Part 3 out of 5
thousand serfs toiled, by palaces, and by gold to the amount of
seventeen million roubles. Such it was to be in the good books of
Catherine II., Empress of Russia.
With riches and power, Gregory's ambition grew until he dreamt of
sitting on the throne itself by Catherine's side; and in her foolish
infatuation even this prize might have been his, had not wiser counsels
come to her rescue. "The Empress," said Panine to her, "can do what she
likes; but Madame Orloff can never be Empress of Russia." And thus
Gregory's greatest ambition was happily nipped in the bud.
The man who had played his cards with such skill and discretion in the
early days of his love-making had now, his head swollen by pride and
power, grown reckless. If he could not be Emperor in name, he would at
least wield the sceptre. The woman to whom he owed all was, he thought,
but a puppet in his hands, as ready to do his bidding as any of his
minions. But through all her dallying Catherine's smiles masked an iron
will. In heart she was a woman; in brain and will-power, a man. And
Orloff, like many another favourite, was to learn the lesson to his
The time came when she could no longer tolerate his airs and
assumptions. There was only one Empress, but lovers were plentiful, and
she already had an eye on his successor. And thus it was that one day
the swollen Orloff was sent on a diplomatic mission to arrange peace
between Russia and Turkey. When she bade him good-bye she called him her
"angel of peace," but she knew that it was her angel's farewell to his
How the Ambassador, instead of making peace, stirred up the embers of
war into fresh flame is a matter of history. But he was not long left to
work such mad mischief. While he was swaggering at a Jassy fete, in a
costume ablaze with diamonds worth a million roubles, news came to him
of a good-looking young lieutenant who was not only installed in his
place by Catherine's side, but was actually occupying his own
apartments. Within an hour he was racing back to St Petersburg, resting
neither night nor day until he had covered the thousand leagues that
separated him from the capital.
Before, however, his sweating horses could enter it, he was stopped by
Catherine's emissaries and ordered to repair to the Imperial Palace at
Gatshina. And then he realised that his sun had indeed come to its
setting. His honours were soon stripped from him, and although he was
allowed to keep his lands, his gold and jewels, the spoils of Cupid, the
diamond-framed miniature, was taken away to adorn the breast of his
successor, the lieutenant.
Under this cloud of disfavour Orloff conducted himself with such
resignation--none knew better than he how futile it was to fight--that
Catherine, before many months had passed, not only recalled him to
Court, but secured for him a Princedom of the Holy Empire. "As for
Prince Gregory," she said amiably, "he is free to go or stay, to hunt,
to drink, or to gamble. I intend to live according to my own pleasure,
and in entire independence."
After a tragically brief wedded life with a beautiful girl-cousin, who
died of consumption, Orloff returned to St Petersburg to spend the last
few months of his life, "broken-hearted and mad." And to his last hour
his clouded brain was tortured with visions of the "avenging shade of
the murdered Peter."
A SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY CINDERELLA
It was to all seeming a strange whim that caused Cardinal Mazarin, one
day in the year 1653, to summon his nieces, daughters of his sister,
Hieronyme Mancini, from their obscurity in Italy to bask in the sunshine
of his splendours in Paris.
At the time of this odd caprice, Richelieu's crafty successor had
reached the zenith of his power. His was the most potent and splendid
figure in all Europe that did not wear a crown. He was the avowed
favourite and lover of Anne of Austria, Queen of France, to whose vanity
he had paid such skilful court--indeed it was common rumour that she had
actually given him her hand in secret marriage. The boy-King, Louis
XIV., was a puppet in his strong hands. He was, in fact, the dictator of
France, whose smiles the greatest courtiers tried to win, and before
whose frowns they trembled.
In contrast to such magnificence, his sister, Madame Mancini, was the
wife of a petty Italian baron, who was struggling to bring up her five
daughters on a pathetically scanty purse--as far removed from her
magnificent brother as a moth from a star. There was, on the face of
things, every reason why the great and all-powerful Cardinal should
leave his nieces to their genteel poverty; and we can imagine both the
astonishment and delight with which Madame Mancini received the summons
to Paris which meant such a revolution in life for her and her
If the Mancini girls had no heritage of money, they had at least the
dower of beauty. Each of the five gave promise of a rare
loveliness--with the solitary exception of Marie, Madame's third
daughter, who at fourteen was singularly unattractive even for that
awkward age. Tall, thin, and angular, without a vestige of grace either
of figure or movement, she had a sallow face out of which two great
black eyes looked gloomily, and a mouth wide and thin-lipped. She was,
in addition, shy and slow-witted to the verge of stupidity. Marie, in
fact, was quite hopeless, the "ugly duckling" of a good-looking family,
and for this reason an object of dislike and resentment to her mother.
Certainly, said Madame, Marie must be left behind. Her other daughters
would be a source of pride to their uncle; he could secure great matches
for them, but Marie--pah! she would bring discredit on the whole family.
And so it was decided in conclave that the "ugly duckling" should be
left in a nunnery--the only fit place for her. But Marie happily had a
spirit of her own. She would not be left behind, she declared; and if
she must go to a nunnery, why there were nunneries in plenty in France
to which they could send her. And Marie had her way.
She was not, however, to escape the cloister after all, for to a Paris
nunnery she was consigned when her Cardinal uncle had set eyes on her.
"Let her have a year or two there," was his verdict, "and, who knows,
she may blossom into a beauty yet. At any rate she can put on flesh and
not be the scarecrow she is." And thus, while her more favoured sisters
were revelling in the gaieties of Court life, Marie was sent to tell her
beads and to spend Spartan days among the nuns.
Nearly two years passed before Mazarin expressed a wish to see his ugly
niece again; and it was indeed a very different Marie who now made her
curtsy to him. Gone were the angular figure, the awkward movements, the
sallow face, the slow wits. Time and the healthy life of the cloisters
had done their work well. What the Cardinal now saw was a girl of
seventeen, of exquisitely modelled figure, graceful and self-possessed;
a face piquant and full of animation, illuminated by a pair of glorious
dark eyes, and with a dazzling smile which revealed the prettiest teeth
in France. Above all, and what delighted the Cardinal most, she had now
a sprightly wit, and a quite brilliant gift of conversation. It was thus
a smiling and gratified Cardinal who gave greeting to his niece, now as
fair as her sisters and more fascinating than any of them. There was no
doubt that he could find a high-placed husband for her, and thus--for
this was, in fact, his motive for rescuing his pretty nieces from their
obscurity--make his position secure by powerful family alliances.
It was not long before Mazarin fixed on a suitor in the person of
Armande de la Porte, son of the Marquis de la Meilleraye, one of the
most powerful nobles in France. But alas for his scheming! Armande's
heart had already been caught while Marie was reciting her matins and
vespers: He had lost it utterly to her beautiful sister, Hortense; he
vowed that he would marry no other, and that if Hortense could not be
his wife he would prefer to die. Thus Marie was rescued from a union
which brought her sister so much misery in later years, and for a time
she was condemned to spend unhappy months with her mother at the Louvre.
To this period of her life Marie Mancini could never look back without a
shudder. "My mother," she says, "who, I think, had always hated me, was
more unbearable than ever. She treated me, although I was no longer
ugly, with the utmost aversion and cruelty. My sisters went to Court and
were fussed and feted. I was kept always at home, in our miserable
lodgings, an unhappy Cinderella."
But Fortune did not long hide his face from Cinderella. Her "Prince
Charming" was coming--in the guise of the handsome young King, Louis
XIV. himself. It was one day while visiting Madame Mancini in her
lodgings at the Louvre that Louis first saw the girl who was to play
such havoc with his heart; and at the first sight of those melting dark
eyes and that intoxicating smile he was undone. He came again and
again--always under the pretext of visiting Madame, and happy beyond
expression if he could exchange a few words with her daughter, Marie;
until he soon counted a day worse than lost that did not bring him the
stolen sweetness of a meeting.
When, a few weeks later, Madame Mancini died, and Marie was recalled to
Court by her uncle, her life was completely changed for her. Louis had
now abundant opportunities of seeking her side; and excellent use he
made of them. The two young people were inseparable, much to the alarm
of the Cardinal and Madame Mere, the Queen. The young King was never
happy out of her sight; he danced with her (and none could dance more
divinely than Marie); he listened as she sang to him with a voice whose
sweetness thrilled him; they read the same books together in blissful
solitude; she taught him her native Italian, and entranced him by the
brilliance of her wit; and when, after a slight illness, he heard of her
anxious inquiries and her tears of sympathy, his conquest was complete.
He vowed that she and no other should be his wife and Queen of France.
But these halcyon days were not to last long. It was no part of
Mazarin's scheming that a niece of his should sit on the throne. The
prospect was dazzling, it is true, but it would inevitably mean his own
downfall, so strongly would such an alliance be resented by friends as
well as enemies; and Anne of Austria was as little in the mood to be
deposed by such an obscure person as the "Mancini girl." Thus it was
that Queen and Cardinal joined hands to nip the young romance in the
A Royal bride must be found for Louis, and that quickly; and
negotiations were soon on foot to secure as his wife Margaret, Princess
of Savoy. In vain did the boy-King storm and protest; equally futile
were Marie's tearful pleadings to her uncle. The fiat had gone forth.
Louis must have a Royal bride; and she was already about to leave Italy
on her bridal progress to France.
It was, we may be sure, with a heavy heart that Marie joined the
cavalcade which, with its gorgeous procession of equipages, its gaily
mounted courtiers, and its brave escort of soldiery, swept out of Paris
on its stately progress to Lyons, to meet the Queen-to-be. But there was
no escape from the humiliation, for she must accompany Anne of Austria,
as one of her retinue of maids-of-honour. Arrived too soon at Lyons,
Louis rides on to give first greeting to his bride, who is now within a
day's journey; and returns with a smiling face to announce to his mother
that he finds the Princess pleasing to his eye, and to describe, with
boyish enthusiasm, her grace and graciousness, her magnificent eyes, her
beautiful hair, and the delicate olive of her complexion, while Marie's
heart sinks at the recital. Could this be the lover who, but a few days
ago, had been at her feet, vowing that she was the only bride in all the
world for him?
When he seeks her side and shamefacedly makes excuses for his seeming
recreancy, she bids him marry his "ugly bride" in accents of scorn, and
then bursts into tears, which she only consents to wipe away when he
declares that his heart will always be hers and that he will never marry
the Italian Princess.
But Margaret of Savoy was not after all to be Queen of France. She was,
as it proved, merely a pawn in the Cardinal's deep game. It was a
Spanish alliance that he sought for his young King; and when, at the
eleventh hour, an ambassador came hurriedly to Lyons to offer the
Infanta's hand, the Savoy Duke and his sister, the Princess, had
perforce to return to Italy "empty-handed."
There was at least a time of respite now for Louis and Marie, and as
they rode back to Paris, side by side, chatting gaily and exchanging
sweet confidences, the sun once more shone on the happiest young people
in all France. Then followed a period of blissful days, of dances and
fetes, in brilliant succession, in which the lovers were inseparable;
above all, of long rambles together, when, "the world forgetting," they
could live in the happy present, whatever the future might have in store
Meanwhile the negotiations for the Spanish marriage were ripening fast.
Louis and Marie again appeal, first to the Cardinal, then to the Queen,
to sanction their union, but to no purpose; both are inflexible. Their
foolish romance must come to an end. As a last resource Marie flies to
the King, with tender pleadings and tears, begging him not to desert
her; to which he answers that no power on earth shall make him wed the
Infanta. "You alone," he swears, "shall wear the crown of Queen"; and in
token of his love he buys for her the pearls that were the most
treasured belongings of the exiled Stuart Queen, Henrietta Maria. The
lovers part in tears, and the following day Marie receives orders to
leave Paris and to retire to La Rochelle.
At every stage of her journey she was overtaken by messengers bearing
letters from Louis, full of love and protestations of unflinching
loyalty; and when Louis moved with his Court to Bayonne, the lovers met
once more to mingle their tears. But Louis, ever fickle, was already
wavering again. "If I must marry the Infanta," he said, "I suppose I
must. But I shall never love any but you."
Marie now realised that this was to be the end. In face of a lover so
weak, and a fate so inflexible, what could she do but submit? And it was
with a proud but breaking heart that she wrote a few days later to tell
Louis that she wished him not to write to her again and that she would
not answer his letters. One June day news came to her that her lover was
married and that "he was very much in love with the Infanta"; and even
her pride, crushed as it was, could not restrain her from writing to her
sister, Hortense, "Say everything you can that is horrid about him.
Point out all his faults to me, that I may find relief for my aching
heart." When, a few months later, Marie saw the King again, he received
her almost as a stranger, and had the bad taste to sing the praises of
But Marie Mancini was the last girl in all France to wed herself long to
grief or an outraged vanity. There were other lovers by the score among
whom she could pick and choose. She was more lovely now than when the
recreant Louis first succumbed to her charms--with a ripened witchery of
black eyes, red lips, the flash of pearly teeth revealed by every
dazzling smile, with glorious black hair, the grace of a fawn, and a
"voluptuous fascination" which no man could resist.
Prince Charles of Lorraine was her veriest slave, but Mazarin would have
none of him. Prince Colonna, Grand Constable of Naples, was more
fortunate when he in turn came a-wooing. He bore the proudest name in
Italy, and he had wealth, good-looks, and high connections to lend a
glamour to his birth. The Cardinal smiled on his suit, and Marie, since
she had no heart to give, willingly gave her hand.
Louis himself graced the wedding with his presence; and we are told, as
the white-faced bride "said the 'yes' which was to bind her to a
stranger, her eyes, with an indescribable expression, sought those of
the King, who turned pale as he met them."
Over the rest of Marie Mancini's chequered life we must hasten. After a
few years of wedded life with her Italian Prince, "Colonna's early
passion for his beautiful wife was succeeded by a distaste amounting to
hatred. He disgusted her with his amours; and when she ventured to
protest against his infidelity, he tried to poison her." This crowning
outrage determined Marie to fly, and, in company with her sister,
Hortense, who had fled to her from the brutality of her own husband, she
made her escape one dark night to Civita Vecchia, where a boat was
awaiting the runaways.
Hotly pursued on land and sea, narrowly escaping shipwreck, braving
hardships, hunger, and hourly danger of capture, the fugitives at last
reached Marseilles where Marie (Hortense now seeking a refuge in Savoy)
began those years of wandering and adventure, the story of which
Now we find her seeking asylum at convents from Aix to Madrid; now
queening it at the Court of Savoy, with Duke Charles Emmanuel for lover;
now she is dazzling Madrid with the Almirante of Castille and many
another high-placed worshipper dancing attendance on her; and now she is
in Rome, turning the heads of grave cardinals with her witcheries.
Sometimes penniless and friendless, at others lapped in luxury; but
carrying everywhere in her bosom the English pearls, the last gift of
her false and frail Louis.
Thus, through the long, troubled years, until old-age crept on her, the
Cardinal's niece wandered, a fugitive, over the face of Europe,
alternately caressed and buffeted by fortune, until "at long last" the
end came and brought peace with it. As she lay dying in the house of a
good Samaritan at Pisa, with no other hand to minister to her, she
called for pen and paper, and with failing hand wrote her own epitaph,
surely the most tragic ever penned--"Marie Mancini Colonna--Dust and
BIANCA, GRAND DUCHESS OF TUSCANY
More than three centuries have gone since Florence made merry over the
death of her Grand Duchess, Bianca. It was an occasion for rejoicing;
her name was bandied from lips to lips--"La Pessima Bianca"; jeers and
laughter followed her to her unmarked grave in the Church of San
Lorenzo. But through the ages her picture has come down to us as she
strutted on the world's stage in all her pride and beauty, with a
vividness which few better women of her time retain.
It was in the year 1548, when our boy-King, the sixth Edward, was fresh
to his crown, that Bianca Capello was cradled in the palace of her
father, one of the greatest men of Venice, Senator and Privy Councillor.
As a child she was as beautiful as she was wilful; the pride of her
father, the despair of his wife, her stepmother--her little head full of
romance, her heart full of rebellion against any kind of discipline or
Before she had left the schoolroom Capello's daughter was, by common
consent, the fairest girl in her native city, with a beauty riper than
her years. Tall, and with a well-developed figure of singular grace,
she carried her head as proudly as any Queen. Her fair hair fell in a
rippling cascade far below her waist; her face, hands, and throat, we
are told, were "white as lilies," save for the delicate rose-colour that
tinted her cheeks. Her eyes were large and dark, and of an almost
dazzling brilliance; and her full, pouting lips were red and fragrant as
Such was Bianca Capello on the threshold of womanhood, as you may see
her pictured to-day in Bronzino's miniature at the British Museum, with
a loveliness which set the hearts of the Venetian gallants a-flutter
before our Shakespeare was in his cradle. She might, if she would, have
mated with almost any noble in Tuscany, had not her foolish, wayward
fancy fallen on Pietro Bonaventuri, a handsome young clerk in Salviati's
bank, whose eyes had often strayed from his ledgers to follow her as, in
the company of her maid, the Senator's daughter took her daily walk past
his office window.
At sight of so fair a vision Pietro was undone; he fell violently in
love with her long before he exchanged a word with her, and although no
one knew better than he the gulf that separated the daughter of a
nobleman and a Senator from the drudge of the quill, he determined to
win her. Youth and good-looks such as his, with plenty of assurance to
support them, had done as much for others, and they should do it for
him. How they first met we know not, but we know that shortly after this
momentous meeting Bianca had completely lost her heart to the knight of
the quill, with the handsome face, the dark, flashing eyes, and the
Other meetings followed--secret rendezvous arranged by the duenna
herself in return for liberal bribes--to keep which Bianca would steal
out of her father's palace at dead of night, leaving the door open
behind her to ensure safe return before dawn. On one such occasion, so
the story runs, Bianca returned to find the door closed against her by a
too officious hand. She dared not wake the sleepers to gain
admittance--that would be to expose her secret and to cover herself with
disgrace--and in her fears and alarm she fled back to her lover.
However this may be, we know that, for some urgent reason or other, the
young lovers disappeared one night together from Venice and made their
way to Florence to find a refuge under the roof of Pietro's parents.
Here a terrible disillusion met Bianca at the threshold. Her
husband--for, on the runaway journey, Pietro had secured the friendly
services of a village priest to marry them--had told her that he was the
son of noble parents, kin to his employers, the Salviatis. The home to
which he now introduced her was little better than a hovel, with poverty
looking out of its windows.
Here indeed was a sorry home-coming for the new-made bride, daughter of
the great Capello! There was not even a drudge to do the housework,
which Bianca was compelled to share with her bucolic mother-in-law. It
is even said that she was compelled to do laundry-work in order to keep
the domestic purse supplied. Her husband had forfeited his meagre
salary; she had equally sacrificed the fortune left to her by her
mother. Sordid, grinding poverty stared both in the face.
To return to her own home in Venice was impossible. So furious were her
father and stepmother at her escapade that a large reward was advertised
for the capture of her husband, "alive or dead," and a sentence of death
had been procured from the Council of Ten in the event of his arrest.
More than this, a sentence of banishment was pronounced against Pietro
and Bianca; the maid who had connived at their illicit wooing and flight
paid for her treachery with her life; and Pietro's uncle ended his days
in a loathsome dungeon.
Such was the vengeance taken by Bartolomeo Capello. As for the runaways,
they spent a long honeymoon in concealment and hourly dread of the fate
that hung over them. It was well known, however, in Florence where they
were in hiding; and curious crowds were drawn to the Bonaventuri hovel
to catch a glimpse of the heroes of a scandal with which all Italy was
ringing. Thus it was that Francesco de Medici first set eyes on the
woman who was to play so great a part in his life.
There could be no greater contrast than that between Francesco de
Medici, heir to the Tuscan Grand Dukedom, and the beautiful young wife
of the bank-clerk, now playing the role of maid-of-all-work and
charwoman. It is said that Francesco was a madman; and indeed what we
know of him makes this description quite plausible. He was a man of
black brow and violent temper, repelling alike in appearance and
manner. He was, we are told, "more of a savage than a civilised human
being." His food was deluged with ginger and pepper; his favourite fare
was raw eggs filled with red pepper, and raw onions, of which he ate
enormous quantities. He drank iced water by the gallon, and slept
between frozen sheets. He was a man, moreover, of evil life, familiar
with every form of vicious indulgence. His only redeeming feature was a
love of art, which enriched the galleries of Florence.
Such was the Medici--half-ogre, half-madman, who, riding one day through
a Florence slum, saw at the window of a mean dwelling the beautiful face
of Bianca Bonaventuri, and rode on leaving his heart behind. Here indeed
was a dainty dish to set before his jaded appetite. The owner of that
fair face, with the crimson lips and the black, flashing eyes, must be
his. On the following day a great Court lady, the Marchesa Mondragone,
presents herself at the Bonaventuri door, with smiles and gracious
words, bearing an invitation to Court for the lady of the window.
"Impossible," bluntly answers Signora Bonaventuri; her daughter-in-law
has no clothes fit to be seen at Court. "But," persists the Marchesa,
"that is a matter that can easily be arranged. It will be a pleasure to
me to supply the necessary outfit, if the Signora and her
daughter-in-law will but come to-morrow to the Mondragone Palace." The
bride, when consulted, is not unwilling; and the following day, in
company with her mother-in-law, she is effusively received by the
Marchesa, and is feasting her eyes on exquisite robes and the glitter
of rare gems, among which she is invited to make her choice. A moment
later Francesco enters, and with courtly grace is kissing the hand of
his new divinity....
Then followed secret meetings such as marked Bianca's first unhappy
wooing in Venice--hours of rapture for the Tuscan Duke, of flattered
submission by the runaway bride; and within a few weeks we find Bianca
installed in a palace of her own with Francesco's guards and equipage
ever at its door, while his newly made bride, Giovanna, Archduchess of
Austria, kept her lonely vigil in the apartments which so seldom saw her
Francesco, indeed, had no eyes or thought for any but the lovely woman
who had so completely enslaved him. As for her, condemn her as we must,
much can be pleaded in extenuation of her conduct. She had been basely
deceived and betrayed. On the one side was a life of sordid poverty and
drudgery, with a husband for whom she had now nothing but dislike and
contempt; on the other was the ardent homage of the future ruler of
Tuscany, with its accompaniment of splendour, luxury, and power. A fig
for love! ambition should now rule her life. She would drain the cup of
pleasure, though the dregs might be bitter to the taste.
She was now in the very prime of her beauty, and a Queen in all but the
name. Between her and her full Queendom were but two obstacles--her
lover's plain, unattractive wife, and her own worthless husband; and of
these obstacles one was soon to be removed from her path.
Pietro, who had been made chamberlain to the Tuscan Court, was more
than content that his wife should go her own way, so long as he was
allowed to go his. He was kept very agreeably occupied with love affairs
of his own. The richest widow in Florence, Cassandra Borgianni, was
eager to lavish her smiles and favours on him; and the knowledge that
two of his predecessors in her affection had fallen under the assassin's
knife only lent zest to a love adventure which was after his heart.
Warnings of the fate that might await him in turn fell on deaf ears.
When his wife ventured to point out the danger he retorted, "If you say
another word I will cut your throat." The following night as he was
returning from a visit to the widow, a dagger was sheathed in his heart,
and Pietro's amorous race was run.
Such was the end of the bank-clerk and his eleventh-hour glories and
love adventures. Now only Giovanna remained to block the way to the
pinnacle of Bianca's ambition; and her health was so frail that the
waiting might not be long. Giovanna had provided no successor to her
husband (who had now succeeded to his Grand Dukedom); if Bianca could
succeed where the Grand Duchess had failed, she could at least ensure
that a son of hers would one day rule over Tuscany.
Thus one August day in 1576 the news flashed round Florence that a male
child had been born in the palace on the Via Maggiore. Francesco was in
the "seventh heaven" of delight. Here at last was the long-looked-for
inheritor of his honours--the son who was to perpetuate the glories of
the Medici and to thwart his brother, the Cardinal, who had so
confidently counted on the succession for himself. And Madame Bianca
professed herself equally delighted, although her pleasure was qualified
She had played her part with consummate cleverness; but there were two
women who knew the true story of the birth of the child, which had been
smuggled into the palace from a Florence slum. One was the changeling's
mother, a woman of the people, whom a substantial bribe had induced to
part with her new-born infant; the other was Bianca's waiting woman.
These witnesses to the imposture must be silenced effectually.
Hired assassins made short work of the mother. The waiting-maid was
"left for dead" in a mountain-pass, to which she had been lured; but she
survived long enough at least to communicate her secret to the Grand
Duke's brother, the Cardinal Ferdinand de Medici.
Bianca was now in a parlous plight. At any moment her enemy, the
Cardinal, might betray her to her lover, and bring the carefully planned
edifice of her fortunes tumbling about her ears. But she proved equal
even to this emergency. Taking her courage in both hands, she herself
confessed the fraud to the Grand Duke, who not only forgave her (so
completely was he under the spell of her beauty) but insisted on calling
the gutter-child his son.
The tables, however, were soon to be turned on her, for Giovanna, who
had long despaired of providing an heir to her husband, gave birth a
few months later to a male child. Florence was jubilant, for the Grand
Duchess was as beloved as her rival was detested; and the christening of
the heir was made the occasion of festivities and rejoicing. Bianca's
day of triumph seemed at last to be over. For a time she left Florence
to hide her humiliation; but within a year she was back again, to be
received with open arms of welcome by the Duke. During her absence she
had made peace with her family, and when her father and brother came to
Florence to visit her, they were received by Francesco with regal
entertainments, and sent away loaded with presents and honours.
Bianca had now reached the zenith of her power and splendour. Before she
had been back many months the Grand Duchess died, to the undisguised
relief of her husband, who hastened from her funeral to the arms of her
rival. Her position was now secure, unassailable; and before Giovanna
had been two months in the family vault, Bianca was secretly married to
her Grand ducal lover.
Florence was furious. But what mattered that? The Venetian Senate had
recognised Bianca as a true daughter of the Republic. She was the legal
wife of the ruler of Tuscany. She was Grand Duchess at last, and she
meant all the world to know it. That she was cordially hated by her
husband's subjects, that the air was full of stories of her
extravagance, her intemperance, and her cruelty, gave her no moment's
unhappiness. For eight years she reigned as Queen, wielding the sceptre
her husband's hands were too weak or indifferent to hold. Giovanna's
son had followed his mother to the grave; and the child of the slums,
who had been so fruitlessly smuggled into her palace, had been
The only thorn now left in her bed of roses was the enmity of the Grand
Duke's brother, the Cardinal; and her greatest ambition was to win him
to her side. In the autumn of 1787 he was invited to Florence, and as
the culmination of a series of festivities, a grand banquet was given,
at which he had the place of honour, at her right hand. The feast was
drawing near to its end. Bianca, with sparkling eyes and flushed face,
looking lovelier than she had ever looked before, was at her happiest,
for the Cardinal had at last succumbed to her bright eyes and honeyed
words. It was the crowning moment of her many triumphs, when life left
nothing more to desire.
Then it was, at the supreme moment, that tragedy in its most terrible
form fell on the scene of festivity and mirth. While Bianca was smiling
her sweetest on the Cardinal she was seized by violent pains, "her mouth
foams, her face is distorted by agony; she shrieks aloud that she is
dying. Francesco tries to go to her aid, but his steps are suddenly
arrested. He too is seized by the same terrible anguish. A few hours
later both she and he breathe their last breath."
"Poison" was the word which ran through the palace and soon through
Florence from blanched lips to blanched lips. Some said it was the
Cardinal who had done the deed; others whispered stories of a poisoned
tart designed by Bianca for the Cardinal, who refused to be tempted.
Whereupon the Grand Duke had eaten of it, and Bianca, "seeing that her
plot had so tragically miscarried, seized the tart from her husband's
hand and ate what was left of it."
The truth will never be known. What we do know is that within a few
hours of the last joke and the last drained glass of that fatal banquet
the bodies of Francesco and Bianca were lying in death side by side in
an adjacent room, the door of which was locked against the eyes of the
curious--even against the physicians.
In the solemn lying-in-state that followed Bianca had no place.
Francesco alone, by his brother's orders, wore his crown in death. As
for Bianca, her body was hurried away and flung into the common vault of
San Lorenzo, with the light of two yellow wax torches to bear it
company, and the jibes and jeers of Florence for its only requiem.
RICHELIEU, THE ROUE
In the drama of the French Court many a fine-feathered villain "struts
his brief hour" on the stage, dazzling eyes by his splendour, and
shocking a world none too easily shocked in those days of easy morals by
his profligacy; but it would be difficult among all these gilded rakes
to find a match for the Duc de Richelieu, who carried his villainies
through little less than a century of life.
Born in 1696, when Louis XIV. had still nearly twenty years of his long
reign before him, Louis Francois Armand Duplessis, Duc de Richelieu,
survived to hear the rumblings which heralded the French Revolution
ninety-two years later; and for three-quarters of a century to be known
as the most accomplished and heartless roue in all France. Bearer of a
great name, and inheritor of the splendours and riches of his
great-uncle, the Cardinal, who was Louis XII.'s right-hand man, and, in
his day, the most powerful subject in Europe, the Duc was born with the
football of fortune at his feet; and probably no man who has ever lived
so shamefully prostituted such magnificent opportunities and gifts.
As a boy, still in his teens, he had begun to play the role of Don Juan
at the Court of the child-King, Louis XV. The most beautiful women at
the Court, we are told, went crazy over the handsome boy, who bore the
most splendid name in France; and thus early his head was turned by
flatteries and attentions which followed him almost to the grave.
The young Duchesse de Bourgogne, the King's mother, made love to him, to
the scandal of the Court; and from Princesses of the Blood Royal to the
humblest serving-maid, there was scarcely a woman at Court who would not
have given her eyes for a smile from the Duc de Fronsac, as he was then
How he revelled in his conquests he makes abundantly clear in the
Memoirs he left behind him--surely the most scandalous ever written--in
which he recounts his love affairs, in long sequence, with a
cold-blooded heartlessness which shocks the reader to-day, so long after
lover and victims have been dust. He revels in describing the artifices
by which he got the most unassailable of women into his power--such as
the young and beautiful Madame Michelin, whose religious scruples proved
such a frail barrier against the assaults of the young Lothario. He
chuckles with a diabolical pride as he tells us how he played off one
mistress against another; how he made one liaison pave the way to its
successor; and how he abandoned each in turn when it had served its
purpose, and betrayed, one after another, the women who had trusted to
his nebulous sense of honour.
A profligate so tempted as the Duc de Richelieu was from his earliest
years, one can understand, however much we may condemn; but for the man
who conducted his love affairs with such heartlessness and dishonour no
language has words of execration and contempt to describe him.
From his earliest youth there was no "game" too high for our Don Juan to
fly at. Long before he had reached manhood he counted his lady-loves by
the score; and among them were at least three Royal Princesses,
Mademoiselle de Charolais, and two of the Regent's own daughters, the
Duchesse de Berry and Mademoiselle de Valois, later Duchess of Modena,
who, in their jealousy, were ready to "tear each other's eyes out" for
love of the Duc. Quarrels between the rival ladies were of everyday
occurrence; and even duels were by no means unknown.
When, for instance, the Duc wearied of the lovely Madame de Polignac,
this lady was so inflamed by hatred of her successor in his affections,
the Marquise de Nesle, that she challenged her to a duel to the death in
the Bois de Boulogne. When Madame de Polignac, after a fierce exchange
of shots, saw her rival stretched at her feet, she turned furiously on
the wounded woman. "Go!" she shrieked. "I will teach you to walk in the
footsteps of a woman like me! If I had the traitor here, I would blow
his brains out!" Whereupon, Madame de Nesle, fainting as she was from
loss of blood, retorted that her lover was worthy that even more noble
blood than hers should be shed for him. "He is," she said to the few
onlookers who had hurried to the scene on hearing the shots, "the most
amiable _seigneur_ of the Court. I am ready to shed for him the last
drop of blood in my veins. All these ladies try to catch him, but I hope
that the proofs I have given of my devotion will win him for myself
without sharing with anyone. Why should I hide his name? He is the Duc
de Richelieu--yes, the Duc de Richelieu, the eldest son of Venus and
Such was the devotion which this heartless profligate won from some of
the most beautiful and highly placed ladies of France. What was the
secret of the spell he cast over them it is difficult to say. It is true
that he was a handsome man, as his portraits show, but there were men
quite as handsome at the French Court; he was courtly and accomplished,
but he had many rivals as clever and as skilled in courtly arts as
himself. His power must, one thinks, have lain in that strange magnetism
which women seem so powerless to resist in men, and which outweighs all
graces of mind and physical perfections.
The Duc's career, however, was not one unbroken dallying with love.
Thrice, at least, he was sent to cool his ardour within the walls of the
Bastille--on one occasion as the result of a duel with the Comte de
Gace. His lady-loves were desolate at the cruel fate which had overtaken
their idol. They fell on their knees at the Regent's feet, and, with
tears streaming down their pretty cheeks, pleaded for his freedom. Two
of the Royal Princesses, both disguised as Sisters of Charity, visited
the prisoner daily in his dungeon, carrying with them delicacies to
tempt his appetite, and consolation to cheer his captivity.
In vain did Duc and Comte both declare that they had never fought a
duel; and when, in the absence of proof, the Regent insisted that their
bodies should be examined for the convicting wounds, the impish
Richelieu came triumphantly through the ordeal as the result of having
his wounds covered with pink taffeta and skilfully painted!
It was a more serious matter that sent him again to the Bastille in
1718. False to his country as to the victims of his fascinations, he had
been plotting with Spain, France's bitterest enemy, for the seizure of
the Regent and the carrying him off across the Pyrenees; and certain
incriminating letters sent to him by Cardinal Alberoni had been
intercepted, and were in the Regent's hands. The Regent's daughter,
Mademoiselle de Valois, warned her lover of his danger, but too late.
Before he could escape, he was arrested, and with an escort of archers
was safely lodged in the Bastille.
Our Lothario was now indeed in a parlous plight. Lodged in the deepest
and most loathsome dungeon of the Bastille--a dungeon so damp that
within a few hours his clothes were saturated--without even a chair to
sit on or a bed to lie on, with legions of hungry rats for company, he
was now face to face with almost certain death. The Regent, whose love
affairs he had thwarted a score of times, and who thus had no reason to
love the profligate Duc, vowed that his head should pay the price of his
Once more the Court ladies were reduced to hysterics and despair, and
forgot their jealousies in a common appeal to the Regent for clemency.
Mademoiselle de Valois was driven to distraction; and when tears and
pleadings failed to soften her father's heart, she declared in the
hearing of the Court that she would commit suicide unless her lover was
restored to liberty. In company with her rival, Mademoiselle de
Charolais, she visited the dungeon in the dark night hours, taking flint
and steel, candles and bonbons, to weep with the captive.
She squandered two hundred thousand livres in attempts to bribe his
guards, but all to no purpose: and it was not until after six months of
durance that the Regent at last yielded--moved partly by his daughter's
tears and threats and partly by the pleadings of the Cardinal-Archbishop
of Paris--and the prisoner was released, on condition that the Cardinal
and the Duchesse de Richelieu would be responsible for his custody and
A few days later we find the irresponsible Richelieu climbing over the
garden-walls of his new "prison" at Conflans, racing through the
darkness to Paris behind swift horses, and making love to the Regent's
own mistresses and his daughter!
But such facilities for dalliance with the Regent's daughter were soon
to be brought to an end. Mademoiselle de Valois, in order to ensure her
lover's freedom, had at last consented to accept the hand of the Duke of
Modena, an alliance which she had long fought against; and before the
Duc had been a free man again many weeks she paid this part of his
ransom by going into exile, and to an odious wedded life, in a far
corner of Italy--much, it may be imagined, to the Regent's relief, for
his daughters and their love affairs were ever a thorn in his side.
It was not long, however, before the new Duchess of Modena began to sigh
for her distant lover, and to bombard him with letters begging him to
come to her. "I cannot live without your love," she wrote. "Come to
me--only, come in disguise, so that no one can recognise you."
This was indeed an adventure after the Lothario Duc's heart--an
adventure with love as its reward and danger as its spur. And thus it
was that, a few weeks after the Duchess had sent her invitation, two
travel-stained pedlars, with packs on their backs, entered the city of
Modena to find customers for their books and phamphlets. At the small
hostelry whose hospitality they sought the hawkers gave their names as
Gasparini and Romano, names which masked the identities of the
knight-errant Duc and his friend, La Fosse, respectively.
The following morning behold the itinerant hawkers in the palace
grounds, their wares spread out to tempt the Court ladies on their way
to Mass, when the Duchess herself passed their way and deigned to stop
to converse graciously with the strangers. To her inquiries they
answered that they came from Piedmont; and their curious jargon of
French and Italian lent support to the story. After inspecting their
wares she asked for a certain book. "Alas! Madame," Gasparini answered,
"I have not a copy here, but I have one at my inn." And bidding him
bring the volume to her at the palace, the great lady resumed her devout
journey to Mass.
A few hours later Gasparini presented himself at the palace with the
required volume, and was ushered into the august presence of the
Duchess. A moment later, on the closing of the door, the Royal lady was
in the "hawker's" arms, her own flung around his neck, as with tears of
joy she welcomed the lover who had come to her in such strange guise and
at such risk.
A few stolen moments of happiness was all the lovers dared now to allow
themselves. The Duke of Modena was in the palace, and the situation was
full of danger. But on the morrow he was going away on a hunting
expedition, and then--well, then they might meet without fear.
On the following day, the coast now clear, behold our "hawker" once more
at the palace door, with a bundle of books under his arm for the
inspection of Her Highness, and being ushered into the Duchess's
reading-room, full of souvenirs of the happy days they had spent
together in distant Paris and Versailles. Among them, most prized of
all, was a lock of his own hair, enshrined on a small altar, and
surmounted by a crown of interlocked hearts. This lock, the Duchess told
him, she had kissed and wept over every day since they had parted.
Each day now brought its hours of blissful meeting, so seemingly short
that the Princess would throw her arms around her "hawker's" neck and
implore him to stay a little longer. One day, however, he tarried too
long; the Duke returned unexpectedly from his hunting, and before the
lovers could part, he had entered the room--just in time to see the
pedlar bowing humbly in farewell to his Duchess, and to hear him assure
her that he would call again with the further books she wished to see.
Certainly it was a strange spectacle to greet the eyes of a home-coming
Duke--that of his lady closeted with a shabby pedlar of books; but at
least there was nothing suspicious in it, and, getting into conversation
with the "hawker," the Duke found him quite an entertaining fellow, full
of news of what was going on in the world outside his small duchy.
In his curious jargon of French and Italian, Gasparini had much to tell
His Highness apart from book-talk. He entertained him with the latest
scandals of the French Court; with gossip about well-known personages,
from the Regent to Dubois. "And what about that rascal, the Duc de
Richelieu?" asked the great man. "What tricks has he been up to lately?"
"Oh," answered Gasparini, with a wink at the Duchess, who was crimson
with suppressed laughter, "he is one of my best customers. Ah, Monsieur
le Duc, he is a gay dog. I hear that all the women at the Court are
madly in love with him; that the Princesses adore him, and that he is
driving all the husbands to distraction."
"Is it as bad as that?" asked the Duke, with a laugh. "He is a more
dangerous fellow even than I thought. And what is his latest game?"
"Oh," answered the hawker, "I am told that he has made a wager that he
will come to Modena, in spite of you; and I shouldn't be at all
surprised if he does!"
"As for that," said the Duke, with a chuckle, "I am not afraid. I defy
him to do his worst; and I am willing to wager that I shall be a match
for him. However," he added, "you're an entertaining fellow; so come and
see me again whenever you please."
And thus, by the wish of the Duchess's husband himself, the ducal
"hawker" became a daily visitor at the palace, entertaining His Highness
with his chatter, and, when his back was turned, making love to his
wife, and joining her in shrieks of laughter at his easy gullibility.
Thus many happy weeks passed, Gasparini, the pedlar, selling few
volumes, but reaping a rich harvest of stolen pleasure, and revelling in
an adventure which added such a new zest to a life sated with more
humdrum love-making. But even the Duchess's charms began to pall; the
ladies he had left so disconsolate in Paris were inundating him with
letters, begging him to return to them--letters, all forwarded to him
from his chateau at Richelieu, where he was supposed to be in retreat.
The lure was too strong for him; and, taking leave of the Duchess in
floods of tears, he returned to his beloved Paris to fresh conquests.
And thus it was with the gay Duc until the century that followed that of
his birth was drawing to its close; until its sun was beginning to set
in the blood of that Revolution, which, if he had lived but one year
longer, would surely have claimed him as one of its first victims.
Three wives he led to the altar--the last when he had passed into the
eighties--but no marital duty was allowed to interfere with the amours
which filled his life; and to the last no pity ever gave a pang to the
"conscience" which allowed him to pick and fling away his flowers at
will, and to trample, one after another, on the hearts that yielded to
his love and trusted to his honour.
THE INDISCRETIONS OF A PRINCESS
It was an ill fate that brought Caroline, Princess of
Brunswick-Wolfenbuettel to England to be the bride of George, Prince of
Wales, one April day in the year 1795; although probably no woman has
ever set forth on her bridal journey with a lighter or prouder heart,
for, as she said, "Am I not going to be the wife of the handsomest
Prince in the world?" If she had any momentary doubt of this, a glance
at the miniature she carried in her bosom reassured her; for the
pictured face that smiled at her was handsome as that of an Apollo.
No wonder the Princess's heart beat high with pride and pleasure during
that last triumphal stage of her journey to her husband's arms; for he
was not only the handsomest man, with "the best shaped leg in Europe,"
he was by common consent the "greatest gentleman" any Court could show.
Picture him as he made his first appearance at a Court ball. "His coat,"
we are told, "was of pink silk, with white cuffs; his waistcoat of white
silk, embroidered with various-coloured foil and adorned with a
profusion of French paste. And his hat was ornamented with two rows of
steel beads, five thousand in number, with a button and a loop of the
same metal, and cocked in a new military style." See young "Florizel" as
he makes his smiling and gracious progress through the avenues of
courtiers; note the winsomeness of his smiles, the inimitable grace of
his bows, his pleasant, courtly words of recognition, and say if ever
Royalty assumed a form more agreeable to the eye and captivating to the
"Florizel" was indeed the most splendid Prince in the world, and the
most "perfect gentleman." He was also, though his bride-to-be little
knew it, the most dissolute man in Europe, the greatest gambler and
voluptuary--a man who was as false to his friends as he was traitor to
every woman who crossed his path, a man whom no appeal of honour or
mercy could check in his selfish pursuit of pleasure.
"I look through all his life," Thackeray says, "and recognise but a bow
and a grin. I try and take him to pieces, and find silk stockings,
padding, stays, a coat with frogs and a fur collar, a star and blue
ribbon, a pocket handkerchief prodigiously scented, one of Truefitt's
best nutty brown wigs reeking with oil, a set of teeth and a huge black
stock, under-waistcoats, more under-waistcoats, and then--nothing.
French ballet-dancers, French cooks, horse-jockeys, buffoons,
procuresses, tailors, boxers, fencing-masters, china, jewel and
gimcrack-merchants--these were his real companions."
Such was the husband Princess Caroline came so light-heartedly, with
laughter on her lips, from Brunswick to wed, little dreaming of the
disillusion and tears that were to await her on the very threshold of
the life to which she had looked forward with such high hopes.
We get the first glimpse of Caroline some twelve years earlier, when Sir
John Stanley, who was making the grand tour, spent a few weeks at her
father's Court. He speaks of her as a "beautiful girl of fourteen," and
adds, "I did think and dream of her day and night at Brunswick, and for
a year afterwards I saw her for hours three or fours times a week, but
as a star out of my reach." Years later he met her again under sadly
changed conditions. "One day only," he writes, "when dining with her and
her mother at Blackheath, she smiled at something which had pleased her,
and for an instant only I could have fancied she had been the Caroline
of fourteen years old--the lovely, pretty Caroline, the girl my eyes had
so often rested on, with light and powdered hair hanging in curls on her
neck, the lips from which only sweet words seemed as if they would flow,
with looks animated, and always simply and modestly dressed."
Lady Charlotte Campbell, too, gives us a glimpse of her in these early
and happier years, before sorrow had laid its defacing hand on her. "The
Princess was in her early youth a pretty girl," Lady Charlotte says,
"with fine light hair--very delicately formed features, and a fine
complexion--quick, glancing, penetrating eyes, long cut and rather small
in the head, which gave them much expression; and a remarkably
delicately formed mouth."
It was in no happy home that the Princess had been cradled one May day
in 1768. Her father, Charles William, Duke of Brunswick, was an austere
soldier, too much absorbed in his military life and his mistress, to
give much thought to his daughters. Her mother, the Duchess Augusta,
sister of our own George III., was weak and small-minded, too much
occupied in self-indulgence and scandal-talking to trouble about the
training of her children.
Princess Caroline herself draws an unattractive picture of her
home-life, in answer to Lady Charlotte Campbell's question, "Were you
sorry to leave Brunswick?" "Not at all," was the answer; "I was sick
tired of it, though I was sorry to leave my fader. I loved my fader
dearly, better than any oder person. But dere were some unlucky tings in
our Court which made my position difficult. My fader was most entirely
attached to a lady for thirty years, who was in fact his mistress. She
was the beautifullest creature and the cleverest, but, though my fader
continued to pay my moder all possible respect, my poor moder could not
suffer this attachment. And de consequence was, I did not know what to
do between them; when I was civil to one, I was scolded by the other,
and was very tired of being shuttlecock between them."
But in spite of these unfortunate home conditions Caroline appears to
have spent a fairly happy girlhood, thanks to her exuberant spirits; and
such faults as she developed were largely due to the lack of parental
care, which left her training to servants. Thus she grew up with quite a
shocking disregard of conventions, running wild like a young filly, and
finding her pleasure and her companions in undesirable directions.
Strange stories are told of her girlish love affairs, which seem to have
been indiscreet if nothing worse, while her beauty drew to her many a
high-placed wooer, including the Prince of Orange and Prince George of
Darmstadt, to all of whom she seems to have turned a cold shoulder.
But the wilful Princess was not to be left mistress of her own destiny.
One November day, in 1794, Lord Malmesbury arrived at the Brunswick
Court to demand her hand for the Prince of Wales, whom his burden of
debts and the necessity of providing an heir to the throne of England
were at last driving reluctantly to the altar. And thus a new and
dazzling future opened for her. To her parents nothing could have been
more welcome than this prospect of a crown for their daughter; while to
her it offered a release from a life that had become odious.
"The Princess Caroline much embarrassed on my first being presented to
her," Malmesbury enters in his diary--"pretty face, not expressive of
softness--her figure not graceful, fine eyes, good hands, tolerable
teeth, fair hair and light eyebrows, good bust, short, with what the
French call 'des epaules impertinentes,' vastly happy with her future
Such were Malmesbury's first impressions of the future Queen of England,
whom it was his duty to prepare for her exalted station--a duty which he
seems to have taken very seriously, even to the regulating of her
toilette and her manners. Thus, a few days after setting eyes on her,
his diary records: "She _will_ call ladies whom she meets for the first
time 'Mon coeur, ma chere, ma petite,' and I am obliged to rebuke and
correct her." He lectures her on her undignified habit of whispering and
giggling, and impresses on her the necessity of greater care in her
attire, on more constant and thorough ablution, more frequent changes of
linen, the care of her teeth, and so on--all of which admonitions she
seems to have taken in excellent part, with demure promises of
amendment, until he is impelled to write, "Princess Caroline improves
very much on a closer acquaintance--cheerful and loves laughing. If she
can get rid of her gossiping habit she will do very well."
Thus a few months passed at the Brunswick Court. The ceremonial of
betrothal took place in December--"Princess Caroline much affected, but
replies distinctly and well"; the marriage-contract was signed, and
finally on 28th March the Princess embarked for England on her journey
to the unseen husband whose good-looks and splendour have filled her
with such high expectations. That she had not yet learnt discretion, in
spite of all Malmesbury's homilies, is proved by the fact that she spent
the night on board in walking up and down the deck in the company of a
handsome young naval officer, conduct which naturally gave cause for
observation and suspicion in the affianced bride of the future King of
It was well, perhaps, that she had snatched these few hours of innocent
pleasure: for her first meeting with her future husband was well
calculated to scatter all her rosy dreams. Arrived at last at St James's
Palace, "I immediately notified the arrival to the King and Prince of
Wales," says Malmesbury; "the last came immediately. I accordingly
introduced the Princess Caroline to him. She very properly attempted to
kneel to him. He raised her gracefully enough, and embraced her, said
barely one word, turned round and retired to a distant part of the
apartment, and calling to me said: 'Harris, I am not well; pray get me a
glass of brandy.' I said, 'Sir, had you not better have a glass of
water?' Upon which he, much out of humour, said with an oath: 'No; I
will go directly to the Queen,' and away he went. The Princess, left
during this short moment alone, was in a state of astonishment; and, on
my joining her, said, '_Mon Dieu_, is the Prince always like that? I
find him very fat, and not at all as handsome as his portrait.'"
Such was the Princess's welcome to the arms of her handsome husband and
to the Court over which she hoped to reign as Queen; nor did she receive
much warmer hospitality from the Prince's family. The Queen, who had
designed a very different bride for her eldest son, received her with
scarcely disguised enmity, while the King, although, as he afterwards
proved, kindly disposed towards her, treated her at first with an
amiable indifference. And certainly her attitude seems to have been
calculated to create an unfavourable impression on her new relatives and
on the Court generally.
At the banquet which followed her reception, Malmesbury says, "I was far
from satisfied with the Princess's behaviour. It was flippant, rattling,
affecting raillery and wit, and throwing out coarse, vulgar hints about
Lady----, who was present. The Prince was evidently disgusted, and this
unfortunate dinner fixed his dislike, which, when left to herself, the
Princess had not the talent to remove; but by still observing the same
giddy manners and attempts at cleverness and coarse sarcasm, increased
it till it became positive hatred."
"What," as Thackeray asks, "could be expected from a wedding which had
such a beginning--from such a bridegroom and such a bride? Malmesbury
tells us how the Prince reeled into the Chapel Royal to be married on
the evening of Wednesday, the 8th of April; and how he hiccuped out his
vows of fidelity." "My brother," John, Duke of Bedford, records, "was
one of the two unmarried dukes who supported the Prince at the ceremony,
and he had need of his support; for my brother told me the Prince was so
drunk that he could scarcely support himself from falling. He told my
brother that he had drunk several glasses of brandy to enable him to go
through the ceremony. There is no doubt that it was a _compulsory_
With such an overture, we are not surprised to learn that the Royal
bridegroom spent his wedding-night in a state of stupor on the floor of
his bedroom; or that at dawn, when he had slept off the effects of his
debauch, "pages heard cries proceeding from the nuptial chamber, and
shortly afterwards saw the bridegroom rush out violently."
Nor, we may be sure, was the Prince's undisguised hatred of his bride in
any way mitigated by the stories which Lady Jersey and others of hex
rivals poured into his willing ears--stories of her attachment to a
young German Prince whom she was not allowed to marry; of a mysterious
illness, followed by a few weeks' retreat; of that midnight promenade
with the young naval officer; of assignations with Major Toebingen, the
handsomest soldier in Europe, who so proudly wore the amethyst tie-pin
she had presented to him--these and many another story which reflected
none too well on her reputation before he had set eyes on her. But it
needed no such whispered scandal to strengthen his hatred of a bride who
personally repelled him, and who had been forced on him at a time when
his heart was fully engaged with his lawful wedded wife, Mrs
Fitzherbert, when it was not straying to Lady Jersey, to "Perdita" or
others of his legion of lights-o'-love.
From the first day the ill-fated union was doomed. One violent scene
succeeded another, until, before she had been two months a wife, the
Prince declared that he would no longer live with her. He would only
wait until her child was born; then he would formally and finally leave
her. Thus, three months after the birth of the Princess Charlotte, the
deed of separation was signed, and Caroline was at last free to escape
from a Court which she had grown to detest, with good reason, and from a
husband whose brutalities and infidelities filled her with loathing.
She carried with her, however, this consolation, that the "great, hearty
people of England loved and pitied her." "God bless you! we will bring
your husband back to you," was among the many cries that greeted her as
she left the palace on her way to exile. But, to quote Thackeray again,
"they could not bring that husband back; they could not cleanse that
selfish heart. Was hers the only one he had wounded? Steeped in
selfishness, impotent for faithful attachment and manly enduring
love--had it not survived remorse, was it not accustomed to desertion?"
For a time the outcast Princess, with her infant daughter, led a retired
life amid the peace and beauty of Blackheath, where she lived as simply
as any bourgeoise, playing the "lady bountiful" to the poor among her
neighbours. Her chief pleasure seems to have been to surround herself
with cottage babies, converting Montague House into a "positive nursery,
littered up with cradles, swaddling-bands, feeding bottles, and other
things of the kind."
But even to this rustic retirement watchful eyes and slanderous tongues
followed her; and it was not long before stories were passing from mouth
to mouth in the Court of strange doings at Blackheath. The Princess, it
was said, had become very intimate with Sir John Douglas and his lady,
her near neighbours, and more especially with Sydney Smith, a
good-looking naval captain, who shared the Douglas home, a man,
moreover, with whom she had had suspicious relations at her father's
Court many years earlier. It was rumoured that Captain Smith was a
frequent and too welcome guest at Montague House, at hours when discreet
ladies are not in the habit of receiving their male friends. Nor was the
handsome captain the only friend thus unconventionally entertained.
There was another good-looking naval officer, a Captain Manby, and also
Sir Thomas Lawrence, the famous painter, both of whom were admitted to a
suspicious intimacy with the Princess of Wales.
These rumours, sufficiently disquieting in themselves, were followed by
stories of the concealed birth of a child, who had come mysteriously to
swell the numbers of the Princess's proteges of the creche. Even King
George, whose sympathy with his heir's ill-used wife was a matter of
common knowledge, could not overlook a charge so grave as this. It must
be investigated in the interests of the State, as well as of his
family's honour; and, by his orders, a Commission of Peers was appointed
to examine into the matter and ascertain the truth.
The inquiry--the "Delicate Investigation" as it was appropriately
called--opened in June, 1806, and witness after witness, from the
Douglases to Robert Bidgood, a groom, gave evidence which more or less
supported the charges of infidelity and concealment. The result of the
investigation, however, was a verdict of acquittal, the Commissioners
reporting that the Princess, although innocent, had been guilty of very
indiscreet conduct--and this verdict the Privy Council confirmed.
For the Princess it was a triumphant vindication, which was hailed with
acclamation throughout the country. Even the Royal family showed their
satisfaction by formal visits of congratulation to the Princess, from
the King himself to the Duke of Cumberland who conducted his
sister-in-law on a visit to the Court.
But the days of Blackheath and the amateur nursery were at an end. The
Princess returned to London, and found a more suitable home in
Kensington Palace for some years, where she held her Court in rivalry of
that of her husband at Carlton House. Here she was subjected to every
affront and slight by the Prince and his set that the ingenuity of
hatred could devise, and to crown her humiliation and isolation, her
daughter Charlotte was taken from her and forbidden even to recognise
her when their carriages passed in the street or park.
Can we wonder that, under such remorseless persecutions, the Princess
became more and more defiant; that she gave herself up to a life of
recklessness and extravagance; that, more and more isolated from her own
world, she sought her pleasure and her companions in undesirable
quarters, finding her chief intimates in a family of Italian musicians;
or that finally, heart-broken and despairing, she determined once for
all to shake off the dust of a land that had treated her so cruelly?
In August, 1814, with the approval of King and Parliament, the Princess
left England to begin a career of amazing adventures and indiscretions,
the story of which is one of the most remarkable in history.
THE INDISCRETIONS OF A PRINCESS--_continued_
When Caroline, Princess of Wales, shook the dust of England off her feet
one August day in the year 1814, it was only natural that her steps
should first turn towards the Brunswick home which held for her at least
a few happy memories, and where she hoped to find in sympathy and old
associations some salve for her wounded heart.
But the fever of restlessness was in her blood--the restlessness which
was to make her a wanderer over the face of the earth for half a dozen
years. The peace and solace she had looked for in Brunswick eluded her;
and before many days had passed she was on her way through Switzerland
to the sunny skies of Italy, where she could perhaps find in distraction
and pleasure the anodyne which a life of retirement denied her. She was
full of rebellion against fate, of hatred against her husband and his
country which had treated her with such unmerited cruelty. She would
defy fate; she would put a whole continent between herself and the
nightmare life she had left behind, she hoped for ever. She would pursue
and find pleasure at whatever cost.
In September, within five weeks of leaving England, we find her at
Geneva, installed in a suite of rooms next to those occupied by Marie
Louise, late Empress of France, a fugitive and exile like herself, and
animated by the same spirit of reckless revolt against destiny--Marie
Louise, we read, "making excursions like a lunatic on foot and on
horseback, never even seeming to dream of making people remember that,
before she became mixed up with a Corsican adventurer, she was an
Archduchess"; the Princess of Wales, equally careless of her dignity and
position, finding her pleasure in questionable company.
"From the inn where she was stopping she heard music, and, quite
unaccompanied, immediately entered a neighbouring house and disappeared
in the medley of dancers." A few days later, at Lausanne, "she learned
that a little ball was in progress at a house opposite the 'Golden
Lion,' and she asked for an invitation. After dancing with everybody and
anybody, she finished up by dancing a Savoyard dance, called a
_fricassee_, with a nobody. Madame de Corsal, who blushed and wept for
the rest of the company, declares that it has made her ill, and that she
feels that the honour of England has been compromised." Thus early did
Caroline begin that career of indiscretion, to call it by no worse name,
which made of her six years' exile "a long suicide of her reputation."
In October we find the Princess entering Milan, with her retinue of
ladies-in-waiting, chamberlains, equerry, page, courier, and coachman,
and with William Austin for companion--a boy, now about thirteen, whom
she treated as her son, and who was believed by many to be the child of
her imprudence at Blackheath, although the Commission of the "Delicate
Investigation" had pronounced that he was son of a poor woman at
Deptford. At Milan, as indeed wherever she wandered in Italy, the
"vagabond Princess" was received as a Queen. Count di Bellegarde, the
Austrian Governor, was the first to pay homage to her; at the Scala
Theatre, the same evening, her entry was greeted with thunders of
applause, and whenever she appeared in the Milan streets it was to an
accompaniment of doffed hats and cheers.
One of her first visits was to the studio of Giuseppe Bossi, the famous
and handsome artist, whom she requested to paint her portrait. "On
Thursday," Bossi records, "I sketched her successfully in the character
of a Muse; then on Friday she came to show me her arms, of which she
was, not without reason, decidedly vain--she is a gay and whimsical
woman, she seems to have a good heart; at times she is ennuyee through
lack of occupation." On one occasion when she met in the studio some
French ladies, two of whom had been mistresses of the King of
Westphalia, the poor artist was driven to distraction by the chatter,
the singing, and dancing, in which the Princess especially displayed her
agility, until, as he pathetically says, "the house seemed possessed of
the devil, and you can imagine with what kind of ease it was possible
for me to work."
Before leaving Milan the Princess gave a grand banquet to Bellegarde
and a number of the principal men of the city--a feast which was to have
very important and serious consequences, for it was at this banquet that
General Pino, one of her guests, introduced to Caroline a new courier, a
man who, though she little dreamt it at the time, was destined to play a
very baleful part in her life.
This new courier was a tall and strikingly handsome man, who had seen
service in the Italian army, until a duel, in which he killed a superior
officer, compelled him to leave it in disgrace. At the time he entered
the Princess's service he was a needy adventurer, whose scheming brain
and utter lack of principle were in the market for the highest bidder.
"He is," said Baron Ompteda, "a sort of Apollo, of a superb and
commanding appearance, more than six feet high; his physical beauty
attracts all eyes. This man is called Pergami; he belongs to Milan, and
has entered the Princess's service. The Princess," he significantly
adds, "is shunned by all the English people of rank; her behaviour has
created the most marked scandal."
Such was the man with whose life that of the Princess of Wales was to be
so intimately and disastrously linked, and whose relations with her were
to be displayed to a shocked world but a few years later. It was indeed
an evil fate that brought this "superb Apollo" of the crafty brain and
conscienceless ambition into the life of the Princess at the high tide
of her revolt against the world and its conventions.
When Caroline and her retinue set out from Milan for Tuscany it was in
the wake of Pergami, who had ridden ahead to discharge his duties as
_avant courier_; but before Rome was reached his intimacy and
familiarity with his mistress were already the subject of whispered
comments and shrugged shoulders. At a ball given in her honour at Rome
by the banker Tortonia, the Princess shocked even the least prudish by
the abandon of her dancing and the tenuity of her costume, which, we are
told, consisted of "a single embroidered garment, fastened beneath the
bosom, without the shadow of a corset and without sleeves." And at
Naples, where King Joachim Murat gave her a regal reception, with a
sequel of fetes and gala-performances in honour of the wife of the
Regent of England, she attended a rout, at the Teatro San Carlo, so
lightly attired "that many who saw her at her first entrance looked her
up and down, and, not recognising her, or pretending not to recognise
her, began to mutter disapprobation to such an extent that she was
compelled to withdraw.... The English residents soon let her understand,
by ceasing to frequent her palace, that even at Naples there were
certain laws of dress which could not be trampled underfoot in this
While Caroline was thus defying convention and even decency, watchful
eyes were following her everywhere. A body of secret police, whose
headquarters were at Milan, was noting every indiscretion; and every
week brought fresh and damaging reports to England, where they were
eagerly welcomed by the Regent and his satellites. And while the
Princess was thus playing unconsciously, or recklessly, into the hands
of the enemy, Pergami was daily making his footing in her favour more
secure. Before Caroline left Naples he had been promoted from courier to
equerry, and in this more exalted and privileged role was always at her
side. So marked, in fact, was the intimacy even at this early stage,
that the Princess's retinue, one after another, and on one flimsy
pretext or another, deserted her in disgust, each vacancy, as it
occurred, being filled by one of Pergami's relatives--his brother, his
daughter, his sister-in-law (the Countess Oidi), and others, until
Caroline was soon surrounded by members of the ex-courier's family.
From Naples she wandered to Genoa, and from Genoa to Milan and Venice,
received regally everywhere by the Italians and shunned by the English
residents. From Venice she drifted to Lake Como, with whose beauties she
was so charmed that she decided to make her home there, purchasing the
Villa del Garrovo for one hundred and fifty thousand francs, and setting
the builders to work to make it a still more splendid home for a future
Queen of England. But even to the lonely isolation of the Italian lakes
the eyes of her husband's secret agents pursued her, spying on her every
movement--"uncertain shadows gliding in the twilight along the paths and
between the hedges, and even in the cellars and attics of the
villa"--until the shadowy presences filled her with such terror and
unrest that she sought to escape them by a long tour in the East.
Thus it was that in November, 1815, the Princess and her Pergami
household set forth on their journey to Sicily, Tunis, Athens, the
cities of the East and Jerusalem, the strange story of which was to be
unfolded to the world five years later. How intimate the Princess and
her handsome, stalwart courier had by this time become was illustrated
by the Attorney-General in his opening speech at her memorable trial.
"One day, after dinner, when the Princess's servants had withdrawn, a
waiter at the hotel, Gran Brettagna, saw the Princess put a golden
necklace round Pergami's neck. Pergami took it off again and put it
jestingly on the neck of the Princess, who in her turn once more removed
it and put it again round Pergami's neck."
As early as August in this year Pergami had his appointed place at the
Princess's table, and his room communicating with hers, and on the
various voyages of the Eastern tour there was abundant evidence to prove
"the habit which the Princess had of sleeping under one and the same
awning with Pergami."
But it is as impossible in the limits of space to follow Caroline and
her handsome cavalier through every stage of these Eastern wanderings,
as it is unnecessary to describe in detail the evidence of intimacy so
lavishly provided by the witnesses for the prosecution at the
trial--evidence much of which was doubtless as false as it was venal.
That the Princess, however, was infatuated by her cavalier, and that she
was in the highest degree indiscreet in her relations with him, seems
abundantly clear, whatever the precise degree of actual guilt may have
Pergami had now been promoted from equerry to Grand Chamberlain to Her
Royal Highness, and as further evidence of her favour, she bought for
him in Sicily an estate which conferred on its owner the title of Baron
della Francina. At Malta she procured for him a knighthood of that
island's famous order; at Jerusalem she secured his nomination as Knight
of the Holy Sepulchre; and, to crown her favours, she herself instituted
the Order of St Caroline, with Pergami for Grand Master. Behold now our
ex-courier and adventurer in all his new glory as Grand Chamberlain and
lover of a future Queen of England, as Baron della Francina, Knight of
two Orders and Grand Master of a third, while every post of profit in
that vagrant Court was held by some member of his family!
The Eastern tour ended, which had ranged from Algiers and Egypt to
Constantinople and Jerusalem, and throughout which she had progressed
and been received as a Queen, Caroline settled down for a time in her
now restored villa on Lake Como, celebrating her return by lavish
charities to her poor neighbours, and by popular fetes and balls, in one
of which "she danced as Columbine, wearing her lover's ear-rings, whilst
Pergami, dressed as harlequin and wearing her ear-rings, supported her."
But even here she was to find no peace from her husband's spies, whose
evidence, confirmed on oath by a score of witnesses, was being
accumulated in London against the longed-for day of reckoning. And it
was not long before Caroline and her Grand Chamberlain were on their
wanderings again--this time to the Tyrol, to Austria, and through
Northern Italy, always inseparable and everywhere setting the tongue of
scandal wagging by their indiscreet intimacy. Even the tragic death in
childbirth of her only daughter, the Princess Charlotte, which put all
England in mourning, seemed powerless to check her career of folly. It
is true that, on hearing of it, she fell into a faint and afterwards
into a kind of protracted lethargy, but within a few weeks she had flung
herself again into her life of pleasure-chasing and reckless disregard
But matters were now hurrying fast to their tragic climax. For some time
the life of George III. had been flickering to its close. Any day might
bring news that the end had come, and that the Princess was a Queen. And
for some time Caroline had been bracing herself to face this crisis in
her life and to pit herself against her enemies in a grim struggle for a
crown, the title to which her years of folly (for such at the best they
had been) had so gravely endangered. Over the remainder of her vagrant
life, with its restless flittings, and its indiscretions, marked by
spying eyes, we must pass to that February morning in 1820 when, to
quote a historian, "the Princess had scarcely reached her hotel (at
Florence) when her faithful major-domo, John Jacob Sicard, appeared
before her, accompanied by two noblemen, and in a voice full of emotion
announced, 'You are Queen.'"
The fateful hour had at last arrived when Caroline must either renounce
her new Queendom or present a bold front to her enemies and claim the
crown that was hers. After a few indecisive days, spent in Rome, where
news reached her that the King had given orders that her name should be
excluded from the Prayer Book, her wavering resolution took a definite
and determined shape. She would go to London and face the storm which
she knew her coming would bring on her head.
At Paris she was met by Lord Hutchinson with a promise of an increase of
her yearly allowance to fifty thousand pounds, on condition that she
renounced her claim to the title of Queen, and consented never to put
foot again in England--an offer to which she gave a prompt and scornful
refusal; and on the afternoon of 5th June she reached Dover, greeted by
enthusiastic cheers and shouts of "God save Queen Caroline!" by the
fluttering of flags, and the jubilant clanging of church-bells. The
wanderer had come back to the land of her sorrow, to find herself
welcomed with open arms by the subjects of the King whose brutality had
driven her to exile and to shame.
The story of the trial which so soon followed her arrival has too
enduring a place in our history to call for a detailed description--the
trial in which all the weight of the Crown and the testimony of a small
army of suborned witnesses--"a troupe of comedians in the pay of
malevolence," to quote Brougham--were arrayed against her; and in which
she had so doughty a champion in Brougham, and such solace and support
in the sympathy of all England. We know the fate of that Bill of Pains
and Penalties, which charged her with having permitted a shameful
intimacy with one Bartolomeo Pergami, and provided as penalty that she
should be deprived of the title and privilege of Queen, and that her
marriage to King George IV. should be for ever dissolved and
annulled--how it was forced through the House of Lords with a
diminishing majority, and finally withdrawn. And we know, too, the
outburst of almost delirious delight that swept from end to end of
England at the virtual acquittal of the persecuted Caroline. "The
generous exultation of the people was," to quote a contemporary, "beyond
all description. It was a conflagration of hearts."
We also recall that pathetic scene when Caroline presented herself at
the door of Westminster Abbey to demand admission, on the day of her
husband's coronation, to be received by the frigid words, "We have no
instructions to allow you to pass"; and we can see her as, "humiliated,
confounded, and with tears in her eyes," she returned sadly to her
carriage, the heart crushed within her. Less than three weeks later,
seized by a grave and mysterious illness, she laid down for ever the
burden of her sorrows, leaving instructions that her tomb should bear
THE INJURED QUEEN OF ENGLAND.
As for Pergami, the idol with the feet of clay, who had clouded her last
years in tragedy, he survived for twenty years more to enjoy his honours
and his ill-gotten gold; while William Austin, who had masqueraded as a
Prince and called Caroline "mother," ended his days, while still a young
man, in a madhouse.
THE LOVE-AFFAIRS OF A REGENT
When Louis XIV. laid down, one September day in the year 1715, the crown
which he had worn with such splendour for more than seventy years, his
sceptre fell into the hands of his nephew Philippe, Duc d'Orleans, who
for eight years ruled France as Regent, and as guardian of the
child-King, the fifteenth Louis.
Seldom in the world's history has a reign, so splendid as that of the
Sun-King, closed in such darkness and tragedy. The disastrous war of the
Spanish Succession had drained France of her strength and her gold. She
lay crushed under a mountain of debt--ten thousand million francs; she
was reduced to the lowest depths of wretchedness, ruin, and disorder,
and it was at this crisis in her life as a nation that fate placed a
child of four on her throne, and gave the reins of power into the hands
of the most dissolute man in Europe.
Not that Philippe of Orleans lacked many of the qualities that go to the
making of a ruler and a man. He had proved himself, in Italy and in
Spain, one of the bravest of his country's soldiers, and an able,
far-seeing leader of armies; and he had, as his Regency proved, no mean
gifts of statesmanship. But his kingly qualities were marred by the
taint of birth and early environment.
Such good qualities as he had he no doubt drew from his mother, the
capable, austere, high-minded Elizabeth of Bavaria, who to her last day
was the one good influence in his life. To his father, Louis XIV.'s
younger brother, who is said to have been son of Cardinal Mazarin, Anne
of Austria's lover, and who was the most debased man of his time in all
France, he just as surely owed the bias of sensuality to which he
chiefly owes his place in memory.
And not only was he thus handicapped by his birth; he had for tutor that
arch-scoundrel Dubois--the "grovelling insect" who rarely opened his
mouth without uttering a blasphemy or indecency, and who initiated his
charge, while still a boy, into every base form of so-called pleasure.
Such was the man who, amid the ruins of his country, inaugurated in
France an era of licentiousness such as she had never known--an
incomprehensible mass of contradictions--a kingly presence with the soul
of a Caliban, statesman and sinner, high-minded and low-living, spending
his days as a sovereign, a role which he played to perfection, and his
nights as a sot and a sensualist.
It was doubtless Dubois who was mostly responsible for the baseness in
the Regent's character--Dubois who had taught him a contempt for
religion and morality, the cynical view of life which makes the pleasure
of the moment the only thing worth pursuing, at whatever cost; and who
had impressed indelibly on his mind that no woman is virtuous and that
men are knaves. And there was never any lack of men to continue Dubois'
teaching. He gathered round him the most dissolute gallants in France,
in whose company he gave the rein to his most vicious appetites. His
"roues" he dubbed them, a title which aptly described them; although
they affected to give it a very different interpretation. They were the
Regent's roues, they said, no doubt with the tongue in the cheek,
because they were so devoted to him that they were ready, in his
defence, to be broken on the wheel (_la roue_)!
Each of these boon-comrades was a past-master in the arts of
dissipation, and each was also among the most brilliant men of his day.
The Chevalier de Simiane was famous alike for his drinking powers and
his gift of graceful verse; De Fargy was a polished wit, and the
handsomest man in France, with an unrivalled reputation for gallantry;
the Comte de Noce was the Regent's most intimate friend from
boyhood--brother-in-law he called him, since they had not only tastes
but even mistresses in common. Then there were the Marquis de la Fare,
Captain of Guards and _bon enfant_; the Marquis de Broglio, the biggest
debauchee in France, the Marquis de Canillac, the Duc de Brancas, and
many another--all famous (or infamous) for some pet vice, and all the
best of boon-companions for the pleasure-loving Regent.
Strange tales are told of the orgies of this select band which the
Regent gathered around him--orgies which shocked even the France of the
eighteenth century, when she was the acknowledged leader in licence. At
six o'clock every evening Philippe's kingship ended for the day. He had
had enough--more than enough--of State and ceremonial, of interviewing
ambassadors, and of the flatteries of Princes and the obsequious homage
of courtiers. Pleasure called him away from the boredom of empire; and
at the stroke of six we find him retiring to the company of his
mistresses and his roues to feast and drink and gamble until dawn broke
on the revelry--his laugh the loudest, his wit the most dazzling, his
stories the most piquant, keeping the table in a roar with his
infectious gaiety. He was Regent no longer; he was simply a _bon
camarade_, as ready to exchange familiarities with a "lady of the
ballet" as to lead the laughter at a joke at his own expense.
At nine o'clock, when the fun had waxed furious and wine had set the
slowest tongue wagging and every eye a-sparkle, other guests streamed in
to join the orgy--the most beautiful ladies of the Court, from the
Duchesse de Gesores and Madame de Mouchy to the Regent's own daughter,
the Duchesse de Berry, who, young as she was, had little to learn of the
arts of dissipation. And in the wake of these high-born women would
follow laughing, bright-eyed troupes of dancing and chorus-girls from
the theatres with an escort of the cleverest actors of Paris, to join
the Regent's merry throng.
The champagne now flowed in rivers; the servants were sent away; the
doors were locked and the fun grew riotous; ceremony had no place there;
rank and social distinctions were forgotten. Countesses flirted with
comedians; Princes made love to ballet-girls and duchesses alike. The
leader of the moment was the man or woman who could sing the most daring
song, tell the most piquant story, or play the most audacious practical
joke, even on the Regent himself. Sometimes, we are told, the lights
would be extinguished, and the orgy continued under the cover of
darkness, until the Regent suddenly opened a cupboard, in which lights
were concealed--to an outburst of shrieks of laughter at the scenes
Thus the mad night hours passed until dawn came to bring the revels to a
close; or until the Regent would sally forth with a few chosen comrades
on a midnight ramble to other haunts of pleasure in the capital--the
lower the better. Such was the way in which Philippe of Orleans, Regent
of France, spent his nights. A few hours after the carouse had ended he
would resume his sceptre, as austere and dignified a ruler as you would
find in Europe.
It must not be imagined that Philippe was the only Royal personage who
thus set a scandalous example to France. There was, in fact, scarcely a
Prince or Princess of the Blood Royal whose love affairs were not
conducted flagrantly in the eyes of the world, from the Dowager Duchesse
de Bourbon, who lavished her favours on the Scotch financier, John Law,
of Lauriston, to the Princesse de Conte, who mingled her piety with a
marked partiality for her nephew, Le Kalliere.
As for the Regent's own daughters, from the Duchesse de Berry, to
Louise, Queen of Spain, each has left behind her a record almost as
scandalous as that of her father. It was, in fact, an era of corruption
in high places, when, in the reaction that followed the dismal and
decorous last years of Louis XIV.'s reign, Pleasure rose phoenix-like
from the ashes of ruin and flaunted herself unashamed in every guise
with which vice could deck her.
It must be said for the Regent, corrupt as he was, that he never abused
his position and his power in the pursuit of beauty. His mistresses
flocked to him from every rank of life, from the stage to the highest
Court circles, but remained no longer than inclination dictated. And the
fascination is not far to seek, for Philippe d'Orleans was of the men
who find easy conquests in the field of love. He was one of the
handsomest men in all France; and to his good-looks and his reputation
for bravery he added a manner of rare grace and courtliness, a supple
tongue, and that strange magnetic power which few women could resist.
No King ever boasted a greater or more varied list of favourites, in
which actresses and duchesses vied with each other for his smiles, in a
rivalry which seems to have been singularly free from petty jealousy.
Among the beauties of the Court we find the Duchesse de Fedari, the
Duchesse de Gesores, the Comtesse de Sabran at one extreme; and
actresses like Emilie, Desmarre, and La Souris at the other, pretty
butterflies of the footlights who appealed to the Regent no more than
Madame d'Averne, the gifted pet of France's wits and literary men, the
most charming "blue-stocking" of her day. And all, without
exception--duchesses, countesses, and actresses--were as ready to give
their love to Philippe, the man, as to the Duc d'Orleans, Regent of
Even in his relations with these ministers of pleasure, the Regent's
better qualities often exhibit themselves agreeably. To the pretty
actress, Emilie, whose heart was so completely his, he always acted with
a characteristic generosity and forbearance; and her conduct is by no
means less pleasing than his. Once, we are told, when he expressed a
wish to give her a pair of diamond ear-rings at a cost of fifteen
thousand francs, she demurred at accepting so valuable a present. "If
you must be so generous," she pleaded, "please don't give me the
ear-rings, which are much too grand for such as me. Give me, instead,
ten thousand francs, so that I may buy a small house to which I can
retire when you no longer love me as you now do."
Emilie had scarcely returned home, however, when a Court official
appeared with a package containing, not ten thousand, but twenty-five
thousand francs, which her lover insisted on her keeping; and when she
returned fifteen thousand francs, he promptly sent them back again,
declaring that he would be very angry if she refused again to accept
His love, indeed, for Emilie seems to have been as pure and deep as any
of which he was capable. It was no fleeting passion, but an affection
based on a sincere respect for her character and mental gifts. So
highly, indeed, did he think of her judgment that she became his most
trusted counsellor. She sat by his side when he received ambassadors;
he consulted her on difficult problems of State; and it was her advice
that he often followed in preference to the wisdom of all his ministers;
for, as he said to Dubois, "Emilie has an excellent brain; she always
gives me the best counsel."
When at last he had to part from the modest and accomplished actress it
was under circumstances which speak well for his generosity. A former
lover, the Marquis de Fimarcon, on his return from fighting in Spain,
sought Emilie out, and, blazing with jealousy, insisted that she should
leave the Regent and return to his protection. He vowed that, if she
refused, he would murder her; and when, in her alarm, she sought refuge
in a convent at Charenton, he threatened to burn the nuns alive in their
cells unless they restored her to him. Thus it was that, rather than
allow Emilie to run any risks from her revengeful and brutal lover, the
Regent relinquished his claim to her; and only when Fimarcon's continued
brutality at last made intervention necessary, did he order the bully to
be arrested and consigned to the prison of Fort l'Eveque.
It is, however, in the story of Mademoiselle Aisse, the Circassian
slave, that we find the best illustration of the chivalry which underlay
the Regent's passion for women, and which he never forgot in his wildest
excesses. This story, one of the most touching in French history, opens
in the year 1698, when a band of Turkish soldiers returned to
Constantinople from a raid in the Caucasus, bringing with them, among
many other captives, a beautiful child of four years, said to be the
daughter of a King. So lovely was the little Circassian fairy that when
the Comte de Feriol, France's Ambassador to Turkey, set eyes on her, he
decided to purchase her; and she became his property in exchange for
fifteen hundred livres.
That she might have every advantage of training to fit her for his
seraglio in later years, the child was sent to Paris, to the home of the
Ambassador's brother, President de Feriol, where she grew to beautiful
girlhood as a member of the family, as fair a flower as ever was
transplanted to French soil. Thus she passed the next thirteen years of
her young life, charming all by her sweetness of disposition, as she won
the homage of all by her remarkable beauty and grace.
Such was Ayesha, or Aisse, the Circassian maid, when at last her "owner"
returned to Paris to fall under the spell of her radiant beauty and to
claim her as his chattel, bought with good gold and trained at his cost
to adorn his harem. In vain did Aisse weep and plead to be spared a fate
from which every fibre of her being shrank in horror. Her "master" was
inexorable. "When I bought you," he said, "it was my intention to make
you my daughter or my mistress. I now intend that you shall become both
the one and the other." Friendless and helpless, she was obliged to
yield; and for six years she had to submit to the endearments of her
protector, a man more than old enough to be her father, until his death
brought her release.
At twenty-four, more lovely than ever, combining the beauty of the
Circassian with the graces of France, Aisse had now every right to look
forward at least to such happiness as was possible to a stranger in a
strange land. But no sooner was one danger to her peace removed than
another sprang up to take its place. The rumour of her beauty and her
sweetness had come to the ears of the Regent, and strong forces were at
work to bring her to his arms. Madame de Tencin was the leader in this
base conspiracy, with the power of the Romish Church at her back; for
with the fair Circassian high in the Regent's favour and a pliant tool
in their hands, the Jesuits' influence at Court would be greatly
strengthened. Dubois was won over to the unholy alliance; and the Due's
_maitresse en titre_ was bribed, not only to withdraw all opposition to
her proposed rival, but to arrange a meeting between the Regent and the
Success seemed to be assured. Mademoiselle Aisse was to exchange slavery
to her late owner for an equally odious place in the harem of the ruler
of France. Her tears and entreaties were all in vain; when she begged on
her knees to be allowed to retire to a convent Madame de Feriol turned
her back on her. Her only hope of rescue now lay in the Regent himself;
and to him she pleaded her cause with such pathetic eloquence that he
not only allowed her to depart in peace, but with words of sympathy and
promises of his protection in the pure and noble sense of the word.
Thus by the chivalry of the most dissolute man of his age the Circassian
slave-girl was rescued from a life which to her would have been worse
than death--to spend her remaining years, happy in the love of an honest
man, the Chevalier d'Aydie, until death claimed her while she still
possessed the beauty which had been at once her glory and her inevitable
* * * * *
The close of the Regent's mis-spent life came with tragic suddenness.
Worn out with excesses, while still young in years, his doctors had
warned him that death might come to him any day; but with the
light-heartedness that was his to the last, he laughed at their gloomy
forebodings and refused to take the least precautions to safeguard his
health. Two days before the end came he declined point-blank to be bled
in order to avert a threatened attack of apoplexy. "Let it come if it
will," he said, with a laugh. "I do not fear death; and if it comes
quickly, so much the better!"
On the evening of 2nd December, 1720, he was chatting gaily to the young
Duchesse de Falari, when he suddenly turned to her and asked: "Do you
think there is any hell--or Paradise?" "Of course I do," answered the
Duchesse. "Then are you not afraid to lead the life you do?" "Well,"
replied Madame, "I think God will have pity on me."
Scarcely had the words left her lips when the Regent's head fell heavily
on her shoulder, and he began to slip to the floor. A glance showed her
that he was unconscious; and, rushing out of the room, the terrified
Duchesse raced through the dark, deserted corridors of the palace
shrieking for help. When at last help arrived, it came too late. The
Regent had gone to find for himself an answer to the question his lips
had framed a few minutes earlier--"is there any hell--or Paradise?"
A DELILAH OF THE COURT OF FRANCE
It was a cruel fate that snatched Gabrielle d'Estrees from the arms of
Henri IV., King of France and Navarre, at the moment when her long
devotion to her hero-lover was on the eve of being crowned by the bridal
veil; and for many a week there was no more stricken man in Europe than
the disconsolate King as he wailed in his black-draped chamber, "The
root of my love is dead, and will never blossom again."
No doubt Henri's grief was as sincere as it was deep, for he had loved
his golden-haired Gabrielle of the blue eyes and dimpled baby-cheeks as
he had never loved woman before. It was the passion of a lifetime, the
passion of a strong man in his prime, that fate had thus nipped in the
fullness of its bloom; and its loss plunged him into an abyss of sorrow
and despair such as few men have known.
But with the hero of Ivry no emotion of grief or pleasure ever endured
long. He was a man of erratic, widely contrasted moods--now on the peaks
of happiness, now in the gulf of dejection; one mood succeeding another
as inevitably and widely as the pendulum swings. Thus when he had spent
three seemingly endless months of gloom and solitude, reaction seized
him, and he flung aside his grief with his black raiment. He was still
in the prime of his strength, with many years before him. He would drink
the cup of life, even to its dregs. He had long been weary of the
matrimonial chains that fettered him to Marguerite of Valois. He would
strike them off, and in another wife and other loves find a new lease of
Thus it was with no heavy heart that he turned his back on Fontainebleau
and his darkened room, and fared to Paris to find a new vista of
pleasure opening to him at his palace doors, and his ears full of the
praises of a new divinity who had come, during his absence, to grace his
Court--a girl of such beauty, sprightliness, and wit as his capital had
not seen for many a year.
Henriette d'Entragues--for this was the divinity's name--was equipped by
fate as few women were ever equipped, for the conquest of a King. Her
mother, Marie Touchet, had been "light-o'-love" to Charles IX.; her
father was the Seigneur d'Entragues, member of one of the most
blue-blooded families of France, a soldier and statesman of fame; and
their daughter had inherited, with her mother's beauty and grace, the
clever brain and diplomatic skill of her father. A strange mixture of
the bewitching and bewildering, this daughter of a King's mistress seems
to have been. Tall and dark, voluptuous of figure, with ripe red lips,
and bold and dazzling black eyes, she was, in her full-blooded, sensuous
charms, the very "antipodes" to the childish, fairy-like Gabrielle who
had so long been enshrined in the King's heart. And to this physical
appeal--irresistible to a man of such strong passion as Henri, she added
gifts of mind which "baby Gabrielle" could never claim.
She had a wit as brilliant as the tongue which was its vehicle; her
well-stored brain was more than a match for the most learned men at
Court, and she would leave an archbishop discomfited in a theological
argument, to cross swords with Sully himself on some abstruse problem of
statesmanship. When Sully had been brought to his knees, she would rush
away, with mischief in her eyes, to take the lead in some merry escapade
or practical joke, her silvery laughter echoing in some remote palace
corridor. A bewildering, alluring bundle of inconsistencies--beauty,
savant, wit, and madcap--such was Henriette d'Entragues when Henri,
fresh from his woes, came under the spell of her magnetism.
Here, indeed, was an escape from his grief such as the King had never
dared to hope for. Before he had been many hours in his palace, Henri
was caught hopelessly in the toils of the new siren, and was intoxicated
by her smiles and witcheries. Never was conquest so speedy, so dramatic.
Before a week had flown he was at Henrietta's feet, as lovesick a swain
as ever sighed for a lady, pouring love into her ears and writing her
passionate letters between the frequent meetings, in which he would send
her a "good night, my dearest heart," with "a million kisses."
In the days of his lusty youth the idol and hero of France had never
known passion such as this which consumed him within sight of his
fiftieth birthday, and which was inspired by a woman of much less than
half his years; for at the time Henri was forty-six, and Henriette was
He quickly found, however, that his wooing was not to be all "plain
sailing." When Henriette's parents heard of it, they affected to be
horrified at the danger in which their beloved daughter was placed. They
summoned her home from the perils of Court and a King's passion; and
when Henri sent an envoy to bring them to reason they sent him back with
a rebuff. Their daughter was to be no man's--not even a
King's--plaything. If Henri's passion was sincere, he must prove it by a
definite promise of marriage; and only on this condition would their
opposition be removed.
Even to such a stipulation Henri, such was his infatuation, made no
demur. With his own hand he wrote an agreement pledging himself to make
Demoiselle Henriette his lawful wife in case, within a certain period,
she became the mother of a son; and undertaking to dissolve his marriage
with his wife, Marguerite of France, for this purpose. And this
agreement, signed with his own hand, he sent to the Seigneur d'Entragues
and his wife, accompanied by a _douceur_ of a hundred thousand crowns.
But before it was dispatched a more formidable obstacle than even the
lady's natural guardians remained to be faced--none other than the Duc
de Sully, the man who had shared all the perils of a hundred fights with
Henri and was at once his chief counsellor and his _fidus Achates_.
When at last he summoned up courage to place the document in Sully's
hands, he awaited the verdict as nervously as any schoolboy in the
presence of a dreaded master. Sully read through the paper, was silent
for a few moments, and then spoke. "Sire," he said, "am I to give you my
candid opinion on this document, without fear of anger or giving
offence?" "Certainly," answered the King. "Well then, this is what I
think of it," was Sully's reply, as he tore the document in two pieces
and flung them on the floor. "Sully, you are mad!" exclaimed Henri,
flaring into anger at such an outrage. "You are right, Sire, I am a weak
fool, and would gladly know myself still more a fool--if I might be the
only one in France!"
It was in vain, however, that Sully pointed out the follies and dangers
of such a step as was proposed. Henri's mind was made up, and leaving
his friend, in high dudgeon, he went to his study and re-wrote his
promise of marriage. The way was at last clear to the gratification of
his passion. Henriette was more than willing, her parents' scruples and
greed were appeased, and as for Sully--well, he must be left to get over
his tantrums. Even to please such an old and trusted friend he could not
sacrifice such an opportunity for pleasure and a new lease of life as
now presented itself!
Halcyon months followed for Henri--months in which even Gabrielle was
forgotten in the intoxication of a new passion, compared with which the
memory of her gentle charms was but as water to rich, red wine. That
Henriette proved wilful, capricious, and extravagant--that her vanity
drained his exchequer of hundreds of thousands of crowns for costly
jewellery and dresses, was a mere bagatelle, compared with his delight
in her manifold allurements.
But Sully had by no means said his last word. The decree for annulling
Henri's marriage with Marguerite de Valois was pronounced; and it was of
the highest importance that she should have a worthy successor as Queen
of France--a successor whom he found in Marie de Medicis.
The marriage-contract was actually sealed before the King had any
suspicion that his hand was being disposed of, and it was only when
Sully one day entered his study with the startling words, "Sire, we have
been marrying you," that the awakening came. For a few moments Henri sat
as a man stunned, his head buried in his hands; then, with a deep sigh,
he spoke: "If God orders it so, so let it be. There seems to be no
escape; since you say that it is necessary for my kingdom and my
subjects, why, marry I must."
It was a strange predicament in which Henri now found himself. Still
more infatuated than ever with Henriette, he was to be tied for life to
a Princess whom he had never even seen. To add to the embarrassment of
his position, the condition of his marriage promise to Henriette was
already on the way to fulfilment; and he was thus pledged to wed her as
strongly as any State compact could bind him to stand at the altar with
Marie de Medicis. One thing was clear, he must at any cost recover that
fatal document; and, while he was giving orders for the suitable
reception of his new Queen, and arranging for her triumphal progress to
Paris, he was writing to Henriette and her parents demanding the return
of his promise of marriage agreement--to her, a pleading letter in which
he prays her "to return the promise you have by you and not to compel me
to have recourse to other means in order to obtain it"; to her father, a
more imperious demand to which he expects instant obedience.
As some consolation to his mistress, whose alternate tears, rage, and
reproaches drove him to distraction, he creates her Marquise de Verneuil
and promises that, if he should be unable to marry her, he will at least
give her a husband of Royal rank, the Due de Nevers, who was eager to
make her his wife.
But pleadings and threats alike fail to secure the return of the fatal
document, and Henri is reduced to despair, until Henriette gives birth
to a dead child and his promise thus becomes of as little value as the
paper it was written on. The condition has failed, and he is a free man
to marry his Tuscan Princess, while Henriette, thus foiled in her great
ambition, is in danger not only of losing her coveted crown, but her
place in the King's favour. The days of her wilful autocracy are ended;
and, though her heart is full of anger and disappointment, she writes to
him a pitiful letter imploring him still to love her and not to cast her
"from the Heaven to which he has raised her, down to the earth where he
found her." "Do not let your wedding festivities be the funeral of my
hopes," she writes. "Do not banish me from your Royal presence and your
heart. I speak in sighs to you, my King, my lover, my all--I, who have
been loved by the earth's greatest monarch, and am willing to be his
mistress and his servant."
To such humility was the proud, arrogant beauty now reduced. She was an
abject suppliant where she had reigned a Queen. Nor did her pleadings
fall on deaf ears. Her Royal lover's hand was given, against his will,
to his new Queen, but his heart, he vowed, was all Henriette's--so much
so that he soon installed her in sumptuous rooms in his palace adjoining
those of the Queen herself.
Was ever man placed in a more delicate position than this King of
France, between the rival claims of his wife and mistress, who were
occupying adjacent apartments, and who, moreover, were both about to
become mothers? It speaks well for Henri's tactfulness that for a time
at least this _menage a trois_ appears to have been quite amiably
conducted. When Queen Marie gave birth to a son it was to Henriette that
the infant's father first confided the good news, seasoning it with "a
million kisses" for herself. And when Henriette, in turn, became a
mother for the second time, the double Royal event was celebrated by
fetes and rejoicings in which each lady took an equally proud and
It was inevitable, however, that a woman so favoured by the King, and of
so imperious a nature, should have enemies at Court; and it was not long
before she became the object of a conspiracy of which the Duchesse de
Villars and the Queen were the arch-leaders. One day a bundle of letters
was sent anonymously to Henri, letters full of tenderness and passion,
addressed by his beloved Marquise, Henriette, to the Prince de
Joinville. The King was furious at such evidence of his mistress's
disloyalty, and vowed he would never see her again. But all his storming
and reproaches left the Marquise unmoved. She declared, with scorn in
her voice, that the letters were forgeries; that she had never written
to Joinville in her life, nor spoken a word to him that His Majesty
might not have heard. She even pointed out the forger, the Duc de
Guise's secretary, and was at last able to convince the King of her
The Duchesse de Villars and Joinville were banished from the Court in
disgrace; the Queen had a severe lecture from her husband; and Henriette
was not only restored to full favour, but was consoled by a welcome
present of six thousand pounds.
But the days of peace in the King's household were now gone for ever.
Queen Marie, thus humiliated by her rival, became her bitter enemy and
also a thorn in the side of her unfaithful husband. Every day brought
its fierce quarrels which only stopped on the verge of violence. More
than once in fact Henri had to beat a retreat before his Queen's
clenched fist, while she lost no opportunity of insulting and
humiliating the Marquise.
It is impossible altogether to withhold sympathy from a man thus
distracted between two jealous women--a shrewish wife, who in her most
amiable mood repelled his advances with coldness and cutting words, and
a mistress who vented on him all the resentment which the Queen's
insults and snubs roused in her. Even all Sully's diplomacy was
powerless to pour oil on such vexed waters as these.
The Queen, however, had not long to wait for her revenge, which came
with the disclosure of a conspiracy, at the head of which were
Henriette's father and her half-brother, the Comte d'Auvergne, and in
which, it was proved, she herself had played no insignificant part.
Punishment came, swift and terrible. Her father and brother were
sentenced to death, herself to perpetual confinement in a monastery.
But even at this crisis in her life, Henriette's stout heart did not
fail her for a moment. "The King may take my life, if he pleases," she
said. "Everybody will say that he killed his wife; for I was Queen
before the Tuscan woman came on the scene at all." None knew better than
she that she could afford thus to put on a bold front. Henri was still
her slave, to whom her little finger was more than his crown; and she
knew that in his hands both her liberty and her life were safe. And thus
it proved; for before she had spent many weeks in the Monastery of
Beaumont-les-Tours, its doors were flung open for her, and the first
news she heard was that her father was a free man, while her brother's
death-sentence had been commuted to a few years in the Bastille.