2: Chapter II (1609-10)
<< 1: Chapter I (1609) || 3: Chapter III (1610) >>
"If the Prince of Conde comes back." What had the Prince of Conde, his
comings and his goings, to do with this vast enterprise?
It is time to point to the golden thread of most fantastic passion which
runs throughout this dark and eventful history.
One evening in the beginning of the year which had just come to its close
there was to be a splendid fancy ball at the Louvre in the course of
which several young ladies of highest rank were to perform a dance in
The King, on ill terms with the Queen, who harassed him with scenes of
affected jealousy, while engaged in permanent plots with her paramour and
master, the Italian Concini, against his policy and his life; on still
worse terms with his latest mistress in chief, the Marquise de Verneuil,
who hated him and revenged herself for enduring his caresses by making
him the butt of her venomous wit, had taken the festivities of a court in
dudgeon where he possessed hosts of enemies and flatterers but scarcely a
He refused to attend any of the rehearsals of the ballet, but one day a
group of Diana and her nymphs passed him in the great gallery of the
palace. One of the nymphs as she went by turned and aimed her gilded
javelin at his heart. Henry looked and saw the most beautiful young
creature, so he thought, that mortal eye had ever gazed upon, and
according to his wont fell instantly over head and ears in love.
He said afterwards that he felt himself pierced to the heart and
was ready to faint away.
The lady was just fifteen years of age. The King was turned of fifty-
five. The disparity of age seemed to make the royal passion ridiculous.
To Henry the situation seemed poetical and pathetic. After this first
interview he never missed a single rehearsal. In the intervals he called
perpetually for the services of the court poet Malherbe, who certainly
contrived to perpetrate in his behalf some of the most detestable verses
that even he had ever composed.
The nymph was Marguerite de Montmorency, daughter of the Constable of
France, and destined one day to become the mother of the great Conde,
hero of Rocroy. There can be no doubt that she was exquisitely
beautiful. Fair-haired, with a complexion of dazzling purity, large
expressive eyes, delicate but commanding features, she had a singular
fascination of look and gesture, and a winning, almost childlike,
simplicity of manner. Without feminine artifice or commonplace coquetry,
she seemed to bewitch and subdue at a glance men of all ranks, ages, and
pursuits; kings and cardinals, great generals, ambassadors and statesmen,
as well as humbler mortals whether Spanish, Italian, French, or Flemish.
The Constable, an ignorant man who, as the King averred, could neither
write nor read, understood as well as more learned sages the manners and
humours of the court. He had destined his daughter for the young and
brilliant Bassompierre, the most dazzling of all the cavaliers of the
day. The two were betrothed.
But the love-stricken Henry, then confined to his bed with the gout, sent
for the chosen husband of the beautiful Margaret.
"Bassompierre, my friend," said the aged king, as the youthful lover
knelt before him at the bedside, "I have become not in love, but mad,
out of my senses, furious for Mademoiselle de Montmorency. If she should
love you, I should hate you. If she should love me, you would hate me.
'Tis better that this should not be the cause of breaking up our good
intelligence, for I love you with affection and inclination. I am
resolved to marry her to my nephew the Prince of Conde, and to keep her
near my family. She will be the consolation and support of my old age
into which I am now about to enter. I shall give my nephew, who loves
the chase a thousand times better than he does ladies, 100,000 livres a
year, and I wish no other favour from her than her affection without
making further pretensions."
It was eight o'clock of a black winter's morning, and the tears as he
spoke ran down the cheeks of the hero of Ivry and bedewed the face of the
The courtly lover sighed and--obeyed. He renounced the hand of the
beautiful Margaret, and came daily to play at dice with the King at
his bedside with one or two other companions.
And every day the Duchess of Angouleme, sister of the Constable, brought
her fair niece to visit and converse with the royal invalid. But for the
dark and tragic clouds which were gradually closing around that eventful
and heroic existence there would be something almost comic in the
spectacle of the sufferer making the palace and all France ring with the
howlings of his grotesque passion for a child of fifteen as he lay
helpless and crippled with the gout.
One day as the Duchess of Angouleme led her niece away from their morning
visit to the King, Margaret as she passed by Bassompierre shrugged her
shoulders with a scornful glance. Stung by this expression of contempt,
the lover who had renounced her sprang from the dice table, buried his
face in his hat, pretending that his nose was bleeding, and rushed
frantically from the palace.
Two days long he spent in solitude, unable to eat, drink, or sleep,
abandoned to despair and bewailing his wretched fate, and it was long
before he could recover sufficient equanimity to face his lost Margaret
and resume his place at the King's dicing table. When he made his
appearance, he was according to his own account so pale, changed, and
emaciated that his friends could not recognise him.
The marriage with Conde, first prince of the blood, took place early in
the spring. The bride received magnificent presents, and the husband a,
pension of 100,000 livres a year. The attentions of the King became soon
outrageous and the reigning scandal of the hour. Henry, discarding the
grey jacket and simple costume on which he was wont to pride himself,
paraded himself about in perfumed ruffs and glittering doublet, an
ancient fop, very little heroic, and much ridiculed. The Princess made
merry with the antics of her royal adorer, while her vanity at least, if
not her affection, was really touched, and there was one great round of
court festivities in her honour, at which the King and herself were ever
the central figures. But Conde was not at all amused. Not liking the
part assigned to him in the comedy thus skilfully arranged by his cousin
king, never much enamoured of his bride, while highly appreciating the
100,000 livres of pension, he remonstrated violently with his wife,
bitterly reproached the King, and made himself generally offensive.
"The Prince is here," wrote Henry to Sully, "and is playing the very
devil. You would be in a rage and be ashamed of the things he says of
me. But at last I am losing patience, and am resolved to give him a bit
of my mind." He wrote in the same terms to Montmorency. The Constable,
whose conduct throughout the affair was odious and pitiable, promised to
do his best to induce the Prince, instead of playing the devil, to listen
to reason, as he and the Duchess of Angouleme understood reason.
Henry had even the ineffable folly to appeal to the Queen to use her
influence with the refractory Conde. Mary de' Medici replied that there
were already thirty go-betweens at work, and she had no idea of being the
Conde, surrounded by a conspiracy against his honour and happiness,
suddenly carried off his wife to the country, much to the amazement and
rage of Henry.
In the autumn he entertained a hunting party at a seat of his, the Abbey
of Verneuille, on the borders of Picardy. De Traigny, governor of
Amiens, invited the Prince, Princess, and the Dowager-Princess to a
banquet at his chateau not far from the Abbey. On their road thither
they passed a group of huntsmen and grooms in the royal livery. Among
them was an aged lackey with a plaister over one eye, holding a couple of
hounds in leash. The Princess recognized at a glance under that
ridiculous disguise the King.
"What a madman!" she murmured as she passed him, "I will never forgive
you;" but as she confessed many years afterwards, this act of gallantly
did not displease her.'
In truth, even in mythological fable, Trove has scarcely ever reduced
demi-god or hero to more fantastic plight than was this travesty of the
great Henry. After dinner Madame de Traigny led her fair guest about the
castle to show her the various points of view. At one window she paused,
saying that it commanded a particularly fine prospect.
The Princess looked from it across a courtyard, and saw at an opposite
window an old gentleman holding his left hand tightly upon his heart to
show that it was wounded, and blowing kisses to her with the other: "My
God! it is the King himself," she cried to her hostess. The princess
with this exclamation rushed from the window, feeling or affecting much
indignation, ordered horses to her carriage instantly, and overwhelmed
Madame de Traigny with reproaches. The King himself, hastening to the
scene, was received with passionate invectives, and in vain attempted to
assuage the Princess's wrath and induce her to remain.
They left the chateau at once, both Prince and Princess.
One night, not many weeks afterwards, the Due de Sully, in the Arsenal at
Paris, had just got into bed at past eleven o'clock when he received a
visit from Captain de Praslin, who walked straight into his bed-chamber,
informing him that the King instantly required his presence.
Sully remonstrated. He was obliged to rise at three the next morning,
he said, enumerating pressing and most important work which Henry
required to be completed with all possible haste. "The King said you
would be very angry," replied Praslin; "but there is no help for it.
Come you must, for the man you know of has gone out of the country, as
you said he would, and has carried away the lady on the crupper behind
"Ho, ho," said the Duke, "I am wanted for that affair, am I?" And the
two proceeded straightway to the Louvre, and were ushered, of all
apartments in the world, into the Queen's bedchamber. Mary de' Medici
had given birth only four days before to an infant, Henrietta Maria,
future queen of Charles I. of England. The room was crowded with
ministers and courtiers; Villeroy, the Chancellor, Bassompierre, and
others, being stuck against the wall at small intervals like statues,
dumb, motionless, scarcely daring to breathe. The King, with his hands
behind him and his grey beard sunk on his breast, was pacing up and down
the room in a paroxysm of rage and despair.
"Well," said he, turning to Sully as he entered, "our man has gone off
and carried everything with him. What do you say to that?"
The Duke beyond the boding "I told you so" phrase of consolation which
he was entitled to use, having repeatedly warned his sovereign that
precisely this catastrophe was impending, declined that night to offer
advice. He insisted on sleeping on it. The manner in which the
proceedings of the King at this juncture would be regarded by the
Archdukes Albert and Isabella--for there could be no doubt that Conde had
escaped to their territory--and by the King of Spain, in complicity with
whom the step had unquestionably been taken--was of gravest political
Henry had heard the intelligence but an hour before. He was at cards in
his cabinet with Bassompierre and others when d'Elbene entered and made a
private communication to him. "Bassompierre, my friend," whispered the
King immediately in that courtier's ear, "I am lost. This man has
carried his wife off into a wood. I don't know if it is to kill her or
to take her out of France. Take care of my money and keep up the game."
Bassompierre followed the king shortly afterwards and brought him his
money. He said that he had never seen a man so desperate, so
The matter was indeed one of deepest and universal import. The reader
has seen by the preceding narrative how absurd is the legend often
believed in even to our own days that war was made by France upon the
Archdukes and upon Spain to recover the Princess of Conde from captivity
From contemporary sources both printed and unpublished; from most
confidential conversations and revelations, we have seen how broad,
deliberate, and deeply considered were the warlike and political
combinations in the King's ever restless brain. But although the
abduction of the new Helen by her own Menelaus was not the cause of the
impending, Iliad, there is no doubt whatever that the incident had much
to do with the crisis, was the turning point in a great tragedy, and that
but for the vehement passion of the King for this youthful princess
events might have developed themselves on a far different scale from that
which they were destined to assume. For this reason a court intrigue,
which history under other conditions might justly disdain, assumes vast
proportions and is taken quite away from the scandalous chronicle which
rarely busies itself with grave affairs of state.
"The flight of Conde," wrote Aerssens, "is the catastrophe to the comedy
which has been long enacting. 'Tis to be hoped that the sequel may not
"The Prince," for simply by that title he was usually called to
distinguish him from all other princes in France, was next of blood.
Had Henry no sons, he would have succeeded him on the throne. It was a
favourite scheme of the Spanish party to invalidate Henry's divorce from
Margaret of Valois, and thus to cast doubts on the legitimacy of the
Dauphin and the other children of Mary de' Medici.
The Prince in the hands of the Spanish government might prove a docile
and most dangerous instrument to the internal repose of France not only
after Henry's death but in his life-time. Conde's character was
frivolous, unstable, excitable, weak, easy to be played upon by designing
politicians, and he had now the deepest cause for anger and for indulging
in ambitious dreams.
He had been wont during this unhappy first year of his marriage to loudly
accuse Henry of tyranny, and was now likely by public declaration to
assign that as the motive of his flight. Henry had protested in reply
that he had never been guilty of tyranny but once in his life, and that
was when he allowed this youth to take the name and title of Conde?
For the Princess-Dowager his mother had lain for years in prison, under
the terrible accusation of having murdered her husband, in complicity
with her paramour, a Gascon page, named Belcastel. The present prince
had been born several months after his reputed father's death. Henry,
out of good nature, or perhaps for less creditable reasons, had come to
the rescue of the accused princess, and had caused the process to be
stopped, further enquiry to be quashed, and the son to be recognized as
legitimate Prince of Conde. The Dowager had subsequently done her best
to further the King's suit to her son's wife, for which the Prince
bitterly reproached her to her face, heaping on her epithets which she
Henry at once began to threaten a revival of the criminal suit, with a
view of bastardizing him again, although the Dowager had acted on all
occasions with great docility in Henry's interests.
The flight of the Prince and Princess was thus not only an incident of
great importance to the internal politics of trance, but had a direct and
important bearing on the impending hostilities. Its intimate connection
with the affairs of the Netherland commonwealth was obvious. It was
probable that the fugitives would make their way towards the Archdukes'
territory, and that afterwards their first point of destination would be
Breda, of which Philip William of Orange, eldest brother of Prince
Maurice, was the titular proprietor. Since the truce recently concluded
the brothers, divided so entirely by politics and religion, could meet
on fraternal and friendly terms, and Breda, although a city of the
Commonwealth, received its feudal lord. The Princess of Orange was the
sister of Conde. The morning after the flight the King, before daybreak,
sent for the Dutch ambassador. He directed him to despatch a courier
forthwith to Barneveld, notifying him that the Prince had left the
kingdom without the permission or knowledge of his sovereign, and stating
the King's belief that he had fled to the territory of the Archdukes. If
he should come to Breda or to any other place within the jurisdiction of
the States, they were requested to make sure of his person at once, and
not to permit him to retire until further instructions should be received
from the King. De Praslin, captain of the body-guards and lieutenant of
Champagne, it was further mentioned, was to be sent immediately on secret
mission concerning this affair to the States and to the Archdukes.
The King suspected Conde of crime, so the Advocate was to be informed.
He believed him to be implicated in the conspiracy of Poitou; the six who
had been taken prisoners having confessed that they had thrice conferred
with a prince at Paris, and that the motive of the plot was to free
themselves and France from the tyranny of Henry IV. The King insisted
peremptorily, despite of any objections from Aerssens, that the thing
must be done and his instructions carried out to the letter. So much he
expected of the States, and they should care no more for ulterior
consequences, he said, than he had done for the wrath of Spain when he
frankly undertook their cause. Conde was important only because his
relative, and he declared that if the Prince should escape, having once
entered the territory of the Republic, he should lay the blame on its
"If you proceed languidly in the affair," wrote Aerssens to Barneveld,
"our affairs will suffer for ever."
Nobody at court believed in the Poitou conspiracy, or that Conde had any
knowledge of it. The reason of his flight was a mystery to none, but as
it was immediately followed by an intrigue with Spain, it seemed
ingenious to Henry to make, use of a transparent pretext to conceal the
ugliness of the whole affair.
He hoped that the Prince would be arrested at Breda and sent back by the
States. Villeroy said that if it was not done, they would be guilty of
black ingratitude. It would be an awkward undertaking, however, and the
States devoutly prayed that they might not be put to the test. The
crafty Aerssens suggested to Barneveld that if Conde was not within their
territory it would be well to assure the King that, had he been there, he
would have been delivered up at once. "By this means," said the
Ambassador, "you will give no cause of offence to the Prince, and will at
the same time satisfy the King. It is important that he should think
that you depend immediately upon him. If you see that after his arrest
they take severe measures against him, you will have a thousand ways of
parrying the blame which posterity might throw upon you. History teaches
you plenty of them."
He added that neither Sully nor anyone else thought much of the Poitou
conspiracy. Those implicated asserted that they had intended to raise
troops there to assist the King in the Cleve expedition. Some people
said that Henry had invented this plot against his throne and life. The
Ambassador, in a spirit of prophecy, quoted the saying of Domitian:
"Misera conditio imperantium quibus de conspiratione non creditor nisi
Meantime the fugitives continued their journey. The Prince was
accompanied by one of his dependants, a rude officer, de Rochefort, who
carried the Princess on a pillion behind him. She had with her a lady-
in-waiting named du Certeau and a lady's maid named Philippote. She had
no clothes but those on her back, not even a change of linen. Thus the
young and delicate lady made the wintry journey through the forests.
They crossed the frontier at Landrecies, then in the Spanish Netherlands,
intending to traverse the Archduke's territory in order to reach Breda,
where Conde meant to leave his wife in charge of his sister, the Princess
of Orange, and then to proceed to Brussels.
He wrote from the little inn at Landrecies to notify the Archduke of his
project. He was subsequently informed that Albert would not prevent his
passing through his territories, but should object to his making a fixed
residence within them. The Prince also wrote subsequently to the King of
Spain and to the King of France.
To Henry he expressed his great regret at being obliged to leave the
kingdom in order to save his honour and his life, but that he had no
intention of being anything else than his very humble and faithful
cousin, subject, and servant. He would do nothing against his service,
he said, unless forced thereto, and he begged the King not to take it
amiss if he refused to receive letters from any one whomsoever at court,
saving only such letters as his Majesty himself might honour him by
The result of this communication to the King was of course to enrage that
monarch to the utmost, and his first impulse on finding that the Prince
was out of his reach was to march to Brussels at once and take possession
of him and the Princess by main force. More moderate counsels prevailed
for the moment however, and negotiations were attempted.
Praslin did not contrive to intercept the fugitives, but the States-
General, under the advice of Barneveld, absolutely forbade their coming
to Breda or entering any part of their jurisdiction. The result of
Conde's application to the King of Spain was an ultimate offer of
assistance and asylum, through a special emissary, one Anover; for the
politicians of Madrid were astute enough to see what a card the Prince
might prove in their hands.
Henry instructed his ambassador in Spain to use strong and threatening
language in regard to the harbouring a rebel and a conspirator against
the throne of France; while on the other hand he expressed his
satisfaction with the States for having prohibited the Prince from
entering their territory. He would have preferred, he said, if they had
allowed him entrance and forbidden his departure, but on the whole he was
content. It was thought in Paris that the Netherland government had
acted with much adroitness in thus abstaining both from a violation of
the law of nations and from giving offence to the King.
A valet of Conde was taken with some papers of the Prince about him,
which proved a determination on his part never to return to France during
the lifetime of Henry. They made no statement of the cause of his
flight, except to intimate that it might be left to the judgment of
every one, as it was unfortunately but too well known to all.
Refused entrance into the Dutch territory, the Prince was obliged to
renounce his project in regard to Breda, and brought his wife to
Brussels. He gave Bentivoglio, the Papal nuncio, two letters to forward
to Italy, one to the Pope, the other to his nephew, Cardinal Borghese.
Encouraged by the advices which he had received from Spain, he justified
his flight from France both by the danger to his honour and to his life,
recommending both to the protection of his Holiness and his Eminence.
Bentivoglio sent the letters, but while admitting the invincible reasons
for his departure growing out of the King's pursuit of the Princess, he
refused all credence to the pretended violence against Conde himself.
Conde informed de Praslin that he would not consent to return to France.
Subsequently he imposed as conditions of return that the King should
assign to him certain cities and strongholds in Guienne, of which
province he was governor, far from Paris and very near the Spanish
frontier; a measure dictated by Spain and which inflamed Henry's wrath
almost to madness. The King insisted on his instant return, placing
himself and of course the Princess entirely in his hands and receiving a
full pardon for this effort to save his honour. The Prince and Princess
of Orange came from Breda to Brussels to visit their brother and his
wife. Here they established them in the Palace of Nassau, once the
residence in his brilliant youth of William the Silent; a magnificent
mansion, surrounded by park and garden, built on the brow of the almost
precipitous hill, beneath which is spread out so picturesquely the
antique and beautiful capital of Brabant.
The Archdukes received them with stately courtesy at their own palace.
On their first ceremonious visit to the sovereigns of the land, the
formal Archduke, coldest and chastest of mankind, scarcely lifted his
eyes to gaze on the wondrous beauty of the Princess, yet assured her
after he had led her through a portrait gallery of fair women that
formerly these had been accounted beauties, but that henceforth it was
impossible to speak of any beauty but her own.
The great Spinola fell in love with her at once, sent for the illustrious
Rubens from Antwerp to paint her portrait, and offered Mademoiselle de
Chateau Vert 10,000 crowns in gold if she would do her best to further
his suit with her mistress. The Genoese banker-soldier made love, war,
and finance on a grand scale. He gave a magnificent banquet and ball in
her honour on Twelfth Night, and the festival was the wonder of the town.
Nothing like it had been seen in Brussels for years. At six in the
evening Spinola in splendid costume, accompanied by Don Luis Velasco,
Count Ottavio Visconti, Count Bucquoy, with other nobles of lesser note,
drove to the Nassau Palace to bring the Prince and Princess and their
suite to the Marquis's mansion. Here a guard of honour of thirty
musketeers was standing before the door, and they were conducted from
their coaches by Spinola preceded by twenty-four torch-bearers up the
grand staircase to a hall, where they were received by the Princesses of
Mansfeld, Velasco, and other distinguished dames. Thence they were led
through several apartments rich with tapestry and blazing with crystal
and silver plate to a splendid saloon where was a silken canopy, under
which the Princess of Conde and the Princess of Orange seated themselves,
the Nuncius Bentivoglio to his delight being placed next the beautiful
Margaret. After reposing for a little while they were led to the ball-
room, brilliantly lighted with innumerable torches of perfumed wax and
hung with tapestry of gold and silk, representing in fourteen embroidered
designs the chief military exploits of Spinola. Here the banquet, a cold
collation, was already spread on a table decked and lighted with regal
splendour. As soon as the guests were seated, an admirable concert of
instrumental music began. Spinola walked up and down providing for the
comforts of his company, the Duke of Aumale stood behind the two
princesses to entertain them with conversation, Don Luis Velasco served
the Princess of Conde with plates, handed her the dishes, the wine, the
napkins, while Bucquoy and Visconti in like manner waited upon the
Princess of Orange; other nobles attending to the other ladies. Forty-
eight pages in white, yellow, and red scarves brought and removed the
dishes. The dinner, of courses innumerable, lasted two hours and a half,
and the ladies, being thus fortified for the more serious business of the
evening, were led to the tiring-rooms while the hall was made ready for
dancing. The ball was opened by the Princess of Conde and Spinola, and
lasted until two in the morning. As the apartment grew warm, two of the
pages went about with long staves and broke all the windows until not a
single pane of glass remained. The festival was estimated by the thrifty
chronicler of Antwerp to have cost from 3000 to 4000 crowns. It was, he
says, "an earthly paradise of which soon not a vapour remained." He
added that he gave a detailed account of it "not because he took pleasure
in such voluptuous pomp and extravagance, but that one might thus learn
the vanity of the world." These courtesies and assiduities on the part
of the great "shopkeeper," as the Constable called him, had so much
effect, if not on the Princess, at least on Conde himself, that he
threatened to throw his wife out of window if she refused to caress
Spinola. These and similar accusations were made by the father and aunt
when attempting to bring about a divorce of the Princess from her
husband. The Nuncius Bentivoglio, too, fell in love with her, devoting
himself to her service, and his facile and eloquent pen to chronicling
her story. Even poor little Philip of Spain in the depths of the
Escurial heard of her charms, and tried to imagine himself in love with
her by proxy.
Thenceforth there was a succession of brilliant festivals in honour of
the Princess. The Spanish party was radiant with triumph, the French
maddened with rage. Henry in Paris was chafing like a lion at bay. A
petty sovereign whom he could crush at one vigorous bound was protecting
the lady for whose love he was dying. He had secured Conde's exclusion
from Holland, but here were the fugitives splendidly established in
Brussels; the Princess surrounded by most formidable suitors, the Prince
encouraged in his rebellious and dangerous schemes by the power which the
King most hated on earth, and whose eternal downfall he had long since
sworn to accomplish.
For the weak and frivolous Conde began to prattle publicly of his deep
projects of revenge. Aided by Spanish money and Spanish troops he would
show one day who was the real heir to the throne of France--the
illegitimately born Dauphin or himself.
The King sent for the first president of Parliament, Harlay, and
consulted with him as to the proper means of reviving the suppressed
process against the Dowager and of publicly degrading Conde from his
position of first prince of the blood which he had been permitted to
usurp. He likewise procured a decree accusing him of high-treason and
ordering him to be punished at his Majesty's pleasure, to be prepared
by the Parliament of Paris; going down to the court himself in his
impatience and seating himself in everyday costume on the bench of
judges to see that it was immediately proclaimed.
Instead of at once attacking the Archdukes in force as he intended in
the first ebullition of his wrath, he resolved to send de Boutteville-
Montmorency, a relative of the Constable, on special and urgent mission
to Brussels. He was to propose that Conde and his wife should return
with the Prince and Princess of Orange to Breda, the King pledging
himself that for three or four months nothing should be undertaken
against him. Here was a sudden change of determination fit to surprise
the States-General, but the King's resolution veered and whirled about
hourly in the tempests of his wrath and love.
That excellent old couple, the Constable and the Duchess of Angouleme,
did their best to assist their sovereign in his fierce attempts to get
their daughter and niece into his power.
The Constable procured a piteous letter to be written to Archduke Albert,
signed "Montmorency his mark," imploring him not to "suffer that his
daughter, since the Prince refused to return to France, should leave
Brussels to be a wanderer about the world following a young prince who
had no fixed purpose in his mind."
Archduke Albert, through his ambassador in Paris, Peter Pecquius,
suggested the possibility of a reconciliation between Henry and his
kinsman, and offered himself as intermediary. He enquired whether the
King would find it agreeable that he should ask for pardon in name of the
Prince. Henry replied that he was willing that the Archduke should
accord to Conde secure residence for the time within his dominions on
three inexorable conditions:--firstly, that the Prince should ask for
pardon without any stipulations, the King refusing to listen to any
treaty or to assign him towns or places of security as had been vaguely
suggested, and holding it utterly unreasonable that a man sueing for
pardon should, instead of deserved punishment, talk of terms and
acquisitions; secondly, that, if Conde should reject the proposition,
Albert should immediately turn him out of his country, showing himself
justly irritated at finding his advice disregarded; thirdly, that,
sending away the Prince, the Archduke should forthwith restore the
Princess to her father the Constable and her aunt Angouleme, who had
already made their petitions to Albert and Isabella for that end, to
which the King now added his own most particular prayers.
If the Archduke should refuse consent to these three conditions, Henry
begged that he would abstain from any farther attempt to effect a
reconciliation and not suffer Conde to remain any longer within his
Pecquius replied that he thought his master might agree to the two first
propositions while demurring to the third, as it would probably not seem
honourable to him to separate man and wife, and as it was doubtful
whether the Princess would return of her own accord.
The King, in reporting the substance of this conversation to Aerssens,
intimated his conviction that they were only wishing in Brussels to gain
time; that they were waiting for letters from Spain, which they were
expecting ever since the return of Conde's secretary from Milan, whither
he had been sent to confer with the Governor, Count Fuentes. He said
farther that he doubted whether the Princess would go to Breda, which he
should now like, but which Conde would not now permit. This he imputed
in part to the Princess of Orange, who had written a letter full of
invectives against himself to the Dowager--Princess of Conde which she
had at once sent to him. Henry expressed at the same time his great
satisfaction with the States-General and with Barneveld in this affair,
repeating his assurances that they were the truest and best friends he
The news of Conde's ceremonious visit to Leopold in Julich could not fail
to exasperate the King almost as much as the pompous manner in which he
was subsequently received at Brussels; Spinola and the Spanish Ambassador
going forth to meet him. At the same moment the secretary of Vaucelles,
Henry's ambassador in Madrid, arrived in Paris, confirming the King's
suspicions that Conde's flight had been concerted with Don Inigo de
Cardenas, and was part of a general plot of Spain against the peace of
the kingdom. The Duc d'Epernon, one of the most dangerous plotters at
the court, and deep in the intimacy of the Queen and of all the secret
adherents of the Spanish policy, had been sojourning a long time at Metz,
under pretence of attending to his health, had sent his children to
Spain, as hostages according to Henry's belief, had made himself master
of the citadel, and was turning a deaf ear to all the commands of the
The supporters of Conde in France were openly changing their note and
proclaiming by the Prince's command that he had left the kingdom in order
to preserve his quality of first prince of the blood, and that he meant
to make good his right of primogeniture against the Dauphin and all
Such bold language and such open reliance on the support of Spain in
disputing the primogeniture of the Dauphin were fast driving the most
pacifically inclined in France into enthusiasm for the war.
The States, too, saw their opportunity more vividly every day. "What
could we desire more," wrote Aerssens to Barneveld, "than open war
between France and Spain? Posterity will for ever blame us if we reject
this great occasion."
Peter Pecquius, smoothest and sliest of diplomatists, did his best to
make things comfortable, for there could be little doubt that his masters
most sincerely deprecated war. On their heads would come the first
blows, to their provinces would return the great desolation out of which
they had hardly emerged. Still the Archduke, while racking his brains
for the means of accommodation, refused, to his honour, to wink at any
violation of the law of nations, gave a secret promise, in which the
Infanta joined, that the Princess should not be allowed to leave Brussels
without her husband's permission, and resolutely declined separating the
pair except with the full consent of both. In order to protect himself
from the King's threats, he suggested sending Conde to some neutral place
for six or eight months, to Prague, to Breda, or anywhere else; but Henry
knew that Conde would never allow this unless he had the means by Spanish
gold of bribing the garrison there, and so of holding the place in
pretended neutrality, but in reality at the devotion of the King of
Meantime Henry had despatched the Marquis de Coeuvres, brother of the
beautiful Gabrielle, Duchess de Beaufort, and one of the most audacious
and unscrupulous of courtiers, on a special mission to Brussels. De
Coeuvres saw Conde before presenting his credentials to the Archduke, and
found him quite impracticable. Acting under the advice of the Prince of
Orange, he expressed his willingness to retire to some neutral city of
Germany or Italy, drawing meanwhile from Henry a pension of 40,000 crowns
a year. But de Coeuvres firmly replied that the King would make no terms
with his vassal nor allow Conde to prescribe conditions to him. To leave
him in Germany or Italy, he said, was to leave him in the dependence of
Spain. The King would not have this constant apprehension of her
intrigues while, living, nor leave such matter in dying for turbulence in
his kingdom. If it appeared that the Spaniards wished to make use of the
Prince for such purposes, he would be beforehand with them, and show them
how much more injury he could inflict on Spain than they on France.
Obviously committed to Spain, Conde replied to the entreaties of the
emissary that if the King would give him half his kingdom he would not
accept the offer nor return to France; at least before the 8th of
February, by which date he expected advices from Spain. He had given his
word, he said, to lend his ear to no overtures before that time. He made
use of many threats, and swore that he would throw himself entirely into
the arms of the Spanish king if Henry would not accord him the terms
which he had proposed.
To do this was an impossibility. To grant him places of security would,
as the King said, be to plant a standard for all the malcontents of
France to rally around. Conde had evidently renounced all hopes of a
reconciliation, however painfully his host the Archduke might intercede
for it. He meant to go to Spain. Spinola was urging this daily and
hourly, said Henry, for he had fallen in love with the Princess, who
complained of all these persecutions in her letters to her father, and
said that she would rather die than go to Spain.
The King's advices from de Coeuvres were however to the effect that the
step would probably be taken, that the arrangements were making, and that
Spinola had been shut up with Conde six hours long with nobody present
but Rochefort and a certain counsellor of the Prince of Orange named
Henry was taking measures to intercept them on their flight by land, but
there was some thought of their proceeding to Spain by sea. He therefore
requested the States to send two ships of war, swift sailors, well
equipped, one to watch in the roads of St. Jean and the other on the
English coast. These ships were to receive their instructions from
Admiral de Vicq, who would be well informed of all the movements of
the Prince and give warning to the captains of the Dutch vessels by a
preconcerted signal. The King begged that Barneveld would do him this
favour, if he loved him, and that none might have knowledge of it but
the Advocate and Prince Maurice. The ships would be required for two
or three months only, but should be equipped and sent forth as soon
The States had no objection to performing this service, although it
subsequently proved to be unnecessary, and they were quite ready at that
moment to go openly into the war to settle the affairs of Clove, and once
for all to drive the Spaniards out of the Netherlands and beyond seas and
mountains. Yet strange to say, those most conversant with the state of
affairs could not yet quite persuade themselves that matters were
serious, and that the King's mind was fixed. Should Conde return,
renounce his Spanish stratagems, and bring back the Princess to court, it
was felt by the King's best and most confidential friends that all might
grow languid again, the Spanish faction get the upper hand in the King's
councils, and the States find themselves in a terrible embarrassment.
On the other hand, the most prying and adroit of politicians were puzzled
to read the signs of the times. Despite Henry's garrulity, or perhaps in
consequence of it, the envoys of Spain, the Empire, and of Archduke
Albert were ignorant whether peace were likely to be broken or not, in
spite of rumours which filled the air. So well had the secrets been kept
which the reader has seen discussed in confidential conversations--the
record of which has always remained unpublished--between the King and
those admitted to his intimacy that very late in the winter Pecquius,
while sadly admitting to his masters that the King was likely to take
part against the Emperor in the affair of the duchies, expressed the
decided opinion that it would be limited to the secret sending of succour
to Brandenburg and Neuburg as formerly to the United Provinces, but that
he would never send troops into Cleve, or march thither himself.
It is important, therefore, to follow closely the development of these
political and amorous intrigues, for they furnish one of the most curious
and instructive lessons of history; there being not the slightest doubt
that upon their issue chiefly depended the question of a great and
Pecquius, not yet despairing that his master would effect a
reconciliation between the King and Conde, proposed again that the Prince
should be permitted to reside for a time in some place not within the
jurisdiction of Spain or of the Archdukes, being allowed meantime to draw
his annual pension of 100,000 livres. Henry ridiculed the idea of
Conde's drawing money from him while occupying his time abroad with
intrigues against his throne and his children's succession. He scoffed
at the Envoy's pretences that Conde was not in receipt of money from
Spain, as if a man so needy and in so embarrassing a position could live
without money from some source; and as if he were not aware, from his
correspondents in Spain, that funds were both promised and furnished to
He repeated his determination not to accord him pardon unless he returned
to France, which he had no cause to leave, and, turning suddenly on
Pecquius, demanded why, the subject of reconciliation having failed, the
Archduke did not immediately fulfil his promise of turning Conde out of
Upon this Albert's minister drew back with the air of one amazed, asking
how and when the Archduke had ever made such a promise.
"To the Marquis de Coeuvres," replied Henry.
Pecquius asked if his ears had not deceived him, and if the King had
really said that de Coeuvres had made such a statement.
Henry repeated and confirmed the story.
Upon the Minister's reply that he had himself received no such
intelligence from the Archduke, the King suddenly changed his tone,
"No, I was mistaken--I was confused--the Marquis never wrote me this; but
did you not say yourself that I might be assured that there would be no
difficulty about it if the Prince remained obstinate."
Pecquius replied that he had made such a proposition to his masters by
his Majesty's request; but there had been no answer received, nor time
for one, as the hope of reconciliation had not yet been renounced. He
begged Henry to consider whether, without instructions from his master,
he could have thus engaged his word.
"Well," said the King, "since you disavow it, I see very well that the
Archduke has no wish to give me pleasure, and that these are nothing but
tricks that you have been amusing me with all this time. Very good; each
of us will know what we have to do."
Pecquius considered that the King had tried to get him into a net, and to
entrap him into the avowal of a promise which he had never made. Henry
remained obstinate in his assertions, notwithstanding all the envoy's
"A fine trick, indeed, and unworthy of a king, 'Si dicere fas est,'" he
wrote to Secretary of State Praets. "But the force of truth is such that
he who spreads the snare always tumbles into the ditch himself."
Henry concluded the subject of Conde at this interview by saying that he
could have his pardon on the conditions already named, and not otherwise.
He also made some complaints about Archduke Leopold, who, he said,
notwithstanding his demonstrations of wishing a treaty of compromise,
was taking towns by surprise which he could not hold, and was getting his
troops massacred on credit.
Pecquius expressed the opinion that it would be better to leave the
Germans to make their own arrangements among themselves, adding that
neither his masters nor the King of Spain meant to mix themselves up in
"Let them mix themselves in it or keep out of it, as they like," said
Henry, "I shall not fail to mix myself up in it."
The King was marvellously out of humour.
Before finishing the interview, he asked Pecquius whether Marquis Spinola
was going to Spain very soon, as he had permission from his Majesty to do
so, and as he had information that he would be on the road early in Lent.
The Minister replied that this would depend on the will of the Archduke,
and upon various circumstances. The answer seemed to displease the King,
and Pecquius was puzzled to know why. He was not aware, of course, of
Henry's project to kidnap the Marquis on the road, and keep him as a
surety for Conde.
The Envoy saw Villeroy after the audience, who told him not to mind the
King's ill-temper, but to bear it as patiently as he could. His Majesty
could not digest, he said, his infinite displeasure at the obstinacy of
the Prince; but they must nevertheless strive for a reconciliation. The
King was quick in words, but slow in deeds, as the Ambassador might have
observed before, and they must all try to maintain peace, to which he
would himself lend his best efforts.
As the Secretary of State was thoroughly aware that the King was making
vast preparations for war, and had given in his own adhesion to the
project, it is refreshing to observe the candour with which he assured
the representative of the adverse party of his determination that
friendliest relations should be preserved.
It is still more refreshing to find Villeroy, the same afternoon, warmly
uniting with Sully, Lesdiguieres, and the Chancellor, in the decision
that war should begin forthwith.
For the King held a council at the Arsenal immediately after this
interview with Pecquius, in which he had become convinced that Conde
would never return. He took the Queen with him, and there was not a
dissentient voice as to the necessity of beginning hostilities at once.
Sully, however, was alone in urging that the main force of the attack
should be in the north, upon the Rhine and Meuse. Villeroy and those who
were secretly in the Spanish interest were for beginning it with the
southern combination and against Milan. Sully believed the Duke of Savoy
to be variable and attached in his heart to Spain, and he thought it
contrary to the interests of France to permit an Italian prince to grow
so great on her frontier. He therefore thoroughly disapproved the plan,
and explained to the Dutch ambassador that all this urgency to carry on
the war in the south came from hatred to the United Provinces, jealousy
of their aggrandizement, detestation of the Reformed religion, and hope
to engage Henry in a campaign which he could not carry on successfully.
But he assured Aerssens that he had the means of counteracting these
designs and of bringing on an invasion for obtaining possession of the
Meuse. If the possessory princes found Henry making war in the Milanese
only, they would feel themselves ruined, and might throw up the game.
He begged that Barneveld would come on to Paris at once, as now or never
was the moment to assure the Republic for all time.
The King had acted with malicious adroitness in turning the tables upon
the Prince and treating him as a rebel and a traitor because, to save his
own and his wife's honour, he had fled from a kingdom where he had but
too good reason to suppose that neither was safe. The Prince, with
infinite want of tact, had played into the King's hands. He had bragged
of his connection with Spain and of his deep designs, and had shown to
all the world that he was thenceforth but an instrument in the hands of
the Spanish cabinet, while all the world knew the single reason for which
he had fled.
The King, hopeless now of compelling the return of Conde, had become most
anxious to separate him from his wife. Already the subject of divorce
between the two had been broached, and it being obvious that the Prince
would immediately betake himself into the Spanish dominions, the King was
determined that the Princess should not follow him thither.
He had the incredible effrontery and folly to request the Queen to
address a letter to her at Brussels, urging her to return to France.
But Mary de' Medici assured her husband that she had no intention of
becoming his assistant, using, to express her thought, the plainest and
most vigorous word that the Italian language could supply. Henry had
then recourse once more to the father and aunt.
That venerable couple being about to wait upon the Archduke's envoy, in
compliance with the royal request, Pecquius, out of respect to their
advanced age, went to the Constable's residence. Here both the Duchess
and Constable, with tears in their eyes, besought that diplomatist to do
his utmost to prevent the Princess from the sad fate of any longer
sharing her husband's fortunes.
The father protested that he would never have consented to her marriage,
preferring infinitely that she should have espoused any honest gentleman
with 2000 crowns a year than this first prince of the blood, with a
character such as it had proved to be; but that he had not dared to
disobey the King.
He spoke of the indignities and cruelties to which she was subjected,
said that Rochefort, whom Conde had employed to assist him in their
flight from France, and on the crupper of whose horse the Princess had
performed the journey, was constantly guilty of acts of rudeness and
incivility towards her; that but a few days past he had fired off pistols
in her apartment where she was sitting alone with the Princess of Orange,
exclaiming that this was the way he would treat anyone who interfered
with the commands of his master, Conde; that the Prince was incessantly
railing at her for refusing to caress the Marquis of Spinola; and that,
in short, he would rather she were safe in the palace of the Archduchess
Isabella, even in the humblest position among her gentlewomen, than to
know her vagabondizing miserably about the world with her husband.
This, he said, was the greatest fear he had, and he would rather see her
dead than condemned to such a fate.
He trusted that the Archdukes were incapable of believing the stories
that he and the Duchess of Angouleme were influenced in the appeals they
made for the separation of the Prince and Princess by a desire to serve
the purposes of the King. Those were fables put about by Conde. All
that the Constable and his sister desired was that the Archduchess would
receive the Princess kindly when she should throw herself at her feet,
and not allow her to be torn away against her will. The Constable spoke
with great gravity and simplicity, and with all the signs of genuine
emotion, and Peter Pecquius was much moved. He assured the aged pair
that he would do his best to comply with their wishes, and should
immediately apprise the Archdukes of the interview which had just taken
place. Most certainly they were entirely disposed to gratify the
Constable and the Duchess as well as the Princess herself, whose virtues,
qualities, and graces had inspired them with affection, but it must be
remembered that the law both human and divine required wives to submit
themselves to the commands of their husbands and to be the companions of
their good and evil fortunes. Nevertheless, he hoped that the Lord would
so conduct the affairs of the Prince of Conde that the Most Christian
King and the Archdukes would all be satisfied.
These pious and consolatory commonplaces on the part of Peter Pecquius
deeply affected the Constable. He fell upon the Envoy's neck, embraced
him repeatedly, and again wept plentifully.
<< 1: Chapter I (1609) || 3: Chapter III (1610) >>