A Fair Prison
( Originally Published 1911 )
Pension B___, Tours, Wednesday, September 7th.
WALTER has been triumphing over me because, even after his unseemly behavior yesterday, M. La Tour has formed a sudden attachment for him which is so strong that he insisted upon staying over to go with us to Loches this afternoon. He says that we may miss some of the most interesting points there if left to the tender mercies of the guides, who often dwell upon the least important things. Our new acquaintance proved to be so altogether delightful as a cicerone, when he con-ducted us through the old streets of Tours this morning, that we are looking forward with pleasure to an afternoon in his good company.
The old part of the town, M. La Tour tells us, was once a quite distinct ecclesiastical foundation, called Châteauneuf, of which every building, in a way, depended upon the Basilica of St. Martin. When the dreadful Fulk, the Black, set fire to it, in the tenth century, twenty-two churches and chapels are said to have been destroyed. Among those that have been restored are Notre Dame la Riche, once Notre Dame la Pauvre, and St. Saturnin, which formerly contained, among other handsome tombs, that of Thomas Bohier and his wife Katherine Briçonnet, the couple who did so much for Chenonceaux. This ancient Châteauneuf, like the court end of so many old cities, has narrow, winding streets overtopped by high buildings. These twisting streets are so infinitely picturesque with their sudden turns and elbows that we are quite ready to overlook their inconvenience for the uses of our day, and trust that no modern vandalism, under the name of progress, may change and despoil these byways of their ancient charm. Wandering through the narrow, quaint streets of the old city, with their steep gabled and timbered houses, through whose grilled or half-opened gates we catch glimpses of tiled courtyards and irregular bits of stone carving, over which flowers throw a veil of rich bloom, we feel that we are living in an old world. Yet M. La Tour reminds us that beneath our feet lies a still older world, for as we follow what is evidently a wall of defence we come upon the remains of an ancient gateway and suddenly realize that beneath this Martinopolis, Châteauneuf and Tours of the fifth century, lie the temples, amphitheatres, and baths of the more ancient Urbs Turonum of the Romans.
In the midst of our excursion into the past, Miss Cassandra suddenly brought us back to the present by exclaiming that she would like to go to some place where the Romans had never been. She has had quite enough of them in their own city and country, and now being in Touraine she says that she prefers to live among the French.
M. La Tour laughed heartily, as he does at everything our Quaker lady says, and answered, with French literalness, that it would be hard to find any land in the known world that the Romans had not occupied, "Except your own America, Madame." Then, as if to humor her fancy, he conducted us by way of little streets with charming names of flowers, angels, and the like, to the Place du Grand Marché, where he showed Miss Cassandra something quite' French, the beautiful Renaissance fountain presented to Tours by the unfortunate Jacques de Beaune, Baron de Semblançay. This fountain was made from the designs of Michel Colombe by his nephew, Bastian François. It was broken in pieces and thrown aside when the Rue Royale was created, but was later put together by one of the good mayors of Tours and now stands on the Place du Grand Marché, a lasting monument to the Baron de Semblançay, treasurer under Francis I, who was accused of malversation, hanged at Montfaucon and his 'estates, Azay-le-Rideau with the rest, confiscated by the crown. M. La Tour considers the treatment of the Baron de Semblançay quite unjust, and says that he was only found to have been guilty of corruption when he failed to supply the enormous sums of money required by Francis I and his mother, who, like the proverbial horseleach's daughters, cried ever "Give! give!" It seems one of the reprisals of time that the name of the donor should still be preserved upon this beautiful Fountain de Beaune of Tours, as well as upon the old treasurer's house in the Rue St. François, a fine Renaissance building.
From the Rue du Grand Marché we turned into the Rue du Commerce, where on the Place de Beaune is the Hotel de la Crouzille, once the Hotel de la Vallière, with its double gables and the graceful, shell-like ornamentation which the restaurateur who occupies the house has wisely allowed to remain above his commonplace sign of to-day. In the same street is the famous Hotel Gonin, now a bank. This house, which dates back to the fifteenth century, has been carefully restored, and its whole stone façade, covered with charming arabesques, is a fine example of early French Renaissance style.
In the ancient Rue Briçonnet, quite near,—indeed nothing is very far away in this old town, is the house attributed to Tristan l'Hermite, who held the unenviable position of hangman-in-chief to His Majesty, King Louis. There is no foundation for this tradition, which probably owes its origin to a knotted rope and some hooks on the wall, which are sufficiently suggestive of hanging. This sculptured cord, or rope, not unlike the emblem of Anne of Brittany, may have been placed here in her honor, or in that of one of her ladies in waiting, as she frequently urged her attendants to adopt her device of the knotted rope, whose derivation has never been quite understood.
"However," as Miss Cassandra says, "we are not here in search of associations of the head executioner of Louis or of those of his royal master," and so we were free to enjoy the beauty of this fourteenth century house, which is quite picturesque enough to do without associations of any kind, with its substantial walls in which brick and stone are so happily combined, its graceful arcades, lovely spiral pilasters and richly carved Renaissance doorways. We noticed the words Priez Dieu Pur carved over a window in the courtyard which, M. La Tour says, is thought to be an anagram upon the name of Pierre de Puy, who owned the house in 1495. In the wide paved courtyard is an ancient stone well, near which is a spiral stair-way leading to a loggia, from which we had a fine view of the picturesque gables and roofs of the old town, and beyond of the broad river shimmering in the sun, and still farther away of a line of low hills crowned with white villas.
Noticing the Tour de Guise as it stood out against the blue sky, M. La Tour told us an interesting tale about this tower, which is about all that is left of the royal palace built here or added to by Henry II, who was also hereditary Count of Anjou, and did much building and road making in the Touraine of his day.
The young Prince de Joinville, son of the Duke de Guise, who for some reason was imprisoned here after the murder of his father at Blois, was permitted to attend mass on Assumption Day, 1591. Tasting the sweets of freedom in this brief hour of respite, the Prince took his courage in his two hands and suddenly decided to make a bold dash for liberty. Laying a wager with his guards that he could run up-stairs again faster than they, he reached his room first, bolted the door and seizing a cord, or rope, which had been brought to him by his laundress, he made it fast to the window, slipped out and dropped fifteen feet. With shots whistling all about him he flew around the tower to the Faubourg de la Riche, where he leaped upon the back of the first horse that he saw; the saddle turned and threw him and a soldier came up suddenly and accosted him. Fortunately, the soldier proved, by some happy chance, to be a Leaguer, who gave him a fresh mount, and soon the Prince had put many miles between himself and his pursuers. Ever since, the tower has borne the name of the young De Guise who so cleverly escaped from it.
We experienced what our Puritan ancestors would have called a "fearful joy" during our afternoon at Loches, for anything more horrible than the dungeons above ground and under it would be difficult to imagine. I shall spare you a full description of them, as I refused to descend into the darkest depths to see the worst of them, and Walter is probably writing Allen a full-length account of them,—iron cages, hooks, rings, and all the other contrivances of cruelty. Loches, however, is not all cells and dungeons, as the château is beautifully situated upon a headland above the Indre, and the gray castle rising above the terraces, with its many towers, tourelles, and charming pointed windows, presents a picturesque as well as a formidable appearance. Our way lay by winding roads and between high walls. We thought our-selves fortunate to make this steep circuitous ascent in a coach; but once within the enceinte of the castle we were on a level and felt as if we were walking through the streets of a little village. Many small white houses, with pretty gardens of blooming plants, lie below the for-tress on one side, in sharp contrast to the frowning dungeons of Fulk Nerra and Louis XI which overshadow them.
The great square mass of Fulk Nerra's keep stood out dark against the blue of the sky today; this with the Tour Neuf and the Tour Ronde are said to be the "most beautiful of all the dungeons of France," as if a dungeon could ever be beautiful ! And it was Louis XI, that expert and past master in cruelty, who is said to have "perfected these prisons," which only needed the iron cage, designed to suit the King's good pleasure, to complete their horror.
The invention of the iron cage has been accredited to Jean la Balue, Bishop of Angers, and also to the Bishop of Verdun. Perhaps both of these devout churchmen had a hand in the work, as fate, with a dash of irony, and the fine impartiality of the mother who whipped both of her boys because she could not find out which one had eaten the plums, clapped them both into iron cages. Louis XI was in these instances the willing agent of avenging fate. Cardinal la Balue survived the sorrows of his iron cage for eleven years, "much longer than might have been expected," as Mr. Henry James says, "from this extraordinary mixture of seclusion and exposure."
The historian, Philip de Commines, described these cages as "Rigorous prisons plated with iron both within and without with horrible iron works, eight foote square and one foote more than a man's height. He that first devised them was the Bishop of Verdun, who forthwith was himself put into the first that was made, where he remained fourteen years."
Louis was so enchanted with this fiendish device that he longed to put all his state prisoners into iron cages. We are glad to know that when he recommended this treatment to the Admiral of France for one of his captives of high degree, the jailer replied, with a spirit and independence to which the tyrant was little wont, "That if that was the King's idea of how a prisoner should be kept he might take charge of this one himself."
"De Commines knew all about the horrors of the iron cage," said M. La Tour, "for he was himself imprisoned in one of them by the Lady of Beaujeu, who was Regent of France after the death of her father, Louis XI. De Commines joined the Duke of Orleans in a conspiracy against the government of the Regent, which was discovered. He was seized and also the Duke, afterwards Louis XII. Louis himself was imprisoned by his cousin of Beau-jeu and was set free by her brother Charles."
The guide pointed out the iron cage in which Philip de Commines was confined, which was horrible enough to answer to his description. Some of the lines inscribed on the walls of the round tower were doubtless composed by De Commines, among these a wise saying in Latin which Walter deciphered with difficulty and thus freely translated:
"I have regretted that I have spoken ; but never that I remained silent."
A most ironical invitation, we read in the corridor leading to the tower : "Entrés, Messieurs, ches le Roy Nostre Mestre."
One poor captive, who showed a cheerful desire to make the best of his lot, inscribed upon the wall of his cell these lines, which Lydia copied for you:
Malgré les ennuis d'une longue souffrance,
In the Martelet where we went down many steps, we saw the room in which Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, was imprisoned by Louis XII for eight years, and the little sun-dial that he made on the only spot on the wall that the sun could strike. He also whiled away the weary hours of captivity by painting frescoes on the walls, which are still to be seen. By such devices Ludovico probably saved his reason, but his health broke down and when relief came he seems to have died of joy, or from the sudden shock of coming out into the world again. A sad end was this to a life that had begun in happiness and prosperity and that was crowned by a felicitous marriage with beautiful Beatrice d'Este.
"And why did Louis, the Father of his people, the good King Louis, imprison Ludovico all those years?" asked Miss Cassandra.
"King Louis, although the best and wisest King that France had known for many a day, was but mortal," said M. La Tour, twisting his moustache as if somewhat puzzled by our Quaker lady's direct question, "and having a sound claim to the Duchy of Milan, through his grandmother Valentine Visconti, he proceeded to make it good."
"By ousting Ludovico, and his lovely wife, Beatrice, who was really far too good for him; but then most of the women were too good for their husbands in those days," said Miss Cassandra.
"Fortunately," said M. La Tour, "the Duchess of Milan had died two years before Ludovico's capture and so was spared the misery of knowing that her husband was a prisoner in France."
We were glad to emerge from the dismal dungeons into the light and air by stepping out upon a terrace, from which we had a fine view of the château and the Collegiate Church of St. Ours adjoining it.
The Château of Loches, once a fortress guarding the Roman highway, later belonged to the house of Anjou and was for some years handed about by French and English owners. As might have been expected, this fortress was given away by John Lackland (whose name sounds very odd, done into French, as Jean-Sans-Terre), but was regained by his brother, Richard Coeur de Lion. It was finally sold to St. Louis, and the château, begun by Charles VII, was completed by Louis XII.
The tower of Agnes Sorel, with its garden terrace, is the most charming part of the château, crowning, as it does, a great rock on the south side which overlooks the town.
Charles seems to have met the enchanting Agnes while at Loches, whither she had come in the train of the Countess of Anjou, whose mission to France was to gain the liberty of her husband, King René, who had been taken prisoner in battle, and was confined in the Tour de Bar, which we saw at Dijon.
From all accounts Agnes appears to have been a creature of ravishing beauty and great charm, as the ancient chroniclers describe her with a complexion of lilies and roses, a mouth formed by the graces, brilliant eyes, whose vivacity was tempered by an expression of winning sweetness, and a tall and graceful form. In addition to her personal attraction, this "Dame de Beaulté" seems to have had a sweet temper, a ready wit, and judgment far beyond that of her royal lover. According to many historians, Agnes was the good angel of the King's life, as Joan, the inspired Maid, had been in a still darker period of his reign. Brantome relates a story of the favorite's clever and ingenious method of rousing Charles from his apathy and selfish pursuit of pleasure while the English, under the Duke of Bedford, were ravaging his kingdom. "It had been foretold in her childhood, by an astrologer," said Agnes, "that she should be beloved by one of the bravest and most valiant kings in Christendom," adding, with fine sarcasm, "that when Charles had paid her the compliment of loving her she believed him to be, in truth, this valorous king of whom she had heard, but now seeing him so indifferent to his duty in resisting King Henry, who was capturing so many towns under his very nose, she realized that she was deceived and that this valorous king must be the English sovereign, whom she had better seek, as he evidently was the one meant by the astrologer."
"Brantome was a bit out here," said M. La Tour, "as Henry V. had died some years before and his son Henry VI was only six or seven years of age at this time, and it was the Duke of Bedford who was ravaging the fair fields of France and taking the King's towns a sa barbe. However, that is only a detail as you Americans say, and there must be some foundation for Brantome's story of Agnes having aroused the King to activity by her cleverness and spirit, for more than one historian gives her the credit of this good work for Charles and for France. You remember that Brantome says that these words of the belle des belles so touched the heart of the King that he wept, took courage, quitted the chase, and was so valiant and so fortunate that he was able to drive the English from his kingdom."
"It is a charming little tale," said Lydia, "and I, for one, do not propose to question it. Brantome may have allowed his imagination to run away with him; but the good influence of Agnes must have been acknowledged in her own time and later, or Francis I would not have written of her :
"'Plus de louange son amour s'y mérite Étant cause de France recouvrer!'"
"And I, for my part, don't believe a word of it!" said Miss Cassandra emphatically. "No ordinary girl, no matter how handsome she might be, would sit up and talk like that to a great King. I call it downright impertinent ; she wasn't even a titled lady, much less a princess."
For a Quaker, Miss Cassandra certainly has a great respect for worldly honors and titles, and Lydia took pleasure in reminding her that Joan of Arc was only a peasant girl of Domremy, and yet she dared to speak boldly to Charles, ber King.
"That was quite different, my dear," said Miss Cassandra. "Joan was an honest maid to begin with, and then she was raised quite above her station by her spiritual manifestations, and she had what the Friends call a concern."
Then noticing the puzzled expression on M. La Tour's face, she explained : "I mean some-thing on her mind and conscience with regard to the King and the redemption of France, what you would call a mission."
"Yes," Lydia added, "une mission is the best translation of the word that I can think of ; but it does not give the full meaning of the expression 'to have a concern,' " and as he still looked puzzled, she added, comfortingly: "You need not wonder, Monsieur, that you do not quite understand what my aunt means, for born and bred in Quakerdom as I have been, I never feel that I grasp the full spiritual significance of the expression as the older Friends use it."
For some years Charles seems to have been under the spell of the beauty and charm of Agnes Sorel, upon whom he bestowed honors, titles, and lands, the Château of Loches among other estates. From her false dream of happiness the royal favorite was rudely awakened by the Dauphin, afterwards Louis XI, who entered the room where the Queen's ladies in waiting were seated, and marching up to Agnes in a violent rage, spoke to her in the most contemptuous language, struck her on the cheek, it is said, and gave her to understand that she had no right to be at the court.
"Which," as Miss Cassandra remarks, "was only too true, although the Dauphin, even at this early age, had enough sins of his own to look after, without undertaking to set his father's house in order."
Agnes took to heart the Dauphin's cruel words, and resisting all the solicitations of the King, parted from him and retired to a small house in the town of Loches, where she lived for five years, devoting herself to penitence and good works.
"It seems," said Miss Cassandra, "that repentance and sorrow for sin was the particular business of the women in those days; when the men were in trouble they generally went a hunting."
M. La Tour, being a Frenchman, evidently considers this a quite proper arrangement, although he reminded Miss Cassandra that the wicked Fulk Nerra, "your Angevin ancestor," as he calls him, "expiated for his sins with great rigor in the Holy Land, as he dragged himself, half naked, through the streets of Jeru salem, while a servant walked on each side scourging him."
After living quietly at Loches for five years Agnes one day received a message that greatly disturbed her and caused her to set forth with all haste for Paris. Arrived there, and learning that the King was at Jumiéges for a few days' rest after the pacification of Normandy, she repaired thither and had a long interview with him. As Agnes left the King she said to one of her friends that she "had come to save the King from a great danger." Four hours later she was suddenly seized with excruciating pain and died soon after. It was thought by many persons that the former royal favorite was poisoned by the Dauphin; but this has never been proved.
The body of Agnes Sorel was, according to her own request, transported to Loches and buried in the choir of the Collegiate Church of St. Ours, where it rested for many years. The beautiful tomb was first placed in the church, but was later removed to the tower where it stands to-day and where Agnes still reigns in beauty. Upon a sarcophagus of black marble is a reclining figure, modest and seemly, the hands folded upon the breast, two lambs guarding the feet, while two angels support the cushion upon which rests the lovely head of la belle des belles, whose face in life is said to have had the bloom of flowers in the springtime. The inscription upon the tomb is:
"Here lies the noble Damoyselle Agnes Seurelle, in her life time Lady of Beaulté, of Roquesserie, of Issouldun, of Vernon-sur-Seine. Kind and pitiful to all men, she gave liberally of her goods to the Church and to the poor. She died the ninth day of February of the Year of Grace 1449. Pray for her soul. Amen."
You may remember that at the Abbey of Jumiéges we saw a richly carved sarcophagus which contains the heart of Agnes Sorel. M. La Tour says that she left a legacy to Jumiéges, with the request that her heart should be buried in the abbey. At one time a beautiful kneeling figure of Agnes, offering her heart to the Virgin in supplication, surmounted the black marble sarcophagus ; but this was destroyed, when and how it is not known.
In one of the oldest parts of the château are the bedroom and oratory of .Anne of Brittany. From these rooms there is a lovely view of the Indre and of the old town with its steep gables, crenelated roofs, and picturesque chimneys. The walls of the little oratory are richly decorated with exquisite carvings of the Queen's devices, the tasseled cord and the ermine, which even a coat of whitewash has not deprived of their beauty.
M. La Tour, whom Lydia has dubbed "our H.B.R." handy-book of reference, tells us that the origin of Queen Anne's favorite device is so far back in history that it is somewhat mythical. The ermine of which she was so proud is said to have come from her ancestress, Madame Inoge, wife of Brutus and daughter of Pindarus the Trojan. It appears that during a hunting expedition an ermine was pursued by the dogs of King Brutus. The poor little creature took refuge in the lap of Inoge, who saved it from death, fed it for a long time and adopted an ermine as her badge.
We had spent so much time in the Château Royale and in the various dungeons that there was little space left for a visit to the very remarkable Church of St. Ours adjoining the château, which, as Viollet le Duc says, has a remarkable and savage beauty of its own. After seeing what is left of the girdle of the Virgin, which the verger thought it very important that we should see, we spent what time we had left in gazing up at the interesting corbeling of the nave and the two hollow, stone pyramids that form its roof.
Miss Cassandra and I flatly refused to descend into the depths below, although the verger with a lighted candle stood ready to conduct us into a subterranean chapel, which was, at one time, connected with the château. We had seen quite enough of underground places for one day, and were glad to pass on into the more livable portion of the castle, which is now inhabited by the sous-prefect of the district, and from thence into the open, where we stopped to rest under the wide-spreading chestnut tree planted here by Francis I so many years since.
M. La Tour reminds us, among other associations of Loches, that the Seigneur de Saint Vallier, the father of Diane de Poitiers, whose footsteps we followed at Chenonceaux, was once imprisoned here. Even the powerful influence of Diane scarcely gained her father's pardon from Francis I. His sentence had been pronounced and he was mounting the steps of the scaffold when the reprieve came.
With our minds filled with the varied and vivid associations of Loches, we left the castle enclosure and from without the walls we had a fine view of the massive dungeons, the Château Royal, with the beautiful tower of Agnes Sorel, and the charming terrace beside it. Through many crooked, winding lanes and postern doors M. La Tour conducted us by the gate of the Cordeliers, with its odd fifteenth century turrets, to a neat little garden café. Here we refreshed ourselves with tea and some very dainty little cakes that are a spécialité de la 'maison, while Walter gracefully mounted his hobby, which, as you have doubtless gathered ere this, is the faithfulness of Alexander Dumas to history. "What need had Dumas to call upon his imagination when the court life of France, under the Valois and Bourbons, furnished all the wonders of the Thousand and One Nights?" Walter really becomes eloquent when launched upon his favorite subject, and indeed we all are, more or less, under the spell of Dumas and Balzac. With the heroes and heroines of Alexandre Dumas, we have spent so many delightful hours that Touraine seems, in a way, to belong to them. It would not surprise us very much to have Porthos, Athos, and Aramis gallop up behind our carriage and demand our passports, or best of all to see that good soldier and perfect gentleman, D'Artagnan, standing before us with sword unsheathed ready to cut and come again; but always it must be remembered quite as reckless of his own precious skin as of that of his enemies.
"I wonder if we shall ever again see their like upon the pages of romance," said Walter turning to M. La Tour.
"Good soldiers and brave gentlemen, better and braver than the royal masters whom they served so faithfully!" said M. La Tour, raising his hand in the delightfully dramatic fashion of the French as if proposing a toast : "May their memories long linger in Touraine and the Blésois, which they have glorified by their deeds of valor!"
What do you think we have been doing this evening? Still under the spell of Loches and its weird associations, we have been trying to turn the French verse, which Lydia copied for you, into metrical English. It seemed so strange that we four twentieth century Americans and one Franco-American should be translating the pathetic little verse of the poor prisoner who,
"Malgri les ennuis d'une longue souffrance,"
kept up a brave heart and counted his blessings.
We all tried our hand at it, Miss Cassandra, M. La Tour and all. I send you the verse that seemed to our umpire the best. One of the charming Connecticut ladies, whom we met at Amboise, called upon us this evening and was kind enough to act as umpire in our little war of wits. She was so polite as to say that all of the translations were so good that it was difficult to choose between them, but this is the one that she thought most in the spirit of the original lines :
Despite the weary hours of pain
It is for you to guess who wrote this verse. One thing I tell you to help you out or to puzzle you still more with your guessing, M. La Tour wrote one of the verses; his knowledge of English construction is remarkable.
This young Frenchman, who is usually politely reticent about his own affairs, although so generously expansive in communicating his historic and legendary lore, confided to Walter, this evening, in the intimacy of smoking together, that his mother is an American.
This accounts for his perfect and idiomatic English and for his knowledge of our cities. He talks about Washington, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston as if he had seen them and yet he has never crossed the water, being like most Frenchmen entirely satisfied with what his own country affords him.
Since Walter has learned that M. La Tour is half American, he begs to be allowed to call him Mr. La Tour. Foreign handles and titles, as he expresses it, do not sit easily upon his tongue.
The Frenchman laughed good naturedly at this and said, "Yes, yes, M. Leonard, call me what you will. Philippe is my name ; why not Philippe?"
Walter says this would be quite as bad as Monsieur, unless he could change it to plain Philip, which would seem quite too simple and unadorned a name for so elegant and decorative a being as M. Philippe Edouard La Tour, who shines forth radiantly in the rather sombre surroundings of the Pension B— like the gilded youth that he is. What havoc he would make among the hearts of the pensionnaires if this were indeed the young ladies' seminary that Walter calls it ! M. La Tour is particularly resplendent in evening costume, and when he appears equipped for dining Madame B calls him "beau garçon." He possesses, as Miss Cassandra says, that most illusive and in-describable quality which we call distinction for lack of a better word. While admiring him immensely, she solemnly warns Lydia against the wiles of foreigners. And I think myself that Archie had better turn his steps this way if he expects to find Lydia heart whole, as M. La Tour loses no opportunity of paying her charming little attentions in the way of choice offerings, from the flower market on the Boulevard Béranger near by. This evening he produced some delicious bonbons which he must have imported from Paris for her delectation, although I must admit that they were properly and decorously presented to Madame Leonard, your old, and, tonight, your very sleepy friend.