( Originally Published 1926 )
" Quin'a pas vu la ville de Blois au temps des has n'a pas connu la douceur de vivre."
So runs the old saying, and though this is not the time of lilacs " La Perle de la Loire " is looking very beautiful in the October sunset.
To write the story of Blois would mean to write a great part of the history of the Kings and Queens of France. That task is, of course, impossible for me. But there are certain episodes which have left their mark upon Blois, and which flash upon our memory directly we enter the courtyard.
Even as we approach the entrance we are re-minded that this was the birthplace of Louis XII. See his statue in its beautiful niche over the great door! It was here that he lived a great part of his happy life with Anne of Brittany, whom he had married as soon as he decently could after the death of her first husband, Charles VIII. There is in the chapel a painted window representing the betrothal of the King and Queen; and everywhere you will find their emblems—the porcupine of Louis and the ermine of Anne. There are the windows from which they leaned; the hearths by which they sat; the room where this Father of his People lay sick of his terrible illness; and the Queen's chamber, where Anne breathed her last. As we stand in the gallery looking down on the court-yard, we can fancy we see the Queen's coffin, covered with its ermines, being borne out under the archway, Louis following as chief mourner, and weeping, for he loved this little lame wife of his with all his heart.
And as he passes away, followed by the splendid cortege, we bid farewell to him, for we know that he will never return to Blois.
But come, let us look round the courtyard again. Even the chapel, which we have already mentioned, reminds us of the tragedy which is the great story of the castle. Here on the 9th of October 1566, Henri III. and the Due de Guise received Holy Communion together, to mark their renewed affection and friendship. Was there ever such a sacrilege since the time of Judas? There they knelt before the High Altar. In the Duke's heart there were black thoughts enough, but in Henri's there was murder—the murder of the very man beside whom he was kneeling. It was but ten weeks later that the blow was struck. The Duke, Le Balafre, was, with other members of the Council, discussing the question of the salt tax, a never-ending subject of dispute. The Duke was grave and a little distrait. There were whispers in the air; even Catherine de Medicis had warned him that there was danger brewing. As he was mounting the magnificent outside staircase he found him-self followed by the captain and archers of the Guard, which startled him a little. But, with all his faults, Le Balafre was no coward.
" Even if Death is coming in by the door, I am not going to fly out the window," said he haughtily, when the Archbishop of Lyon begged him to leave Blois. And so there he stood, leaning against the great chimneypiece, a handsome figure of a man, listening perhaps to certain noises in the next room, which was the King's bedchamber. And all the while the talk going on about " La gabelle."
The King is not present. He has other things to occupy him. There are the daggers to be given out to the fifty-five assassins; the question to be settled as to who should strike the first blow. And all the time he is restless and nervous, for though he knows that prayers are being offered up in his private oratory for the success of his plot, this Duc de Guise has become so great a power in the land that the very idea of killing him seems impossible. When all is ready, Henri retires to the New Cabinet, which opens off the great bedroom, and closes the door. At the same time, Revol, the Secretary of State, goes out into the Council Chamber, and whispers to the Duke that His Majesty wishes to speak with him. So Le Balafre goes to the door, knocks, and enters. The King is in the Old Cabinet, says the gentleman of the bedchamber who admits him; and thither the Duke is making his way, when he finds himself closely followed by the Fifty-five. Surprised, he turns. Instantly there is a scuffle. Unable to draw his sword, because of his mantle, he is. seized by the arms and legs, flung down at foot of the King's bed, while more than forty daggers are plunged into his body.
For two hours, they say, he lay there, with his cloak thrown over him. At last Henri, who had been giving orders for the capture of the other brother, le Cardinal de Guise, entered, and approaching the body, pushed the head aside with his foot.
" I should not have thought he was so tall," was all he said, contemptuously, and ordered the body to be burned and the ashes scattered over the Loire.
But in Paris much more was said. Over a hundred thousand persons, led by the clergy, walked through the streets, bearing lighted candles, and reciting the De Profundis." At a given signal they stopped, the lights were extinguished, and a savage cry arose: " May God extinguish in like manner the race of the Valois! " And at the head of the procession walked the Duchesse de Montpensier, sister of the murdered man, calling down vengeance on the assassins.
As we pass through the great rooms we can live the scene again. Here is the Salle des Gardes where the Council was being held; here the chapel where the priests knelt, offering up their terrible prayers. The guardian will point out to you the Oratory of Catherine de Medicis; the Tour de Foix, where she studied the stars with her astrologer, Ruggieri; and the bedchamber where she died only ten days after the murder of the Duke and Cardinal.