In 1568, in France, the marriage of the vivacious Charles de Quellenec, Baron du Pont – a Celtic language Breton – to the gracious Catherine de Parthenay de Soubise was celebrated in great pomp.
Both spouses were of the reformed religion. The bride was just thirteen, but already serious and level-headed for her age. This was to be seen later on.
Early on in this union, a quarrel broke out between Quellenec and his mother-in-law, whose daughter had confided in her, at her instigation. The bride had admitted to her mother that she still had her virginity, and that the Baron did not seem to want to relieve her of it.
This admission dictated Mme de Soubise’s conduct. She immediately resolved to refer it to the ministers of her religion, who unanimously declared that there was only one remedy: separate the ewe from the fake ram, and call upon Justice to break the ties which united the two young people.
The first enquiry was conducted by some great ladies, who did not usually intervene in this sort of thing. The Queen of Navarre, the Princess of Conde, Mme d’Andelot successively came to carefully question the little baroness, blushing and naive, who confided in these high-ranking ladies, openly and without reticence.
The Queen then asked to hear the accused, who defended himself with dignity, accusing his mother-in-law of being at the origin of all these manoeuvres, which had no other aim but to take his wife from him. He offered, as well, to be submitted to all the tests that they thought necessary.
This was only a clever tactic. Straight after leaving the interview, the impetuous Baron, after a rather stormy discussion, took his wife to Basse-Bretagne, well resolved to keep her from her abductors.
Mme de Soubise decided to address herself to the King. The Baron pretended submission, even agreeing to sign a contract which drew up the conditions of a separation – and taking his wife away again, hid her from all searches.
The struggle lasted for long months, causing great joy to on-lookers, and things remained the way they were.
The mother-in-law then tried something else. She addressed herself directly to the Queen Mother, Catherine de Medicis in person. It was very bold to ask Catherine to take the part of a Huguenot woman against a Huguenot man. The wily Florentine must have spent a few joyful moments of gaiety because of it.
Mme de Soubise went as far as soliciting a consultation with the ministers of the Reformed Church. It was the first time that they had been called to pronounce on a question reserved for the officialities. On this subject, their answer merits being registered. It begins like this:
“We are asked if a married girl, being of sufficient age, of required corpulence, and with no natural defect, after having for a long time and by all sorts of reasonable tests, evidently known her husband to be neither potent, nor habilitated to make her a woman, so that she serves him only to suffer his pollution, can in good conscience live in this state with him, or if on the other hand she is held to ask to be separated from him?
“We answer, presupposing the fact to be such as above, that the girl of whom it is question cannot in good conscience continue such a pollution, so detestable before God and so dishonest before men.”
In such a case, the young woman
“must go before the magistrate and pursue by all legitimate means a way to be physically separated from him [her husband], either for a certain time, if the problem is curable, or forever, so that the said marriage is null, if the impotence is at all incurable”.
This was not the end of the quarrel between Mme de Soubise and her son-in-law. There were many other meanderings which we shall spare you.
It is not known if, in this case, the congress was really held (the witness report was not found) but we know the tragic end of the story. Baron du Pont, after a desperate resistance, perished a victim of the fury of the Catholics, during the unhappy day of the Saint-Barthelemy. Varillas tells us:
“His resistance was so long that those who saw him succumb only after having been pierced like a porcupine, gave a witness report that he was more of a man in combat, than he was in the conjugal bed.
“His body was dragged up to the door of the Louvre, where the pity which he must have inspired did not stop several ladies of the Court from having a curious look to see if there was any trace of the fault with which he had been reproached.”
It is said that Queen Catherine was in the front row of the indiscrete ladies who searched inside the unfortunate Huguenot’s breeches. This is probably just pure legend.
What happened to the young widow after this tragic event? The same thing as happens to most “inconsolable” widows: she married a second time and had several children.
To be continued.