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This was, as Walter remarks, rather shabby treatment of a royal prince and a former suitor; but the little Queen was hot tempered, strong in her likes and aversions, and never unmindful of the fact that she was d.u.c.h.ess of Brittany in her own right, as well as Queen of France by her marriage.
Lydia reminds us that the unappreciated Duke of Orleans had his innings later when he became King, after the death of Charles, and the second husband of Anne. You may notice that we are quite up on the history of Anne of Brittany, as we came across a charming biography of her at Brentano's in Paris, _A Twice Crowned Queen_, by the Countess de la Warr, in addition to which we have been looking over an old copy of Brantome that we found at a book store here.
In the three years following the death of the Dauphin two sons and a daughter were born to Charles and Anne. These children all died in infancy. "In vain," says the Countess de la Warr, "did Anne take every precaution to save the lives of these little creatures whom death s.n.a.t.c.hed from her so ruthlessly. She summoned nurses from Brittany, and the superst.i.tious beliefs of her own country came back to her mind. She presented them with amulets, a Guienne crown piece wrapped up in paper, a piece of black wax in a bag of cloth of gold, six serpents'
tongues,--a large one, two of medium size, and three little ones,--and rosaries of chalcedony and jasper; she not only sent votive offerings to the venerated shrines of the saints in Brittany, and presented rich gifts every year to the Holy Virgin of Auray, but she went herself on a pilgrimage. Alas! it was all to no purpose; a relentless fate followed the poor Queen."
A still heavier blow was destined to fall upon Anne, a few years later, in the death of her husband, to whom she seems to have been devotedly attached. In the midst of his work of beautifying Amboise with the spoils of his Italian wars, Charles was suddenly struck down with apoplexy, induced it is thought by a blow. He hit his head, never a very strong one, according to all accounts, against the stone arch of a little doorway and died a few hours after. We were shown the entrance to the Galerie Hacquelebac where the King met with his fatal accident as he was on his way to the tennis court with the Queen and his confessor, the Bishop of Angers. The door, which was very low at that time, was later raised and decorated with the porcupine of Louis XII.
The little widow, not yet twenty-one, was so overcome with grief at the death of her husband that she spent her days and nights in tears and lamentations. The only comfort that she found was in ordering a magnificent funeral for Charles, to every detail of which Louis d'Orleans, the new King, attended with scrupulous care, defraying himself the whole cost, not only of the ceremony itself, but of that incurred in conveying the body from Amboise to St. Denis. Even this devotion on the part of her husband's successor did not satisfy the Queen, as she redoubled her lamentations upon seeing him, and although he did everything in his power to comfort her in the most winning way, she still refused to eat or sleep and insisted between her sobs: "_Je dois suivre le chemin de mon mari!_" which for some reason sounds infinitely more pathetic than the plain English, "I must follow the way of my husband."
The way of the beloved Charles Anne was not destined to follow, as we find her, in less than a year, following in the way of his successor, Louis XII. The enforced and altogether unhappy marriage between Louis and his cousin, Jeanne of France, having been annulled by Alexander VI, in return for certain honors conferred upon his son, Caesar Borgia, and the decree of separation having been p.r.o.nounced by him at Chinon, Louis d'Orleans was free to offer his heart and his hand to the lady of his choice. This he did with all despatch, and was as promptly accepted by the widowed Queen.
The marriage of Louis XII and Anne was solemnized in her own castle, at Nantes, January 8, 1499, less than nine months after the death of her husband. The Queen bestowed rich gifts upon the churches of Brittany, the King having already conferred upon the Pope's representative, Caesar Borgia, a pension of twenty thousand gold crowns, besides which he created him Duke of Valentinois.
"All this goes to prove," as Miss Ca.s.sandra says, "that bribery and corruption in high places are not strictly modern methods, since this good King Louis, called the Father of his people, resorted to them."
With this exception, Louis seems to have been quite a respectable person for a royal prince of that time, as he did everything in his power to make up to the discarded Jeanne for her disappointment at not being invited to share the throne of France with him. He conferred upon her the Duchy of Berry and other domains, and with them a handsome income which enabled the pious princess to do many good works and to found the religious order of the Annonciade, of which she became Superior.
Although Louis and Anne established their residence at the King's birthplace, the Chateau of Blois, the Queen was at Amboise during the spring after her marriage, where her return was celebrated with rejoicings and festivities which were as original as they were picturesque, and well calculated to please a wine-drinking populace.
Anne's biographer says: "The boulevard between the River Loire and the castle was transformed into a huge pavilion, in the middle of which were erected two columns bearing the devices of Louis and Anne,--a porcupine and an ermine,--and from the mouth of each, wine poured. A dais of red damask had been prepared for the King and one of white for the Queen; but Anne alone took part in this ceremony, either because Louis was prevented from being present or because he did not wish by his presence to recall sad memories."
Despite her wilfulness and obstinacy, Louis was very fond of _ma Bretonne_, as he playfully called his wife, and yielded to her in many instances. It is recorded, however, that when Anne wished to marry their daughter Claude to the Archduke Charles of Austria, the King stood out stoutly against the persuasions of his spouse and insisted upon her betrothal to his cousin and heir, Francis d'Angouleme, telling his wife, after his own humorous, homely fashion, that he had resolved "to marry his mice to none but the rats of his own barn."
Even with occasional differences of opinion, which the King seems to have met with charming good humor, the union of Anne and Louis was far happier than most royal marriages. The little Bretonne, who had begun by disliking Louis d'Orleans, ended by loving him even more devotedly than her first husband, which does not seem strange to us, as he was a brave and accomplished gentleman, altogether a far more lovable character than Charles.
With all her devotion to her husband, the d.u.c.h.ess Queen was a thrifty lady, with an eye to the main chance, and when poor Louis was ill and thought to be dying at Blois, she attempted to provide against the chances and changes of sudden widowhood by sending down the river to Nantes several boats loaded with handsome furniture, jewels, silver, and the like. These boats were stopped between Saumur and Nantes by the Marechal de Gie, his excuse being that as the King was still alive Anne had no right to remove her possessions from the castle. Although Marechal de Gie was a favorite minister of Louis, Anne had him arrested and treated with great indignity. Not only was the unfortunate Marechal punished for his recent sins, but by means of researches into his past life it was found that he had committed various offences against the State. Indignities and miseries were heaped upon him, and so hot was the wrath of the royal lady that when it was proposed that the Marechal de Gie should be sentenced to death, she promptly replied that death was far too good for him, as that ended the sorrows of life, and that for one of high estate to sink to a low estate and to be overwhelmed with misfortunes was to die daily, which was quite good enough for him. All of which shows that even if Anne was something of a philosopher she was also possessed of a most vindictive spirit, and quite lacking in the sweetness and charity with which her partial biographer has endowed her.
Fortunately the King, recovering, "through the good prayers of his people," intervened on behalf of his late favorite and mitigated the rigor of his sentence, which was even then more severe than was warranted by his offence.
[Ill.u.s.tration: CHaTEAU OF AMBOISE, FROM OPPOSITE BANK OF THE LOIRE]
I tell you this little tale because it is characteristic of the time, as well as of the imperious little d.u.c.h.ess Queen, and makes us realize that Louis was well named the good, and had need of all the generosity and amiability that has been attributed to him as an offset to the fiery temper of his Breton wife.
Among the many interesting additions that Charles VIII made to Amboise was the great double Tours des Minimes, adjoining the royal apartments.
This tower was used as an approach to the chateau by means of inclined planes of brick work, which wound around a central newel, graded so gently that horses and light vehicles could ascend without difficulty.
These curious ascents were doubtless suggested to the King by the low broad steps in the Vatican over which the old Popes were wont to ride on their white mules. Lydia reminds us that it was upon this dim corkscrew of a road winding upward that Brown performed his remarkable feat in _The Lightning Conductor_. Brown might have made this dizzy ascent and perilous descent in his Napier; but it could be done by no other chauffeur, "live or dead or fashioned by my fancy," although kings and princes once rode their horses up these inclines, which answered the purpose of _porte cochere_ and stairway. By this way Francis I and his guest Charles V rode up to the royal apartments when the Emperor made his visit here in 1539, amid general rejoicings and such a blaze of flambeaux that, as the ancient chronicler tells us, even in this dim pa.s.sage one might see as clearly as at midday.
In the terraced garden of Amboise, near a quincunx of lime trees, is a bust of Leonardo da Vinci. We wondered why it was placed here until we learned from our invaluable _Joanne_ that the Italian artist had lived and died at Amboise, inhabiting a little manor house near the chateau.
It was Francis I, the beauty loving as well as the pleasure seeking King, who brought Leonardo to France and to Amboise, the home of his childhood. The Italian artist was over sixty when he came to France and only lived about three years here, dying, it is said, in the arms of Francis. Among his last requests were minute directions for his burial in the royal church of St. Florentin, which once stood in the grounds of the castle. When this church was destroyed, in the last century, a skull and some bones were found among the ruins which were supposed to be those of Leonardo. A bust was erected on the spot where the remains were found. Whether or not the bones are those of Leonardo, a fitting memorial to the great artist is this bust near the lovely quincunx, whose overshadowing branches form a roof of delicate green above it like the pergolas of his native Italy. We afterwards visited the little Chateau de Cloux, where Leonardo had once lived.
A long stretch of years and several reigns lie between Anne of Brittany and Mary of Scotland, yet it is of these two twice-crowned queens that we think as we wander through the gardens and halls of the Chateau of Amboise. Both of these royal ladies came here as brides and both were received with joyful acclamations at Amboise. Mary's first visit to the chateau was in the heyday of her beauty and happiness, when as _la reine-dauphine_ she won all hearts.
Do you remember a charming full-length portrait, that we once saw, of Mary and Francis standing in the embrasure of a window of one of the royal palaces? Although a year younger than Mary, Francis had been devoted to her little serene highness of Scotland ever since her early childhood, and she seems to have been equally attached to her boyish lover, as chroniclers of the time tell us that they delighted to retire from the gayety and confusion of the court to whisper their little secrets to each other, with no one to hear, and that they were well content when according to the etiquette of the period they established their separate court and _menage_ at Villers Cotterets as _roi et reine-dauphine_.
As the province of Touraine was one of the dower possessions of the young Queen, she entered into her own when she visited these royal castles. We think of her at Amboise, riding up the broad inclines to the royal apartments, her husband by her side, followed by a gay cavalcade, and what would we not give for a momentary glimpse of Mary Stuart in the bright beauty of her youth, before sorrow and crime had cast a shadow over her girlish loveliness! No portrait seems to give any adequate representation of Mary, probably because her grace and animation added so much to the beauty of her auburn tinted hair, the dazzling whiteness of her complexion and the bright, quick glance of her brown eyes.
"Others there were," says one of Mary's biographers, "in that gay, licentious court, with faces as fair and forms more perfect; what raised Mary of Scotland above all others was her animation. When she spoke her whole being seemed to become inspired. A ready wit called to its aid a well-stored mind." In fact, Mary was witty enough to afford to be plain, and beautiful enough to afford to be dull; and early and late she captured hearts, from the days when the poets, Ronsard, De Maison Fleur, and the hapless Chastelard, celebrated her charms in verse to a later and sadder time when, during her captivity in England her young page, Anthony Babington, was so fascinated by her wit and grace that he made a valiant and desperate effort to save her to his own undoing.
The sorrows and final tragedy of Mary Stuart's life have so overshadowed the events of her early years that we are wont to forget the power and influence that were hers in the eighteen months of her reign as Queen of France. Adored by her young husband, who evidently admired her for her learning as well as for her beauty and charm, she seems to have pa.s.sed through her years at court with no breath of suspicion attached to her fair name, and this in an atmosphere of unbridled license and debauchery of which Jeanne d'Albret, Queen of Navarre, wrote to her son, "No one here but is tainted by it. If you were here yourself you would only escape by some remarkable mercy of G.o.d."
In addition to her ascendency over the mind of her husband the young Queen had always at her side her astute kinsmen, the Duke of Guise and the Cardinal of Lorraine, who were as clever as they were unscrupulous.
With these powerful uncles near her, Mary was in a position to outwit the wily Catherine, between whom and the Guise faction little love was lost. Only when some scheme of deviltry joined them together in common interests, as the ma.s.sacre of the Huguenots at Amboise, were Catherine and the Guise brothers at one, and this triumvirate even Queen Mary was powerless to withstand.
We had wandered far afield with Mary Stuart in the joyous days of her youth when we were suddenly brought back by the guide to her last sad visit to Amboise. He pointed out to us the Isle St. Jean opposite the balcony where we were standing, saying that the _conjure_ had met over there. Whether or not any of the conspirators met on this island in the Loire, the Conspiracy of 1560, which the Guise brothers were pleased to call the tumult of Amboise, was formed at Nantes. Although the Huguenots have had all the credit of this formidable uprising, a number of Catholics had joined them with the object of breaking down the great and growing powers of the Guise family. As one of the alleged plans of the conspirators was to seize Francis and Mary and remove them from the influence of the Duke of Guise and the Cardinal of Lorraine, the young King and Queen were hurried from Blois to the stronghold of Amboise. If this plot had succeeded, as would probably have been the case had it not been for the treachery of a lawyer, named Des Avenelles, in whose house one of the leaders lodged, what would it not have meant to the Huguenots and to France? With the Guise brothers in their power and the King and Queen no longer under their dominion, the Huguenots might have made terms with the royal party, backed as they were at this time by some Catholics of influence.
The ever vigilant Duke of Guise, having discovered the plot, met it with the promptness, resolution, and relentless cruelty that belonged to his character and his time, and in this case an element of revenge was added to his wrath against the offenders, as his own capture and that of his brother, the Cardinal of Lorraine, was one of the chief objects of the conspirators. The life and liberty of the King and Queen were in no way included in this plot, as appeared later; but it suited the purpose of the Duke of Guise to shelter himself behind the young sovereigns and to represent the conspiracy as an act of high treason against the throne of France. Francis and Mary, only half believing the story told them, but not strong enough to resist the power of the Duke, the Cardinal and the Queen-mother, allowed themselves to be brought to Amboise.
We have been reading again Dumas's thrilling description of the "tumult of Amboise," and his pathetic picture of the young King and Queen, who shrank from witnessing the tortures and death to which their Huguenot subjects were condemned. Catherine insisted that they should take their places on the balcony overlooking the court of execution, chid her son as a weakling because he shrank from the sight of blood, while the Cardinal reminded poor, trembling, tender-hearted Francis that his "grandsire of glorious memory, Francis I, had always a.s.sisted at the burning of heretics."
"Other kings do as they please and so will I," Francis had the courage to say but not to do, as he and Mary, "poor crowned slaves," as the novelist calls them, were forced to appear upon the iron balcony and witness the execution of some of the n.o.blest of their subjects.
Standing on the Tour des Minimes on this fair September day, looking down upon the balconies, terraces, and gardens of the chateau basking in warm sunshine, it was difficult to realize the scenes of horror and bloodshed that were enacted here on that sad day in March, 1560. The Duke had his troops ambushed in the forest of Chateau Regnault, in readiness to attack the conspirators as they approached in small detachments, and over the peaceful plain spread before us, through which the Loire winds its way, an army of Frenchmen was lured on to its destruction by false promises of safety, and in yonder forest of Chateau Regnault one of the prime movers in the uprising, the Seigneur de la Renaudie, a gentleman of Perigord, was overtaken and slain. Such other brave men and n.o.ble gentlemen as the Baron de Castelnau Chalosse and the Baron de Raunay were spared for a sadder fate, while for the Prince of Conde there was reserved the crowning horror of seeing his followers beheaded one by one. It is said that as they were led into the courtyard they turned to salute their "_chef muet_," a salute which he was brave enough to return, while they went to the block singing Clement Marot's adaptation of the Sixty-seventh Psalm:
Dieu nous soit doux et favorable Nous benissant par sa bonte Et de son visage adorable Nous fa.s.se luire la clarte.
It is not strange that, in the face of such sublime faith and dauntless courage, the young Queen should have pleaded for the life of these n.o.blemen, or that the Duke de Nemours, who had pledged his faith as a prince, "on his honor and on the d.a.m.nation of his soul," that the Huguenot deputies should be fairly dealt with, should have added his entreaties to those of Mary.
The Duke of Nemours appealed to Catherine, who answered with feigned indifference that she could do nothing, then to the King who, pale and ill at the sight before him, would have stopped the ma.s.sacre long before. The Queen, on bended knee, begged her husband for the life of the last victim, the Baron de Castelnau. The King made a sign that he should be spared; but the Cardinal of Lorraine chose to misunderstand, gave the fatal signal, and Castelnau's head fell with the rest.
In view of this wholesale slaughter, for it is said that over twelve hundred perished in and around Amboise, we do not wonder that the Prince de Conde exclaimed:
"Ah, what an easy task for foreigners to seize on France after the death of so many honorable men!" a speech for which the Guises never quite forgave him. Nor did we wonder, as we made our way to the garden through the bare unfurnished rooms of the chateau, that it ceased to be a royal residence after this carnival of blood, and later became a State prison, and place of exile for persons of high degree. The Cardinal de Bourbon was confined here, and it is said that Amboise opened its doors to the Superintendent Fouquet after his capture by D'Artagnan, for you must know that there was a real D'Artagnan from whom Dumas constructed his somewhat glorified hero.
We wondered why so many feeble, old people were sitting about in the house and grounds, until the _gardienne_ told us, that, the chateau having been restored to the Orleans family in 1872, they had established here a retreat and home for their old retainers.
"Well, I am thankful that some good deeds are done here to help to wash away the dark stains from the history of the chateau!" exclaimed Miss Ca.s.sandra. "But how do they manage to sleep with the ghosts of all these good men who have been murdered here haunting the place at night?"
Walter reminded her that the just were supposed to rest quietly in their graves, and that it was those of uneasy conscience who walked o' nights.
"Then Catherine must be walking most of the time. We certainly should see her if we could wait here until after dark."
When I translated our Quaker lady's remarks to the guide she laughed and rejoined, with a merry twinkle in her eye, that if "Her Majesty had to walk in all the palaces that had known her evil deeds she would be kept busy and would only have a night now and again for Amboise; beside which this chateau was blessed, having been dedicated to good works, and after all were not the Guises more involved in the ma.s.sacre of the Huguenots here than Catherine?"
Miss Ca.s.sandra reluctantly acknowledged that perhaps they were, but for her part she makes no excuses for Catherine, and refuses to believe that she was ever an innocent baby. She declares that this insatiable daughter of the Medici, like Minerva, sprang full grown into being, equipped for wickedness as the G.o.ddess was with knowledge.
With a clink of silver and a cheerful "_Au revoir, Mesdames et Monsieur_," we parted from our pleasant little guide. As we turned to look back at Amboise from the bridge, some heavy clouds hung over the castle, making it look grim and gray, more like the fortress-prison that it had proved to so many hundreds of brave, unfortunate Frenchmen than the cheerful chateau, basking in the sunshine, that we had seen this morning.
We motored home, in a fine drizzle of rain, through a gray landscape; and surely no landscape can be more perfectly gray than that of France when it is pleased to put on sombre tints, and no other could have been as well suited to the shade of our thoughts.
Lydia, by way of reviving our drooping spirits, I fancy, as she is not usually given to conundrums or puzzles, suddenly propounded a series of brain-racking questions. "Who first said, 'Let us fly and save our bacon;' and 'He would make three bites of a cherry;' and 'Appet.i.te comes with eating;' and 'It is meat, drink, and cloth to us;' and----"
"Stop!" cried Miss Ca.s.sandra, "and give us time to think, but I am quite sure that it was Beau Brummel who made three bites of a cherry, or a strawberry, or some other small fruit."
Walter and I were inclined to give Shakespeare and Pope the credit of these familiar sayings; but we were all wrong, as Lydia, after puzzling us for some time, exclaimed triumphantly:
"No, further back than either Shakespeare or Pope; these wise sayings, and many more like them, were written by a Tourangeau, one Monsieur Rabelais."
"And where did you come across them?" we asked, quite put out with Lydia for knowing so much more than the rest of us.
Then Lydia, who appears upon the surface to be a guileless and undesigning young person, confessed that she had extracted this information from a Frenchman with whom we all had some pleasant conversation on the way to Langeais, and she has been treasuring it up ever since to spring it upon us in an unguarded moment when we were far from the haunts of Rabelais. This gentleman, whose name is one of the things we shall probably never know, with the cheerfully appropriating spirit of the French, was ready to claim most of Shakespeare's aphorisms for Rabelais. We are willing to forgive him, however, because he introduced us to a phrase coined by the creator of Pantagruel, in slow-going sixteenth century days, which so exactly fits the situation to-day that it seems to have been made for such travellers as ourselves: "Nothing is so dear and precious as time," wrote M. Rabelais, long before tourists from all over the world were trying to live here on twenty-four hours a day and yet see all the chateaux and castles upon their lists.