Famous Affinities of History (Complete)
Part 2 out of 8
shoulders was permanently higher than the other.
"I suppose," said Christina, "that I could be straightened if I
would let the surgeons attend to it; but it isn't worth while to
take the trouble."
When Christina was four, Sweden became involved in the great war
that had been raging for a dozen years between the Protestant and
the Catholic states of Germany. Gradually the neighboring powers
had been drawn into the struggle, either to serve their own ends
or to support the faith to which they adhered. Gustavus Adolphus
took up the sword with mixed motives, for he was full of
enthusiasm for the imperiled cause of the Reformation, and at the
same time he deemed it a favorable opportunity to assert his
control over the shores of the Baltic.
The warrior king summoned his army and prepared to invade Germany.
Before departing he took his little daughter by the hand and led
her among the assembled nobles and councilors of state. To them he
intrusted the princess, making them kneel and vow that they would
regard her as his heir, and, if aught should happen to him, as his
successor. Amid the clashing of swords and the clang of armor this
vow was taken, and the king went forth to war.
He met the ablest generals of his enemies, and the fortunes of
battle swayed hither and thither; but the climax came when his
soldiers encountered those of Wallenstein--that strange,
overbearing, arrogant, mysterious creature whom many regarded with
a sort of awe. The clash came at Lutzen, in Saxony. The Swedish
king fought long and hard, and so did his mighty opponent; but at
last, in the very midst of a tremendous onset that swept all
before him, Gustavus received a mortal wound and died, even while
Wallenstein was fleeing from the field of battle.
The battle of Lutzen made Christina Queen of Sweden at the age of
six. Of course, she could not yet be crowned, but a council of
able ministers continued the policy of the late king and taught
the young queen her first lessons in statecraft. Her intellect
soon showed itself as more than that of a child. She understood
all that was taking place, and all that was planned and arranged.
Her tact was unusual. Her discretion was admired by every one; and
after a while she had the advice and training of the great Swedish
chancellor, Oxenstierna, whose wisdom she shared to a remarkable
Before she was sixteen she had so approved herself to her
counselors, and especially to the people at large, that there was
a wide-spread clamor that she should take the throne and govern in
her own person. To this she gave no heed, but said:
"I am not yet ready."
All this time she bore herself like a king. There was nothing
distinctly feminine about her. She took but slight interest in her
appearance. She wore sword and armor in the presence of her
troops, and often she dressed entirely in men's clothes. She would
take long, lonely gallops through the forests, brooding over
problems of state and feeling no fatigue or fear. And indeed why
should she fear, who was beloved by all her subjects?
When her eighteenth year arrived, the demand for her coronation
was impossible to resist. All Sweden wished to see a ruling queen,
who might marry and have children to succeed her through the royal
line of her great father. Christina consented to be crowned, but
she absolutely refused all thought of marriage. She had more
suitors from all parts of Europe than even Elizabeth of England;
but, unlike Elizabeth, she did not dally with them, give them
false hopes, or use them for the political advantage of her
At that time Sweden was stronger than England, and was so situated
as to be independent of alliances. So Christina said, in her
harsh, peremptory voice:
"I shall never marry; and why should you speak of my having
children! I am just as likely to give birth to a Nero as to an
Having assumed the throne, she ruled with a strictness of
government such as Sweden had not known before. She took the reins
of state into her own hands and carried out a foreign policy of
her own, over the heads of her ministers, and even against the
wishes of her people. The fighting upon the Continent had dragged
out to a weary length, but the Swedes, on the whole, had scored a
marked advantage. For this reason the war was popular, and every
one wished it to go on; but Christina, of her own will, decided
that it must stop, that mere glory was not to be considered
against material advantages. Sweden had had enough of glory; she
must now look to her enrichment and prosperity through the
channels of peace.
Therefore, in 1648, against Oxenstierna, against her generals, and
against her people, she exercised her royal power and brought the
Thirty Years' War to an end by the so-called Peace of Westphalia.
At this time she was twenty-two, and by her personal influence she
had ended one of the greatest struggles of history. Nor had she
done it to her country's loss. Denmark yielded up rich provinces,
while Germany was compelled to grant Sweden membership in the
Then came a period of immense prosperity through commerce, through
economies in government, through the improvement of agriculture
and the opening of mines. This girl queen, without intrigue,
without descending from her native nobility to peep and whisper
with shady diplomats, showed herself in reality a great monarch, a
true Semiramis of the north, more worthy of respect and reverence
than Elizabeth of England. She was highly trained in many arts.
She was fond of study, spoke Latin fluently, and could argue with
Salmasius, Descartes, and other accomplished scholars without
showing any inferiority to them.
She gathered at her court distinguished persons from all
countries. She repelled those who sought her hand, and she was
pure and truthful and worthy of all men's admiration. Had she died
at this time history would rank her with the greatest of women
sovereigns. Naude, the librarian of Cardinal Mazarin, wrote of her
to the scientist Gassendi in these words:
To say truth, I am sometimes afraid lest the common saying should
be verified in her, that short is the life and rare the old age of
those who surpass the common limits. Do not imagine that she is
learned only in books, for she is equally so in painting,
architecture, sculpture, medals, antiquities, and all curiosities.
There is not a cunning workman in these arts but she has him
fetched. There are as good workers in wax and in enamel,
engravers, singers, players, dancers here as will be found
She has a gallery of statues, bronze and marble, medals of gold,
silver, and bronze, pieces of ivory, amber, coral, worked crystal,
steel mirrors, clocks and tables, bas-reliefs and other things of
the kind; richer I have never seen even in Italy; finally, a great
quantity of pictures. In short, her mind is open to all
But after she began to make her court a sort of home for art and
letters it ceased to be the sort of court that Sweden was prepared
for. Christina's subjects were still rude and lacking in
accomplishments; therefore she had to summon men of genius from
other countries, especially from France and Italy. Many of these
were illustrious artists or scholars, but among them were also
some who used their mental gifts for harm.
Among these latter was a French physician named Bourdelot--a man
of keen intellect, of winning manners, and of a profound cynicism,
which was not apparent on the surface, but the effect of which
last lasting. To Bourdelot we must chiefly ascribe the mysterious
change which gradually came over Queen Christina. With his
associates he taught her a distaste for the simple and healthy
life that she had been accustomed to lead. She ceased to think of
the welfare of the state and began to look down with scorn upon
her unsophisticated Swedes. Foreign luxury displayed itself at
Stockholm, and her palaces overflowed with beautiful things.
By subtle means Bourdelot undermined her principles. Having been a
Stoic, she now became an Epicurean. She was by nature devoid of
sentiment. She would not spend her time in the niceties of love-
making, as did Elizabeth; but beneath the surface she had a sort
of tigerish, passionate nature, which would break forth at
intervals, and which demanded satisfaction from a series of
favorites. It is probable that Bourdelot was her first lover, but
there were many others whose names are recorded in the annals of
When she threw aside her virtue Christina ceased to care about
appearances. She squandered her revenues upon her favorites. What
she retained of her former self was a carelessness that braved the
opinion of her subjects. She dressed almost without thought, and
it is said that she combed her hair not more than twice a month.
She caroused with male companions to the scandal of her people,
and she swore like a trooper when displeased.
Christina's philosophy of life appears to have been compounded of
an almost brutal licentiousness, a strong love of power, and a
strange, freakish longing for something new. Her political
ambitions were checked by the rising discontent of her people, who
began to look down upon her and to feel ashamed of her shame.
Knowing herself as she did, she did not care to marry.
Yet Sweden must have an heir. Therefore she chose out her cousin
Charles, declared that he was to be her successor, and finally
caused him to be proclaimed as such before the assembled estates
of the realm. She even had him crowned; and finally, in her
twenty-eighth year, she abdicated altogether and prepared to leave
Sweden. When asked whither she would go, she replied in a Latin
"The Fates will show the way."
In her act of abdication she reserved to herself the revenues of
some of the richest provinces in Sweden and absolute power over
such of her subjects as should accompany her. They were to be her
subjects until the end.
The Swedes remembered that Christina was the daughter of their
greatest king, and that, apart from personal scandals, she had
ruled them well; and so they let her go regretfully and accepted
her cousin as their king. Christina, on her side, went joyfully
and in the spirit of a grand adventuress. With a numerous suite
she entered Germany, and then stayed for a year at Brussels, where
she renounced Lutheranism. After this she traveled slowly into
Italy, where she entered Borne on horseback, and was received by
the Pope, Alexander VII., who lodged her in a magnificent palace,
accepted her conversion, and baptized her, giving her a new name,
In Rome she was a brilliant but erratic personage, living
sumptuously, even though her revenues from Sweden came in slowly,
partly because the Swedes disliked her change of religion. She was
surrounded by men of letters, with whom she amused herself, and
she took to herself a lover, the Marquis Monaldeschi. She thought
that at last she had really found her true affinity, while
Monaldeschi believed that he could count on the queen's fidelity.
He was in attendance upon her daily, and they were almost
inseparable. He swore allegiance to her and thereby made himself
one of the subjects over whom she had absolute power. For a time
he was the master of those intense emotions which, in her,
alternated with moods of coldness and even cruelty.
Monaldeschi was a handsome Italian, who bore himself with a fine
air of breeding. He understood the art of charming, but he did not
know that beyond a certain time no one could hold the affections
However, after she had quarreled with various cardinals and
decided to leave Rome for a while, Monaldeschi accompanied her to
France, where she had an immense vogue at the court of Louis XIV.
She attracted wide attention because of her eccentricity and utter
lack of manners. It gave her the greatest delight to criticize the
ladies of the French court--their looks, their gowns, and their
jewels. They, in return, would speak of Christina's deformed
shoulder and skinny frame; but the king was very gracious to her
and invited her to his hunting-palace at Fontainebleau.
While she had been winning triumphs of sarcasm the infatuated
Monaldeschi had gradually come to suspect, and then to know, that
his royal mistress was no longer true to him. He had been
supplanted in her favor by another Italian, one Sentanelli, who
was the captain of her guard.
Monaldeschi took a tortuous and roundabout revenge. He did not let
the queen know of his discovery; nor did he, like a man, send a
challenge to Sentanelli. Instead he began by betraying her secrets
to Oliver Cromwell, with whom she had tried to establish a
correspondence. Again, imitating the hand and seal of Sentanelli,
he set in circulation a series of the most scandalous and
insulting letters about Christina. By this treacherous trick he
hoped to end the relations between his rival and the queen; but
when the letters were carried to Christina she instantly
recognized their true source. She saw that she was betrayed by her
former favorite and that he had taken a revenge which might
seriously compromise her.
This led to a tragedy, of which the facts were long obscure. They
were carefully recorded, however, by the queen's household
chaplain, Father Le Bel; and there is also a narrative written by
one Marco Antonio Conti, which confirms the story. Both were
published privately in 1865, with notes by Louis Lacour.
The narration of the priest is dreadful in its simplicity and
minuteness of detail. It may be summed up briefly here, because it
is the testimony of an eye-witness who knew Christina.
Christina, with the marquis and a large retinue, was at
Fontainebleau in November, 1657. A little after midnight, when all
was still, the priest, Father Le Bel, was aroused and ordered to
go at once to the Galerie des Cerfs, or Hall of Stags, in another
part of the palace. When he asked why, he was told:
"It is by the order of her majesty the Swedish queen."
The priest, wondering, hurried on his garments. On reaching the
gloomy hall he saw the Marquis Monaldeschi, evidently in great
agitation, and at the end of the corridor the queen in somber
robes. Beside the queen, as if awaiting orders, stood three
figures, who could with some difficulty be made out as three
soldiers of her guard.
The queen motioned to Father Le Bel and asked him for a packet
which she had given him for safe-keeping some little time before.
He gave it to her, and she opened it. In it were letters and other
documents, which, with a steely glance, she displayed to
Monaldeschi. He was confused by the sight of them and by the
incisive words in which Christina showed how he had both insulted
her and had tried to shift the blame upon Sentanelli.
Monaldeschi broke down completely. He fell at the queen's feet and
wept piteously, begging for pardon, only to be met by the cold
"You are my subject and a traitor to me. Marquis, you must prepare
Then she turned away and left the hall, in spite of the cries of
Monaldeschi, to whom she merely added the advice that he should
make his peace with God by confessing to Father Le Bel.
After she had gone the marquis fell into a torrent of self-
exculpation and cried for mercy. The three armed men drew near and
urged him to confess for the good of his soul. They seemed to have
no malice against him, but to feel that they must obey the orders
given them. At the frantic urging of the marquis their leader even
went to the queen to ask whether she would relent; but he returned
shaking his head, and said:
"Marquis, you must die."
Father Le Bel undertook a like mission, but returned with the
message that there was no hope. So the marquis made his confession
in French and Latin, but even then he hoped; for he did not wait
to receive absolution, but begged still further for delay or
Then the three armed men approached, having drawn their swords.
The absolution was pronounced; and, following it, one of the
guards slashed the marquis across the forehead. He stumbled and
fell forward, making signs as if to ask that he might have his
throat cut. But his throat was partly protected by a coat of mail,
so that three or four strokes delivered there had slight effect.
Finally, however, a long, narrow sword was thrust into his side,
after which the marquis made no sound.
Father Le Bel at once left the Galerie des Cerfs and went into the
queen's apartment, with the smell of blood in his nostrils. He
found her calm and ready to justify herself. Was she not still
queen over all who had voluntarily become members of her suite?
This had been agreed to in her act of abdication. Wherever she set
her foot, there, over her own, she was still a monarch, with full
power to punish traitors at her will. This power she had
exercised, and with justice. What mattered it that she was in
France? She was queen as truly as Louis XIV. was king.
The story was not long in getting out, but the truth was not
wholly known until a much later day. It was said that Sentanelli
had slapped the marquis in a fit of jealousy, though some added
that it was done with the connivance of the queen. King Louis, the
incarnation of absolutism, knew the truth, but he was slow to act.
He sympathized with the theory of Christina's sovereignty. It was
only after a time that word was sent to Christina that she must
leave Fontainebleau. She took no notice of the order until it
suited her convenience, and then she went forth with all the
honors of a reigning monarch.
This was the most striking episode in all the strange story of her
private life. When her cousin Charles, whom she had made king,
died without an heir she sought to recover her crown; but the
estates of the realm refused her claim, reduced her income, and
imposed restraints upon her power. She then sought the vacant
throne of Poland; but the Polish nobles, who desired a weak ruler
for their own purposes, made another choice. So at last she
returned to Rome, where the Pope received her with a splendid
procession and granted her twelve thousand crowns a year to make
up for her lessened Swedish revenue.
From this time she lived a life which she made interesting by her
patronage of learning and exciting by her rather unseemly quarrels
with cardinals and even with the Pope. Her armed retinue marched
through the streets with drawn swords and gave open protection to
criminals who had taken refuge with her. She dared to criticize
the pontiff, who merely smiled and said:
"She is a woman!"
On the whole, the end of her life was pleasant. She was much
admired for her sagacity in politics. Her words were listened to
at every court in Europe. She annotated the classics, she made
beautiful collections, and she was regarded as a privileged person
whose acts no one took amiss. She died at fifty-three, and was
buried in St. Peter's.
She was bred a man, she was almost a son to her great father; and
yet, instead of the sonorous epitaph that is inscribed beside her
tomb, perhaps a truer one would be the words of the vexed Pope:
KING CHARLES II. AND NELL GWYN
One might classify the kings of England in many ways. John was
undoubtedly the most unpopular. The impetuous yet far-seeing Henry
II., with the other two great warriors, Edward I. and Edward III.,
and William of Orange, did most for the foundation and development
of England's constitutional law. Some monarchs, such as Edward II.
and the womanish Henry VI., have been contemptible. Hard-working,
useful kings have been Henry VII., the Georges, William IV., and
especially the last Edward.
If we consider those monarchs who have in some curious way touched
the popular fancy without reference to their virtues we must go
back to Richard of the Lion Heart, who saw but little of England,
yet was the best essentially English king, and to Henry V.,
gallant soldier and conqueror of France. Even Henry VIII. had a
warm place in the affection of his countrymen, few of whom saw him
near at hand, but most of whom made him a sort of regal
incarnation of John Bull--wrestling and tilting and boxing, eating
great joints of beef, and staying his thirst with flagons of ale--
a big, healthy, masterful animal, in fact, who gratified the
national love of splendor and stood up manfully in his struggle
with the Pope.
But if you look for something more than ordinary popularity--
something that belongs to sentiment and makes men willing to
become martyrs for a royal cause--we must find these among the
Stuart kings. It is odd, indeed, that even at this day there are
Englishmen and Englishwomen who believe their lawful sovereign to
be a minor Bavarian princess in whose veins there runs the Stuart
blood. Prayers are said for her at English shrines, and toasts are
drunk to her in rare old wine.
Of course, to-day this cult of the Stuarts is nothing but a fad.
No one ever expects to see a Stuart on the English throne. But it
is significant of the deep strain of romance which the six Stuarts
who reigned in England have implanted in the English heart. The
old Jacobite ballads still have power to thrill. Queen Victoria
herself used to have the pipers file out before her at Balmoral to
the "skirling" of "Bonnie Dundee," "Over the Water to Charlie,"
and "Wha'll Be King but Charlie!" It is a sentiment that has never
died. Her late majesty used to say that when she heard these tunes
she became for the moment a Jacobite; just as the Empress Eugenie
at the height of her power used pertly to remark that she herself
was the only Legitimist left in France.
It may be suggested that the Stuarts are still loved by many
Englishmen because they were unfortunate; yet this is hardly true,
after all. Many of them were fortunate enough. The first of them,
King James, an absurd creature, speaking broad Scotch, timid,
foolishly fond of favorites, and having none of the dignity of a
monarch, lived out a lengthy reign. The two royal women of the
family--Anne and Mary--had no misfortunes of a public nature.
Charles II. reigned for more than a quarter of a century, lapped
in every kind of luxury, and died a king.
The first Charles was beheaded and afterward styled a "saint"; yet
the majority of the English people were against his arrogance, or
else he would have won his great struggle against Parliament. The
second James was not popular at all. Nevertheless, no sooner had
he been expelled, and been succeeded by a Dutchman gnawing
asparagus and reeking of cheeses, than there was already a Stuart
legend. Even had there been no pretenders to carry on the cult,
the Stuarts would still have passed into history as much loved by
It only shows how very little in former days the people expected
of a regnant king. Many monarchs have had just a few popular
traits, and these have stood out brilliantly against the darkness
of the background.
No one could have cared greatly for the first James, but Charles
I. was indeed a kingly personage when viewed afar. He was
handsome, as a man, fully equaling the French princess who became
his wife. He had no personal vices. He was brave, and good to look
upon, and had a kingly mien. Hence, although he sought to make his
rule over England a tyranny, there were many fine old cavaliers to
ride afield for him when he raised his standard, and who, when he
died, mourned for him as a "martyr."
Many hardships they underwent while Cromwell ruled with his iron
hand; and when that iron hand was relaxed in death, and poor,
feeble Richard Cromwell slunk away to his country-seat, what
wonder is it that young Charles came back to England and caracoled
through the streets of London with a smile for every one and a
happy laugh upon his lips? What wonder is it that the cannon in
the Tower thundered a loud welcome, and that all over England, at
one season or another, maypoles rose and Christmas fires blazed?
For Englishmen at heart are not only monarchists, but they are
lovers of good cheer and merrymaking and all sorts of mirth.
Charles II. might well at first have seemed a worthier and wiser
successor to his splendid father. As a child, even, he had shown
himself to be no faint-hearted creature. When the great Civil War
broke out he had joined his father's army. It met with disaster at
Edgehill, and was finally shattered by the crushing defeat of
Naseby, which afterward inspired Macaulay's most stirring ballad.
Charles was then only a child of twelve, and so his followers did
wisely in hurrying him out of England, through the Scilly isles
and Jersey to his mother's place of exile. Of course, a child so
very young could be of no value as a leader, though his presence
might prove an inspiration.
In 1648, however, when he was eighteen years of age, he gathered a
fleet of eighteen ships and cruised along the English coast,
taking prizes, which he carried to the Dutch ports. When he was at
Holland's capital, during his father's trial, he wrote many
messages to the Parliamentarians, and even sent them a blank
charter, which they might fill in with any stipulations they
desired if only they would save and restore their king.
When the head of Charles rolled from the velvet-covered block his
son showed himself to be no loiterer or lover of an easy life. He
hastened to Scotland, skilfully escaping an English force, and was
proclaimed as king and crowned at Scone, in 1651. With ten
thousand men he dashed into England, where he knew there were many
who would rally at his call. But it was then that Cromwell put
forth his supreme military genius and with his Ironsides crushed
the royal troops at Worcester.
Charles knew that for the present all was lost. He showed courage
and address in covering the flight of his beaten soldiers; but he
soon afterward went to France, remaining there and in the
Netherlands for eight years as a pensioner of Louis XIV. He knew
that time would fight for him far more surely than infantry and
horse. England had not been called "Merry England" for nothing;
and Cromwell's tyranny was likely to be far more resented than the
heavy hand of one who was born a king. So Charles at Paris and
Liege, though he had little money at the time, managed to maintain
a royal court, such as it was.
Here there came out another side of his nature. As a child he had
borne hardship and privation and had seen the red blood flow upon
the battlefield. Now, as it were, he allowed a certain sensuous,
pleasure-loving ease to envelop him. The red blood should become
the rich red burgundy; the sound of trumpets and kettledrums
should give way to the melody of lutes and viols. He would be a
king of pleasure if he were to be king at all. And therefore his
court, even in exile, was a court of gallantry and ease. The Pope
refused to lend him money, and the King of France would not
increase his pension, but there were many who foresaw that Charles
would not long remain in exile; and so they gave him what he
wanted and waited until he could give them what they would ask for
in their turn.
Charles at this time was not handsome, like his father. His
complexion was swarthy, his figure by no means imposing, though
always graceful. When he chose he could bear himself with all the
dignity of a monarch. He had a singularly pleasant manner, and a
word from him could win over the harshest opponent.
The old cavaliers who accompanied their master in exile were like
Napoleon's veterans in Elba. With their tall, powerful forms they
stalked about the courtyards, sniffing their disapproval at these
foreign ways and longing grimly for the time when they could once
more smell the pungent powder of the battle-field. But, as Charles
had hoped, the change was coming. Not merely were his own subjects
beginning to long for him and to pray in secret for the king, but
continental monarchs who maintained spies in England began to know
of this. To them Charles was no longer a penniless exile. He was a
king who before long would take possession of his kingdom.
A very wise woman--the Queen Regent of Portugal--was the first to
act on this information. Portugal was then very far from being a
petty state. It had wealth at home and rich colonies abroad, while
its flag was seen on every sea. The queen regent, being at odds
with Spain, and wishing to secure an ally against that power, made
overtures to Charles, asking him whether a match might not be made
between him and the Princess Catharine of Braganza. It was not
merely her daughter's hand that she offered, but a splendid dowry.
She would pay Charles a million pounds in gold and cede to England
two valuable ports.
The match was not yet made, but by 1659 it had been arranged. The
Spaniards were furious, for Charles's cause began to appear
She was a quaint and rather piteous little figure, she who was
destined to be the wife of the Merry Monarch. Catharine was dark,
petite, and by no means beautiful; yet she had a very sweet
expression and a heart of utter innocence. She had been wholly
convent-bred. She knew nothing of the world. She was told that in
marriage she must obey in all things, and that the chief duty of a
wife was to make her husband happy.
Poor child! It was a too gracious preparation for a very graceless
husband. Charles, in exile, had already made more than one
discreditable connection and he was already the father of more
than one growing son.
First of all, he had been smitten by the bold ways of one Lucy
Walters. Her impudence amused the exiled monarch. She was not
particularly beautiful, and when she spoke as others did she was
rather tiresome; but her pertness and the inexperience of the king
when he went into exile made her seem attractive. She bore him a
son, in the person of that brilliant adventurer whom Charles
afterward created Duke of Monmouth. Many persons believe that
Charles had married Lucy Walters, just as George IV. may have
married Mrs. Fitzherbert; yet there is not the slightest proof of
it, and it must be classed with popular legends.
There was also one Catherine Peg, or Kep, whose son was afterward
made Earl of Plymouth. It must be confessed that in his
attachments to English women Charles showed little care for rank
or station. Lucy Walters and Catherine Peg were very illiterate
In a way it was precisely this sort of preference that made
Charles so popular among the people. He seemed to make rank of no
account, but would chat in the most familiar and friendly way with
any one whom he happened to meet. His easy, democratic manner,
coupled with the grace and prestige of royalty, made friends for
him all over England. The treasury might be nearly bankrupt; the
navy might be routed by the Dutch; the king himself might be too
much given to dissipation; but his people forgave him all, because
everybody knew that Charles would clap an honest citizen on the
back and joke with all who came to see him feed the swans in
The popular name for him was "Rowley," or "Old Rowley"--a nickname
of mysterious origin, though it is said to have been given him
from a fancied resemblance to a famous hunter in his stables.
Perhaps it is the very final test of popularity that a ruler
should have a nickname known to every one.
Cromwell's death roused all England to a frenzy of king-worship.
The Roundhead, General Monk, and his soldiers proclaimed Charles
King of England and escorted him to London in splendid state. That
was a day when national feeling reached a point such as never has
been before or since. Oughtred, the famous mathematician, died of
joy when the royal emblems were restored. Urquhart, the translator
of Rabelais, died, it is said, of laughter at the people's wild
delight--a truly Rabelaisian end.
There was the king once more; and England, breaking through its
long period of Puritanism, laughed and danced with more vivacity
than ever the French had shown. All the pipers and the players and
panderers to vice, the mountebanks, the sensual men, and the
lawless women poured into the presence of the king, who had been
too long deprived of the pleasure that his nature craved.
Parliament voted seventy thousand pounds for a memorial to
Charles's father, but the irresponsible king spent the whole sum
on the women who surrounded him. His severest counselor, Lord
Clarendon, sent him a remonstrance.
"How can I build such a memorial," asked Charles, "when I don't
know where my father's remains are buried!"
He took money from the King of France to make war against the
Dutch, who had befriended him. It was the French king, too, who
sent him that insidious, subtle daughter of Brittany, Louise de
Keroualle--Duchess of Portsmouth--a diplomat in petticoats, who
won the king's wayward affections, and spied on what he did and
said, and faithfully reported all of it to Paris. She became the
mother of the Duke of Lenox, and she was feared and hated by the
English more than any other of his mistresses. They called her
"Madam Carwell," and they seemed to have an instinct that she was
no mere plaything of his idle hours, but was like some strange
exotic serpent, whose poison might in the end sting the honor of
There is a pitiful little episode in the marriage of Charles with
his Portuguese bride, Catharine of Braganza. The royal girl came
to him fresh from the cloisters of her convent. There was
something about her grace and innocence that touched the dissolute
monarch, who was by no means without a heart. For a time he
treated her with great respect, and she was happy. At last she
began to notice about her strange faces--faces that were evil,
wanton, or overbold. The court became more and more a seat of
Finally Catharine was told that the Duchess of Cleveland--that
splendid termagant, Barbara Villiers--had been appointed lady of
the bedchamber. She was told at the same time who this vixen was--
that she was no fit attendant for a virtuous woman, and that her
three sons, the Dukes of Southampton, Grafton, and Northumberland,
were also the sons of Charles.
Fluttered and frightened and dismayed, the queen hastened to her
husband and begged him not to put this slight upon her. A year or
two before, she had never dreamed that life contained such things
as these; but now it seemed to contain nothing else. Charles spoke
sternly to her until she burst into tears, and then he petted her
and told her that her duty as a queen compelled her to submit to
many things which a lady in private life need not endure.
After a long and poignant struggle with her own emotions the
little Portuguese yielded to the wishes of her lord. She never
again reproached him. She even spoke with kindness to his
favorites and made him feel that she studied his happiness alone.
Her gentleness affected him so that he always spoke to her with
courtesy and real friendship. When the Protestant mobs sought to
drive her out of England he showed his courage and manliness by
standing by her and refusing to allow her to be molested.
Indeed, had Charles been always at his best he would have had a
very different name in history. He could be in every sense a king.
He had a keen knowledge of human nature. Though he governed
England very badly, he never governed it so badly as to lose his
The epigram of Rochester, written at the king's own request, was
singularly true of Charles. No man relied upon his word, yet men
loved him. He never said anything that was foolish, and he very
seldom did anything that was wise; yet his easy manners and
gracious ways endeared him to those who met him.
One can find no better picture of his court than that which Sir
Walter Scott has drawn so vividly in Peveril of the Peak; or, if
one wishes first-hand evidence, it can be found in the diaries of
Evelyn and of Samuel Pepys. In them we find the rakes and dicers,
full of strange oaths, deep drunkards, vile women and still viler
men, all striving for the royal favor and offering the filthiest
lures, amid routs and balls and noisy entertainments, of which it
is recorded that more than once some woman gave birth to a child
among the crowd of dancers.
No wonder that the little Portuguese queen kept to herself and did
not let herself be drawn into this swirling, roaring, roistering
saturnalia. She had less influence even than Moll Davis, whom
Charles picked out of a coffee-house, and far less than "Madam
Carwell," to whom it is reported that a great English nobleman
once presented pearls to the value of eight thousand pounds in
order to secure her influence in a single stroke of political
Of all the women who surrounded Charles there was only one who
cared anything for him or for England. The rest were all either
selfish or treacherous or base. This one exception has been so
greatly written of, both in fiction and in history, as to make it
seem almost unnecessary to add another word; yet it may well be
worth while to separate the fiction from the fact and to see how
much of the legend of Eleanor Gwyn is true.
The fanciful story of her birthplace is most surely quite
unfounded. She was not the daughter of a Welsh officer, but of two
petty hucksters who had their booth in the lowest precincts of
London. In those days the Strand was partly open country, and as
it neared the city it showed the mansions of the gentry set in
their green-walled parks. At one end of the Strand, however, was
Drury Lane, then the haunt of criminals and every kind of wretch,
while nearer still was the notorious Coal Yard, where no citizen
dared go unarmed.
Within this dreadful place children were kidnapped and trained to
various forms of vice. It was a school for murderers and robbers
and prostitutes; and every night when the torches flared it
vomited forth its deadly spawn. Here was the earliest home of
Eleanor Gwyn, and out of this den of iniquity she came at night to
sell oranges at the entrance to the theaters. She was stage-
struck, and endeavored to get even a minor part in a play; but
Betterton, the famous actor, thrust her aside when she ventured to
apply to him.
It must be said that in everything that was external, except her
beauty, she fell short of a fastidious taste. She was intensely
ignorant even for that time. She spoke in a broad Cockney dialect.
She had lived the life of the Coal Yard, and, like Zola's Nana,
she could never remember the time when she had known the meaning
Nell Gwyn was, in fact, a product of the vilest slums of London;
and precisely because she was this we must set her down as
intrinsically a good woman--one of the truest, frankest, and most
right-minded of whom the history of such women has anything to
tell. All that external circumstances could do to push her down
into the mire was done; yet she was not pushed down, but emerged
as one of those rare souls who have in their natures an
uncontaminated spring of goodness and honesty. Unlike Barbara
Villiers or Lucy Walters or Louise de Keroualle, she was neither a
harpy nor a foe to England.
Charles is said first to have met her when he, incognito, with
another friend, was making the rounds of the theaters at night.
The king spied her glowing, nut-brown face in one of the boxes,
and, forgetting his incognito, went up and joined her. She was
with her protector of the time, Lord Buckhurst, who, of course,
recognized his majesty.
Presently the whole party went out to a neighboring coffee-house,
where they drank and ate together. When it came time to pay the
reckoning the king found that he had no money, nor had his friend.
Lord Buckhurst, therefore, paid the bill, while Mistress Nell
jeered at the other two, saying that this was the most poverty-
stricken party that she had ever met.
Charles did not lose sight of her. Her frankness and honest manner
pleased him. There came a time when she was known to be a mistress
of the king, and she bore a son, who was ennobled as the Duke of
St. Albans, but who did not live to middle age. Nell Gwyn was much
with Charles; and after his tempestuous scenes with Barbara
Villiers, and the feeling of dishonor which the Duchess of
Portsmouth made him experience, the girl's good English bluntness
was a pleasure far more rare than sentiment.
Somehow, just as the people had come to mistrust "Madam Carwell,"
so they came to like Nell Gwyn. She saw enough of Charles, and she
liked him well enough, to wish that he might do his duty by his
people; and she alone had the boldness to speak out what she
thought. One day she found him lolling in an arm-chair and
complaining that the people were not satisfied.
"You can very easily satisfy them," said Nell Gwyn. "Dismiss your
women and attend to the proper business of a king."
Again, her heart was touched at the misfortunes of the old
soldiers who had fought for Charles and for his father during the
Civil War, and who were now neglected, while the treasury was
emptied for French favorites, and while the policy of England
itself was bought and sold in France. Many and many a time, when
other women of her kind used their lures to get jewels or titles
or estates or actual heaps of money, Nell Gwyn besought the king
to aid these needy veterans. Because of her efforts Chelsea
Hospital was founded. Such money as she had she shared with the
poor and with those who had fought for her royal lover.
As I have said, she is a historical type of the woman who loses
her physical purity, yet who retains a sense of honor and of
honesty which nothing can take from her. There are not many such
examples, and therefore this one is worth remembering.
Of anecdotes concerning her there are many, but not often has
their real import been detected. If she could twine her arms about
the monarch's neck and transport him in a delirium of passion,
this was only part of what she did. She tried to keep him right
and true and worthy of his rank; and after he had ceased to care
much for her as a lover he remembered that she had been faithful
in many other things.
Then there came the death-bed scene, when Charles, in his
inimitable manner, apologized to those about him because he was so
long in dying. A far sincerer sentence was that which came from
his heart, as he cried out, in the very pangs of death:
"Do not let poor Nelly starve!"
MAURICE OF SAXONY AND ADRIENNE LECOUVREUR
It is an old saying that to every womanly woman self-sacrifice is
almost a necessity of her nature. To make herself of small account
as compared with the one she loves; to give freely of herself,
even though she may receive nothing in return; to suffer, and yet
to feel an inner poignant joy in all this suffering--here is a
most wonderful trait of womanhood. Perhaps it is akin to the
maternal instinct; for to the mother, after she has felt the throb
of a new life within her, there is no sacrifice so great and no
anguish so keen that she will not welcome it as the outward sign
and evidence of her illimitable love.
In most women this spirit of self-sacrifice is checked and kept
within ordinary bounds by the circumstances of their lives. In
many small things they do yield and they do suffer; yet it is not
in yielding and in suffering that they find their deepest joy.
There are some, however, who seem to have been born with an
abnormal capacity for enduring hardship and mental anguish; so
that by a sort of contradiction they find their happiness in
sorrow. Such women are endowed with a remarkable degree of
sensibility. They feel intensely. In moments of grief and
disappointment, and even of despair, there steals over them a sort
of melancholy pleasure. It is as if they loved dim lights and
mournful music and scenes full of sad suggestion.
If everything goes well with them, they are unwilling to believe
that such good fortune will last. If anything goes wrong with
them, they are sure that this is only the beginning of something
even worse. The music of their lives is written in a minor key.
Now, for such women as these, the world at large has very little
charity. It speaks slightingly of them as "agonizers." It believes
that they are "fond of making scenes." It regards as an
affectation something that is really instinctive and inevitable.
Unless such women are beautiful and young and charming they are
treated badly; and this is often true in spite of all their
natural attractiveness, for they seem to court ill usage as if
they were saying frankly:
"Come, take us! We will give you everything and ask for nothing.
We do not expect true and enduring love. Do not be constant or
generous or even kind. We know that we shall suffer. But, none the
less, in our sorrow there will be sweetness, and even in our
abasement we shall feel a sort of triumph."
In history there is one woman who stands out conspicuously as a
type of her melancholy sisterhood, one whose life was full of
disappointment even when she was most successful, and of indignity
even when she was most sought after and admired. This woman was
Adrienne Lecouvreur, famous in the annals of the stage, and still
more famous in the annals of unrequited--or, at any rate, unhappy
Her story is linked with that of a man no less remarkable than
herself, a hero of chivalry, a marvel of courage, of fascination,
and of irresponsibility.
Adrienne Lecouvreur--her name was originally Couvreur--was born
toward the end of the seventeenth century in the little French
village of Damery, not far from Rheims, where her aunt was a
laundress and her father a hatter in a small way. Of her mother,
who died in childbirth, we know nothing; but her father was a man
of gloomy and ungovernable temper, breaking out into violent fits
of passion, in one of which, long afterward, he died, raving and
yelling like a maniac.
Adrienne was brought up at the wash-tub, and became accustomed to
a wandering life, in which she went from one town to another. What
she had inherited from her mother is, of course, not known; but
she had all her father's strangely pessimistic temper, softened
only by the fact that she was a girl. From her earliest years she
was unhappy; yet her unhappiness was largely of her own choosing.
Other girls of her own station met life cheerfully, worked away
from dawn till dusk, and then had their moments of amusement, and
even jollity, with their companions, after the fashion of all
children. But Adrienne Lecouvreur was unhappy because she chose to
be. It was not the wash-tub that made her so, for she had been
born to it; nor was it the half-mad outbreaks of her father,
because to her, at least, he was not unkind. Her discontent sprang
from her excessive sensibility.
Indeed, for a peasant child she had reason to think herself far
more fortunate than her associates. Her intelligence was great.
Ambition was awakened in her before she was ten years of age, when
she began to learn and to recite poems--learning them, as has been
said, "between the wash-tub and the ironing-board," and reciting
them to the admiration of older and wiser people than she. Even at
ten she was a very beautiful child, with great lambent eyes, an
exquisite complexion, and a lovely form, while she had the further
gift of a voice that thrilled the listener and, when she chose,
brought tears to every eye. She was, indeed, a natural
elocutionist, knowing by instinct all those modulations of tone
and varied cadences which go to the hearer's heart.
It was very like Adrienne Lecouvreur to memorize only such poems
as were mournful, just as in after life she could win success upon
the stage only in tragic parts. She would repeat with a sort of
ecstasy the pathetic poems that were then admired; and she was
soon able to give up her menial work, because many people asked
her to their houses so that they could listen to the divinely
beautiful voice charged with the emotion which was always at her
When she was thirteen her father moved to Paris, where she was
placed at school--a very humble school in a very humble quarter of
the city. Yet even there her genius showed itself at that early
age. A number of children and young people, probably influenced by
Adrienne, formed themselves into a theatrical company from the
pure love of acting. A friendly grocer let them have an empty
store-room for their performances, and in this store-room Adrienne
Lecouvreur first acted in a tragedy by Corneille, assuming the
part of leading woman.
Her genius for the stage was like the genius of Napoleon for war.
She had had no teaching. She had never been inside of any theater;
and yet she delivered the magnificent lines with all the power and
fire and effectiveness of a most accomplished actress. People
thronged to see her and to feel the tempest of emotion which shook
her as she sustained her part, which for the moment was as real to
her as life itself.
At first only the people of the neighborhood knew anything about
these amateur performances; but presently a lady of rank, one Mme.
du Gue, came out of curiosity and was fascinated by the little
actress. Mme. du Gue offered the spacious courtyard of her own
house, and fitted it with some of the appurtenances of a theater.
From that moment the fame of Adrienne spread throughout all Paris.
The courtyard was crowded by gentlemen and ladies, by people of
distinction from the court, and at last even by actors and
actresses from the Comedie Franchise.
It is, in fact, a remarkable tribute to Adrienne that in her
thirteenth year she excited so much jealousy among the actors of
the Comedie that they evoked the law against her. Theaters
required a royal license, and of course poor little Adrienne's
company had none. Hence legal proceedings were begun, and the most
famous actresses in Paris talked of having these clever children
imprisoned! Upon this the company sought the precincts of the
Temple, where no legal warrant could be served without the express
order of the king himself.
There for a time the performances still went on. Finally, as the
other children were not geniuses, but merely boys and girls in
search of fun, the little company broke up. Its success, however,
had determined for ever the career of Adrienne. With her beautiful
face, her lithe and exquisite figure, her golden voice, and her
instinctive art, it was plain enough that her future lay upon the
stage; and so at fourteen or fifteen she began where most
actresses leave off--accomplished and attractive, and having had a
practical training in her profession.
Diderot, in that same century, observed that the truest actor is
one who does not feel his part at all, but produces his effects by
intellectual effort and intelligent observation. Behind the figure
on the stage, torn with passion or rollicking with mirth, there
must always be the cool and unemotional mind which directs and
governs and controls. This same theory was both held and practised
by the late Benoit Constant Coquelin. To some extent it was the
theory of Garrick and Fechter and Edwin Booth; though it was
rejected by the two Keans, and by Edwin Forrest, who entered so
throughly into the character which he assumed, and who let loose
such tremendous bursts of passion that other actors dreaded to
support him on the stage in such parts as Spartacus and Metamora.
It is needless to say that a girl like Adrienne Lecouvreur flung
herself with all the intensity of her nature into every role she
played. This was the greatest secret of her success; for, with
her, nature rose superior to art. On the other hand, it fixed her
dramatic limitations, for it barred her out of comedy. Her
melancholy, morbid disposition was in the fullest sympathy with
tragic heroines; but she failed when she tried to represent the
lighter moods and the merry moments of those who welcome mirth.
She could counterfeit despair, and unforced tears would fill her
eyes; but she could not laugh and romp and simulate a gaiety that
was never hers.
Adrienne would have been delighted to act at one of the theaters
in Paris; but they were closed to her through jealousy. She went
into the provinces, in the eastern part of France, and for ten
years she was a leading lady there in many companies and in many
towns. As she blossomed into womanhood there came into her life
the love which was to be at once a source of the most profound
interest and of the most intense agony.
It is odd that all her professional success never gave her any
happiness. The life of the actress who traveled from town to town,
the crude and coarse experiences which she had to undergo, the
disorder and the unsettled mode of living, all produced in her a
profound disgust. She was of too exquisite a fiber to live in such
a way, especially in a century when the refinements of existence
were for the very few.
She speaks herself of "obligatory amusements, the insistence of
men, and of love affairs." Yet how could such a woman as Adrienne
Lecouvreur keep herself from love affairs? The motion of the stage
and its mimic griefs satisfied her only while she was actually
upon the boards. Love offered her an emotional excitement that
endured and that was always changing. It was "the profoundest
instinct of her being"; and she once wrote: "What could one do in
the world without loving?"
Still, through these ten years she seems to have loved only that
she might be unhappy. There was a strange twist in her mind. Men
who were honorable and who loved her with sincerity she treated
very badly. Men who were indifferent or ungrateful or actually
base she seemed to choose by a sort of perverse instinct. Perhaps
the explanation of it is that during those ten years, though she
had many lovers, she never really loved. She sought excitement,
passion, and after that the mournfulness which comes when passion
dies. Thus, one man after another came into her life--some of them
promising marriage--and she bore two children, whose fathers were
unknown, or at least uncertain. But, after all, one can scarcely
pity her, since she had not yet in reality known that great
passion which comes but once in life. So far she had learned only
a sort of feeble cynicism, which she expressed in letters and in
such sayings as these:
"There are sweet errors which I would not venture to commit again.
My experiences, all too sad, have served to illumine my reason."
"I am utterly weary of love and prodigiously tempted to have no
more of it for the rest of my life; because, after all, I don't
wish either to die or to go mad."
Yet she also said: "I know too well that no one dies of grief."
She had had, indeed, some very unfortunate experiences. Men of
rank had loved her and had then cast her off. An actor, one
Clavel, would have married her, but she would not accept his
offer. A magistrate in Strasburg promised marriage; and then, when
she was about to accept him, he wrote to her that he was going to
yield to the wishes of his family and make a more advantageous
alliance. And so she was alternately caressed and repulsed--a
mere plaything; and yet this was probably all that she really
needed at the time--something to stir her, something to make her
mournful or indignant or ashamed.
It was inevitable that at last Adrienne Lecouvreur should appear
in Paris. She had won such renown throughout the provinces that
even those who were intensely jealous of her were obliged to give
her due consideration. In 1717, when she was in her twenty-fifth
year, she became a member of the Comedie Franchise. There she made
an immediate and most brilliant impression. She easily took the
leading place. She was one of the glories of Paris, for she became
the fashion outside the theater. For the first time the great
classic plays were given, not in the monotonous singsong which had
become a sort of theatrical convention, but with all the fire and
naturalness of life.
Being the fashion, Mlle. Lecouvreur elevated the social rank of
actors and of actresses. Her salon was thronged by men and women
of rank. Voltaire wrote poems in her honor. To be invited to her
dinners was almost like receiving a decoration from the king. She
ought to have been happy, for she had reached the summit of her
profession and something more.
Yet still she was unhappy. In all her letters one finds a
plaintive tone, a little moaning sound that shows how slightly her
nature had been changed. No longer, however, did she throw herself
away upon dullards or brutes. An English peer--Lord Peterborough--
not realizing that she was different from other actresses of that
loose-lived age, said to her coarsely at his first introduction:
"Come now! Show me lots of wit and lots of love."
The remark was characteristic of the time. Yet Adrienne had
learned at least one thing, and that was the discontent which came
from light affairs. She had thrown herself away too often. If she
could not love with her entire being, if she could not give all
that was in her to be given, whether of her heart or mind or soul,
then she would love no more at all.
At this time there came to Paris a man remarkable in his own
century, and one who afterward became almost a hero of romance.
This was Maurice, Comte de Saxe, as the French called him, his
German name and title being Moritz, Graf von Sachsen, while we
usually term him, in English, Marshal Saxe. Maurice de Saxe was
now, in 1721, entering his twenty-fifth year. Already, though so
young, his career had been a strange one; and it was destined to
be still more remarkable. He was the natural son of Duke Augustus
II. of Saxony, who later became King of Poland, and who is known
in history as Augustus the Strong.
Augustus was a giant in stature and in strength, handsome, daring,
unscrupulous, and yet extremely fascinating. His life was one of
revelry and fighting and display. When in his cups he would often
call for a horseshoe and twist it into a knot with his powerful
fingers. Many were his mistresses; but the one for whom he cared
the most was a beautiful and high-spirited Swedish girl of rank,
Aurora von Konigsmarck. She was descended from a rough old field-
marshal who in the Thirty Years' War had slashed and sacked and
pillaged and plundered to his heart's content. From him Aurora von
Konigsmarck seemed to have inherited a high spirit and a sort of
lawlessness which charmed the stalwart Augustus of Poland.
Their son, Maurice de Saxe, inherited everything that was good in
his parents, and a great deal that was less commendable. As a mere
child of twelve he had insisted on joining the army of Prince
Eugene, and had seen rough service in a very strenuous campaign.
Two years later he showed such daring on the battle-field that
Prince Eugene summoned him and paid him a compliment under the
form of a rebuke.
"Young man," he said, "you must not mistake mere recklessness for
Before he was twenty he had attained the stature and strength of
his royal father; and, to prove it, he in his turn called for a
horseshoe, which he twisted and broke in his fingers. He fought on
the side of the Russians and Poles, and again against the Turks,
everywhere displaying high courage and also genius as a commander;
for he never lost his self-possession amid the very blackest
danger, but possessed, as Carlyle says, "vigilance, foresight, and
Exceedingly handsome, Maurice was a master of all the arts that
pleased, with just a touch of roughness, which seemed not
unfitting in so gallant a soldier. His troops adored him and would
follow wherever he might choose to lead them; for he exercised
over these rude men a magnetic power resembling that of Napoleon
in after years. In private life he was a hard drinker and fond of
every form of pleasure. Having no fortune of his own, a marriage
was arranged for him with the Countess von Loben, who was
immensely wealthy; but in three years he had squandered all her
money upon his pleasures, and had, moreover, got himself heavily
It was at this time that he first came to Paris to study military
tactics. He had fought hard against the French in the wars that
were now ended; but his chivalrous bearing, his handsome person,
and his reckless joviality made him at once a universal favorite
in Paris. To the perfumed courtiers, with their laces and
lovelocks and mincing ways, Maurice de Saxe came as a sort of
knight of old--jovial, daring, pleasure-loving. Even his broken
French was held to be quite charming; and to see him break a
horseshoe with his fingers threw every one into raptures.
No wonder, then, that he was welcomed in the very highest circles.
Almost at once he attracted the notice of the Princesse de Conti,
a beautiful woman of the blood royal. Of her it has been said that
she was "the personification of a kiss, the incarnation of an
embrace, the ideal of a dream of love." Her chestnut hair was
tinted with little gleams of gold. Her eyes were violet black. Her
complexion was dazzling. But by the king's orders she had been
forced to marry a hunchback--a man whose very limbs were so
weakened by disease and evil living that they would often fail to
support him, and he would fall to the ground, a writhing,
screaming mass of ill-looking flesh.
It is not surprising that his lovely wife should have shuddered
much at his abuse of her and still more at his grotesque
endearments. When her eyes fell on Maurice de Saxe she saw in him
one who could free her from her bondage. By a skilful trick he led
the Prince de Conti to invade the sleeping-room of the princess,
with servants, declaring that she was not alone. The charge proved
quite untrue, and so she left her husband, having won the sympathy
of her own world, which held that she had been insulted. But it
was not she who was destined to win and hold the love of Maurice
Not long after his appearance in the French capital he was invited
to dine with the "Queen of Paris," Adrienne Lecouvreur. Saxe had
seen her on the stage. He knew her previous history. He knew that
she was very much of a soiled dove; but when he met her these two
natures, so utterly dissimilar, leaped together, as it were,
through the indescribable attraction of opposites. He was big and
powerful; she was small and fragile. He was merry, and full of
quips and jests; she was reserved and melancholy. Each felt in the
other a need supplied.
At one of their earliest meetings the climax came. Saxe was not
the man to hesitate; while she already, in her thoughts, had made
a full surrender. In one great sweep he gathered her into his
arms. It appeared to her as if no man had ever laid his hand upon
her until that moment. She cried out:
"Now, for the first time in my life, I seem to live!"
It was, indeed, the very first love which in her checkered career
was really worthy of the name. She had supposed that all such
things were passed and gone, that her heart was closed for ever,
that she was invulnerable; and yet here she found herself clinging
about the neck of this impetuous soldier and showing him all the
shy fondness and the unselfish devotion of a young girl. From this
instant Adrienne Lecouvreur never loved another man and never even
looked at any other man with the slightest interest. For nine long
years the two were bound together, though there were strange
events to ruffle the surface of their love.
Maurice de Saxe had been sired by a king. He had the lofty
ambition to be a king himself, and he felt the stirrings of that
genius which in after years was to make him a great soldier, and
to win the brilliant victory of Fontenoy, which to this very day
the French are never tired of recalling. Already Louis XV. had
made him a marshal of France; and a certain restlessness came over
him. He loved Adrienne; yet he felt that to remain in the
enjoyment of her witcheries ought not to be the whole of a man's
Then the Grand Duchy of Courland--at that time a vassal state of
Poland, now part of Russia--sought a ruler. Maurice de Saxe was
eager to secure its throne, which would make him at least semi-
royal and the chief of a principality. He hastened thither and
found that money was needed to carry out his plans. The widow of
the late duke--the Grand Duchess Anna, niece of Peter the Great,
and later Empress of Russia--as soon as she had met this dazzling
genius, offered to help him to acquire the duchy if he would only
marry her. He did not utterly refuse. Still another woman of high
rank, the Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia, Peter the Great's
daughter, made him very much the same proposal.
Both of these imperial women might well have attracted a man like
Maurice de Saxe, had he been wholly fancy-free, for the second of
them inherited the high spirit and the genius of the great Peter,
while the first was a pleasure-seeking princess, resembling some
of those Roman empresses who loved to stoop that they might
conquer. She is described as indolent and sensual, and she once
declared that the chief good in the world was love. Yet, though
she neglected affairs of state and gave them over to favorites,
she won and kept the affections of her people. She was
unquestionably endowed with the magnetic gift of winning hearts.
Adrienne, who was left behind in Paris, knew very little of what
was going on. Only two things were absolutely clear to her. One
was that if her lover secured the duchy he must be parted from
her. The other was that without money his ambition must be
thwarted, and that he would then return to her. Here was a test to
try the soul of any woman. It proved the height and the depth of
her devotion. Come what might, Maurice should be Duke of Courland,
even though she lost him. She gathered together her whole fortune,
sold every jewel that she possessed, and sent her lover the sum of
nearly a million francs.
This incident shows how absolutely she was his. But in fact,
because of various intrigues, he failed of election to the ducal
throne of Courland, and he returned to Adrienne with all her money
spent, and without even the grace, at first, to show his
gratitude. He stormed and raged over his ill luck. She merely
soothed and petted him, though she had heard that he had thought
of marrying another woman to secure the dukedom. In one of her
letters she bursts out with the pitiful exclamation:
I am distracted with rage and anguish. Is it not natural to cry
out against such treachery? This man surely ought to know me--he
ought to love me. Oh, my God! What are we--what ARE we?
But still she could not give him up, nor could he give her up,
though there were frightful scenes between them--times when he
cruelly reproached her and when her native melancholy deepened
into outbursts of despair. Finally there occurred an incident
which is more or less obscure in parts. The Duchesse de Bouillon,
a great lady of the court--facile, feline, licentious, and eager
for delights--resolved that she would win the love of Maurice de
Saxe. She set herself to win it openly and without any sense of
shame. Maurice himself at times, when the tears of Adrienne proved
wearisome, flirted with the duchess.
Yet, even so, Adrienne held the first place in his heart, and her
rival knew it. Therefore she resolved to humiliate Adrienne, and
to do so in the place where the actress had always reigned
supreme. There was to be a gala performance of Racine's great
tragedy, "Phedre," with Adrienne, of course, in the title-role.
The Duchesse de Bouillon sent a large number of her lackeys with
orders to hiss and jeer, and, if possible, to break off the play.
Malignantly delighted with her plan, the duchess arrayed herself
in jewels and took her seat in a conspicuous stage-box, where she
could watch the coming storm and gloat over the discomfiture of
When the curtain rose, and when Adrienne appeared as Phedre, an
uproar began. It was clear to the great actress that a plot had
been devised against her. In an instant her whole soul was afire.
The queen-like majesty of her bearing compelled silence throughout
the house. Even the hired lackeys were overawed by it. Then
Adrienne moved swiftly across the stage and fronted her enemy,
speaking into her very face the three insulting lines which came
to her at that moment of the play:
I am not of those women void of shame,
Who, savoring in crime the joys of peace,
Harden their faces till they cannot blush!
The whole house rose and burst forth into tremendous applause.
Adrienne had won, for the woman who had tried to shame her rose in
trepidation and hurried from the theater.
But the end was not yet. Those were evil times, when dark deeds
were committed by the great almost with impunity. Secret poisoning
was a common trade. To remove a rival was as usual a thing in the
eighteenth century as to snub a rival is usual in the twentieth.
Not long afterward, on the night of March 15, 1730, Adrienne
Lecouvreur was acting in one of Voltaire's plays with all her
power and instinctive art when suddenly she was seized with the
most frightful pains. Her anguish was obvious to every one who saw
her, and yet she had the courage to go through her part. Then she
fainted and was carried home.
Four days later she died, and her death was no less dramatic than
her life had been. Her lover and two friends of his were with her,
and also a Jesuit priest. He declined to administer extreme
unction unless she would declare that she repented of her
theatrical career. She stubbornly refused, since she believed that
to be the greatest actress of her time was not a sin. Yet still
the priest insisted.
Then came the final moment.
"Weary and revolting against this death, this destiny, she
stretched her arms with one of the old lovely gestures toward a
bust which stood near by and cried--her last cry of passion:
"'There is my world, my hope--yes, and my God!'"
The bust was one of Maurice de Saxe.
THE STORY OF PRINCE CHARLES EDWARD STUART
The royal families of Europe are widely known, yet not all of them
are equally renowned. Thus, the house of Romanoff, although
comparatively young, stands out to the mind with a sort of
barbaric power, more vividly than the Austrian house of Hapsburg,
which is the oldest reigning family in Europe, tracing its
beginnings backward until they are lost in the Dark Ages. The
Hohenzollerns of Prussia are comparatively modern, so far as
concerns their royalty. The offshoots of the Bourbons carry on a
very proud tradition in the person of the King of Spain, although
France, which has been ruled by so many members of the family,
will probably never again behold a Bourbon king. The deposed
Braganzas bear a name which is ancient, but which has a somewhat
The Bonapartes, of course, are merely parvenus, and they have had
the good taste to pretend to no antiquity of birth. The first
Napoleon, dining at a table full of monarchs, when he heard one of
them deferentially alluding to the Bonaparte family as being very
old and noble, exclaimed:
"Pish! My nobility dates from the day of Marengo!"
And the third Napoleon, in announcing his coming marriage with
Mlle. de Montijo, used the very word "parvenu" in speaking of
himself and of his family. His frankness won the hearts of the
French people and helped to reconcile them to a marriage in which
the bride was barely noble.
In English history there are two great names to conjure by, at
least to the imaginative. One is Plantagenet, which seems to
contain within itself the very essence of all that is patrician,
magnificent, and royal. It calls to memory at once the lion-
hearted Richard, whose short reign was replete with romance in
England and France and Austria and the Holy Land.
But perhaps a name of greater influence is that which links the
royal family of Britain today with the traditions of the past, and
which summons up legend and story and great deeds of history. This
is the name of Stuart, about which a whole volume might be written
to recall its suggestions and its reminiscences.
The first Stuart (then Stewart) of whom anything is known got his
name from the title of "Steward of Scotland," which remained in
the family for generations, until the sixth of the line, by
marriage with Princess Marjory Bruce, acquired the Scottish crown.
That was in the early years of the fourteenth century; and
finally, after the death of Elizabeth of England, her rival's son,
James VI. of Scotland and I. of England, united under one crown
two kingdoms that had so long been at almost constant war.
It is almost characteristic of the Scot that, having small
territory, little wealth, and a seat among his peers that is
almost ostentatiously humble, he should bit by bit absorb the
possessions of all the rest and become their master. Surely, the
proud Tudors, whose line ended with Elizabeth, must have despised
the "Stewards," whose kingdom was small and bleak and cold, and
who could not control their own vassals.
One can imagine also, with Sir Walter Scott, the haughty nobles of
the English court sneering covertly at the awkward, shambling
James, pedant and bookworm. Nevertheless, his diplomacy was almost
as good as that of Elizabeth herself; and, though he did some
foolish things, he was very far from being a fool.
In his appearance James was not unlike Abraham Lincoln--an
unkingly figure; and yet, like Lincoln, when occasion required it
he could rise to the dignity which makes one feel the presence of
a king. He was the only Stuart who lacked anything in form or
feature or external grace. His son, Charles I., was perhaps one of
the worst rulers that England has ever had; yet his uprightness of
life, his melancholy yet handsome face, his graceful bearing, and
the strong religious element in his character, together with the
fact that he was put to death after being treacherously
surrendered to his enemies--all these have combined to make almost
a saint of him. There are Englishmen to-day who speak of him as
"the martyr king," and who, on certain days of the year, say
prayers that beg the Lord's forgiveness because of Charles's
The members of the so-called League of the White Rose, founded to
perpetuate English allegiance to the direct line of Stuarts, do
many things that are quite absurd. They refuse to pray for the
present King of England and profess to think that the Princess
Mary of Bavaria is the true ruler of Great Britain. All this
represents that trace of sentiment which lingers among the English
to-day. They feel that the Stuarts were the last kings of England
to rule by the grace of God rather than by the grace of
Parliament. As a matter of fact, the present reigning family in
England is glad to derive its ancient strain of royal blood
through a Stuart--descended on the distaff side from James I.,
and winding its way through Hanover.
This sentiment for the Stuarts is a thing entirely apart from
reason and belongs to the realm of poetry and romance; yet so
strong is it that it has shown itself in the most inconsistent
fashion. For instance, Sir Walter Scott was a devoted adherent of
the house of Hanover. When George IV. visited Edinburgh, Scott was
completely carried away by his loyal enthusiasm. He could not see
that the man before him was a drunkard and braggart. He viewed him
as an incarnation of all the noble traits that ought to hedge
about a king. He snatched up a wine-glass from which George had
just been drinking and carried it away to be an object of
reverence for ever after. Nevertheless, in his heart, and often in
his speech, Scott seemed to be a high Tory, and even a Jacobite.
There are precedents for this. The Empress Eugenie used often to
say with a laugh that she was the only true royalist at the
imperial court of France. That was well enough for her in her days
of flightiness and frivolity. No one, however, accused Queen
Victoria of being frivolous, and she was not supposed to have a
strong sense of humor. None the less, after listening to the
skirling of the bagpipes and to the romantic ballads which were
sung in Scotland she is said to have remarked with a sort of sigh:
"Whenever I hear those ballads I feel that England belongs really
to the Stuarts!"
Before Queen Victoria was born, when all the sons of George III.
were childless, the Duke of Kent was urged to marry, so that he
might have a family to continue the succession. In resenting the
suggestion he said many things, and among them this was the most
"Why don't you call the Stuarts back to England? They couldn't
possibly make a worse mess of it than our fellows have!"
But he yielded to persuasion and married. From this marriage came
Victoria, who had the sacred drop of Stuart blood which gave
England to the Hanoverians; and she was to redeem the blunders and
tyrannies of both houses.
The fascination of the Stuarts, which has been carried overseas to
America and the British dominions, probably began with the
striking history of Mary Queen of Scots. Her brilliancy and
boldness and beauty, and especially the pathos of her end, have
made us see only her intense womanliness, which in her own day was
the first thing that any one observed in her. So, too, with
Charles I., romantic figure and knightly gentleman. One regrets
his death upon the scaffold, even though his execution was
necessary to the growth of freedom.
Many people are no less fascinated by Charles II., that very
different type, with his gaiety, his good-fellowship, and his
easy-going ways. It is not surprising that his people, most of
whom never saw him, were very fond of him, and did not know that
he was selfish, a loose liver, and almost a vassal of the king of
So it is not strange that the Stuarts, with all their arts and
graces, were very hard to displace. James II., with the aid of the
French, fought hard before the British troops in Ireland broke the
backs of both his armies and sent him into exile. Again in 1715--an
episode perpetuated in Thackeray's dramatic story of Henry Esmond
--came the son of James to take advantage of the vacancy caused by
the death of Queen Anne. But it is perhaps to this claimant's son,
the last of the militant Stuarts, that more chivalrous feeling has
been given than to any other.
To his followers he was the Young Chevalier, the true Prince of
Wales; to his enemies, the Whigs and the Hanoverians, he was "the
Pretender." One of the most romantic chapters of history is the
one which tells of that last brilliant dash which he made upon the
coast of Scotland, landing with but a few attendants and rejecting
the support of a French army.
"It is not with foreigners," he said, "but with my own loyal
subjects, that I wish to regain the kingdom for my father."
It was a daring deed, and the spectacular side of it has been
often commemorated, especially in Sir Walter Scott's Waverley.
There we see the gallant prince moving through a sort of military
panorama. Most of the British troops were absent in Flanders, and
the few regiments that could be mustered to meet him were appalled
by the ferocity and reckless courage of the Highlanders, who
leaped down like wildcats from their hills and flung themselves
with dirk and sword upon the British cannon.
We see Sir John Cope retiring at Falkirk, and the astonishing
victory of Prestonpans, where disciplined British troops fled in
dismay through the morning mist, leaving artillery and supplies
behind them. It is Scott again who shows us the prince, master of
Edinburgh for a time, while the white rose of Stuart royalty held
once more the ancient keep above the Scottish capital. Then we see
the Chevalier pressing southward into England, where he hoped to
raise an English army to support his own. But his Highlanders
cared nothing for England, and the English--even the Catholic
gentry--would not rise to support his cause.
Personally, he had every gift that could win allegiance. Handsome,
high-tempered, and brave, he could also control his fiery spirit
and listen to advice, however unpalatable it might be.
The time was favorable. The British troops had been defeated on
the Continent by Marshal Saxe, of whom I have already written, and
by Marshal d'Estrees. George II. was a king whom few respected. He
could scarcely speak anything but German. He grossly ill-treated
his wife. It is said that on one occasion, in a fit of temper, he
actually kicked the prime minister. Not many felt any personal
loyalty to him, and he spent most of his time away from England in
his other domain of Hanover.
But precisely here was a reason why Englishmen were willing to put
up with him. As between him and the brilliant Stuart there would
have been no hesitation had the choice been merely one of men; but
it was believed that the return of the Stuarts meant the return of
something like absolute government, of taxation without sanction
of law, and of religious persecution. Under the Hanoverian George
the English people had begun to exercise a considerable measure of
self-government. Sharp opposition in Parliament compelled him time
and again to yield; and when he was in Hanover the English were
left to work out the problem of free government.
Hence, although Prince Charles Edward fascinated all who met him,
and although a small army was raised for his support, still the
unromantic, common-sense Englishmen felt that things were better
than in the days gone by, and most of them refused to take up arms
for the cause which sentimentally they favored. Therefore,
although the Chevalier stirred all England and sent a thrill
through the officers of state in London, his soldiers gradually
deserted, and the Scots insisted on returning to their own
country. Although the Stuart troops reached a point as far south
as Derby, they were soon pushed backward into Scotland, pursued by
an army of about nine thousand men under the Duke of Cumberland,
son of George II.
Cumberland was no soldier; he had been soundly beaten by the
French on the famous field of Fontenoy. Yet he had firmness and a
sort of overmastering brutality, which, with disciplined troops
and abundant artillery, were sufficient to win a victory over the
When the battle came five thousand of these mountaineers went
roaring along the English lines, with the Chevalier himself at
their head. For a moment there was surprise. The Duke of
Cumberland had been drinking so heavily that he could give no
verbal orders. One of his officers, however, is said to have come
to him in his tent, where he was trying to play cards.
"What disposition shall we make of the prisoners?" asked the
The duke tried to reply, but his utterance was very thick.
"No quarter!" he was believed to say.
The officer objected and begged that such an order as that should
be given in writing. The duke rolled over and seized a sheaf of
playing-cards. Pulling one out, he scrawled the necessary order,
and that was taken to the commanders in the field.
The Highlanders could not stand the cannon fire, and the English
won. Then the fury of the common soldiery broke loose upon the
There was a reign of fantastic and fiendish brutality. One provost
of the town was violently kicked for a mild remonstrance about the
destruction of the Episcopalian meeting-house; another was
condemned to clean out dirty stables. Men and women were whipped
and tortured on slight suspicion or to extract information.
Cumberland frankly professed his contempt and hatred of the people
among whom he found himself, but he savagely punished robberies
committed by private soldiers for their own profit.
"Mild measures will not do," he wrote to Newcastle.
When leaving the North in July, he said:
"All the good we have done is but a little blood-letting, which
has only weakened the madness, but not at all cured it; and I
tremble to fear that this vile spot may still be the ruin of this
island and of our family."
Such was the famous battle of Culloden, fought in 1746, and
putting a final end to the hopes of all the Stuarts. As to
Cumberland's order for "No quarter," if any apology can be made
for such brutality, it must be found in the fact that the Highland
chiefs had on their side agreed to spare no captured enemy.
The battle has also left a name commonly given to the nine of
diamonds, which is called "the curse of Scotland," because it is
said that on that card Cumberland wrote his bloodthirsty order.
Such, in brief, was the story of Prince Charlie's gallant attempt
to restore the kingdom of his ancestors. Even when defeated, he
would not at once leave Scotland. A French squadron appeared off
the coast near Edinburgh. It had been sent to bring him troops and
a large supply of money, but he turned his back upon it and made
his way into the Highlands on foot, closely pursued by English
soldiers and Lowland spies.
This part of his career is in reality the most romantic of all. He
was hunted closely, almost as by hounds. For weeks he had only
such sleep as he could snatch during short periods of safety, and
there were times when his pursuers came within an inch of
capturing him. But never in his life were his spirits so high.
It was a sort of life that he had never seen before, climbing the
mighty rocks, and listening to the thunder of the cataracts, among
which he often slept, with only one faithful follower to guard
him. The story of his escape is almost incredible, but he laughed
and drank and rolled upon the grass when he was free from care. He
hobnobbed with the most suspicious-looking caterans, with whom he
drank the smoky brew of the North, and lived as he might on fish
and onions and bacon and wild fowl, with an appetite such as he
had never known at the luxurious court of Versailles or St.-Germain.
After the battle of Culloden the prince would have been captured
had not a Scottish girl named Flora Macdonald met him, caused him
to be dressed in the clothes of her waiting-maid, and thus got
him off to the Isle of Skye.
There for a time it was impossible to follow him; and there the
two lived almost alone together. Such a proximity could not fail
to stir the romantic feeling of one who was both a youth and a
prince. On the other hand, no thought of love-making seems to have
entered Flora's mind. If, however, we read Campbell's narrative
very closely we can see that Prince Charles made every advance
consistent with a delicate remembrance of her sex and services.
It seems to have been his thought that if she cared for him, then
the two might well love; and he gave her every chance to show him
favor. The youth of twenty-five and the girl of twenty-four
roamed together in the long, tufted grass or lay in the sunshine
and looked out over the sea. The prince would rest his head in her
lap, and she would tumble his golden hair with her slender fingers
and sometimes clip off tresses which she preserved to give to
friends of hers as love-locks. But to the last he was either too
high or too low for her, according to her own modest thought. He
was a royal prince, the heir to a throne, or else he was a boy
with whom she might play quite fancy-free. A lover he could not
be--so pure and beautiful was her thought of him.
These were perhaps the most delightful days of all his life, as
they were a beautiful memory in hers. In time he returned to
France and resumed his place amid the intrigues that surrounded
that other Stuart prince who styled himself James III., and still
kept up the appearance of a king in exile. As he watched the
artifice and the plotting of these make-believe courtiers he may
well have thought of his innocent companion of the Highland wilds.
As for Flora, she was arrested and imprisoned for five months on
English vessels of war. After her release she was married, in
1750; and she and her husband sailed for the American colonies
just before the Revolution. In that war Macdonald became a British
officer and served against his adopted countrymen. Perhaps because
of this reason Flora returned alone to Scotland, where she died at
the age of sixty-eight.
The royal prince who would have given her his easy love lived a
life of far less dignity in the years that followed his return to
France. There was no more hope of recovering the English throne.
For him there were left only the idle and licentious diversions of
such a court as that in which his father lived.
At the death of James III., even this court was disintegrated, and
Prince Charles led a roving life under the title of Earl of
Albany. In his wanderings he met Louise Marie, the daughter of a
German prince, Gustavus Adolphus of Stolberg. She was only
nineteen years of age when she first felt the fascination that he
still possessed; but it was an unhappy marriage for the girl when
she discovered that her husband was a confirmed drunkard.
Not long after, in fact, she found her life with him so utterly
intolerable that she persuaded the Pope to allow her a formal
separation. The pontiff intrusted her to her husband's brother,
Cardinal York, who placed her in a convent and presently removed
her to his own residence in Rome.
Here begins another romance. She was often visited by Vittorio
Alfieri, the great Italian poet and dramatist. Alfieri was a man
of wealth. In early years he divided his time into alternate
periods during which he either studied hard in civil and canonical
law, or was a constant attendant upon the race-course, or rushed
aimlessly all over Europe without any object except to wear out
the post-horses which he used in relays over hundreds of miles of
road. His life, indeed, was eccentric almost to insanity; but when
he had met the beautiful and lonely Countess of Albany there came
over him a striking change. She influenced him for all that was
good, and he used to say that he owed her all that was best in his
Sixteen years after her marriage her royal husband died, a worn-
out, bloated wreck of one who had been as a youth a model of
knightliness and manhood. During his final years he had fallen to
utter destitution, and there was either a touch of half contempt
or a feeling of remote kinship in the act of George III., who
bestowed upon the prince an annual pension of four thousand
pounds. It showed most plainly that England was now consolidated
under Hanoverian rule.
When Cardinal York died, in 1807, there was no Stuart left in the
male line; and the countess was the last to bear the royal
Scottish name of Albany.
After the prince's death his widow is said to have been married to
Alfieri, and for the rest of her life she lived in Florence,
though Alfieri died nearly twenty-one years before her.
Here we have seen a part of the romance which attaches itself to
the name of Stuart--in the chivalrous young prince, leading his
Highlanders against the bayonets of the British, lolling idly
among the Hebrides, or fallen, at the last, to be a drunkard and
the husband of an unwilling consort, who in her turn loved a
famous poet. But it is this Stuart, after all, of whom we think
when we hear the bagpipes skirling "Over the Water to Charlie" or
"Wha'll be King but Charlie?"
FAMOUS AFFINITIES OF HISTORY
THE ROMANCE OF DEVOTION
BY LYNDON ORR
VOLUME II of IV.
THE EMPRESS CATHARINE AND PRINCE POTEMKIN
MARIE ANTOINETTE AND COUNT FERSEN
THE STORY OF AARON BURR
GEORGE IV. AND MRS. FITZHERBERT
CHARLOTTE CORDAY AND ADAM LUX
NAPOLEON AND MARIE WALEWSKA
THE STORY OF PAULINE BONAPARTE
THE STORY OF THE EMPRESS MARIE LOUISE AND COUNT NEIPPERG
THE EMPRESS CATHARINE AND PRINCE POTEMKIN
It has often been said that the greatest Frenchman who ever lived
was in reality an Italian. It might with equal truth be asserted
that the greatest Russian woman who ever lived was in reality a
German. But the Emperor Napoleon and the Empress Catharine II.
resemble each other in something else. Napoleon, though Italian in
blood and lineage, made himself so French in sympathy and
understanding as to be able to play upon the imagination of all
France as a great musician plays upon a splendid instrument, with
absolute sureness of touch and an ability to extract from it every
one of its varied harmonies. So the Empress Catharine of Russia--
perhaps the greatest woman who ever ruled a nation--though born of
German parents, became Russian to the core and made herself the
embodiment of Russian feeling and Russian aspiration.
At the middle of the eighteenth century Russia was governed by the
Empress Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great. In her own time,
and for a long while afterward, her real capacity was obscured by
her apparent indolence, her fondness for display, and her seeming
vacillation; but now a very high place is accorded her in the
history of Russian rulers. She softened the brutality that had
reigned supreme in Russia. She patronized the arts. Her armies
twice defeated Frederick the Great and raided his capital, Berlin.
Had Elizabeth lived, she would probably have crushed him.
In her early years this imperial woman had been betrothed to Louis
XV. of France, but the match was broken off. Subsequently she
entered into a morganatic marriage and bore a son who, of course,
could not be her heir. In 1742, therefore, she looked about for a
suitable successor, and chose her nephew, Prince Peter of
Peter, then a mere youth of seventeen, was delighted with so
splendid a future, and came at once to St. Petersburg. The empress
next sought for a girl who might marry the young prince and thus
become the future Czarina. She thought first of Frederick the
Great's sister; but Frederick shrank from this alliance, though it
would have been of much advantage to him. He loved his sister--
indeed, she was one of the few persons for whom he ever really
cared. So he declined the offer and suggested instead the young
Princess Sophia of the tiny duchy of Anhalt-Zerbst.
The reason for Frederick's refusal was his knowledge of the semi-
barbarous conditions that prevailed at the Russian court.
The Russian capital, at that time, was a bizarre, half-civilized,
half-oriental place, where, among the very highest-born, a thin
veneer of French elegance covered every form of brutality and
savagery and lust. It is not surprising, therefore, that Frederick
the Great was unwilling to have his sister plunged into such a
But when the Empress Elizabeth asked the Princess Sophia of
Anhalt-Zerbst to marry the heir to the Russian throne the young
girl willingly accepted, the more so as her mother practically
commanded it. This mother of hers was a grim, harsh German woman
who had reared her daughter in the strictest fashion, depriving
her of all pleasure with a truly puritanical severity. In the case
of a different sort of girl this training would have crushed her
spirit; but the Princess Sophia, though gentle and refined in
manner, had a power of endurance which was toughened and
strengthened by the discipline she underwent.
And so in 1744, when she was but sixteen years of age, she was
taken by her mother to St. Petersburg. There she renounced the
Lutheran faith and was received into the Greek Church, changing
her name to Catharine. Soon after, with great magnificence, she
was married to Prince Peter, and from that moment began a career
which was to make her the most powerful woman in the world.
At this time a lady of the Russian court wrote down a description
of Catharine's appearance. She was fair-haired, with dark-blue
eyes; and her face, though never beautiful, was made piquant and
striking by the fact that her brows were very dark in contrast
with her golden hair. Her complexion was not clear, yet her look
was a very pleasing one. She had a certain diffidence of manner at
first; but later she bore herself with such instinctive dignity as
to make her seem majestic, though in fact she was beneath the
middle size. At the time of her marriage her figure was slight and
graceful; only in after years did she become stout. Altogether,
she came to St. Petersburg an attractive, pure-minded German
maiden, with a character well disciplined, and possessing reserves
of power which had not yet been drawn upon.
Frederick the Great's forebodings, which had led him to withhold
his sister's hand, were almost immediately justified in the case
of Catharine. Her Russian husband revealed to her a mode of life
which must have tried her very soul. This youth was only
seventeen--a mere boy in age, and yet a full-grown man in the rank
luxuriance of his vices. Moreover, he had eccentricities which
sometimes verged upon insanity. Too young to be admitted to the
councils of his imperial aunt, he occupied his time in ways that
were either ridiculous or vile.
Next to the sleeping-room of his wife he kept a set of kennels,
with a number of dogs, which he spent hours in drilling as if they
had been soldiers. He had a troop of rats which he also drilled.
It was his delight to summon a court martial of his dogs to try
the rats for various military offenses, and then to have the
culprits executed, leaving their bleeding carcasses upon the
floor. At any hour of the day or night Catharine, hidden in her
chamber, could hear the yapping of the curs, the squeak of rats,
and the word of command given by her half-idiot husband.
When wearied of this diversion Peter would summon a troop of
favorites, both men and women, and with them he would drink deep
of beer and vodka, since from his early childhood he had been both
a drunkard and a debauchee. The whoops and howls and vile songs of
his creatures could be heard by Catharine; and sometimes he would
stagger into her rooms, accompanied by his drunken minions. With a
sort of psychopathic perversity he would insist on giving
Catharine the most minute and repulsive narratives of his amours,
until she shrank from him with horror at his depravity and came to
loathe the sight of his bloated face, with its little, twinkling,
porcine eyes, his upturned nose and distended nostrils, and his
loose-hung, lascivious mouth. She was scarcely less repelled when
a wholly different mood would seize upon him and he would declare
himself her slave, attending her at court functions in the garb of
a servant and professing an unbounded devotion for his bride.
Catharine's early training and her womanly nature led her for a
long time to submit to the caprices of her husband. In his saner
moments she would plead with him and strive to interest him in
something better than his dogs and rats and venal mistresses; but
Peter was incorrigible. Though he had moments of sense and even of
good feeling, these never lasted, and after them he would plunge
headlong into the most frantic excesses that his half-crazed
imagination could devise.
It is not strange that in course of time Catharine's strong good
sense showed her that she could do nothing with this creature. She
therefore gradually became estranged from him and set herself to
the task of doing those things which Peter was incapable of
She saw that ever since the first awakening of Russia under Peter
the Great none of its rulers had been genuinely Russian, but had
tried to force upon the Russian people various forms of western
civilization which were alien to the national spirit. Peter the
Great had striven to make his people Dutch. Elizabeth had tried to
make them French. Catharine, with a sure instinct, resolved that
they should remain Russian, borrowing what they needed from other
peoples, but stirred always by the Slavic spirit and swayed by a
patriotism that was their own. To this end she set herself to
become Russian. She acquired the Russian language patiently and
accurately. She adopted the Russian costume, appearing, except on
state occasions, in a simple gown of green, covering her fair
hair, however, with a cap powdered with diamonds. Furthermore, she
made friends of such native Russians as were gifted with talent,
winning their favor, and, through them, the favor of the common
It would have been strange, however, had Catharine, the woman,
escaped the tainting influences that surrounded her on every side.
The infidelities of Peter gradually made her feel that she owed
him nothing as his wife. Among the nobles there were men whose
force of character and of mind attracted her inevitably. Chastity
was a thing of which the average Russian had no conception; and
therefore it is not strange that Catharine, with her intense and
sensitive nature, should have turned to some of these for the love
which she had sought in vain from the half imbecile to whom she
had been married.
Much has been written of this side of her earlier and later life;
yet, though it is impossible to deny that she had favorites, one
should judge very gently the conduct of a girl so young and thrust
into a life whence all the virtues seemed to be excluded. She bore
several children before her thirtieth year, and it is very certain
that a grave doubt exists as to their paternity. Among the nobles
of the court were two whose courage and virility specially
attracted her. The one with whom her name has been most often
coupled was Gregory Orloff. He and his brother, Alexis Orloff,
were Russians of the older type--powerful in frame, suave in
manner except when roused, yet with a tigerish ferocity slumbering
underneath. Their power fascinated Catharine, and it was currently
declared that Gregory Orloff was her lover.
When she was in her thirty-second year her husband was proclaimed
Czar, after the death of the Empress Elizabeth. At first in some
ways his elevation seemed to sober him; but this period of sanity,
like those which had come to him before, lasted only a few weeks.
Historians have given him much credit for two great reforms that
are connected with his name; and yet the manner in which they were
actually brought about is rather ludicrous. He had shut himself up
with his favorite revelers, and had remained for several days
drinking and carousing until he scarcely knew enough to speak. At
this moment a young officer named Gudovitch, who was really loyal
to the newly created Czar, burst into the banquet-hall, booted and
spurred and his eyes aflame with indignation. Standing before
Peter, his voice rang out with the tone of a battle trumpet, so
that the sounds of revelry were hushed.
"Peter Feodorovitch," he cried, "do you prefer these swine to
those who really wish to serve you? Is it in this way that you
imitate the glories of your ancestor, that illustrious Peter whom
you have sworn to take as your model? It will not be long before
your people's love will be changed to hatred. Rise up, my Czar!
Shake off this lethargy and sloth. Prove that you are worthy of
the faith which I and others have given you so loyally!"
With these words Gudovitch thrust into Peter's trembling hand two
proclamations, one abolishing the secret bureau of police, which
had become an instrument of tyrannous oppression, and the other
restoring to the nobility many rights of which they had been
The earnestness and intensity of Gudovitch temporarily cleared the
brain of the drunken Czar. He seized the papers, and, without
reading them, hastened at once to his great council, where he
Back to Full Books