Catherine de' Medici
Honore de Balzac

Part 1 out of 7

Etext prepared by John Bickers,
and Dagny,

Catherine de' Medici

by Honore de Balzac

Translated by Katherine Prescott Wormeley


To Monsieur le Marquis de Pastoret, Member of the Academie des

When we think of the enormous number of volumes that have been
published on the question as to where Hannibal crossed the Alps,
without our being able to decide to-day whether it was (according
to Whittaker and Rivaz) by Lyon, Geneva, the Great Saint-Bernard,
and the valley of Aosta; or (according to Letronne, Follard,
Saint-Simon and Fortia d'Urbano) by the Isere, Grenoble, Saint-
Bonnet, Monte Genevra, Fenestrella, and the Susa passage; or
(according to Larauza) by the Mont Cenis and the Susa; or
(according to Strabo, Polybius and Lucanus) by the Rhone, Vienne,
Yenne, and the Dent du Chat; or (according to some intelligent
minds) by Genoa, La Bochetta, and La Scrivia,--an opinion which I
share and which Napoleon adopted,--not to speak of the verjuice
with which the Alpine rocks have been bespattered by other learned
men,--is it surprising, Monsieur le marquis, to see modern history
so bemuddled that many important points are still obscure, and the
most odious calumnies still rest on names that ought to be

And let me remark, in passing, that Hannibal's crossing has been
made almost problematical by these very elucidations. For
instance, Pere Menestrier thinks that the Scoras mentioned by
Polybius is the Saona; Letronne, Larauza and Schweighauser think
it is the Isere; Cochard, a learned Lyonnais, calls it the Drome,
and for all who have eyes to see there are between Scoras and
Scrivia great geographical and linguistical resemblances,--to say
nothing of the probability, amounting almost to certainty, that
the Carthaginian fleet was moored in the Gulf of Spezzia or the
roadstead of Genoa. I could understand these patient researches if
there were any doubt as to the battle of Canna; but inasmuch as
the results of that great battle are known, why blacken paper with
all these suppositions (which are, as it were, the arabesques of
hypothesis) while the history most important to the present day,
that of the Reformation, is full of such obscurities that we are
ignorant of the real name of the man who navigated a vessel by
steam to Barcelona at the period when Luther and Calvin were
inaugurating the insurrection of thought.[*]

You and I hold, I think, the same opinion, after having made, each
in his own way, close researches as to the grand and splendid
figure of Catherine de' Medici. Consequently, I have thought that
my historical studies upon that queen might properly be dedicated
to an author who has written so much on the history of the
Reformation; while at the same time I offer to the character and
fidelity of a monarchical writer a public homage which may,
perhaps, be valuable on account of its rarity.

[*] The name of the man who tried this experiment at Barcelona
should be given as Salomon de Caux, not Caus. That great man
has always been unfortunate; even after his death his name is
mangled. Salomon, whose portrait taken at the age of forty-six
was discovered by the author of the "Comedy of Human Life" at
Heidelberg, was born at Caux in Normandy. He was the author of
a book entitled "The Causes of Moving Forces," in which he
gave the theory of the expansion and condensation of steam.
He died in 1635.



There is a general cry of paradox when scholars, struck by some
historical error, attempt to correct it; but, for whoever studies
modern history to its depths, it is plain that historians are
privileged liars, who lend their pen to popular beliefs precisely as
the newspapers of the day, or most of them, express the opinions of
their readers.

Historical independence has shown itself much less among lay writers
than among those of the Church. It is from the Benedictines, one of
the glories of France, that the purest light has come to us in the
matter of history,--so long, of course, as the interests of the order
were not involved. About the middle of the eighteenth century great
and learned controversialists, struck by the necessity of correcting
popular errors endorsed by historians, made and published to the world
very remarkable works. Thus Monsieur de Launoy, nicknamed the
"Expeller of Saints," made cruel war upon the saints surreptitiously
smuggled into the Church. Thus the emulators of the Benedictines, the
members (too little recognized) of the Academie des Inscriptions et
Belles-lettres, began on many obscure historical points a series of
monographs, which are admirable for patience, erudition, and logical
consistency. Thus Voltaire, for a mistaken purpose and with ill-judged
passion, frequently cast the light of his mind on historical
prejudices. Diderot undertook in this direction a book (much too long)
on the era of imperial Rome. If it had not been for the French
Revolution, /criticism/ applied to history might then have prepared
the elements of a good and true history of France, the proofs for
which had long been gathered by the Benedictines. Louis XVI., a just
mind, himself translated the English work in which Walpole endeavored
to explain Richard III.,--a work much talked of in the last century.

Why do personages so celebrated as kings and queens, so important as
the generals of armies, become objects of horror or derision? Half the
world hesitates between the famous song on Marlborough and the history
of England, and it also hesitates between history and popular
tradition as to Charles IX. At all epochs when great struggles take
place between the masses and authority, the populace creates for
itself an /ogre-esque/ personage--if it is allowable to coin a word to
convey a just idea. Thus, to take an example in our own time, if it
had not been for the "Memorial of Saint Helena," and the controversies
between the Royalists and the Bonapartists, there was every
probability that the character of Napoleon would have been
misunderstood. A few more Abbe de Pradits, a few more newspaper
articles, and from being an emperor, Napoleon would have turned into
an ogre.

How does error propagate itself? The mystery is accomplished under our
very eyes without our perceiving it. No one suspects how much solidity
the art of printing has given both to the envy which pursues
greatness, and to the popular ridicule which fastens a contrary sense
on a grand historical act. Thus, the name of the Prince de Polignac is
given throughout the length and breadth of France to all bad horses
that require whipping; and who knows how that will affect the opinion
of the future as to the /coup d'Etat/ of the Prince de Polignac
himself? In consequence of a whim of Shakespeare--or perhaps it may
have been a revenge, like that of Beaumarchais on Bergasse (Bergearss)
--Falstaff is, in England, a type of the ridiculous; his very name
provokes laughter; he is the king of clowns. Now, instead of being
enormously pot-bellied, absurdly amorous, vain, drunken, old, and
corrupted, Falstaff was one of the most distinguished men of his time,
a Knight of the Garter, holding a high command in the army. At the
accession of Henry V. Sir John Falstaff was only thirty-four years
old. This general, who distinguished himself at the battle of
Agincourt, and there took prisoner the Duc d'Alencon, captured, in
1420, the town of Montereau, which was vigorously defended. Moreover,
under Henry VI. he defeated ten thousand French troops with fifteen
hundred weary and famished men.

So much for war. Now let us pass to literature, and see our own
Rabelais, a sober man who drank nothing but water, but is held to be,
nevertheless, an extravagant lover of good cheer and a resolute
drinker. A thousand ridiculous stories are told about the author of
one of the finest books in French literature,--"Pantagruel." Aretino,
the friend of Titian, and the Voltaire of his century, has, in our
day, a reputation the exact opposite of his works and of his
character; a reputation which he owes to a grossness of wit in keeping
with the writings of his age, when broad farce was held in honor, and
queens and cardinals wrote tales which would be called, in these days,
licentious. One might go on multiplying such instances indefinitely.

In France, and that, too, during the most serious epoch of modern
history, no woman, unless it be Brunehaut or Fredegonde, has suffered
from popular error so much as Catherine de' Medici; whereas Marie de'
Medici, all of whose actions were prejudicial to France, has escaped
the shame which ought to cover her name. Marie de' Medici wasted the
wealth amassed by Henri IV.; she never purged herself of the charge of
having known of the king's assassination; her /intimate/ was
d'Epernon, who did not ward off Ravaillac's blow, and who was proved
to have known the murderer personally for a long time. Marie's conduct
was such that she forced her son to banish her from France, where she
was encouraging her other son, Gaston, to rebel; and the victory
Richelieu at last won over her (on the Day of the Dupes) was due
solely to the discovery the cardinal made, and imparted to Louis
XIII., of secret documents relating to the death of Henri IV.

Catherine de' Medici, on the contrary, saved the crown of France; she
maintained the royal authority in the midst of circumstances under
which more than one great prince would have succumbed. Having to make
head against factions and ambitions like those of the Guises and the
house of Bourbon, against men such as the two Cardinals of Lorraine,
the two Balafres, and the two Condes, against the queen Jeanne
d'Albret, Henri IV., the Connetable de Montmorency, Calvin, the three
Colignys, Theodore de Beze, she needed to possess and to display the
rare qualities and precious gifts of a statesman under the mocking
fire of the Calvinist press.

Those facts are incontestable. Therefore, to whosoever burrows into
the history of the sixteenth century in France, the figure of
Catherine de' Medici will seem like that of a great king. When calumny
is once dissipated by facts, recovered with difficulty from among the
contradictions of pamphlets and false anecdotes, all explains itself
to the fame of this extraordinary woman, who had none of the
weaknesses of her sex, who lived chaste amid the license of the most
dissolute court in Europe, and who, in spite of her lack of money,
erected noble public buildings, as if to repair the loss caused by the
iconoclasms of the Calvinists, who did as much harm to art as to the
body politic. Hemmed in between the Guises who claimed to be the heirs
of Charlemagne and the factious younger branch who sought to screen
the treachery of the Connetable de Bourbon behind the throne,
Catherine, forced to combat heresy which was seeking to annihilate the
monarchy, without friends, aware of treachery among the leaders of the
Catholic party, foreseeing a republic in the Calvinist party,
Catherine employed the most dangerous but the surest weapon of public
policy,--craft. She resolved to trick and so defeat, successively, the
Guises who were seeking the ruin of the house of Valois, the Bourbons
who sought the crown, and the Reformers (the Radicals of those days)
who dreamed of an impossible republic--like those of our time; who
have, however, nothing to reform. Consequently, so long as she lived,
the Valois kept the throne of France. The great historian of that
time, de Thou, knew well the value of this woman when, on hearing of
her death, he exclaimed: "It is not a woman, it is monarchy itself
that has died!"

Catherine had, in the highest degree, the sense of royalty, and she
defended it with admirable courage and persistency. The reproaches
which Calvinist writers have cast upon her are to her glory; she
incurred them by reason only of her triumphs. Could she, placed as she
was, triumph otherwise than by craft? The whole question lies there.

As for violence, that means is one of the most disputed questions of
public policy; in our time it has been answered on the Place Louis
XV., where they have now set up an Egyptian stone, as if to obliterate
regicide and offer a symbol of the system of materialistic policy
which governs us; it was answered at the Carmes and at the Abbaye;
answered on the steps of Saint-Roch; answered once more by the people
against the king before the Louvre in 1830, as it has since been
answered by Lafayette's best of all possible republics against the
republican insurrection at Saint-Merri and the rue Transnonnain. All
power, legitimate or illegitimate, must defend itself when attacked;
but the strange thing is that where the people are held heroic in
their victory over the nobility, power is called murderous in its duel
with the people. If it succumbs after its appeal to force, power is
then called imbecile. The present government is attempting to save
itself by two laws from the same evil Charles X. tried to escape by
two ordinances; is it not a bitter derision? Is craft permissible in
the hands of power against craft? may it kill those who seek to kill
it? The massacres of the Revolution have replied to the massacres of
Saint-Bartholomew. The people, become king, have done against the king
and the nobility what the king and the nobility did against the
insurgents of the sixteenth century. Therefore the popular historians,
who know very well that in a like case the people will do the same
thing over again, have no excuse for blaming Catherine de' Medici and
Charles IX.

"All power," said Casimir Perier, on learning what power ought to be,
"is a permanent conspiracy." We admire the anti-social maxims put
forth by daring writers; why, then, this disapproval which, in France,
attaches to all social truths when boldly proclaimed? This question
will explain, in itself alone, historical errors. Apply the answer to
the destructive doctrines which flatter popular passions, and to the
conservative doctrines which repress the mad efforts of the people,
and you will find the reason of the unpopularity and also the
popularity of certain personages. Laubardemont and Laffemas were, like
some men of to-day, devoted to the defence of power in which they
believed. Soldiers or judges, they all obeyed royalty. In these days
d'Orthez would be dismissed for having misunderstood the orders of the
ministry, but Charles X. left him governor of a province. The power of
the many is accountable to no one; the power of one is compelled to
render account to its subjects, to the great as well as to the small.

Catherine, like Philip the Second and the Duke of Alba, like the
Guises and Cardinal Granvelle, saw plainly the future that the
Reformation was bringing upon Europe. She and they saw monarchies,
religion, authority shaken. Catherine wrote, from the cabinet of the
kings of France, a sentence of death to that spirit of inquiry which
then began to threaten modern society; a sentence which Louis XIV.
ended by executing. The revocation of the Edict of Nantes was an
unfortunate measure only so far as it caused the irritation of all
Europe against Louis XIV. At another period England, Holland, and the
Holy Roman Empire would not have welcomed banished Frenchmen and
encouraged revolt in France.

Why refuse, in these days, to the majestic adversary of the most
barren of heresies the grandeur she derived from the struggle itself?
Calvinists have written much against the "craftiness" of Charles IX.;
but travel through France, see the ruins of noble churches, estimate
the fearful wounds given by the religionists to the social body, learn
what vengeance they inflicted, and you will ask yourself, as you
deplore the evils of individualism (the disease of our present France,
the germ of which was in the questions of liberty of conscience then
agitated),--you will ask yourself, I say, on which side were the
executioners. There are, unfortunately, as Catherine herself says in
the third division of this Study of her career, "in all ages
hypocritical writers always ready to weep over the fate of two hundred
scoundrels killed necessarily." Caesar, who tried to move the senate to
pity the attempt of Catiline, might perhaps have got the better of
Cicero could he have had an Opposition and its newspapers at his

Another consideration explains the historical and popular disfavor in
which Catherine is held. The Opposition in France has always been
Protestant, because it has had no policy but that of /negation/; it
inherits the theories of Lutherans, Calvinists, and Protestants on the
terrible words "liberty," "tolerance," "progress," and "philosophy."
Two centuries have been employed by the opponents of power in
establishing the doubtful doctrine of the /libre arbitre/,--liberty of
will. Two other centuries were employed in developing the first
corollary of liberty of will, namely, liberty of conscience. Our
century is endeavoring to establish the second, namely, political

Placed between the ground already lost and the ground still to be
defended, Catherine and the Church proclaimed the salutary principle
of modern societies, /una fides, unus dominus/, using their power of
life and death upon the innovators. Though Catherine was vanquished,
succeeding centuries have proved her justification. The product of
liberty of will, religious liberty, and political liberty (not,
observe this, to be confounded with civil liberty) is the France of
to-day. What is the France of 1840? A country occupied exclusively
with material interests,--without patriotism, without conscience;
where power has no vigor; where election, the fruit of liberty of will
and political liberty, lifts to the surface none but commonplace men;
where brute force has now become a necessity against popular violence;
where discussion, spreading into everything, stifles the action of
legislative bodies; where money rules all questions; where
individualism--the dreadful product of the division of property /ad
infinitum/--will suppress the family and devour all, even the nation,
which egoism will some day deliver over to invasion. Men will say,
"Why not the Czar?" just as they said, "Why not the Duc d'Orleans?" We
don't cling to many things even now; but fifty years hence we shall
cling to nothing.

Thus, according to Catherine de' Medici and according to all those who
believe in a well-ordered society, in /social man/, the subject cannot
have liberty of will, ought not to /teach/ the dogma of liberty of
conscience, or demand political liberty. But, as no society can exist
without guarantees granted to the subject against the sovereign, there
results for the subject /liberties/ subject to restriction. Liberty,
no; liberties, yes,--precise and well-defined liberties. That is in
harmony with the nature of things.

It is, assuredly, beyond the reach of human power to prevent the
liberty of thought; and no sovereign can interfere with money. The
great statesmen who were vanquished in the long struggle (it lasted
five centuries) recognized the right of subjects to great liberties;
but they did not admit their right to publish anti-social thoughts,
nor did they admit the indefinite liberty of the subject. To them the
words "subject" and "liberty" were terms that contradicted each other;
just as the theory of citizens being all equal constitutes an
absurdity which nature contradicts at every moment. To recognize the
necessity of a religion, the necessity of authority, and then to leave
to subjects the right to deny religion, attack its worship, oppose the
exercise of power by public expression communicable and communicated
by thought, was an impossibility which the Catholics of the sixteenth
century would not hear of.

Alas! the victory of Calvinism will cost France more in the future
than it has yet cost her; for religious sects and humanitarian,
equality-levelling politics are, to-day, the tail of Calvinism; and,
judging by the mistakes of the present power, its contempt for
intellect, its love for material interests, in which it seeks the
basis of its support (though material interests are the most
treacherous of all supports), we may predict that unless some
providence intervenes, the genius of destruction will again carry the
day over the genius of preservation. The assailants, who have nothing
to lose and all to gain, understand each other thoroughly; whereas
their rich adversaries will not make any sacrifice either of money or
self-love to draw to themselves supporters.

The art of printing came to the aid of the opposition begun by the
Vaudois and the Albigenses. As soon as human thought, instead of
condensing itself, as it was formerly forced to do to remain in
communicable form, took on a multitude of garments and became, as it
were, the people itself, instead of remaining a sort of axiomatic
divinity, there were two multitudes to combat,--the multitude of
ideas, and the multitude of men. The royal power succumbed in that
warfare, and we are now assisting, in France, at its last combination
with elements which render its existence difficult, not to say
impossible. Power is action, and the elective principle is discussion.
There is no policy, no statesmanship possible where discussion is

Therefore we ought to recognize the grandeur of the woman who had the
eyes to see this future and fought it bravely. That the house of
Bourbon was able to succeed to the house of Valois, that it found a
crown preserved to it, was due solely to Catherine de' Medici. Suppose
the second Balafre had lived? No matter how strong the Bearnais was,
it is doubtful whether he could have seized the crown, seeing how
dearly the Duc de Mayenne and the remains of the Guise party sold it
to him. The means employed by Catherine, who certainly had to reproach
herself with the deaths of Francois II. and Charles IX., whose lives
might have been saved in time, were never, it is observable, made the
subject of accusations by either the Calvinists or modern historians.
Though there was no poisoning, as some grave writers have said, there
was other conduct almost as criminal; there is no doubt she hindered
Pare from saving one, and allowed the other to accomplish his own doom
by moral assassination. But the sudden death of Francois II., and that
of Charles IX., were no injury to the Calvinists, and therefore the
causes of these two events remained in their secret sphere, and were
never suspected either by the writers of the people of that day; they
were not divined except by de Thou, l'Hopital, and minds of that
calibre, or by the leaders of the two parties who were coveting or
defending the throne, and believed such means necessary to their end.

Popular songs attacked, strangely enough, Catherine's morals. Every
one knows the anecdote of the soldier who was roasting a goose in the
courtyard of the chateau de Tours during the conference between
Catherine and Henri IV., singing, as he did so, a song in which the
queen was grossly insulted. Henri IV. drew his sword to go out and
kill the man; but Catherine stopped him and contented herself with
calling from the window to her insulter:--

"Eh! but it was Catherine who gave you the goose."

Though the executions at Amboise were attributed to Catherine, and
though the Calvinists made her responsible for all the inevitable
evils of that struggle, it was with her as it was, later, with
Robespierre, who is still waiting to be justly judged. Catherine was,
moreover, rightly punished for her preference for the Duc d'Anjou, to
whose interests the two elder brothers were sacrificed. Henri III.,
like all spoilt children, ended in becoming absolutely indifferent to
his mother, and he plunged voluntarily into the life of debauchery
which made of him what his mother had made of Charles IX., a husband
without sons, a king without heirs. Unhappily the Duc d'Alencon,
Catherine's last male child, had already died, a natural death.

The last words of the great queen were like a summing up of her
lifelong policy, which was, moreover, so plain in its common-sense
that all cabinets are seen under similar circumstances to put it in

"Enough cut off, my son," she said when Henri III. came to her death-
bed to tell her that the great enemy of the crown was dead, "/now
piece together/."

By which she meant that the throne should at once reconcile itself
with the house of Lorraine and make use of it, as the only means of
preventing evil results from the hatred of the Guises,--by holding out
to them the hope of surrounding the king. But the persistent craft and
dissimulation of the woman and the Italian, which she had never failed
to employ, was incompatible with the debauched life of her son.
Catherine de' Medici once dead, the policy of the Valois died also.

Before undertaking to write the history of the manners and morals of
this period in action, the author of this Study has patiently and
minutely examined the principal reigns in the history of France, the
quarrel of the Burgundians and the Armagnacs, that of the Guises and
the Valois, each of which covers a century. His first intention was to
write a picturesque history of France. Three women--Isabella of
Bavaria, Catharine and Marie de' Medici--hold an enormous place in it,
their sway reaching from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century,
ending in Louis XIV. Of these three queens, Catherine is the finer and
more interesting. Hers was virile power, dishonored neither by the
terrible amours of Isabella nor by those, even more terrible, though
less known, of Marie de' Medici. Isabella summoned the English into
France against her son, and loved her brother-in-law, the Duc
d'Orleans. The record of Marie de' Medici is heavier still. Neither
had political genius.

It was in the course of these studies that the writer acquired the
conviction of Catherine's greatness; as he became initiated into the
constantly renewed difficulties of her position, he saw with what
injustice historians--all influenced by Protestants--had treated this
queen. Out of this conviction grew the three sketches which here
follow; in which some erroneous opinions formed upon Catherine, also
upon the persons who surrounded her, and on the events of her time,
are refuted. If this book is placed among the Philosophical Studies,
it is because it shows the Spirit of a Time, and because we may
clearly see in it the influence of thought.

But before entering the political arena, where Catherine will be seen
facing the two great difficulties of her career, it is necessary to
give a succinct account of her preceding life, from the point of view
of impartial criticism, in order to take in as much as possible of
this vast and regal existence up to the moment when the first part of
the present Study begins.

Never was there any period, in any land, in any sovereign family, a
greater contempt for legitimacy than in the famous house of the
Medici. On the subject of power they held the same doctrine now
professed by Russia, namely: to whichever head the crown goes, he is
the true, the legitimate sovereign. Mirabeau had reason to say: "There
has been but one mesalliance in my family,--that of the Medici"; for
in spite of the paid efforts of genealogists, it is certain that the
Medici, before Everardo de' Medici, /gonfaloniero/ of Florence in
1314, were simple Florentine merchants who became very rich. The first
personage in this family who occupies an important place in the
history of the famous Tuscan republic is Silvestro de' Medici,
/gonfaloniero/ in 1378. This Silvestro had two sons, Cosmo and Lorenzo
de' Medici.

From Cosmo are descended Lorenzo the Magnificent, the Duc de Nemours,
the Duc d'Urbino, father of Catherine, Pope Leo X., Pope Clement VII.,
and Alessandro, not Duke of Florence, as historians call him, but Duke
/della citta di Penna/, a title given by Pope Clement VII., as a half-
way station to that of Grand-duke of Tuscany.

From Lorenzo are descended the Florentine Brutus Lorenzino, who killed
Alessandro, Cosmo, the first grand-duke, and all the sovereigns of
Tuscany till 1737, at which period the house became extinct.

But neither of the two branches--the branch Cosmo and the branch
Lorenzo--reigned through their direct and legitimate lines until the
close of the sixteenth century, when the grand-dukes of Tuscany began
to succeed each other peacefully. Alessandro de' Medici, he to whom
the title of Duke /della citta di Penna/ was given, was the son of the
Duke d'Urbino, Catherine's father, by a Moorish slave. For this reason
Lorenzino claimed a double right to kill Alessandro,--as a usurper in
his house, as well as an oppressor of the city. Some historians
believe that Alessandro was the son of Clement VII. The fact that led
to the recognition of this bastard as chief of the republic and head
of the house of the Medici was his marriage with Margaret of Austria,
natural daughter of Charles V.

Francesco de' Medici, husband of Bianca Capello, accepted as his son a
child of poor parents bought by the celebrated Venetian; and, strange
to say, Ferdinando, on succeeding Francesco, maintained the
substituted child in all his rights. That child, called Antonio de'
Medici, was considered during four reigns as belonging to the family;
he won the affection of everybody, rendered important services to the
family, and died universally regretted.

Nearly all the first Medici had natural children, whose careers were
invariably brilliant. For instance, the Cardinal Giulio de' Medici,
afterwards Pope under the name of Clement VII., was the illegitimate
son of Giuliano I. Cardinal Ippolito de' Medici was also a bastard,
and came very near being Pope and the head of the family.

Lorenzo II., the father of Catherine, married in 1518, for his second
wife, Madeleine de la Tour de Boulogne, in Auvergne, and died April
25, 1519, a few days after his wife, who died in giving birth to
Catherine. Catherine was therefore orphaned of father and mother as
soon as she drew breath. Hence the strange adventures of her
childhood, mixed up as they were with the bloody efforts of the
Florentines, then seeking to recover their liberty from the Medici.
The latter, desirous of continuing to reign in Florence, behaved with
such circumspection that Lorenzo, Catherine's father, had taken the
name of Duke d'Urbino.

At Lorenzo's death, the head of the house of the Medici was Pope Leo
X., who sent the illegitimate son of Giuliano, Giulio de' Medici, then
cardinal, to govern Florence. Leo X. was great-uncle to Catherine, and
this Cardinal Giulio, afterward Clement VII., was her uncle by the
left hand.

It was during the siege of Florence, undertaken by the Medici to force
their return there, that the Republican party, not content with having
shut Catherine, then nine years old, into a convent, after robbing her
of all her property, actually proposed, on the suggestion of one named
Batista Cei, to expose her between two battlements on the walls to the
artillery of the Medici. Bernardo Castiglione went further in a
council held to determine how matters should be ended: he was of
opinion that, so far from returning her to the Pope as the latter
requested, she ought to be given to the soldiers for dishonor. This
will show how all popular revolutions resemble each other. Catherine's
subsequent policy, which upheld so firmly the royal power, may well
have been instigated in part by such scenes, of which an Italian girl
of nine years of age was assuredly not ignorant.

The rise of Alessandro de' Medici, to which the bastard Pope Clement
VII. powerfully contributed, was no doubt chiefly caused by the
affection of Charles V. for his famous illegitimate daughter Margaret.
Thus Pope and emperor were prompted by the same sentiment. At this
epoch Venice had the commerce of the world; Rome had its moral
government; Italy still reigned supreme through the poets, the
generals, the statesmen born to her. At no period of the world's
history, in any land, was there ever seen so remarkable, so abundant a
collection of men of genius. There were so many, in fact, that even
the lesser princes were superior men. Italy was crammed with talent,
enterprise, knowledge, science, poesy, wealth, and gallantry, all the
while torn by intestinal warfare and overrun with conquerors
struggling for possession of her finest provinces. When men are so
strong, they do not fear to admit their weaknesses. Hence, no doubt,
this golden age for bastards. We must, moreover, do the illegitimate
children of the house of the Medici the justice to say that they were
ardently devoted to the glory, power, and increase of wealth of that
famous family. Thus as soon as the /Duca della citta di Penna/, son of
the Moorish woman, was installed as tyrant of Florence, he espoused
the interest of Pope Clement VII., and gave a home to the daughter of
Lorenzo II., then eleven years of age.

When we study the march of events and that of men in this curious
sixteenth century, we ought never to forget that public policy had for
its element a perpetual craftiness and a dissimulation which
destroyed, in all characters, the straightforward, upright bearing our
imaginations demand of eminent personages. In this, above all, is
Catherine's absolution. It disposes of the vulgar and foolish
accusations of treachery launched against her by the writers of the
Reformation. This was the great age of that statesmanship the code of
which was written by Macchiavelli as well as by Spinosa, by Hobbes as
well as by Montesquieu,--for the dialogue between Sylla and Eucrates
contains Montesquieu's true thought, which his connection with the
Encyclopedists did not permit him to develop otherwise than as he did.

These principles are to-day the secret law of all cabinets in which
plans for the conquest and maintenance of great power are laid. In
France we blamed Napoleon when he made use of that Italian genius for
craft which was bred in his bone,--though in his case it did not
always succeed. But Charles V., Catherine, Philip II., and Pope Julius
would not have acted otherwise than as he did in the affair of Spain.
History, in the days when Catherine was born, if judged from the point
of view of honesty, would seem an impossible tale. Charles V., obliged
to sustain Catholicism against the attacks of Luther, who threatened
the Throne in threatening the Tiara, allowed the siege of Rome and
held Pope Clement VII. in prison! This same Clement, who had no
bitterer enemy than Charles V., courted him in order to make
Alessandro de' Medici ruler of Florence, and obtained his favorite
daughter for that bastard. No sooner was Alessandro established than
he, conjointly with Clement VII., endeavored to injure Charles V. by
allying himself with Francois I., king of France, by means of
Catherine de' Medici; and both of them promised to assist Francois in
reconquering Italy. Lorenzino de' Medici made himself the companion of
Alessandro's debaucheries for the express purpose of finding an
opportunity to kill him. Filippo Strozzi, one of the great minds of
that day, held this murder in such respect that he swore that his sons
should each marry a daughter of the murderer; and each son religiously
fulfilled his father's oath when they might all have made, under
Catherine's protection, brilliant marriages; for one was the rival of
Doria, the other a marshal of France. Cosmo de' Medici, successor of
Alessandro, with whom he had no relationship, avenged the death of
that tyrant in the cruellest manner, with a persistency lasting twelve
years; during which time his hatred continued keen against the persons
who had, as a matter of fact, given him the power. He was eighteen
years old when called to the sovereignty; his first act was to declare
the rights of Alessandro's legitimate sons null and void,--all the
while avenging their father's death! Charles V. confirmed the
disinheriting of his grandsons, and recognized Cosmo instead of the
son of Alessandro and his daughter Margaret. Cosmo, placed on the
throne by Cardinal Cibo, instantly exiled the latter; and the cardinal
revenged himself by accusing Cosmo (who was the first grand-duke) of
murdering Alessandro's son. Cosmo, as jealous of his power as Charles
V. was of his, abdicated in favor of his son Francesco, after causing
the death of his other son, Garcia, to avenge the death of Cardinal
Giovanni de' Medici, whom Garcia had assassinated. Cosmo the First and
his son Francesco, who ought to have been devoted, body and soul, to
the house of France, the only power on which they might really have
relied, made themselves the lacqueys of Charles V. and Philip II., and
were consequently the secret, base, and perfidious enemies of
Catherine de' Medici, one of the glories of their house.

Such were the leading contradictory and illogical traits, the
treachery, knavery, and black intrigues of a single house, that of the
Medici. From this sketch, we may judge of the other princes of Italy
and Europe. All the envoys of Cosmos I. to the court of France had, in
their secret instructions, an order to poison Strozzi, Catherine's
relation, when he arrived. Charles V. had already assassinated three
of the ambassadors of Francois I.

It was early in the month of October, 1533, that the /Duca della citta
di Penna/ started from Florence for Livorno, accompanied by the sole
heiress of Lorenzo II., namely, Catherine de' Medici. The duke and the
Princess of Florence, for that was the title by which the young girl,
then fourteen years of age, was known, left the city surrounded by a
large retinue of servants, officers, and secretaries, preceded by
armed men, and followed by an escort of cavalry. The young princess
knew nothing as yet of what her fate was to be, except that the Pope
was to have an interview at Livorno with the Duke Alessandro; but her
uncle, Filippo Strozzi, very soon informed her of the future before

Filippo Strozzi had married Clarice de' Medici, half-sister on the
father's side of Lorenzo de' Medici, Duke of Urbino, father of
Catherine; but this marriage, which was brought about as much to
convert one of the firmest supporters of the popular party to the
cause of the Medici as to facilitate the recall of that family, then
banished from Florence, never shook the stern champion from his
course, though he was persecuted by his own party for making it. In
spite of all apparent changes in his conduct (for this alliance
naturally affected it somewhat) he remained faithful to the popular
party, and declared himself openly against the Medici as soon as he
foresaw their intention to enslave Florence. This great man even
refused the offer of a principality made to him by Leo X.

At the time of which we are now writing Filippo Strozzi was a victim
to the policy of the Medici, so vacillating in its means, so fixed and
inflexible in its object. After sharing the misfortunes and the
captivity of Clement VII. when the latter, surprised by the Colonna,
took refuge in the Castle of Saint-Angelo, Strozzi was delivered up by
Clement as a hostage and taken to Naples. As the Pope, when he got his
liberty, turned savagely on his enemies, Strozzi came very near losing
his life, and was forced to pay an enormous sum to be released from a
prison where he was closely confined. When he found himself at liberty
he had, with an instinct of kindness natural to an honest man, the
simplicity to present himself before Clement VII., who had perhaps
congratulated himself on being well rid of him. The Pope had such good
cause to blush for his own conduct that he received Strozzi extremely

Strozzi thus began, early in life, his apprenticeship in the
misfortunes of an honest man in politics,--a man whose conscience
cannot lend itself to the capriciousness of events; whose actions are
acceptable only to the virtuous; and who is therefore persecuted by
the world,--by the people, for opposing their blind passions; by power
for opposing its usurpations. The life of such great citizens is a
martyrdom, in which they are sustained only by the voice of their
conscience and an heroic sense of social duty, which dictates their
course in all things. There were many such men in the republic of
Florence, all as great as Strozzi, and as able as their adversaries
the Medici, though vanquished by the superior craft and wiliness of
the latter. What could be more worthy of admiration than the conduct
of the chief of the Pazzi at the time of the conspiracy of his house,
when, his commerce being at that time enormous, he settled all his
accounts with Asia, the Levant, and Europe before beginning that great
attempt; so that, if it failed, his correspondents should lose

The history of the establishment of the house of the Medici in the
fourteenth and fifteenth centuries is a magnificent tale which still
remains to be written, though men of genius have already put their
hands to it. It is not the history of a republic, nor of a society,
nor of any special civilization; it is the history of STATESMEN, the
eternal history of Politics,--that of usurpers, that of conquerors.

As soon as Filippo Strozzi returned to Florence he re-established the
preceding form of government and ousted Ippolito de' Medici, another
bastard, and the very Alessandro with whom, at the later period of
which we are now writing, he was travelling to Livorno. Having
completed this change of government, he became alarmed at the evident
inconstancy of the people of Florence, and, fearing the vengeance of
Clement VII., he went to Lyon to superintend a vast house of business
he owned there, which corresponded with other banking-houses of his
own in Venice, Rome, France, and Spain. Here we find a strange thing.
These men who bore the weight of public affairs and of such a struggle
as that with the Medici (not to speak of contentions with their own
party) found time and strength to bear the burden of a vast business
and all its speculations, also of banks and their complications, which
the multiplicity of coinages and their falsification rendered even
more difficult than it is in our day. The name "banker" comes from the
/banc/ (Anglice, /bench/) upon which the banker sat, and on which he
rang the gold and silver pieces to try their quality. After a time
Filippo found in the death of his wife, whom he adored, a pretext for
renewing his relations with the Republican party, whose secret police
becomes the more terrible in all republics, because every one makes
himself a spy in the name of a liberty which justifies everything.

Filippo returned to Florence at the very moment when that city was
compelled to adopt the yoke of Alessandro; but he had previously gone
to Rome and seen Pope Clement VII., whose affairs were now so
prosperous that his disposition toward Strozzi was much changed. In
the hour of triumph the Medici were so much in need of a man like
Filippo--were it only to smooth the return of Alessandro--that Clement
urged him to take a seat at the Council of the bastard who was about
to oppress the city; and Strozzi consented to accept the diploma of a

But, for the last two years and more, he had seen, like Seneca and
Burrhus, the beginnings of tyranny in his Nero. He felt himself, at
the moment of which we write, an object of so much distrust on the
part of the people and so suspected by the Medici whom he was
constantly resisting, that he was confident of some impending
catastrophe. Consequently, as soon as he heard from Alessandro of the
negotiation for Catherine's marriage with the son of Francois I., the
final arrangements for which were to be made at Livorno, where the
negotiators had appointed to meet, he formed the plan of going to
France, and attaching himself to the fortunes of his niece, who needed
a guardian.

Alessandro, delighted to rid himself of a man so unaccommodating in
the affairs of Florence, furthered a plan which relieved him of one
murder at least, and advised Strozzi to put himself at the head of
Catherine's household. In order to dazzle the eyes of France the
Medici had selected a brilliant suite for her whom they styled, very
unwarrantably, the Princess of Florence, and who also went by the name
of the little Duchess d'Urbino. The cortege, at the head of which rode
Alessandro, Catherine, and Strozzi, was composed of more than a
thousand persons, not including the escort and servants. When the last
of it issued from the gates of Florence the head had passed that first
village beyond the city where they now braid the Tuscan straw hats. It
was beginning to be rumored among the people that Catherine was to
marry a son of Francois I.; but the rumor did not obtain much belief
until the Tuscans beheld with their own eyes this triumphal procession
from Florence to Livorno.

Catherine herself, judging by all the preparations she beheld, began
to suspect that her marriage was in question, and her uncle then
revealed to her the fact that the first ambitious project of his house
had aborted, and that the hand of the dauphin had been refused to her.
Alessandro still hoped that the Duke of Albany would succeed in
changing this decision of the king of France who, willing as he was to
buy the support of the Medici in Italy, would only grant them his
second son, the Duc d'Orleans. This petty blunder lost Italy to
France, and did not prevent Catherine from becoming queen.

The Duke of Albany, son of Alexander Stuart, brother of James III.,
king of Scotland, had married Anne de la Tour de Boulogne, sister of
Madeleine de la Tour de Boulogne, Catherine's mother; he was therefore
her maternal uncle. It was through her mother that Catherine was so
rich and allied to so many great families; for, strangely enough, her
rival, Diane de Poitiers, was also her cousin. Jean de Poitiers,
father of Diane, was son of Jeanne de Boulogne, aunt of the Duchess
d'Urbino. Catherine was also a cousin of Mary Stuart, her daughter-in-

Catherine now learned that her dowry in money was a hundred thousand
ducats. A ducat was a gold piece of the size of an old French louis,
though less thick. (The old louis was worth twenty-four francs--the
present one is worth twenty). The Comtes of Auvergne and Lauraguais
were also made a part of the dowry, and Pope Clement added one hundred
thousand ducats in jewels, precious stones, and other wedding gifts;
to which Alessandro likewise contributed his share.

On arriving at Livorno, Catherine, still so young, must have been
flattered by the extreme magnificence displayed by Pope Clement ("her
uncle in Notre-Dame," then head of the house of the Medici), in order
to outdo the court of France. He had already arrived at Livorno in one
of his galleys, which was lined with crimson satin fringed with gold,
and covered with a tent-like awning in cloth of gold. This galley, the
decoration of which cost twenty thousand ducats, contained several
apartments destined for the bride of Henri of France, all of which
were furnished with the richest treasures of art the Medici could
collect. The rowers, magnificently apparelled, and the crew were under
the command of a prior of the order of the Knights of Rhodes. The
household of the Pope were in three other galleys. The galleys of the
Duke of Albany, anchored near those of Clement VII., added to the size
and dignity of the flotilla.

Duke Alessandro presented the officers of Catherine's household to the
Pope, with whom he had a secret conference, in which, it would appear,
he presented to his Holiness Count Sebastiano Montecuculi, who had
just left, somewhat abruptly, the service of Charles V. and that of
his two generals, Antonio di Leyva and Ferdinando di Gonzago. Was
there between the two bastards, Giulio and Alessandro, a premeditated
intention of making the Duc d'Orleans dauphin? What reward was
promised to Sebastiano Montecuculi, who, before entering the service
of Charles V. had studied medicine? History is silent on that point.
We shall see presently what clouds hang round that fact. The obscurity
is so great that, quite recently, grave and conscientious historians
have admitted Montecuculi's innocence.

Catherine then heard officially from the Pope's own lips of the
alliance reserved for her. The Duke of Albany had been able to do no
more than hold the king of France, and that with difficulty, to his
promise of giving Catherine the hand of his second son, the Duc
d'Orleans. The Pope's impatience was so great, and he was so afraid
that his plans would be thwarted either by some intrigue of the
emperor, or by the refusal of France, or by the grandees of the
kingdom looking with evil eye upon the marriage, that he gave orders
to embark at once, and sailed for Marseille, where he arrived toward
the end of October, 1533.

Notwithstanding its wealth, the house of the Medici was eclipsed on
this occasion by the court of France. To show the lengths to which the
Medici pushed their magnificence, it is enough to say that the "dozen"
put into the bride's purse by the Pope were twelve gold medals of
priceless historical value, which were then unique. But Francois I.,
who loved the display of festivals, distinguished himself on this
occasion. The wedding festivities of Henri de Valois and Catherine de'
Medici lasted thirty-four days.

It is useless to repeat the details, which have been given in all the
histories of Provence and Marseille, as to this celebrated interview
between the Pope and the king of France, which was opened by a jest of
the Duke of Albany as to the duty of keeping fasts,--a jest mentioned
by Brantome and much enjoyed by the court, which shows the tone of the
manners of that day.

Many conjectures have been made as to Catherine's barrenness, which
lasted ten years. Strange calumnies still rest upon this queen, all of
whose actions were fated to be misjudged. It is sufficient to say that
the cause was solely in Henri II. After the difficulty was removed,
Catherine had ten children. The delay was, in one respect, fortunate
for France. If Henri II. had had children by Diane de Poitiers the
politics of the kingdom would have been dangerously complicated. When
the difficulty was removed the Duchesse de Valentinois had reached the
period of a woman's second youth. This matter alone will show that the
true life of Catherine de' Medici is still to be written, and also--as
Napoleon said with profound wisdom--that the history of France should
be either in one volume only, or one thousand.

Here is a contemporaneous and succinct account of the meeting of
Clement VII. and the king of France:

"His Holiness the Pope, having been conducted to the palace, which
was, as I have said, prepared beyond the port, every one retired
to their own quarters till the morrow, when his Holiness was to
make his entry; the which was made with great sumptuousness and
magnificence, he being seated in a chair carried on the shoulders
of two men and wearing his pontifical robes, but not the tiara.
Pacing before him was a white hackney, bearing the sacrament of
the altar,--the said hackney being led by reins of white silk held
by two footmen finely equipped. Next came all the cardinals in
their robes, on pontifical mules, and Madame la Duchesse d'Urbino
in great magnificence, accompanied by a vast number of ladies and
gentlemen, both French and Italian.

"The Holy Father having arrived in the midst of this company at
the place appointed for his lodging, every one retired; and all
this, being well-ordered, took place without disorder or tumult.
While the Pope was thus making his entry, the king crossed the
water in a frigate and went to the lodging the Pope had just
quitted, in order to go the next day and make obeisance to the
Holy Father as a Most Christian king.

"The next day the king being prepared set forth for the palace
where was the Pope, accompanied by the princes of the blood, such
as Monseigneur le Duc de Vendomois (father of the Vidame de
Chartres), the Comte de Sainct-Pol, Messieurs de Montpensier and
la Roche-sur-Yon, the Duc de Nemours (brother of the Duc de
Savoie) who died in this said place, the Duke of Albany, and many
others, whether counts, barons, or seigneurs; nearest to the king
was the Seigneur de Montmorency, his Grand-master.

"The king, being arrived at the palace, was received by the Pope
and all the college of cardinals, assembled in consistory, most
civilly. This done, each retired to the place ordained for him,
the king taking with him several cardinals to feast them,--among
them Cardinal de' Medici, nephew of the Pope, a very splendid man
with a fine retinue.

"On the morrow those persons chosen by his Holiness and by the
king began to assemble to discuss the matters for which the
meeting was made. First, the matter of the Faith was treated of,
and a bull was put forth repressing heresy and preventing that
things come to greater combustion than they now are.

"After this was concluded the marriage of the Duc d'Orleans,
second son of the king, with Catherine de' Medici, Duchesse
d'Urbino, niece of his Holiness, under the conditions such, or
like to those, as were proposed formerly by the Duke of Albany.
The said espousals were celebrated with great magnificence, and
our Holy Father himself wedded the pair. The marriage thus
consummated, the Holy Father held a consistory at which he created
four cardinals and devoted them to the king,--to wit: Cardinal Le
Veneur, formerly bishop of Lisieux and grand almoner; the Cardinal
de Boulogne of the family of la Chambre, brother on the mother's
side of the Duke of Albany; the Cardinal de Chatillon of the house
of Coligny, nephew of the Sire de Montmorency, and the Cardinal de

When Strozzi delivered the dowry in presence of the court he noticed
some surprise on the part of the French seigneurs; they even said
aloud that it was little enough for such a mesalliance (what would
they have said in these days?). Cardinal Ippolito replied, saying:--

"You must be ill-informed as to the secrets of your king. His Holiness
has bound himself to give to France three pearls of inestimable value,
namely: Genoa, Milan, and Naples."

The Pope left Sebastiano Montecuculi to present himself to the court
of France, to which the count offered his services, complaining of his
treatment by Antonio di Leyva and Ferdinando di Gonzago, for which
reason his services were accepted. Montecuculi was not made a part of
Catherine's household, which was wholly composed of French men and
women, for, by a law of the monarchy, the execution of which the Pope
saw with great satisfaction, Catherine was naturalized by letters-
patent as a Frenchwoman before the marriage. Montecuculi was appointed
in the first instance to the household of the queen, the sister of
Charles V. After a while he passed into the service of the dauphin as

The new Duchesse d'Orleans soon found herself a nullity at the court
of Francois I. Her young husband was in love with Diane de Poitiers,
who certainly, in the matter of birth, could rival Catherine, and was
far more of a great lady than the little Florentine. The daughter of
the Medici was also outdone by Queen Eleonore, sister of Charles V.,
and by Madame d'Etampes, whose marriage with the head of the house of
Brosse made her one of the most powerful and best titled women in
France. Catherine's aunt the Duchess of Albany, the Queen of Navarre,
the Duchesse de Guise, the Duchesse de Vendome, Madame la Connetable
de Montmorency, and other women of like importance, eclipsed by birth
and by their rights, as well as by their power at the most sumptuous
court of France (not excepting that of Louis XIV.), the daughter of
the Florentine grocers, who was richer and more illustrious through
the house of the Tour de Boulogne than by her own family of Medici.

The position of his niece was so bad and difficult that the republican
Filippo Strozzi, wholly incapable of guiding her in the midst of such
conflicting interests, left her after the first year, being recalled
to Italy by the death of Clement VII. Catherine's conduct, when we
remember that she was scarcely fifteen years old, was a model of
prudence. She attached herself closely to the king, her father-in-law;
she left him as little as she could, following him on horseback both
in hunting and in war. Her idolatry for Francois I. saved the house of
the Medici from all suspicion when the dauphin was poisoned. Catherine
was then, and so was her husband, at the headquarters of the king in
Provence; for Charles V. had speedily invaded France and the late
scene of the marriage festivities had become the theatre of a cruel

At the moment when Charles V. was put to flight, leaving the bones of
his army in Provence, the dauphin was returning to Lyon by the Rhone.
He stopped to sleep at Tournon, and, by way of pastime, practised some
violent physical exercises,--which were nearly all the education his
brother and he, in consequence of their detention as hostages, had
ever received. The prince had the imprudence--it being the month of
August, and the weather very hot--to ask for a glass of water, which
Montecuculi, as his cup-bearer, gave to him, with ice in it. The
dauphin died almost immediately. Francois I. adored his son. The
dauphin was, according to all accounts, a charming young man. His
father, in despair, gave the utmost publicity to the proceedings
against Montecuculi, which he placed in the hands of the most able
magistrates of that day. The count, after heroically enduring the
first tortures without confessing anything, finally made admissions by
which he implicated Charles V. and his two generals, Antonio di Leyva
and Ferdinando di Gonzago. No affair was ever more solemnly debated.
Here is what the king did, in the words of an ocular witness:--

"The king called an assembly at Lyon of all the princes of his
blood, all the knights of his order, and other great personages of
the kingdom; also the legal and papal nuncio, the cardinals who
were at his court, together with the ambassadors of England,
Scotland, Portugal, Venice, Ferrara, and others; also all the
princes and noble strangers, both Italian and German, who were
then residing at his court in great numbers. These all being
assembled, he caused to be read to them, in presence of each
other, from beginning to end, the trial of the unhappy man who
poisoned Monseigneur the late dauphin,--with all the
interrogatories, confessions, confrontings, and other ceremonies
usual in criminal trials; he, the king, not being willing that the
sentence should be executed until all present had given their
opinion on this heinous and miserable case."

The fidelity, devotion, and cautious skill of the Comte de Montecuculi
may seem extraordinary in our time, when all the world, even ministers
of State, tell everything about the least little event with which they
have to do; but in those days princes could find devoted servants, or
knew how to choose them. Monarchical Moreys existed because in those
days there was /faith/. Never ask devotion of /self-interest/, because
such interest may change; but expect all from sentiments, religious
faith, monarchical faith, patriotic faith. Those three beliefs
produced such men as the Berthereaus of Geneva, the Sydneys and
Straffords of England, the murderers of Thomas a Becket, the Jacques
Coeurs, the Jeanne d'Arcs, the Richelieus, Dantons, Bonchamps,
Talmonts, and also the Clements, Chabots, and others.

The dauphin was poisoned in the same manner, and possibly by the same
drug which afterwards served MADAME under Louis XIV. Pope Clement VII.
had been dead two years; Duke Alessandro, plunged in debauchery,
seemed to have no interest in the elevation of the Duc d'Orleans;
Catherine, then seventeen, and full of admiration for her father-in-
law, was with him at the time; Charles V. alone appeared to have an
interest in his death, for Francois I. was negotiating for his son an
alliance which would assuredly have aggrandized France. The count's
confession was therefore very skilfully based on the passions and
politics of the moment; Charles V. was then flying from France,
leaving his armies buried in Provence with his happiness, his
reputation, and his hopes of dominion. It is to be remarked that if
torture had forced admissions from an innocent man, Francois I. gave
Montecuculi full liberty to speak in presence of an imposing assembly,
and before persons in whose eyes innocence had some chance to triumph.
The king, who wanted the truth, sought it in good faith.

In spite of her now brilliant future, Catherine's situation at court
was not changed by the death of the dauphin. Her barrenness gave
reason to fear a divorce in case her husband should ascend the throne.
The dauphin was under the spell of Diane de Poitiers, who assumed to
rival Madame d'Etampes, the king's mistress. Catherine redoubled in
care and cajolery of her father-in-law, being well aware that her sole
support was in him. The first ten years of Catherine's married life
were years of ever-renewed grief, caused by the failure, one by one,
of her hopes of pregnancy, and the vexations of her rivalry with
Diane. Imagine what must have been the life of a young princess,
watched by a jealous mistress who was supported by a powerful party,--
the Catholic party,--and by the two powerful alliances Diane had made
in marrying one daughter to Robert de la Mark, Duc de Bouillon, Prince
of Sedan, and the other to Claude de Lorraine, Duc d'Aumale.

Catherine, helpless between the party of Madame d'Etampes and the
party of the Senechale (such was Diane's title during the reign of
Francois I.), which divided the court and politics into factions for
these mortal enemies, endeavored to make herself the friend of both
Diane de Poitiers and Madame d'Etampes. She, who was destined to
become so great a queen, played the part of a servant. Thus she served
her apprenticeship in that double-faced policy which was ever the
secret motor of her life. Later, the /queen/ was to stand between
Catholics and Calvinists, just as the /woman/ had stood for ten years
between Madame d'Etampes and Madame de Poitiers. She studied the
contradictions of French politics; she saw Francois I. sustaining
Calvin and the Lutherans in order to embarrass Charles V., and then,
after secretly and patiently protecting the Reformation in Germany,
and tolerating the residence of Calvin at the court of Navarre, he
suddenly turned against it with excessive rigor. Catherine beheld on
the one hand the court, and the women of the court, playing with the
fire of heresy, and on the other, Diane at the head of the Catholic
party with the Guises, solely because the Duchesse d'Etampes supported
Calvin and the Protestants.

Such was the political education of this queen, who saw in the cabinet
of the king of France the same errors committed as in the house of the
Medici. The dauphin opposed his father in everything; he was a bad
son. He forgot the cruel but most vital maxim of royalty, namely, that
thrones need solidarity; and that a son who creates opposition during
the lifetime of his father must follow that father's policy when he
mounts the throne. Spinosa, who was as great a statesman as he was a
philosopher, said--in the case of one king succeeding another by
insurrection or crime,--

"If the new king desires to secure the safety of his throne and of
his own life he must show such ardor in avenging the death of his
predecessor that no one shall feel a desire to commit the same
crime. But to avenge it /worthily/ it is not enough to shed the
blood of his subjects, he must approve the axioms of the king he
replaces, and take the same course in governing."

It was the application of this maxim which gave Florence to the
Medici. Cosmo I. caused to be assassinated at Venice, after eleven
years' sway, the Florentine Brutus, and, as we have already said,
persecuted the Strozzi. It was forgetfulness of this maxim which
ruined Louis XVI. That king was false to every principle of royal
government when he re-established the parliaments suppressed by his
grandfather. Louis XV. saw the matter clearly. The parliaments, and
notably that of Paris, counted for fully half in the troubles which
necessitated the convocation of the States-general. The fault of Louis
XV. was, that in breaking down that barrier which separated the throne
from the people he did not erect a stronger; in other words, that he
did not substitute for parliament a strong constitution of the
provinces. There lay the remedy for the evils of the monarchy; thence
should have come the voting on taxes, the regulation of them, and a
slow approval of reforms that were necessary to the system of

The first act of Henri II. was to give his confidence to the
Connetable de Montmorency, whom his father had enjoined him to leave
in disgrace. The Connetable de Montmorency was, with Diane de
Poitiers, to whom he was closely bound, the master of the State.
Catherine was therefore less happy and less powerful after she became
queen of France than while she was dauphiness. From 1543 she had a
child every year for ten years, and was occupied with maternal cares
during the period covered by the last three years of the reign of
Francois I. and nearly the whole of the reign of Henri II. We may see
in this recurring fecundity the influence of a rival, who was able
thus to rid herself of the legitimate wife,--a barbarity of feminine
policy which must have been one of Catherine's grievances against

Thus set aside from public life, this superior woman passed her time
in observing the self-interests of the court people and of the various
parties which were formed about her. All the Italians who had followed
her were objects of violent suspicion. After the execution of
Montecuculi the Connetable de Montmorency, Diane, and many of the
keenest politicians of the court were filled with suspicion of the
Medici; though Francois I. always repelled it. Consequently, the
Gondi, Strozzi, Ruggieri, Sardini, etc.,--in short, all those who were
called distinctively "the Italians,"--were compelled to employ greater
resources of mind, shrewd policy, and courage, to maintain themselves
at court against the weight of disfavor which pressed upon them.

During her husband's reign Catherine's amiability to Diane de Poitiers
went to such great lengths that intelligent persons must regard it as
proof of that profound dissimulation which men, events, and the
conduct of Henri II. compelled Catherine de' Medici to employ. But
they go too far when they declare that she never claimed her rights as
wife and queen. In the first place, the sense of dignity which
Catherine possessed in the highest degree forbade her claiming what
historians call her rights as a wife. The ten children of the marriage
explain Henri's conduct; and his wife's maternal occupations left him
free to pass his time with Diane de Poitiers. But the king was never
lacking in anything that was due to himself; and he gave Catherine an
"entry" into Paris, to be crowned as queen, which was worthy of all
such pageants that had ever taken place. The archives of the
Parliament, and those of the Cour des Comptes, show that those two
great bodies went to meet her outside of Paris as far as Saint Lazare.
Here is an extract from du Tillet's account of it:--

"A platform had been erected at Saint-Lazare, on which was a
throne (du Tillet calls it a /chair de parement/). Catherine took
her seat upon it, wearing a surcoat, or species of ermine short-
cloak covered with precious stones, a bodice beneath it with the
royal mantle, and on her head a crown enriched with pearls and
diamonds, and held in place by the Marechale de la Mark, her lady
of honor. Around her /stood/ the princes of the blood, and other
princes and seigneurs, richly apparelled, also the chancellor of
France in a robe of gold damask on a background of crimson-red.
Before the queen, and on the same platform, were seated, in two
rows, twelve duchesses or countesses, wearing ermine surcoats,
bodices, robes, and circlets,--that is to say, the coronets of
duchesses and countesses. These were the Duchesses d'Estouteville,
Montpensier (elder and younger); the Princesses de la Roche-sur-
Yon; the Duchesses de Guise, de Nivernois, d'Aumale, de
Valentinois (Diane de Poitiers), Mademoiselle la batarde legitimee
de France (the title of the king's daughter, Diane, who was
Duchesse de Castro-Farnese and afterwards Duchesse de Montmorency-
Damville), Madame la Connetable, and Mademoiselle de Nemours;
without mentioning other demoiselles who were not seated. The four
presidents of the courts of justice, wearing their caps, several
other members of the court, and the clerk du Tillet, mounted the
platform, made reverent bows, and the chief judge, Lizet, kneeling
down, harangued the queen. The chancellor then knelt down and
answered. The queen made her entry at half-past three o'clock in
an open litter, having Madame Marguerite de France sitting
opposite to her, and on either side of the litter the Cardinals of
Amboise, Chatillon, Boulogne, and de Lenoncourt in their episcopal
robes. She left her litter at the church of Notre-Dame, where she
was received by the clergy. After offering her prayer, she was
conducted by the rue de la Calandre to the palace, where the royal
supper was served in the great hall. She there appeared, seated at
the middle of the marble table, beneath a velvet dais strewn with
golden fleur-de-lis."

We may here put an end to one of those popular beliefs which are
repeated in many writers from Sauval down. It has been said that Henri
II. pushed his neglect of the proprieties so far as to put the
initials of his mistress on the buildings which Catherine advised him
to continue or to begin with so much magnificence. But the double
monogram which can be seen at the Louvre offers a daily denial to
those who are so little clear-sighted as to believe in silly nonsense
which gratuitously insults our kings and queens. The H or Henri and
the two C's of Catherine which back it, appear to represent the two
D's of Diane. The coincidence may have pleased Henri II., but it is
none the less true that the royal monogram contained officially the
initial of the king and that of the queen. This is so true that the
monogram can still be seen on the column of the Halle au Ble, which
was built by Catherine alone. It can also be seen in the crypt of
Saint-Denis, on the tomb which Catherine erected for herself in her
lifetime beside that of Henri II., where her figure is modelled from
nature by the sculptor to whom she sat for it.

On a solemn occasion, when he was starting, March 25, 1552, for his
expedition into Germany, Henri II. declared Catherine regent during
his absence, and also in case of his death. Catherine's most cruel
enemy, the author of "Marvellous Discourses on Catherine the Second's
Behavior" admits that she carried on the government with universal
approval and that the king was satisfied with her administration.
Henri received both money and men at the time he wanted them; and
finally, after the fatal day of Saint-Quentin, Catherine obtained
considerable sums of money from the people of Paris, which she sent to
Compiegne, where the king then was.

In politics, Catherine made immense efforts to obtain a little
influence. She was clever enough to bring the Connetable de
Montmorency, all-powerful under Henri II., to her interests. We all
know the terrible answer that the king made, on being harassed by
Montmorency in her favor. This answer was the result of an attempt by
Catherine to give the king good advice, in the few moments she was
ever alone with him, when she explained the Florentine policy of
pitting the grandees of the kingdom one against another and
establishing the royal authority on their ruins. But Henri II., who
saw things only through the eyes of Diane and the Connetable, was a
truly feudal king and the friend of all the great families of his

After the futile attempt of the Connetable in her favor, which must
have been made in the year 1556, Catherine began to cajole the Guises
for the purpose of detaching them from Diane and opposing them to the
Connetable. Unfortunately, Diane and Montmorency were as vehement
against the Protestants as the Guises. There was therefore not the
same animosity in their struggle as there might have been had the
religious question entered it. Moreover, Diane boldly entered the
lists against the queen's project by coquetting with the Guises and
giving her daughter to the Duc d'Aumale. She even went so far that
certain authors declared she gave more than mere good-will to the
gallant Cardinal de Lorraine; and the lampooners of the time made the
following quatrain on Henri II:

"Sire, if you're weak and let your will relax
Till Diane and Lorraine do govern you,
Pound, knead and mould, re-melt and model you,
Sire, you are nothing--nothing else than wax."

It is impossible to regard as sincere the signs of grief and the
ostentation of mourning which Catherine showed on the death of Henri
II. The fact that the king was attached by an unalterable passion to
Diane de Poitiers naturally made Catherine play the part of a
neglected wife who adores her husband; but, like all women who act by
their head, she persisted in this dissimulation and never ceased to
speak tenderly of Henri II. In like manner Diane, as we know, wore
mourning all her life for her husband the Senechal de Breze. Her
colors were black and white, and the king was wearing them at the
tournament when he was killed. Catherine, no doubt in imitation of her
rival, wore mourning for Henri II. for the rest of her life. She
showed a consummate perfidy toward Diane de Poitiers, to which
historians have not given due attention. At the king's death the
Duchesse de Valentinois was completely disgraced and shamefully
abandoned by the Connetable, a man who was always below his
reputation. Diane offered her estate and chateau of Chenonceaux to the
queen. Catherine then said, in presence of witnesses:--

"I can never forget that she made the happiness of my dear Henri. I am
ashamed to accept her gift; I wish to give her a domain in place of
it, and I shall offer her that of Chaumont-sur-Loire."

Accordingly, the deed of exchange was signed at Blois in 1559. Diane,
whose sons-in-law were the Duc d'Aumale and the Duc de Bouillon (then
a sovereign prince), kept her wealth, and died in 1566 aged sixty-six.
She was therefore nineteen years older than Henri II. These dates,
taken from her epitaph which was copied from her tomb by the historian
who concerned himself so much about her at the close of the last
century, clear up quite a number of historical difficulties. Some
historians have declared she was forty, others that she was sixteen at
the time of her father's condemnation in 1523; in point of fact she
was then twenty-four. After reading everything for and against her
conduct towards Francois I. we are unable to affirm or to deny
anything. This is one of the passages of history that will ever remain
obscure. We may see by what happens in our own day how history is
falsified at the very moment when events happen.

Catherine, who had founded great hopes on the age of her rival, tried
more than once to overthrow her. It was a dumb, underhand, terrible
struggle. The day came when Catherine believed herself for a moment on
the verge of success. In 1554, Diane, who was ill, begged the king to
go to Saint-Germain and leave her for a short time until she
recovered. This stately coquette did not choose to be seen in the
midst of medical appliances and without the splendors of apparel.
Catherine arranged, as a welcome to her husband, a magnificent ballet,
in which six beautiful young girls were to recite a poem in his honor.
She chose for this function Miss Fleming, a relation of her uncle the
Duke of Albany, the handsomest young woman, some say, that was ever
seen, white and very fair; also one of her own relations, Clarice
Strozzi, a magnificent Italian with superb black hair, and hands that
were of rare beauty; Miss Lewiston, maid of honor to Mary Stuart; Mary
Stuart herself; Madame Elizabeth of France (who was afterwards that
unfortunate Queen of Spain); and Madame Claude. Elizabeth and Claude
were eight and nine years old, Mary Stuart twelve; evidently the queen
intended to bring forward Miss Fleming and Clarice Strozzi and present
them without rivals to the king. The king fell in love with Miss
Fleming, by whom he had a natural son, Henri de Valois, Comte
d'Angouleme, grand-prior of France. But the power and influence of
Diane were not shaken. Like Madame de Pompadour with Louis XV., the
Duchesse de Valentinois forgave all. But what sort of love did this
attempt show in Catherine? Was it love to her husband or love of
power? Women may decide.

A great deal is said in these days of the license of the press; but it
is difficult to imagine the lengths to which it went when printing was
first invented. We know that Aretino, the Voltaire of his time, made
kings and emperors tremble, more especially Charles V.; but the world
does not know so well the audacity and license of pamphlets. The
chateau de Chenonceaux, which we have just mentioned, was given to
Diane, or rather not given, she was implored to accept it to make her
forget one of the most horrible publications ever levelled against a
woman, and which shows the violence of the warfare between herself and
Madame d'Etampes. In 1537, when she was thirty-eight years of age, a
rhymester of Champagne named Jean Voute, published a collection of
Latin verses in which were three epigrams upon her. It is to be
supposed that the poet was sure of protection in high places, for the
pamphlet has a preface in praise of itself, signed by Salmon Macrin,
first valet-de-chambre to the king. Only one passage is quotable from
these epigrams, which are entitled: IN PICTAVIAM, ANAM AULIGAM.

"A painted trap catches no game," says the poet, after telling Diane
that she painted her face and bought her teeth and hair. "You may buy
all that superficially makes a woman, but you can't buy that your
lover wants; for he wants life, and you are dead."

This collection, printed by Simon de Colines, is dedicated to a
bishop!--to Francois Bohier, the brother of the man who, to save his
credit at court and redeem his offence, offered to Diane, on the
accession of Henri II., the chateau de Chenonceaux, built by his
father, Thomas Bohier, a councillor of state under four kings: Louis
XI., Charles VIII., Louis XII., and Francois I. What were the
pamphlets published against Madame de Pompadour and against Marie-
Antoinette compared to these verses, which might have been written by
Martial? Voute must have made a bad end. The estate and chateau cost
Diane nothing more than the forgiveness enjoined by the gospel. After
all, the penalties inflicted on the press, though not decreed by
juries, were somewhat more severe than those of to-day.

The queens of France, on becoming widows, were required to remain in
the king's chamber forty days without other light than that of wax
tapers; they did not leave the room until after the burial of the
king. This inviolable custom was a great annoyance to Catherine, who
feared cabals; and, by chance, she found a means to evade it, thus:
Cardinal de Lorraine, leaving, very early in the morning, the house of
the /belle Romaine/, a celebrated courtesan of the period, who lived
in the rue Culture-Sainte-Catherine, was set upon and maltreated by a
party of libertines. "On which his holiness, being much astonished"
(says Henri Estienne), "gave out that the heretics were preparing
ambushes against him." The court at once removed from Paris to Saint-
Germain, and the queen-mother, declaring that she would not abandon
the king her son, went with him.

The accession of Francois II., the period at which Catherine
confidently believed she could get possession of the regal power, was
a moment of cruel disappointment, after the twenty-six years of misery
she had lived through at the court of France. The Guises laid hands on
power with incredible audacity. The Duc de Guise was placed in command
of the army; the Connetable was dismissed; the cardinal took charge of
the treasury and the clergy.

Catherine now began her political career by a drama which, though it
did not have the dreadful fame of those of later years, was,
nevertheless, most horrible; and it must, undoubtedly, have accustomed
her to the terrible after emotions of her life. While appearing to be
in harmony with the Guises, she endeavored to pave the way for her
ultimate triumph by seeking a support in the house of Bourbon, and the
means she took were as follows: Whether it was that (before the death
of Henri II.), and after fruitlessly attempting violent measures, she
wished to awaken jealousy in order to bring the king back to her; or
whether as she approached middle-age it seemed to her cruel that she
had never known love, certain it is that she showed a strong interest
in a seigneur of the royal blood, Francois de Vendome, son of Louis de
Vendome (the house from which that of the Bourbons sprang), and Vidame
de Chartres, the name under which he is known in history. The secret
hatred which Catherine bore to Diane was revealed in many ways, to
which historians, preoccupied by political interests, have paid no
attention. Catherine's attachment to the vidame proceeded from the
fact that the young man had offered an insult to the favorite. Diane's
greatest ambition was for the honor of an alliance with the royal
family of France. The hand of her second daughter (afterwards Duchesse
d'Aumale) was offered on her behalf to the Vidame de Chartres, who was
kept poor by the far-sighted policy of Francois I. In fact, when the
Vidame de Chartres and the Prince de Conde first came to court,
Francois I. gave them--what? The office of chamberlain, with a paltry
salary of twelve hundred crowns a year, the same that he gave to the
simplest gentlemen. Though Diane de Poitiers offered an immense dowry,
a fine office under the crown, and the favor of the king, the vidame
refused. After which, this Bourbon, already factious, married Jeanne,
daughter of the Baron d'Estissac, by whom he had no children. This act
of pride naturally commended him to Catherine, who greeted him after
that with marked favor and made a devoted friend of him.

Historians have compared the last Duc de Montmorency, beheaded at
Toulouse, to the Vidame de Chartres, in the art of pleasing, in
attainments, accomplishments, and talent. Henri II. showed no
jealousy; he seemed not even to suppose that a queen of France could
fail in her duty, or a Medici forget the honor done to her by a
Valois. But during this time when the queen was, it is said,
coquetting with the Vidame de Chartres, the king, after the birth of
her last child, had virtually abandoned her. This attempt at making
him jealous was to no purpose, for Henri died wearing the colors of
Diane de Poitiers.

At the time of the king's death Catherine was, therefore, on terms of
gallantry with the vidame,--a situation which was quite in conformity
with the manners and morals of a time when love was both so chivalrous
and so licentious that the noblest actions were as natural as the most
blamable; although historians, as usual, have committed the mistake in
this case of taking the exception for the rule.

The four sons of Henri II. of course rendered null the position of the
Bourbons, who were all extremely poor and were now crushed down by the
contempt which the Connetable de Montmorency's treachery brought upon
them, in spite of the fact that the latter had thought best to fly the

The Vidame de Chartres--who was to the first Prince de Conde what
Richelieu was to Mazarin, his father in policy, his model, and, above
all, his master in gallantry--concealed the excessive ambition of his
house beneath an external appearance of light-hearted gaiety. Unable
during the reign of Henri II. to make head against the Guises, the
Montmorencys, the Scottish princes, the cardinals, and the Bouillons,
he distinguished himself by his graceful bearing, his manners, his
wit, which won him the favor of many charming women and the heart of
some for whom he cared nothing. He was one of those privileged beings
whose seductions are irresistible, and who owe to love the power of
maintaining themselves according to their rank. The Bourbons would not
have resented, as did Jarnac, the slander of la Chataigneraie; they
were willing enough to accept the lands and castles of their
mistresses,--witness the Prince de Conde, who accepted the estate of
Saint-Valery from Madame la Marechale de Saint-Andre.

During the first twenty days of mourning after the death of Henri II.
the situation of the vidame suddenly changed. As the object of the
queen mother's regard, and permitted to pay his court to her as court
is paid to a queen, very secretly, he seemed destined to play an
important role, and Catherine did, in fact, resolve to use him. The
vidame received letters from her for the Prince de Conde, in which she
pointed out to the latter the necessity of an alliance against the
Guises. Informed of this intrigue, the Guises entered the queen's
chamber for the purpose of compelling her to issue an order consigning
the vidame to the Bastille, and Catherine, to save herself, was under
the hard necessity of obeying them. After a captivity of some months,
the vidame died on the very day he left prison, which was shortly
before the conspiracy of Amboise. Such was the conclusion of the first
and only amour of Catherine de' Medici. Protestant historians have
said that the queen caused the vidame to be poisoned, to lay the
secret of her gallantries in a tomb!

We have now shown what was the apprenticeship of this woman for the
exercise of her royal power.





Few persons in the present day know how plain and unpretentious were
the dwellings of the burghers of Paris in the sixteenth century, and
how simple their lives. Perhaps this simplicity of habits and of
thought was the cause of the grandeur of that old bourgeoisie which
was certainly grand, free, and noble,--more so, perhaps, than the
bourgeoisie of the present day. Its history is still to be written; it
requires and it awaits a man of genius. This reflection will doubtless
rise to the lips of every one after reading the almost unknown
incident which forms the basis of this Study and is one of the most
remarkable facts in the history of that bourgeoisie. It will not be
the first time in history that conclusion has preceded facts.

In 1560, the houses of the rue de la Vieille-Pelleterie skirted the
left bank of the Seine, between the pont Notre-Dame and the pont au
Change. A public footpath and the houses then occupied the space
covered by the present roadway. Each house, standing almost in the
river, allowed its dwellers to get down to the water by stone or
wooden stairways, closed and protected by strong iron railings or
wooden gates, clamped with iron. The houses, like those in Venice, had
an entrance on /terra firma/ and a water entrance. At the moment when
the present sketch is published, only one of these houses remains to
recall the old Paris of which we speak, and that is soon to disappear;
it stands at the corner of the Petit-Pont, directly opposite to the
guard-house of the Hotel-Dieu.

Formerly each dwelling presented on the river-side the fantastic
appearance given either by the trade of its occupant and his habits,
or by the originality of the exterior constructions invented by the
proprietors to use or abuse the Seine. The bridges being encumbered
with more mills than the necessities of navigation could allow, the
Seine formed as many enclosed basins as there were bridges. Some of
these basins in the heart of old Paris would have offered precious
scenes and tones of color to painters. What a forest of crossbeams
supported the mills with their huge sails and their wheels! What
strange effects were produced by the piles or props driven into the
water to project the upper floors of the houses above the stream!
Unfortunately, the art of genre painting did not exist in those days,
and that of engraving was in its infancy. We have therefore lost that
curious spectacle, still offered, though in miniature, by certain
provincial towns, where the rivers are overhung with wooden houses,
and where, as at Vendome, the basins, full of water grasses, are
enclosed by immense iron railings, to isolate each proprietor's share
of the stream, which extends from bank to bank.

The name of this street, which has now disappeared from the map,
sufficiently indicates the trade that was carried on in it. In those
days the merchants of each class of commerce, instead of dispersing
themselves about the city, kept together in the same neighborhood and
protected themselves mutually. Associated in corporations which
limited their number, they were still further united into guilds by
the Church. In this way prices were maintained. Also, the masters were
not at the mercy of their workmen, and did not obey their whims as
they do to-day; on the contrary, they made them their children, their
apprentices, took care of them, and taught them the intricacies of the
trade. In order to become a master, a workman had to produce a
masterpiece, which was always dedicated to the saint of his guild.
Will any one dare to say that the absence of competition destroyed the
desire for perfection, or lessened the beauty of products? What say
you, you whose admiration for the masterpieces of past ages has
created the modern trade of the sellers of bric-a-brac?

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the trade of the furrier was
one of the most flourishing industries. The difficulty of obtaining
furs, which, being all brought from the north, required long and
perilous journeys, gave a very high price and value to those products.
Then, as now, high prices led to consumption; for vanity likes to
override obstacles. In France, as in other kingdoms, not only did
royal ordinances restrict the use of furs to the nobility (proved by
the part which ermine plays in the old blazons), but also certain rare
furs, such as /vair/ (which was undoubtedly Siberian sable), could not
be worn by any but kings, dukes, and certain lords clothed with
official powers. A distinction was made between the greater and lesser
/vair/. The very name has been so long disused, that in a vast number
of editions of Perrault's famous tale, Cinderella's slipper, which was
no doubt of /vair/ (the fur), is said to have been made of /verre/
(glass). Lately one of our most distinguished poets was obliged to
establish the true orthography of the word for the instruction of his
brother-feuilletonists in giving an account of the opera of the
"Cenerentola," where the symbolic slipper has been replaced by a ring,
which symbolizes nothing at all.

Naturally the sumptuary laws about the wearing of fur were perpetually
infringed upon, to the great satisfaction of the furriers. The
costliness of stuffs and furs made a garment in those days a durable
thing,--as lasting as the furniture, the armor, and other items of
that strong life of the fifteenth century. A woman of rank, a
seigneur, all rich men, also all the burghers, possessed at the most
two garments for each season, which lasted their lifetime and beyond
it. These garments were bequeathed to their children. Consequently the
clause in the marriage-contract relating to arms and clothes, which in
these days is almost a dead letter because of the small value of
wardrobes that need constant renewing, was then of much importance.
Great costs brought with them solidity. The toilet of a woman
constituted a large capital; it was reckoned among the family
possessions, and was kept in those enormous chests which threaten to
break through the floors of our modern houses. The jewels of a woman
of 1840 would have been the /undress/ ornaments of a great lady in

To-day, the discovery of America, the facilities of transportation,
the ruin of social distinctions which has paved the way for the ruin
of apparent distinctions, has reduced the trade of the furrier to what
it now is,--next to nothing. The article which a furrier sells to-day,
as in former days, for twenty /livres/ has followed the depreciation
of money: formerly the /livre/, which is now worth one franc and is
usually so called, was worth twenty francs. To-day, the lesser
bourgeoisie and the courtesans who edge their capes with sable, are
ignorant than in 1440 an ill-disposed police-officer would have
incontinently arrested them and marched them before the justice at the
Chatelet. Englishwomen, who are so fond of ermine, do not know that in
former times none but queens, duchesses, and chancellors were allowed
to wear that royal fur. There are to-day in France several ennobled
families whose true name is Pelletier or Lepelletier, the origin of
which is evidently derived from some rich furrier's counter, for most
of our burgher's names began in some such way.

This digression will explain, not only the long feud as to precedence
which the guild of drapers maintained for two centuries against the
guild of furriers and also of mercers (each claiming the right to walk
first, as being the most important guild in Paris), but it will also
serve to explain the importance of the Sieur Lecamus, a furrier
honored with the custom of two queens, Catherine de' Medici and Mary
Stuart, also the custom of the parliament,--a man who for twenty years
was the syndic of his corporation, and who lived in the street we have
just described.

The house of Lecamus was one of three which formed the three angles of
the open space at the end of the pont au Change, where nothing now
remains but the tower of the Palais de Justice, which made the fourth
angle. On the corner of this house, which stood at the angle of the
pont au Change and the quai now called the quai aux Fleurs, the
architect had constructed a little shrine for a Madonna, which was
always lighted by wax-tapers and decked with real flowers in summer
and artificial ones in winter. On the side of the house toward the rue
du Pont, as on the side toward the rue de la Vieille-Pelleterie, the
upper story of the house was supported by wooden pillars. All the
houses in this mercantile quarter had an arcade behind these pillars,
where the passers in the street walked under cover on a ground of
trodden mud which kept the place always dirty. In all French towns
these arcades or galleries are called /les piliers/, a general term to
which was added the name of the business transacted under them,--as
"piliers des Halles" (markets), "piliers de la Boucherie" (butchers).

These galleries, a necessity in the Parisian climate, which is so
changeable and so rainy, gave this part of the city a peculiar
character of its own; but they have now disappeared. Not a single
house in the river bank remains, and not more than about a hundred
feet of the old "piliers des Halles," the last that have resisted the
action of time, are left; and before long even that relic of the
sombre labyrinth of old Paris will be demolished. Certainly, the
existence of such old ruins of the middle-ages is incompatible with
the grandeurs of modern Paris. These observations are meant not so
much to regret the destruction of the old town, as to preserve in
words, and by the history of those who lived there, the memory of a
place now turned to dust, and to excuse the following description,
which may be precious to a future age now treading on the heels of our

The walls of this house were of wood covered with slate. The spaces
between the uprights had been filled in, as we may still see in some
provincial towns, with brick, so placed, by reversing their thickness,
as to make a pattern called "Hungarian point." The window-casings and
lintels, also in wood, were richly carved, and so was the corner
pillar where it rose above the shrine of the Madonna, and all the
other pillars in front of the house. Each window, and each main beam
which separated the different storeys, was covered with arabesques of
fantastic personages and animals wreathed with conventional foliage.
On the street side, as on the river side, the house was capped with a
roof looking as if two cards were set up one against the other,--thus
presenting a gable to the street and a gable to the water. This roof,
like the roof of a Swiss chalet, overhung the building so far that on
the second floor there was an outside gallery with a balustrade, on
which the owners of the house could walk under cover and survey the
street, also the river basin between the bridges and the two lines of

These houses on the river bank were very valuable. In those days a
system of drains and fountains was still to be invented; nothing of
the kind as yet existed except the circuit sewer, constructed by
Aubriot, provost of Paris under Charles the Wise, who also built the
Bastille, the pont Saint-Michel and other bridges, and was the first
man of genius who ever thought of the sanitary improvement of Paris.
The houses situated like that of Lecamus took from the river the water
necessary for the purposes of life, and also made the river serve as a
natural drain for rain-water and household refuse. The great works
that the "merchants' provosts" did in this direction are fast
disappearing. Middle-aged persons alone can remember to have seen the
great holes in the rue Montmartre, rue du Temple, etc., down which the
waters poured. Those terrible open jaws were in the olden time of
immense benefit to Paris. Their place will probably be forever marked
by the sudden rise of the paved roadways at the spots where they
opened,--another archaeological detail which will be quite inexplicable
to the historian two centuries hence. One day, about 1816, a little
girl who was carrying a case of diamonds to an actress at the Ambigu,
for her part as queen, was overtaken by a shower and so nearly washed
down the great drainhole in the rue du Temple that she would have
disappeared had it not been for a passer who heard her cries.
Unluckily, she had let go the diamonds, which were, however, recovered
later at a man-hole. This event made a great noise, and gave rise to
many petitions against these engulfers of water and little girls. They
were singular constructions about five feet high, furnished with iron
railings, more or less movable, which often caused the inundation of
the neighboring cellars, whenever the artificial river produced by
sudden rains was arrested in its course by the filth and refuse
collected about these railings, which the owners of the abutting
houses sometimes forgot to open.

The front of this shop of the Sieur Lecamus was all window, formed of
sashes of leaded panes, which made the interior very dark. The furs
were taken for selection to the houses of rich customers. As for those
who came to the shop to buy, the goods were shown to them outside,
between the pillars,--the arcade being, let us remark, encumbered
during the day-time with tables, and clerks sitting on stools, such as
we all remember seeing some fifteen years ago under the "piliers des
Halles." From these outposts, the clerks and apprentices talked,
questioned, answered each other, and called to the passers,--customs
which the great Walter Scott has made use of in his "Fortunes of

The sign, which represented an ermine, hung outside, as we still see
in some village hostelries, from a rich bracket of gilded iron
filagree. Above the ermine, on one side of the sign, were the words:--




On the other side of the sign were the words:--



The words "Madame la Royne-mere" had been lately added. The gilding
was fresh. This addition showed the recent changes produced by the
sudden and violent death of Henri II., which overturned many fortunes
at court and began that of the Guises.

The back-shop opened on the river. In this room usually sat the
respectable proprietor himself and Mademoiselle Lecamus. In those days
the wife of a man who was not noble had no right to the title of dame,
"madame"; but the wives of the burghers of Paris were allowed to use
that of "mademoiselle," in virtue of privileges granted and confirmed
to their husbands by the several kings to whom they had done service.
Between this back-shop and the main shop was the well of a corkscrew-
staircase which gave access to the upper story, where were the great
ware-room and the dwelling-rooms of the old couple, and the garrets
lighted by skylights, where slept the children, the servant-woman, the
apprentices, and the clerks.

This crowding of families, servants, and apprentices, the little space
which each took up in the building where the apprentices all slept in
one large chamber under the roof, explains the enormous population of
Paris then agglomerated on one-tenth of the surface of the present
city; also the queer details of private life in the middle ages; also,
the contrivances of love which, with all due deference to historians,
are found only in the pages of the romance-writers, without whom they
would be lost to the world. At this period very great /seigneurs/,
such, for instance, as Admiral de Coligny, occupied three rooms, and
their suites lived at some neighboring inn. There were not, in those
days, more than fifty private mansions in Paris, and those were fifty
palaces belonging to sovereign princes, or to great vassals, whose way
of living was superior to that of the greatest German rulers, such as
the Duke of Bavaria and the Elector of Saxony.

The kitchen of the Lecamus family was beneath the back-shop and looked
out upon the river. It had a glass door opening upon a sort of iron
balcony, from which the cook drew up water in a bucket, and where the
household washing was done. The back-shop was made the dining-room,
office, and salon of the merchant. In this important room (in all such
houses richly panelled and adorned with some special work of art, and
also a carved chest) the life of the merchant was passed; there the
joyous suppers after the work of the day was over, there the secret
conferences on the political interests of the burghers and of royalty
took place. The formidable corporations of Paris were at that time
able to arm a hundred thousand men. Therefore the opinions of the
merchants were backed by their servants, their clerks, their
apprentices, their workmen. The burghers had a chief in the "provost
of the merchants" who commanded them, and in the Hotel de Ville, a
palace where they possessed the right to assemble. In the famous
"burghers' parlor" their solemn deliberations took place. Had it not
been for the continual sacrifices which by that time made war
intolerable to the corporations, who were weary of their losses and of
the famine, Henri IV., that factionist who became king, might never
perhaps have entered Paris.

Every one can now picture to himself the appearance of this corner of
old Paris, where the bridge and quai still are, where the trees of the
quai aux Fleurs now stand, but where no trace remains of the period of
which we write except the tall and famous tower of the Palais de
Justice, from which the signal was given for the Saint Bartholomew.
Strange circumstance! one of the houses standing at the foot of that
tower then surrounded by wooden shops, that, namely, of Lecamus, was
about to witness the birth of facts which were destined to prepare for
that night of massacre, which was, unhappily, more favorable than
fatal to Calvinism.

At the moment when our history begins, the audacity of the new
religious doctrines was putting all Paris in a ferment. A Scotchman
named Stuart had just assassinated President Minard, the member of the
Parliament to whom public opinion attributed the largest share in the
execution of Councillor Anne du Bourg; who was burned on the place de
Greve after the king's tailor--to whom Henri II. and Diane de Poitiers
had caused the torture of the "question" to be applied in their very
presence. Paris was so closely watched that the archers compelled all
passers along the street to pray before the shrines of the Madonna so
as to discover heretics by their unwillingness or even refusal to do
an act contrary to their beliefs.

The two archers who were stationed at the corner of the Lecamus house
had departed, and Cristophe, son of the furrier, vehemently suspected
of deserting Catholicism, was able to leave the shop without fear of
being made to adore the Virgin. By seven in the evening, in April,
1560, darkness was already falling, and the apprentices, seeing no
signs of customers on either side of the arcade, were beginning to
take in the merchandise exposed as samples beneath the pillars, in
order to close the shop. Christophe Lecamus, an ardent young man about
twenty-two years old, was standing on the sill of the shop-door,
apparently watching the apprentices.

"Monsieur," said one of them, addressing Christophe and pointing to a
man who was walking to and fro under the gallery with an air of
indecision, "perhaps that's a thief or a spy; anyhow, the shabby
wretch can't be an honest man; if he wanted to speak to us he would
come over frankly, instead of sidling along as he does--and what a
face!" continued the apprentice, mimicking the man, "with his nose in
his cloak, his yellow eyes, and that famished look!"

When the stranger thus described caught sight of Christophe alone on
the door-sill, he suddenly left the opposite gallery where he was then
walking, crossed the street rapidly, and came under the arcade in
front of the Lecamus house. There he passed slowly along in front of
the shop, and before the apprentices returned to close the outer
shutters he said to Christophe in a low voice:--

"I am Chaudieu."

Hearing the name of one of the most illustrious ministers and devoted
actors in the terrible drama called "The Reformation," Christophe
quivered as a faithful peasant might have quivered on recognizing his
disguised king.

"Perhaps you would like to see some furs? Though it is almost dark I
will show you some myself," said Christophe, wishing to throw the
apprentices, whom he heard behind him, off the scent.

With a wave of his hand he invited the minister to enter the shop, but
the latter replied that he preferred to converse outside. Christophe
then fetched his cap and followed the disciple of Calvin.

Though banished by an edict, Chaudieu, the secret envoy of Theodore de
Beze and Calvin (who were directing the French Reformation from
Geneva), went and came, risking the cruel punishment to which the
Parliament, in unison with the Church and Royalty, had condemned one
of their number, the celebrated Anne du Bourg, in order to make a
terrible example. Chaudieu, whose brother was a captain and one of
Admiral Coligny's best soldiers, was a powerful auxiliary by whose arm
Calvin shook France at the beginning of the twenty two years of
religious warfare now on the point of breaking out. This minister was
one of the hidden wheels whose movements can best exhibit the wide-
spread action of the Reform.

Chaudieu led Christophe to the water's edge through an underground
passage, which was like that of the Marion tunnel filled up by the
authorities about ten years ago. This passage, which was situated
between the Lecamus house and the one adjoining it, ran under the rue
de la Vieille-Pelleterie, and was called the Pont-aux-Fourreurs. It
was used by the dyers of the City to go to the river and wash their
flax and silks, and other stuffs. A little boat was at the entrance of
it, rowed by a single sailor. In the bow was a man unknown to
Christophe, a man of low stature and very simply dressed. Chaudieu and
Christophe entered the boat, which in a moment was in the middle of
the Seine; the sailor then directed its course beneath one of the
wooden arches of the pont au Change, where he tied up quickly to an
iron ring. As yet, no one had said a word.

"Here we can speak without fear; there are no traitors or spies here,"
said Chaudieu, looking at the two as yet unnamed men. Then, turning an
ardent face to Christophe, "Are you," he said, "full of that devotion
that should animate a martyr? Are you ready to endure all for our
sacred cause? Do you fear the tortures applied to the Councillor du
Bourg, to the king's tailor,--tortures which await the majority of

"I shall confess the gospel," replied Lecamus, simply, looking at the
windows of his father's back-shop.

The family lamp, standing on the table where his father was making up
his books for the day, spoke to him, no doubt, of the joys of family
and the peaceful existence which he now renounced. The vision was
rapid, but complete. His mind took in, at a glance, the burgher
quarter full of its own harmonies, where his happy childhood had been
spent, where lived his promised bride, Babette Lallier, where all
things promised him a sweet and full existence; he saw the past; he
saw the future, and he sacrificed it, or, at any rate, he staked it
all. Such were the men of that day.

"We need ask no more," said the impetuous sailor; "we know him for one
of our /saints/. If the Scotchman had not done the deed he would kill
us that infamous Minard."

"Yes," said Lecamus, "my life belongs to the church; I shall give it
with joy for the triumph of the Reformation, on which I have seriously
reflected. I know that what we do is for the happiness of the peoples.
In two words: Popery drives to celibacy, the Reformation establishes
the family. It is time to rid France of her monks, to restore their
lands to the Crown, who will, sooner or later, sell them to the
burghers. Let us learn to die for our children, and make our families
some day free and prosperous."

The face of the young enthusiast, that of Chaudieu, that of the
sailor, that of the stranger seated in the bow, lighted by the last
gleams of the twilight, formed a picture which ought the more to be
described because the description contains in itself the whole history
of the times--if it is, indeed, true that to certain men it is given
to sum up in their own persons the spirit of their age.

The religious reform undertaken by Luther in Germany, John Knox in
Scotland, Calvin in France, took hold especially of those minds in the
lower classes into which thought had penetrated. The great lords
sustained the movement only to serve interests that were foreign to
the religious cause. To these two classes were added adventurers,
ruined noblemen, younger sons, to whom all troubles were equally
acceptable. But among the artisan and merchant classes the new faith
was sincere and based on calculation. The masses of the poorer people
adhered at once to a religion which gave the ecclesiastical property
to the State, and deprived the dignitaries of the Church of their
enormous revenues. Commerce everywhere reckoned up the profits of this
religious operation, and devoted itself body, soul, and purse, to the

But among the young men of the French bourgeoisie the Protestant
movement found that noble inclination to sacrifices of all kinds which
inspires youth, to which selfishness is, as yet, unknown. Eminent men,
sagacious minds, discerned the Republic in the Reformation; they
desired to establish throughout Europe the government of the United
Provinces, which ended by triumphing over the greatest Power of those
times,--Spain, under Philip the Second, represented in the Low
Countries by the Duke of Alba. Jean Hotoman was then meditating his
famous book, in which this project is put forth,--a book which spread
throughout France the leaven of these ideas, which were stirred up
anew by the Ligue, repressed by Richelieu, then by Louis XIV., always
protected by the younger branches, by the house of Orleans in 1789, as
by the house of Bourbon in 1589. Whoso says "Investigate" says
"Revolt." All revolt is either the cloak that hides a prince, or the
swaddling-clothes of a new mastery. The house of Bourbon, the younger
sons of the Valois, were at work beneath the surface of the

At the moment when the little boat floated beneath the arch of the
pont au Change the question was strangely complicated by the ambitions
of the Guises, who were rivalling the Bourbons. Thus the Crown,
represented by Catherine de' Medici, was able to sustain the struggle
for thirty years by pitting the one house against the other house;
whereas later, the Crown, instead of standing between various jealous
ambitions, found itself without a barrier, face to face with the
people: Richelieu and Louis XIV. had broken down the barrier of the
Nobility; Louis XV. had broken down that of the Parliaments. Alone
before the people, as Louis XVI. was, a king must inevitably succumb.

Christophe Lecamus was a fine representative of the ardent and devoted
portion of the people. His wan face had the sharp hectic tones which
distinguish certain fair complexions; his hair was yellow, of a
coppery shade; his gray-blue eyes were sparkling. In them alone was
his fine soul visible; for his ill-proportioned face did not atone for
its triangular shape by the noble mien of an elevated mind, and his
low forehead indicated only extreme energy. Life seemed to centre in
his chest, which was rather hollow. More nervous than sanguine,
Cristophe's bodily appearance was thin and threadlike, but wiry. His
pointed noise expressed the shrewdness of the people, and his
countenance revealed an intelligence capable of conducting itself well
on a single point of the circumference, without having the faculty of
seeing all around it. His eyes, the arching brows of which, scarcely
covered with a whitish down, projected like an awning, were strongly
circled by a pale-blue band, the skin being white and shining at the
spring of the nose,--a sign which almost always denotes excessive
enthusiasm. Christophe was of the people,--the people who devote
themselves, who fight for their devotions, who let themselves be
inveigled and betrayed; intelligent enough to comprehend and serve an
idea, too upright to turn it to his own account, too noble to sell

Contrasting with this son of Lecamus, Chaudieu, the ardent minister,
with brown hair thinned by vigils, a yellow skin, an eloquent mouth, a
militant brow, with flaming brown eyes, and a short and prominent
chin, embodied well the Christian faith which brought to the
Reformation so many sincere and fanatical pastors, whose courage and
spirit aroused the populations. The aide-de-camp of Calvin and
Theodore de Beze contrasted admirably with the son of the furrier. He
represented the fiery cause of which the effect was seen in

The sailor, an impetuous being, tanned by the open air, accustomed to
dewy nights and burning days, with closed lips, hasty gestures, orange
eyes, ravenous as those of a vulture, and black, frizzled hair, was
the embodiment of an adventurer who risks all in a venture, as a
gambler stakes all on a card. His whole appearance revealed terrific
passions, and an audacity that flinched at nothing. His vigorous
muscles were made to be quiescent as well as to act. His manner was
more audacious than noble. His nose, though thin, turned up and
snuffed battle. He seemed agile and capable. You would have known him
in all ages for the leader of a party. If he were not of the
Reformation, he might have been Pizarro, Fernando Cortez, or Morgan
the Exterminator,--a man of violent action of some kind.

The fourth man, sitting on a thwart wrapped in his cloak, belonged,
evidently, to the highest portion of society. The fineness of his
linen, its cut, the material and scent of his clothing, the style and
skin of his gloves, showed him to be a man of courts, just as his
bearing, his haughtiness, his composure and his all-embracing glance
proved him to be a man of war. The aspect of this personage made a
spectator uneasy in the first place, and then inclined him to respect.
We respect a man who respects himself. Though short and deformed, his
manners instantly redeemed the disadvantages of his figure. The ice
once broken, he showed a lively rapidity of decision, with an
indefinable dash and fire which made him seem affable and winning. He
had the blue eyes and the curved nose of the house of Navarre, and the
Spanish cut of the marked features which were in after days the type
of the Bourbon kings.

In a word, the scene now assumed a startling interest.

"Well," said Chaudieu, as young Lecamus ended his speech, "this


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