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Women of Modern France By Hugo P. Thieme Characters: 49409

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

Woman in politics

French women of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, when studied according to the distinctive phases of their influence, are best divided into three classes: those queens who, as wives, represented virtue, education, and family life; the mistresses, who were instigators of political intrigue, immorality, and vice; and the authoresses and other educated women, who constituted themselves the patronesses of art and literature.

This division is not absolute by any means; for we see that in the sixteenth century the regent-mother (for example, Louise of Savoy and Catherine de' Medici), in extent of influence, fills the same position as does the mistress in the eighteenth century; though in the former period appears, in Diana of Poitiers, the first of a long line of ruling mistresses.

Queen-consorts, in the sixteenth as in the following centuries, exercised but little influence; they were, as a rule, gentle and obedient wives-even Catherine, domineering as she afterward showed herself to be, betraying no signs of that trait until she became regent.

The literary women and women of spirit and wit furthered all intellectual and social development; but it was the mistresses-those great women of political schemes and moral degeneracy-who were vested with the actual importance, and it must in justice to them be said that they not infrequently encouraged art, letters, and mental expansion.

Eight queens of France there were during the sixteenth century, and three of these may be accepted as types of purity, piety, and goodness: Claude, first wife of Francis I.; Elizabeth of France, wife of Charles IX.; and Louise de Vaudemont, wife of Henry III. These queens, held up to ridicule and scorn by the depraved followers of their husbands' mistresses, were reverenced by the people; we find striking contrasts to them in the two queens-regent, Louise of Savoy and Catherine de' Medici, who, in the period of their power, were as unscrupulous and brutal, intriguing and licentious, jealous and revengeful, as the most wanton mistresses who ever controlled a king. In this century, we find two other remarkable types: Marguerite d'Angoulême, the bright star of her time; and her whose name comes instantly to mind when we speak of the Lady of Angoulême-Marguerite de Navarre, representing both the good and the doubtful, the broadest sense of that untranslatable term femme d'esprit.

The first of the royal French women to whom modern woman owes a great and clearly defined debt was Anne of Brittany, wife of Louis XII. and the personification of all that is good and virtuous. To her belongs the honor of having taken the first step toward the social emancipation of French women; she was the first to give to woman an important place at court. This precedent she established by requesting her state officials and the foreign ambassadors to bring their wives and daughters when they paid their respects to her. To the ladies themselves, she sent a "royal command," bidding them leave their gloomy feudal abodes and repair to the court of their sovereign.

Anne may be said to belong to the transition period-that period in which the condition of slavery and obscurity which fettered the women of the Middle Ages gave place to almost untrammelled liberty. The queen held a separate court in great state, at Blois and Des Tournelles, and here elegance, even magnificence, of dress was required of her ladies. At first, this unprecedented demand caused discontent among men, who at that time far surpassed women in elaborateness of costume and had, consequently, been accustomed to the use of their surplus wealth for their own purposes. Under Anne's influence, court life underwent a complete transformation; her receptions, which were characterized by royal splendor, became the centre of attraction.

Anne of Brittany, the last queen of France of the Middle Ages and the first of the modern period, was a model of virtuous conduct, conjugal fidelity, and charity. Having complete control over her own immense wealth, she used it largely for beneficent purposes; to her encouragement much of the progress of art and literature in France was due. Hers was an example that many of the later queens endeavored to follow, but it cannot be said that they ever exerted a like influence or exhibited an equal power of initiation and self-assertion.

The first royal woman to become a power in politics in the period that we are considering was Louise of Savoy, mother of Francis I., a type of the voluptuous and licentious female of the sixteenth century. Her pernicious activity first manifested itself when, having conceived a violent passion for Charles of Bourbon, she set her heart upon marrying him, and commenced intrigues and plots which were all the more dangerous because of her almost absolute control over her son, the King.

At this time there were three distinct sets or social castes at the court of France: the pious and virtuous band about the good Queen Claude; the lettered and elegant belles in the coterie of Marguerite d'Angoulême, sister of Francis I.; and the wanton and libertine young maids who formed a galaxy of youth and beauty about Louise of Savoy, and were by her used to fascinate her son and thus distract him from affairs of state.

Louise used all means to bring before the king beautiful women through whom she planned to preserve her influence over him. One of these frail beauties, Fran?oise de Foix, completely won the heart of the monarch; her ascendency over him continued for a long period, in spite of the machinations of Louise, who, when Francis escaped her control, sought to bring disrepute and discredit upon the fair mistress.

The mother, however, remained the powerful factor in politics. With an abnormal desire to hoard money, an unbridled temper, and a violent and domineering disposition, she became the most powerful and dangerous, as well as the most feared, woman of all France. During her regency the state coffers were pillaged, and plundering was carried on on all sides. One of her acts at this time was to cause the recall of Charles of Bourbon, then Governor of Milan; this measure was taken as much for the purpose of obtaining revenge for his scornful rejection of her offer of marriage as for the hope of eventually bringing him to her side.

Upon the return of Charles, she immediately began plotting against him, including in her hatred Fran?oise de Foix, the king's mistress, at whom Bourbon frequently cast looks of pity which the furiously jealous Louise interpreted as glances of love. As a matter of fact, Bourbon, being strictly virtuous, was out of reach of temptation by the beauties of the court, and there were no grounds for jealousy.

This love of Louise for Charles of Bourbon is said to have owed most of its ardor to her hope of coming into possession of his immense estates. She schemed to have his title to them disputed, hoping that, by a decree of Parliament, they might be taken from him; the idea in this procedure was that Bourbon, deprived of his possessions, must come to her terms, and she would thus satisfy-at one and the same time-her passion and her cupidity.

Under her influence the character of the court changed entirely; retaining only a semblance of its former decency, it became utterly corrupt. It possessed external elegance and distingué manners, but below this veneer lay intrigue, debauchery, and gross immorality. In order to meet the vast expenditures of the king and the queen-mother, the taxes were enormously increased; the people, weighed down by the unjust assessment and by want, began to clamor and protest. Undismayed by famine, poverty, and epidemic, Louise continued her depredations on the public treasury, encouraging the king in his squanderings; and both mother and son, in order to procure money, begged, borrowed, plundered.

Louise was always surrounded by a bevy of young ladies, selected beauties of the court, whose natural charms were greatly enhanced by the lavishness of their attire. Always ready to further the plans of their mistress, they hesitated not to sacrifice reputation or honor to gratify her smallest whim. Her power was so generally recognized that foreign ambassadors, in the absence of the king, called her "that other king." When war against France broke out between Spain and England, Louise succeeded in gaining the office of constable for the Duc d'Alen?on; by this means, she intended to displace Charles of Bourbon (whom she was still persecuting because he continued cold to her advances), and to humiliate him in the presence of his army; the latter design, however, was thwarted, as he did not complain.

To the caprice of Louise of Savoy were due the disasters and defeats of the French army during the period of her power; by frequently displacing someone whose actions did not coincide with her plans, and elevating some favorite who had avowed his willingness to serve her, she kept military affairs in a state of confusion.

Many wanton acts are attributed to her: she appropriated forty thousand crowns allowed to Governor Lautrec of Milan for the payment of his soldiers, and caused the execution of Samblancay, superintendent of finances, who had been so unfortunate as to incur her displeasure. It was Charles of Bourbon, who, with Marshal Lautrec, investigated the episode of the forty thousand crowns and exposed the treachery and perfidy of the mother of his king.

Finding that Bourbon intended to persist in his resistance to her advances, Louise decided upon drastic measures of retaliation. With the assistance of her chancellor (and tool), Duprat, she succeeded in having withheld the salaries which were due to Bourbon because of the offices held by him. As he took no notice of these deprivations, she next proceeded to divest him of his estates by laying claim to them for herself; she then proposed to Bourbon that, by accepting her hand in marriage, he might settle the matter happily. The object of her numerous schemes not only rejected this offer with contempt, but added insult to injury by remarking: "I will never marry a woman devoid of modesty." At this rebuff, Louise was incensed beyond measure, and when Queen Claude suggested Bourbon's marriage to her sister, Mme. Renée de France (a union to which Charles would have consented gladly), the queen-mother managed to induce Francis I. to refuse his consent.

After the death of Anne of Beaujeu, mother-in-law of Charles of Bourbon, her estates were seized by the king and transferred to Louise while the claim was under consideration by Parliament. When the judges, after an examination of the records of the Bourbon estate, remonstrated with Chancellor Duprat against the illegal transfer, he had them put into prison. This rigorous act, which was by order of Louise, weakened the courage of the court; when the time arrived for a final decision, the judges declared themselves incompetent to decide, and in order to rid themselves of responsibility referred the matter to the king's council. This great lawsuit, which was continued for a long time, eventually forced Charles of Bourbon to flee from France. Having sworn allegiance to Charles V. of Spain and Henry VIII. of England against Francis I., he was made lieutenant-general of the imperial armies.

When Francis, captured at the battle of Pavia, was taken to Spain, Louise, as regent, displayed unusual diplomatic skill by leaguing the Pope and the Italian states with Francis against the Spanish king. When, after nearly a year's captivity, her son returned, she welcomed him with a bevy of beauties; among them was a new mistress, designed to destroy the influence of the woman who had so often thwarted the plans of Louise-the beautiful Fran?oise de Foix whom the king had made Countess of Chateaubriant.

This new beauty was Anne de Pisseleu, one of the thirty children of Seigneur d'Heilly, a girl of eighteen, with an exceptional education. Most cunning was the trap which Louise had set for the king. Anne was surrounded by a circle of youthful courtiers, who hung upon her words, laughed at her caprices, courted her smiles; and when she rather confounded them with the extent of the learning which-with a sort of gay triumph-she was rather fond of showing, they pronounced her "the most charming of learned ladies and the most learned of the charming."

The plot worked; Francis was fascinated, falling an easy prey to the wiles of the wanton Anne. The former mistress, Fran?oise de Foix, was discarded, and Louise, purely out of revenge and spite, demanded the return of the costly jewels given by the king and appropriated them herself.

The duty assigned to the new mistress was that of keeping Francis busy with fêtes and other amusements. While he was thus kept under the spell of his enchantress, he lost all thought of his subjects and the welfare of his country and the affairs of the kingdom fell into the hands of Louise and her chancellor, Duprat. The girl-mistress, Anne, was married by Louise to the Duc d'Etampes whose consent was gained through the promise of the return of his family possessions which, upon his father's departure with Charles of Bourbon, had been confiscated.

The reign of Louise of Savoy was now about over; she had accomplished everything she had planned. She had caused Charles of Bourbon, one of the greatest men of the sixteenth century, to turn against his king; and that king owed to her-his mother-his defeat at Pavia, his captivity in Spain, and his moral fall. Spain, Italy, and France were victims of the infamous plotting and disastrous intrigues of this one woman whose death, in 1531, was a blessing to the country which she had dishonored.

At the time of the marriage of Francis I. to Eleanor of Portugal (one of the last acts of Louise), Europe was beginning to look upon France as ahead of all other nations in the "superlativeness of her politeness." The most rigid etiquette and the most punctilious politeness were always observed, fines being imposed for any discourtesy toward women.

After the death of Louise, the lot of managing the king and directing his policy fell to the share of his mistress, the Duchesse d'Etampes, who at once became all-powerful at court; her influence over him was like that of the drug which, to the weak person who begins its use, soon becomes an absolute necessity.

After the death of the dauphin, all the court flatteries were directed toward Henry, the eldest son of Francis. Though his mistress, Diana of Poitiers, ruled him, she exercised no influence politically; that she was not lacking in diplomacy, however, was proved by her attitude toward Henry's wife, Catherine, whom she treated with every indication of friendship and esteem, in marked contrast to the disdain exhibited by other ladies of the court. These two women became friends, working together against the mistress of the king-the Duchesse d'Etampes-and causing, by their intrigues, dissensions between father and son.

The duchess was not a bad woman; her dissuasion of Francis I. from undertaking war with Solyman II. against Charles V. is one instance of the use of her influence in the right direction. By some historians, she is accused of having played the traitress, in the interest of Emperor Charles V., during the war of Spain and England against France. It was she who urged the Treaty of Crépy with Charles V.; by it, through the marriage of the French king's second son, the Duke of Orleans, to the niece of Charles V., the duchess was sure of a safe retreat when her bitter enemy, Henry's mistress, should reign after the king's death. Her plans, however, did not materialize, as the duke died and the treaty was annulled.

The death of Francis I. occurred in 1547; with his reign ends the first period of woman's activity-a period influenced mainly by Louise of Savoy, whose relations to France were as disastrous as were those of any mistress. The influence exerted by her may in some respects be compared with that of Mme. de Pompadour; though, were the merits and demerits of both carefully tested, the results would hardly be in favor of Louise. Strong in diplomacy and intrigue, she was unscrupulous and wanton-morally corrupt; she did nothing to further the development of literature and art; if she favored men of genius it was merely from motives of self-interest.

With the accession of Henry II. his mistress entered into possession of full power. The absolute sway of Diana of Poitiers over this weakest of French kings was due to her strong mind, great ability, wide experience, fascination of manner, and to that exceptional beauty which she preserved to her old age. Immediately upon coming into power, she dispatched the Duchesse d'Etampes to one of her estates and at the same time forced her to restore the jewels which she had received from Francis I., a usual procedure with a mistress who knew herself to be first in authority.

After being thus displaced, the duchess spent her time in doing charitable work, and is said to have afforded protection to the Protestants. Eventually, hers was the fate of almost all the mistresses. Compelled to give up many of her possessions, miserable and forgotten by all, her last days were most unhappy.

Early in her career, Henry made Diana Duchesse de Valentinois. So powerful did she become that Sieur de Bayard, secretary of state, having referred in jest to her age (she was twenty years the king's senior), was deprived of his office, thrown into prison, and left to die. In her management of Queen Catherine, Diana was most politic; she never interfered, but constituted herself "the protectress of the legitimate wife, settling all questions concerning the newly born," for which she received a large salary. When, while the king was in Italy, the queen became ill, she owed her recovery to the watchful care of the mistress. The latter appointed to the vacant estates and positions members of her house-that of Guise. In time, this house gained such an ascendency that it conceived the project of setting aside all the princes of the blood royal.

Having (through one of her favorites) gained control of the royal treasury, Diana appropriated everything-lands, money, jewels. Her influence was so astonishing to the people that she was accused of wielding a magic power and bewitching the king who seemed, verily, to be leading an enchanted existence; he had but one thought, one aim-that of pleasing and obeying his aged mistress. To make amends for his adultery, he concluded to extirpate heretics. Such a combination of luxury and extravagance with licentiousness and brutality, such wholesale murder, persecution, and burning at the stake have never been equalled, except under Nero.

Michelet reveals the character of Diana in these words: "Affected by nothing, loving nothing, sympathizing with nothing; of the passions retaining only those which will give a little rapidity to the blood; of the pleasures preferring those that are mild and without violence-the love of gain and the pursuit of money; hence, there was absence of soul. Another phase was the cultivation of the body, the body and its beauty uniquely cared for by virile treatment and a rigid régime which is the guardian of life-not weakly adored as by women who kill themselves by excessive self-love." M. Saint-Amand continues, after quoting the above: "At all seasons of the year, Diana plunges into a cold bath on rising. As soon as day breaks, she mounts a horse, and, followed by swift hounds, rides through dewy verdure to her royal lover to whom-fascinated by her mythological pomp-she seems no more a woman but a goddess. Thus he styles her in verses of burning tenderness:

"'Hélas, mon Dieu! combien je regrette

Le temps que j'ai perdu en ma jeunesse!

Combien de fois je me suis souhaité

Avoir Diane pour ma seule ma?tresse.

Mais je craignais qu'elle, qui est déesse,

Ne se voul?t abaisser jusque là.'"

[Alas, my God! how much I regret the time lost in my youth! How often have I longed to have Diana for my only mistress! But I feared that she who is a goddess would not stoop so low as that.]

Catherine remained quietly in the palace, preferring her position, unpleasant as it was, to the persecution and possible incarceration in a convent which would result from any interference on her part between the king and his mistress. Without power or privileges, she was a mere figurehead-a good mother looking after her family. However, she was not idle; without taking part in the intrigues, she was studying them-planning her future tactics; in all relations she was diplomatic, her conversation ever displaying exquisite tact.

While France groaned under the burdens of seemingly interminable wars and exorbitant taxes, her king revelled in excessive luxury; the aim of his favorite mistress seemed to be to acquire wealth and spend it lavishly for her own pleasure. Voluptuousness, cruelty, and extravagance were the keynotes of the time. All means were used to procure revenues, the king easing any pangs of conscience by burning a few heretics whose estates were then quickly confiscated.

Diana, even at the age of sixty, still held Henry in her toils; an easy prey for the wiles of the flatterer, he was kept in ignorance of the hatred and anger heaping up against him. In the midst of riotous festivity, Henry II. died, a victim of the lance of Montgomery; and the twelve years' reign of debauchery, cruelty, and shameless extravagance came to an end.

Whatever else may be said of Diana, she proved to be a liberal patroness of art and letters; this was possible for her, since, in addition to inherited wealth and the gifts of lands and jewels from the king, she procured the possessions of many heretics whose confiscated wealth was assigned to her as a faithful servant and supporter of the church.

Her hotel at Anet was one of the most elaborate, tasteful, and elegant in all France; there the finest specimens of Italian sculpture, painting, and woodwork were to be seen. The king, upon making her a duchess, presented her with the beautiful chateau of Chenonceaux, which was so much coveted by Catherine. The latter attempted to make Diana pay for the chateau, thus interrupting her plans for building; upon discovering this, Henry sent his own artists and workmen to carry out Diana's desires. Such was the power of his mistress over the weak king that he respected her wishes far more than he did those of his queen. This was one of those instances in which Catherine saw fit to remain silent and plan revenge.

The death of Diana of Poitiers was that common to all women of her position. She died in 1566, forgotten by the world-her world. In her will she made "provision for religious houses, to be opened to women of evil lives, as if, in the depth of her conscience, she had recognized the likeness between their destiny and her own." Like the former mistresses, she had been required to give up the jewels received from Henry II.; but as this order was from Francis II. instead of from his mistress, the gems were returned to the crown after having passed successively through the hands of three mistresses.

Catherine's time had not yet come, for she dared not interfere when Mary Stuart (a beautiful, inexperienced, and impetuous girl of seventeen) gained ascendency over Francis II.-a mere boy. The house of Guise was then supreme and began its bloody campaign against its enemies; fortunately, however, its power was short-lived, for in 1560 the king died after reigning only seventeen months. At this point, Catherine enters upon the scene of action. Jealous of Mary Stuart and fearing that the young king, Charles IX., then but ten years old, might become infatuated with her and marry her, she promptly returned the fair young woman to Scotland.

The task before the regent was no light one; her kingdom was divided against itself, the country was overburdened with taxes, and discontent reigned universally. All who surrounded her were full of prejudice and actuated solely by personal aspirations-she realized that she could trust no one.

Her first act of a political nature was to rescue the house of Valois and solidify the royal authority. Some critics maintain that she began her reign with moderation, gentleness, impartiality, and reconciliation. This view finds support in the fact that during the first years she favored Protestantism; finding, however, that the latter was weakening royal power and that the country at large was opposed to it, she became its most bitter enem

y. To the Protestants and their plottings she attributed all the disastrous effects of the civil war, all thefts, murders, incests, and adulteries, as well as the profanation of the sepulchres of the ancestors of the royal family, the burning of the bones of Louis XI. and of the heart of Francis II.

The Machiavellian policy was Catherine's guide; bitter experience had robbed her of all faith in humanity-she had learned to despise it and the judgment of her contemporaries. At first she was amiable and polite, seemingly intent upon pleasing those with whom she talked; in fact, it is said that she was then more often accused of excessive mildness and moderation than of the violence and cruelty which later characterized her. Experience having taught her how to deal with people, she never lost her self-control.

Subsequent history shows that any gentle and conciliatory policy of Catherine was merely a method of furthering her own interests, and was therefore not the outcome of any inborn feeling of sympathy or womanly tenderness. Whether her signing of the Edict of Saint-Germain, admitting the Protestants to all employments and granting them the privilege of Calvinistic worship in two cities of every province, and her refusal, upon the urgent solicitations of her son-in-law, Philip II., to persecute heretics were really snares laid for the Huguenots, is a matter which historians have not decided.

Inasmuch as the entire history of France plays about the personality of Catherine de' Medici, no attempt will be made to give a detailed chronological account of her career; the results, rather than the events themselves, will be given. M. Saint-Amand, in his work on French Women of the Valois Court, presents one of the strongest pictures drawn of Catherine. We shall follow him in the greater part of this sketch.

According to some historians, Catherine was a mere intriguer, without talent or ability, living but in the moment, often caught in her own snares; according to others, by her intelligence, ability, and strength of character she advanced a cause truly national-that of French unity; thus, she worked either the ruin or the salvation of France. Michelet calls her a nonentity, a stage queen with merely the externals-the attire-of royalty, remaining exactly on a level with the rulers of the smaller Italian principalities, contriving everything and fearing everything, with no more heart than she had sense or temperament. Being a female, she loved her young; she loved the arts, but cared to cultivate only their externalities. In this, however, Michelet goes to an extreme; for no woman ever lived who had so great a talent for intrigues and politics as she-a very type of the deceit and cunning which were inherent in her race. If she were not important, had not wielded so much influence and decided the fate of so many great men, women, and even states, she would not be the subject of so much writing, of such fierce denunciation and strong praise. To her family, France owes her finest palaces, her masterpieces of art-painting, bookmaking, printing, binding, sculpture.

M. Saint-Amand declares that "isolated from her contemporaries, Catherine de' Medici is a monster; brought back within the circle of their passions and their theories, she once more becomes a woman." But Catherine was the instigator, the embodiment of all that is vice, deceit, cunning, trickery, wickedness, and bold intrigue; she set the example, and her ladies followed her in all that she did; "the heroines bred in her school (and what woman was not in her school?) imitate, with docility, the examples she gives them." She was not only the type of her civilization,-brutal, gross, immoral, elegant, polished, and mondain,-but she was also its leader.

Greatness of soul, real moral force, strict virtue, are not attributes of the sixteenth-century woman-they are isolated and rare exceptions; these Catherine did not possess. Nor was she influenced deeply by her environments; the latter but encouraged and developed those qualities which were hers inherently,-will, intelligence, inflexible perseverance, tenacity of purpose, unscrupulousness, cruelty; hence, to say "She is the victim rather than the inspiration of the corruption of her time" is misleading, to say the least. If, upon her arrival at court, "she at once pleased every one by her grace and affability, modest air, and, above all, by her extreme gentleness," she could not have changed, say her defenders, into the perfidious, wicked, and cruel creature she is said to have become as soon as she stepped into power. "During the reign of Henry II., she wisely avoided all danger; faithful to her wifely duties, she gave no cause for scandal, and, realizing that she was not strong enough to overcome her all-powerful rival, she bided her time. She was loved and respected by everyone for her personal qualities and her benevolence." But why may it not be true that all this was but part of her politics, the politics in which she had been educated? Wise from experience, she foresaw the future and what was in store for her if she remained prudent and made the best of the surroundings until the time should come when she could strike suddenly and boldly.

Brought up from infancy amidst snares, intrigues, the clash of arms, the furious shouts of popular insurrections, tempests, and storms, she could not escape the influence of her early environment. Her talent for studying and penetrating the designs of her enemies, for facing or avoiding dangers with such sublime calmness and prudence, was partly inherited, partly acquired. That spirit she took with her to France, where her experience was widened and her opportunities for the study of human nature were increased.

It is not generally known that her mother was a French woman-a Madeleine de La Tour d'Auvergne, daughter of Jean, Count of Boulogne, and Catherine of Bourbon, daughter of the Count of Vend?me; thus, her gentler nature was a French product. Her mother and father both died when she was but twenty-two days old, and from that time until her marriage she was cast about from place to place. But from the very first she showed that talent of adapting herself to her surroundings, living amidst intrigues and discords and yet making friends. She has been called "the precocious heiress of the craftiness of her progenitors."

In her thirteenth year, after being sought by many powerful princes, Clement VII. (her greatuncle), in order to secure himself against the powerful Charles V., married her to Henry, Duke of Orleans, the second son of Francis I. Even at that early age she was fully aware of all the dreariness and danger attached to positions of power, and knew that the art of governing was not an easy one. She had studied Machiavelli's famous work, The Prince, which had been dedicated to her father, and it was from it, as well as from her ancestors, that she derived her wisdom and astuteness. Her childhood had prepared her for the work of the future, and she went at it with caution and reserve until she was sure of her ground.

She first proceeded to study the king, Francis I., watching his actions, extracting his secrets; a fine huntress and at his side constantly, she pleased him and gained his favor. Brant?me says she was subtle and diplomatic, quickly learning the craft of her profession; she sought friends among all classes and ranks, directing her overtures specially toward the ladies of the court, whom she soon won and gathered about her.

In 1536 the dauphin died, and Catherine's husband became heir to the throne of France. Though they had been married three years, no offspring had resulted, which unfortunate circumstance made her position a most uncertain one, especially as Diana of Poitiers was then at the height of her power, controlling Henry absolutely. A furious rivalry sprang up between the Duchesse d'Etampes, mistress of Francis I., and Diana and Catherine; the two mistresses formed two parties, and a war of slanders, calumnies, and unpleasant epigrams ensued. Queen Eleanor, the second wife of Francis I., took no active part, thus leaving all power in the hands of the mistress of her husband. (It was at this time that the Emperor Charles V. gained the Duchesse d'Etampes over to his cause.) Poets and artists, politicians and men of genius took sides, extolling the beauty of the one they championed. Catherine, although befriended and treated with apparent respect by Diana, remained a good friend to both women, thus evincing her tact. By keeping her own personality in the background, she won the esteem of both her husband and the king.

Brant?me leaves a picture of Catherine at this time: "She was a fine and ample figure; very majestic, yet agreeable and very gentle when necessary; beautiful and gracious in appearance, her face fair and her throat white and full, very white in body likewise.... Moreover, she dressed superbly, always having some pretty innovation. In brief, she had beauties fitted to inspire love. She laughed readily, her disposition was jovial, and she liked to jest." M. Saint-Amand continues: "The artistic elegance that surrounded her whole person, the tranquil and benevolent expression of her countenance, the good taste of her dress, the exquisite distinction of her manners, all contributed to her charm. And then she was so humble in the presence of her husband! She so carefully avoided whatever might have the semblance of reproach! She closed her eyes with such complaisance! Henry told himself that it would be difficult to find another woman so well-disposed, another wife so faithful to her duties, another princess so accomplished in point of instruction and intelligence. The ménage à trois (household of three) was continued, therefore, and if the dauphin loved his mistress, he certainly had a friendship for his wife. And, on her part, whenever she felt an inclination to complain of her lot, Catherine bethought herself that if she quitted her position she would probably find no refuge but the cloister, and that-taking it all around-the court of France (in spite of the humiliations and vexations one might experience there) was an abode more desirable than a convent;" this, then, is the secret of her submission. In spite of her beauty, mildness, and distinction of manner, she could not overcome the prestige of Diana.

After nine years, Catherine was still without children and began to fear the fate in store for her; but when she gave birth to a son in 1543, she felt assured that divorce no longer threatened her and she resolved that as soon as she came into power she would be revenged upon her enemies and Diana of Poitiers. When, in 1547, her husband succeeded his father as King of France, she did not feel that the time had yet arrived to interfere in any social or domestic arrangements or affairs of state; not until ten years later did she show the first sign of remarkable statesmanship or ability as a politician.

After the battle and capture of Saint-Quentin, France was in a most deplorable state; the enemy was believed to be beneath the walls of Paris; everybody was fleeing; the king had gone to Compiègne to muster a new army. Catherine was alone in Paris "and of her own free will went to the Parliament in full state, accompanied by the cardinals, princes, and princesses; and there, in the most impressive language, she set forth the urgent state of affairs at the moment.... With so much sentiment and eloquence that she touched the heart of everybody, the queen then explained to the Parliament that the king had need of three hundred thousand livres, twenty-five thousand to be paid every two months; and she added that she would retire from the place of session, so as not to interfere with the liberty of discussion; accordingly, she retired to another room. A resolution to comply with the wishes of her majesty was voted, and the queen, having resumed her place, received a promise to that effect. A hundred nobles of the city offered to give at once three thousand francs apiece. The queen thanked them in the sweetest form of words, and thus terminated this session of Parliament-with so much applause for her majesty and such lively marks of satisfaction at her behavior, that no idea can be given of them. Throughout the city, nothing was spoken of but the queen's prudence and the happy manner in which she proceeded in this enterprise" (Guizot). From this act dates Catherine's entrance into political consideration.

During the reign of Francis II., Catherine de' Medici exercised no influence at court, the king being completely under the dominion of his wife and the Duke of Guise, who was not favorable to the queen-mother's schemes and policies. Catherine, however, was plotting; caring little about religion so long as it did not further her plans, she connected herself with the Huguenots; her scheme was to bring the Guises to destruction and to form a council of regency which, while composed of the Huguenot leaders, was to be under her guidance. As this plan failed, bringing ruin to many princes, she deserted the Huguenots and allied herself with the Catholics.

She is next found attempting the assassination of the Duke of Condé, but she failed to accomplish that crime because her son, the king, refused his consent. Soon after, Francis II. died, it is said from the effect of poison dropped into his ear while he was sleeping; it is probable that this crime was committed at the instigation of the mother, since by his death and the accession of Charles IX. she became regent (1560). She was then all-powerful and in a position to exercise her long dormant talents.

Her first plan was to incapacitate all her children by plunging them "into such licentious pleasure and voluptuous dissipation that they were speedily unfitted for mental activity or exertion." Most unprejudiced historians credit her with the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew; she is said to have boasted about it to Catholic governments and excused it to Protestant powers. For a number of years, she had been planning the destruction of the Huguenot princes, and as early as 1565 she and Charles IX. had an interview with the Duke of Alva (representative of Philip II), to consult as to the means of delivering France from heretics. It was decided that "this great blessing could not have accomplishment save by the deaths of all the leaders of the Huguenots."

That fearful crime, the bloody Massacre of Saint Bartholomew, is familiar to everyone. The only excuse offered for this most heinous of Catherine's many offences is her intense sentiment of national unity; the actual reason for it is to be sought in the fact that as long as the Protestants retained their prestige and influence, Catherine and her Catholic party could not do as they pleased, could not gain absolute control over the government. History holds her more responsible than it does her weak son. The climax came on the occasion of the wedding of Marguerite of Valois with the Prince of Navarre, which meant the union of the branches-the Catholic and the Protestant. This resulted in the first breach between the king and Catherine; the latter at that time perpetrated one of her dastardly deeds by poisoning the mother of the Prince of Navarre-Jeanne d'Albret, her bitter enemy.

After the death of Charles IX., Henry III. was the sole survivor of the four sons of Catherine. Although her power was limited during his reign, she managed to continue her murderous plans and accomplished the death of Henry of Guise and his brother the cardinal, which crime united the majority of the Catholics of France against the king and was the cause of his assassination in 1589. This ended the power of Catherine de' Medici; when she died, no one rejoiced, no one lamented. Wherever she had turned her eyes, she had seen nothing but occasions for uneasiness and sadness; she had retired from court, feeling her helplessness and disgrace as well as the decline in power of that son in whom her hopes were centred. She decided to re?nter the scene of action and save Henry. The stormy scenes of the Barricades and the League and the murder of the Duke of Guise hastened her death, which occurred in 1589.

Catherine de' Medici may rightfully be called the initiator and organizer of social and court etiquette and courtesy-of conventional and social laws. However great her political activity, she made herself deeply felt in the social and moral worlds also. She taught her husband the secret of being king; she introduced the lever audience; in the afternoon of every day, she held a reunion of all the ladies of the court, at which the king was to be found after dinner and every lord entertained the lady he most loved; two hours were spent in this pleasure which was continued after supper if there were no balls; bitter railleries and anything that passed the restrictions of good company were forbidden.

Her ladies of honor obeyed her as they would their God. Marguerite of Valois said of her: "I did not dare to speak to her, and when she looked at me I trembled for fear of having done something that displeased her." Ladies who had been delinquent were stripped and beaten with lashes; for correction-frequently for mere pastime-she would have them undressed and slapped vigorously with the back of the hand. Fran?oise of Rohan, cousin of Jeanne d'Albret, wrote the following poem:

"Plus j'ai de toi souvent esté battue,

Plus mon amour s'efforce et s'évertue

De regretter ceste main qui me bat;

Car ce mal-là m'estait plaisant esbat.

Or, adieu done la main dont la rigueur

Je préferais à tout bien et honneur."

[The more often I have been struck by you, the more my love struggles and strives to regret the hand that beats me; for that punishment was a pleasant pastime for me. Now farewell to the hand whose rigor I preferred to every fortune and honor.]

The following portrait and poetry, taken from M. Saint-Amand, does the subject full justice: "Catherine de' Medici represented with a sinister glance, deadly mien, mysterious and savage aspect-a spectre, not a woman-is not true to nature. Her self-possession, cool cunning, supreme elegance, imperturbable tranquillity, calmness, moderation, noble serenity, and dignified poise, gave her an individuality such as few women ever possessed. Gentle in crime and tragedy, polite like an executioner toward his victim-this Machiavellianism which is equal to every trial, which nothing alarms or surprises, and which with tranquil dexterity makes sport of every law of morality and humanity-this is the real character of Catherine de' Medici." The following burlesque poetry was composed for her:

"La reine qui ci-git fut un diable et un ange,

Toute pleine de blame et pleine de louange,

Elle soutint l'Etat, et l'Etat mit à bas;

Elle fit maints accords et pas moins de débats;

Elle enfanta trois rois et trois guerres civiles,

Fit batir des chateaux et ruiner des villes,

Fit bien de bonnes lois et de mauvais édits.

Souhaite-lui, passant, enfer et paradis."

[The queen lying here was both devil and angel, blamed and praised; she both put down and upheld the state; she caused many an agreement and no end of disputes; she produced three kings and three civil wars; she built castles and ruined cities, made many good laws and many bad decrees. Wish her, passer-by, hell and paradise.]

With the reign of Henry IV.-the first king of the house of Bourbon, and the first king of the sixteenth century with a will of his own and the courage to assert it-begins a period of revelling, debauch, and the most depraved immorality. Three mistresses in turn controlled him-morally, not politically.

Henry was master of his own will, and, had he desired to do so, could have overcome his evil tendencies; instead, he openly countenanced and even encouraged dissoluteness and elegant debauchery, as long as he himself was not deprived of the lady upon whom his capricious fancy happened to fall. His advances were but seldom repulsed; but upon making his usual audacious proposals to the Marquise de Guercheville, he was informed that she was of too insignificant a house to be the king's wife and of too good a race to be his mistress; and when the king, in spite of this rebuff, made her lady of honor to his wife, Marie de' Medici, she continued to resist him and remained virtuous. Such types of purity, honor, and moral courage were very exceptional during this reign.

The three principal mistresses of this sovereign represent three phases of influence and three periods of his life. Corisande d'Andouins, Comtesse de Guiche and Duchesse de Gramont, fascinated him for eight years, while he was King of Navarre (1582-1590); to her he was deeply attached, and recompensed her for her devotion; this is called his chevaleresque period. The beautiful Gabrielle d'Estrées, Duchesse de Beaufort, was called his mate after victory; "she refined, sharpened, softened, and tamed his customs; she made him king of the court instead of the field." It was she who ventured to meddle in his politics, she whom Marguerite of Valois, his wife, so detested that she refused to consent to a divorce as long as Gabrielle (by whom he had several children) remained his mistress. The latter even went so far as to demand the baptism, as a child of France, of her son by the king. Sully, in a rage, declared there were no "children of France," and took the order to the king, who had it destroyed; he then asked his minister to go to his mistress and satisfy her, "in so far as you can." To his efforts she replied: "I am aware of all, and do not care to hear any more; I am not made as the king is, whom you persuade that black is white." Upon receiving this report, the king said: "Here, come with me; I will let you see that women have not the possession of me that certain malignant spirits say they have." Accompanied by Sully, he immediately went to the Duchesse de Beaufort, and, taking her by the hand, said: "Now, madame, let us go into your room, and let nobody else enter except Rosny. I want to speak to you both and teach you how to be good friends." Then, having closed the door, holding Gabrielle with one hand and Rosny with the other, he said: "Good God, madame! What is the meaning of this? So you would vex me from sheer wantonness of heart in order to try my patience? By God, I swear to you that, if you continue these fashions of going on, you will find yourself very much out in your expectations! I see quite well that you have been put up to all this pleasantry in order to make me dismiss a servant whom I cannot do without, and who has served me loyally for five-and-twenty years. By God, I will do nothing of the kind! And I declare to you that if I were reduced to such a necessity as to choose between losing one or the other, I could better do without ten mistresses like you than one servant like him." Shortly after this episode, Gabrielle died so suddenly that she was supposed to have been poisoned. Immediately after her death the divorce was granted, and Henry married Marie de' Medici.

The third mistress, Henriette de Balzac d'Entragues, Marquise de Verneuil, who led Henry IV. along a path of the worst debauchery, gained control over him by lewd, lascivious methods. While negotiations were being carried on for his divorce from Marguerite, only a few weeks after the death of Gabrielle, he signed a promise to marry Henriette; this, however, he failed to keep. She, more than any other of his mistresses, was the cause of national distress and of more than one ruinous war. When, after the marriage of the king to Marie de' Medici, Henriette began to nag, rail, intrigue, and conspire, she was disgraced by Henry, who at least had the courage to honor his own family above that of his mistresses. She is accused of having had, solely from motives of revenge, a hand in the death of the king.

Thus, around the queens-regent and the mistresses of the kings of France in the sixteenth century there is constant intriguing, murder, assassination, immorality, and debauchery, jealousy and revenge, marriage and divorce, honor and disgrace, despotism and final repentance and misery. The greatest and lowest of these women was Catherine de' Medici; Diana of Poitiers was famed as the most marvellously beautiful woman in France, and she was the most powerful and intelligent mistress until the time of Mme. de Pompadour. Amid all this bribery and corruption, elegant and refined immorality, there are some few types that represent education, family life, purity, and culture.

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