Anne Of Brittany 1476-1514
( Originally Published 1907 )
WITH Anne of Brittany the Renaissance entered France. She herself, though she had her little fastidiousnesses, hardly belongs to it. No artistic strain ran through her temperament. She was an intelligent, but excessively practical woman, who twice married men of opposite dispositions from her own. Anne, it is certain, never glowed at the thought of a beautiful thing in her life, but both her husbands did, and both, as a result of their Italian campaigns, brought into France a variety of new and educative lovelinesses. Charles VIII., Anne's first husband, and Louis XII., her second, gave the primary impulse to the Renaissance movement in France.
As for Anne herself, though in the end she appeals through a colossal weight of sorrow, one feels her chiefly as a warning. Almost every quality a woman ought to spend her strength in avoiding, she hugged unconsciously to her soul, and every quality a woman needs as the basis of her personality, she had not got. A woman should be indulgence itself, and Anne indulged nobody ; a woman should be as a brimming receptacle of sympathy, toleration, and forgiveness, and Anne forgave no one, and tolerated nothing that went against her. A woman should be it is without exaggeration her great essential good to live with, cosy, accommodating, an insidious wheedler, almost without premeditation, not only into happiness, but into righteousness of living. Now, Anne could never have been cosy, and it is doubtful whether, once safely married for the second time, she would have condescended to wheedle any one. She had not sufficient love to have a surplus for distribution. Duties of some kinds she could observe excellently, but there was no sub-conscious sense that in marrying she was accepting one of the subtlest posts of influence in the world. She had not the capacity for understanding that it is a woman's adorable privilege to be ùz herself so much, that the atmosphere of the house she controls must in the end express principally her personality. And nothing was more remote from Anne's intelligence than the secret triumph of realizing how greatly the building up of character is the charge intrusted to her sex by destiny.
It was not her gift to make any house feel warmer when she entered it. Her second husband loved her contrast is a frequent motive for falling in love but she could do nothing for temperament. Character is not upheaved by violences, and Anne was all imperatives and despotism. Practical organizations are often admirably conducted with these methods, and as a housewife Anne attained considerable proficiency ; but the more immaterial achievements are beyond the reaching power of a chill autocracy.
Born in 1476, she was the daughter of Francis II. of Brittany, enemy of Louis XI. of France. Her mother, Marguerite de Foix, died when she was little more than a baby, and the first thing one hears about the child Anne was, as usual, concerned with the question of marriage. At eight years old more than one suitor already desired her hand. The English Prince of Wales had been accepted, when his murder put an end to the engagement, Then the widowed Arch-duke of Austria, Maximilian, was seriously considered, and for a short time Louis, Duke of Orleans, subsequently her second husband, numbered among those said to be possibly acceptable. He was married already to Jeanne, daughter of Louis XL, but his dislike to the woman forced upon him by her sinister parent had never been disguised. A dispensation from the Pope could at any time make another marriage possible.
The notion did not hold attention long, but the man and the child, after all one day to come together, were excellent friends during the period when Anne was in the schoolroom. Louis of Orleans, restless and discontented, could bear anything better than the presence of his own wife. Jeanne, who was not only deformed but hideous, had wrung from her own father on one occasion the remark, I did not know she was so ugly." Curtained behind physical ungainliness, her nature was white as snow and soft as the breast of a bird ; but though every thought that came to her fused into tenderness, she lacked the common gaieties needful for ordinary existence. She had wanted to be a nun, and instead they made her the wife of a boy who felt for her nothing but an uncontrollable physical repulsion.
Louis, when he fled to Brittany, did not take her with him, and every writer is agreed that the pretty, precocious child whom he found there, and the dissatisfied husband, became the best of comrades. One chronicler mentions that Anne was flattered by the hommage paid to her by Louis, but it is very much in keeping with his character to have been amused by a little creature with all the airs and graces, and all the feminine obstreperousnesses, that Jeanne did not possess. Louis admired character, and even at nine years old Anne must have required no trifling efforts to manage.
In 1488, her father, worsted at last by the French, was obliged to come to terms with them. Almost immediately afterwards he died, and Anne, at twelve years old, became Duchess of Brittany.
It was, under the circumstances, a tragic position for any child to be placed in, and Anne's little baby face and thin childish voice, at the head of so forlornly placed a duchy, becomes suddenly pathetic. She was no sooner proclaimed her father's successor, moreover, than France sent to state that, since there were differences of opinion concerning their respective rights to Brittany, she should, pending the decision of arbitrators, not take the title of duchess. The reply firm but cautious amounted to the statement that Anne had already convoked the states of Brittany, in order to have the recent treaty made by her father with France ratified.
This answer the child probably had nothing to do with, but, in the vital question of her marriage, she suddenly revealed herself very definitely the authoritative head of her own dominions. All her ministers desired a marriage with the Comte D'Albret, thought to be in a position to help Brittany against the claws of its enemy. D'Albret was a widower, old, ugly, bad tempered, and the father of twelve children. Anne hated him he is said to have had a spotty face and the shrinking antipathy of children is not controllable by reasons. Primarily she must have felt a little frightened when both her governess, and the great bearded men who controlled affairs, informed her that, whatever her feelings, the marriage must take place. Happily, she was not timid, and she understood perfectly that she had succeeded to the power of her father. She refused point-blank to marry D'Albret. They argued, coaxed, laboured with interminable explanations, but the girl merely became mulish. When their importunities allowed no other outlet, she declared that sooner than marry him she would enter a nunnery and become a nun. Obstinacy such as this, when the child owed subjection to nobody, was a thing to gasp at. The tempers of her ministers must have been sorely tested, but the D'Albret marriage had in the end to be abandoned.
Maximilian was then brought forward once more a suitor towards whom Anne appears to have been more tractable. It was necessary to marry somebody. Maximilian she had never seen, and therefore could regard to some extent optimistically. At the worst he would be better than D'Albret, and there was the chance that he might be actually charming. Once she had consented they gave her no time to change her mind. Maximilian sent his favourite, Baron de Polhain, to Brittany, and a marriage by proxy, according to the German fashion, took place there. The bride, having been dressed in her best frock, was placed in her canopied bed, with the best pillows at her head, and the best counterpane over her small person, and in the presence of the necessary witnesses, Polhain bared one leg to the knee and introduced it into the bed. This brief and simple ceremony rendered Anne a married woman, wife of the King of Germany. For a year afterwards in all proclamations she was called Queen, and Maximilian Duke, of Brittany.
Had he been rich, Maximilian might have kept his wife and changed history. He was, however, too poor to send assistance, and France inordinately wanted Brittany. Anne's position, therefore, grew month by month more desperate, until, after the town of Nantes had fallen, ultimate defeat became inevitable. Brittany, unaided, was a pigmy standing up to a colossus. What facts the little duchess's childish mind grew to under-stand during the two years she ruled in Brittany are hard to imagine. Every night her people put her to bed knowing that the enemy crept, hour by hour, nearer to her person. Every morning fresh perplexities of state were tumbled into her strained, embittered understanding. She learnt by heart the cheerless vicissitudes of life before she knew its kindling compensations. And by nature Anne was proud, obstinate, prematurely intelligent. This little thing was no dazed creature propped up as a mere figure-head of state by powerful officials. No one knew better than Anne the value of her own position. If she cried when the lugubriousness of her household grew more patent, she cried, not from terror, but from the bitter knowledge of utter powerlessness. The mere thought of being conquered roused a tempest in the fiery spirit of the child-duchess.
She was fourteen when a compromise saved her. Charles VIII., to settle matters more securely than could be done by any temporary conquest, proposed to marry his past antagonist. When the proposal was first laid before her, Anne naturally refused with a sickened fury and vehemence. No extremity should drive her to think submissively of the man whose ambition had been the bane of her short existence. She argued, moreover, that she was already the wife of King Maximilian of Germany. But Brittany was in sore distress, and once more all those with power to persuade urged her to consider this proposal as a godsend to her country. She would not listen ; every nerve in her body revolted against this man, whose very proposal carried a threat behind it. Finally a priest was called upon to help the troubled counsellor, and the poor girl, whose happiness throughout had been the one thing nobody considered, was informed that the l Holy Church demanded this sacrifice for the welfare of her people. She gave in then ; there remained no alternative open to her. An interview took place, when the enemies of yesterday fumbled with reluctant courtesies. Three days later they were betrothed, the Duke of Orleans being among the witnesses of the ceremony.
Anne at this time was, it is said, a pretty, fresh-looking girl, with an admirable carriage, for all that one leg was slightly shorter than the other. Charles VIII., on the other hand, could hardly have been uglier. His head was too big for his body, his eyes were prominent and expression-less, his lips flabby. There was nothing in his lethargic appearance to disarm Anne's sullen misery, and during their first poignant meeting one can feel with certainty that she did nothing to render easier the polite apologies stammered out by the uneasy lover. But Charles's manner was gentleness and simplicity itself. Even Corn-mines, who considered him futile and childish, says of it, "No man was ever more gentle and kindly in speech. Truly I think he never in his life said a thing to hurt any one; small of body and ill-made, but so good, a better creature it would be impossible to find."
The marriage once accomplished, Anne and her husband started upon a triumphal journey through Brittany. The marriage had been a brutal necessity, and, for all her determination, the girl of fourteen was in it only the tool of the men and women who called themselves her subjects. But once married, Charles showed the utmost tactfulness. In the " History of the Dukes of Brittany " we read, " The king, having against his will, as it were, become her husband, omitted nothing that could assuage the unhappiness their marriage had caused her, behaving so well that in the end she was quite satisfied with her new life, and felt for this prince the greatest love and tenderness." But to have hated Charles would seem to have been impossible. All writers are unanimous as to the sweetness of his character in personal intercourse.
A good deal is known about Anne's equipment for her first journey as a married woman. Her travelling dress was of black velvet trimmed with zebeline, and her gown for best occasions of gold material lined with ermine. Among the furniture also were two beds a serviceable one, draped with black, white, and velvet cloth ; and another hung with gold brocade and bordered with a heavy fringing of black.
During the journey Anne received innumerable wedding presents, and at the gates and squares of every town plays were acted for the two young people. Most of these were mystery plays, but a certain number of farces were introduced for variety. What these comic plays were like can be gathered from the Farce du Cuvier, famous a little later. It deals with a hen-pecked husband, whose wife had provided a written list of his household duties in order to jog his harried memory.
One day, while washing the linen, his wife fell into the copper. The conversation between them is the dramatic moment of the play. I quote it as given in Mr. Van Laun's interesting " History of French Literature."
Wife (in the copper). Good husband, save my life. I am already quite fainting ; give me your hand a while. Facquemet. It is not in my list.
Wife. Alas ! oh, who will hear me ? Death will come and take me away.
Fac. (reading his list). "To bake, to attend to the oven, to wash, to sift, to cook."
Wife. My blood is already quite changed. I am on the point of death.
Fac. (continuing to read). "To rub, to mend, to keep bright the kitchen utensils . .."
Wife. Come quickly to my assistance.
Fac. "To come, to go, to bustle, to run ..." Wife. Never shall I pass this day.
Fac. " To bake the bread, to heat the oven ..." Wife. Ah, your hand ; I am approaching my last moment.
ac. " To bring the corn to the mill . . ."
Wife. You are worse than a mastiff.
Jac. "To make the bed early in the morning ..." Wife. Oh, you think this is a joke.
Fac. "And then to put the pot on the fire . .." Wife. Oh, where is my mother, Jacquette ?
Fac, "And to keep the kitchen clean . . ."
Wife. Go and fetch the priest.
Fac. My paper is ended, but I tell you, without more ado, that it is not on my list.
In the end, having wrung from her a promise of docility, he helped her out. The farce concluded with the joyful murmur, "For the future, then, I shall be master, for my wife allows it."
But the great day of Anne's youth was the day of her coronation in France. No toy lay so dear to her heart as a crown, and no one could have felt more unspeakably proud and great when, before an immense crowd of nobles and people, her crowning took place at the church of St. Denis. She wore a gown of pure white satin, and hung her hair which was long and beautiful in two great plaits over her shoulders. St. Gelais de Montluc said of her at this time, " It did one good to look at her, for she was young, pretty, and so full of charm that it was a pleasure to watch her."
Afterwards followed the unavoidable reaction, when the ordinary routine of existence had to be confronted. Anne's position, once the glamorous days of public functions were over, revealed innumerable drawbacks. She was a little girl in a strange country, surrounded by persons unwilling to surrender either power or precedence.
Anne of Beaujeau, the former Regent harsh, efficient, domineering was the first power with whom Anne suffered combat. Small questions of precedence kindled the tempers of both. The elder Anne loved power as much as the younger, and was a woman few people cared to defy. But the juvenile bride had been modelled a little bit after the same pattern ; she also possessed indomitable qualities, and had no intention of being a queen for nothing. The Regent her surprise must have been overwhelming found herself worsted. Sensible as well as proud, she retired before any pronounced unseemliness had occurred, and left the two young people to manage the kingdom for themselves.
But the period of domesticity between Charles and Anne did not continue long. There was a little love-making, a little house decorating, and then came the momentous first invasion of Italy. Commines, a shrewd and plain-spoken observer, says a good deal about this Italian campaign, which he accompanied. Both he and the Italian historian Guicciardini refer with pronounced con-tempt to Charles's mismanagement of it, while Commines goes so far as to state practically that nothing but the grace of God kept the army from annihilation.
While Charles was away time passed wearily for Anne. Previously to her husband's departure, when barely fifteen years old, she had given birth to her first baby, the needful son and heir. But to make the days more empty and interminable, the child was taken from her at the beginning of hostilities. For safety's sake he remained at the castle of Amboise, strongly guarded by a hundred of the Scottish guard. So carefully was he protected, in fact, that when one of his godfathers, François de Paule, came to see him, he was only allowed to bring one other priest with him a man born in France, and one who had never been to Naples. Unfortunately, no guards could save a life so feeble as this child's of a child-mother. Almost immediately after Charles had come back from Italy the little creature fell ill and died with tragic suddenness.
Before this, and after her husband's safe arrival, Anne is said to have been unprecedently light-hearted. To exist for months, as she had been doing, waiting hour after hour for the daily courier's arrival, was to become drained at last of every feeling except a tortured expectancy. Charles's death would not only have made her a widow, it would have taken her cherished crown away from her also. To hold both safe again relaxed even Anne's cherished decorum of manner. But the death of the Dauphin struck the newly arisen gaiety abruptly out of her. She grieved passionately, bewildered that God should do this inexplicable and bitter thing to her. How fiercely she rebelled is shown by the following incident. Her friend of childish days, Louis, Duke of Orleans, was now once more heir to the throne. In a court of mourning he struck Anne as unduly blithe and cheerful, and instantly her sore heart revolted and hated him. Commines, who mentions the circumstance, says that " for a long time afterwards they did not speak." As a matter of fact, Anne insisted upon his removal from the court circle. Louis retired to his own home at Blois, where he fell back upon the hobbies of his father, the childlike poet Louis of Bourbon, whose poems he collected while he waited for his old friend's nerves to tranquillize.
Charles meanwhile gladdened his spirit with architectural interests. He had come back deeply influenced by the beauty of Italian methods, and having brought with him a crowd of Italian artists and craftsmen.
How the tumultuous Anne struck him after the subtlety of Italian womenfolk is not mentioned. The women of the Italian Renaissance were an education in themselves. Charles had been cajoled by Beatrice, had been knelt to by Isabella of Aragon, had been flattered delicately and unceasingly. His path to Rome had been strewn with gracious ladies, all more consummate, more complex, more highly wrought, as it were, than his own house-bound countrywomen. Anne, besides, could never have been a person of irresistible daily whimsicalities. Fortunately, Charles possessed strong domestic instincts, and in justice to Anne it should be mentioned that she did not show the same indifference to personal graces usually associated with women of her practical temperament. She had a few dainty vanities was particular about baths and washing in basins all of gold ; and had shoals of little scented sachets placed between her linen and in the clothes she wore, violets being her favourite perfume.
In the April after the Italian campaign the two were at Amboise Castle, Charles, it is said, having grown from an irresponsible youth into a ruler actuated by definite tenderness for his people. And then a tragic thing happened. On the Saturday before Easter some of the household were playing tennis in the courtyard. Anne and Charles went to watch them play, but in passing through a corridor known as the Galerie Hacquelebac about to be pulled down Charles hit his head against the low frame of a doorway. The accident seemed trivial, and for some time he watched the players as if unaffected by it ; but suddenly, in the middle of a phrase, he dropped mysteriously to the ground. Placed upon a mattress, he lingered until the evening, and died at eleven o'clock at night. He was then twenty-eight, and Anne, struck brusquely from placid trivialities to the supreme incident of existence, was twenty-four.
Louis of Orleans had become King of France. Anne, huddled in a darkened room at Amboise, cried for hours without ceasing. She sat forlornly on the floor, and knew the uselessness of wordy consolations. Charles had been good to her ; the future would have been full of pleasant habits. Now he was dead, and there remained nobody whose interests and hers were identical. Many would be brazenly glad that she was cast down. She who yesterday had been Queen of France, was now nobody--a widow whose crown, that salient, exalting possession, belonged to the wife of Louis. True, she was still Duchess of Brittany, but she had suffered sufficient baneful experience to know that they would soon try and wrench that honour from her also.
No efforts could appease her grief. A con-temporary nobleman, writing to his wife four days after Charles's death, remarked, " The queen still continues the same mourning, and they cannot pacify her." How could they, when all that she craved had been subtracted from her life ? For days she crouched upon the floor of a black-draped room, desolately rebellious against the stupid harshness of life. Hour after hour she moaned, and cried, and wrung her hands. Nevertheless, for all her stricken gestures, her brain worked well enough. She began to write letters the day after Charles's death, and as soon as she had at last been induced to eat, she signed an order to re-establish the Chancellorship of Brittany. Courage and intelligence continued intact for all the abasement of her attitude. She wept, but as she wept she thought out practical behaviour for the future.
At the same time, there is no doubt that she was genuinely disturbed and disconsolate. When, after some days, they brought her the usual charming white of royal widows, her pitiable and comfortless thoughts mutinied instinctively against its serenity and calm. She would not wear it: black was the only hue that could meet the blackness of her life white revolted her as an equal offence and mockery. With a dogged insistence upon the hurt that tortured her, she set an undesirable fashion, and through a tumultuous intolerance of pain did away with an old prettiness of custom,
Three days after her widowhood her old friend the new king called to express condolence. Anne still repined in her darkened chamber. The only light that fell upon her came from two great candles. She had not risen when a bishop came to offer consolation, but she probably did so now, and made a grudging obeisance to the man who had suddenly climbed above her.
Louis XII.'s manners, to every woman save his wife, were notoriously deferential. Anne, moreover, was still very youthful, and in the semi-darkness her great mass of shining hair could not but have looked soft, and young, and movingly incongruous with her sorrow. They spoke of the dead man's funeral. Anne expressed the wish that nothing that could do honour to his memory should be omitted. Louis answered instantly that all her wishes were sacred, and did, in fact, pay all the funeral expenses out of his private purse. Then she stated her desire to wear black as mourning, and once more Louis acquiesced with a visible desire to spare her feelings to the utmost of his capacity. In the soft, uncertain candlelight a new emotional quality may well have appertained to the girl so harshly and abruptly widowed. Surrounded by darkness, her desolate youthfulness, and her pitiful desire to obscure her youth in still more blackness, might easily have stirred an old admirer to a renewal of tenderness.
Anne continued to moan a good deal for several days, but it is questionable whether the hidden excursions of her mind were so storm-beaten after this visit as before it. The majority of women have an intuitive knowledge of the emotions felt by men when in their company, and Anne possessed great powers of discernment. She could perfectly understand that Louis XII. wished desperately to retain Brittany. By the terms of her marriage settlement it now indisputably belonged to her once more. She also knew, with an acute sense of the potentialities flung open by the fact, that the idea of having his own marriage annulled had become an invincible necessity of his nature. The wayward brutality of her conduct to him after the death of the Dauphin might have chilled original kindliness of feeling ; but he had thought her charming previously, and the desire for Brittany would naturally facilitate the effort to find her charming henceforward.
There is no doubt that Louis's visit, at least in some degree, alleviated depression ; for a little later, with the impetuosity that kept Anne from being a totally dull woman, she said, in answer to some remark of one of her ladies, that sooner than stoop to a lower than her husband she would be a widow all her days, adding, in the same breath, that she believed she could still one day be the reigning Queen of France if she should wish it. A quaint writer of that time described Anne accurately, but kindly, when he said, " The greatness of heart of the queen-duchess was beyond all belief, and could yield in nothing that belonged to her, neither suffer that she should not have entire control of it."
But her statement was literally correct. While she lived in the strict retirement of mourning, writing lucid, emphatic letters to Brittany, the new king flung himself into the business of repudiating Louis XI.'s daughter. It is an episode that considerably smirches the propriety of Anne afterwards a great upholder of propriety for several further visits took place between the black-robed widow and the new king, and that they did not meet merely to extol the merits of the dead husband soon became apparent. Charles died in April, and in August two acts, dated on the same day, were passed. In the one Anne consented to marry Louis so soon as his present marriage should be annulled in Rome, and in the second Louis agreed to give back to the duchess the two towns of Nantes and Fougeres, if by death or other impediment he should prove unable to marry her within a year.
The divorce was not a difficult one to obtain. Alexander needed French assistance for the aggrandisement of Caesar Borgia, and sent him personally with the Bull to Louis. Then a tribunal, formed of a cardinal, two bishops, and other minor dignitaries, sat upon the case and called upon the queen to appear in person. Both she and the council knew that the inquiry was a degrading and unmerciful farce. Nevertheless, for form's sake, endless questions were put to the woman who was at one and the same time both so ugly and so beautiful. They questioned her concerning her father, Louis XI., pressing to obtain involuntary exposures. Jeanne's sensitive and finely poised reserve could not be splintered by insistence. " I am not aware of it," or " I do not think so," were all that her lips yielded. She rendered even distress a little lovely by the silence in which she sheltered it. In reality, Louis's memory must have been essentially painful. For, like her husband, he had unremittingly hated her. As a child her tutor was even in the habit of hiding her in his robe for safety if by chance Louis met them in a corridor.
From family discords the court passed to the question of her marriage. Bluntly, they informed the martyred woman that she was a deformity. " I know I am not as pretty or as well made as most women," was the answer, that seemed to carry a lifetime's tears below its plaintiveness. They insisted further that she was not fit for marriage. Then a little anguished humanness seems to have fluttered for a moment through her patient spirit. " I do not think that is so. I think I am as fit to be married as the wife of my groom George, who is quite deformed, and yet has given him beautiful children." But all the while both she and those who questioned her knew with perfect clarity that neither questions nor answers could affect the ultimate issue. They were but a mean and vulgar form gone through to blind the judgment of the people. Louis XII. denied that their union had ever passed beyond the marriage service. Once more Jeanne fell back upon grave words conveying nothing. " I want," she answered, " no other judges than the king himself. If he swears on oath that the facts brought against me are true, I consent to condemnation."
That gave all they needed, and the marriage was declared null and void. For the last time Jeanne and Louis went through the discomfort of an interview, and for once, and once only, Jeanne's consummate self-immolation drew tears from her husband. Then she passed out of his existence, and became, what she had always desired to be, a nun. In one of the sermons preached on the anniversary of her death, it was said of her, " She was so plain that she was repudiated by her husband ; she was so beautiful that she became the bride of Jesus Christ."
Anne and Louis were then delivered from all impediments, and in the year after Charles's death were married at the Nantes Cathedral. The marriage settlement drawn up was entirely advantageous to Anne. Undoubtedly Louis loved her. In his time many kinds of women had engrossed him, for he was a man who, as one writer puts it kindly, "did not disdain the pas-time of ladies." But after many love affairs, and much knowledge of women's subtleties, he finally surrendered to the charms of a woman possessed of no subtleties of any sort.
The attraction is difficult to account for.
Possibly Anne held him through his domestic leanings, and through her own indomitable force of character. The monotonies of guilty love episodes may have given a restful grace to placid respectability ; Louis knew by heart every cankering perversity inherent to the women who are not virtuous, and probably, therefore, set additional store by one possessing at least a steadfast and limpid purity. How much virtue in a woman, when she was not Jeanne, appealed to him is clear from a remark made some years later. It had reference to Anne's aggressiveness. Some one complained of it to Louis. His answer offered no consolation, but expressed a definite attitude of mind. He re-marked merely, " One must forgive much to a virtuous woman."
Anne's affection for Louis is more immediately comprehensible_ He was peculiarly lovable, though almost as ugly as Charles himself. He had a low forehead, prominent ruminating eyes, a sensual, affectionate mouth, high cheek-bones, and a flabby skin. It was the face of a man who liked life as it was, and people as they were ; there appeared in it no desire for illusions of any kind. He had in his own nature all the sympathetic weaknesses, and his expression conveyed the easy tolerance of a nature which had at least used experience as a school of understanding. A Venetian ambassador once called him " a child of nature," and he was essentially natural, with an almost childlike trustfulness, not so much of manner as of opinion. He ruled save for his unfortunate passion to possess a piece of Italy--like a man preoccupied with the happiness of his children. The people adored him. If money had to be raised, he made personal sacrifices rather than burden the poor with additional taxation, while his home policy was persistently humane and sensible. Historians rarely do him justice. Because he failed to prove a great diplomatist, they ignore his possession of a delightful personality. In regard to Italy, he was plainly foolish ; but then Italy stood for the romance of life the adventure that drew the commonplace out of existence. Even specialized astuteness could have blundered easily in the cunning complications of international politics at that crisis, and Louis went to Italy, not out of policy, but literally because he could not keep himself away from it.
Though in private life his interests were largely intellectual, he had always a certain strain of cordial earthliness. The " pastime of ladies " he is said to have given up entirely after his second marriage, but good dinners and good wine he liked to the end of life. When Ferdinand of Aragon was told that Louis complained of being twice cheated by him, he exclaimed exultantly, " He lies, the drunkard ; I have cheated him more than ten times."
Anne stood for his antithesis. She was regrettably without small weaknesses, and she forgave nobody. When Louis came to the throne he remarked, It would ill become the King of France to avenge the wrongs of the Duke of Orleans." But if any one hurt Anne, she could not rest until a greater hurt had been flung back upon the offender. Once a grown woman, and married to Louis, she was, except from the point of view of housewifery, almost completely a failure. She might have had more flagrant vices and aroused compassionate affection. But she was pre-eminently respectable, pious, hedged in by sedate rules of conduct. And all the time one of the most corroding sins possible flourished in her to offend posterity. Anne's revengefulness is like a blight, destroying the grace of her femininity.
Happily she was generous, and generosity is a sweet redemption of much crookedness. She loved to give presents. After her second marriage she kept a gallery full of jewellery and precious stones, which she gave from time to time to the " wives of the captains or others who had distinguished themselves in the wars, or faith-fully served her husband Louis." Also, she never denied the tragic clamour of the poor. Mezerai wrote : "You saw thousands of poor waiting for her alms, whenever she left the palace."
Of the private life led by Anne and Louis an unusual amount is known. They got up at six in summer and seven in winter. They had their dinner at eight or nine in the morning. At two o'clock they took some light refreshments. By five or six supper was served, and either at eight or nine o'clock they went to bed, after having a glass of wine and some spiced cakes. An old rhyme of the period might have been written for them
" To rise at five, and dine at nine, Sup at five, and sleep at nine, Keeps one alive until ninety-nine."
Louis passed the larger part of the day occupied with state matters. To quicken recognition of the gravity of a ruler's efforts, he read fragmentarily but constantly Cicero's " Treatise on Duties ; " it was to him like a spring of stimulating waters. When he had nothing else to do, he made love to his " Bretonne "—the name, for intimate use, given by him to Anne. She could have stirred no poetic imaginings, but she was comfortable to his nature. Domesticity and the hearthside securities were expressed by her.
Meanwhile, Anne ruled her household after the manner of an austere schoolmistress. Like all unimaginative people, she shrank from any form of waywardness, and none was permitted near her person. Her court grew to be spoken of as a school of good conduct for girls of the upper classes. Whether because she took so many or not, the beds for the rooms of the maids of honour were six feet long by six feet wide, so that several girls slept in the same bed a little row of heads on one long pillow. No maids of honour were allowed to address a man save with an audience in the room. When the king went hunting, Anne sat surrounded by intimidated ladies, all sedately at work upon huge pieces of tapestry.
Even their recreations had to be of a sober and cautious nature. Françoise D'Alençon, the sister-in-law of Margaret D'Angoulême, is reported to have kept intact the traditions of Anne's court, and the following quotation is a description of how her household was managed. "She made all her ladies also come into the room, and after having looked at them one by one, she called back any whose bearing struck her as plebeian or wanting in propriety. She scolded any whose dress was not as it should be. Then she examined each one's work, and if there was a fault, righted it, and if the little progress made showed negligence and laziness, scolded the worker pretty sharply. As to their morals, she allowed none of them to have any conversation alone with any man, nor suffered any conversation before them not strictly proper and honourable... . As to their pastimes and festivals, this prudent princess did not keep them so strictly but that they were allowed to walk about, and play in the gardens or in some honourable house ; or that they ' balassent,' or played the guitar, d'espinettes, or other musical instruments, recommended by the nobility and other honourable minds ; or that they should sing modestly and religiously in their room, which she often made them do in her presence, and while she herself joined them. But she never allowed them to sing other songs than the Psalms of David, or the songs of the dead Queen of Navarre. She did as much for their literature, for as she herself only read the Scriptures, or some historical biography which contained no false docctrine, so she would not allow her ladies to read anything else either."
With insignificant alterations the picture conveys as accurately Anne's method of management as that of the inflexible Françoise D'Alençon. Perhaps of the two Anne's control permitted more brightness to stray through its severity. There were occasional dances at the court, as well as journeys from one town to another. But it was not Anne's destiny to retain either of her husbands comfortably at her elbow. Though Louis loved both his wife and his people, the desire for adventure fretted the surface of his domestic life_ Before Anne gave birth to their first baby, he had already gone to struggle for a piece of the country which perpetually ensnared him with abnormal and inexplicable longings.
During the first expedition Ludovico Sforza was taken prisoner. In this one matter Louis's conduct freezes one's blood. He brought Il Moro to France, and imprisoned him under-ground at the castle of Loches, while to increase safety he was placed every night in an iron cage. For ten years Ludovico endured this extreme limit of mental and physical privation, his magnificent physique refusing to admit Death sooner.
But even at this distance of time it is not possible to think without unhappiness of the destroying agony of such imprisonment.
While Louis was in Italy, Anne wrote to him daily. A little letter from her proving that Louis was both affectionate and in love is still in existence. It commenced, A loving and beloved wife writes to her husband, still more beloved, the object both of her regrets and her pride, led by the desire of glory far from his own country. For her, poor amante, every moment is full of terrors. To be robbed of a prince more lover than husband, what a terrible anguish it is!" The words " more lover than husband " reveal the practice of constant minor and endearing attentions.
A miniature painting of the period discloses Anne writing one of these daily letters. She sits in her bedroom, clearly used as a sitting-room as well. Her black gown trails consequentially upon the floor, but her table and seat are both perfectly unpretentious. Round her, on the ground, sit her ladies-in-waiting, intensely docile and industrious. Besides being disciplined in an outward meekness, they were, it would seem, obliged to adopt a court uniform, since in all the pictures they are dressed absolutely alike. Anne's inkstand and pen are both gold, and a little handkerchief is set conveniently near to wipe the seemly tears that should blur her eyes as she writes. At the back is a charming four-poster, rich and radiant with opulent gold hangings.
When Louis returned to France, society flung its eager frivolity into a series of organized rejoicings. But already to Anne life was beginning to imply unrestfulness. Louise de Savoie had a son Francis ; and unless Anne gave birth to one later, this child became heir to the throne of France. The two women hated each other with an almost equally tortured intensity ; certainly from this time forward Louise spoiled the peace of Anne's existence. Even without the poignant person of Francis, Duc D'Angoulême, some friction would still have been unavoidable. Anne clung to sober and steadfast if uninspired propriety ; Louise de Savoie in conduct had no morals, no restraint, and no delicate prejudices whatsoever. Her brain teemed with complexities, exaggerations, and superlatives. She saw every-thing through a falsifying excitement, while to weave a lie was one degree more comfortable to her than to speak veraciously. In appearance also the advantages were on her side, and possessing an intuitive gift for understanding the worst of men, her society was dangerously flattering and easy to them.
Anne flinched, both at the other's conduct and at her possession of an heir to the French throne. Fleurange, who knew Anne well, said that there was never an hour but these two houses were not quarrelling. Both women, as the years passed, grew to have a constant piercing apprehension that killed all abiding buoyancy of feeling. In Anne's case the anguish was far the sharper and the more pitiful. Again and again she throbbed at the expectation of motherhood, and after nine overwrought months, when to both women the suspense had grown almost more than they could suffer, a girl, or a boy born dead, came to crush the vitality out of Anne's brave spirit.
After the birth of Claude a still keener edge was given to disquietude. Almost immediately arose the question of a marriage between the girl and Francis. For years, with all the passionate fierceness of her nature, Anne fought to ward off this triumph for her adversary and to marry the child to a different husband. In 1501 a temporary victory expanded her heart. The baby became promised to the Duke of Luxembourg, afterwards Charles V., son of the Archduke Philip of Austria. This engagement continued for several years. Then Louis realized that the probability of his having a son had grown very small, and that under these conditions the Austrian marriage would be in the last degree impolitic. For some reason not stated, he and Anne stumbled at this period into a serious breach of tenderness. His attitude to the question of Claude's marriage may have roused her to a despairing fury. To surrender the little plain girl she delighted in, to the son of the woman she abominated, was a hard thing to do too hard for a heart already contracted with useless yearnings. Louis met her strenuous obstinacy with an implacable conclusiveness. The pulse of the nation beat, he knew, for the young D'Angoulême, who was "all French ;" and his own opinion could be summed up in one sentence that " he preferred to marry his mice to rats of his own barn."
A chill, destroying discord rose between the married lovers, who had once known such warmth in each other's presence. Louis, stung out of placidity, even commenced to snub the proud and suffering woman struggling against his wishes. During one of the recurring discussions upon the same subject, he informed her that "at the creation of the world horns were given to the doe as well as to the stag, but the doe venturing to use these defences against her mate, they were taken from her." If he had whipped Anne, the sense of stinging humiliation could hardly, one imagines, have been sharper. For no woman bore herself with a more unyielding dignity before witnesses, and the remark was not made beyond the reach of auditors.
In 1505, Anne, fretted, sore of heart, beaten and discouraged, went to Brittany. The actual reason of her going is not given, but having gone she stayed there, and more, wrote no longer daily letters to "her loving and beloved." Outwardly she was happy held magnificent receptions, and went interesting journeys from one town to another. Clearly it was rest of heart to be away. Home had become a place of piercing bitterness, of rending and exhausting antagonisms. On a vital question she and Louis pulled different ways, Here in Brittany friction and sorrow lulled a little. Her nerves took rest, and her heart forgot at intervals.
That she flinched from return as from a renewal of intolerable provocation is unmistakable. In the September of 1505 she was at Rennes ; and while she was there, Louis's friend, the Cardinal D'Amboise upon whose death Pope Julius II. thanked God he was now Pope alone "—wrote with a hint of distraction concerning the gravity of her prolonged absence from France. He said, The king sent for me this afternoon, madame. I have never seen him so put out, as also I understand from Gaspar, to whom he spoke in my presence." The letter concluded with an urgent appeal that she should return and "so satisfy the king and also stop strangers from gossiping."
Four days afterwards he wrote again : " Although wonderfully pleased at the assurance you send me of making all possible haste to return to court, I am deeply distressed that you do not mention any date. I do not know what to answer the king, who is in the greatest perplexity. . . . I wish to God I was with you. . . . I can only say that I grieve with all my heart that you and the king no longer speak frankly to one another." Still she lingered, like a person bathing weary limbs in warm and soothing waters. Amboise, seeing the oncoming of permanent alienation, wrote again, " For God's sake don't fall, you and the king, into these moods of mutual distrust, for if it lasts neither confidence nor love can hold out, not to speak of the harm that can come of it, and the contempt of the whole Christian world."
In the end Anne drew upon her tired courage and came back. Once together again, moreover, she and Louis must have yielded to gentler feelings, for two children were born afterwards. But from this time to the end Anne never again felt the glow of life really stream upon her a chill loneliness sapped capacity for pleasure. Once Louis exchanged the lover for the husband, they possessed no mental companionableness to fall back upon. They saw few things with the same emotion, and for successful marriage this is the primal necessity. Anne was intuitively religious, and Louis had been excommunicated without visible disturbance for his exploits in the second Italian campaign. To increase a marked sense of the difference between their views, Brittany had been excluded from the excommunication.
Everything for Anne had grown a little out of gear a little hurtful and antagonistic. Claude was Iame and not pretty Louise's handsome son and daughter were adored by everybody.
Moreover, she had been coerced and disregarded ; for all her excessive stateliness men knew her as a humiliated and beaten woman. Before Louis left for the third Italian campaign, the betrothal of Claude to Francis had been ratified.
Deputies from the different departments had visited Louis at Plessis-les-Tours. They called him Father of his people ; " then upon bent knees begged that he would " give madame your only daughter to Monsieur François here present, who is a thorough Frenchman." Both Louis and the kneeling deputies shed tears, but though a sentimental emotion fluttered them in passing, the scene was essentially an organized drama, gone through in order to cut the last possible ground of resistance from under Anne's feet. Two days later Francis, aged eleven, and Claude, aged six, were formally promised to one another.
There is one more outstanding incident in Anne's life her bitter warfare with the great Marechale de Gie. It has been called the inexcusable stain upon her reputation. The story certainly leaves her nakedly crude, fiercely elemental, but at least upon this occasion a glaring provocation roused her to fury. Louis fell ill. He had enjoyed his youth too coarsely, and paid heavily in after years for the absence of more delicate cravings. Anne nursed him with an affection made quick through terror. " She never left his room all day, and did everything she was able herself." But Louis failed to get better. Each day he drew nearer the purlieus of finality; his doctors perceived no possibility even of return. Then Anne, sitting wearily by the bedside of the sick man, did undoubtedly think of practical matters. She remembered Louise and their mutual hatred. Historians express disgust at what followed, but in reality there is nothing to be deeply disgusted about. The brain in times of tense, overwrought excitement is assailed by many discordant and trumpery remembrances. Anne, alert and nervous both, gazed at the sinking patient, and recalled the valuable furniture, jewellery, and plate, whose possession might be contested later. Had she been a woman of momentous feeling, the knowledge could equally have flashed through her kindled intelligence, but would have left it bitterly indifferent. Anne was not strung with overwhelming affections, and her predominating common sense saw that after this man's death she had still a future to organize. Without relaxing one personal nursing labour, she gave rapid orders to the household, until all the articles stated as hers in the marriage contract were despatched by ship to Brittany.
Gie had long ago placed his interests upon the side of the power to follow. Being informed of the queen's arrangements, he stopped her vessels, definitely refusing to allow them to leave the country.
There was a certain reckless temerity in the action; but Louis, it was understood, could not live more than a few hours, and the new king would know how to reward such strenuous adroitness in his interests. But in this matter Gie was unlucky.
Louis suddenly and apparently unreasonably abandoned the notion of dying. From extreme collapse he rapidly recovered, and immediately afterwards banished Gie from court. There are slight variations in the story in one account Anne was labouring to remove Claude to Brittany as well but the above is the account given by the greatest number.
For a short time Gie remained thankfully at his magnificent place in the country, clutching at the fact that his punishment went very comfort-ably with his instincts. But Anne's heart was too primitive for trivial retaliations. Mezerai did not say for nothing, "She was terrible to those who offended her," Presently Gie received a summons to answer to the charges of lèsemajeste and peculation, was arrested, and after being treated with a shameless brutality, received a verdict of guilty, with a loss of all honours and five years' banishment from court. The ugliest part of a story in which from the beginning everybody behaved with a rather ignoble sagacity —is the report that Anne openly stated that she did not desire the Marechale's death, since death gave relief from suffering, and she chafed for him to live and feel all the misery of being low when he had been high ; in other words, that she craved a long and cankering duration to his discomfiture.
After the birth of another daughter the child Renée, subsequently to be Duchess of Ferrara Anne's last fragment of happiness died in her. Jean Marot, father of the famous Clement Marot, referred to her in some verses with a singular realism and comprehension. He wrote
"At this time was in Lyons
She was, in truth, tired to death of the involved labour of life. Thoughts of the complacent, unprincipled, mendacious Louise de Savoie, whose son was heir to the throne of France, fermented in her blood, and kept her heart from beating contentedly. From the time of Renée's birth she surrendered to an uncontested weakliness. Though she became enceinte again shortly afterwards, hope scarcely fluttered, and her physical condition bore witness to a mind past any salutary optimism. She had already given birth to three sons, not one of whom had lived, and throughout the household it was recognized that she lacked good fortune in motherhood.
In 1512, some one wrote : " The queen is in great pain, and her baby is expected at the end of this month or the beginning of next. But there is not the fuss and excitement here that was made over the others."
The child came, but the triumphant Louise records the event in her dairy with cynical cheer-fulness : " . . . His birth will not hinder the exaltation of my Caesar, for the infant was born dead."
Anne, worn and heartbroken in her second best bed always used for accouchements becomes at last entirely touching. She was by this time ultimately and irremediably beaten. The child had been a son, but was dead. " She took pleasure in nothing afterwards," said D'Argentre, while she continued so ill that most of the time she had to stay in bed. Louis, back from renewed disasters in Italy, found her there on his return. Shortly afterwards on the 9th of February, 1514 she died.
Louis grieved considerably. The flaring heat of latter quarrels had burnt up much original tenderness, but De Seyssel's statement that Louis "loved her so that in her he had placed all his pleasure and delight," was an approximate interpretation of their position until vital antagonisms sharpened the tongues of both.
Anne was given a sumptuous funeral. The arrangements for it, could she have known them, would have caused her exquisite pleasure. For six days she lay in her own room, prayed for unceasingly. Then she was placed upon a Lit de Parade, and covered with a pall of gold cloth bordered with ermine, the fur represented by the coat-of-arms of Brittany. She lay underneath this, with white gloves upon her hands, and a crown upon her head; her dress was of purple velvet, and on each side were cushions holding the Sceptre and the Hand of Justice.
After the funeral Louis sent her heart in a golden case to be entombed in Brittany. On the casket was written
" In this small vessel
Of pure, fine gold
Rests the greatest heart
Of any woman in the world,"
But as a matter of fact, the one great drawback to Anne was that she had not heart enough. Her presence inspired neither tenderness nor laughter, her society neither encouraged nor comforted. And the consequence was that nobody could have been missed Iess. On the whole she had been a good woman ; except in times of tumultuous temper, she had endeavoured to live conscientiously and reasonably. Only she possessed no deep-dwelling sympathies ; consequently when she died she was dead immediately. I t is the people who kindle perpetually at the needs of others who live for years in the hearts of those they have penetrated.
Queens Of The Renaissance:
Catherine Of Siena 1347-1380
Beatrice D'este 1475-1497
Anne Of Brittany 1476-1514
Lucrezia Borgia 1480-1519
Margaret D'angouleme 1492-1549
Renee, Duchess Of Ferrara 1510-1575