Part 6 out of 6
induce them to listen to terms of peace which she could have
made favourable and lasting for France had they only listened
to her. And this conflagration, and others which we have seen
lighted from this first brand, would have been stamped out forever
in France had they but believed in her. I know the zeal she showed,
and I know what I myself have heard her say, with tears in her
This is why they cannot tax her with the first spark of the Civil
War, nor yet with the second, which was that day's work at Meaux,
for at that time she was thinking only of the hunt, and of giving
pleasure to the King at her beautiful house at Monceaux.
The warning came that M. le Prince and those of the Religion
were under arms and in the field to surprise and seize the King
under pretext of presenting a request.
God knows who was the cause of this new disturbance, and had
it not been for the six thousand Swiss troops, newly raised, no
one knows what might not have happened.
This levy of Swiss troops was the pretext for them to take up
arms, and of saying and spreading broadcast that it was done
to force them into war.
But it was they themselves who requested this levy of troops
from the King and Queen, as I know from being then at Court, on
account of the march of the Duke of Alva and his army, fearing
that, under pretext of marching on Flanders, he might descend upon
the frontiers of France, and besides urging that it was always
the custom to strengthen the frontiers whenever a neighbouring
state was arming.
No one can be uniformed of how urgently they pressed this upon
the King and Queen, both by letters and by embassies. Even M. le
Prince himself and M. l'Admiral (Coligny) came to see the King
on this subject, at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, where I saw them.
I should also like to ask (for all that I write here I saw myself),
who it was who took up arms on Shrove Tuesday, and who bribed and
begged Monsieur, the King's brother, and the King of Navarre to
listen to the schemes for which Mole and Coconas were executed
It was not the Queen, for it was by her wisdom that she prevented
them from uprising, holding Monsieur and the King of Navarre
so imprisoned in the forest of Vincennes that they could not
break out, and on the death of King Charles she held them as
tightly in Paris and the Louvre, even barring their windows one
morning--at least those of the King of Navarre, who was lodged
on the lower floor (this I know from the King of Navarre, who
told it me with tears in his eyes), and kept such strict watch
over them that they could not escape as they intended.
Their escape would have greatly embroiled the state and prevented
the return of Poland to the King, a thing for which they were
I know this from having been invited to the fracas, which was
one of the finest strokes of policy ever made by the Queen.
Starting from Paris, she carried them to the King at Lyons so
watchfully and skilfully that no one who saw them would think
that they were prisoners.
They journeyed in the same coach with her, and she herself presented
them to the King, who pardoned them soon after their arrival.
Again, who was it that enticed Monsieur, the King's brother,
to leave Paris one fine night, casting off the affection of his
brother who loved him so much, and to take up arms and embroil
M. de La Noue knows all this, and the plots which began at the
siege of La Rochelle, and what I told him about them.
It was not the Queen Mother, for on this open and abrupt departure
by her son, she felt such grief to see one brother banded against
another brother, his King, that she swore she would die of grief
if she could not reunite them as they were before, which she
accomplished. I have heard her say at Blois, in conversation
with Monsieur, that she prayed for nothing so much as that God
would grant the favour of this re-union, after which He might
send her death and she would accept it with the best of heart. Or
else she would retire to her houses of Monceaux and Chenonceaux
and never again meddle with the affairs of France, willing to
end her days in tranquillity.
In fact she really wished to do this, but the King begged her
to refrain, for both he and his kingdom had great need of her.
I am assured that had she not gained peace by this re-union,
all would have been up with France, for there were then fifty
thousand foreigners scattered over France who would have gladly
helped to humble and destroy her.
It was not, therefore, the Queen who brought about this taking
up of arms, nor was it the State Assembly at Blois, who wanted
but one religion and proposed to abolish all contrary to their
own, and who demanded that, if the spiritual sword did not suffice
to abolish it, recourse should be had to the temporal.
Some have stated that the Queen bribed them; this was wrong,
for in each province there were authorities who would not have
yielded to her wishes. I do not say that she did not win them
over later; that was a fine stroke of policy, showing her
resourcefulness. But it was not she who summoned the Assembly. On
the contrary, she laid all the blame on it, because it lessened
both the King's authority and her own. It was the Church party
which had long demanded the Assembly, and voluntarily called it
together, and required by the articles of the last peace that it
should be convened and held; to which the Queen strongly objected,
foreseeing this abuse of power. Nevertheless, to quiet their
incessant clamour, they were allowed to convoke it, to their
own confusion and injury, not to their profit and contentment
as they had thought; and for this reason they resorted to arms.
Again it was not the Queen who did so.
Neither was it she who caused certain of them to be seized when
they captured Mont-de-Marsan, La Fere in Picardy, and Cahors. I
recall what the King said to M. de Moissans, who came to him on
behalf of the King of Navarre. He repulsed him roughly, telling
him that while these men were cajoling him with fine speeches,
they were taking up arms and seizing cities.
This, then, is the way in which the Queen was the fomenter of
all our wars and civil fires, the which she not only did not
light but employed all her energies and efforts to extinguish,
abhorring to see the death of so many nobles and landed gentlemen.
And without that and her commiseration, those who bore against
her a mortal enmity would have found themselves in dire straits,
themselves laid beneath the sod, and their party not flourishing
as it now is. All this must be imputed to her goodness of heart,
of which we now stand in sore need--so everybody agrees and the
poor people cry: "We no longer have the Queen Mother to make
peace for us!" It was not through lack of her efforts that she
did not succeed when she went to Guienne recently to treat for
peace, at Coignac and Jarnac, with the King of Navarre and the
Prince de Conde. I know that which I have witnessed--the tears
in her eyes and the regret in her heart to which these princes
would not yield; and the result we possibly see in the evils
which afflict us to-day.
They have wished to accuse her of having been implicated in the
War of the League. Why, then, should she have undertaken to conclude
the peace I have just mentioned, if she had been? Why should she
have appeased the riots of the barricades of Paris; and why
reconciled the King with the Duc de Guise, as we have seen, if
it were only to destroy the latter?
In short, no matter how much they slander her, never shall we
have in France another so active in peace.
But the chief accusation against her is the massacre of Paris
[of Saint Bartholomew]. All that is a sealed book to me, for
I was just then setting out by boat from Brouage; but I have
heard it said on good authority that she was not the prime mover
in it. Three or four others, whom I might name, were much more
active in it than she, pushing her forward and making her believe,
from threats made upon the wounding of Admiral Coligny, that the
King was to be killed, with herself and all her children, or
else that the country was to be still worse involved in arms.
Certainly the Church party were very wrong to utter such threats
as they are said to have made, for they hastened the downward
steps of the poor Admiral and procured his death. If they had kept
their own counsel and uttered no word, and allowed the Admiral's
wounds to heal, he could have left Paris in safety and quiet,
and nothing else would have happened. M. de La Noue has been
strongly of this opinion. Indeed, he and M. de Strozze and I
have talked it over more than once, and he has never approved
the bravados, the bold threats and the like which were openly
made in the King's Court and his city of Paris. And he blamed
no less strongly his brother-in-law, M. de Theligny, who was
one of the hottest heads of them all, calling him a downright
fool and blockhead. The Admiral never was guilty of this loud
talk, at least not in public. I do not say that in secret or
with his closest friends he did not say things. And this was
the true cause of his death and of the massacre of his friends,
and not the Queen, as was charged, although there are many who
never have been able to get the idea out of their heads that this
was a train long laid and a fuse well concealed. It is false.
The least passionate agree with me, and the more violent and
obstinate think otherwise; and thus very often we credit to kings
and great princes the ordering of the natural course of events,
and say afterwards how prudent and provident they were and how
well they could dissimulate; when all the while they knew nothing
more about it than a plum.
To return again to the Queen, her enemies have given it out that
she was not a good Frenchwoman. God knows with what zeal she urged
that the English be driven from Havre de Grace, and what she said
about it to M. le Prince, and how she made him go, with many
cavaliers of his party, with the crown-companies of M. Andelot,
and other Huguenots, and how she herself led this army, usually
on horseback, like a second beautiful Queen Marfisa, exposing
herself to the arquebusades and the cannonades like one of her
captains, always watching the batteries, and saying that she
would never be at ease until she had taken this city, and driven
the English out of France, and hating worse than poison those who
had sold it to them. And she accomplished so much that finally
she restored it to France.
When Rouen was besieged I saw her in the greatest of fury, when
she saw enter English reinforcements, by means of a French galley
captured the year before, fearing that this place, failing to
be captured by us, might fall into the control of the English.
For this reason she "pushed hard at the wheel," as the saying
is, to capture it, and never failed to come each day to the fort
Sainte-Catherine to hold council and to watch the bombardment.
I have often seen her passing along the covered way to
Sainte-Catherine, while the arquebusades and cannonades rained
shot around her, and her paying no attention to them. Those who
were there saw it as well as I. There are living to-day ladies
who accompanied her, to whom the firing was not pleasant (I know
this for I saw them there), and when M. le Connetable and M. le
Guise remonstrated with her, telling her some accident might
happen to her, she merely laughed and said that she saw no reason
why she should spare herself more than they, since her courage
was as good as theirs, although her sex had denied her the same
strength. As for hardship, she endured that very well, either
on foot or horseback. I think that for a long time there never
was a better queen or princess on horseback, nor one who sat
her mount with better grace; not seeming for all that like a
masculine woman, formed like some fantastic Amazon, but a noble
princess, beautiful, gracious and sweet.
It was said of her that she was strongly Spanish. Certainly while
her good daughter was alive [Elizabeth, wife of Philip II of
Spain] she loved the Spanish. But after her daughter died we
knew--at least some of us--whether she had cause to love either
the land or the people. It is true that she was always so prudent
that she desired to receive the Spanish King always as a good
son-in-law, to the end that he should treat her daughter the
better, as is the way with good mothers; and also that he might
never come to trouble us in France, nor make war here according
to his warlike tastes and natural ambition.
Others have charged that she never liked the nobles of France
and was always glad to shed their blood. I refute that by the
many times she made peace and spared bloodshed; and in addition
to this one should take notice of the fact that while she was
Regent and her children in their minority, there were not seen
at Court so many quarrels and duels as we have seen since, for
she would not countenance them, giving express orders against
such things and punishing those who disobeyed her. At other times,
I have often seen her at Court when the King had gone away for
some time leaving her absolutely alone, at a time when quarrels
were rife and duels common--which she never would permit--I have
seen her suddenly give orders to the captain of the guards to
make arrests, and to the marshals and officers to regulate all
such quarrels; so that, to speak the truth, she was more feared
than the King, for she well knew how to deal with the disobedient
and unruly and could reprimand them severely.
I remember once, when the King had gone to the baths at Bourbon,
that my late cousin La Chastaignerie had a quarrel with Pardailhan.
She sent to seek him, warning him on his life not to fight a
duel; but being unable to find him for two whole days she had
him shadowed so well that, on a Sunday morning, the Grand Provost
found him on the island of Louviers, where he was awaiting his
enemy, arrested him there, and took him as a prisoner to the
Bastille, by the Queen's orders. But he remained there only
overnight, and then she sent for him and gave him a reprimand
partly sharp, partly gentle, for she was naturally of good heart,
and harsh only when she wished to be. I know very well what she
said to me also, inasmuch as I was to be my cousin's second:
that as I was older I ought to know better.
The year that the King returned from Poland, a quarrel began
between De Grillon and D'Entaigues, both brave and valiant gentlemen,
who being called out and ready to fight, the King gave orders
for their arrest of M. de Rambouillet, one of his Captains of
the Guards on duty; and also ordered M. de Nevers and Marshal
de Retz to reconcile the two men, which they failed to do. The
Queen thereupon summoned them both, that evening, to her room;
and as their quarrel was in regard to two great ladies of her
household, she commanded them sternly and then besought them
gently to leave to her the settlement of their differences; for
since she had done them the honour to meddle in it, and the princes,
marshals, and captains had failed to bring them together, she
wished to have the credit and honour for so doing. By this means
she made them friends, and they embraced unreservedly, taking all
from her; so that by her prudence the subject of the quarrel,
which touched upon the honour of the two ladies and was rather
delicate, was never known publicly. This shows the great goodness
of the Princess! And then to charge that she never liked the
nobility! Ha! If the truth were known she liked and esteemed it
too much. I believe that there was not a house in her kingdom
with whom she was not personally acquainted. It is said that she
learned all about them from the great King Francis, who knew
all the genealogies of the great families of his kingdom; while
as for her husband, the King, he had this faculty that after he
had once seen a gentleman he recognised him ever after, knowing
not only his face but also his deeds and his reputation. I have
seen this Queen, frequently and as a usual thing, when her son the
King was a minor, take the trouble to present to him personally the
gentlemen of his realm, reminding him that "This one has rendered
good service to the King, your grandfather," and such and such
things "to the King, your father," and so on; and commanding
him to be mindful of them, to cherish them, look after their
interests, and remember them by name. And that he heeded her
advice was seen later, for, through this instruction, the King
was thoroughly informed of the gentlemen of rank and honourable
race who resided in his kingdom.
These detractors have also said that she never loved her people.
This does not appear. Did she ever levy as many taxes, subsidies,
imposts and other duties, while she directed the Government during
the minority of her children, as has been levied since in a single
year? Have they ever discoverd any hoards of money here or in
the banks of Italy, as has been believed? On the contrary, after
her death they never found a solitary coin; and I have heard
some of her creditors and ladies say that after her death she
was found to be in debt to the sum of eight thousand crowns, the
wages of her ladies, gentlemen, and officers of her household
for an entire year, and the income of a year spent in advance;
so that, some months before her death, her bankers remonstrated
with her over this deficit. But she laughed and said that one
must praise God for everything and enjoy it while one was alive.
This, then, was her avarice, and the great wealth which she is
said to have amassed. She never saved anything, for she had a
heart wholly noble, liberal and magnificent, in every way the equal
of that of her great-uncle, the Pope Leo, and of the celebrated
Lorenzo de Medici. She spent and gave everything away; erecting
buildings or applying it to memorable spectacles; and taking
delight in giving entertainments to her people or Court, such as
festivals, balls, dances, combats, and tourneys, three specially
superb events being given during her lifetime. The first was
at Fontainebleau, a carnival after the first troubles, where
there were tourneys, and breaking of lances, and combats at the
barrier; in brief, all sorts of joustings, followed by a comedy
on the subject of the beautiful Genevra of Ariosto which was
played by Madame d'Angouleme and her most beautiful and virtuous
princesses and ladies and demoiselles of her Court, who certainly
played it very well, so that nothing more beautiful was ever
seen. The next was at Bayonne, at the interview between the Queen
and her daughter, the Queen of Spain, where the magnificence was
such in all things that the Spaniards, who are very disdainful
of other countries besides their own, swore that they had never
seen anything more splendid, and that their King could hardly
rival it; and so they returned home greatly edified.
I know that many in France blamed this expense as quite unnecessary.
But the Queen said she had done it to show other nations that
France was not so totally ruined and poverty-stricken by reason
of her recent wars as was supposed; and that, since she was able
to spend so much for frivolity, she would be able to do far more
for affairs of consequence and importance; and that France was
all the more to be esteemed and feared, whether through the sight
of so much wealth and richness, or the spectacle of so great an
array of gentlemen, so brave and adroit at arms--for certainly
there was a goodly number and worthy to be admired. And so it
was for good and sufficient reason that our most Christian Queen
made this splendid festival; for be assured that if she had not
done so, the visitors would have derided us and returned home
with a poor opinion of France.
A third exceedingly fine entertainment was given by her on the
arrival of the Polish envoys in Paris, whom she dined superbly at
the Tuileries; and afterwards in a grand ball-room made especially
for the spectacle and entirely enclosed by a countless number
of torches, she presented the most beautiful ballet ever seen
on earth (if I may say so), which comprised sixteen ladies and
demoiselles who were best suited to it. They appeared in a great
grotto of silver, being seated in niches and clad as though in
vapour about its sides. These sixteen ladies represented the sixteen
provinces of France, with the most melodious music possible; and
after having made, in this grotto, the round of the hall like
a review of troops, giving an opportunity for all to see them,
they descended from the grotto and formed themselves into a little
company fantastically arranged, while an orchestra of thirty violins
discoursed sweet music, and marched to the melody of these violins
by a beautiful dance step, approaching and halting before their
majesties. After this they danced their ballet, so fantastically
invented, with so many turns and convolutions, twinings and
twistings, in which no lady failed to find her own place again,
that all the spectators were amazed at the accuracy and grace of
the evolutions. This unique ballet lasted for at least an hour,
after which the ladies representing, as I have said, the sixteen
provinces advanced to the King, the Queen, the King of Poland,
Monsieur his brother, the King and Queen of Navarre, and other
notables of France and Poland, tendering to each a golden salver
as large as the palm of the hand, finely enamelled and engraved,
showing the fruits and products peculiar to each province, as
for example: In Provence, citrons and oranges; in Champagne,
cereals; in Burgundy, wines; in Guienne, soldiers--certainly a
great honour to Guienne!--and so on through the various other
At Bayonne similar gifts were bestowed, and a combat was fought
which I would willingly describe, but it would take too much
space. But at Bayonne the men presented gifts to the ladies,
while here it was the ladies giving to the men. And note that
all these inventions were derived from no other bounty and brain
than that of the Queen. She was mistress and deviser of everything.
She had such a knack that, no matter what spectacles were offered
at Court, hers surpassed all the others. So they had a saying
that only the Queen Mother knew how to do fine things. And if
such shows were expensive, they also gave great pleasure, and
people used to say that she wished to imitate the Roman emperors,
who studied how to exhibit games to the people and give them
pleasure, and so amuse them that they had no time to get into
In addition to the fact that she delighted to give pleasure to
her people, she gave them much money to earn; for she greatly
preferred all kinds of skilled workmen and paid them well. Each
was kept busy at his own work, so that they never lacked employment,
especially masons and architects, as will be seen in her beautiful
mansions--the Tuileries (still unfinished), Saint Maur, Monceaux,
and Chenonceaux. Also she favoured men of genius and gladly read,
or had read to her, the works which they presented to her or
which she knew they had written, even the high-flown invectives
which they launched against her, at which she scoffed and laughed,
but took no other notice of, calling the writers prattlers and
She wished to know everything. On the journey to Lorraine, during
the second uprising, the Huguenots took with them a very fine
culverin which they nicknamed the "queen mother." They were obliged
to bury it at Villenozze as they were unable to drag it further
because of its excessive weight and poor harness; and they were
never able to find it again. The Queen Mother was curious to
know why they had named the gun for her, when she heard about
it. Finally some one, after being strongly pressed by her for
the reason, replied: "Because, Madame, she has a greater calibre
and is larger than any of the others." The Queen was the first
to laugh at this reply.
The Queen spared no pains to read anything which struck her fancy.
On one occasion I saw her embarking at Blaye on her way to dine
at Bourg, and occupying the whole journey by reading from a
parchment, like some reporter or lawyer, a deposition made by
Derdois, favourite secretary of the late M. le Connetable, concerning
certain actions and information of which he had been accused
and for which imprisoned at Bayonne. She never lifted her eyes
until she had finished reading the whole thing, and there were
more than ten pages of it. When she was not prevented she herself
read all letters of importance addressed to her, and often wrote
the reply with her own hand, whether to the most exalted or
insignificant person. I saw her once, after dinner, indite twenty
such letters of considerable length.
She wrote and spoke French very well, although an Italian. She
even addressed those of her own nation often in French, so much
did she honour it, making special effort to exhibit its fine
diction to strangers and ambassadors who came to pay her their
respects after seeing the King. She would reply to them very
pertinently, with grace and dignity, just as I have heard her
speak to the courts of parliament both publicly and privately;
often keeping them well in hand when they were extravagant or
over-cautious, and did not wish to yield to the royal edicts
or to the wishes of the King or herself. You may be sure that
she spoke as a Queen and made herself feared as such. I saw her
once at Bordeaux when she took her daughter, the Queen of Navarre,
to her husband. She had commanded the Court to come with her
and spoke urgently on the subject to these gentlemen, who did
not wish to abolish a certain fraternity which they had founded
and adhered to, and which she wished to dissolve, foreseeing
that it might lead to some end prejudicial to the state. They
came to visit her in the Bishop's garden, where she was walking
one Sunday morning. One of them, the spokesman, showed to her
the usefulness of this fraternity and its good offices for the
people. She, without preparation, responded so well, with such
apt words and cogent reasons to show why it was badly founded
and odious, that there was none present who could help but admire
the spirit of the Queen or remain astonished and confused at her
logic. She concluded with these words: "No, I wish it, and the
King my son wishes that this order shall be abolished and that
the subject may never again be discussed, for secret reasons
which I shall not give you, in addition to those which I have
given; otherwise I shall make you sensible of what it means to
disobey the King and me." After that they all went their way,
and nothing more was heard of the matter.
She assumed this manner very often and kept in line the princes
and haughty lords when they had committed some large indiscretion
and made her angry. Then she put on her grandest air, and no
other living person could be so proud and disdainful as she,
when it was necessary, sparing the truth to no one. I have seen
the late M. de Savoie, who was a friend of the Emperor, the King
of Spain, and many notables, fear and respect her more than if
she had been his mother; and M. de Lorraine the same--in short,
all the great people of Christendom. I could cite many instances,
which at another time and in their own place I may do, but at
present what I have said will suffice.
Among all her other fine qualities, she was a good Christian and
very devout, always observing her fast days and never failing to
attend daily service, either mass or vespers, which she made very
agreeable to worshippers by the good singers in her chapel, being
careful to select the finest artists. She had a natural taste
for music and often entertained the Court in her own apartment,
which was never closed to right-minded ladies and gentlemen.
She saw each and every one, not denying admittance as was the
custom in Spain and also in her own country, Italy; nor yet as
our other Queens, Elizabeth of Austria and Louise of Lorraine,
have done; but saying, like King Francis, her father-in-law, whom
she greatly honoured as he had raised her to her high position,
that she wished to maintain the true French spirit as the King
her husband had also desired. So her rooms were always accessible
to the Court.
Generally, she had very beautiful and virtuous maids of honour,
who could be seen every day in her antechamber chatting with
us and entertaining us so sensibly and modestly that none of
us would have dared do otherwise; for the gentlemen who fell
short of this were denied admittance, or warned of even worse
punishment, until she pardoned them and extended her favour again,
which out of her good heart she was ready to do.
In a word, her company and her Court were a real Paradise in
this world, and a school of honesty and virtue, the ornament
of France, as was well known and spoken of by its visitors; for
they were all well received, and in their honour her ladies were
commanded to adorn themselves like goddesses and devote themselves
to these guests instead of elsewhere; otherwise she would scold
and reprimand them severely.
Indeed, such was her Court, that when she died all said that
we would never have such another, and that never again would
France have a real Queen Mother. What a Court it was! Its equal,
I believe, was never held by an Emperor of Rome, in respect to
its ladies, nor by any of our Kings of France. It is true that
the great Emperor Charlemagne took great delight in maintaining
a splendid and overflowing Court, with many peers, dukes, counts,
paladins, barons, and chevaliers of France, with their wives and
daughters, and many from other countries to keep their company
at Court--as we read in many of the old romances of the time--and
that there were many jousts, tourneys and magnificent pageants.
But what of that? These gorgeous assemblages did not come together
more than three or four times a year, and at their close they
departed and retired to their own estates, to remain until the
next time. Moreover, others say that Charlemagne in his old age
was much given to women, although they were always of good family,
and that Louis the Debonair on ascending the throne was obliged
to banish some of his sisters from Court, by reason of scandalous
love affairs which they had with men; and also that he dismissed a
large number of ladies who were of the joyous band. These courts,
moreover, of Charlemagne were never long maintained in comparison
to his long reign, for he was chiefly devoted to his wars, as we
read in the old romances; and in his old age the Court was too
dissolute, as I have said. But the Court of our King, Henry II,
and the Queen his wife, was an established thing both in war and
peace, and whether held in one place or another for months at a
time, either in the pleasure houses or castles of our kings who
were never lacking in them, having more than any other sovereigns.
This elegant and distinguished company always kept together, at
least for the greater part of the time, going and coming with
the Queen; so that as a usual thing her Court contained at least
three hundred ladies and maids of honour.
The chiefs of households and royal stewards affirmed that they
always occupied at least one-half of all the apartments, as I
myself have seen during the thirty-three years that I lived at
Court, except during time of war, or while in foreign countries.
But upon my return I was habitually there, for life there was
most agreeable to me, and I never saw anything so attractive
elsewhere. And I think that the world, since then, has never
seen its equal; and as the list of those fair dames who assisted
our Queen to ornament the Court should not be slighted, I shall
mention some of them here as they occur to me, whom I saw after
the Queen's marriage and during her widowhood. Before that time
I was too young.
First of all, there were Mesdames, the daughters of France [the
Royal Princesses]. I head the list with them because they never
lost their high rank, and belong before all the others, so grand
and noble was their house, viz.: Madame Elizabeth of France,
afterwards Queen of Spain.
Madame Claude, since Duchess of Lorraine.
Madame Marguerite, afterwards Queen of Navarre.
Madame, the King's sister, afterwards Duchess of Savoie.
Mary Queen of Scots, afterwards Dauphiness and Queen of France.
The Queen of Navarre, Jeanne d'Albret.
Madame Catharine, her daughter, now Madame, the King's sister.
Madame Diane, natural daughter of King Henry II, afterwards
legitimatised and made Duchess d'Angouleme.
Madame D'Enghien, heiress of Estouteville.
Madame the Princess of Conde.
Madame de Nevers.
Madame de Guise.
Madame Diane de Poitiers [the King's favourite].
Mesdames, the Duchesses d'Aumale and de Bouillon, and their
Madame de Montpensier.
[Footnote 1: The author here continues with a long catalogue
of names including some one hundred and fifty other ladies of
the Court, belonging to various noble houses of France.]
But why name any others? No, for my memory could not supply them
all. Indeed, there are so many other ladies and maidens that
I beg of them to excuse me if I pass them by with a stroke of
the pen. Not that I do not hold and esteem them highly, but I
should dream over them and devote myself to them too much. I will
say, to conclude this, that in all this company I can name none
who might be found fault with, for beauty abounded everywhere,
and all was majesty, gentleness and grace. Lucky was the man
who might be touched with the love of such fair ones, and very
lucky he who could escape it. I swear to you that I have named
none who were not very beautiful, agreeable and accomplished,
and so endowed as to fire the whole world with passion. Indeed,
some of them in their zenith did set fire to a good part of it,
including those of us gentlemen of the Court who approached too
close to the flames. Also to many were they sweet, amiable,
favourable, and courteous. I allude now to certain ones of whom
I wish to relate good stories in this book before I have ended
it, and of others who are not included. But all will be told
so quietly and without scandal that none can take offence, for
the curtain of silence will cover their names; so that if any
of them should happen to read stories of themselves they will
not be displeased. For although the pleasures of love cannot
last forever, on account of too many hindrances, accidents and
changes, the memories of past joys delight us none the less.
Now, in order to give proper consideration to them, it would
be necessary to see for oneself all this lovely array of dames
and demoiselles, creatures more divine than human; it would be
necessary to represent them in their entrances into Paris and
other cities, or at the holy and splendid nuptials of the royal
family--such as those of the Dauphin, King Charles, King Henry
III, the King of Spain, Madame de Lorraine, the Queen of Navarre,
as well as other grand weddings of princes and princesses, such
as that of M. de Joyeuse, which would have surpassed them all
if the Queen of Navarre had been present. Nor must we forget
the interview at Bayonne, the Polish embassy, and an infinite
number of similar spectacles which I should never be able to
finish counting, where could be seen an array of these ladies, each
seemingly more beautiful than the rest, and some more handsomely
apparelled than others, since at such festivities, in addition
to their own wealth, the King or the Queen gave them splendid
liveries of different kinds.
In a word, no one ever saw anything finer, more dazzling, attractive,
superb. The glory of Niquee [in the enchanted palace of "Amadis"]
never approached it; for one could see all this glowing in the
ballrooms at the Palace or the Louvre, like the stars of heaven
in the clear sky. The Queen desired and commanded that they should
always appear in lovely and expensive apparel, although she herself,
during her widowhood, never dressed in worldly silks, unless of
subdued tints, but always in good taste and well-fitting, so
that she looked the Queen above all others. It is true that on
the wedding days of her sons Charles and Henry she wore robes
of black velvet, wishing, she said, to solemnise these occasions
in this way beyond all others. But while her husband the King
was alive, she dressed very richly and superbly, and looked the
great lady that she was. It was a privilege to see and admire
her, in the general processions which were held both at Paris
and elsewhere, such as that of the Fete Dieu, and that of Palm
Sunday, carrying palms and torches with such grace, and that of
Candlemas Day, when all carried lighted candles whose flame vied
with their own splendour. In these three processions, which are
the most noteworthy, assuredly one could see nothing but beauty,
grace, noble bearing, stately I marching and fine array--at sight
of which all the bystanders were spellbound.
It was also a fine sight in the earlier days to see the Queen
going about in her litter, or on horseback, when she was attended
by forty or fifty ladies all well mounted on handsome steeds finely
caparisoned and sitting their mounts with such ease that the men
could not exceed them, either in horsemanship or accoutrement.
Their hats were richly decorated with plumes which floated back
in the air seeming to offer a challenge of love or war. Virgil,
who attempted to write of the beautiful apparel of Queen Dido
when she went hunting, does not rival in description the luxury
of our Queen and her ladies, whom I do not wish to displease, as
I have already said.
This Queen, established by the hand of the great King Francis,
who introduced this beautiful pageantry, did not wish to forget
or neglect anything that she ever learned, but always wished to
imitate it, to see if she could surpass it. I have heard her
talk on this subject three or four times. Those who have seen
all the things that I have will feel the same delight of the
soul that I do, for what I say is true and I have seen it myself.
This, then, was the Court of our Queen. How unfortunate was the
day she died! I have heard it related that our present King [Henry
IV], some eighteen months after he saw his prospects brightening
to become King, one day began to talk over with the late Marshal
de Biron the designs and projects which he would set on foot to
make his Court well established, elegant, and closely similar
to that which our Queen maintained; for it was then in the heyday
of its lustre and splendour. The Marshal replied: "It is not in
your power, nor in that of any King who is to succeed, unless
you make a compact with God that He resuscitate the Queen Mother
and bring her back to your aid." But that was not what the King
desired, for there was no one, at the time she died, whom he
hated so much, and without reason that I could see. But he ought
to know better than I.
How unlucky indeed was the day when such a Queen died, and at
the time when we had the greatest need of her, as we still have!
She died at Blois from melancholy over the massacre which occurred
there, and the sad tragedy which was enacted, seeing that
unthinkingly she had caused the princes to come there, thinking
to do the right thing; whereas, on the contrary, as the Cardinal
de Bourbon said to her: "Alas, Madame! you have led us all to
the slaughter, without intending it." That so touched her heart,
and also the death of these poor gentlemen, that she took to
her bed, having been previously ill, and never again rose from
They say that when the King told her of M. de Guise's death,
saying that now he was King indeed, without rival or master,
she asked him if he had put the affairs of his kingdom in order
before striking the blow. He replied that he had. "God grant
it, my son!" said she. Very prudent that she was, she foresaw
clearly what might happen to him and to all the kingdom.
Various reports have gone about concerning her death, some even
saying that it was from poison. Possibly so, possibly not; but
she is believed to have died of despair of soul, as she had reason
for. She was placed upon her bed of state, as I have heard said,
by one of her ladies, in pomp neither more nor less than Queen
Anne, of whom I have spoken elsewhere, and clad in the same royal
vesture, which has not served since her death for any others;
and was then carried into the church of the castle, in the same
pomp and solemnity as at the funeral of Queen Anne, where she
still lies and reposes. The King had wished to carry her body
to Chartres, and thence to Saint Denis, to place it by the side
of the King her husband, in the same imposing vault which he
had caused to be built, but the ensuing war prevented him.
This is what I can say at this time of our great Queen, who has
assuredly given us so worthy a subject to speak in praise of her,
that this brief essay is not long enough to sing her praises.
I know it well, and also that the quality of my mind does not
suffice, since better speakers than I would still be inadequate.
However, such as it is, I lay this discourse in all humility
and devotion at her feet. And also I wish to avoid too great
prolixity, for which indeed I feel myself liable. But I earnestly
hope that in my discourse I shall not defraud her of much, although
I am silent on many things, speaking only of essential matters
and those which her beautiful and unequalled virtues demand of
me; giving me ample material since I have seen all that I write
concerning her; while as for that which took place before my
day, I received it from very illustrious persons.
This queen the mother of so many kings,
And queens as well, within our realm of France,
Died when we needed her in many things,
For none save she could give us such assistance.