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Catherine De Medici
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Catherine De Medici
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
A. D. 1519-1589
"THE SCEPTERED SORCERESS OF ITALIA'S LAND"
We shall indite the long and gloomy career of Catherine de' Medici upon these pages, not only because she made a great figure in history, but for the reason that she was Italian in her origin, and it is desirable, in making a record of women that shall be worthy of their sex, to touch on the people of many regions. She was at first an Italian woman, with little influence, in a strange land. She did not carry with her the fashion of intrigue, the love of magic, the free play of treachery, that had spread from Italy into the French court. These things had gone before her. We cannot see that she was any worse than the people of her day, but they were nearly all bad. Poison, assassination, torture and civil war growing out of Luther's rebellion had rendered society so discordant that, in the rapidly shifting interests and creeds of political parties at that time, it is not always possible now to discern a logical procedure of events. Double dealing was the fashion, and Catherine never took an important step without seeming to do the opposite thing at the same time, as a mask.
The clear but cruel light of Isabella's faith flickers and fades into a yellow and sickly beacon when we strive to peer through the religious atmosphere of France in Catherine's time. A half century had passed on the borders of the ancient church. The Reformation was come. Whether it were right or wrong was no longer the question with French politicians. How many crossbows, archers, knights would the new church command? To this political problem it is clear that Catherine gave her best thought, and gave it for the interest of her sons. We shall endeavor to fairly quote ancient Catholic authorities that give her side of the questions involved.
Students desiring to form their own conclusions and investigate this exceedingly difficult subject to the end, will find in the Petitot (French) Collection of memoirs preceding the Revolution of 1789 the following books, which bear on the Queen-mother : The memoirs of Bouillon, Castelnau, Choisnin, Gamon, Hurault, La Noue, Margaret of Valois, Mergey, Montluc, Philippi, Saulx de Tavannes, and Gaspard and William Vielleville.
She was not the only woman in France who had three kingly sons, for royal lines ended three times in three brothers. Joan of Navarre was the mother of Louis X, Philip V and Charles IV. Maria Josepha of Saxony was the mother of Louis XVI, Louis XVIII and Charles X.
Characters in history are frequently marked indelibly by great events. The name of Catherine de' Medici is connected with the massacre of St. Bartholomew. Accusers, apologists, encomiasts, must alike appear before this tribunal. Here, and nowhere else, can her cause be heard. Yet this was not all she did, nor was any party so strong in France that it need not fear, with the tolling of every bell, the fate that at last befell the one which proved the weaker numerically.
Catherine de' Medici was born at Florence, Italy, April 15, 1519. She was the daughter of Lorenzo de' Medici, Duke of Urbino, and Madelaine de la Tour d' Auvergne. She was styled Duchess of Urbino, and her uncle was Pope Clement VII. The great world-duel of Charles V, grandson of Isabella, and Francis I of France, was in progress. In order to secure a little better hold on Italy, where his fortunes had waned, the French monarch asked the hand of Catherine, who was an insignificant princess, for his second son, Henry Duke of Orleans. Meanwhile Charles V had proposed a marriage of Catherine with the Duke of Milan. When, however, Charles learned that France had made such a proposal be advised the Pope to accept it, "thinking it impossible," says Guicciardini, the historian, "that the King of France should be in earnest, or ever intended to sink so low as such an alliance." But Charles was mistaken. The Pope, embarking at Genoa, landed at Marseilles on the 4th of October, 1533, and the marriage of Catherine and Henry was celebrated on the 28th with all the display for which Francis I was famous. It is thus seen that Catherine was but 14 years old when she entered the French court. "The Pope, a little before his death," says Guizot, "made France a fatal present" (referring to this union).
Nothing could have been more untoward than the entry of Catherine into the gay life at Paris. She was a despised Italian; she was of small title, and had not built up the interests of France with her dowry; for ten years she had no children. Her husband was under the rule of another woman, Diana of Poitiers. But, after ten years, Catherine began to have children, and gave birth to no less than ten, nearly all of whom lived to be of age. This altered and improved her destiny, for it gave her opportunities to act, and she was a very able woman.
Her husband, because of his elder brother's death, succeeded to the throne of France as Henry II, March 31, 1547, fifteen years after the wedding at Marseilles, and she was crowned Queen at St. Denis, June to, 1549.
Henry was a handsome man, easily wrought on by women, and faithful to his male friends. He called the constable Montmorency his compeer. The Guise brothers and St. André were his other intimates. The Duke of Guise was a great soldier. The other Guise was Cardinal of Lorraine, a crafty priest. St. Andre was a hail fellow, and boon companion of the King. He was generous and in debt.
For ten years after her accession the proud Italian Queen was forced to behold the King with Diana in public, ostentatiously exhibiting his desire to serve her. Catherine was supple and accommodating. She caressed Diana, whom she hated. She flattered Montmorency, who was wholly given over to Diana, and was certain to betray Catherine. She connived openly at the flagrant conduct of her husband, and with a bitterness that was thoroughly dissimulated she bided her time, which came anon.
"The Queen," wrote the Venetian Ambassador to the Council of Ten, "is younger than the King, but only thirteen days. She is not pretty, but she is possessed of extraordinary wisdom and prudence. No doubt of her being fit to govern. Nevertheless, she is not considered or consulted so much as she well might be."
Five years later, Queen Catherine was left in Paris as Regent of the realm. The French were defeated. The rich inhabitants were packing up, and leaving for the Loire, as their forefathers had done. The King was at Compiegne (where Joan of Arc was taken) trying to raise a fresh army. The Parliament was sitting at the Hôtel de Ville in Paris, deliberating on the dire state of affairs in France. The Queen, of her own motion, went at the head of the cardinals and Princes then in the city, and before the Parliament she, in the most impressive language, set forth the urgent state of affairs at the moment. "She pointed out," says Brantôme, "that, in spite of the enormous expenses into which the Most Christian King had found himself drawn in his late wars, he had shown the greatest care not to burden the towns. In the extreme pressure of requirements, her Majesty did not think that any further charge could be made on the people of the country places who, in ordinary times, always bear the heaviest burdens. With so much sentiment and eloquence that she touched the heart of everybody, the Queen then explained to the Parliament that the King had need of 300,000 livres, 25,000 to be paid every two months. And she added that she would retire from the place of session, so as not to interfere with liberty of discussion; and she accordingly retired to an adjoining room. A resolution to comply with the wishes of her Majesty was voted, and the Queen, having resumed her place, received a promise to that effect. A hundred notables of the city offered to give at once 3,000 francs apiece. The Queen thanked them in the sweetest form of words; and this session of Parliament terminated with so much applause for her Majesty and such lively marks of satisfaction at her behavior, that no idea can be given of them. Throughout the whole city nothing was spoken of but the Queen's prudence and the happy manner which she proceeded in this enterprise."
From that day the position of Catherine was changed. The King went more often to see her. He added to his habits that of holding court at her apartments for about an hour every day after supper in the midst of the lords and ladies.
Meanwhile, Montmorency and St. Andre, having been captured in war, the position and authority of the Guise family increased, and Catherine had joined with them. There were six of the Guise brothers in all. They were uncles of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, and no sooner was Catherine's eldest son, Francis, the Crown Prince, of suitable age than they procured his marriage to Mary, thus intrenching themselves, as they supposed, impregnably in the French court. Henry II was a loyal Catholic. He burned Lutherans, and went to see them at the stake. But, while he asked for the institution of the Holy Office in France, and obtained the bull from the Pope, the nobles would not sanction it in Parliament, and thus the Catholics became seriously divided.
But the Guises were looked upon by the clergy as the champions of the old church, while other great nobles Coligny, the Condés, Henry of Navarre, and others, were on the side of the reforms that Calvin and Luther had demanded. A large third party existed, that acted with the winning side.
There flourished in Paris an astrologer named Luke Gauric. Catherine de' Medici demanded of this magician a horoscope of her lord, the King. The astrologer fore-told that Henry II would be killed in a duel by a wound received in his eye. It is said this prediction was derided, until it was verified by the event.
On June 29, 1559, in a square that, during the Revolution 240 years later, was called the Place des Vosges, very near the Bastille, a little north of the line of the Rue de Rivoli, the King held a knightly joust. In a tilt with Montgomery the sovereign was accidentally hurt, and lived only eleven days.
Francis II, aged 16, and Mary Stuart, were now King and Queen of France, and Catherine was Queen-mother, a title she was to bear longer and more significantly than any other woman.
King Francis said to the Parliament : "With the approbation of the Queen, my mother, I have chosen the Duke of Guise and the Cardinal of Lorraine, my uncles, to have the direction of the state-the former for war, the latter in the departments of finance and justice."
On the very day of Henry's death, Catherine went out to drive with Mary Stuart, who was now the reigning Queen : "Step in, Madame," she said to Mary. "It is now your turn to go first." Yet it is said she bitterly hated Mary, who had flattered Diana.
Catherine fitted a room with black, with no light burning save two candles on a black altar. She was so robed in black that she could be scarcely seen by her attendants, and, when they spoke to her, she replied in accents so weak and so broken with emotion that it was impossible to catch her words. This dealing with black clothes and dim lights was a characteristic method by which Catherine played on the sensibilities of those whom she wished to inspire with terror. The very emotions which she evoked with such art and care have colored both history and romance, until she has come to appear as more Mephistophelian than human. Her theatrical practices have cast such a glamour over the eyes of Protestant historians that their tirades, as we shall show, are more to be quoted for their eloquence than their truth.
Her broken accents ended with her domestics. Montmorency no sooner saw her face than he knew he was in disgrace, and begged to leave for his estates. He was the Catholic who used to fast and pray, stopping in his Ave and Credo to cry to the Savior : "Go hang that man for me!" "Tie that man to a tree!" and then on to his Lord's prayer.
"Diana," says the Venetian Ambassador, "was told by the King that for her evil influence over the King, his father, she ought to receive heavy chastisement ; but in his royal clemency he did not wish to disquiet her any further. She must, nevertheless, restore to him the jewels given to her by the king, his father." "To placate Catherine de' Medici," said De Thou, historian, "Diana was obliged to exchange her beautiful house at Chenonceaux-on-the-Cher for the castle of Chaumont-on-the-Loire." Still Diana was not visited with a malice such as Catherine would have shown had she been of the deeply diabolical character which is painted for her by the Protestants.
Meanwhile, Catherine reduced the power and enlarged the titles and emoluments of the Guises, but insufficiently to calm the excitement of the Bourbon Princes. They formed a plot to enter Blois, where the King was, to require the downfall of the Guises, and, if the King re-fused it, to attack the Guises with force. This plot led to the "tumult of Amboise," of which Condé was the pre-tended leader, and the Guises went forth to hang and drown the plotters in the Loire. Condé was lured to Paris, seized, tried, and sentenced to death, while Francis moodily noted the disaffection of the people from the crown. "Go away," he said to Guise, "and let us see which one of us it is they hate!" But Mary of Scotland, his Queen, persuaded him to change that order. Catherine was beginning to show her fear of the Guises, by warning their enemies of impending ruin, when Francis II suddenly died.
Charles IX, a child of io years, was now King of France. The Guises pressed on Catherine's attention the advantages of a union of her influence with theirs. Kill Condé and Navarre, and they could reign in peace, without fear of the Huguenots. But Catherine thought she could do still better. Charles IX was entirely in her hands. The child-King wrote to Parliament that, "confiding in the virtues and prudence of the Queen-mother, he had begged her to take a hand in the administration of the kingdom." The States-General, somewhat more jealously, ratified this action and .placed "the guardian-ship of the young King Charles IX in the hands of Catherine de' Medici, his mother, together with the principal direction of affairs, but without the title of Regent." Thus she was Regent for the second time.
She had married her daughter Elizabeth to the great Philip II of Spain. To her, Catherine writes : "Ma-dame, my dear daughter, all I shall tell you is not to be the least anxious, and to rest assured that I shall spare no pains to so conduct myself that God and everybody may have occasion to be satisfied with me. * * * You have seen the time when I was as happy as you are, not dreaming of having any greater trouble than that of not being loved as I should have liked to be by the King your father. God took him from me, and is not content with that. He has taken from me your brother, whom I loved you well know how much, and has left me with three young children and in a kingdom where all is division, having therein not a single man in whom I can trust, and who has not some particular object of his own."
The Venetian Ambassador, a newcomer, now wrote home : "The Queen-mother is a woman of 43, of affable manners, great moderation, superior intelligence and ability in conducting all sorts of affairs, especially affairs of State. As mother, she has the personal management of the King. She allows no one else to sleep in his room; she is never away from him. As Regent and head of the government, she holds everything in her hands public offices, benefices, graces, and the seal which bears the King's signature, called the cachet. In the Council she allows the others to speak; she replies to anyone who needs it; she decides according to the advice of the Council, or according to what she may have made up her mind to.
She opens the letters addressed to the King by his Ambassadors and by all the ministers. She has great designs, and does not allow them to be easily penetrated. As for her way of living, she is very fond of her ease and pleasure. She observes few rules; she eats and drinks a great deal. She considers that she makes up for it by taking a great deal of exercise on foot and horseback, for she goes hunting. She has an olive complexion, and is already very fat; accordingly the doctors have not a good opinion of her life." The ambassador notes that she now has plenty of money, where, in earlier days, she was much distressed for funds.
The Prince of Condé, instead of being executed, was freed and entered the Privy Council. Guise was compelled to make some amends to Condé, and when this had been done, Montmorency and St. André, of the middle or neutral party, went completely over to the Guises, and the Catholics were at last fairly well aligned against the Huguenots. It was Catherine's destiny to be first on one side, and then on the other, and she has inherited the odium of all their crimes.
When Soubise was making converts to Calvinism, the Queen-mother had been very near making a confession of the new faith herself, and Bayle says it suited her mind best of the two creeds. Could she have married either of her two younger sons to Elizabeth of England, this would have followed.
France was now hopelessly involved in a civil religious war, and it is not likely it could have been settled by even Isabella with a smaller effusion of blood than naturally ensued. In nine years under the let-alone policy of Catherine, there were eighteen or twenty massacres of Protestants, four or five of Catholics, and thirty or forty single murders of great celebrity. Four formal civil wars were waged, ending in four treaties after battle, and all these efforts at settlement terminated with the massacre of St. Bartholomew, August 24, 1572. Actors changed sides and opinions so rapidly with the current of events that no one was safe out of his own castle, and in the end the Protestant sovereign reigned, as the result of the assassination by a priest of a Catholic King.
Just as the Duke of Guise, after victories over the Huguenots, with prospective glory before him, was ex-citing the jealousy of Charles IX (that is, Catherine, for she ruled his mind), the Duke was assassinated by Pol-trot. Catherine put Poltrot to the torture and he inculpated Coligny, who, though he was glad Guise was dead, was not inclined to ignoble deeds. Poltrot was torn limb from limb by horses, and died cursing the Catholics and exulting in his deed. Without Guise, Catherine did not consider the Catholics so strong, and she made peace, dealing out the Protestant religion as a privilege which the great might indulge if they wished, but barring "the religion" entirely out of Paris, and denying it to the poor, save at great inconvenience. Calvin cried out from Geneva against this peace, and the Catholics cried out against Coligny, who had been implicated in the assassination by the tortured Poltrot. Catherine solemnly declared him not guilty. The King moved further toward the Catholics, and war again came on. Again Catherine negotiated and stopped it. A third war and Condé, "enemy of the mass," was killed at the battle of Jarnac. The Protestants had now a Condé to mourn, while the Catholics lamented the death of Guise, and Henry of Navarre (The Great), a lad of 15, swore eternal fidelity to young Condé and the new faith. Now the Protestants had Coligny and Henry as leading figures. Catherine outlawed Coligny and was at last, it was supposed, seriously in earnest against Protestantism, yet no one knew how treacherously she meant to wage her war. When she next treated for peace, she deceived even the Pope, Pius V, who wrote to her that there could be no compact between Catholics and heretics, as there could be no peace between Satan and the children of light.
To the astonishment of the Catholics, nothing would now do but a marriage of Catherine's daughter, Margaret, to Henry of Navarre. Coligny and Henry, even Henry's great mother, Jeanne of Albret, were lured to Paris. Coligny was addressed as "my dear uncle," and even as "my dear father," by Charles IX. Charles made Coligny believe that he was desirous of shaking off the influence of Catherine, his mother. "I see quite well you do not know my mother. She is the greatest meddler in all the world," whispered Charles to Coligny, when the twain had become familiar during Coligny's stay at Paris. In fact, Catherine appeared to be in a temper, and called Coligny "a second King." Catholics in alarm left Paris to join forces that were more openly loyal to the church. Yet Henry's mother, Jeanne, did not feel easy. To her there were suspicious appearances. The Queen-mother, Catherine, could not conceal her hostility, try as she might, and, to Jeanne, it seemed that all depended on the surprising air of independence that Charles IX had assumed. The Catholic courtiers, seeing Coligny at the head of the King's councils, declared it was extraordinary "that the vanquished should make laws for the victors." To them the trusting Coligny replied, in the presence of Charles, that whoever was not for war with Spain (which Coligny urged on) had the red cross inside him. The mother of Henry, Jeanne, she who had been ill-satisfied with proceedings, now died at Paris, and Catherine was afterward accused of poisoning her. This event did not delay the wedding. Henry came to Paris with a force of 800 men. The wedding took place at Notre Dame Cathedral, and, when Margaret was asked for her consent, at the altar, Charles IX put his hand on her head and bowed it for her in assent. Then the Catholics in the party went to hear mass in the choir, while Henry, Coligny, and the other Protestants, walked about the nave. The guides pointed to Coligny the flags taken from the Protestants. "I hope," said the Admiral, fatuously, "we shall soon have others (Spanish flags) better suited for lodgment in this place." This was August 18, 1572.
"Let the Queen (Catherine) beware," said Tavannes, "of the King her son's secret counsels, designs, and sayings. If she do not look out, the Huguenots will have him. At any rate, before thinking of anything else, let her exert herself to regain the mother's authority, which Admiral Coligny has caused her to lose."
The Queen at once made this attack on the sentiments of her son. She wrought a great change in his feelings, and he no longer desired war with Spain. She played the part of an injured mother, and retired from court. The King followed her and obtained a reconciliation. At this moment came the Polanders, asking Catherine to give them Henry, her favorite son, for King. Henry did not wish to go. Coligny wanted him out of France. Charles IX had grown suspicious of the brother. The brother went to see the King, who was with Coligny. The King appeared, there and then, to be of a mind to stab Henry with a poniard he had in hand. Henry ran out, and he and Catherine, at once, resolved on the destruction of Coligny, as a matter of life and death with them. This was Henry's recital in Poland, afterward.
There was now a second Duke of Guise on the scene, and there was the assassinated Duke's widow (now remarried and called the Duchess of Nemours) who thirsted for Coligny's blood, they believing Coligny had egged on Poltrot to his deed. When Coligny had come to court the Guise interests had withdrawn. They now returned, and Catherine, Henry, and the Guises at once plotted to kill Coligny. The plot that was brewing began to attract the notice of faithful Protestants. Protestant soldiers left Paris, when they could not persuade Coligny to leave with them. It was not believed that the Guises and Coligny could both live at court. Coligny received a letter, says the historian, reminding him "of the Queen-mother's devious ways, and the detestable education of the King, trained to every sort of violence and horrible sin. His Bible is Machiavelli. He has been prepared by the blood of beasts for the shedding of human blood. He has been persuaded that a Prince is not bound to observe an edict extorted by his subjects."
While Charles had promised the Guises (Lorraine Princes) that they need not make friends with Coligny, he said to Coligny : "You know, my dear father, the promise you made me not to insult any of the Guises." Charles went on to say that while he relied on Coligny, he could not trust the Guises so well, and as they had brought an armed force to Paris, and might take vengeance into their own hands at any time, the King thought it would be wise to bring his own regiment to town also. Coligny consented, only observing that whosoever accused him of the assassination was a calumniator.
On Friday, the 22d of August, 1572, Coligny was shot in the arm from a window by people in the interest of the young Duke of Guise. There was fear the bullet was poisoned, for the Admiral (Coligny) was a very sick man. At 2 p. m. Catherine, Charles, Henry and another son all went to see him. He was anxious to speak to Charles alone. Catherine and Henry found themselves unprotected in a house with some zoo armed and irate Protestants, and feared their end had come. They broke in on the King's interview with Coligny, and hurried him away. Begging to know what Coligny had advised, the King at last, with oaths, let the mother know that Coligny had urged Charles, as if on his bed of death, to get rid of his mother. Catherine and Henry returned to the Louvre palace in the greatest alarm, feeling that the crisis was at last arrived, as the King must be turned now or never.
On the next day, Saturday, a council was held, in which the King alone represented the need of doing justice on young Guise. Then Catherine told Charles that she and Henry, his brother, were also in the plot against Coligny. Could he afford to move against them? The King held out well. The discussion on the general state of France ran all day. It seemed certain to Catherine that, by the course Charles was pursuing, he would be left entirely out of events with a big. religious war on, and no one paying him allegiance. Toward midnight she began a very convincing line of argument. The Protestants had been lulled to sleep a fearful blow could be struck. At last, as the King hesitated, Catherine cried : "Permit me, then, and your brother, to retire to another part of the kingdom!" On this Charles rose from his seat. "By God's death!" said he, "since you think proper to kill the Admiral, I consent ; but all the Huguenots in Paris as well, in order that there remain not one to reproach me afterward. Give the orders at once."
It is said that Catherine had arranged for a massacre an hour before daybreak of Sunday, but now, on the King's consent, the bell of the church nearest the Louvre was rung, and the Catholics began lighting their houses with candles at the windows. All "good Catholics" wore a badge. Into all darkened houses soldiers might enter and slay. So many people cannot be killed shortly by hand. In 1792 it required 100 hours to slaughter 1,089. The next night Charles sent for Henry of Navarre. "I mean for the future," the King said, "to have but one religion in my kingdom; the mass or death! Choose!" Catherine and Henry her son, King of Poland, were in the Louvre, and acted like the terrified spider, after he has enmeshed his fly. They even falsely sent word to spare Coligny. But Guise sent back word it was too late. To incite the people to murder was called "blooding" the mob, and after massacre and pillage were found to be legal, the lowest classes went at their labor with enthusiasm, and did not cease for eight days. The city of Paris paid for the sepulture of 1,100 bodies taken from the Seine River. After wavering until Guise took offense, the King, on Monday, with his entourage, held a bed-of-justice, or state assembly, at which he asserted that the Admiral had concocted a conspiracy against himself, his mother and his brothers. He had parried this fearful blow by another violent one, and he wished all the world to know it was done by his express commands.
The massacre was called "the Paris matins," and extended to many towns, though some were not disturbed. Davila, Catholic, thinks 10,000 people were killed; Sully, Huguenot, thought 70,000.
Philip II, son of Charles, son of Joan, daughter of Isabella, a fanatical despot of even deeper religious dye than Isabella, laughed for the first time in his life. He offered to Charles his felicitations, and "an army to kill the rest of the heretics, if need be."
Now Charles declared that he had been in the plot all along. He was fond of repeating : "My big sister Margot (Margaret of Valois, by marrying Henry of Navarre) caught all those Huguenot rebels in the bird-catching style. What grieved me most was that I was obliged to dissemble so long."
It is common to relate that Charles pined and died of remorse. Again it is said he died of troubles similar to those of his deceased brother, Francis II. Yet again, Massion tells that Charles was of a mind to kill Gondi, to get his wife. On hearing this from Catherine, Gondi poisoned Charles, and then Catherine poisoned Gondi.
Charles died, leaving Catherine Queen-Regent for the third time, and news was sent to the King of Poland that he was King Henry III of France. The Queen-mother locked herself in the Louvre with her younger son, whom she suspected of kingly ambition, sent for Montgomery, who had accidentally killed her husband, tortured him, and beheaded him. A fourth religious war came to a close with the peace of Rochelle, and there were more Huguenots than ever before. Henry of Navarre regained his liberty.
We now enter upon the last stage of Catherine's career. The tortuous thread of the drama dismays even the most patient reader, and makes plain the fact that few other persons have lived who were compelled so often as she was to make friends of enemies and enemies of friends. There will now seem to be times when she is false to her own son, and we must see the younger son, the Duke of Alencon, at the head of an army, and a menace to her peace. Yet, at the same time, she was very near to marrying him to Elizabeth, Queen of England. King Henry, who went to Poland a chivalrous captain, came back a carpet-knight, with a harem of "minions," as they were called, and Catherine readily acquiesced in this procedure, thus, for the sake of policy, further blackening her name. She had once tried to marry him, also, to Elizabeth of England.
The growing power of the Guises was now a matter of national comment, and it would seem that they made a strong attempt to secure Catherine to their ambitious interests. They desired to make Catherine's grandson, a prince of the house of Lorraine, the King of France, and it is probable that the younger son of Catherine, Alencon (now Anjou), fled from Paris and put himself at the head of an army of malcontents because he thought Catherine had proved false to her own house.
The Catholic parties in France, dissatisfied with Catherine's lack of religious fortitude, formed a League, which undertook for its members henceforth to obey but one head. This League, the planning of the Duke of Guise, was a destruction of all the work of Louis XI in consolidating the French monarchy. To preserve appearances, Henry III accepted its chieftainship, although this stultified him as King of the Protestants of France. For a time, he played the ridiculous part in public of an anchorite, and, in sharing his personal exposures, the old Cardinal of Lorraine (a Guise) caught cold and died from it. When Henry of Navarre had rejoined the Huguenots at Barn and the Duke of Anjou (Queen's younger son) had also raised an insurgent army, protesting war against Guise but loyalty to Henry III, the Duke of Guise naturally grew in favor with the Catholics. People said that Catherine must be one or the other, and no French-man could believe she was merely insane with the passion to govern, but so the Venetian spies wrote home. She was now between 60 and 70 years old. She had been forty-three years a Queen, and for thirty years had lived in an atmosphere of intrigue, night and day. Now she lent her services to her beleaguered royal son with a vigor that has astonished historians. It began to be felt that her children would all die without issue who should have the crown, Bourbon or Lorraine? Guise (Lorraine) meant to seize it. To complicate matters, Catherine's insurgent son, the Duke of Anjou, died June 1o, 1584. Henry of Navarre was now heir-apparent under the laws of succession. The League of Catholics at once made an alliance with Philip II of Spain, and Henry's uncle, Cardinal of Bourbon, a Catholic, was declared Crown Prince, and Pope Sixtus V outlawed Henry of Navarre as a relapsed heretic, relieving Catholics of any duty of serving him even as King of Navarre, and Henry went to war for his rights, and won brilliant victories.
Catherine now forced Henry to join with Guise and the League, and to adopt the Catholic faith as the only one legal in the Kingdom. When Henry of Navarre heard of this treaty of Nemours, it is said one-half of his moustache turned white. The Parisians, well pleased with Henry III, cried "Long live the King !" which Henry III replied to but coldly, so bitterly did he regret the pass to which he was come, of fighting with his natural successor on matters of religion, in which he had little interest, and his mother none, for we have seen that a holy war without fanaticism is but a bloody farce, that satisfies none and disgraces all alike. The "War of the Three Henries" was now on hand Henry de Valois (Henry III), Henry de Bourbon (King of Navarre and heir apparent of France), and Henry de Guise, real head of the League. While Henry III was of necessity at war with Navarre, his real interests lay against Guise, for Henry of Navarre would, at least, in self-interest, support the French throne, on which he ought to succeed. Guise, however, urged on by devout Catholics, was fast becoming an aspirant for kingly power. The Queen-mother now went to meet Henry of Navarre at Cognac, and asked him to turn Catholic, for his own sake. her daughter's sake (his wife's) and the King's sake. Henry refused, and the war went on. (That the reader may not blame Catherine overmuch, it must be noted that Henry did this very thing after he was King of France, when Catherine was dead, so it must have been a wiser thing to do when Catherine urged it.)
Guise went to Rome to promote his own claims to the throne of France. The League formally demanded of Henry III that he should be more zealous; that the Holy Inquisition should be established; that chiefs of the League should be given great fortresses to hold in trust; that it should be mass or death for captives, after the good Spanish style as understood by Philip II, who, because he feared Navarre, and because these resolutions coincided with his gloomy mind, gave animation to the hopes of the usurpers.
On the 8th of May, 1588, the Duke of Guise appeared alone in Paris, and was enthusiastically hailed by the masses as "the Pillar of the Church." He arrived in front of the palace of Catherine de' Medici, who grew pale at sight of him. "My dear cousin," said she, "I am very glad to see you, but I would have been better pleased at another time." A secretary hurried away to inform the King. At the Louvre the King asked Corso what he would do. "Is he friend or enemy?" asked Corso. Henry responded with his mother's shrug. Corso offered to kill Guise. Guise came on bare-headed through a vast multitude, walking by the side of Catherine's sedan chair. The King received Guise very coldly, which seemed to disquiet the young man. All Paris, however, was at his feet. The devotion that was ordinarily the monarch's was now offered to Guise. When Guise next approached the King he had 400 armed men. On the 11th and 12th Paris rose in insurrection against the King, while Catherine made two visits to Guise to bring him to terms. Guise had the Louvre well invested. At the last interview Catherine appeared to yield the successorship, but, while she gained time, the King escaped. "Madame," said Guise, "whilst your Majesty has been amusing me here, the King is off from Paris to harry and destroy me."
All outside Europe blamed Catherine and Henry for not having taken advantages of Guise to kill him when he first entered Paris so rashly, and these views, of course, made their way rapidly into France.
Catherine and Henry fled to Chartres, where, strange as it may seem, he made a peace with Guise, granting him all that was demanded, and Te Deum was sung at Notre Dame to celebrate the exclusion of Henry of Navarre from the royal succession. In August, 1588, the King and Guise ate together. In October the States-General (Congress) met at Blois to settle the dispute. Guise appeared to have the Congress with him, but the King's speech was so full of resentment that it alarmed Guise, and he obj- ected to its publication. Catherine, at this crisis again urged her son to give way, and he followed her advice. The Duke of Guise wrote constantly of his success. "Stupid owl of a Lorrainer !" said a League captain, "has he so little sense as to believe that a King whose crown he by deception has been wanting to take away, is not dissimulating in turn, to take his life away?" Guise, as he advanced in his plan of curbing the power of the King, was urged the more to go away, for the time had not yet come, as in 1789, when a Legislature was popularly deemed safer or greater than a King. The King might do something and he did.
Catherine gave a great wedding party at Blois. On this night the assassination was planned, but in various ways. Catherine supported Guise's request for a bodyguard and thus, at every turn in this woman's career, she is found to have acted both ways at once, evidently to render her true purposes unfathomable. On the evening of the 22d of December, 1588, Guise found under his napkin a note : "The King means to kill you !"
The next morning when Guise, as Lieutenant-General of the Kingdom, went to the King's council chamber, he found Catherine indisposed. He was summoned to the King's closet, where he was killed by assassins, with poniards given to them by the King. Thus had father and son both perished at the hands of murderers. The Cardinal of Lorraine, brother of Guise, was killed by soldiers, and his body put beside the Duke's.
Catherine was ill of the gout. "How do you feel?" asked her son.
"So do I. I am King of France again. The King of Paris is dead."
"God grant not that you become King of Nothing-at-all. I hope the cutting is right. Now for the sewing."
The ambitious Cardinal of Bourbon was also under arrest. Catherine went to him, to promise him liberation. "Ah! madame !" lamented the old man, "these are some of your tricks. You are death to us all." It is said that on this reception she retired in great anger, using harsh language.
She was, in fact, very near her own death in that great Castle of Blois, where France was so startled by Henry's firm but bloody act. After her visit on a litter to Cardinal Bourbon, she was "seized with greater catarrhs," and died in pain of an unusual order.
She died at a moment when the King must have needed her counsel, for the tragedy of Blois had made a fearful turmoil in Europe. But he attended her affectionately, and bore to the end the part of her most affectionate son.
"I leave to you," said she to Henry, "my last advice, and I entreat that these dying words may be imprinted in your memory for the good of your realm. Love the princes of your own blood, and have them always about you, and more especially the King of Navarre. I have found them always faithful to the Crown, and they alone have any interest in the succession of the Kingdom. Re-member, also, that if you would restore that peace which is so necessary to France, you must begin with granting liberty of conscience to your subjects."
At Paris, where indignation was rampant, following the death of the two Guises, there was public clamor that if the body of Catherine were brought to that city it should be cast in the common sewer, so well were all parties convinced that she was the adviser of the murders by the King. Moréri says her body was not carried to St. Denis (near Paris) until 1619, when it was interred in a beautiful chapel that she had herself begun to build.
The pasquinades of the time represent her as she seems to us inexplicable the most capricious woman who ever was seriously in earnest. And probably there has been in history no other environment so changeable and kaleidoscopical that has not thrown down its principal figure in the march of its events. But she rode on, at the head of anarchy for thirty years. One of the verses to which we refer says she was a devil and an angel ; full of blame and worthy of all praise; she sustained the state and ruined it; she brought opponents together and rendered more angry the debate; she gave birth to three Kings and fifty civil wars; she made good laws and had edicts; wish for her, dying, both hell and paradise.'
She was especially remarkable for the number and elegance of the ladies who resided with her, for the decorations of her palaces and equipages, and for the magnificence of the entertainments, ballets, and shows which she gave on ordinary, and on extraordinary occasions, as on the arrival of the ambassadors to announce her son Henry's election as King of Poland. Her liberality in life was so great that her heirs got but little out of her estate in the end.
De Thou and Bayle load her name with the most odious vices. Brantome and Davila adorn her with many virtues, among which a mother's love, we think, shines out brightest of all. Moréri, with French naivete, says her administration was not to the taste of all the world. We may see that, if a strong-willed man like Henry III hesitated till the last moment before he struck, her many efforts to evade on-coming issues, religious and political, were all in the interest of avoiding the very crimes that blacken her memory.
Our English literature is mainly Protestant, and, of course, our commonly-read accounts of Catherine de' Medici are remarkable for nothing save error and invective. Yet, on account of its eloquence, the reader will perhaps be willing to read Dr. Punshon's peroration on her character, which sounds as if it had been inspired by Dumas' thrilling novel of "Margaret of Valois :"
"It is humiliating to our common nature," says Punshon, "to dwell upon the portraiture which, if history says sooth, must be drawn of this remarkable woman. Her character is a study. Remorseless without cruelty, and sensual without a passion; a diplomatist without a principle and a dreamer without faith ; a wife without affection, and a mother without feeling, we look in vain for her parallel. See her in her oratory devouter Catholic never told his beads ! See her in the cabinet of Ruggieri the astrologer never glared fiercer eye into elfland's glamour and mystery, never were philter and potion (alas! not all for healing) mixed with firmer hand. See her in the Council room royal caprice yielded to her commanding will. Soldiers faltered beneath her falcon glance who never cowered from sheen of spears or blanched at flashing steel, and hoary-headed statesmen, who had made politics their study, confessed that she out-matched them in her cool and crafty wisdom. See her in disaster more philosophical resignation never mastered suffering, braver heroism never bared its breast to storm. Strange contradictions are presented by her, which the uninitiated cannot possibly unravel. Power was her early and her life-long idol, but when within her grasp she let it pass away, enamored rather of the intrigue than of the possession a mighty huntress, who flung the game rather in largess to her followers, finding her own royal satisfactions in the excitement of the chase. Of scanty sensibilities and without natural affection, there were times when she labored to make young lives happy, episodes in her romantic life, during which the woman's nature leaped into the day. Toiling constantly for the advancement of her sons, she shed no tear at their departure, and sat intriguing in her cabinet, while an old blind bishop and two aged domestics were the only mourners who followed her son Francis to the tomb. Skeptical enough to disbelieve in immortality, she was prudent enough to pro-vide, as she imagined, for any contingency, hence she had her penances to purchase heaven, and her magic to propitiate hell. Queenly in her bearing, she graced the masque or revel, smiling in cosmetics and perfumes. But daggers glittered in her boudoir, and she culled for those who crossed her schemes flowers of the most exquisite fragrance, but their odor was death. Such was Catherine de' Medici, the sceptered sorceress of Italia's land, for whom there beats no pulse of tenderness, around whose name no clinging memories throng, on whom we gaze with a sort of constrained and awful admiration, as an embodiment of power but power cold, crafty, passionless, cruel the power of the serpent which cannot fail to leave impressions on the mind, but impressions of basilisk eye and iron fang and deadly gripe and poisonous trail."
The Italian historical writers of that age are celebrated neither for their brevity nor their eloquence, yet they knew something of the matters of which they spoke, and, if we take Davila, whose folio volume is more than half filled with the affairs which Catherine directed, we shall probably read somewhere near the feelings which her career inspired among those of her own race, who admired greatness in a woman and measurably indorsed the enterprises which a religious revolution and social overturning forced constantly upon the throne of France. Davila says :
"The Queen-mother departed this life on the eve of the Epiphany of our Lord, a day which was wont to be celebrated with great joy by the court and the whole Kingdom of France. The qualities of this lady, conspicuous for the spacious course of thirty years, and famous through all Europe, may be comprehended by the context of things that have been related. Her prudence always abounded. With fitting determinations she remedied the sudden changes of fortune and opposed the machinations of human wickedness. In the minority of her sons she managed the weight of many civil wars, and contended at once with the effects of religion, the contumacy of subjects, the necessities of her treasury, the dissimulations of the Great Ones, and the dreadful engines raised by ambition. Her career as a ruler is rather to be admired distinctly in every particular action, than confusedly dead-colored in a draft of all her virtues. The constancy of courage wherewith she, a woman, and a foreigner, dared to aspire to the whole weight of government against so many competitors, and having aspired, compass it, and having compassed, maintain it, was much more like the courage of a man hardened in the affairs of the world than of a woman accustomed to the delicacies of the court, and kept so low during the life of her husband. But the patience, dexterity and moderation which she exercised when under the suspicion of her son (who had had so many proofs of her devotion) were so great, that she still maintained herself in the government to this extent, that the King dared not, without her counsel and consent, re-solve on those very things wherein he was jealous of her.
"Banishing the frailties and imperfections of the female sex, she became always mistress of those passions which tempt the wisest from the right path of life. In her were a most elegant wit, royal magnificence, courtesy to the people, a powerful manner of speaking, an inclination toward the good, a most bitter hatred and perpetual ill-will to the bad, and a desire to advance and favor her dependants.
"Yet, being an Italian, she never could do so much that French pride did not despise her virtues, and those that had a desire to disturb the Kingdom hated her mortally, as contrary to their designs. The Huguenots in particular, both in her life-time and after her death, blasted and tore her name with poisonous libels and execrations." Davila concludes that several historians, in the liveliness of their desire to darken her memory, have over-looked the fact that time and again she, by the acts for which she is condemned, prevented the immediate over- throw of the government committed to her hands, and he thinks that many of the crimes imputed to her, appear to reasonable judges to have been rendered either necessary or excusable by the urgency and evil character of public affairs.
At Blois, down the Loire River from Orleans, the tourist is shown the room where the Duke of Guise fell, and the observatory where Catherine, with her astrologer, consulted the stars. But she should be regarded herself as a philosopher, who, knowing the ignorance and superstition of the human mind, used the jargon and appurtenances of astrology as instruments with which to carry out her more practical designs. While she lived it was the enemies of her sons, not her sons, who were assassinated, and, if she treated with Henry of Navarre, so did Catholic France in time, thus carrying out the ideas which she recommended to her son when she 'died. If she be accused of duplicity the charge falls still heavier on Henry of Navarre, who had not a mother's love to sustain his conscience in his many changes of faith, who profited by nearly every step she took in life, and who yet preserved a glorious name in history, with orators themselves gathering fame by waving his white plume, while at the same time they retreat in terror before her basilisk eye.
For, barring Coligny, perhaps, it is hard to find a great character of the time who was not well acquainted with poison, the dagger, treachery, and dissimulation.. The age of Joan of Arc had passed. The lesson of her fruitless sacrifice had been too clear. The cant and hypocrisy of the dark ages had become tiresome. Even the weight of etiquette and ceremonial rites bore heavily on the patience of many, and in this feudal effervescence the lives of prominent actors on the stage of public events were as much in peril in times of peace as in times of war. Catherine passed through two generations of Guises, Bourbons, and Condés two sets of assassinations and her own issue fell by the assassin only after her counsel had been stilled in death at three score years and ten.