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The Marquise de Ganges

The Marquise de Ganges

The Marquise’s death did not bring any financial gain to her two brothers-in-law.  They must have known before they killed her that she would not have mentioned them in her Will, considering their behaviour toward her.  Even if they had hoped for her money, they certainly couldn’t have passed off her death as natural.

***

The Abbot and the Knight fled.  The Knight took up service with the Venetians who were at war with the Turks at the time.  He fought bravely everywhere he went.  Even with temerity, to the point that his companions in arms became certain that he wanted to die in combat.  He did in fact die under the walls of Candia in 1659 after a battle lost by the Venetians.

The Abbot changed his name and managed to flee to Holland where he started a new life.  For many years, he consecrated himself to piety, expiating his faults by extraordinary mortifications.  He finally converted to protestantism and died very old, highly respected by all.  As for the husband, he was arrested as an accomplice and condemned to perpetual banishment.  He went to the Venaissin County, which was then papal territory and a haven for many a cutthroat, then died soon afterwards, unknown and forgotten.

***

The most guilty in this sad story is the husband who, from start to finish, kept a cool head and cooked up the plan which would allow him to get his hands on his wife’s money.  The comportment of his two brothers is different.  In the opinion of Louis Pauwels, whose work I have translated, it was of a pathological and paranormal nature…

Their whole comportment was absurd.  Any specialist of mental disorders would recognize morbid behaviour here.  Whether the origine of it was in hate, jealousy, powerlessness, a death wish or erotic delirium…  The Abbot’s comportment, coming back to fire on the young woman in front of ten witnesses is characteristic.  Just like his brother, he is under the influence of something or someone who has entered his mind like a parasite and is making him act like a sleepwalker.  Louis Pauwels is sure that the next day, this man would remember absolutely nothing of what he had done during the night.  This is what Roman Catholic theology calls “lucid somnambulist possession”.  Under its influence the individual loses conscienceness of himself and allows a foreign spirit (or mind) to take possession of his soul a bit like a parasite in a body…

***

The History of criminology and psychiatry is full of cases where individuals have “acted out” after one of these personality splits.  In L’Obsession, Jules Claretie describes the story of a painter, at the end of the XIXth Century, who was obsessed by the idea that his second personality takes over his body at certain times, without him ever being able to foresee what misdeed his other self will commit.  The painter is finally cured by an Alsatian doctor who suggests to him that he is witnessing the death and burial of the “other one”.

To write his novel, Claretie spent months gathering information at the Salpetriere mental asylum.  In the same way, in La Somnambule, Mintorn recounts the story of a pastor, an exemplary husband and father who, in a somnambulist state seduces and rapes women and kills children, without his normal personality being conscious of it…

These stories obviously bring to mind the chef-d’oeuvre of Robert Louis Stevenson, Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde

***

Such states enter into the genesis of many crimes.  In particular, crimes of passion.  Trances, split personalities and also “hypnotic states” have been the subject of resounding judicial controversies for well over a century.  In January 1888, in a little Algerian town, the body of Madame Grille is discovered in a luxurious colonial villa, lying naked on a bed beside a young man of 22, Henri Chambige, whose face had been smashed by a shot from a firearm.  Saved, the young man declared that he and this married woman were passionately in love, but that the woman did not have enough courage to flee with him, and had proposed that they end it all with a double suicide.  The victim’s husband assured that his wife had been hypnotized.  This gave rise to a long battle of experts, which opposed the Nancy school, with Bernheim maintaining that crimes under hypnosis were perfectly possible, to the Salpetriere school which, with Charcot, savagely denied it…

***

So, who could have hypnotized the two assassins?  Their brother, an accomplice, or in a manner of speaking, the Marquise herself…

Diane, Marquise de Ganges, painted by Mignard as Saint Roseline (Hospice de Villeneuve-les-Avignon).

Diane, Marquise de Ganges, painted by Mignard as Saint Roseline (Hospice de Villeneuve-les-Avignon).

This is where the paranormal enters the picture.  In the beginning, even before her marriage, the Marquise did not seem very sure of herself:  strong-willed people do not visit fortune-tellers to find out whether the man they have chosen is the right one.  Louis Pauwels is reminded of a story recounted by Paul Bourget in L’Irreparable.  Perfectly relaxed and happy before her marriage, a young woman changes radically, as soon as the ring is on her finger, into a being who is perpetually depressed and worried.  In the Marquise’s case, the clairvoyants could have played the role of fixing this anguish, being “catalysts”, convincing her that someone wants to kill her.  Gradually, her fear becomes so strong – particularly as the prediction is made a second time – that it creates a sort of psychosis of assassination in her two brothers-in-law.  According to the schema described by many mental illness specialists and psychiatrists, which consists in projecting one’s own ideas and tendencies onto those of other people.  To the classical:  “I love her, therefore she loves me” is substituted here “I don’t love them therefore they hate me, and therefore they want to kill me”…  And this fear is projected with such force onto the two men, who are themselves weak-minded, that it finishes by completely destroying their personalities.  Doubtless helped along by the husband as well, they finish by acting like hallucinated, irresponsible beings.  “Someone possesses my soul and governs it!  I am only a slavish, terrified spectator of all the things that I accomplish”, says the hero of the Horia, Maupassant’s short story.

There are cases like this where it is the victim who plays the role of the executioner…

***

As for the clairvoyants, the first one is La Voisin who was to become the sinister heroine of the Affair of the Poisons which provoked a real crisis under the reign of Louis XIV, with the effacement of La Montespan and the discovery by the Lieutenant of Police of Paris, Gabriel de La Reynie, that the greatest names of the kingdom were implicated.  History has not remembered the name of the second one.  But both predict to the Marquise that she will be assassinated in a family affair.  And it is there that the paranormal intervenes a second time.  Louis Pauwels thinks that the clairvoyants only read, by telepathy, the young woman’s fear.  The force of her obsession was such that she managed to transmit their prediction to them…

They are greatly responsible for having formulated this prediction.  When clairvoyants read death in cards or via other mancies, they usually abstain from saying so.  For either they are telling the truth and then, many examples prove it, nothing can stop the wheel of Destiny, or they are mistaken and the result can be identical.  Louis Pauwels says that he knows two people who died on the exact date that had been predicted to them.  One in a car accident, the other from a heart attack.  Because it was their destiny or because they died of panic?

***

The Marquise de Ganges

The Marquise de Ganges

Three months go by, then the Marquise’s husband, during one of his rare visits, invites her to travel to his marquisate of Ganges, tucked in between the Cevennes and the deep gorges of the Herault.  Until then, the Marquis had always gone alone to this ancient, fortified town, but this time the Abbot and the Knight go with them.

Despite his bad behaviour, she still has confidence in her husband.  She is sure that he still loves her a little and that he particularly loves the beautiful children that she has given him.  Still, she is so worried that, before leaving, she goes to a notary to make a secret Will.  If something happens to her, she wants to leave her estate to her children, and only to them.  Anything that she might write later would be false and dictated under constraint.  This alone must be her Last Will and Testament…

Here she is at Ganges where the arrival of her caleche has drawn a few townspeople into the street.  Then the heavy doors of the manor house close behind her.  Her husband is there to welcome her under the porch.  Coldly, he announces that he has to leave almost immediately, called to Toulouse for important political business.  He will leave his wife in the care of his two brothers and will return as quickly as he can…  The young woman understands everything.  She now knows that they want to kill her, and that her brothers-in-law are criminals.  They are readying themselves and the whole empty house vibrates with the terror which descends inside her.  The poor thing guesses that she has a few hours respite;  until nighttime perhaps or the next day.  They have all the time in the world anyway and the walled house is so big that no-one would even hear her cry out.  She is in her bedchamber and looks around her.  Her windows open onto a deep ravine and there are three doors, none of which can be locked.  So, trembling, she sits down on her bed and waits.  Already, night is falling and no servant comes to bring her clothes, or lights.  What are her dear children doing now, in Avignon?  And, above all, what will become of them?

Diane's bedchamber in the Chateau de Ganges.

Diane’s bedchamber in the Chateau de Ganges.

When it is dark, she sees, as if in a nightmare, the Abbot and the Knight enter.  But the nightmare is real.  They both approach.  They are dreadfully pale and look hallucinated.  The Knight draws his sword and the Abbot holds a pistol in one hand and a glass in the other.

The Marquise screams, she begs and asks to be allowed to live.  In the name of her children.  In vain.  The two monsters close in on her and say that she has to die.  So, sensing that there is nothing more that she can do, that she has been abandoned by both God and men, she seizes the glass and swallows its contents in one gulp.  There remains a deposit at the bottom.  The Abbot, who is the most determined one, tells her to swallow it all.  The liquid burns her throat and stomach atrociously.  She throws herself onto the bed, twists her body and furtively spits the liquid onto the sheets.  She tells them that they are cursed because she is going to die without having been able to confess herself.  Finally, something which seems to touch them…  Eternal hellfire.  Like automatons, they go to find the chaplain, who is under their orders.  During their short absence, the Marquise makes herself vomit, then slips, dishevelled, stumbling, through a window on the ground floor.  In the deserted streets, she runs and arrives before a house that she thinks she recognizes.  It is that of the Maugirons, notables who came to visit her once at Saint-Andre.  She begs for water.

Diane, who had taken refuge with friends, was wounded five times by her brother-in-law's sword.

Diane, who had taken refuge with friends, was wounded five times by her brother-in-law’s sword.

The Maugirons, very upset, do what they can.  But already the Knight has arrived, looking like a mad somnambulist.  He pushes everyone away and plunges his sword five times into the young woman’s body.  At the fifth blow, the sword breaks in the middle.  He flees, running to join his brother who is waiting outside.  Everything has happened so fast that the Maugirons have been unable to stop it.  The two brothers have returned to their manor and the Knight wipes the blood off his boots and jacket.  He sees, through the window, one of the Maugirons’ domestics passing by, followed by a doctor.  The Abbot realizes that, if they have sent for the doctor, the Marquise is not yet dead.  He rushes outside and runs towards his sister-in-law’s house of refuge.  He manages to force a passage to her bed and, there, he presses a pistol to her heart and fires.

The Marquise was in fact still alive, and she survived her horrible wounds for another nineteen days…

The clairvoyant had told her that she would die three times.  The poison, the sword, the pistol.  Three weapons and so much determination to put an end to her life…

But who really killed her?  The Marquis’ two brothers of course.  But why?  Violence of unrequited desire?  Obtuse hate from two good-for-nothings?  Sordid interest, exalted by the husband’s complicity?

Surely.  But in this strange crime, of a cruelty perhaps without example in this century which counts however some terrifying ones, there was also the Marquise’s haunting certainty that she was going to be killed.  Contagious terror of assassination with which the clairvoyants had inoculated her, fear of being killed which engendered the assassins.

Vertigo in fact, which can wrap itself around everybody:  he who thinks himself to be persecuted and those who become persecutors.  Banal, sordid story of an inheritance, too?  Doubtless.  But, above all, murderous folly unleashed by a prediction.  When one believes that all is fated, all is then fated.  And he who believes the worst attracts the worst…

***

To be continued.

The Marquise de Ganges

The Marquise de Ganges

Back in Avignon, the future Marquise de Ganges tells her fiance about the gruesome prediction of her death.  The Marquis de Ganges is twenty years old.  He bursts out laughing.  Their wedding takes place in January 1658, followed by memorable festivities.  The young woman is now the Marquise de Ganges, an adorable creature of whom Saint-Simon has just said that her eyes “are a miracle of tenderness and vivacity”

The Marquis de Ganges has two brothers.  One fancies himself to be a great lover, and is a spendthrift.  So much so that, in two seasons, he has managed to go through all of his inheritance.  The other is a priest.  A strange priest who gambles, runs after women and drinks too much.  The two brothers, who don’t get along, are at least in agreement on one point:  they find their sister-in-law excessively desirable and their attendance at her home is assiduous.

The Marquis de Ganges is there a lot less.  He is often in Paris, attempting to make a career for himself by being present at Court and, very soon after his wedding, indulging in love affairs.  He is still just as charming, and his wife, who is delighted to see him whenever he cares to return home, consoles herself in his absence by looking after their two children…

In the XVIIth Century, Avignon, which belonged to the Pope, was ruled by Roman Law which forbade a husband administering his wife's possessions.  Diane was therefore sole mistress of her fortune.

In the XVIIth Century, Avignon, which belonged to the Pope, was ruled by Roman Law which forbade a husband administering his wife’s possessions. Diane was therefore sole mistress of her fortune.

Until the day when she learns – there is always some kind soul to tell you these things – that her husband is unfaithful to her and that he is spending enormous amounts of money.  Her money, in fact, for she is a lot richer than he.  So the poor little Marquise begins to worry.  Even more so because she is unable to confide in anyone.  Particularly not her two brothers-in-law, who continually look her over with concupiscent eyes and are waiting only for a moment’s weakness to throw themselves on her.  And what does an unhappy woman do?  She goes to consult fortune-tellers.  Not La Voisin this time, of course.  This time it is another who is installed in Avignon, which allows her to visit her parents at the same time.  This fortune-teller is very good too because at the moment that she turns over the first tarot cards, she sighs:

“Jesus Mary!  You will die young…”

The Marquise asks whether there is no way to escape this fate.  The fortune-teller studies the cards for a long time, then finally says:

“Give everything that you own to your husband!”

The unhappy Marquise knows that this is practically done already, for she has just had word from Versailles.  The clairvoyant insists.

“Give him everything and retire quickly to a convent…  Sweet Jesus!  I see death everywhere!  The convent, I see only that to lengthen your life…  The death of someone close to you will soon announce your own!”

The Marquise asks how she will die.

The fortune-teller hesitates, then, as livid as the Marquise, she finally reveals:

“I still see death…  But I have never seen it like this.  My cards tell me that you will die three times!”

Neither the clairvoyant, nor the Marquise, knows what this means.

***

Her children are now a bit older and her brothers-in-law are pressing her each day to go hunting with them.  Finally, she agrees to go with them.  But they have barely entered the garrigue than the priest tells her that she is driving him crazy with desire and that he wants her immediately.  She resists him and, with difficulty, manages to flee.  He calls after her that he is going to get her anyway and that he will tell the Marquis that she has lots of lovers, and that he will believe him and is a violent man.

Another day, when they are alone in the big house, the other brother-in-law, the knight, attempts to rape her.  She manages to escape, leaving her pretty pink tulle corset behind.  The perverse priest and the disgusting knight hate her terribly from then on.  Meanwhile, the husband drifts from place to place, travelling, gallant at Versailles, gambler in Paris…

Joannis de Nochere, the Marquise de Ganges’ grandfather, has just died.  He leaves a colossal fortune to his granddaughter.  One of the biggest fortunes in France.  The marriage contract clearly states that these riches are not part of the dowry.  They belong to the Marquise alone, and she can dispose of them as she wishes, either by donation, or by Will.  Is it the repeated predictions, the increased hate of her brothers-in-law or the more and more revolting behaviour of her husband?  The little Marquise is now filled with fear which throws shadows at night on the walls of her bedchamber, which infiltrates in daylight the long corridors of her home and even appears to rise from the fountains and cypress trees in her vast garden.  She tells her governess:

“I am sure now, Nanette.  They want to kill me.  Yesterday, the priest gave me a cream dessert which had a bad taste.”

***

To be continued.

The Marquise de Ganges

The Marquise de Ganges

It is 1656, in the ancient quarter of Saint-Germain-des-Pres, whose narrow alley ways and high houses, the tops of which touch each other above the street, have always favourized the most equivocal fermentings of the mind.  In this sombre XVIIth Century, throughout which flames regularly devour witches, the little Rue d’Hautefeuille, bordered on one side by a disused Jewish cemetery and on the other by student lodgings, is no exception.  It could even be said that inside the few houses with little towers in this street, magi and fortune-tellers, adept in all types of mancies, are in charge of Paris.

One October afternoon, a young woman who is barely twenty years old, wearing deep mourning, has her carriage stop at the entrance to this little street.  If she wasn’t completely veiled, it could be seen that she is very beautiful.   So beautiful that the whole of the Court of the young Sun-King [Louis XIV] is ecstatic about it.  So beautiful that the Queen of Sweden, visiting Versailles, cannot refrain from saying:

“In all of the kingdoms that I have crossed, I have never met a woman who can compare to this beautiful Provencale!”

This beauty had been married at thirteen to an amiable officer fifteen years her senior.  She had very much loved him.  But he had recently died at sea after seven years of a happy union.  Now, his young widow is about to remarry, in obedience to her parents’ wishes.  This time her husband will be a gentleman of her own age, the Marquis de Ganges, Governor of Saint-Andre-de-Majencoules, an advanced post in the Cevennes.  The Marquis is also very beautiful, and so joyful!  Always dressed in the latest fashion, frequenting the best Parisian tailors, he is to be seen at Versailles at both the Petit and the Grand Risings.  He is always hunting, often in the King’s company.  He is exactly the same age as Louis XIV.  To resume, he is a perfect cavalier, who will go magnificently with this young, rich heiress…

Catherine Deshayes, wife of Monvoisin

Catherine Deshayes, wife of Monvoisin

A high oak door, flanked by torches, a flight of marble steps, and the young woman is at the lodgings of Catherine Deshayes, the wife of Monvoisin, whose profession is fortune-teller.  Upon entering the vestibule of the one whom the Greats, her clients, call La Voisin, the future Marquise has a moment’s hesitation.  She is shown a sinister hallway all hung in black and constellated with cabalistic signs.  But the maid leads her smilingly towards the magician’s lair.  The place has obviously been decorated by a succubus with refined taste and everything is intended to put the visitor in the right mood.  Between the standing statue of Belzebuth and a set of mirrors which allow people from the Past and from the Future to be seen, La Voisin lolls in an Egyptian armchair.  Fascinated, the young woman contemplates behind her a very crude allegory representing lust…

Draped in dark taffeta studded with little green dragons, her face hidden under a sort of nun’s cornette, La Voisin appears wary at first, and wants to know why the young woman has come to her.

“In a few days, I will have to make a capital decision.  I would like your spirits to advise me.”

The magician relaxes and tells her that she will ask them to answer her.  She asks her not to say anything but to write down, on the piece of paper that she hands to her, the questions that she wants to ask the spirits.  The young woman does not want to write anything down, fearing that the paper could be used against her.  La Voisin assures her that she will burn the paper before her eyes.

The young woman takes the pen which is being held out to her, backs away and writes two lines on the paper, which she then gives to the clairvoyant, who rolls it into a ball and drops it immediately into the mouth of a furnace where aromatic herbs are burning.  Using an elementary sleight-of-hand, La Voisin has of course hidden the paper on which is written:

“Am I young?  Am I beautiful?  Am I a girl, a woman, or a widow?  Should I marry or remarry?  Will I live a long life, will I soon die?”

She leaves, having made an appointment to return in three days.  The time needed by the spirits to come up with the answers.  The time needed by La Voisin to gather information from one of her many spies who investigate for her around Paris…

When the future Marquise returns, she hears this:

“You are young, you are beautiful, you are a widow.  Soon you will remarry…”

Then, touching the head of a stuffed salamander with big orange spots, she concentrates for a moment then says this, which is true clairvoyance:

“I have to tell you…  yes… I have to tell you, that you are going to die young!”

The young woman wants to know whether the cards ever make a mistake.  La Voisin replies that they rarely do.  The young woman begs her to try again.  The fortune-teller slowly rises and goes towards her oven.  In a recipient she takes a pinch of resin which she rolls in what appears to be incense, then throws the little ball into the fire.

A green and blue flame rises, which she carefully inspects.  She turns back toward the young woman.

“There is little hope…  You will die young from a violent death!”

***

To be continued.

The Master of the Hunt

According to Sully, Henri IV met the Master of the Hunt in the Fontainebleau Forest.

According to Sully, Henri IV met the Master of the Hunt in the Fontainebleau Forest.

It is the 8 September 1598.  A group of hunters are riding in the Fontainebleau Forest.  At their head is a cavalier who speaks loudly with a rough accent.  His dress is neglected, his big nose reddened, his beard and moustache badly maintained, his fingernails black with dirt, a fairly strong smell emanates from him.  This is King Henri IV of France.

Since morning, the royal hunt has been travelling through the underbrush in pursuit of a stag.  Soon, they will stop in a clearing to eat some little meat patties and empty numerous flasks of Jurancon wine which the King has transported with him in all of his outings.  However, for the moment, they haven’t had anything to drink – and it is important to stress this fact.

Suddenly, the King stops his horse and tells everyone to listen.  All the cavaliers obey.  They then hear, coming from a distant place, which they estimate to be about half a league away, that is to say around two kilometres, the voices of a pack of hounds, cries and sounding of horns…

The King asks his companions if they too can hear hunting horns and hounds.  The Count of Soissons, who has cupped his big hand around his ear, nods and declares that it is astounding.  The King would like to know who it is who dares to hunt at the same time as himself.  Someone suggests that it could be an echo of their own horns.  The King dismisses this explanation:

“Our horns have never sounded any of the airs that we are hearing now…  Listen…”

It is true, the music coming to their ears – of course very muffled by the distance and the forest’s density – does not correspond to any of the airs which have accompanied the group’s hunt since morning.  The King decides to investigate.

He is about to spur his horse when, suddenly, the same sounding of horns, the same cries, the same hound voices explode at twenty paces from him, as if, by some spell, the mysterious hunt had made a prodigious leap through the forest.

Astonished, the King and his friends turn toward the track near them whence the noise of the horns and hounds seems to be coming.  The track is empty.  The King asks if anyone can see anything.  They see only the sun playing on the ferns, through the trees.

And yet, the hunters, the horns, the noisy pack are there, close by.  Calling voices, neighing horses, metallic sounds, like weapons clashing, can be heard.

Suddenly, these sounds, these noises, these fanfares move.  They were coming from the right, now they are coming from the front, then the left, then from behind, then, again, from the right.  Invisible, the phantom hunt slowly circles the King and his companions.  Henri IV is worried.  He orders Soissons to go to see what is happening.

Anxiously, the Count heads his horse towards the place whence the noise is coming and soon returns to say that he sees nothing but, like everyone else, he can hear the hounds and the horns.

At this moment, a big, dark, bearded man with long hair and flaming eyes surges from the underbrush and cries out in a terrible voice:

“You wanted to see me!  Here I am!”

Then he turns toward Henri IV and says:

“Turn over a new leaf!”

And he disappears.

Immediately, there is silence in the forest.  Not one cry, no sound of hounds, no horns, not a hoof beat.  The phantom hunt seems to have evaporated.  The King orders his companions to find the man.

They search the thickets, the bushes, the ferns, they look at trees, clumps of rocks, nothing!  The strange person has also disappeared.  The King decides to question the peasants.

And without a word, almost without a sound, everyone starts off and heads towards Fontainebleau.  All of them seem to feel superstitious fear to the point that no-one dares to break the silence.  Not even the King, who is usually so talkative, so joyful, so prompt to jest.

After half-an-hour of travelling along tracks of moss and Spring ferns, the little troop arrives in a clearing where there are tree fellers and charcoal smokers.  Henri IV calls to them and explains that he has seen a mysterious person surge in front of him like a devil, his eyes full of sparks.  The woodsmen nod their heads and tell him that it is the Master of the Hunt who often hunts around there.  The King wants to know who this Master of the Hunt is.

“It’s a ghost who roams in the forest…  Oh!  He’s apparently not nasty.  We see him from time to time.  But to tell the truth, we don’t like it much…  Once I saw the Master of the Hunt near Franchard.  He came out of the ground, right there, in front of me…  He was two strides away.  He looked at me for a good moment without saying anything.  I didn’t dare move.  Then he laughed out loud and disappeared little by little like smoke…”

The Count of Soissons asks:

“And you say that this Master of the Hunt is a ghost?”

“For sure he’s not a human like us.  It’s the Master of the Hunt!  Or the Black Hunter as he’s sometimes called.  Sometimes, he’s accompanied by a whole invisible hunt.  A hunt that makes the devil of a noise, with dogs, cries, horns…”

The King tells him that that was what they had heard.

“Well then, it’s the Saint Hubert Hunt.”

And the woodsman explains that it is a mysterious hunt composed of ghosts of men and ghosts of dogs who have been haunting the Fontainebleau Forest for a long time.

Most impressed, Henri IV and his companions return to the castle where they recount their adventure.

And the whole French kingdom soon learns and marvels, that the King of France had met a ghost…

***

Many questions have been raised about this story and the craziest suppositions have been made.  First of all, it was thought that an attempt on the King’s life had been made, then that it was a diabolical apparition…  Finally, people with no imagination concluded that the sovereign had been tricked by facetious poachers who had had fun imitating the sound of horns and the voices of hounds.  Henri IV had therefore been the victim of a joke.

***

If it were poachers, why did they tell him to “turn over a new leaf”?

It was said that the dark man who told Henri IV to "turn over a new leaf" was supposed to frighten the King and prevent his marriage to Gabrielle d'Estrees.

It was said that the dark man who told Henri IV to “turn over a new leaf” was supposed to frighten the King and prevent his marriage to Gabrielle d’Estrees.

In April 1599, that is to say eight months after the incident in the Fontainebleau Forest, Gabrielle d’Estrees, whom the King was about to marry, died of poison, and Henri IV took for wife the overweight Marie de Medicis.  Rumours then began.  It was murmured that at Fontainebleau, the King had not been the victim of a bad joke, but of a plot cooked up by a high-placed person.  Which one?  The Papal Legate.

The Papal Legate – who was in Paris at this time – was Alexandre de Medicis, who wanted the King of France to marry his fat cousin.  And it is explained that, to strike the King’s mind and bring him to repudiate Gabrielle, the Legate contacted the famous poachers and gave them the task of setting up the whole thing.  Which is supposedly why the Master of the Hunt was accompanied by a phantom hunt and why he told the King to turn over a new leaf…

***

Although this explanation was accepted by all of the contemporary chroniclers, the story does not end there.  In 1625, in 1647 and in 1672, the Master of the Hunt appears again to stag hunters, still accompanied by his invisible whippers-in and his phantom pack of hounds.  And in 1698, it is Louis XIV himself who sees him.  He would say:

“A person of supernatural appearance surged before me, making my horse rear, and addressed a few words to me.”

Words that the King never repeated.

And that is not all.  In 1897, an English tourist who was riding a bicycle in Fontainebleau Forest, recounted that she had met, near the Croix du Grand-Maitre, a dark man who had surged from a bush and who ran with the lightness of a deer, calling out:

“Yak, Yak, Yak…”

***

These periodical apparitions of frightening men could be simply scruffy, threatening-looking people roaming the forest, whom imagination and the memory of legends transform into supernatural beings.  They could also be hallucinations, “concrete ghosts”, according to one psychoanalyst.  In this case, Freud explains that the hunter is, of course, a sexual symbol because he is hairy!…  Apart from this interpretation, the hypothesis of an hallucination – individual or collective – should perhaps not be rejected for the Master of the Hunt is a character who is found in most Western folklore.  In the North of Europe, for example, he is called the Black Hunter.

***

The invisible hunt is an extremely widespread myth.  In the Blesois, it is the flying hunt of Thibault le Tricheur, in Touraine the Briquette Hunt, the Arquin Hunt or the Menee d’Helquin.  In Berry, it is Rigaud’s Hunt or Baudet’s Hunt;  in Bourbonnais, the Maligne Hunt or the Gayere Hunt;  in Bretagne, the Gallery Hunt;  In the Maine, the Artus Hunt led by the famous King Artus who governed the Bretons in the IVth Century;  in the Orleanais, King Hugon’s Hunt;  in Sweden, Odin’s Hunt;  in Germany, the Wooden Heer.

***

George Sand studied these strange phenomena and collected a few.  Madeleine Bosquet, the author of a work on Normandie romanesque et merveilleuse, published a certain number of witness statements which are rather troubling.

One night when Ronsard was returning home, near Vendome, the poet, who was a bit deaf, heard the sound of a hunt and saw a cavalier appear who wanted to take him up behind him.  Anyone else would have made the sign of the cross to make this vision go away.  Ronsard, who had been a soldier, preferred to draw his sword, and everything disappeared.

But this meeting troubled him to the point that he noted his impressions in a poem, which I shall not try to translate here.

***

He was the runt of the litter.   His mother was a beauty queen with many prizes to her credit.

She had not been an enthusiastic participant in her mating with a much older dog at a distant kennel.  Her resentment had grown during her pregnancy and her owners had watched her very carefully during the whelping.  It was feared that she might decide to devour her puppies.

The thought might have crossed her mind, but she chose to just glare balefully at any human who came into sight.  Humans had betrayed her.  She, a prizewinning pedigree Pekinese bitch, who could trace her ancestors back to intimate companions to emperors, some of whom had even been suckled by the aristocratic ladies of the Court, had been humiliated.

She had been taken away from her territory, dumped unceremoniously into a strange room, and before she had had time to adjust to her new surroundings, That Dog had invaded her space.  And her person.  She had tried to refuse, both haughtily and very firmly, but it was his territory, so she had had to submit.  She could have fought him, but she was too frightened.  And bewildered.  Why had her humans done this to her?

The smell of him had lingered, even after her next shampoo.  It came back in waves.  Even now, after the birth of her puppies, she could still smell him.  Then there was The Runt.

He was much smaller than the others and she just knew that there was something wrong with him.  It wasn’t his size, nor the fact that his nose jutted out slightly – a hideous fault, which certainly didn’t come from her side.  (There was obviously bad blood in That Dog.)  It was something more subtle.  She couldn’t quite put her paw on it, but she knew that he shouldn’t be encouraged to live.

She tried to prevent him suckling.  Somehow, he managed to sneak to a teat while, exhausted, she was taking a well-earned nap.

After the puppies’ eyes had opened, humans started to visit the new mother.  They ooh-ed and ah-ed over the puppies – and ignored her completely.

Before her maternity, she had been the kennel’s star attraction.  Torn between indignation at being ignored and maternal pride, she decided that it was time to examine The Runt’s case more closely.

Apart from The Nose, everything about him was perfect show material.  His legs were beautifully bowed, his eyes bulged as they should, his socks were just the right height, his rusty markings were beautiful, his tail curled as it ought.  He was small of course, but the unavoidable defect was indubitably those few millimetres of Nose.  The perfect Pekinese nose is flat against the face, and this one wasn’t.

However, it wasn’t his physical appearance that repelled her.  It was something else.  A feeling.  He had to go.

She tried suffocation.  Pekinese jaws open to a surprising (and often very frightening) size.  She wrapped them around the runt’s neck and held her mouth shut.  She didn’t try to bite.  She just waited.  A kennel maid saw her and, with much shrieking, alerted the owners.  The Runt was removed from her jaws and she was accused of trying to bite off his head.  Which was quite untrue.  The time for eating him would have been at his birth.  It was much too late now.

She made a second attempt at suffocation a few days later, but was again thwarted.  After that, she was constantly watched, so she gave up trying to rid the world of her defective offspring.

***

My parents visited the kennel and were introduced to the now weaned Runt.  He had a very aristocratic pedigree name, but Daddy christened him Cheng with an acute accent on the “e”.  I don’t know why.  Was he trying to make the name sound French?  If so, why?  I don’t even know why he chose a Pekinese.  The only possible reason which comes to mind is that our next-door neighbours had a Pekinese.  An affable gentleman whose bulging eyes became completely blind and were further damaged by the poor old thing constantly running into things while roaring around the yard.  He was eventually helped to a merciful end.  However, when Cheng arrived home, our canine neighbour could still see and was very interested in the puppy next-door.

***

Cheng had been in our home for a few days and was poking his head into every cupboard he could reach, as soon as it was opened.  Mummy was kneeling in front of the open saucepan cupboard and Cheng’s head was inside.  Mummy sneezed.  The sound echoed through the cupboard and Cheng screeched, shot across the room, and cowered up against the wall, near the back door.  He was in the corner sitting on his backside with his front paws pawing the air.  Later, Mummy taught him to “clap hands” while in this position – a variation on this first pawing of the air.   However, he avoided going near the open saucepan cupboard again.

***

Cheng once appeared in a play.  I don’t remember the name of it, but the lady who carried him onstage (he was playing her lap-dog) was Miss Lorna Taylor.  I called her Auntie Lorna because, in our family, children did not address adults by their first names.  It was disrespectful.  Close family friends were given the honorary title of “aunt” or “uncle”.  Everyone else was Mr, Mrs or Miss.  We didn’t know any Lords, Ladies or knights at the time.

Cheng was usually taken home after his last scene in the play.  However, on the last night, he was allowed to take his curtain call with the rest of the cast.  Auntie Lorna carried him onstage and the audience applauded – and so did Cheng.  He sat up in Auntie Lorna’s arms and “clapped hands” with all his might.  The audience went wild.  It was his greatest moment.  He quite stole the curtain call from the other actors.

***

Cheng was my first dog and I loved him.  After a few years, he started biting anyone who entered his yard, including me.  He would come roaring down from the other end and fasten his teeth onto my calf.  I would drag him along with me as I walked.  Mummy was worried about it but, after he bit my face, his days with us were numbered.

For some time, he had been refusing to allow anyone to groom him and his long fur was matted.  We had bite marks on our hands from our attempts to even cut out some of the knots.

One day, I came home from school to find my mother in tears.  She had called the R.S.P.C.A. to take him away.  I thought that I would never forgive her.

She told me that, when the people had come for him, he had sat up and “clapped hands” for them.  The lady had said to Mummy, “How can you bear to part with him?”  Mummy had explained about the biting and refusal of grooming and recommended that they find a home for him without children.

***

It has been suggested that he might have suffered brain damage when his mother was trying to destroy him.  I now think that he could have been missing performing and was depressive.

***

I don’t know where he went.  I never saw him again.

I remember there being a photo of him onstage during his curtain call.  The photo was taken from the wings.  However, I haven’t been able to find it, and I don’t remember any other photos of him.

***

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.  Thank you WordPress for preparing this for me.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 51,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 12 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

Charles IX of France.

In Spring 1574, there is plotting everywhere and the troubles which are shaking the kingdom demand an urgent solution for the future.  What is going to happen to the young monarch?  Will his mother, Catherine de Medicis, renounce all authority over the kingdom?

Cosme Ruggieri, the Queen Mother’s astrologist, convinces her, for whom her dynasty’s interests pass before all else, to hold the darkest of ceremonies of divination, the ceremony of the talking head…

On the night of 28 May 1574, we are at Vincennes inside one of the castle’s nine towers, the one still called today the Devil’s Tower.  The Queen Mother is there, with two of her inner circle and her son who, breathless, is shivering with fever and can barely stand.  An altar has been erected and is covered in a black cloth.  A statue, draped in a triple black veil, represents the Mother of the Shadows, the goddess of suicides and madness, the divinity for whom the Mass is to be served.

Catherine de Medicis.

Candles, also black, light this altar on which there is placed an ebony chalice, filled with coagulated blood and two communion wafers, one white, the other black.  The man who is going to say this Mass is an apostate monk, converted to magic…

Into the middle of this lugubrious meeting a little boy of ten advances.  He is a kidnapped Jewish child who has been prepared for a long time for this communion.  He has been dressed in a white gown, is as beautiful as he is innocent and is waiting to receive God.  The magician begins the service by planting on the altar a long dagger, the handle of which represents a snake, then he recites invocations to the Virgin, launches anathemae to the God of the Christians, and consecrates the wafers to Satan.  The child, who doesn’t know what is happening, joins his hands and closes his eyes to receive the white wafer on his tongue.  But he has barely taken  communion than one of the infernal priest’s assistants plunges a dagger into his neck.  Then it is the dull clang of a sword which rings on the altar stone:  the child has just been decapitated and the magician brandishes this poor, little, innocent head and places it on the black wafer in a big, silver paten…

Bewitchment seance organized before Catherine de Medicis by Cosme Ruggieri.

The young sovereign has been forewarned.  It is at this precise instant that he must lean over and ask the head a question.  The head would answer him, and reveal all the future to him.

Trembling, this unnatural Prince approaches and asks his question in an unintelligible voice.  They wait.  Appalling silence.  Finally, a sigh escapes the child’s dead lips and they think that they hear that this sigh signifies:

“I am forced to do it!…  I am forced to do it!”

That is all.  Then the sound of a body falling.  It is the King, already agonizing, who has just fainted.  Salts are applied and he is brought to his senses.  He struggles and lets out appalling screams:

“Take that thing away from me!  Take that thing away from me!… “

He is rushed back to his bedchamber.  He is now delirious, he sees blood everywhere, he is sinking into a river of blood.  He spends the next two days like this in terror and hallucinations then dies on 30 May.  He was barely twenty-five years old.  At the autopsy, it is seen that his heart was all shrivelled, as if it had been exposed for a long time to fire…

***

This is a true story.  The bronze bewitchment was reported by the Spanish Ambassador to France, Don Francis of Avala, who on 8 June 1569 told the story to Phillip II, with the precision that “every day, the Italian watches the nativity of the three persons and his astrolabe, then tightens and loosens  the screws”

As for the Mass of the decapitated head, it was related in detail by the great jurist Jean Bodin, the author of La Republique and founder of modern Economics.  He was also the Secretary of the Duke of Anjou, Catherine de Medicis’ last son, therefore well-placed to know about it.  Jean Bodin had only one fault:  he absolutely believed in witches and recommended that the most rigorous punishments be meted out to them…

***

The Saint-Barthelemy Massacre was basically only a big, ritual sacrifice.

Stories of talking heads have always been part of the florilege of magical beliefs, although we don’t know their origin.  It is also known that Gerbert, the Pope of the year 1000, was reputed to have built a talking head, which had the gift of revealing the future.  But this was, of course, only a legend founded on this pontiff’s vast knowledge in Astronomy and Mathematics.  In the XIIIth Century, Albert the Great is said to have also had such a head as well as an automaton, capable, it was believed, of human behaviour.  This belief was also part of the bewitchments of the Middle Ages and has its origin in the immense scientific knowledge of Albert, to whom Chemistry owes discoveries of the greatest importance:  gold refining, the treatment of sulphur, the action of acids on metals, etc.  Like Gerbert, he passed for a wizard and the confusion that was made at the time between science and magic also explains that were attributed to him the paternity of the Grand and the Petit Albert, the collections of popular magic, the success of which persisted , in the Occident, for half a millenium.

***

To conciliate evil powers, Catherine de Medicis wore permanently at her neck a big talisman made from human blood, billy-goat blood and metal which had been melted during a favorable astral conjunction.  She lived surrounded by magi, deviners and astrologists, and it is on Ruggieri’s indications that she had built in the Soissons hotel an octogonal tower orientated on the cardinal points, whence her favorite magician could observe the stars and do his horoscopes.  A column of this still exists, nearly thirty metres high, included in the walls of what is today the Bourse de Commerce in Paris…

***

Catherine de Medicis permanently wore this cabalistic talisman made from human and billy-goat blood.

Ruggieri would survive almost thirty years longer than Catherine de Medicis and would remain the unmoveable oracle of several great princes of the kingdom.  Charles IX’s brother, Henri III, also given to black magic, would use him to send spells to the ligueurs and their chiefs, the Guises.  Not without success, since the two most illustrious representatives of this Roman Catholic family, for a long time more powerful than the kings of France, are assassinated, at the end of numerous acts of bewitchment.  The Guises returned the favour:  every day, the faithful were ordered to Notre-Dame to pierce wax effigies representing the royal family, there…  Henri III had brought from Spain at great expense all the grimoires of magic which are in fashion at Phillip II’s Court…  to make counter-spells!

The whole of France would believe that the regicide dagger which killed him in 1589 had been placed in Jacques Clement’s hand by larvae, magically formed during hate ceremonies.

***

Hate ceremonies are one of the essential ingredients of black magic, the final goal of which is vengeance, the awakening of interior negative powers, with their cortege of unhealthy desires, as opposed to white magic, of which the aim is to heal and to uncover secrets which can transform life in a positive manner.

***

Ruggieri was to be found at the side of Concini and Marie de Medicis, after the assassination of Henri IV, who didn’t much like his magic which he called “effeminate foolishness”…  To Concini who would occultly govern France for three years, he taught magic and was even more popular at Court after he predicted Henri IV’s assassination, having already tried to bewitch him.  Implicated in a witchcraft trial, he once more survived, but was very wary from then on and would live from the sale of almanachs which were very popular with the little people, who were superstitious.  He wrote them under the name of  “Querberus”.

Finally, he died very old, and despite the insistence of his protector Concini, the Archbishop of Paris refused him a christian burial, having his body thrown into the road.  The wise man didn’t care anyway, for he believed in neither God nor the devil but only, as the good Florentine that he was, in the power of the greats, and in daggers and poison.

***

Ruggieri was the standard-bearer of that generation of clever adventurers who appeared in France, destabilized by the Wars of Religion.  But more than his magic, it was his intelligence and his strength of character, without counting his absolute cynicism, to which he owed his career.  More than any other, he was able to make his own these words from the frightening Leonora Galigai, Concini’s wife, who at the moment of being condemned to death, declared proudly to the judge:

“My spells were the power that strong souls have over weak souls!”…

***

Charles IX would take part in an appalling, bloody ceremony of black magic organized by his mother and Cosme Ruggieri, at Vincennes.

Lost in the depths of the Parisian Marais, the little Sourdis backstreet, which still today has its milestones and its stream, once sheltered the workshops of artisans and smelters in the Wars of Religion era.  At which time, one of them is occupied by a German master bell founder, who has been brought in at great expense from Mayence.  No-one has ever seen this artisan, who lives in the workshop and never goes out.  He receives his orders from a little man always dressed in black, who is of phenomenal ugliness with his little beard and his enormous nose which is even more pointed than it is wide, which denotes, apart from evil, Mediterranean origins…

Every day, a carriage leaves the little man in black at the entrance to the backstreet.  In his round Italian-style shoes, always wearing a felt hat on his head, he hurries to close the door behind him:  in fact, it has been six months now since the master founder from the other side of the Rhine has been seen outside.  Inside, his work is taking shape.  It is three statues for which he firstly made a mould from three full-length portraits of the French Huguenot chiefs Conde, Coligny and Andelot.  The previous day, he had broken the moulds after having poured the metal alloy and for hours, he has been cleaning up the bronze to make the statues smooth and shiny.  Now, they are lined up over there, deep inside the workshop, life-size and ready to be taken away.  But the founder who has worked without any assistance – it was a clause of his contract – has not yet completely finished his work…

He lays the statues on their sides on a workbench and attaches them to it.  Then, he starts to drill holes in diverse parts of the metal, the joints and the chest in particular.  Holes which have the diameter of steel screws of which he has made a certain number as well.  He verifies one more time that they fit the holes properly and then, looking infinitely tired, he gathers his tools in a bag and waits.

The little man has come back and is inspecting his work attentively.  Then he counts out thirty double ducats of gold, takes him amicably by the shoulders and leads him to the door.  There, he stands back to let the man pass.  The man has not taken three steps into the narrow lane before he falls, his back pierced by a dozen sword thrusts…

There is no flicker of emotion on the little man in black’s face.  He comes back slowly towards the statues, pulls from his pocket a book written in Hebrew characters and, looking fixedly at the effigy of Conde, begins to chant invocations, while slowly, very slowly tightening the screws…

Catherine de Medicis had “bronze bewitchments” performed against the huguenot chiefs, Conde, Coligny and Andelot.

This is what is known as a “bronze bewitchment”, and the little man who is at work is the favourite astrologer of Catherine de Medicis.  His name is Cosme Ruggieri and he is the son of Laurent the Magnificent’s doctor, one of the greatest scholars of the Italian Renaissance.  Continually up against her subjects’ religious divisions, the Lady Regent, who has just signed the precarious Saint-Germain peace treaty, esteems that Coligny’s influence on her son Charles IX is redoubtable.  The Florentine adventurer has offered to get rid of him by magic.  Already, fifteen years before these events, in 1559, he had predicted to the Queen the death of her spouse Henri II in the famous Tournelles tournament, and Catherine, who is more and more given to superstition and undertakes nothing without referring to her augures, has accepted.  It is not that she unreservedly believes in these spells and she knows that nothing is possible without that luck which has so often shone on her, assisted it is true by the typically Medicis use of poison…

Has the bronze bewitchment succeeded?  A few months later, Conde falls from his horse in the Battle of Jarnac and is killed in cowardly fashion by Montequiou, a gentleman of the Royal Guard.  Andelot, Admiral Coligny’s brother, follows a few months later, expedited by a bad herbal tea.  However, the doctors who practise the autopsy of the two bodies are adamant:  on the chest, the thighs and the joints of the arms, the two men bear very clear stigmata…

As for Coligny, he falls seriously ill but would resist another three years, until the knife of the German Besme, employed by the Guises, kills him, along with the thousands of other victims of the Saint-Barthelemy.

“The more dead there are, the fewer enemies there are!”

comments Catherine de Medicis, while deploring that the massacre had also made an unexpected victim:  her own son Charles IX.  At the age of twenty-four, he looks like an old man, whose blood-spitting increases every time that the horrible images of the massacre return to his troubled mind.  He knows that his brother, the Duke of Alencon, is waiting for his death to take over the throne.  Against Catherine and the King, he has even formed a Party, “the Discontented”, which disapproves of the Saint-Barthelemy Massacre and wants to take measures of appeasement.  Not brilliant either, is the Duke of Alencon, mainly occupied in trying to wear the crown, even at the price of the death of his brother.  But the implacable Catherine is watching.  She discovers a plot, fomented by two close friends of the Duke, the Count de La Mole, lover of Marguerite de Navarre, the witty, nymphomaniac “Queen Margot”, daughter of Catherine and future wife of Henri IV, and a Piedmont noble, Annibal Coconas.  The conspirators are arrested and a correspondence is discovered which proves that Ruggieri not only has knowledge of it all, but that he has even been involved in the affair by preparing some little, wax statuettes stuck with pins…  One of them strikingly resembles Charles IX:  it is pierced in the heart by a sharp nail.  So Ruggieri, upon whom Catherine has been showering gifts, to the point of putting the Chateau de Chaumont at his disposition, where he has been spending enormous sums of money looking for alchemical gold, has been preparing bewitchments against her and her unfortunate son!…

The Florentine magician is a crook, but not a coward…  Atrociously tortured, he confesses nothing.  And he knows that the Queen is much too superstitious to dare to have him killed.  For appearances sake, he is sent for a while to the galleys.  Ruggieri would not go farther than the house of the Admiral whence there is a magnificent view over the Marseilles  harbour.  He would live there surrounded by luxury for a few months, making a profitable trade in horoscopes to while away the time.  Coconas and La Mole would not be as lucky:  they would be drawn and quartered by four horses and the pieces of their bodies nailed to the  gates of Paris.  So the guilty were punished.  But Charles IX’s health does not get any better.  To counter the bad spell, Catherine de Medicis pardons Ruggieri and has him brought back to her side…

We are by now in Spring 1574, and it is in this year that would take place the most appalling scenes of black magic in History.

To be continued.

I’ve been away for a while but have joined the Friday Fictioneers again this week.  Madison is very busy and might not be posting a story – although, she might surprise us – but the link to her page where all of the other links to our stories are to be found is:

http://madison-woods.com/index-of-stories/081012-2/

Or, you can click on the number beside the little blue creature underneath my story.

Photo copyright: S. K Wenzel

She sat watching bubbles break in the rock pool beneath.  Concentric circles spread wider and wider while a pair of ear-like shells lay empty.  Like her life.

Where had her bubbles gone?  Where were her concentric circles of friends?  Why was her life an empty shell?  Why was she sitting here alone?

It was true that she didn’t like noise and preferred secluded places.  However, that did not mean that she was unwilling to share her favourite spots.  Where, in this busy, noisy world, could she find someone with similar tastes?

“It’s beautiful here, isn’t it?”  spoke a quiet voice above her head.

 


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