VII. DIANE DE POITIERS

The “old gallant” had had seven children, all by Claude. The eldest son, Francis, was like his father, handsome, charming, gay. Henry, born in 1519, was quiet, shy, a bit neglected; he matched his brother only in misfortune. Their four years of hardship and humiliation in Spain had marked them indelibly. Francis died six years after liberation. Henry grew more taciturn than before, turned within himself, shunned the frolics of the court; he had companions, but they rarely saw him smile. Men said that he had become Spanish in Spain.

It was not his choice to marry Catherine de Médicis, nor hers to marry him. She too had had tribulations. Both her parents had died of syphilis within twenty-two days of her birth (1519); and from that time till her marriage she was shifted from place to place, helpless and unasked. When Florence expelled its Medici rulers (1527) it kept Caterina as a hostage for their good behavior, and when these exiles returned to besiege the city she was threatened with death to deter them. Clement VII used her as a pawn to win France to papal policies; she went obediently to Marseille, a girl of fourteen, and married a boy of fourteen who hardly spoke to her during all the festival. When they arrived in Paris she met a cold reception because she brought too many Italians with her; she became to the Parisians “the Florentine”; and though she tried hard to charm them, neither they nor her husband ever warmed to her. Despite many efforts she remained barren for ten years, and the doctors suspected some evil inheritance from her infected parents. Losing hope of offspring, Catherine de Médicis, as she was called in France, went to Francis weeping, and offered to submit to a divorce and retire to a convent. The King graciously refused the sacrifice. At last the gates of motherhood burst, and children came in almost annual succession. Ten in all, they were chiefly Francis II, who would marry Mary Stuart; Elizabeth, who would marry Philip II; Charles IX, who would give the order for the Massacre of St. Bartholomew; Edward, who became the tragic Henry III; and Marguerite of Valois, who would marry and harry Henry of Navarre. Through all but the first four of these barren or fertile years her husband, while begetting children on her body, gave his love to Diane de Poitiers.

Diane was unique among the royal mistresses who played so leading a role in French history. She was not beautiful. When Henry, seventeen, fell in love with her (1536), she was already thirty-seven, her hair was turning gray, and wrinkles were beginning to score the years on her brow. Her only physical charms were grace, and a complexion kept fresh by washing with cold water at all seasons. She was not a courtesan; apparently she was faithful to her husband, Louis de Brézé, till his death; and though, like Henry, she indulged in two or three asides during her royal liaison, these were venial incidents, mere grace notes in her song of love. She was not romantic; rather she was too practical, making hay while her sun shone; France condemned not her morals but her money. She was not like Francis’ mignons—pretty heads but empty, prancing on gay feet till motherhood surprised them. Diane had good education, good sense, good manners, good wit; here was a mistress who charmed with her mind.

She came of high lineage, and was brought up at the art-loving court of the Bourbons at Moulins. Her father, Jean de Poitiers, Comte de Saint-Vallier, shared the Duke of Bourbon’s treason after trying to prevent it; he was captured and sentenced to death (1523); Diane’s husband, in favor with Francis, secured her father’s pardon.* Louis de Brézé was grandson of Charles VII by Agnès Sorel; he had ability or influence, for he became Grant’ Sénéschal and Governor of Normandy. He was fifty-six when Diane, sixteen, became his wife (1515). When he died (1531) she raised to his memory at Rouen a magnificent tomb with an inscription vowing eternal fidelity. She never married again, and wore, thereafter, only black and white.

She met Henry when, a lad of seven, he was being handed over at Bayonne as a hostage for his father. The bewildered boy wept; Diane, then twenty-seven, mothered and comforted him, whose own mother Claude was two years dead; and perhaps the memory of those pitying embraces revived in him when he met her again eleven years later. Though then four years a husband, he was still mentally immature, as well as abnormally melancholy and diffident; he wanted a mother more than a wife; and here again Diane appeared, quiet, tender, comforting. He came to her first as a son, and their relations for some time were apparently chaste. Her affection and counsel gave him confidence; under her tutelage he ceased to be a misanthrope, and prepared to be a king. Popular opinion credited them with having one child, Diane de France, whom she brought up with her two daughters by Brézé; she also adopted the daughter borne to Henry in 1538 by a Piedmontese maiden who paid for her royal moment by a lifetime as a nun. Another illegitimate child resulted from Henry’s kter affair with Mary Fleming, governess of Mary Stuart. Despite these experiments, his devotion was increasingly to Diane de Poitiers. He wrote to her poems of real excellence; he showered her with jewelry and estates. He did not entirely neglect Catherine; usually he dined and spent the evenings with her; and she, grateful for the parings of his love, accepted in silent sorrow the fact that another woman was the real dauphiness of France. She must have felt it as an added wound that Diane occasionally prodded Henry into sleeping with his wife.68

His accession to the throne did not lower Diane’s state. He wrote to her the most abject letters, entreating her to let him be her servant for life. His infatuation made her almost as rich as the Queen. He guaranteed to Diane a fixed percentage of all receipts from the sale of appointments to office, and nearly all appointments were in her power. He gave her the crown jewels that the Duchesse d’Êtampes had worn; when the Duchess protested, Diane threatened to accuse her of Protestantism, and was bought off only by a gift of property. Henry allowed her to keep for her use 400,000 thalers that Francis had bequeathed for the secret support of the Protestant princes in Germany.69 So dowered, Diane rebuilt, on a design by Philibert Delorme, the old Brézé mansion of Anet into an extensive chateau that became not only a second home for the King but also a museum of art, and a handsome rendezvous for poets, artists, diplomats, dukes, generals, cardinals, mistresses, and philosophers. Here in effect sat the Privy Council of the state, and Diane was prime ministress, passionless and intelligent. Every where—at Anet, Chenonceaux, Amboise, the Louvre—dishes, coats of arms, works of art, choir stalls, bore the bold symbol of the royal romance, two Ds placed back to back, with a dash between them forming the letter H. There is something touching and beautiful about this unique friendship, built on love and money, but enduring till death.

In the struggle of the Church against heresy, Diane put all her influence behind orthodoxy and suppression. She had abundant reasons for piety: her daughter was married to a son of Francis, Duke of Guise; and Francis, with his brother Charles, Cardinal of Lorraine, both favorites at Anet, were the leaders of the Catholic party in France. As for Henry, his childhood piety had been intensified by his years in Spain; his love letters confused God and Diane as rivals for his heart. The Church was helpful; it gave him 3,000,000 golden crowns for canceling his father’s decree restricting the power of ecclesiastical courts.70

Nevertheless Protestantism was growing in France. Calvin and others Were sending in missionaries whose success was alarming. Several towns-Caen, Poitiers, La Rochelle, and many in Provence—were predominantly Huguenot by 1559; a priest reckoned the French Protestants in that year at nearly a quarter of the population.71 Says a Catholic historian: “The source of the apostasy from Rome—ecclesiastical corruption—had not been removed, nay, had only been strengthened, by the... Concordat” between Leo X and Francis I.72 In the middle and lower classes Protestantism was in part a protest against a Catholic government that curbed municipal autonomy, taxed unbearably, and wasted revenues and lives in war. The nobility, shorn of its former political power by the kings, looked with envy at Lutheran princes victorious over Charles V; perhaps a similar feudalism could be restored in France by using widespread popular resentment against abuses in Church and state. Prominent nobles like Gasoard de Coligny, his younger brother François d’Andelot, Prince Louis de Condé, and his brother Antoine de Bourbon, took active part in organizing the Protestant revolt.

For its theology Gallic Protestantism adopted Calvin’s Institutes; its author and language were French, and its logic appealed to the French mind. After 1550 Luther was almost forgotten in France; the very name Huguenot came from Zurich through Geneva to Provence. In May 1559, the Protestants felt strong enough to send deputies to their first general synod, held secretly in Paris. By 1561 there were 2,000 “Reformed” or Calvinistic churches in France.73

Henry II set himself to crush out the heresy. By his instructions the Parlement of Paris organized a special commission (1549) to prosecute dissent; those condemned were sent to the stake, and the new court came to be called le chambre ardente, “the burning room.” By the Edict of Chateaubriand (1551) the printing, sale, or possession of heretical literature was made a major crime, and persistence in Protestant ideas was to be punished with death. Informers were to receive a third of the goods of the condemned. They were to report to the Parlement any judge who treated heretics leniently, and no man could be a magistrate unless his orthodoxy was beyond doubt. In three years the chambre ardente sent sixty Protestants to a flaming death. Henry proposed to Pope Paul IV that the Inquisition should be established in France on the new Roman model, but the Parlement objected to allowing its authority to be superseded. One of its members, Anne du Bourg, boldly suggested that all pursuit of heresy should cease until the Council of Trent should complete its definitions of orthodox dogma. Henry had him arrested, and vowed to see him burned, but fate cheated the King of this spectacle.

For meanwhile he had been lured into renewing the war against the Emperor. He could never forgive the long imprisonment of his father, his brother, and himself; he hated Charles with the same intensity with which he loved Diane. When the Lutheran princes made their decisive stand against the Emperor for Christ and feudalism, they sought alliance with Henry, and invited him to seize Lorraine. So he agreed in the Treaty of Chambord (1552). In a rapid and well-directed campaign he took with little trouble Toul, Nancy, Metz, and Verdun. Charles, readier to yield victory to Protestantism in Germany than to the Valois in France, signed a humble peace with the princes at Passau, and hurried to besiege the French in Metz. Francis, Duke of Guise, made his reputation there by the skill and pertinacity of his defense. From October 19 to December 26, 1552, the siege continued; then Charles, pale, haggard, white-bearded, crippled, withdrew his disheartened troops. “I see very well,” he said, “that fortune resembles a woman; she prefers a young king to an old emperor.”74 “Before three years are up,” he added, “I shall turn Cordelier”—i.e., a Franciscan friar.75

In 1555–56 he resigned his power in the Netherlands and Spain to his son, signed the Truce of Vaucelles with France, and left for Spain (September 17, 1556), He thought he was bequeathing to Philip a realm at peace, but Henry felt that the situation called for another sally into Italy. Philip had no reputation as a general; he was unexpectedly plunged into war with Pope Paul IV; to Henry the opportunity seemed golden. He sent Guise to take Milan and Naples, and himself prepared to meet Philip on the ancient battlefields of northeastern France. Philip rose to the occasion. He borrowed a million ducats from Anton Fugger, and charmed Queen Mary of England into the war. At Saint-Quentin (August 10,1557) Duke Emmanuel Philibert of Savoy led Philip’s combined armies to an overwhelming victory, took Coligny and Montmorency prisoners, and prepared to march upon Paris. The city was in panic; defense seemed impossible. Henry recalled Guise and his troops from Italy; the Duke crossed France, and by remarkable celerity of movement surprised and captured Calais (1558), which England had held since 1348. Philip, hating war and anxious to return to Spain, was readily persuaded to sign the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis (April 2, 1559): Henry agreed to stay north of the Alps, and Philip consented to let him keep Lorraine and—over Mary’s tears—Calais. Suddenly the two kings became friends; Henry gave his daughter Elizabeth in marriage to Philip, and his sister Marguerite of Berry was pledged to Emmanuel Philibert, who now recovered Savoy; and a stately festival of jousts, banquets, and weddings was arranged.

So, while cautious Philip remained in Flanders, French, Flemish, and Spanish notables gathered around the royal palace of Les Tournelles in Paris; lists were fenced off in the Rue St.-Antoine, with gaily decorated stands and balconies; and all went merry as a wedding bell. On June 22 the Duke of Alva, as proxy for Philip, received Elizabeth as new Queen of Spain. Henry, now forty, insisted on entering the tournament. In such jousts victory was adjudged to the rider who, without being unhorsed, broke three lances against the armor of his foe. Henry accomplished this upon the Dukes of Guise and Savoy, who knew their proper roles in the play. But a third opponent, Montgomery, after breaking a lance against the King, awkwardly allowed the sharp-pointed stump of the weapon to pass under Henry’s visor; it pierced the King’s eye and reached the brain. For nine days he lay unconscious. On July 9 the marriage of Philibert and Marguerite was celebrated. On July 10 the King died. Diane de Poitiers retired to Anet, and survived seven years. Catherine de Médicis, who had hungered for his love, wore mourning all the rest of her life.

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