Louise de Budos, Duchess of Montmorency

In the middle of the day, on 26 September 1598, a great cry of affliction rises in beautiful Chantilly Castle, which has only just been finished.  Louise de Budos, Duchess of Montmorency, has just expired, when she was perhaps going to give a second son to Connetable Henri, to perpetuate his race.  In Chantilly and Fontainebleau, where the Connetable has gone to deal with some business entrusted to him by Henri IV, people are stunned and pained.  Henri de Montmorency’s beloved spouse, so gentle and so beautiful, was only twenty-three years old.

Montmorency will return to his castle only for the funeral service and to ask the Feuillant Brothers to found a monastery at Chantilly.  Then, before retiring, desperate, inside his Mello house, he has the doors and windows of the room where the unfortunate Louise died, nailed shut.  Three months pass, then a rumour begins to run throughout the Oise countryside.  A rumour which appears incredible.  It is said inside noble and middle-class homes, as well as in the slums, that the Connetable has re-married.  It is even said that the new spouse is a certain Madame de Dizimieu, Louise’s aunt, who was already living in his home while the Duchess was alive.  And the sign of the cross is made, for this delay is too short and the union is contrary to canonic texts…

Pierre de l’Estoile, the great chronicler of the epoch, comments on the event like this:

“Died in this time at Chantilly, in the bloom of her years and of her age, Madame the Connetable, the flower of Court beauties, a hideous mirror of God’s justice in her end, which was with appalling despairs, fears and moanings, serving as instruction to this century’s courtiers of both sexes, to fear God and not to do as she did who gave herself to the devil, who paid him by her vanity and curiosity, vices which most of the lords and ladies of the Court today make their god!”

It can be seen that Pierre de l’Estoile makes no bones about accusing Louise de Budos of witchcraft.

The Duke of Saint-Simon reports the Duchess' story in his "Memoires".

One century later, Saint-Simon takes these facts and expands them with several witness reports.  Here is the strange story that the author of the famous Memoires makes of the event.  According to him, Louise de Budos, a young widow of eighteen, and her mother were beside the Connetable’s wife when she died in 1593.  Mother and daughter do what they can to relieve the pain of Montmorency who remains inconsolable for a long time.  One day when they are walking in the neighbourhood of Pezenas Castle, they meet a poor woman who asks for alms while holding a child in her arms.  Louise, moved at the sight of the baby, obliges her mother to give a few coins to the beggar-woman who gratefully thanks her and assures both women that if they wanted it, their charity would bear a thousand benedictions.  The condition is that they accept a ring that she holds out to them and which must be worn on the young widow’s finger.

Saint-Simon concludes:

“The advice was point by point followed and the Connetable married Louise de Budos”…

As we know, the story doesn’t end there and for five years little Louise and her great captain were perfectly happy.

Montmorency is frequently absent on campaigns beside the future Henri IV, who is doing what he can to hasten the time in France when every home will have chicken stew [poule au pot] on the menu.  Louise therefore often finds herself alone at Chantilly Castle which the Connetable has just had rebuilt.  One evening while she is with her aunt and the Count of Cramail, the entourage finds her complexion to be considerably altered.  Has she received some bad news about the Connetable?  Of course not, replies Louise who attempts to reassure her people.  A few days later, while she is on an after-dinner walk with these same two people, she suddenly leaves them, praying them not to move.  She advances towards a man who is standing at the corner of a pathway and seems to be waiting for her.  She joins him, stops beside him and talks to him for rather a long time.

When the man leaves, the aunt and Cramail join her, very intrigued.  The young woman appears so despondent that, this time, they have no doubts that she has just learnt some fatal news from the armies.  She again attempts to reassure them and is even more evasive and more depressed than the last time.

The next evening at dinner, when the desserts are about to be served, she is told that the man to whom she had spoken the day before is asking to speak to her again.  This visit appears to overwhelm her and she says aloud that she finds the man decidedly very pressing.  She prays that he be asked to wait, but leaves the table fairly quickly, firmly forbidding that anyone disturb her:  even if they were to hear some noise or the echoes of an eventual dispute, she insists.

Louise goes with her visitor to a study, situated near the Great Gallery, where she locks herself up with him.  The family, for the moment reduced, it is true, to her aunt and that gentleman, begin to find this comportment extraordinary.  For reasons which can appear just as singular to us, they leave her to confront the stranger for a whole twenty-four hours, and it is only in the evening after having held council with all of the people in charge of the castle, that they decide to knock on the door of the study.  It is locked from inside and they call and beg, but Louise does not answer.  They then resolve to break down the door.  A terrible sight awaits the witnesses:  Madame the Connetable is lying on the floor in a posture which freezes the witnesses in horror.  She is lying flat on her back, and her head has been twisted 180 degrees, so that her face is now completely turned toward the floor.  The face shows no sign of violence.

The unfortunate woman is of course dead and there reigns inside the room a sickening smell of sulphur.

To be continued.