improper that this /colloquy/ should take place in a royal residence,
we will have it in the little town of Poissy," said Catherine.
"Shall we be safe there, madame?" asked Chaudieu.
"Ah!" replied the queen, with a sort of naivete, "you will surely know
how to take precautions. The Admiral will arrange all that with my
cousins the Guises and de Montmorency."
"The devil take them!" cried the Connetable, "I'll have nothing to do
"How do you contrive to give such strength of character to your
converts?" said the queen, leading Chaudieu apart. "The son of my
furrier was actually sublime."
"We have faith," replied Chaudieu.
At this moment the hall presented a scene of animated groups, all
discussing the question of the proposed assembly, to which the few
words said by the queen had already given the name of the "Colloquy of
Poissy." Catherine glanced at Chaudieu and was able to say to him
"Yes, a new faith!"
"Ah, madame, if you were not blinded by your alliance with the court
of Rome, you would see that we are returning to the true doctrines of
Jesus Christ, who, recognizing the equality of souls, bestows upon all
men equal rights on earth."
"Do you think yourself the equal of Calvin?" asked the queen,
shrewdly. "No, no; we are equals only in church. What! would you
unbind the tie of the people to the throne?" she cried. "Then you are
not only heretics, you are revolutionists,--rebels against obedience
to the king as you are against that to the Pope!" So saying, she left
Chaudieu abruptly and returned to Theodore de Beze. "I count on you,
monsieur," she said, "to conduct this colloquy in good faith. Take all
the time you need."
"I had supposed," said Chaudieu to the Prince de Conde, the King of
Navarre, and Admiral Coligny, as they left the hall, "that a great
State matter would be treated more seriously."
"Oh! we know very well what you want," exclaimed the Prince de Conde,
exchanging a sly look with Theodore de Beze.
The prince now left his adherents to attend a rendezvous. This great
leader of a party was also one of the most favored gallants of the
court. The two choice beauties of that day were even then striving
with such desperate eagerness for his affections that one of them, the
Marechale de Saint-Andre, the wife of the future triumvir, gave him
her beautiful estate of Saint-Valery, hoping to win him away from the
Duchesse de Guise, the wife of the man who had tried to take his head
on the scaffold. The duchess, not being able to detach the Duc de
Nemours from Mademoiselle de Rohan, fell in love, /en attendant/, with
the leader of the Reformers.
"What a contrast to Geneva!" said Chaudieu to Theodore de Beze, as
they crossed the little bridge of the Louvre.
"The people here are certainly gayer than the Genevese. I don't see
why they should be so treacherous," replied de Beze.
"To treachery oppose treachery," replied Chaudieu, whispering the
words in his companion's ear. "I have /saints/ in Paris on whom I can
rely, and I intend to make Calvin a prophet. Christophe Lecamus shall
deliver us from our most dangerous enemy."
"The queen-mother, for whom the poor devil endured his torture, has
already, with a high hand, caused him to be appointed solicitor to the
Parliament; and solicitors make better prosecutors than murderers.
Don't you remember how Avenelles betrayed the secrets of our first
"I know Christophe," said Chaudieu, in a positive tone, as he turned
to leave the envoy from Geneva.
A few days after the reception of Calvin's emissaries by the queen,
that is to say, toward the close of the year (for the year then began
at Easter and the present calendar was not adopted until later in the
reign of Charles IX.), Christophe reclined in an easy chair beside the
fire in the large brown hall, dedicated to family life, that
overlooked the river in his father's house, where the present drama
was begun. His feet rested on a stool; his mother and Babette Lallier
had just renewed the compresses, saturated with a solution brought by
Ambroise Pare, who was charged by Catherine de' Medici to take care of
the young man. Once restored to his family, Christophe became the
object of the most devoted care. Babette, authorized by her father,
came very morning and only left the Lecamus household at night.
Christophe, the admiration of the apprentices, gave rise throughout
the quarter to various tales, which invested him with mysterious
poesy. He had borne the worst torture; the celebrated Ambroise Pare
was employing all his skill to cure him. What great deed had he done
to be thus treated? Neither Christophe nor his father said a word on
the subject. Catherine, then all-powerful, was concerned in their
silence as well as the Prince de Conde. The constant visits of Pare,
now chief surgeon of both the king and the house of Guise, whom the
queen-mother and the Lorrains allowed to treat a youth accused of
heresy, strangely complicated an affair through which no one saw
clearly. Moreover, the rector of Saint-Pierre-aux-Boeufs came several
times to visit the son of his church-warden, and these visits made the
causes of Christophe's present condition still more unintelligible to
The old syndic, who had his plan, gave evasive answers to his
brother-furriers, the merchants of the neighborhood, and to all friends
who spoke to him of his son: "Yes, I am very thankful to have saved him."
--"Well, you know, it won't do to put your finger between the bark and
the tree."--"My son touched fire and came near burning up my house."
--"They took advantage of his youth; we burghers get nothing but shame
and evil by frequenting the grandees."--"This affair decides me to
make a lawyer of Christophe; the practice of law will teach him to
weigh his words and his acts."--"The young queen, who is now in
Scotland, had a great deal to do with it; but then, to be sure, my son
may have been imprudent."--"I have had cruel anxieties."--"All this
may decide me to give up my business; I do not wish ever to go to
court again."--"My son has had enough of the Reformation; it has
cracked all his joints. If it had not been for Ambroise, I don't know
what would have become of me."
Thanks to these ambiguous remarks and to the great discretion of such
conduct, it was generally averred in the neighborhood that Christophe
had seen the error of his ways; everybody thought it natural that the
old syndic should wish to get his son appointed to the Parliament, and
the rector's visits no longer seemed extraordinary. As the neighbors
reflected on the old man's anxieties they no longer thought, as they
would otherwise have done, that his ambition was inordinate. The young
lawyer, who had lain helpless for months on the bed which his family
made up for him in the old hall, was now, for the last week, able to
rise and move about by the aid of crutches. Babette's love and his
mother's tenderness had deeply touched his heart; and they, while they
had him helpless in their hands, lectured him severely on religion.
President de Thou paid his godson a visit during which he showed
himself most fatherly. Christophe, being now a solicitor of the
Parliament, must of course, he said, be Catholic; his oath would bind
him to that; and the president, who assumed not to doubt of his
godson's orthodoxy, ended his remarks by saying with great
"My son, you have been cruelly tried. I am myself ignorant of the
reasons which made the Messieurs de Guise treat you thus; but I advise
you in future to live peacefully, without entering into the troubles
of the times; for the favor of the king and queen will not be shown to
the makers of revolt. You are not important enough to play fast and
loose with the king as the Guises do. If you wish to be some day
counsellor to the Parliament remember that you cannot obtain that
noble office unless by a real and serious attachment to the royal
Nevertheless, neither President de Thou's visit, nor the seductions of
Babette, nor the urgency of his mother, were sufficient to shake the
constancy of the martyr of the Reformation. Christophe held to his
religion all the more because he had suffered for it.
"My father will never let me marry a heretic," whispered Babette in
Christophe answered only by tears, which made the young girl silent
Old Lecamus maintained his paternal and magisterial dignity; he
observed his son and said little. The stern old man, after recovering
his dear Christophe, was dissatisfied with himself; he repented the
tenderness he had shown for this only son; but he admired him
secretly. At no period of his life did the syndic pull more wires to
reach his ends, for he saw the field ripe for the harvest so painfully
sown, and he wanted to gather the whole of it. Some days before the
morning of which we write, he had had, being alone with Christophe, a
long conversation with him in which he endeavored to discover the
secret reason of the young man's resistance. Christophe, who was not
without ambition, betrayed his faith in the Prince de Conde. The
generous promise of the prince, who, of course, was only exercising
his profession of prince, remained graven on his heart; little did he
think that Conde had sent him, mentally, to the devil in Orleans,
muttering, "A Gascon would have understood me better," when Christophe
called out a touching farewell as the prince passed the window of his
But besides this sentiment of admiration for the prince, Christophe
had also conceived a profound reverence for the great queen, who had
explained to him by a single look the necessity which compelled her to
sacrifice him; and who during his agony had given him an illimitable
promise in a single tear. During the silent months of his weakness, as
he lay there waiting for recovery, he thought over each event at Blois
and at Orleans. He weighed, one might almost say in spite of himself,
the relative worth of these two protections. He floated between the
queen and the prince. He had certainly served Catherine more than he
had served the Reformation, and in a young man both heart and mind
would naturally incline toward the queen; less because she was a queen
than because she was a woman. Under such circumstances a man will
always hope more from a woman than from a man.
"I sacrificed myself for her; what will she do for me?"
This question Christophe put to himself almost involuntarily as he
remembered the tone in which she had said the words, /Povero mio/! It
is difficult to believe how egotistical a man can become when he lies
on a bed of sickness. Everything, even the exclusive devotion of which
he is the object, drives him to think only of himself. By exaggerating
in his own mind the obligation which the Prince de Conde was under to
him he had come to expect that some office would be given to him at
the court of Navarre. Still new to the world of political life, he
forgot its contending interests and the rapid march of events which
control and force the hand of all leaders of parties; he forgot it the
more because he was practically a prisoner in solitary confinement on
his bed in that old brown room. Each party is, necessarily, ungrateful
while the struggle lasts; when it triumphs it has too many persons to
reward not to be ungrateful still. Soldiers submit to this
ingratitude; but their leaders turn against the new master at whose
side they have acted and suffered like equals for so long. Christophe,
who alone remembered his sufferings, felt himself already among the
leaders of the Reformation by the fact of his martyrdom. His father,
that old fox of commerce, so shrewd, so perspicacious, ended by
divining the secret thought of his son; consequently, all his
manoeuvres were now based on the natural expectancy to which Christophe
had yielded himself.
"Wouldn't it be a fine thing," he had said to Babette, in presence of
the family a few days before his interview with his son, "to be the
wife of a counsellor of the Parliament? You would be called /madame/!"
"You are crazy, /compere/," said Lallier. "Where would you get ten
thousand crowns' income from landed property, which a counsellor must
have, according to law; and from whom could you buy the office? No one
but the queen-mother and regent could help your son into Parliament,
and I'm afraid he's too tainted with the new opinions for that."
"What would you pay to see your daughter the wife of a counsellor?"
"Ah! you want to look into my purse, shrewd-head!" said Lallier.
Counsellor to the Parliament! The words worked powerfully in
Sometime after this conversation, one morning when Christophe was
gazing at the river and thinking of the scene which began this
history, of the Prince de Conde, Chaudieu, La Renaudie, of his journey
to Blois,--in short, the whole story of his hopes,--his father came
and sat down beside him, scarcely concealing a joyful thought beneath
a serious manner.
"My son," he said, "after what passed between you and the leaders of
the Tumult of Amboise, they owe you enough to make the care of your
future incumbent on the house of Navarre."
"Yes," replied Christophe.
"Well," continued his father, "I have asked their permission to buy a
legal practice for you in the province of Bearn. Our good friend Pare
undertook to present the letters which I wrote on your behalf to the
Prince de Conde and the queen of Navarre. Here, read the answer of
Monsieur de Pibrac, vice-chancellor of Navarre:--
To the Sieur Lecamus, /syndic of the guild of furriers/:
Monseigneur le Prince de Conde desires me to express his regret
that he cannot do what you ask for his late companion in the tower
of Saint-Aignan, whom he perfectly remembers, and to whom,
meanwhile, he offers the place of gendarme in his company; which
will put your son in the way of making his mark as a man of
courage, which he is.
The queen of Navarre awaits an opportunity to reward the Sieur
Christophe, and will not fail to take advantage of it.
Upon which, Monsieur le syndic, we pray God to have you in His
Chancellor of Navarre.
"Nerac, Pibrac, crack!" cried Babette. "There's no confidence to be
placed in Gascons; they think only of themselves."
Old Lecamus looked at his son, smiling scornfully.
"They propose to put on horseback a poor boy whose knees and ankles
were shattered for their sakes!" cried the mother. "What a wicked
"I shall never see you a counsellor of Navarre," said his father.
"I wish I knew what Queen Catherine would do for me, if I made a claim
upon her," said Christophe, cast down by the prince's answer.
"She made you no promise," said the old man, "but I am certain that
/she/ will never mock you like these others; she will remember your
sufferings. Still, how can the queen make a counsellor of the
Parliament out of a protestant burgher?"
"But Christophe has not abjured!" cried Babette. "He can very well
keep his private opinions secret."
"The Prince de Conde would be less disdainful of a counsellor of the
Parliament," said Lallier.
"Well, what say you, Christophe?" urged Babette.
"You are counting without the queen," replied the young lawyer.
A few days after this rather bitter disillusion, an apprentice brought
Christophe the following laconic little missive:--
Chaudieu wishes to see his son.
"Let him come in!" cried Christophe.
"Oh! my sacred martyr!" said the minister, embracing him; "have you
recovered from your sufferings?"
"Yes, thanks to Pare."
"Thanks rather to God, who gave you the strength to endure the
torture. But what is this I hear? Have you allowed them to make you a
solicitor? Have you taken the oath of fidelity? Surely you will not
recognize that prostitute, the Roman, Catholic, and apostolic Church?"
"My father wished it."
"But ought we not to leave fathers and mothers and wives and children,
all, all, for the sacred cause of Calvinism; nay, must we not suffer
all things? Ah! Christophe, Calvin, the great Calvin, the whole party,
the whole world, the Future counts upon your courage and the grandeur
of your soul. We want your life."
It is a remarkable fact in the mind of man that the most devoted
spirits, even while devoting themselves, build romantic hopes upon
their perilous enterprises. When the prince, the soldier, and the
minister had asked Christophe, under the bridge, to convey to
Catherine the treaty which, if discovered, would in all probability
cost him his life, the lad had relied on his nerve, upon chance, upon
the powers of his mind, and confident in such hopes he bravely, nay,
audaciously put himself between those terrible adversaries, the Guises
and Catherine. During the torture he still kept saying to himself: "I
shall come out of it! it is only pain!" But when this second and
brutal demand, "Die, we want your life," was made upon a boy who was
still almost helpless, scarcely recovered from his late torture, and
clinging all the more to life because he had just seen death so near,
it was impossible for him to launch into further illusions.
Christophe answered quietly:--
"What is it now?"
"To fire a pistol courageously, as Stuart did on Minard."
"The Duc de Guise."
"A vengeance. Have you forgotten the hundred gentlemen massacred on
the scaffold at Amboise? A child who saw that butchery, the little
d'Aubigne cried out, 'They have slaughtered France!'"
"You should receive the blows of others and give none; that is the
religion of the gospel," said Christophe. "If you imitate the
Catholics in their cruelty, of what good is it to reform the Church?"
"Oh! Christophe, they have made you a lawyer, and now you argue!" said
"No, my friend," replied the young man, "but parties are ungrateful;
and you will be, both you and yours, nothing more than puppets of the
"Christophe, if you could hear Calvin, you would know how we wear them
like gloves! The Bourbons are the gloves, we are the hand."
"Read that," said Christophe, giving Chaudieu Pibrac's letter
containing the answer of the Prince de Conde.
"Oh! my son; you are ambitious, you can no longer make the sacrifice
of yourself!--I pity you!"
With those fine words Chaudieu turned and left him.
Some days after that scene, the Lallier family and the Lecamus family
were gathered together in honor of the formal betrothal of Christophe
and Babette, in the old brown hall, from which Christophe's bed had
been removed; for he was now able to drag himself about and even mount
the stairs without his crutches. It was nine o'clock in the evening
and the company were awaiting Ambroise Pare. The family notary sat
before a table on which lay various contracts. The furrier was selling
his house and business to his head-clerk, who was to pay down forty
thousand francs for the house and then mortgage it as security for the
payment of the goods, for which, however, he paid twenty thousand
francs on account.
Lecamus was also buying for his son a magnificent stone house, built
by Philibert de l'Orme in the rue Saint-Pierre-aux-Boeufs, which he
gave to Christophe as a marriage portion. He also took two hundred
thousand francs from his own fortune, and Lallier gave as much more,
for the purchase of a fine seignorial manor in Picardy, the price of
which was five hundred thousand francs. As this manor was a tenure
from the Crown it was necessary to obtain letters-patent (called
/rescriptions/) granted by the king, and also to make payment to the
Crown of considerable feudal dues. The marriage had been postponed
until this royal favor was obtained. Though the burghers of Paris had
lately acquired the right to purchase manors, the wisdom of the privy
council had been exercised in putting certain restrictions on the sale
of those estates which were dependencies of the Crown; and the one
which old Lecamus had had in his eye for the last dozen years was
among them. Ambroise was pledged to bring the royal ordinance that
evening; and the old furrier went and came from the hall to the door
in a state of impatience which showed how great his long-repressed
ambition had been. Ambroise at last appeared.
"My old friend!" cried the surgeon, in an agitated manner, with a
glance at the supper table, "let me see your linen. Good. Oh! you must
have wax candles. Quick, quick! get out your best things!"
"Why? what is it all about?" asked the rector of
"The queen-mother and the young king are coming to sup with you,"
replied the surgeon. "They are only waiting for an old counsellor who
agreed to sell his place to Christophe, and with whom Monsieur de Thou
has concluded a bargain. Don't appear to know anything; I have escaped
from the Louvre to warn you."
In a second the whole family were astir; Christophe's mother and
Babette's aunt bustled about with the celerity of housekeepers
suddenly surprised. But in spite of the apparent confusion into which
the news had thrown the entire family, the precautions were promptly
made, with an activity that was nothing short of marvellous.
Christophe, amazed and confounded by such a favor, was speechless,
gazing mechanically at what went on.
"The queen and king here in our house!" said the old mother.
"The queen!" repeated Babette. "What must we say and do?"
In less than an hour all was changed; the hall was decorated; the
supper-table sparkled. Presently the noise of horses sounded in the
street. The light of torches carried by the horsemen of the escort
brought all the burghers of the neighborhood to their windows. The
noise soon subsided and the escort rode away, leaving the queen-mother
and her son, King Charles IX., Charles de Gondi, now Grand-master of
the wardrobe and governor of the king, Monsieur de Thou, Pinard,
secretary of State, the old counsellor, and two pages, under the
arcade before the door.
"My worthy people," said the queen as she entered, "the king, my son,
and I have come to sign the marriage-contract of the son of my
furrier,--but only on condition that he remains a Catholic. A man must
be a Catholic to enter Parliament; he must be a Catholic to own land
which derives from the Crown; he must be a Catholic if he would sit at
the king's table. That is so, is it not, Pinard?"
The secretary of State entered and showed the letters-patent.
"If we are not all Catholics," said the little king, "Pinard will
throw those papers into the fire. But we are all Catholics here, I
think," he continued, casting his somewhat haughty eyes over the
"Yes, sire," replied Christophe, bending his injured knees with
difficulty, and kissing the hand which the king held out to him.
Queen Catherine stretched out her hand to Christophe and, raising him
hastily, drew him aside into a corner, saying in a low voice:--
"Ah ca! my lad, no evasions here. Are you playing above-board now?"
"Yes, madame," he answered, won by the dazzling reward and the honor
done him by the grateful queen.
"Very good. Monsieur Lecamus, the king, my son, and I permit you to
purchase the office of the goodman Groslay, counsellor of the
Parliament, here present. Young man, you will follow, I hope, in the
steps of your predecessor."
De Thou advanced and said: "I will answer for him, madame."
"Very well; draw up the deed, notary," said Pinard.
"Inasmuch as the king our master does us the favor to sign my
daughter's marriage contract," cried Lallier, "I will pay the whole
price of the manor."
"The ladies may sit down," said the young king, graciously: "As a
wedding present to the bride I remit, with my mother's consent, all my
dues and rights in the manor."
Old Lecamus and Lallier fell on their knees and kissed the king's
"/Mordieu/! sire, what quantities of money these burghers have!"
whispered de Gondi in his ear.
The young king laughed.
"As their Highnesses are so kind," said old Lecamus, "will they permit
me to present to them my successor, and ask them to continue to him
the royal patent of furrier to their Majesties?"
"Let us see him," said the king.
Lecamus led forward his successor, who was livid with fear.
"If my mother consents, we will now sit down to table," said the
Old Lecamus had bethought himself of presenting to the king a silver
goblet which he had bought of Benvenuto Cellini when the latter stayed
in Paris at the hotel de Nesle. This treasure of art had cost the
furrier no less than two thousand crowns.
"Oh! my dear mother, see this beautiful work!" cried the young king,
lifting the goblet by its stem.
"It was made in Florence," replied Catherine.
"Pardon me, madame," said Lecamus, "it was made in Paris by a
Florentine. All that is made in Florence would belong to your Majesty;
that which is made in France is the king's."
"I accept it, my good man," cried Charles IX.; "and it shall
henceforth be my particular drinking cup."
"It is beautiful enough," said the queen, examining the masterpiece,
"to be included among the crown-jewels. Well, Maitre Ambroise," she
whispered in the surgeon's ear, with a glance at Christophe, "have you
taken good care of him? Will he walk again?"
"He will run," replied the surgeon, smiling. "Ah! you have cleverly
made him a renegade."
"Ha!" said the queen, with the levity for which she has been blamed,
though it was only on the surface, "the Church won't stand still for
want of one monk!"
The supper was gay; the queen thought Babette pretty, and, in the
regal manner which was natural to her, she slipped upon the girl's
finger a diamond ring which compensated in value for the goblet
bestowed upon the king. Charles IX., who afterwards became rather too
fond of these invasions of burgher homes, supped with a good appetite.
Then, at a word from his new governor (who, it is said, was instructed
to make him forget the virtuous teachings of Cypierre), he obliged all
the men present to drink so deeply that the queen, observing that the
gaiety was about to become too noisy, rose to leave the room. As she
rose, Christophe, his father, and the two women took torches and
accompanied her to the shop-door. There Christophe ventured to touch
the queen's wide sleeve and to make her a sign that he had something
to say. Catherine stopped, made a gesture to the father and the two
women to leave her, and said, turning to Christophe:
"What is it?"
"It may serve you to know, madame," replied Christophe, whispering in
her ear, "that the Duc de Guise is being followed by assassins."
"You are a loyal subject," said Catherine, smiling, "and I shall never
She held out to him her hand, so celebrated for its beauty, first
ungloving it, which was indeed a mark of favor,--so much so that
Christophe, then and there, became altogether royalist as he kissed
that adorable hand.
"So they mean to rid me of that bully without my having a finger in
it," thought she as she replaced her glove.
Then she mounted her mule and returned to the Louvre, attended by her
Christophe went back to the supper-table, but was thoughtful and
gloomy even while he drank; the fine, austere face of Ambroise Pare
seemed to reproach him for his apostasy. But subsequent events
justified the manoeuvres of the old syndic. Christophe would certainly
not have escaped the massacre of Saint-Bartholomew; his wealth and his
landed estates would have made him a mark for the murderers. History
has recorded the cruel fate of the wife of Lallier's successor, a
beautiful woman, whose naked body hung by the hair for three days from
one of the buttresses of the Pont au Change. Babette trembled as she
thought that she, too, might have endured the same treatment if
Christophe had continued a Calvinist,--for such became the name of the
Reformers. Calvin's personal ambition was thus gratified, though not
until after his death.
Such was the origin of the celebrated parliamentary house of Lecamus.
Tallemant des Reaux is in error when he states that they came
originally from Picardy. It is only true that the Lecamus family found
it for their interest in after days to date from the time the old
furrier bought their principal estate, which, as we have said, was
situated in Picardy. Christophe's son, who succeeded him under Louis
XIII., was the father of the rich president Lecamus who built, in the
reign of Louis XIV., that magnificent mansion which shares with the
hotel Lambert the admiration of Parisians and foreigners, and was
assuredly one of the finest buildings in Paris. It may still be seen
in the rue Thorigny, though at the beginning of the Revolution it was
pillaged as having belonged to Monsieur de Juigne, the archbishop of
Paris. All the decorations were then destroyed; and the tenants who
lodge there have greatly damaged it; nevertheless this palace, which
is reached through the old house in the rue de la Pelleterie, still
shows the noble results obtained in former days by the spirit of
family. It may be doubted whether modern individualism, brought about
by the equal division of inheritances, will ever raise such noble
THE SECRETS OF THE RUGGIERI
THE COURT UNDER CHARLES IX.
Between eleven o'clock and midnight toward the end of October, 1573,
two Italians, Florentines and brothers, Albert de Gondi, Duc de Retz
and marshal of France, and Charles de Gondi la Tour, Grand-master of
the robes of Charles IX., were sitting on the roof of a house in the
rue Saint-Honore, at the edge of a gutter. This gutter was one of
those stone channels which in former days were constructed below the
roofs of houses to receive the rain-water, discharging it at regular
intervals through those long gargoyles carved in the shape of
fantastic animals with gaping mouths. In spite of the zeal with which
our present general pulls down and demolishes venerable buildings,
there still existed many of these projecting gutters until, quite
recently, an ordinance of the police as to water-conduits compelled
them to disappear. But even so, a few of these carved gargoyles still
remain, chiefly in the /quartier/ Saint-Antoine, where low rents and
values hinder the building of new storeys under the eaves of the
It certainly seems strange that two personages invested with such
important offices should be playing the part of cats. But whosoever
will burrow into the historic treasures of those days, when personal
interests jostled and thwarted each other around the throne till the
whole political centre of France was like a skein of tangled thread,
will readily understand that the two Florentines were cats indeed, and
very much in their places in a gutter. Their devotion to the person of
the queen-mother, Catherine de' Medici--who had brought them to the
court of France and foisted them into their high offices--compelled
them not to recoil before any of the consequences of their intrusion.
But to explain how and why these courtiers were thus perched, it is
necessary to relate a scene which had taken place an hour earlier not
far from this very gutter, in that beautiful brown room of the Louvre,
all that now remains to us of the apartments of Henri II., in which
after supper the courtiers had been paying court to the two queens,
Catherine de' Medici and Elizabeth of Austria, and to their son and
husband King Charles IX.
In those days the majority of the burghers and great lords supped at
six, or at seven o'clock, but the more refined and elegant supped at
eight or even nine. This repast was the dinner of to-day. Many persons
erroneously believe that etiquette was invented by Louis XIV.; on the
contrary it was introduced into France by Catherine de' Medici, who
made it so severe that the Connetable de Montmorency had more
difficulty in obtaining permission to enter the court of the Louvre on
horseback than in winning his sword; moreover, that unheard-of
distinction was granted to him only on account of his great age.
Etiquette, which was, it is true, slightly relaxed under the first two
Bourbon kings, took an Oriental form under the Great Monarch, for it
was introduced from the Eastern Empire, which derived it from Persia.
In 1573 few persons had the right to enter the courtyard of the Louvre
with their servants and torches (under Louis XIV. the coaches of none
but dukes and peers were allowed to pass under the peristyle);
moreover, the cost of obtaining entrance after supper to the royal
apartments was very heavy. The Marechal de Retz, whom we have just
seen, perched on a gutter, offered on one occasion a thousand crowns
of that day, six thousand francs of our present money, to the usher of
the king's cabinet to be allowed to speak to Henri III. on a day when
he was not on duty. To an historian who knows the truth, it is
laughable to see the well-known picture of the courtyard at Blois, in
which the artist has introduced a courtier on horseback!
On the present occasion, therefore, none but the most eminent
personages in the kingdom were in the royal apartments. The queen,
Elizabeth of Austria, and her mother-in-law, Catherine de' Medici,
were seated together on the left of the fireplace. On the other side
sat the king, buried in an arm-chair, affecting a lethargy consequent
on digestion,--for he had just supped like a prince returned from
hunting; possibly he was seeking to avoid conversation in presence of
so many persons who were spies upon his thoughts. The courtiers stood
erect and uncovered at the end of the room. Some talked in a low
voice; others watched the king, awaiting the bestowal of a look or a
word. Occasionally one was called up by the queen-mother, who talked
with him for a few moments; another risked saying a word to the king,
who replied with either a nod or a brief sentence. A German nobleman,
the Comte de Solern, stood at the corner of the fireplace behind the
young queen, the granddaughter of Charles V., whom he had accompanied
into France. Near to her on a stool sat her lady of honor, the
Comtesse de Fiesque, a Strozzi, and a relation of Catherine de'
Medici. The beautiful Madame de Sauves, a descendant of Jacques Coeur,
mistress of the king of Navarre, then of the king of Poland, and
lastly of the Duc d'Alencon, had been invited to supper; but she stood
like the rest of the court, her husband's rank (that of secretary of
State) giving her no right to be seated. Behind these two ladies stood
the two Gondis, talking to them. They alone of this dismal assembly
were smiling. Albert Gondi, now Duc de Retz, marshal of France, and
gentleman of the bed-chamber, had been deputed to marry the queen by
proxy at Spire. In the first line of courtiers nearest to the king
stood the Marechal de Tavannes, who was present on court business;
Neufville de Villeroy, one of the ablest bankers of the period, who
laid the foundation of the great house of that name; Birago and
Chiverni, gentlemen of the queen-mother, who, knowing her preference
for her son Henri (the brother whom Charles IX. regarded as an enemy),
attached themselves especially to him; then Strozzi, Catherine's
cousin; and finally, a number of great lords, among them the old
Cardinal de Lorraine and his nephew, the young Duc de Guise, who were
held at a distance by the king and his mother. These two leaders of
the Holy Alliance, and later of the League (founded in conjunction
with Spain a few years earlier), affected the submission of servants
who are only waiting an opportunity to make themselves masters.
Catherine and Charles IX. watched each other with close attention.
At this gloomy court, as gloomy as the room in which it was held, each
individual had his or her own reasons for being sad or thoughtful. The
young queen, Elizabeth, was a prey to the tortures of jealousy, and
could ill-disguise them, though she smiled upon her husband, whom she
passionately adored, good and pious woman that she was! Marie Touchet,
the only mistress Charles IX. ever had and to whom he was loyally
faithful, had lately returned from the chateau de Fayet in Dauphine,
whither she had gone to give birth to a child. She brought back to
Charles IX. a son, his only son, Charles de Valois, first Comte
d'Auvergne, and afterward Duc d'Angouleme. The poor queen, in addition
to the mortification of her abandonment, now endured the pang of
knowing that her rival had borne a son to her husband while she had
brought him only a daughter. And these were not her only troubles and
disillusions, for Catherine de' Medici, who had seemed her friend in
the first instance, now, out of policy, favored her betrayal,
preferring to serve the mistress rather than the wife of the king,
--for the following reason.
When Charles IX. openly avowed his passion for Marie Touchet,
Catherine showed favor to the girl in the interests of her own desire
for domination. Marie Touchet, who was very young when brought to
court, came at an age when all the noblest sentiments are predominant.
She loved the king for himself alone. Frightened at the fate to which
ambition had led the Duchesse de Valentinois (better known as Diane de
Poitiers), she dreaded the queen-mother, and greatly preferred her
simple happiness to grandeur. Perhaps she thought that lovers as young
as the king and herself could never struggle successfully against the
queen-mother. As the daughter of Jean Touchet, Sieur de Beauvais and
Quillard, she was born between the burgher class and the lower
nobility; she had none of the inborn ambitions of the Pisseleus and
Saint-Valliers, girls of rank, who battled for their families with the
hidden weapons of love. Marie Touchet, without family or friends,
spared Catherine de' Medici all antagonism with her son's mistress;
the daughter of a great house would have been her rival. Jean Touchet,
the father, one of the finest wits of the time, a man to whom poets
dedicated their works, wanted nothing at court. Marie, a young girl
without connections, intelligent and well-educated, and also simple
and artless, whose desires would probably never be aggressive to the
royal power, suited the queen-mother admirably. In short, she made the
parliament recognize the son to whom Marie Touchet had just given
birth in the month of April, and she allowed him to take the title of
Comte d'Auvergne, assuring Charles IX. that she would leave the boy
her personal property, the counties of Auvergne and Laraguais. At a
later period, Marguerite de Valois, queen of Navarre, contested this
legacy after she was queen of France, and the parliament annulled it.
But later still, Louis XIII., out of respect for the Valois blood,
indemnified the Comte d'Auvergne by the gift of the duchy of
Catherine had already given Marie Touchet, who asked nothing, the
manor of Belleville, an estate close to Vincennes which carried no
title; and thither she went whenever the king hunted and spent the
night at the castle. It was in this gloomy fortress that Charles IX.
passed the greater part of his last years, ending his life there,
according to some historians, as Louis XII. had ended his.
The queen-mother kept close watch upon her son. All the occupations of
his personal life, outside of politics, were reported to her. The king
had begun to look upon his mother as an enemy, but the kind intentions
she expressed toward his son diverted his suspicions for a time.
Catherine's motives in this matter were never understood by Queen
Elizabeth, who, according to Brantome, was one of the gentlest queens
that ever reigned, who never did harm or even gave pain to any one,
"and was careful to read her prayer-book secretly." But this
single-minded princess began at last to see the precipices yawning
around the throne,--a dreadful discovery, which might indeed have made
her quail; it was some such remembrance, no doubt, that led her to say
to one of her ladies, after the death of the king, in reply to a
condolence that she had no son, and could not, therefore, be regent and
"Ah! I thank God that I have no son. I know well what would have
happened. My poor son would have been despoiled and wronged like the
king, my husband, and I should have been the cause of it. God had
mercy on the State; he has done all for the best."
This princess, whose portrait Brantome thinks he draws by saying that
her complexion was as beautiful and delicate as the ladies of her
suite were charming and agreeable, and that her figure was fine though
rather short, was of little account at her own court. Suffering from a
double grief, her saddened attitude added another gloomy tone to a
scene which most young queens, less cruelly injured, might have
enlivened. The pious Elizabeth proved at this crisis that the
qualities which are the shining glory of women in the ordinary ways of
life can be fatal to a sovereign. A princess able to occupy herself
with other things besides her prayer-book might have been a useful
helper to Charles IX., who found no prop to lean on, either in his
wife or in his mistress.
The queen-mother, as she sat there in that brown room, was closely
observing the king, who, during supper, had exhibited a boisterous
good-humor which she felt to be assumed in order to mask some
intention against her. This sudden gaiety contrasted too vividly with
the struggle of mind he endeavored to conceal by his eagerness in
hunting, and by an almost maniacal toil at his forge, where he spent
many hours in hammering iron; and Catherine was not deceived by it.
Without being able even to guess which of the statesmen about the king
was employed to prepare or negotiate it (for Charles IX. contrived to
mislead his mother's spies), Catherine felt no doubt whatever that
some scheme for her overthrow was being planned. The unlooked-for
presence of Tavannes, who arrived at the same time as Strozzi, whom
she herself had summoned, gave her food for thought. Strong in the
strength of her political combination, Catherine was above the reach
of circumstances; but she was powerless against some hidden violence.
As many persons are ignorant of the actual state of public affairs
then so complicated by the various parties that distracted France, the
leaders of which had each their private interests to carry out, it is
necessary to describe, in a few words, the perilous game in which the
queen-mother was now engaged. To show Catherine de' Medici in a new
light is, in fact, the root and stock of our present history.
Two words explain this woman, so curiously interesting to study, a
woman whose influence has left such deep impressions upon France.
Those words are: Power and Astrology. Exclusively ambitious, Catherine
de' Medici had no other passion than that of power. Superstitious and
fatalistic, like so many superior men, she had no sincere belief
except in occult sciences. Unless this double mainspring is known, the
conduct of Catherine de' Medici will remain forever misunderstood. As
we picture her faith in judicial astrology, the light will fall upon
two personages, who are, in fact, the philosophical subjects of this
There lived a man for whom Catherine cared more than for any of her
children; his name was Cosmo Ruggiero. He lived in a house belonging
to her, the hotel de Soissons; she made him her supreme adviser. It
was his duty to tell her whether the stars ratified the advice and
judgment of her ordinary counsellors. Certain remarkable antecedents
warranted the power which Cosmo Ruggiero retained over his mistress to
her last hour. One of the most learned men of the sixteenth century
was physician to Lorenzo de' Medici, Duc d'Urbino, Catherine's father.
This physician was called Ruggiero the Elder (Vecchio Ruggier and
Roger l'Ancien in the French authors who have written on alchemy), to
distinguish him from his two sons, Lorenzo Ruggiero, called the Great
by cabalistic writers, and Cosmo Ruggiero, Catherine's astrologer,
also called Roger by several French historians. In France it was the
custom to pronounce the name in general as Ruggieri. Ruggiero the
elder was so highly valued by the Medici that the two dukes, Cosmo and
Lorenzo, stood godfathers to his two sons. He cast, in concert with
the famous mathematician, Basilio, the horoscope of Catherine's
nativity, in his official capacity as mathematicion, astrologer, and
physician to the house of Medici; three offices which are often
At the period of which we write the occult sciences were studied with
an ardor that may surprise the incredulous minds of our own age, which
is supremely analytical. Perhaps such minds may find in this
historical sketch the dawn, or rather the germ, of the positive
sciences which have flowered in the nineteenth century, though without
the poetic grandeur given to them by the audacious Seekers of the
sixteenth, who, instead of using them solely for mechanical
industries, magnified Art and fertilized Thought by their means. The
protection universally given to occult science by the sovereigns of
those days was justified by the noble creations of many inventors,
who, starting in quest of the Great Work (the so-called philosophers'
stone), attained to astonishing results. At no period were the
sovereigns of the world more eager for the study of these mysteries.
The Fuggers of Augsburg, in whom all modern Luculluses will recognize
their princes, and all bankers their masters, were gifted with powers
of calculation it would be difficult to surpass. Well, those practical
men, who loaned the funds of all Europe to the sovereigns of the
sixteenth century (as deeply in debt as the kings of the present day),
those illustrious guests of Charles V. were sleeping partners in the
crucibles of Paracelsus. At the beginning of the sixteenth century,
Ruggiero the elder was the head of that secret university from which
issued the Cardans, the Nostradamuses, and the Agrippas (all in their
turn physicians of the house of Valois); also the astronomers,
astrologers, and alchemists who surrounded the princes of Christendom
and were more especially welcomed and protected in France by Catherine
de' Medici. In the nativity drawn by Basilio and Ruggiero the elder,
the principal events of Catherine's life were foretold with a
correctness which is quite disheartening for those who deny the power
of occult science. This horoscope predicted the misfortunes which
during the siege of Florence imperilled the beginning of her life;
also her marriage with a son of the king of France, the unexpected
succession of that son to his father's throne, the birth of her
children, their number, and the fact that three of her sons would be
kings in succession, that two of her daughters would be queens, and
that all of them were destined to die without posterity. This
prediction was so fully realized that many historians have assumed
that it was written after the events.
It is well known that Nostradamus took to the chateau de Chaumont,
whither Catherine went after the conspiracy of La Renaudie, a woman
who possessed the faculty of reading the future. Now, during the reign
of Francois II., while the queen had with her her four sons, all young
and in good health, and before the marriage of her daughter Elizabeth
with Philip II., king of Spain, or that of her daughter Marguerite
with Henri de Bourbon, king of Navarre (afterward Henri IV.),
Nostradamus and this woman reiterated the circumstances formerly
predicted in the famous nativity. This woman, who was no doubt gifted
with second sight, and who belonged to the great school of Seekers of
the Great Work, though the particulars of her life and name are lost
to history, stated that the last crowned child would be assassinated.
Having placed the queen-mother in front of a magic mirror, in which
was reflected a wheel on the several spokes of which were the faces of
her children, the sorceress set the wheel revolving, and Catherine
counted the number of revolutions which it made. Each revolution was
for each son one year of his reign. Henri IV. was also put upon the
wheel, which then made twenty-four rounds, and the woman (some
historians have said it was a man) told the frightened queen that
Henri de Bourbon would be king of France and reign that number of
years. From that time forth Catherine de' Medici vowed a mortal hatred
to the man whom she knew would succeed the last of her Valois sons,
who was to die assassinated. Anxious to know what her own death would
be, she was warned to beware of Saint-Germain. Supposing, therefore,
that she would be either put to death or imprisoned in the chateau de
Saint-Germain, she would never so much as put her foot there, although
that residence was far more convenient for her political plans, owing
to its proximity to Paris, than the other castles to which she
retreated with the king during the troubles. When she was taken
suddenly ill, a few days after the murder of the Duc de Guise at
Blois, she asked the name of the bishop who came to assist her. Being
told it was Saint-Germain, she cried out, "I am dead!" and did
actually die on the morrow,--having, moreover, lived the exact number
of years given to her by all her horoscopes.
These predictions, which were known to the Cardinal de Lorraine, who
regarded them as witchcraft, were now in process of realization.
Francois II. had reigned his two revolutions of the wheel, and Charles
IX. was now making his last turn. If Catherine said the strange words
which history has attributed to her when her son Henri started for
Poland,--"You will soon return,"--they must be set down to her faith
in occult science and not to the intention of poisoning Charles IX.
Many other circumstances corroborated Catherine's faith in the occult
sciences. The night before the tournament at which Henri II. was
killed, Catherine saw the fatal blow in a dream. Her astrological
council, then composed of Nostradamus and the two Ruggieri, had
already predicted to her the death of the king. History has recorded
the efforts made by Catherine to persuade her husband not to enter the
lists. The prognostic, and the dream produced by the prognostic, were
verified. The memoirs of the day relate another fact that was no less
singular. The courier who announced the victory of Moncontour arrived
in the night, after riding with such speed that he killed three
horses. The queen-mother was awakened to receive the news, to which
she replied, "I knew it already." In fact, as Brantome relates, she
had told of her son's triumph the evening before, and narrated several
circumstances of the battle. The astrologer of the house of Bourbon
predicted that the youngest of all the princes descended from
Saint-Louis (the son of Antoine de Bourbon) would ascend the throne of
France. This prediction, related by Sully, was accomplished in the
precise terms of the horoscope; which led Henri IV. to say that by
dint of lying these people sometimes hit the truth. However that may
be, if most of the great minds of that epoch believed in this vast
science,--called Magic by the masters of judicial astrology, and
Sorcery by the public,--they were justified in doing so by the
fulfilment of horoscopes.
It was for the use of Cosmo Ruggiero, her mathematician, astronomer,
and astrologer, that Catherine de' Medici erected the tower behind the
Halle aux Bles,--all that now remains of the hotel de Soissons. Cosmo
Ruggiero possessed, like confessors, a mysterious influence, the
possession of which, like them again, sufficed him. He cherished an
ambitious thought superior to all vulgar ambitions. This man, whom
dramatists and romance-writers depict as a juggler, owned the rich
abbey of Saint-Mahe in Lower Brittany, and refused many high
ecclesiastical dignities; the gold which the superstitious passions of
the age poured into his coffers sufficed for his secret enterprise;
and the queen's hand, stretched above his head, preserved every hair
of it from danger.
SCHEMES AGAINST SCHEMES
The thirst for power which consumed the queen-mother, her desire for
dominion, was so great that in order to retain it she had, as we have
seen, allied herself to the Guises, those enemies of the throne; to
keep the reins of power, now obtained, within her hands, she was using
every means, even to the sacrifice of her friends and that of her
children. This woman, of whom one of her enemies said at her death,
"It is more than a queen, it is monarchy itself that has died,"--this
woman could not exist without the intrigues of government, as a
gambler can live only by the emotions of play. Although she was an
Italian of the voluptuous race of the Medici, the Calvinists who
calumniated her never accused her of having a lover. A great admirer
of the maxim, "Divide to reign," she had learned the art of
perpetually pitting one force against another. No sooner had she
grasped the reins of power than she was forced to keep up dissensions
in order to neutralize the strength of two rival houses, and thus save
the Crown. Catherine invented the game of political see-saw (since
imitated by all princes who find themselves in a like situation), by
instigating, first the Calvinists against the Guises, and then the
Guises against the Calvinists. Next, after pitting the two religions
against each other in the heart of the nation, Catherine instigated
the Duc d'Anjou against his brother Charles IX. After neutralizing
events by opposing them to one another, she neutralized men, by
holding the thread of all their interests in her hands. But so fearful
a game, which needs the head of a Louis XI. to play it, draws down
inevitably the hatred of all parties upon the player, who condemns
himself forever to the necessity of conquering; for one lost game will
turn every selfish interest into an enemy.
The greater part of the reign of Charles IX. witnessed the triumph of
the domestic policy of this astonishing woman. What adroit persuasion
must Catherine have employed to have obtained the command of the
armies for the Duc d'Anjou under a young and brave king, thirsting for
glory, capable of military achievement, generous, and in presence,
too, of the Connetable de Montmorency. In the eyes of the statesmen of
Europe the Duc d'Anjou had all the honors of the Saint-Bartholomew,
and Charles IX. all the odium. After inspiring the king with a false
and secret jealousy of his brother, she used that passion to wear out
by the intrigues of fraternal jealousy the really noble qualities of
Charles IX. Cypierre, the king's first governor, and Amyot, his first
tutor, had made him so great a man, they had paved the way for so
noble a reign, that the queen-mother began to hate her son as soon as
she found reason to fear the loss of the power she had so slowly and
so painfully obtained. On these general grounds most historians have
believed that Catherine de' Medici felt a preference for Henri III.;
but her conduct at the period of which we are now writing, proves the
absolute indifference of her heart toward all her children.
When the Duc d'Anjou went to reign in Poland Catherine was deprived of
the instrument by which she had worked to keep the king's passions
occupied in domestic intrigues, which neutralized his energy in other
directions. She then set up the conspiracy of La Mole and Coconnas, in
which her youngest son, the Duc d'Alencon (afterwards Duc d'Anjou, on
the accession of Henri III.) took part, lending himself very willingly
to his mother's wishes, and displaying an ambition much encouraged by
his sister Marguerite, then queen of Navarre. This secret conspiracy
had now reached the point to which Catherine sought to bring it. Its
object was to put the young duke and his brother-in-law, the king of
Navarre, at the head of the Calvinists, to seize the person of Charles
IX., and imprison that king without an heir,--leaving the throne to
the Duc d'Alencon, whose intention it was to establish Calvinism as
the religion of France. Calvin, as we have already said, had obtained,
a few days before his death, the reward he had so deeply coveted,--the
Reformation was now called Calvinism in his honor.
If Le Laboureur and other sensible writers had not already proved that
La Mole and Coconnas,--arrested fifty nights after the day on which
our present history begins, and beheaded the following April,--even,
we say, if it had not been made historically clear that these men were
the victims of the queen-mother's policy, the part which Cosmo
Ruggiero took in this affair would go far to show that she secretly
directed their enterprise. Ruggiero, against whom the king had
suspicions, and for whom he cherished a hatred the motives of which we
are about to explain, was included in the prosecution. He admitted
having given to La Mole a wax figure representing the king, which was
pierced through the heart by two needles. This method of casting
spells constituted a crime, which, in those days, was punished by
death. It presents one of the most startling and infernal images of
hatred that humanity could invent; it pictures admirably the magnetic
and terrible working in the occult world of a constant malevolent
desire surrounding the person doomed to death; the effects of which on
the person are exhibited by the figure of wax. The law in those days
thought, and thought justly, that a desire to which an actual form was
given should be regarded as a crime of /lese majeste/. Charles IX.
demanded the death of Ruggiero; Catherine, more powerful than her son,
obtained from the Parliament, through the young counsellor, Lecamus, a
commutation of the sentence, and Cosmo was sent to the galleys. The
following year, on the death of the king, he was pardoned by a decree
of Henri III., who restored his pension, and received him at court.
But, to return now to the moment of which we are writing, Catherine
had, by this time, struck so many blows on the heart of her son that
he was eagerly desirous of casting off her yoke. During the absence of
Marie Touchet, Charles IX., deprived of his usual occupation, had
taken to observing everything about him. He cleverly set traps for the
persons in whom he trusted most, in order to test their fidelity. He
spied on his mother's actions, concealing from her all knowledge of
his own, employing for this deception the evil qualities she had
fostered in him. Consumed by a desire to blot out the horror excited
in France by the Saint-Bartholomew, he busied himself actively in
public affairs; he presided at the Council, and tried to seize the
reins of government by well-laid schemes. Though the queen-mother
endeavored to check these attempts of her son by employing all the
means of influence over his mind which her maternal authority and a
long habit of domineering gave her, his rush into distrust was so
vehement that he went too far at the first bound ever to return from
it. The day on which his mother's speech to the king of Poland was
reported to him, Charles IX., conscious of his failing health,
conceived the most horrible suspicions, and when such thoughts take
possession of the mind of a son and a king nothing can remove them. In
fact, on his deathbed, at the moment when he confided his wife and
daughter to Henri IV., he began to put the latter on his guard against
Catherine, so that she cried out passionately, endeavoring to silence
him, "Do not say that, monsieur!"
Though Charles IX. never ceased to show her the outward respect of
which she was so tenacious that she would never call the kings her
sons anything but "Monsieur," the queen-mother had detected in her
son's manner during the last few months an ill-disguised purpose of
vengeance. But clever indeed must be the man who counted on taking
Catherine unawares. She held ready in her hand at this moment the
conspiracy of the Duke d'Alencon and La Mole, in order to counteract,
by another fraternal struggle, the efforts Charles IX. was making
toward emancipation. But, before employing this means, she wanted to
remove his distrust of her, which would render impossible their future
reconciliation; for was he likely to restore power to the hands of a
mother whom he thought capable of poisoning him? She felt herself at
this moment in such serious danger that she had sent for Strozzi, her
relation and a soldier noted for his promptitude of action. She took
counsel in secret with Birago and the two Gondis, and never did she so
frequently consult her oracle, Cosmo Ruggiero, as at the present
Though the habit of dissimulation, together with advancing age, had
given the queen-mother that well-known abbess face, with its haughty
and macerated mask, expressionless yet full of depth, inscrutable yet
vigilant, remarked by all who have studied her portrait, the courtiers
now observed some clouds on her icy countenance. No sovereign was ever
so imposing as this woman from the day when she succeeded in
restraining the Guises after the death of Francois II. Her black
velvet cap, made with a point upon the forehead (for she never
relinquished her widow's mourning) seemed a species of feminine cowl
around the cold, imperious face, to which, however, she knew how to
give, at the right moment, a seductive Italian charm. Catherine de'
Medici was so well made that she was accused of inventing side-saddles
to show the shape of her legs, which were absolutely perfect. Women
followed her example in this respect throughout Europe, which even
then took its fashions from France. Those who desire to bring this
grand figure before their minds will find that the scene now taking
place in the brown hall of the Louvre presents it in a striking
The two queens, different in spirit, in beauty, in dress, and now
estranged,--one naive and thoughtful, the other thoughtful and gravely
abstracted,--were far too preoccupied to think of giving the order
awaited by the courtiers for the amusements of the evening. The
carefully concealed drama, played for the last six months by the
mother and son was more than suspected by many of the courtiers; but
the Italians were watching it with special anxiety, for Catherine's
failure involved their ruin.
During this evening Charles IX., weary with the day's hunting, looked
to be forty years old. He had reached the last stages of the malady of
which he died, the symptoms of which were such that many reflecting
persons were justified in thinking that he was poisoned. According to
de Thou (the Tacitus of the Valois) the surgeons found suspicious
spots--/ex causa incognita reperti livores/--on his body. Moreover,
his funeral was even more neglected than that of Francois II. The body
was conducted from Saint-Lazare to Saint-Denis by Brantome and a few
archers of the guard under command of the Comte de Solern. This
circumstances, coupled with the supposed hatred of the mother to the
son, may or may not give color to de Thou's supposition, but it proves
how little affection Catherine felt for any of her children,--a want
of feeling which may be explained by her implicit faith in the
predictions of judicial astrology. This woman was unable to feel
affection for the instruments which were destined to fail her. Henri
III. was the last king under whom her reign of power was to last; that
was the sole consideration of her heart and mind.
In these days, however, we can readily believe that Charles IX. died a
natural death. His excesses, his manner of life, the sudden
development of his faculties, his last spasmodic attempt to recover
the reins of power, his desire to live, the abuse of his vital
strength, his final sufferings and last pleasures, all prove to an
impartial mind that he died of consumption, a disease scarcely studied
at that time, and very little understood, the symptoms of which might,
not unnaturally, lead Charles IX. to believe himself poisoned. The
real poison which his mother gave him was in the fatal counsels of the
courtiers whom she placed about him,--men who led him to waste his
intellectual as well as his physical vigor, thus bringing on a malady
which was purely fortuitous and not constitutional. Under these
harrowing circumstances, Charles IX. displayed a gloomy majesty of
demeanor which was not unbecoming to a king. The solemnity of his
secret thoughts was reflected on his face, the olive tones of which he
inherited from his mother. This ivory pallor, so fine by candlelight,
so suited to the expression of melancholy thought, brought out
vigorously the fire of the blue-black eyes, which gazed from their
thick and heavy lids with the keen perception our fancy lends to
kings, their color being a cloak for dissimulation. Those eyes were
terrible,--especially from the movement of their brows, which he could
raise or lower at will on his bald, high forehead. His nose was broad
and long, thick at the end,--the nose of a lion; his ears were large,
his hair sandy, his lips blood-red, like those of all consumptives,
the upper lip thin and sarcastic, the lower one firm, and full enough
to give an impression of the noblest qualities of the heart. The
wrinkles of his brow, the youth of which was killed by dreadful cares,
inspired the strongest interest; remorse, caused by the uselessness of
the Saint-Bartholomew, accounted for some, but there were two others
on that face which would have been eloquent indeed to any student
whose premature genius had led him to divine the principles of modern
physiology. These wrinkles made a deeply indented furrow going from
each cheek-bone to each corner of the mouth, revealing the inward
efforts of an organization wearied by the toil of thought and the
violent excitements of the body. Charles IX. was worn-out. If policy
did not stifle remorse in the breasts of those who sit beneath the
purple, the queen-mother, looking at her own work, would surely have
felt it. Had Catherine foreseen the effect of her intrigues upon her
son, would she have recoiled from them? What a fearful spectacle was
this! A king born vigorous, and now so feeble; a mind powerfully
tempered, shaken by distrust; a man clothed with authority, conscious
of no support; a firm mind brought to the pass of having lost all
confidence in itself! His warlike valor had changed by degrees to
ferocity; his discretion to deceit; the refined and delicate love of a
Valois was now a mere quenchless thirst for pleasure. This perverted
and misjudged great man, with all the many facets of a noble soul
worn-out,--a king without power, a generous heart without a friend,
dragged hither and thither by a thousand conflicting intrigues,
--presented the melancholy spectacle of a youth, only twenty-four
years old, disillusioned of life, distrusting everybody and everything,
now resolving to risk all, even his life, on a last effort. For some
time past he had fully understood his royal mission, his power, his
resources, and the obstacles which his mother opposed to the
pacification of the kingdom; but alas! this light now burned in a
Two men, whom Charles IX. loved sufficiently to protect under
circumstances of great danger,--Jean Chapelain, his physician, whom he
saved from the Saint-Bartholomew, and Ambroise Pare, with whom he went
to dine when Pare's enemies were accusing him of intending to poison
the king,--had arrived this evening in haste from the provinces,
recalled by the queen-mother. Both were watching their master
anxiously. A few courtiers spoke to them in a low voice; but the men
of science made guarded answers, carefully concealing the fatal
verdict which was in their minds. Every now and then the king would
raise his heavy eyelids and give his mother a furtive look which he
tried to conceal from those about him. Suddenly he sprang up and stood
before the fireplace.
"Monsieur de Chiverni," he said abruptly, "why do you keep the title
of chancellor of Anjou and Poland? Are you in our service, or in that
of our brother?"
"I am all yours, sire," replied Chiverni, bowing low.
"Then come to me to-morrow; I intend to send you to Spain. Very
strange things are happening at the court of Madrid, gentlemen."
The king looked at his wife and flung himself back into his chair.
"Strange things are happening everywhere," said the Marechal de
Tavannes, one of the friends of the king's youth, in a low voice.
The king rose again and led this companion of his youthful pleasures
apart into the embrasure of the window at the corner of the room,
saying, when they were out of hearing:--
"I want you. Remain here when the others go. I shall know to-night
whether you are for me or against me. Don't look astonished. I am
about to burst my bonds. My mother is the cause of all the evil about
me. Three months hence I shall be king indeed, or dead. Silence, if
you value your life! You will have my secret, you and Solern and
Villeroy only. If it is betrayed, it will be by one of you three.
Don't keep near me; go and pay your court to my mother. Tell her I am
dying, and that you don't regret it, for I am only a poor creature."
The king was leaning on the shoulder of his old favorite, and
pretending to tell him of his ailments, in order to mislead the
inquisitive eyes about him; then, not wishing to make his aversion too
visible, he went up to his wife and mother and talked with them,
calling Birago to their side.
Just then Pinard, one of the secretaries of State, glided like an eel
through the door and along the wall until he reached the queen-mother,
in whose ear he said a few words, to which she replied by an
affirmative sign. The king did not ask his mother the meaning of this
conference, but he returned to his seat and kept silence, darting
terrible looks of anger and suspicion all about him.
This little circumstance seemed of enormous consequence in the eyes of
the courtiers; and, in truth, so marked an exercise of power by the
queen-mother, without reference to the king, was like a drop of water
overflowing the cup. Queen Elizabeth and the Comtesse de Fiesque now
retired, but the king paid no attention to their movements, though the
queen-mother rose and attended her daughter-in-law to the door; after
which the courtiers, understanding that their presence was unwelcome,
took their leave. By ten o'clock no one remained in the hall but a few
intimates,--the two Gondis, Tavannes, Solern, Birago, the king, and
The king sat plunged in the blackest melancholy. The silence was
oppressive. Catherine seemed embarrassed. She wished to leave the
room, and waited for the king to escort her to the door; but he still
continued obstinately lost in thought. At last she rose to bid him
good-night, and Charles IX. was forced to do likewise. As she took his
arm and made a few steps toward the door, she bent to his ear and
"Monsieur, I have important things to say to you."
Passing a mirror on her way, she glanced into it and made a sign with
her eyes to the two Gondis, which escaped the king's notice, for he
was at the moment exchanging looks of intelligence with the Comte de
Solern and Villeroy. Tavannes was thoughtful.
"Sire," said the latter, coming out of his reverie, "I think you are
royally ennuyed; don't you ever amuse yourself now? /Vive Dieu/! have
you forgotten the times when we used to vagabondize about the streets
"Ah! those were the good old times!" said the king, with a sigh.
"Why not bring them back?" said Birago, glancing significantly at the
Gondis as he took his leave.
"Yes, I always think of those days with pleasure," said Albert de
Gondi, Duc de Retz.
"I'd like to see you on the roofs once more, monsieur le duc,"
remarked Tavannes. "Damned Italian cat! I wish he might break his
neck!" he added in a whisper to the king.
"I don't know which of us two could climb the quickest in these days,"
replied de Gondi; "but one thing I do know, that neither of us fears
"Well, sire, will you start upon a frolic in the streets to-night, as
you did in the days of your youth?" said the other Gondi, master of
The days of his youth! so at twenty-four years of age the wretched
king seemed no longer young to any one, not even to his flatterers!
Tavannes and his master now reminded each other, like two school-boys,
of certain pranks they had played in Paris, and the evening's
amusement was soon arranged. The two Italians, challenged to climb
roofs, and jump from one to another across alleys and streets, wagered
that they would follow the king wherever he went. They and Tavannes
went off to change their clothes. The Comte de Solern, left alone with
the king, looked at him in amazement. Though the worthy German, filled
with compassion for the hapless position of the king of France, was
honor and fidelity itself, he was certainly not quick of perception.
Charles IX., surrounded by hostile persons, unable to trust any one,
not even his wife (who had been guilty of some indiscretions, unaware
as she was that his mother and his servants were his enemies), had
been fortunate enough to find in Monsieur de Solern a faithful friend
in whom he could place entire confidence. Tavannes and Villeroy were
trusted with only a part of the king's secrets. The Comte de Solern
alone knew the whole of the plan which he was now about to carry out.
This devoted friend was also useful to his master, in possessing a
body of discreet and affectionate followers, who blindly obeyed his
orders. He commanded a detachment of the archers of the guards, and
for the last few days he had been sifting out the men who were
faithfully attached to the king, in order to make a company of tried
men when the need came. The king took thought of everything.
"Why are you surprised, Solern?" he said. "You know very well I need a
pretext to be out to-night. It is true, I have Madame de Belleville,
but this is better; for who knows whether my mother does not hear of
all that goes on at Marie's?"
Monsieur de Solern, who was to follow the king, asked if he might not
take a few of his Germans to patrol the streets, and Charles
consented. About eleven o'clock the king, who was now very gay, set
forth with his three courtiers,--namely, Tavannes and the two Gondis.
"I'll go and take my little Marie by surprise," said Charles IX. to
Tavannes, "as we pass through the rue de l'Autruche." That street
being on the way to the rue Saint-Honore, it would have been strange
indeed for the king to pass the house of his love without stopping.
Looking out for a chance of mischief,--a belated burgher to frighten,
or a watchman to thrash--the king went along with his nose in the air,
watching all the lighted windows to see what was happening, and
striving to hear the conversations. But alas! he found his good city
of Paris in a state of deplorable tranquillity. Suddenly, as he passed
the house of a perfumer named Rene, who supplied the court, the king,
noticing a strong light from a window in the roof, was seized by one
of those apparently hasty inspirations which, to some minds, suggest a
This perfumer was strongly suspected of curing rich uncles who thought
themselves ill. The court laid at his door the famous "Elixir of
Inheritance," and even accused him of poisoning Jeanne d'Albret,
mother of Henri of Navarre, who was buried (in spite of Charles IX.'s
positive order) without her head being opened. For the last two months
the king had sought some way of sending a spy into Rene's laboratory,
where, as he was well aware, Cosmo Ruggiero spent much time. The king
intended, if anything suspicious were discovered, to proceed in the
matter alone, without the assistance of the police or law, with whom,
as he well knew, his mother would counteract him by means of either
corruption or fear.
It is certain that during the sixteenth century, and the years that
preceded and followed it, poisoning was brought to a perfection
unknown to modern chemistry, as history itself will prove. Italy, the
cradle of modern science, was, at this period, the inventor and
mistress of these secrets, many of which are now lost. Hence the
reputation for that crime which weighed for the two following
centuries on Italy. Romance-writers have so greatly abused it that
wherever they have introduced Italians into their tales they have
almost always made them play the part of assassins and poisoners.[*]
If Italy then had the traffic in subtle poisons which some historians
attribute to her, we should remember her supremacy in the art of
toxicology, as we do her pre-eminence in all other human knowledge and
art in which she took the lead in Europe. The crimes of that period
were not her crimes specially. She served the passions of the age,
just as she built magnificent edifices, commanded armies, painted
noble frescos, sang romances, loved queens, delighted kings, devised
ballets and fetes, and ruled all policies. The horrible art of
poisoning reached to such a pitch in Florence that a woman, dividing a
peach with a duke, using a golden fruit-knife with one side of its
blade poisoned, ate one half of the peach herself and killed the duke
with the other half. A pair of perfumed gloves were known to have
infiltrated mortal illness through the pores of the skin. Poison was
instilled into bunches of natural roses, and the fragrance, when
inhaled, gave death. Don John of Austria was poisoned, it was said, by
a pair of boots.
[*] Written sixty-six years ago.--Tr.
Charles IX. had good reason to be curious in the matter; we know
already the dark suspicions and beliefs which now prompted him to
surprise the perfumer Rene at his work.
The old fountain at the corner of the rue de l'Arbre-See, which has
since been rebuilt, offered every facility for the royal vagabonds to
climb upon the roof of a house not far from that of Rene, which the
king wished to visit. Charles, followed by his companions, began to
ramble over the roofs, to the great terror of the burghers awakened by
the tramp of these false thieves, who called to them in saucy
language, listened to their talk, and even pretended to force an
entrance. When the Italians saw the king and Tavannes threading their
way among the roofs of the house next to that of Rene, Albert de Gondi
sat down, declaring that he was tired, and his brother followed his
"So much the better," thought the king, glad to leave his spies behind
Tavannes began to laugh at the two Florentines, left sitting alone in
the midst of deep silence, in a place where they had nought but the
skies above them, and the cats for auditors. But the brothers made use
of their position to exchange thoughts they would not dare to utter on
any other spot in the world,--thoughts inspired by the events of the
"Albert," said the Grand-master to the marechal, "the king will get
the better of the queen-mother; we are doing a foolish thing for our
own interests to stay by those of Catherine. If we go over to the king
now, when he is searching everywhere for support against her and for
able men to serve him, we shall not be driven away like wild beasts
when the queen-mother is banished, imprisoned, or killed."
"You wouldn't get far with such ideas, Charles," replied the marechal,
gravely. "You'd follow the king into the grave, and he won't live
long; he is ruined by excesses. Cosmo Ruggiero predicts his death
within a year."
"The dying boar has often killed the huntsman," said Charles de Gondi.
"This conspiracy of the Duc d'Alencon, the king of Navarre, and the
Prince de Conde, with whom La Mole and Coconnas are negotiating, is
more dangerous than useful. In the first place, the king of Navarre,
whom the queen-mother hoped to catch in the very act, distrusts her,
and declines to run his head into the noose. He means to profit by the
conspiracy without taking any of its risks. Besides, the notion now is
to put the crown on the head of the Duc d'Alencon, who has turned
"/Budelone/! but don't you see that this conspiracy enables the
queen-mother to find out what the Huguenots can do with the Duc
d'Alencon, and what the king can do with the Huguenots?--for the king
is even now negotiating with them; but he'll be finely pilloried
to-morrow, when Catherine reveals to him the counter-conspiracy which
will neutralize all his projects."
"Ah!" exclaimed Charles de Gondi, "by dint of profiting by our advice
she's clever and stronger than we! Well, that's all right."
"All right for the Duc d'Anjou, who prefers to be king of France
rather than king of Poland; I am going now to explain the matter to
"When do you start, Albert?"
"To-morrow. I am ordered to accompany the king of Poland; and I expect
to join him in Venice, where the patricians have taken upon themselves
to amuse and delay him."
"You are prudence itself!"
"/Che bestia/! I swear to you there is not the slightest danger for
either of us in remaining at court. If there were, do you think I
would go away? I should stay by the side of our kind mistress."
"Kind!" exclaimed the Grand-master; "she is a woman to drop all her
instruments the moment she finds them heavy."
"/O coglione/! you pretend to be a soldier, and you fear death! Every
business has its duties, and we have ours in making our fortune. By
attaching ourselves to kings, the source of all temporal power which
protects, elevates, and enriches families, we are forced to give them
as devoted a love as that which burns in the hearts of martyrs toward
heaven. We must suffer in their cause; when they sacrifice us to the
interests of their throne we may perish, for we die as much for
ourselves as for them, but our name and our families perish not.
"You are right as to yourself, Albert; for they have given you the
ancient title and duchy of de Retz."
"Now listen to me," replied his brother. "The queen hopes much from
the cleverness of the Ruggieri; she expects them to bring the king
once more under her control. When Charles refused to use Rene's
perfumes any longer the wary woman knew at once on whom his suspicions
really rested. But who can tell the schemes that are in his mind?
Perhaps he is only hesitating as to what fate he shall give his
mother; he hates her, you know. He said a few words about it to his
wife; she repeated them to Madame de Fiesque, and Madame de Fiesque
told the queen-mother. Since then the king has kept away from his
"The time has come," said Charles de Gondi.
"To do what?" asked the marechal.
"To lay hold of the king's mind," replied the Grand-master, who, if he
was not so much in the queen's confidence as his brother, was by no
means less clear-sighted.
"Charles, I have opened a great career to you," said his brother
gravely. "If you wish to be a duke also, be, as I am, the accomplice
and cat's-paw of our mistress; she is the strongest here, and she will
continue in power. Madame de Sauves is on her side, and the king of
Navarre and the Duc d'Alencon are still for Madame de Sauves.
Catherine holds the pair in a leash under Charles IX., and she will
hold them in future under Henri III. God grant that Henri may not
"His mother is doing too much for him."
"Hush! what noise is that I hear in the rue Saint-Honore?" cried the
Grand-master. "Listen! there is some one at Rene's door! Don't you
hear the footsteps of many men. Can they have arrested the Ruggieri?"
"Ah, /diavolo/! this is prudence indeed. The king has not shown his
usual impetuosity. But where will they imprison them? Let us go down
into the street and see."
The two brothers reached the corner of the rue de l'Autruche just as
the king was entering the house of his mistress, Marie Touchet. By the
light of the torches which the concierge carried, they distinguished
Tavannes and the two Ruggieri.
"Hey, Tavannes!" cried the grand-master, running after the king's
companion, who had turned and was making his way back to the Louvre,
"What happened to you?"
"We fell into a nest of sorcerers and arrested two, compatriots of
yours, who may perhaps be able to explain to the minds of French
gentlemen how you, who are not Frenchmen, have managed to lay hands on
two of the chief offices of the Crown," replied Tavannes, half
jesting, half in earnest.
"But the king?" inquired the Grand-master, who cared little for
"He stays with his mistress."
"We reached our present distinction through an absolute devotion to
our masters,--a noble course, my dear Tavannes, which I see that you
also have adopted," replied Albert de Gondi.
The three courtiers walked on in silence. At the moment when they
parted, on meeting their servants who then escorted them, two men
glided swiftly along the walls of the rue de l'Autruche. These men
were the king and the Comte de Solern, who soon reached the banks of
the Seine, at a point where a boat and two rowers, carefully selected
by de Solern, awaited them. In a very few moments they reached the
"My mother has not gone to bed," cried the king. "She will see us; we
chose a bad place for the interview."
"She will think it a duel," replied Solern; "and she cannot possibly
distinguish who we are at this distance."
"Well, let her see me!" exclaimed Charles IX. "I am resolved now!"
The king and his confidant sprang ashore and walked quickly in the
direction of the Pre-aux-Clercs. When they reached it the Comte de
Solern, preceding the king, met a man who was evidently on the watch,
and with whom he exchanged a few words; the man then retired to a
distance. Presently two other men, who seemed to be princes by the
marks of respect which the first man paid to them, left the place
where they were evidently hiding behind the broken fence of a field,
and approached the king, to whom they bent the knee. But Charles IX.
raised them before they touched the ground, saying:--
"No ceremony, we are all gentlemen here."
A venerable old man, who might have been taken for the Chancelier de
l'Hopital, had the latter not died in the preceding year, now joined
the three gentlemen, all four walking rapidly so as to reach a spot
where their conference could not be overheard by their attendants. The
Comte de Solern followed at a slight distance to keep watch over the
king. That faithful servant was filled with a distrust not shared by
Charles IX., a man to whom life was now a burden. He was the only
person on the king's side who witnessed this mysterious conference,
which presently became animated.
"Sire," said one of the new-comers, "the Connetable de Montmorency,
the closest friend of the king your father, agreed with the Marechal
de Saint-Andre in declaring that Madame Catherine ought to be sewn up
in a sack and flung into the river. If that had been done then, many
worthy persons would still be alive."
"I have enough executions on my conscience, monsieur," replied the
"But, sire," said the youngest of the four personages, "if you merely
banish her, from the depths of her exile Queen Catherine will continue
to stir up strife, and to find auxiliaries. We have everything to fear
from the Guises, who, for the last nine years, have schemed for a vast
Catholic alliance, in the secret of which your Majesty is not
included; and it threatens your throne. This alliance was invented by
Spain, which will never renounce its project of destroying the
boundary of the Pyrenees. Sire, Calvinism will save France by setting
up a moral barrier between her and a nation which covets the empire of
the world. If the queen-mother is exiled, she will turn for help to
Spain and to the Guises."
"Gentlemen," said the king, "know this, if by your help peace without
distrust is once established, I will take upon myself the duty of
making all subjects tremble. /Tete-Dieu/! it is time indeed for
royalty to assert itself. My mother is right in that, at any rate. You
ought to know that it is to your interest was well as mine, for your
hands, your fortunes depend upon our throne. If religion is
overthrown, the hands you allow to do it will be laid next upon the
throne and then upon you. I no longer care to fight ideas with weapons
that cannot touch them. Let us see now if Protestantism will make
progress when left to itself; above all, I would like to see with whom
and what the spirit of that faction will wrestle. The admiral, God
rest his soul! was not my enemy; he swore to me to restrain the revolt
within spiritual limits, and to leave the ruling of the kingdom to the
monarch, his master, with submissive subjects. Gentlemen, if the
matter be still within your power, set that example now; help your
sovereign to put down a spirit of rebellion which takes tranquillity
from each and all of us. War is depriving us of revenue; it is ruining
the kingdom. I am weary of these constant troubles; so weary, that if
it is absolutely necessary I will sacrifice my mother. Nay, I will go
farther; I will keep an equal number of Protestants and Catholics
about me, and I will hold the axe of Louis XI. above their heads to
force them to be on good terms. If the Messieurs de Guise plot a Holy
Alliance to attack our crown, the executioner shall begin with their
heads. I see the miseries of my people, and I will make short work of
the great lords who care little for consciences,--let them hold what
opinions they like; what I want in future is submissive subjects, who
will work, according to my will, for the prosperity of the State.
Gentlemen, I give you ten days to negotiate with your friends, to
break off your plots, and to return to me who will be your father. If
you refuse you will see great changes. I shall use the mass of the
people, who will rise at my voice against the lords. I will make
myself a king who pacificates his kingdom by striking down those who
are more powerful even than you, and who dare defy him. If the troops
fail me, I have my brother of Spain, on whom I shall call to defend
our menaced thrones, and if I lack a minister to carry out my will, he
can lend me the Duke of Alba."
"But in that case, sire, we should have Germans to oppose to your
Spaniards," said one of his hearers.
"Cousin," replied Charles IX., coldly, "my wife's name is Elizabeth of
Austria; support might fail you on the German side. But, for Heaven's
sake, let us fight, if fight we must, alone, without the help of
foreigners. You are the object of my mother's hatred, and you stand
near enough to me to be my second in the duel I am about to fight with
her; well then, listen to what I now say. You seem to me so worthy of
confidence that I offer you the post of /connetable/; /you/ will not
betray me like the other."
The prince to whom Charles IX. had addressed himself, struck his hand
into that of the king, exclaiming:
"/Ventre-saint-gris/! brother; this is enough to make me forget many
wrongs. But, sire, the head cannot march without the tail, and ours is
a long tail to drag. Give me more than ten days; we want at least a