Tag Archive: Henri IV


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.

***

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The duchess’ ghost

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.

Monsieur Berard does not believe in premonitory dreams and has never been interested in what we call today paranormal phenomena.  However, it seems to him that his nightmare is connected to the drama in which Maitre Arnaud is the victim.  Finally, he talks about it to a friend to whom, three years before, he had recounted his bad night at the inn.  He tells him that he has the impression that he had witnessed an assassination – three years in advance.

His friend just shrugs his shoulders.  So, Mr Berard, who wants to find out if it is true, goes to find the judge who is in charge of the enquiry into the lawyer’s disappearance.  He knows this magistrate well.  He tells him that, for reasons which he will explain later, he is greatly interested in Me Arnaud’s disappearance, and he would like his authorisation to be present at the interrogation of the “Rendez-vous des amis” innkeepers.  The judge tells him that he is in luck.  The woman is to be heard a little later.  He invites his fellow magistrate to remain in his chambers.

Half an hour later, a guard ushers in the inn-keeper’s wife who sits down without recognizing Mr Berard.  Interrogated by the judge, she says that a traveller whose description corresponds to that of Me Arnaud – he had big side-whiskers – came to her inn on the evening of 24 August, but that he hadn’t spent the night there.  She adds:

“Anyway, there are only two chambers;  they are above the main room, and, that night, both of them were occupied by carters.”

The judge asks her if that is all that she has to declare.  She replies that that is all.

The clerk is about to read her statement back to her, when, suddenly, Mr Berard intervenes:

“And the third chamber?”

The woman gives him a nasty look.

“What chamber?”

“The one above the stable!”

The woman pales and the young magistrate continues:

“I am going to tell you how it all happened:  Me Arnaud slept in this third chamber.  During the night, you came with your husband, you, holding a lantern, he, holding a long knife.  You climbed the outside staircase, you opened the door which is hidden by a curtain;  your husband plunged his knife into the lawyer’s throat, then he stole his watch and his purse…”

The judge, thunderstruck, looks from his colleague to the woman, who seems terrified.  Mr Berard continues:

“Then, you took the cadaver, your husband holding the feet, you the shoulders, and you descended it to the courtyard.  To light you, your husband held the lantern’s ring with his teeth.  After which, you hid your victim’s body under a pile of dung…”

The innkeeper’s wife is livid, her hands are trembling.  She murmurs:

“You saw everything!”

Mr Berard agrees:

“Everything!”

Then the woman falls to her knees and confesses.

The next day, Me Arnaud’s body is found hidden under a pile of dung…

***

There are two sources for this story:  Mr Berard, himself, who published it in Revue des Revues of 15 September 1895;  and the Chief of the Surete, Goron, who related it in his Memoires.

***

This is a very exceptional case of premonition, for it is not just a vague impression, or one of those dreams whose symbols have to be interpreted by a Key to Dreams.  Mr Berard saw, in all its details, an assassination which would only be committed three years later…  This is more than a premonition:  it is a real vision of the future.

***

Many physicists emit the hypothesis of the co-existence of a past-present-future.  And time has been compared to a street down which we are travelling.  When we are at No 1, we cannot yet see the house at No 100.  But it already exists…  And when we are at No 100, No 1, which we have passed a long time ago, still exists…  It is a good image.

***

Our spirit often circulates in time while we are asleep.  This phenomenon happens more often than we think.  People often say “It’s never happened to me”,  but how do they know that?  Imagine, for example, that you have seen your own death in a childhood dream.  You were not struck by it at the time.  How could you have guessed that this old man or woman who is dying, was yourself seventy years later?

Doctor Richet says:  “Most of our dreams have a documentary value that we don’t even suspect.”

***

All premonitory dreams unfortunately do not have the precision of that of Mr Berard.  But they still remain troubling, even when they need to be interpreted.  Here are a few examples:

On 29 July 1589, Henri III dreams that the royal ornaments:  crown, tunics, blue satin mantel, sceptre and Hand of Justice, all bloody, are trampled by monks.  Three days later, on 1 August, he is assassinated by the monk Jacques Clement.

In the night of 13 to 14 May 1610, Henri IV dreams that he sees a rainbow over his head.  When he wakes, he talks about it to those around him.  Someone says that it is a very bad sign.  Throughout the ages, this dream has always meant violent death.  The King was advised not to leave the palace that day…

Henri IV shrugs his shoulders and, at ten minutes past four, he passes through the Rue de la Ferronnerie where he is assassinated by Ravaillac…

In the night of 17 to 18 June 1815, Napoleon dreams that a black cat twice runs from one army to the other, and sees his regiments torn to pieces.  He wakes, panting, thinking that this dream announces treason and defeat.  A few hours later, the Grand Army is annihilated in the plain of Waterloo…

In April 1865, a few days before being assassinated, Abraham Lincoln tells his wife and one of his friends about a dream that he had had.  He is walking through all of the rooms of the White House without meeting anyone;  but while walking, he can hear the sound of sobbing.  When he penetrates the East Room, he sees a great gathering, in mourning.  At the centre of the room there is a catafalque, on which reposes a dead person in ceremonial costume.   Soldiers are mounting guard around it.  He approaches and asks who, in the White House, has died.  One of the soldiers tells him that it is the President, who has been assassinated.  Then, he hears the crowd moan, which wakes him.  He doesn’t sleep any more that night.  He knows that it is only a dream, but the vision obsesses him.

Three days later, The President is shot by Booth…

To be continued.

Catherine de Medicis

The following year, in 1560, Francois II dies, after one year’s reign.  Charles IX succeeds him and dies after fourteen years, haunted by the phantoms of the Saint-Barthelemy massacre.  Then Henri III mounts the throne for fifteen years and is killed by a knife wound in the abdomen, by the monk Jacques Clement.  The preceding year, he had had the Duke de Guise assassinated.  Then, young Francois having succumbed to a galloping phthisis and the Valois branch being extinct, Henri de Bourbon becomes king under the name of Henri IV and reigns twenty years and nine months…

***

This story is recounted by two historians from the XVIIth Century:  Simon Goulard, in his Tresor d’histoires admirables, and Andre Felibien, in his Maisons royales.

***

Trickery by Ruggieri has been mentioned…  It has been said that he had perhaps used a sort of magic lantern, which is not impossible, for the magic lantern existed at this epoch.  It was even used in places of ill repute to project plates of doubtful propriety.  More or less the ancestor of erotic cinema.

It has also been said that Ruggieri had hidden disguised people and made them appear by a manipulation of mirrors…  This is not impossible either.  But neither of these tricks would explain the predictions contained in the vision.  For the people who appeared in the mirror made the number of turns which correspond exactly to the number of years of their reigns…  There are also a number of troubling details.  Charles IX pushing away frightening visions…  This is exactly what happened:  at the end of his life, he was haunted by the memory of the Saint-Barthelemy massacre;  he couldn’t sleep;  he cried out at night…  Henri III who firstly sees a body stretched out at his feet:  that of the Duke de Guise assassinated by his order;  then holds his abdomen at the end of the fifteenth turn:  a gesture which corresponds to the attitude he will have when the monk Jacques Clement stabs him in the abdomen…  The apparition of Henri de Bourbon, which wasn’t at all forseeable when this scene took place in 1559.  For Catherine de Medicis then had every reason to believe that the House of Valois would reign for a long time.  There were four heirs to the throne.  No-one thought that it would be necessary to turn to the Bourbons in Saint Louis’ genealogical tree.  No-one.  And Henri de Bourbon, the future Henri IV, appears in the mirror…  So, if it was only trickery, it was accompanied by a real clairvoyancy gift…

***

Cristallomancy is an extremely ancient form of divination.  It is reported that Pythagorus possessed a magic mirror which he presented to the moon’s face to see images of the future appear in it.  As well as that, our popular literature, our fairy-tales, our legends, are filled with people who use mirrors, or the surface of water, to see distant events unroll.

Today, throughout the whole world, there are very serious researchers who study myths, fairy-tales and popular legends with a lot of care.  And certain think to find in them, not, as it has been believed for a long time, just stories to put children to sleep, but interpretations of real facts going back to very ancient times, to civilizations completely forgotten today.  However, mythologists are not in agreement on the nature of these civilizations.  According to some, the ancient societies, whose legends relate certain events in fairy-tale form, had come to a very high technological level.  They had engines permitting them to move in the air, on the ground, under water.  They possessed machines capable of transmitting sounds and images, terrifying weapons, extraordinary energy sources, in other words, the equivalent of our aeroplanes, cars, submarines, radio, televison, lasers, atomic bombs, without counting the techniques still to be invented, and they mastered forces which are still unknown to us.

After a planetary cataclysm – perhaps an atomic catastrophe – this civilization was annihilated.  The rare survivors then told stories about it to their descendants, which, in time, became more and more incomprehensible and finished up taking on a fabulous allure.  Incapable of conceiving that men had been able to fly, travel enormous distances in a few minutes, watch the images of a distant event, talk to each other from one town to another, light up palaces by pushing a button, record the human voice, our ancestors invented the marvellous.  Engines become monsters, machines are magic objects, and the stories, transformed into legends, are peopled with dragons, chimera, water spirits, fairies, wizards, all endowed with flying chariots, magic wands and seven league boots…

Other myth historians propose a different hypothesis.  According to them, our stories and legends are not deformed echoes of an ancient civilization of technological essence.  They more or less reflect – I quote – “the nostalgia of unused human possibilities”…

These myth specialists explain that Man, to become master of the world, had two paths at his disposal:  the coarse way and the subtle way.  [Personally, I would use the words material and spiritual.]  The coarse way is the one that we have chosen.  It led us to invent the telephone, the radio, television, railways, cars, aeroplanes, rockets, the cinema, the atomic bomb, etc.,  in other words, objects.  The subtle way is the one that only uses all the resources and all of the faculties of the human spirit:  telepathy, levitation, clairvoyancy, telekinesis, bilocation, etc.  Faculties which, these authors note, have become atrophied, through lack of use, since we have taken the “coarse” road.

This would mean that for thousands of years, men invented stories peopled with beings endowed with all of the extraordinary faculties that they unconsciously suffer to leave unused:  for example, the possibility of flying through the air, communicating by thought, influencing cosmic forces, conversing with animals, becoming invisible, strolling through time and… the faculty of capting images of the future or the past and making them appear on the surface of a mirror…

To be continued.

Catherine de Medicis

The year 1559 is ending.  A black year for France.  King Henri II died in July, from wounds inflicted by Montgomery’s lance.  Since then, a sickly, feeble-minded child of fifteen, Francois II, reigns over the kingdom.  Dominated by a woman whose habitual arms are poison, magic and sorcery:  Catherine de Medicis, his mother.  But, for some time, the Florentine, who has left Paris to lock herself up inside her castle at Chaumont-sur-Loire, has been worried.  The religious problems which are dividing France, the growing power of the Huguenots, the palace treasons, are making her nervous.  She wants to know what the future will bring.  Her own destiny, as well as that of Francois II, the weak, pitiful King of France.

So, once again, she turns to Cosme – or Cosimo – Ruggieri, the astrologist whom she brought with her from Florence, and who never leaves her.  The wise man tells her:

“Give me a few days, Madame, and I will show you the future…”

And Ruggieri goes to the tower which dominates the Loire.  Since then, cut off from the world, he has been engaged in some sort of mysterious work.  Several times, Catherine de Medicis has come to knock on the door.  Without opening, Ruggieri says:

“I told you, Madame;  when the moon is full!”

And the Queen Mother, annoyed, goes back to her chamber.

But this evening, the moon is full when Catherine de Medicis knocks on the door.  This time Ruggieri opens it, and the Queen Mother enters a room which looks like a laboratory crossed with an alchemist’s hideaway.  In the light of the great fire that burns in the grate, she distinguishes test tubes, crucibles, stills, an astrolabe and piles of grimoires.  Ruggieri shows her an immense mirror which covers a whole wall.

“It is there, Madame, that the future is going to appear to you.”

Catherine de Medicis then understands that her astrologist is going to proceed with a magical operation called catoptromancy or cristallomancy, which consists of seeing the future in a mirror.

Ruggieri dips a small stick into a cup containing the blood of a male pigeon and traces on the wall some letters from the Hebrew alphabet.  Then, having blackened the tip of a wand in the fire, he draws a double circle on the floor, a sort of zodiac, to which he adds cabalistic figures.  When he has finished, he places on it, at the four cardinal points, a human skull, a lamp, a tibia and a cat in a state of hypnotic sleep…

“Sit down, Madame, and look!”

Catherine sits in an armchair, facing the mirror.

At first, she sees nothing.  Then a form appears.  Vague at first, then more precise, and she recognizes Francois II.  He is wearing his crown, the royal mantle and carries his sceptre.  He looks morose.  His image slides, leaves the mirror, travels around the room on the whitewashed wall, comes back to its starting point and disappears.  It is immediately replaced by that of a man in whom Catherine recognizes Charles, her second son, but an older Charles, for he is then only nine years old.  He too wears a crown, a royal mantle and carries a sceptre.  He turns fourteen times around the room and is about to start a fifteenth turn when he is seen to stop suddenly and consider with horror something invisible.  Then his hands reach out as if to push away frightening images.

Catherine wants know the meaning of these turns around the room.  Ruggieri tells her that each turn represents one year of reign.

Above the fire-place, Charles has disappeared to leave room for a third king in whom the Florentine, more and more anguished, this time recognizes Henri, her third son, who is just eight years old…  In the mirror, he is adult.  He advances, dancing.  He is wearing make-up, is effeminate, covered in jewellery, including pendant earrings.  He travels fourteen times around the room and stops for a moment.  He is seen to lean over a body lying at his feet.  Then he straightens up, makes a fifteenth turn and suddenly holds his abdomen with both hands with an expression of intense pain on his face.  After which, he disappears.

Huddled in her armchair, livid, Catherine de Medicis watches in silence.  She is scarcely breathing.  She awaits now the appearance of her fourth son, Francois, Duke d’Alencon, who is only five.  What will she learn?  How many turns will this one make before disappearing?  Will he have a life of normal length?  Or are all of Henri II’s sons cursed?

She waits.  How will her little Francois look as a man?  An image forms.  And a man appears.  A man with a hooked nose and crafty eyes, wearing a little beard.  At first, he is wearing a big hat decorated with a white panache.  Then suddenly, he is wearing the crown, like the others.

Catherine looks at him in fear.  This person cannot be Francois as a man.  But who is he?  And then a resemblance imposes itself on her.  This king has Antoine de Bourbon’s features…  Then, she understands that Francois will never reign, that he will die young and that the Bourbons, whom she hates, will mount the French throne…  This one, she is sure, is little Henri de Bourbon, who is only six years old, and whom she would like to be able to have poisoned…

In the mirror, the man with the hooked nose slides slowly.  And Catherine counts the turns.  Soon they pass those of Charles and Henri:  eighteen, nineteen, twenty…  Still another half-turn and the person disappears.  This Bourbon will therefore reign for more than twenty years!…

The Florentine is annihilated.  In spite of the great wood fire, she is shivering.  Then she straightens up and, without a word for Ruggieri, with a nasty expression on her face, she leaves to lock herself up in her chamber and curl up like a big, wounded spider…

To be continued.

The Duke of Anjou and future King Henri III of France

The Paris of this XVIth Century day is not wearing its usual face.  It is a Paris draped in white and scattered with flowers.  A sunny, joyful Paris, with all its church bells ringing.

It is the 18 August 1572, and Charles IX’s capital is celebrating.  This morning, in Notre-Dame, the Queen Mother, Catherine de Medicis, has married her daughter Marguerite, the future Queen Margot, to Henri de Navarre, the future King Henri IV, and the little people, always ready to participate in the joys of the greats of this world, are celebrating the event by devouring blood sausage, emptying jugs of white wine, and dancing the gig at all the crossroads.  From the Saint-Antoine Gate to the Saint-Honore Gate, musicians, perched on upturned barrels, play flat out the slightly risque tunes that please the girls and make them laugh for no particular reason.

But there is not only dancing at the crossroads.  There is also dancing at the Louvre.  To more complicated music, it is true.  The rooms of the palace, usually so lugubrious, are filled this evening with all the young people dressed in starched ruffs and cloth of gold, leaping gracefully to the sound of lutes, violas and oboes.

The marriage of Henri de Bourbon, future Henri IV, with Marguerite de Valois.

There are King Charles IX, who is twenty-two, Queen Elizabeth, eighteen, the Duke of Anjou and future Henri III, twenty-one, his brother Francois, Duke of Alencon, eighteen, the young newly-weds who are both nineteen, and a quantity of princes, princesses, dukes and duchesses who are under twenty.

Among these guests are Henri de Conde and his wife, Marie de Cleves.  They have been married a month.  He is ugly, bilious, jealous.  She is ravishing.  There is also a very pretty blonde with saucy eyes called Renee de Rieux.  She is one of Catherine de Medicis’ ladies-in-waiting and the mistress of the Duke of Anjou and future Henri III.  Their liaison is known to the whole Court, and from the beginning of the ball, they have been dancing continuously with each other.  They are beautiful, elegant, and very much in love.

Renee de Rieux was the Duke of Anjou's mistress and one of Queen Catherine de Medicis ladies-in-waiting.

Marguerite, who has just married, by order of her mother, that Bearnais who stinks of garlic, and to whom she has decided to refuse herself this evening, in spite of a temperament for which she will later become famous, looks at them rather enviously.  The Duke of Anjou has just signalled to the musicians.  They have understood:  after the “low dances” executed in a calm, deliberate manner, they are going to pass to the “high dances” which contain leaps and bounds.  The orchestra attacks a volte.  All the couples then start to bound everywhere in a burlesque fashion.  At the centre, the Duke of Anjou and Renee de Rieux, tightly enlaced, dance, their eyes locked together, alone in the world.  The Duke declares his love once again, and assures her that he will never love another woman.  Then he demands a farandole from the musicians.

They immediately attack a popular tune and all the dancers, taking each other’s hands, dance through the salons.  But it is so hot that everyone’s face is soon bright red and shiny.

Marie de Cleves is the first to detach herself from the farandole.  She excuses herself to her husband, telling him that she must change because she is dripping with perspiration…

Marie de Cleves, Princess de Conde, with whom the Duke of Anjou suddenly fell in love.

And she goes to a nearby chamber where she undresses and wipes her whole body.  One of Catherine de Medicis’ ladies-in-waiting then says to her:

“Your undershirt is drenched, Madame.  Leave it here, I will give you another one.”

Marie de Cleves puts on the new undershirt, re-dresses and goes back to the ball.  The Duke of Anjou comes in turn to the chamber to re-do his hair and wipe his face.  Thinking that he is taking a towel, he then picks up the undershirt that Marie has just taken off, and wipes it over his face.  Immediately, something unusual takes place:  he is invaded by intense emotion, while a burning force lights up his body;  his senses are troubled and he suddenly conceives an unlimited love for the owner of this still-warm lingerie that he holds in his hand.

Staggering, as if under the empire of a drug, he re-enters the ballroom and, although no-one has told him that the undershirt belongs to Marie, his eyes immediately find her.  And this woman, whom he has known for six months without giving her more than polite interest, plunges him into an emotion that he has never before felt.  Fascinated by Marie de Cleves, who suddenly seems to him to be the most gracious, the most charming and the most desirable being in the world, he sees no-one else, and even forgets Renee de Rieux, with whom, an instant before, he had been totally in love.

Prince de Conde, the husband of Marie de Cleves

The very next day, he sends a passionate letter to the young woman, and Marie, overwhelmed to learn that she has seduced the most beautiful prince in France, falls in love too.  Faithful, however, to her ugly husband, she decides never to return to the Louvre for fear of meeting Henri…  Then, Henri writes to the Duchess of Nevers, Marie’s sister, begging her help “with tears in my eyes and my hands joined”.

And Madame de Nevers pleads the cause of the suitor so well that Marie agrees to allow the Duke to wear a little portrait of herself around his neck.  Then she accepts a rendez-vous, and they both “think that they are in Paradise”, a chronicler tells us…

From then on, they meet regularly thanks to the complicity of the Duchess of Nevers, and their chaste liaison illuminates their lives.  A separation will shatter them.  In September 1573, Catherine de Medicis having had Henri elected King of Poland, he has to leave for Cracovia.  He sets off in tears, leaving Marie inconsolable…

To be continued.

La Petite Toilette, by Jean-Michel Moreau le Jeune

It is said that one day, replacing the penitential ashes on their heads by white powder, some nuns showed themselves in public like this, and inadvertently started a new fashion.

We know very little about the use of powder during Antiquity.  Cato mentions a “pulverulent mixture” which was supposed to give a certain brilliance to hair.  But did the Roman women really use powder to make themselves more attractive?  We know that powder or dust on the hair was a sign of mourning and the manifestation of great despair.

At the French court, powder probably made its appearance under the reign of Charles VIII, this king being a good perfumer.

At the time of Francois I, violet powder was known, as well as Cyprus powder.  For toiletry care, muscat soap was used and a powder known as bean flour, which had the reputation of refreshing the complexion.

Henri III was probably the first to cover his hair with violet musk powder, and the mignons immediately imitated their master.

“A valet, having in his hands a box full of powder resembling that of Cyprus, powdered the patient’s head with a big powder-puff of silk, which he plunged into this box.”

Under Henri IV, the fashion of powder was already so widespread that women of low condition, not daring to show their hair in its natural state, powdered it with the dust of rotten wood which they found in old buildings.  Village girls, ahead of their time, powdered themselves with flour.  It is under this same reign that a perfumed powder called griserie began to be spread over hair.

At this time, powder was not used dry on hair.  It was made to hold by a mixture.  You can imagine how many washes it took to get the hair clean again.

At the time of Richelieu, gentlemen had partial wigs, or coins, which were fixed in the hair, to produce thicker locks, and there was a time when this false hair was powdered with the best quality flour.  But so many mockeries rained down on these “millers” and “flour-heads” that the fashion died out.

Louis XIII did not wear powder, in spite of, or possibly because of, the white hair which he had at an early age.  The fashion only took on some consistency under the reign of Anne of Austria.  Among those who launched it, the Marquis of Jauzey is particularly named.

Louis XIV did not really favour this use.  Anything which reminded him that he was getting older, was odious to him, and this artificial whiteness too closely resembled an image of old age, for him to consent to use it.  He barely put up with a light cloud of it, toward the end of his life.

At this same time, the wife of the Marechal d’Aumont amused herself by making her own powder.  This is how the name of poudre a la marechale came into being.

A patch of blond powder sometimes decorated the wigs of young male courtisans who gave themselves an aura of court and of conquest.  For powder was worn, above all, by little bantam cocks on the make.

The rage for disguising hair colour introduced this mode by degrees and, toward the end of Louis XIV’s reign, the Duke of Burgundy, Fenelon’s severe pupil, started wearing powder.

Mme de Sevigne lets us watch the amusing spectacle of the toilette of the Duchess of Bourbon.  She writes to her daughter:  “She curls and powders herself.  She eats the whole time.  The same fingers alternately hold the powder-puff and the pain au pot.  She eats her powder and greases her hair.  The whole makes a very good dinner and a charming hair-do.”

Until then, powder had remained the privilege of people of condition.  Even then, it was only of occasional use, or as a whim.  It is only under the following reign that it became general.

The chronicle reports that the Duke of Fronsac, the future Marechal de Richelieu, still very young, and already the object of admiration of all the court beauties, appeared at the Opera in a most elegant costume, with his hair completely powdered.  This was enough to put powder in fashion.

A treatise on civility from the XVIIIth Century prescribes never “to leave your home without having combed and properly arranged your hair.  You can use pomade or powder in very small quantity.”

On 21 September 1740, an act of the Paris parliament forbade starch makers from making starch because of the cereal famine.  As powder was made from starch, it was worth only 3 sous the pound before the augmentation of the price of wheat and flour.  It increased then to 8 sous.

However, as soon as the act was published, the price of powder rose to 24 sous the pound, in the space of two days.  This was a revolution in the world of marquises and young men on the make.

Women had not adopted the fashion of powdering hair as enthusiastically as men.  The first lady’s powdered head to appear in History is that of Mlle Cecile de Lisoris, in 1704, and it was only very much later that fashion responded.

Lady Montague, visiting France toward the end of the XVIIIth Century, writes of the worldly women that “their hair resembles white wool, and with their faces the colour of fire, they do not even look human.  You would take them for skinned sheep.”.

Second and last part tomorrow.

The name of Henri III of France’s first buffoon is Sibilot.  This word, employed as a synonym for fool, was originally used for eiders (baby geese).  The fool borrowed it from the saviours of the Capitol, “because of his simplicity or silliness, which was like that of an eider”.

If the pamphleteers are to be believed, Sibilot is a monster, both morally and physically.  There is nothing more horrible than this being, no-one more inclined to drunkeness and debauchery.

Henri III, who had a taste for the bizarre and the frivolous, and whom a whole menagerie is unable to keep amused, takes care of his hounds, his parrots, his lions and his bears, almost as much as his white penitents and his mignons.  He is unable to content himself with only one fool, so he also has a female fool.  She is the first female king’s fool in France, the famous Mathurine.

Mathurine was mixed up in a number of historical events.  When Henri IV buys back his crown for the price of a Mass, and occupies his capital with no blow being struck, in the night of 22 March 1594, he goes, after the Te deum, to the Louvre, which he hasn’t seen since the Saint-Barthelemy massacre.

With tears in his eyes, he re-enters this ancient palace of his predecessors, so recently filled with the incendiary plottings of the Ligue.  Suddenly, he sees coming towards him Mathurine the fool, who had remained in the Louvre, as if to guard it for its kings.  She runs joyfully to greet her master.

Mathurine is still with her master when Jean Chatel tries to kill him.  The assassin, who sneaks into the King’s presence without being seen, tries to stab him.  He is aiming for the throat, but hits the face “on the top lip, on the right side, and cuts it and cuts a tooth”.

The instant that it happened, the King, feeling the wound and only seeing his fool Mathurine near him, believes at first that it is she who has attacked him:  “May the fool go to the devil,”  he exclaims.  “She has wounded me!”

However, Mathurine’s presence of mind does not abandon her.  She runs to lock the doors, so that the assassin cannot escape, “who, being seized, then searched, threw his still bloody knife on the floor, and was obliged to confess the fact with no other force”.

From that day, the King’s fool has great influence on Henri IV, who often gives her things which he refuses to the lords of his court.  He admits her to his table and defends her against the mockers.

Although she is classed on the same rank as the animals and the servants, she has her part in the King’s Councils, and does not appear to have abused it.

One writer tells us of a strange place in the royal household reserved for someone known as the “King of the Debauchees”.  He has the recognized right of jurisdiction over the women who “make commerce of their charms”.  He is paid a tribute by bawdy houses, and all “public” women who follow the court, live in his home.

Dice-players, the owners of gambling houses and bordellos, and the public women of the court, each owe him two sols, which they pay him every week.  He is like the grand master of prostitution, at a time when it is not yet very well reglemented.

Elsewhere, he is shown differently.  He is an officer who looks after the king’s apartments as well as his household.  The prince is no sooner in bed, than the said officer explores all the corners of the palace with a lighted torch, to be sure that no suspicious individual is hiding there.

And it is not so much thieves or assassins for whom he is searching.  He is more likely to find some gallant, who thought himself safe from being surprised, in an unequivocal position.  This must have been the original function which later became that of the King of the Debauchees.

The officer who fills this position, must be careful to expulse from the royal residences, any person foreign to the palace, man or woman, who has entered it.  Vagabonds or prostitutes, he judges them regally, and has delinquents beaten with birches.

This charge must have been instituted, in principle, in the vast farms (villae) or agricultural  and manufacturing exploitations owned by the kings of the Francs in diverse points of their empire, and whose revenues composed the principal riches of royal fiscality.

At the time, male and female serfs are not masters of their bodies, or their time.  Their work, their health and their morals are protected by a tutelary authority.

Because they could have suffered from the unhealthy contact with women of loose morals or men with a communicable disease, like leprosy, the officer specially in charge of their care, forbids entry of intruders into the royal towns.

This officer does not yet have the title of King of the Debauchees, which appears for the first time in 1214.  It is on the list of prisoners taken at the Battle of Bouvines, where a “King of the Debauchees”, to whom these prisoners are handed over, is mentioned.

Ninth and last part (including more on the King of the Debauchees) tomorrow.

Henri IV of France likes the company of buffoons and has several on his payroll.  He likes Chicot for his jokes.  Chicot passes into his service after having worked successively for Henri III and Charles IX.

L’Estoile says, in his Journal (Diary):  “The King liked Chicot all fool that he was, and found nothing bad at all in what he said, which caused him to lose himself in a thousand follies.  When the Duke de Parma came for the second time to France, in 1592, he [Chicot] said to the King in front of everyone:  “Sir my friend, I well see that all that you do will serve for nothing in the end, if you do not become a Catholic.  You must go to Rome, and while there, you hang on the Pope’s shirt tails, and let everyone see you;  for otherwise they will never believe that you are Catholic.  Then you take a lovely enema of holy water, to finish washing all the rest of your sins.””

The court fool enjoys the privilege of saying all truths, even those which are not good to hear.  A sword thrust deprives Henri IV of his buffoon;  a blow from a halberd (or halbert) provides him with his successor.

The new fool is an apothecary from Louviers.  His name is Guillaume Marchand or Le Marchand, “jovial companion, the life and soul of the party, very well-known among his compatriots”.

The origin of his madness is worth being told.  When, in 1591, the town of Louviers is taken from the Ligueurs, Marchand receives a halberd blow to the head, which deranges his brain.  He is given to the young Cardinal de Bourbon, “who was amused by him, as well as the people who came to his home”.  He is taken in by Henri IV at the death of his first master.

We know that Louis XIII likes to try his hand at different trades, even taking pleasure in shaving the beards of his officers and of his buffoon Marais.  Marais, after having patiently suffered the trial of this operation, which had been long and painful, counts out fifteen sols, in liards and deniers, and gives them to the King.

The King tells him that it isn’t enough.  Marais answers:  “I’ll give you thirty sols when you are a master.”  This is judged to be too witty, and has him disgraced.

If we can believe Tallemant, Marais has great assurance.  One day he says to his master:  “There are two things about your job that I could not get used to:  eating alone and… relieving myself in company!”

This liberty to do and say everything has its advantages, even if it is not completely without inconveniences.  It allows some of Nature’s mistakes to take revenge on their physical disgraces and, through the favour of their exceptional situations, to hazard a few wise reflections, received with indulgence by those who hear them, and which can also contribute to the public good.

At this time, there are many other people, apart from the fools, who are employed to divert the King.  As well as the Moors, whose role is to divert the ladies by singing foreign songs and by dancing grotesque dances, there are the dwarves.

Queen Claude of France has a female dwarf whose name is Marie Dareille, and the accounts for the year 1533 mention another female dwarf, “the little dwarf (petite nayne) of the late Mademoiselle”.

Ten years later, a foreign female dwarf is received into the court.  She belongs to the Queen of Hungary, and accompanies her mistress.

Many paintings of the XVIth and XVIIth Centuries, show people with different types of malformation, to which they owe their lucrative situations.  The most common malformations are rachitism, giving deformed bones and problems with teeth;  scurvy, provoking skin alterations;  cretinism, which is accompanied by a voluminous goitre.

It can also be obesity, infantilism, which stops physical development at the childhood stage, or achondroplasia, a squeletal anomaly.  There are very few dwarves who, apart from their small size, have no physical deformity and are not, at the same time, hunchbacked or rachitic.

Seventh part tomorrow.

Not a great deal is known about the childhood of Henri IV’s other children.

During the illness of one of his daughters, Christine or Chretienne, doctors had been called from Paris.  They were unable to agree on the nature of her illness or on the treatment to prescribe and were sent away.

Marie de Medicis was displeased that Chretienne was so often on horseback.  She felt that, as her daughter was so young, this exercise could spoil her figure.

More delicate and frailer than Chretienne and Elisabeth (who married the future Philippe IV of Spain) Henriette was, according to Malherbe, “one of the kindest princesses in the world”.  Louis XIII cherished her even more because she was weaker, and he advised Mme de Montglat to watch over her as she would over himself.

Louis only had a marked aversion for his illegitimate brothers and sisters.  He was still a very young child when he answered his governess, who was rebuking him for having mistreated Mr de Vendome, one of the royal bastards:  “Oh well!  But he isn’t one of Mummy’s sons!”.

Later on, he never forgot that his illegitimate brothers had the same father as himself, and that, because of this, he owed them support and assistance.  He did not abandon any of his father’s children.

He was even on friendly terms with one of them.  She was a nun at Fontevrault and coadjudicator of the monastery.  Her name was Jeanne-Baptiste de Bourbon, daughter of Charlotte des Essarts, Countess of Romorantin.

Louis took care of her health.  If an epidemic was declared at Fontevrault, he would advise her to leave that convent for somewhere healthier.

However, he established distinctions.  If he showed preferences for some of the bastards, he also knew how to keep them at a respectful distance, and never permitted them to stray from their rank.

In these circumstances, he showed, as he did in many others, that he had a strong will, and that he was, and intended to remain, the King.

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