Margaret D'angouleme 1492-1549
( Originally Published 1907 )
THE Renaissance in France has not the same degree of charm as the Renaissance in Italy. It misses the radiance and the sense of open-air sweetness that clings to the original movement. The women of the Italian Renaissance were constantly adventuring into the country ; the enchantment of the climate lingers in all recollections of them. The Renaissance in France conveys a different impression one colder, more troubled, more half-hearted. The large frescoed palaces, with their adorable colonnades, are gone, and the sensation given is of a bleaker, darker, and more housed existence. The entranced light-heartedness of the Italian period did not travel into France. When the Renaissance came into that country the Reformation came too, and the labours of the Sorbonne robbed it of the youth and irresponsibility that made the other so vital and complete. The Italian Renaissance breathed out the exultation of adolescence ; the French, the reflectiveness of maturity.
Of the French Renaissance, Margaret D'Angoulême is the central female figure. She was born on April 11, 1492, when her mother, Louise de Savoie, was only fifteen_ Louise had been a poor relation at court before she married, and her aunt, Anne of Beaujeu, had arranged her marriage. Louise de Savoie was among the women who had not been given a fair start in life. The bridegroom, Charles D'Angoulême, had already an attachment ; he loved greatly a certain Jeanne de Polignac. He did his best not to marry Louise, and so remain unharassed in the service of his lady friend. But Anne de Beaujeu was very masterful, and Charles surrendered through necessity. He married Louise, then a child of twelve, and made Jeanne de Polignac one of her ladies-in-waiting.
When Louise was fifteen, Margaret was born, and two years afterwards, Francis " My Caesar, my lord " came into the world. A year later Louise's husband died. She mentions the fact in her journal without expressions of regret. Not but that she had been happy enough in his life-time. Charles, absorbed by his own love affairs, allowed his wife moderate freedom to indulge in hers. But his death made such amusements less anxious and more easy. The complaisance of husbands has always an element of uncertainty.
There was another trait in Louise's character to which her husband's death gave fuller scope her ardent maternal instincts. The quality of her love for her children was vehement, jealous, and primitive. Margaret, as a result of this, became educated in an atmosphere unusual at that period. An indulged tenderness steeped her juvenile days in pleasantness. There were no severities at Cognac. Of Francis, Louise made an idol, but Margaret, though trained from the days she could lisp to worship this idol along with her mother, was also herself a treasured person. The glow of these early days left their influence upon her for a lifetime. She never shook off the warmliness of heart all her up-bringing had encouraged.
Upon Louise's widowhood, Louis XII. was for a short time very kind to her and to her children. This mood suddenly changed in a few days, it is said and a certain Jean de St. Gelais, a friend of Louise's, is credited with having caused the alteration. Louise was ordered to retire to the castle of Blois, and there was talk of taking the children away from her. In the end, the Marechale de Gie, whose tragic downfall has been told in the life of Anne, was given practical control of her household. His first act presumably under Louis's orders consisted in the dismissal of St. Gelais. It was this action which Louise is supposed never to have forgiven. De Gie became her most devoted supporter ; all his interests were on the same side as hers, all his aims were to place Francis subsequently upon the throne of France. But when the catastrophe of Anne's luggage occurred, Louise flung the weight of her evidence remorselessly against him, and lied with a sinister heartiness.
At Blois, Margaret was brought up with boys. A number of pages d'honneur were being educated with the heir-presumptive. Margaret grew to know at an early age a good deal about the temperaments of the other sex, and a good deal about flirtation. At nine years old she went through her first love affairs. No wonder that later she knew, as Brantome put it, more about the art of pleasing (galanterie) than her daily bread.
The playfellow to whom Margaret lost her childish heart was the fascinating Gaston de Foix, but there were several others among her brother's pages who were momentous in her after existence. There was, for instance, Charles de Montpensier, afterwards Connétable de Bourbon, whom Louise de Savoie, by unduly persecuting it is said because he refused to marry her drove to the side of Charles V. Of this Connétable, Henry VIII. of England made a shrewd observation when he saw him at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. "If he was a subject of mine," he said, " he would not keep his head." There was also, among the pages at Blois, Anne de Montmorency, for whom Margaret's friendship continued long after both were grown up. He owed his subsequent position in a large measure to her assistance, but desirous of possessing the supreme influence over Francis himself, he grew to hate the woman who also possessed so much. The unworthy termination of the friendship began in the light-hearted childhood at Blois — it was Montmorency who made the famous remark to Francis : " If your majesty wants to rid the country of heretics, you must begin with your own sister "—which was among the sharpest disillusions of Margaret's existence.
But as a child her affection for Montmorency was as nothing to the adoration she felt for the gentle, endearing Gaston, who could do every-thing well, and whose manners won people's hearts perpetually. Unfortunately, at ten Margaret was marriageable, and she had no sooner reached that age than Louis XI I. tried to arrange a marriage for her with the English Prince of Wales afterwards Henry VIII. Happily, Henry wanted some one nearer the throne than a cousin, and the little group at Blois remained unbroken. But the question of marriage was always in the air the sense that the enfolded home life might cease at any moment could never be entirely shaken off. Later, Margaret narrowly escaped another English husband. Henry VII., then an old widower, wanted a second wife. He made a formal proposal for Louise. She refused point-blank, and the ambassador then asked for the daughter. This was accepted, and arrangements were in progress, when Margaret herself suddenly set everybody agape by declining an old and decrepid husband. The marriage carne to nothing, though probably not because of the small girl's protest ; there were political reasons against it as well.
Meanwhile, Margaret's childish lover, Gaston, had left the château at Blois. The modest mannered boy, known familiarly as " the Dove," had gone to take up a man's business, leaving his little weeping friend behind him. But Margaret had grown by now into an interesting-looking girl. Her face, at the age of sixteen, must have been singularly arresting. She had the charm that is rarest of all the charm of strangeness. Her appearance was not like other people's. The portrait of her, painted when she was about twenty, leading Francis to the crucified Christ, is full of subtleties. The face is round, with the sweet fulness of young things, but the chin is tiny, Iovable, incongruous the chin of soft assents and surrenders. The nose is long, the over-long nose of Francis I. ; the mouth deliciously curved and tender. All the lower half of the face ex-presses a desire for gentle pleasures and soft and caressing habits. But the eyes belong to a different temperament. They gaze out of the happy face with unexpected wistfulness and mysticism. Their expression is almost tired, as if so many difficult matters had vexed their understanding that they were weary before their time. The preoccupied eyes, the love-needing chin, the long, cold nose, and the charming outline of the head, make an extraordinary combination.
Every contemporary writer agreed that Margaret had the gift of fascination, and she had also in youth the kind of looks that linger in the imagination. It is, consequently, not surprising that while she sighed for the absent Gaston, some one else should have sighed for her. This second love affair is one of the interesting experiences of Margaret's life ; it is rich in information about Margaret, about Louise, about the habits and customs of Margaret's times. Using fictitious names, she tells it herself, as well as her early affection for Gaston, in the " Heptameron." Bonnivet was a lieutenant when he first saw Margaret, and he fell in love with her immediately. Immediately also he set himself to try and arouse a corresponding emotion. She was a princess, and he was a simple gentleman of good family ; marriage was out of the question. But one could live without marriage, and Bonnivet set to work instantly to realize a plan by which he could remain permanently near his enticing lady. There was a rich and ugly heiress who lived close to the castle of Amboise, and whose parents belonged to the royal circle. Bonnivet made love to her and married her. To further facilitate his own reception at the castle, his brother about this time received a post in Louise's household. Bonnivet then saw Margaret constantly. The girl considered herself forlorn. Her round blue eyes were plaintive under their first experience of a heartache. Bonnivet, fascinating and determined, became her friend. She confided to him all her innocent little love-story. He took the part of sympathizer. Margaret could never hate any one who liked her, and she was at the age when to be loved easily stirs a vague and evanescent fluttering.
Presently Bonnivet had to go away also Louis was at war with Italy and for two years Margaret saw nothing of either Gaston or her newer comrade. When Bonnivet returned he was warmly welcomed at the castle of Amboise. But apparently it may have been a ruse he had come back visibly dejected through the weight of some great sorrow. Margaret commenced to ask questions. This was clearly only out of a desire for flirtation, for Bonnivet's feelings had never known secrecy, and Margaret was more than ordinarily intelligent. One day they leant together at one of the windows of the castle. Bonnivet ceased to talk of Gaston, and confessed the reason of his own melancholy. Having done so, he stated that he must go away. Margaret to suspect that she enjoyed all this is unavoidable replied that there was no need, " she trusted utterly in his honour, she was not angry at all ; " which last statement, at any rate, strikes one as being unmistakably accurate.
The confession, nevertheless, was an error. Margaret wanted to be loved, and she adored the glow of a sentimental friendship. But Bonnivet desired more than this, and showed that he did. The situation lost its grace and easiness. The girl found herself pressed by an emotion tired of simple playfulness ; she grew uncomfortable, and Bonnivet, seeing that the situation had become untenable, went away. A wise, grave woman would have let him stay away. It is part of Margaret's appeal to us that she was never entirely sensible. She liked Bonnivet, and she felt that a young creature left destitute of love has lost a large part of the exquisiteness of youth. Gaston had faded by now into a sentimental and rather plaintive memory ; she wrote, therefore, to Bonnivet to come back. Away among other women he could not be trusted to remain the same he was one of those who love vehemently and often. He came in answer to her call, but shortly afterwards another Italian expedition removed him once more from her influence. In this war he was taken prisoner, and Margaret is said to have both fasted and gone pilgrimages in order to win God into releasing the prisoner. She had also promised him before he left that wherever she went after her marriage she would take his wife as one of her ladies, thereby assuring a re-meeting.
And marriage had become at last unavoidable. The Duc D'Alençon had asked the king and queen for her hand, and she had refused so many husbands that it was impossible to continue obdurate. Margaret hung back, but could not ultimately resist the wishes of the king, and though it is said she declared that she would rather have had death instead, the marriage took place at the court of Anne and Louis on October 9, 1509.
The match was in all ways unsuitable. The Duc D'Alençon was good-looking, but invertebrate, jealous, and very stupid. This was exactly the type of character to depress Margaret, who at seventeen or, for that matter, all her life showed herself an ardent seeker after a cheerful way of living. The mystic strain in her temperament was involuntary. She troubled about the soul, death, and the after life because she could not help herself; questions of conduct and the future came unasked, and shook her with uncontrollable distresses. But of her own desires she was all in tune with the Renaissance. She says of herself that " she was de moult joyeuse vie," and her contemporaries bear her out in the statement.
Life at Alençon proved more than uncongenial to her. Separated from her mother and Francis, the two people Margaret loved best in the world, and from all congenial society, the girl fretted visibly. It was at this time that, in her correspondence with the Bishop of Meaux, she called herself worse than dead."
But her love-story with Bonnivet was far from being terminated. Some time after her marriage, when Margaret, her husband, and her mother-in-law were together, Bonnivet once more returned from foreign service. He at once went to AIencon, presumably to see his wife. Margaret watched him arrive from an upper window, for fear that in the brusqueness of a sudden meeting she might betray the tumult of her heart. It had been left to grow so cold, this little hot heart, since her marriage. They met, and when they were alone she slipped back joyfully into the old habit of confidence. She told him about her marriage, she talked of Gaston, and cried. Bonnivet grew hopeful that she loved him, when a sudden untoward event once more flung them apart. Bonnivet's wife died ; he had no longer any excuse for hanging about Margaret's person. The king also sent orders for his departure. But this renewed separation his lady had grown more than ever seductive and engrossing affected his health. He fell ill and took to his bed.
Margaret for the age permitted these acts of intimate graciousness went to pay him a visit. He looked so ill that she cried once more. They both cried, and the girl, whose instincts were always mothering, put her arms round her ailing friend. Intelligence should have warned her against the action. But Margaret, whose intelligence was so markedly above the average, seldom used it when love scenes were in question they fascinated her too much, Bonnivet lost his head, and his visitor, frightened, began to scream. Plain speaking had grown unavoidable. The invalid urged her loveless marriage, his own despair and constancy. Margaret became sad and reproachful. " In her sorrow," she said wistfully, " she had thought to have found a friend." They separated for the third time ; after which, Margaret did nothing but cry for several days.
After further fighting, Bonnivet received a post at home. The Duchesse D'Alencon had gone to pay a visit to her mother, and Bonnivet knew that Louise was his friend she hated anybody, it would seem, to be more fastidious than herself upon questions of morality. One evening, when passing upon state business, he asked permission to call, and Louise at once told her daughter to be ready when sent for. Margaret knew the disposition of her mother ; instead of obeying, she ran to the castle chapel, and prayed, with all her heart flowing into the words upon her lips, for the help of Heaven. She did more ; she took a stone and tore her face with it until the cheeks were swollen and scratched and bleeding. The action is wholly beautiful. No girl disfigures and hurts herself unless driven by a fundamental instinct of the soul into an extremity for salvation. Margaret was afraid terribly afraid. She liked Bonnivet, she hated her husband, and she was not made of stone ; after all, she was the daughter of Louise and Charles of Savoie, and the sister of Francis. But she wanted more ardently to be good than anything, and she knew no surer way than this to defend herself while the youth ran so hot in her pulsing body.
Louise found her torn and bleeding, but remained inexorably upon the side of unrighteousness. The girl's face having been hastily attended to, she was sent straight into the presence of Bonnivet. The naïve grace of the action demanded, in truth, a more pitiful generation than Margaret's for appreciation. Her little hands were roughly seized, and the scene developed into an inexcusable and ungentle struggle.
Margaret screamed for her mother. Louise, who was undisturbedly holding her usual evening court, had in the end to go to them. Embarrassing explanations brought the incident to a close, but there is no doubt that Margaret once more wept a good deal. Louise was very angry, and in refusing to have Bonnivet as a lover, the Duchesse D'Alencon lost her friend. She had to go back to the chill life of her husband's court with the one soft thread drawn out of existence. But when it came to more than words Margaret had no prejudices of speech she never made vital mistakes. Conduct was the one ultimate test by which the mystery of life became beautiful and tranquillizing.
For six years Margaret lived at Alençon, and it is said that her mystical and Protestant sympathies were principally developed in these years. But there is very little known of this period, and nothing that is at all intimate. She emerged into prominence only from the year 15 15, when Louise wrote in her journal, " The first day of November, 1515, my son was King of France."
This event brought some improvement into Margaret's life. Francis cared for both his mother and sister ; nobody flattered him with the same undoubted sincerity as these two. After his ac-cession the Duchesse D'Alencon was often with her brother's court at Paris. But the intervals between these visits were still dull and melancholy. Her famous correspondence with the Bishop of Meaux, Guillaume Briconnet, could not have commenced until some five years after her brother's accession, when Martin Luther had uprisen to preach against the Pope. These letters are steeped in complainfulness. Written from Alençon, they read as the letters of a young person unhappy, but not too unhappy to make a sort of pretty plaintiveness out of melancholy. Questions of the soul had begun to vex her. According, also, to the new and curiously convincing doctrines, it was not so easy to elude punishment for this life's licences as the priests protested. The new theories found obscure, hesitant acquiescences in her own intelligence. Their spiritual dearness possessed a renewing freshness after the iniquities into which the old religion had fallen. Margaret was insatiably curious ; she craved to know everything, and when she started her correspondence with Briconnet at that time sympathetic to the new religion she both desired more knowledge of the Lutheran doctrine, and some one who could attune conflicting uncertainties.
The correspondence is extraordinary. Briconnet impassioned of complexity in style was half the time not comprehensible. In answer to some letter of Margaret's dealing with spiritual bewilderments, he wrote to her : " The extent of your kingdom's goods and honours should be a voice to stimulate, and a great breath to light a torrent of fire of love for God. Alas, madam, I fear that it is in some uneasiness ; for, as Jeremiah said, the bellows that should light the fire has failed defect sufflatorium in igne ! . . . Madam, who is deserted in a desert, in a desert is Iost, seeking solitude and cannot find it ; and when he finds it is then prevented, is a bad guide to guide others out of the desert and Iead them to the desired desert. The desert starves them with mortal hunger, even though they should be full up to the eyes, sharpening desire only to satiate it, and impoverish him to hunger."
Margaret could make no sense of this. She wrote back humorously nobody was more quickly moved to laughter " The poor wanderer cannot understand the good which is to be found in the desert for lack of knowing she is benighted there. I pray you that in this desert, out of affection and pity, you will not hasten forwards so swiftly that you cannot be followed, in order that the abyss, through the abyss which you invoke, may not engulf the poor wanderer."
But the request for clarity passed unheeded. Briconnet seized the word " abyss," and the following paragraph was his answer. I give it in the original French, as translation is almost impossible. " L'Abysme, qui lout abysme présent, pour en le désabysment l'abysmes en l'abysme (sans l'abysmes). Auquel abysme est fond sans fond voie des errants," etc.
Margaret must have abandoned hope of enlightenment; but Briconnet, happily, had intelligible intervals. When he chose he could write with the same lucidity as other people. Once, for instance, after Margaret had written more sadly than usual, he replied sensibly enough : " Madame, you write to me to have pity on you because you are lonely. I do not accept this proposition. Who lives in the world and has her heart in it remains alone through being badly accompanied. But she whose heart sleeps to the world and lives for the gentle and debonnair Jesus, lives in all that is necessary, and certainly is not alone." Margaret refused to respond to this ; she had such need of men and women, of friendship, of intellectual friction, of a perpetual output of loving-kindnesses. She wrote again to Briconnet, saying, " It is so cold 'one's heart is frozen ; " and signed herself, " Worse than dead."
Briconnet may have been moved ; young women should not be neglected and unhappy. But he remained sensible, and reproved the method of signature. Then Margaret, with a defiant meekness, signed her next Ietter, "Worse than ill."
This humorous docility shows that the depression she complained of was not yet grief merely the illusive melancholy of juvenility. After the days of Alençon there was no repetition of it. Youth once traversed, the realities of death, of irretrievable sorrow nothing is irretrievable until thirty put an end to imaginative melancholy. Conscious of the familiar agonies always so close, the intelligent grow to hug what gaiety they can. Certainly there is no longer the playfulness in regard to sorrow, to sign "Worse than death" in a mood of amused defiance.
Sometime before Francis started upon the disastrous Italian campaign, Margaret went through the last episode in her love-story with Bonnivet. Except for the light it throws upon the morals of the period, it would be as well omitted ; and but for Monsieur de Claviere's assertion of its veracity, one would gladly leave the story at its last dramatic moment. Bonnivet had married again, and during one of Margaret's visits to Paris he invited royalty to pay a visit at his estate in the country, in order to take part in a great hunt he had organized. Margaret gives in the " Heptameron " a very full account of what occurred ; but, condensed, it comes to this that Bonnivet, having previously made a trap-door for the purpose, penetrated one night into the princess's bedroom. This time Margaret did not scratch her own face, but her adversary's. Before her lady-in-waiting rushed into the room, and her conscienceless admirer fled back through the carefully arranged trap-door, Bonnivet's appearance had been rudely disfigured. He could not appear next day ; it was necessary to plead illness to avoid unanswerable questions, and Margaret never saw him again. He was killed at the battle of Pavia. They had fought, but she grieved at his death, and to the end of her life loved to talk of him as one dear and tender in her memory.
Among other friends of this period, the poet Marot ought to be included. Marot's father, also a poet, had been attached first to the court of Anne, and then to that of Francis. Marot him-self had been brought up in an atmosphere of royalty. He was an interesting personality incurably Light and incurably honest. His poetry, of which Sainte Beuve remarked that good manners in poetry were born with him, was never deep, but always fascinating, natural, light-hearted. He wrote many verses to Margaret, in the gay and witty manner which was peculiarly his own. An excellently condensed impression of Margaret's temperament is given in the following lines :
" Tous deux aimons la musique chantes,
Tous deux aimons les livres fréquenter,
Tous deux aimons d'aucun ne medire,
Tous deux aimons un meilleur propos dire,
Tous deux aimons gens pleins d'honnêtete.
Tous deux aimons a visites les heux
On ne sont point gens mélancoleux
Que diraj plus? Ce mot, la dire j'ore
Je le disaj ! Que presque en toute chose,
Nous ressemblons, fois que j'ai plus d'envoi,
Et que tu as le coeur plus dur que moi."
As a personality, Marot only came into prominence later, when the religious persecutions had begun. He leant towards Lutheranism, and Margaret had twice to save him from the sinister machinery of the Sorbonne. Later still, after her second marriage, she sheltered him at Navarre, and when even that became a place of doubtful security, she sent him to Renée in Ferrara. To translate Clement Marot's poetry is to destroy all impression of its delicate and witty pleasantness. The following example is typical of his manner at its lightest. They are verses to
"UNE DEMOISELLE MALADE.
" Ma Mignonne, Je vous donne Le bon jour. Le séjour
C'est prison. Guerison
Puis ouvrez Vostre porte, Et qu'on sorte Vistement.
Car Clement Je vous mande Va, friande De ta bouche Qui se couche En danger Four manger
Confitures. Si tu dures Trop malade Couleur fade Tu prendras. Et perdras L'Embonpoint Dieu te doint Santé bonne Ma Mignonne."
It was characteristic of a strain of cheerful callousness in the poet to tell his friend that to continue ill would be to lose the pretty plumpness which made her so attractive.
In 1524, Francis started to reconquer Milan, and from that time a great change carne into Margaret's way of life. When he went, her husband went with him ; also Bonnivet, Anne de Montmorency, and many others who were her friends. Margaret then moved to Paris to keep her mother company ; also the poor queen Claude, who was in the last stages of consumption, and who died before Francis had gone far upon his journey. The disaster of Pavia came as an almost inconceivable blow to those in Paris. Francis was the prisoner of Charles V., and it was said the calamity had taken place, to a great extent, owing to the stupidity of Margaret's husband, who, as leader of the vanguard, had failed to come to the king's rescue. La Palice, Bayaret, and Bonnivet, among her friends also, were dead, and Marot and Montmorency were prisoners. In reference to Palice's death some ridiculous verses were sung in the streets by the people
" Hélas, La Palice est mort, ll est mort devant Parie. Hélas, s'il n'etait pas mort Il serait encore en vie."
From the moment of Francis's capture Margaret commenced a correspondence of almost impassioned tenderness with him and about him. The poet Dr. Bellay refers to Margaret, Louise, and Francis as one heart in three bodies, and they were known as The Trinity, Margaret, upon one occasion, referring to herself as the last corner in it. She wrote to Francis, after he had been taken to Madrid : " If I can be of service to you, even to the scattering of the ashes of my bones to the winds, nothing will be amiss, difficult, or painful, but consolation, repose, and honour."
The next incident was to fling Margaret upon the colossal failure of her life. Charles V. would agree to no terms of peace in which Francis did not surrender Burgundy as well as all claims to Milan and Naples. Francis was willing to give up claim to the last two places, but to relinquish Burgundy, which meant giving up a slice of France, was out of the question.
Margaret had meanwhile become a widow. The Duc D'Alençon died shortly after the disaster of Pavia it is said, in a great measure, from want of will to live. Everybody including his wife looked upon him with abhorrence, since he had been, in some measure, responsible for the capture of the king. The knowledge helped to destroy vitality, though, in the end, Margaret nursed and coddled and forgave him, as she ought to have done the ultimate necessity for every woman being to possess the power to forgive interminably.
But D'Alençon was scarcely cold before Louise de Savoie offered Charles V. Margaret's hand, and proposed Charles's sister, the widowed Queen of Portugal, as wife for Francis. Margaret, however, was not to feel flattered at any period of her acquaintance with the self-contained Spaniard. He took no notice of Louise's proposal as regards her daughter. Nevertheless, when Margaret started upon her famous embassy to Spain, there was in the minds of all those concerned the almost secure anticipation that her personal enticement would have a good deal of influence in bringing about a swift and satisfactory release of the French prisoners.
Neither Margaret nor her counsellors knew anything of the nature of the man she had gone to deal with. A woman was the last person to negotiate successfully with the suspicious and comprehending emperor. From the first he was opposed to her coming. His opinion, and that of his entourage, is frankly expressed by the English ambassador at the Spanish court : " Being young, and a widow, she comes, as Ovid says of women going to the play, to see and to be seen, that perhaps the emperor may like her, and also to woo the Queen-Dowager of Portugal for her brother. . . . Then, as they are both young widows, she shall find good commodity in cackling with her to advance her brother's matter, and if she finds her inclined thereto, they will help each other."
Happily, Margaret was unaware of the Spanish views upon her embassy, for, even without the knowledge, her nerves could only have been tense with the crucial uncertainties of her expedition, and the gravity of the issues hanging practically upon her personal fascination and diplomacy. If this man could be made to feel attraction, her mission was half secured already. All France looked upon success as a certain prospect. She was held to be so clever, so fascinating, so superior and intelligent, that beyond doubt, it was thought, she would achieve in a few interviews what a man would require a month to bring to a conclusion. She had hardly reached Spain before she received premature congratulations —" A vous, madame, l'honneur et la merite."
But Margaret was to fail bitterly, completely, and inevitably. Charles had pointedly ignored the question of marriage in his answer to Louise de Savoie's letter. After seeing Margaret, it had still no attraction for him. That in itself was, in some measure, failure, and a thrust at pride as well. As a matter of fact, Charles found her, not only no longer very young or very pretty, but far too clever. " She is more of a prodigy than a woman," remarked the man, who had every kind of astuteness himself, and needed contrast for fascination.
The negotiations took place in Toledo, but from the beginning Margaret had no chance of producing the smallest change of outlook. Charles refused to have any witness to their interviews ; whatever he said could therefore be denied, if necessary. Margaret wrote to Francis from Toledo : I went yesterday to visit the emperor. I found him very guarded and cold in his demeanour. He took me apart into his room with one lady to await me "—(this was outside) —" but when there, his discourse was not worth so great a ceremony, for he put me off to confer with his council, and will give me an answer to-day."
The poor ambassadress soon grew baffled and exasperated. She had hoped great things from gaining over the Queen of Portugal. But Eleanor was cleverly sent upon an unwilling pilgrimage, concerning which Margaret wrote to Francis : " It is true that she sets out on her journey to-morrow. Before her departure I shall take leave of her. I believe she acts thus out of obedience more than in compliance with her own will, for they hold her in great subjection."
A later letter showed that Margaret had now grown utterly disheartened. And before the end of her embassy, to express how deeply inimical and unworthy she considered the emperor's con-duct to be, she left the palace placed by him at her disposal, and moved into a convent, so as to destroy all obligations of hospitality.
The negotiations, as one knows, came to nothing. Charles was resolute not to abate one demand for the woman who had all the facile sweetnesses of her brother, all the glib and cunning adroitnesses he knew so well in his intercourse with the other. The family resemblance between them was over-strong ; Charles could not avoid suspecting the sister of the same deep, inherent duplicity as the brother.
Margaret had failed, and all her life this sharp and public failure must have remained a hidden sore in memory. She had also, after her defeat, ungracefully to rush back into safety. The period of her safe conduct had almost expired, and information had been received that Charles intended to detain her as prisoner if she exceeded it.
The consequent release of Francis and the terms of the agreement are matters of history. Margaret had no hand in them, and the next momentous incident in which she figured was her own re-marriage with the King of Navarre.
This marriage is among Margaret's foolishnesses. Henri D'Albret, who had been another of the prisoners taken at Pavia, was eleven years her junior and exceptionally good-looking. Charles V. remarked of him later that, save for Francis, he was the one man he had seen in France. Margaret should have known that to keep the affections of a handsome husband, over whom she possessed the disadvantage of eleven years' seniority, was anticipating the impossible. But at the time of their first meeting they had intellectually many interests in common, and Margaret, it seems, fell in love with his fascinations. The marriage was not to prove happier than the previous one ; but in the beginning everything promised the creature of joyeuse vie a more congenial existence than she had known for many years. Henri de Navarre was an able and conscientious administrator ; Bordeaux says of him, " Had he not been so given to women as he was, he would have been irreproachable. He loved his people like his children."
At Navarre, Margaret made her court the home of three kinds of people the intellectual, the gay, and the persecuted ; for while Francis had been a prisoner in Spain, Louise had established the Inquisition in France. The scholar Berguin was the first notable personality to be martyred by it ; but the precedent once established, there followed a never-ending list, drawn from every class of society. Margaret had tried to save Berguin, and, indeed, was all her life, from that date onwards, trying to save some one from the furnaces of the Inquisition. Florimond de Rémond, in his " Historie du Progres de l'heresie," says and he was not upon her side, and refers to her elsewhere as a good but too easy-going princess—" She had a marvellous dexterity in saving and sheltering those in peril for religion's sake." As a further corroboration, there is Sainte Marthe's pretty reference, " She made herself a harbour and refuge for the despairing. . . . Seeing them surrounding this good lady, you would have said it was a hen who carefully calls and assembles its little chickens to cover them with her wings."
Etienne Dolet, another remarkable scholar, who was at one time the friend of Rabelais, she strove to the last to rescue. She was twice successful, but Dolet was more difficult to save than most people, being by nature inherently quarrelsome. Among the charges made by the Sorbonne against him was the remark he had made, that he preferred the sermon to the mass, while in his writings he had seemed to doubt the immortality of the soul. The first charge alone was considered sufficient reason for burning him. Orriz, the Inquisitor, whom later Renée was to have bitter dealings with in Ferrara, headed the Paris Inquisition ; and Orriz, of the feline persuasive manners, is said to have found no occupation so congenial as that of hunting, trying, and making ashes of heretical people. Dolet himself had already said of him, " I never knew any one more ignorant, more cunning, or more lustful after the death of a Christian." Lanothe Laizon adds an interesting touch to this impression. He writes : " Orriz was grim only to those who did not finance his purse. He became soft and lenient to those who paid him, . . . and for a round sum one could get from him excellent certificates of Catholicity." This leniency, however, could not be relied upon ; Orriz had a trick of letting prisoners go and then rearresting them upon another accusation.
Dolet was very brilliant and very eloquent. His epigrams were held to be so good that one of his friends begged him to make one on him, so that his name might go down to posterity. Margaret had invited Dolet to shelter in the safety of Bourges, but he was too reckless to be permanently rescued. He escaped once from prison, and was re-caught, it is said, because he could not keep himself from coming back to see his little son. He had written in his Commentaries, " I now come to the subject of Death, the extreme boundary of life, terrible to those about to die." It is a wonderful phrase, solemn with a simply worded, haunting veracity.
Margaret herself had, it is said, become touched with more than pure compassion for the new doctrines. And martyrs were being made not only for Lutheranism ; a rival reformer no less abusive had arisen in Calvin, whom Margaret was supposed among others to have sheltered at Navarre. She certainly corresponded with him, and Calvin upon one occasion censured her for harbouring godless people among her flock. It is, however, wonderful and disturbing to realize how these Protestants, through a sustaining passion for right conduct, bore the unbearable. There are stories of death after death which cannot be read without anguish. These martyrs of the Sorbonne rendered even hideous facts heartbreaking and sweet. In 1557, for instance, Calvin wrote to comfort some doomed disciples in the Inquisition prisons at Paris. Among them was a certain Lady Phillipine de Luny. When the day for her burning came, " the executioners beheld her approach with a smile of happiness on her face, and dressed in white as for a festival." How did they do it ? Phillipine de Luny was not yet twenty-four years of age.
At another bonfire Louis de Marsac was offended because they did not, in leading him to the stake, put a halter round his neck as they had done to the rest of the party ; the indignity had been spared him on account of his noble birth. He asked why he was refused the collar of that " excellent order " of martyrs. Another victim, Peter Berger, shortly before, had exclaimed, like Stephen when the flames reached him, " I see the heavens opened."
These burnings destroyed a good deal of Margaret's original joyousness of temperament.
But nothing lasts ; an event that whitens a person's very Iips with horror is over by the morrow ; the week after, thousands of trivial incidents have swept between. Domestic existence is full of sanity and healing. Margaret had an engrossing daily life apart from her pitiful struggle to save people who exulted in new conceptions of the soul and immortality. She was often at Paris, and she was also busy at this time with her babies.
Before the birth of her first, the little Jeanne D'Albret of the brave heart and strenuous life, Margaret wrote the following letter to Francis : " I hope, nevertheless, that God will permit me to see you before my hour arrives ; but if this happiness is not to be mine, I will cause your letter to be read to me, instead of the life of Sainte Marguerite " (the patron saint of pregnant women), "as having been written by your own hand it will not fail to inspire me with courage. I cannot, however, believe that my child will presume to be born without your command; to the last, therefore, I shall eagerly expect your much-desired arrival." The little lady, who was always to prove of an independent spirit, did apparently presume to be born without Francis's command.
The relation between Margaret and her daughter is the Ieast satisfactory part of Margaret's life. She was upon one occasion actually cruel to the child a thing incomprehensible from a heart so motherly and kind. Francis was the reason but not the excuse for Margaret's behaviour. There were rumours that she and her husband were negotiating to marry the child to a prince of Spain. Navarre held in fief from Spain would then be free once more, which Francis, for personal political reasons, did not desire. When Jeanne was two years old, therefore, he took her from her mother and placed her in the gloomy castle of Plessis Les Tours, where Louis XI. had shut himself up behind bolts and bars during the last years of his life. It was like educating a child in prison. In all her writings Margaret has not left one word of protest, and yet at two years old a child to its mother is a miracle and an intoxication.
Later, when Francis promised the child in marriage to the Duke of Cleves, Margaret was really cruel. The marriage could only have been bitter both to her and to Henri of Navarre. But Francis desired it, and that was sufficient for Margaret. The duke was a heavy, unattractive person ; and Othagaray says that Francis originally " named the lady to the Duke of Cleves without the consent of father and mother." When he named him to the lady herself not quite twelve years old a supreme surprise occurred for her elders. The child became passionate with disgust. She would not marry him a hideous foreign creature, whose language she did not even understand. There were many scenes with the disobedient child at Plessis. Her father, who would have helped her if he could, had not the power to do so, and Margaret remained like ice to the appeals of her sickened daughter.
Now, Margaret had once written to Montmorency in reference to some woman Francis wished her to persuade into a marriage for her daughter which the lady disliked : "You know that my disposition and hers are so different that we are not fairly matched ; for to vanquish the will of a woman whom no one has yet been able to persuade through the medium of one who is persuaded by everybody, seems to me to promise little except that she will conduct herself in her usual manner towards me." This " who is persuaded by everybody " had its heart-sprung quality, but in the matter of Jeanne's marriage it showed a colder and more weak-willed element. She wrote to Francis an almost frantic letter, expressing her "tribulation " at her daughter's " senseless " appeal that she might not be married to the Duke of Cleves. Then, as Jeanne continued rebellious, Margaret wrote to her governess that she must be beaten into obedience. True, a child of twelve years old could not very well be in a position to select a suitable husband, and whipping was a recognized and much-used discipline at that period. But Margaret of Navarre should have known better : she had been brought up in a different school of feeling.
Presently Francis afraid that Henri might save his daughter gave orders that the betrothal and marriage should take place immediately. It was under these circumstances that the child wrote her well-known protest, signing it with her own brave, childish hand, and having it witnessed by three members of her household. This is what she said : " I, Jeanne de Navarre, persisting in the protestations I have already made, do hereby again affirm and protest, by those present, that the marriage which it is desired to contract between the Duke of Cleves and myself is against my will; that I have never consented to it nor will consent, and that all I may say and do here-after by which it may be attempted to prove that I have given my consent, will be forcibly extorted against my wish and desire from my dread of the king, of the king my father, and the queen my mother, who has threatened me, and has had me whipt by my governess, the Baillive of Caen_ By command of the queen, my mother, my said governess has also several times declared that if I did not give my consent, I should be so severely punished as to occasion my death, and that by refusing I might be the cause of the total ruin and destruction of my father, my mother, and of their house."
Jeanne was married, notwithstanding, but happily the sequel showed an unusual quality of mercy. She never really became the wife of the Duke of Cleves after all. After the marriage ceremony had taken place, she was left for two years with her mother, pending the time when she should be old enough to join her husband. At the end of the two years the Duke of Cleves surrendered to the emperor, and abandoned all claims to his bride, the marriage, therefore, being at once declared non-existent.
Jeanne did not, in fact, marry until the next reign ; but there is one story of her after life so charming that it is a pity not to tell it here. Her father promised her a golden box he wore on a long chain round his neck, if she would sing an old Bearn-folk song while in the pains of child-birth. She agreed, and kept her promise, singing with brave persistence at a time when most women wish that they were dead.
Margaret's own marriage had proved unhappy some time before her daughter's futile first wedding. She had written long ago, in one of her letters to Montmorency, concerning her husband : " As you are with him, I fear not that everything will go well, excepting that I am afraid you cannot prevent him from paying assiduous court to the Spanish ladies." It comes as a digression ; but there is, about the same period, an interesting appeal from Margaret to Montmorency, concerning her brother : " It strikes me it would be advisable for you to praise the king in your letters for the great attention he pays to affairs." The suggestion holds the essence of the relationship of a woman to the man she loves. No woman but manages and cajoles the creature cared for, like a mother trying to coax a child into good behaviour.
Margaret and her husband disagreed upon religious questions as well as about the subject of other ladies. Jeanne, who lived with them for the two years she was waiting to join the Duke of Cleves, wrote, many years after her mother's death, that her father grew very angry and beat her if she showed any interest in the new doctrines, and that she remembered on one occasion, when a Protestant teacher had been with her mother, his coming furiously to drive him out. Margaret having been warned, had already got rid of the man; but Henri, too angry instantly to abstain from violence, went up and boxed Margaret's ears, saying passionately, " You want to know too much, madam." His conduct became so undesirable that Brantome says, " Henri D'Albret treated the queen, his wife, very badly, and would have treated her worse, had it not been for her brother Francis, who rated him soundly, and ended by threatening him because he had been disrespectful to his sister, in spite of her high rank."
Margaret, happily, was many-sided ; one unhappiness did not render her obdurate against the entry of the rest. Probably she went through an interval of supreme heart-sickness. But a middle-aged woman has under every circumstance a painful phase to go through. There is one period in every woman's life hard to face and hard to bear— the period of relinquishments. The sweets of youth are over; for the future there is only the swift, chill journey into old age to front with calm and dignity. Margaret's face in middle age suggests that she made her relinquishments with completeness and courage.
But though the statement is a repetition no person's life can be laid unremittingly upon the rack. Margaret, surrounded by people her ladies, poets, scholars, painters, and others was kept pleasantly preoccupied. The second Clouet painted her ; Leonard Limousin, the great enamellist, wrought her exquisite enamels. Like most royalties of her day, she took great interest in her garden, and in the love affairs of her ladies she was unfailingly sympathetic and kind. A contemporary wrote of her as " the precious carnation in the flower garden of the palace. Her fragrance had drawn to Beam, as thyme draws the honey-bee, the noblest minds in Europe."
It is true that many of the "noblest minds of Europe " were drawn to Margaret. Even Rabelais, the last man to take pleasure in praising women without good reason, dedicated the third book of his " Pantagruel " to her. Rabelais, though he was the epitome of the Renaissance spirit in France, is too capacious to mention fragmentarily in the life of another person. And yet few men of the period convey a sweeter impression. He was colossal in. everything ; in compassion as well as laughter.
After the publication of his " Gargantua " and " Pantagruel," Rabelais narrowly escaped the Sorbonne. But he was wise, and had no taste for being roasted. In the life of Pantagruel, referring to Toulouse, then the great centre of persecution, he said, ostensibly of Pantagruel, in reality of himself; " But he remained little time there, when he perceived that they made no bones about burning their regents alive like red herrings, saying, ` The Lord forbid that I should die in this manner, for I am dry enough by nature, without being heated any further.' "
It is purposeless here to refer to Rabelais's coarseness. At the present time no woman could read him. But, then, no woman for pleasure would read Margaret's " Heptameron," and Margaret, for all the grossness of a large number of her stories, had the capacity for a very delicate and artificial refinement.
She and Rabelais never came to a sufficient knowledge of each other for friendship ; but there is a legend of Rabelais's death which touches her outlook upon spiritual things very closely. A messenger had been despatched by Rabelais's friend, Cardinal du Bellay, to inquire how he felt.
Rabelais lay dying when the messenger arrived, but he sent back the following answer : " I go to find the great Perhaps." A little later, still conscious of the pettiness of all human circumstances, he rallied sufficiently to make a last good phrase. " Pull the blind," he is said to have whispered ; " the farce is played out."
This, " I go to find the great Perhaps," was a sentence Margaret might have echoed had she known of it. There is an incident in her own life curiously in tune with the statement.
It must have occurred when she was, at any rate, middle aged, and the thought of death had become hauntingly vivid. One of her ladies-in-waiting lay dying. As the girl gradually sank into unconsciousness, the duchess insisted upon sitting by her bed. The attendants begged her to go away, but she refused to move, and sat staring silently at the dying figure. There seemed something unnatural in the absorption of her eyes, and her women were puzzled. When the girl was at last dead, Margaret turned away; visibly she betrayed disappointment. One of her ladies then asked her why she had leant forward and watched with such unmoving intensity the lips of the dying girl. Her answer is pathetic behind its callousness. She had been told, she said, that the soul leaves the body at the actual moment of death. She had looked and listened to catch the faintest sound of its emergence through the lips of the dying body, but she had seen and heard nothing. The watching had been, to a great extent, cold-blooded, but the result was a tragic discouragement of thought. There seemed nothing to strengthen belief with at all.
Nevertheless, if Margaret felt occasionally like a rat caught in a trap, since being alive one must inevitably and shortly die, she continued to the end to enjoy the present as far as possible. She shivered with spiritual dubieties ; but at the same time she wrote the " Heptameron," a book above everything earthy, caustic, and shrewd. It is said to have been written for Francis I. during his last illness. He had been inordinately amused by Boccaccio, and Margaret tried to give him stories in the same vein.
They are and they are not. The outline and the idea are similar ; but Margaret was not a second Boccaccio. She wrote easily and naturally she would have written a novel every year had she lived at the present time ; but where Boccaccio was witty and light, Margaret was relentless and crude. Her brutality gives as great a shock as her indelicacy. It seems in-credible, for instance, that she should have written the following termination to one of her stories. In the tale a priest was discovered to have made his sister his mistress. The woman was about to have a baby. The judges waited until the child was born ; then brother and sister were burnt together. The very simplicity with which the statement is made adds to its horror. Margaret wrote : " They waited till his sister was brought to bed. Then when she had made a beautiful son, the sister and brother were burnt together." The sentence, " when she had made a beautiful son," renders the incident alive and unbearable.
It is difficult to say much of Margaret's " Heptameron." The stories are a curious mixture of appalling grossness, and the most soft and grieving mysticism. What one chiefly gathers from them in connection with her temperament is that, side by side with a noteworthy charm and sympathy, she possessed a slender strain of ruthlessness. Margaret's nose was too long. To have a nose so much in excess, so thin and pointed, is always dangerous. Some want of balance must accompany its disproportion, some streak of cruelty its ungenerous narrowness. As a matter of fact, notwithstanding her nose, Margaret was a miracle of lovely kindlinesses, but it conquered in the matter of her daughter she was a cold, unprofitable mother. Again, in the " Heptameron," it is the temperament belonging to the long unbalanced feature whose detestation of the priests found outlet in such relentless vengeances. To some extent Margaret's little chin saved her. Counterpoised, as it were, between two excesses the cold, deceitful nose, and the yielding, enthusiastic chin--she contrived to retain balance between either, and to be, on the whole, an intricacy of characteristics, none of which surged into overwhelming predominance. The ascendant characteristics were all good her sheltering instincts and her half-fearsome mystical aspirations. She had, long before the Maeterlinck utterance of it, the sense of a world in which everything was in reality spiritual and portentous. In one of the stories of the " f Heptameron " she makes a Iady in reality herself, for the tale is said to be true bring a fickle lover to the grave of his forgotten love, to see if no subtle communication issues from the dead body beneath them. When he feels nothing, her disappointment is almost painful, for no trait in Margaret renders her so endearing as this disquieted craving to be assured that existence was some-thing more profound and worthy than a brief term of suffering consciousness.
During the latter years of her existence Margaret suffered from ill health. In 1542 Mario Cavelli wrote of her: " The Queen of Navarre Iooks very delicate, so delicate, I fear she has not long to live. Yet she is so sober and moderate that, after all, she may last. She is, I think, the wisest, not only of the women, but of the men of France."
She must have been pleasant company. So many men of sound insight could not have valued her society unless she had possessed unusual sense and heartiness. Her conversation is repeatedly mentioned as brilliant, eloquent, full of thought and sympathy.
Francis I. died in March, 1547. Margaret had said that when he died she did not want to go on living, but she had more brains and more vitality than she knew of. Everything interested her, even when she was not happy. To the last she did what she could to help the Reformers her husband made it impossible for her to do much. Under the stimulus of Henri and Diane the Sorbonne had increased in laboriousness. Upon the subject of its added licence there is one humorous story, told by Duchatel, the witty secretary of Francis I., who used to say of him that he was the only man whose know-ledge he had not exhausted after two years' intimacy.
Duchatel preached the funeral sermon upon Francis, and said, with complimentary intention, that the soul of the king had gone straight to heaven. The doctors of the Sorbonne swollen with courage under the known bigotry of the new king and the king's mistress complained at once of the horrible utterance. Pious as the late king had been, his soul could not have escaped purgatory. They sent deputies to Henri II. charging DuchateI with heresy ; there existed an old grudge against him. The deputies were received, and given a conciliatory dinner by the king's maitre d'hôtel, Mendoza, and advised not to proceed further with the charge. " I knew the character of the late king intimately," said Mendoza, wittily. " He never could endure to be in one place long. If he did go to purgatory, he would only stay there sufficient time to drink a stirrup cup and move on."
It was Margaret's time to " move on." She went, in the autumn of 1549, to drink some mineral waters, but they did her no good. She was consumptive, and in a condition past being cured. During her last illness she is reported to have said, concerning her protection of heretics, " All I have done, I have done from compassion." She could have given no better reason.
Her death was preceded by less suffering than most people's ; she simply sank into unconsciousness. At the last she struggled back for a second from stupor, and, grasping a cross that lay upon the bed, muttered, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus," and fell back dead.
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