Author: James, G. P. R. (George Payne Rainsford), 1801?-1860
Armand Jean du Plessis
1585-1642 — Fiction
Richelieu: A Tale of France, v. 1/3
A TALE OF FRANCE.
PRINTED BY S. AND R. BENTLEY,
Dorset Street, Fleet Street.
A TALE OF FRANCE.
I advise you that you read
The Cardinal’s malice and his potency
Together: to consider further, that
What his high hatred would effect, wants not
A minister in his power.
IN THREE VOLUMES.
HENRY COLBURN, NEW BURLINGTON STREET.
CHAPTER I., CHAPTER II., CHAPTER III., CHAPTER IV., CHAPTER V., CHAPTER VI., CHAPTER VII., CHAPTER VIII., CHAPTER IX., CHAPTER X., CHAPTER XI., CHAPTER XII.
My Dear Sir,
YOUR name is too great a one to be trifled with, and therefore, I do not put it at the head of this page. Should your anticipations in favour of this work be realized, and its success be equal to my utmost hopes, I dedicate it to you in testimony both of my gratitude for your kindness, and my admiration for your genius; but should the hand of criticism cut it short hereafter, or the frost of neglect wither it in the bud, I take a humbler tone, and beg you only to accept my thanks for your good wishes and kind encouragement. If it should succeed, you will, I am sure, receive the work with some pleasure on my account;—if it fail, you will still accept it as the only means I have of expressing my feeling of obligation towards you; and, at all events, you will understand my motive for not prefixing your name to the Dedication of a book, the fate of which is yet doubtful.
DEARLY BELOVED READER,
ALTHOUGH I call the following pages mine, and upon the strength of them write myself Author, yet I must in truth confess, that I have very little to do with them, and still less to do with the story they record; and therefore I am fain to treat the world with something of my own exclusive composition, in the shape of a preface. The facts of the case are as follow: I one day possessed myself of a bundle of manuscript notes—no matter when or how, so that they were honestly come by, for that is all that you, or I, or Sir Richard Birnie, have to do with the matter. Now I say they were honestly come by, and the onus probandi must rest upon the other party. So no more of that.
My dear Mr. Colburn, where was I? I quite forget—Oh, now I have it! Having one day possessed myself of a bundle of manuscript notes,—honestly come by,—I proceeded to read them, and although the hand was small and crooked, with all the k’s shaped like Laocoons, and every g like a pair of spectacles, yet there was something in the tale there written, that made me read it through before I rose off my chair, although I did not then know, what I have since discovered, that every word of it was true. Now this is an advantage which you, my dear reader, have over me in perusing this history for the first time; for unquestionably even upon my pure ipse dixit, you will believe that the whole of the three volumes which follow, is neither more nor less than a plain and simple narration of facts. Nevertheless, in case there should be in the world any person so sceptical as to doubt the assertion, even of a novelist, I will refer my reader to the well-known authorities of the day, and merely observe, that though there may be some discrepancy in the dates and some difference in the names, yet every individual circumstance recorded in these pages, will be found to be collaterally verified by contemporary writers of good repute, who, however, did not know so much of the detail of the events in question as are disclosed in the old manuscript alluded to, nor were they, like the writer of that document, acquainted with the real causes of those movements which shook the whole of France, and which, originating in the heart of the Court, could only be detected by one who was himself a resident there. To you, my dear reader, whose confidence in my word I know to be as unbounded as the conscience of a tailor, or the stomach of an alderman, I have only to remark, that the Hero of my tale is by no means a fabulous person.
My story opens with the latter years of the reign of Louis XIII. King of France—a period memorable in English annals from the civil wars which then raged between Charles I. and his rebellious Parliament, and no less memorable in the history of France, as the most terrific portion of Richelieu’s bloody domination.
At the death of Henry IV. the Regency of the kingdom during her son’s minority, was seized upon by Mary de Medicis, a woman of considerable talent and of vast ambition, whose primary object seems to have been, so to secure the sovereign power to herself, that Louis during her life should remain in a state of tutelage.
In such projects, but still more in her obstinate partiality for the celebrated Marechal d’Ancre and his wife, originated a thousand factions and civil wars, which kept the country in a continual state of tumult during the King’s minority. These factions, and the circumstances which they engendered, necessarily gave rise to various rapid changes in the Queen’s ministry, and amidst these, for the first time, appeared on the political stage Richelieu, then Bishop of Luçon. His prospects yet doubtful, and his ambition still in its infancy, Richelieu made mildness and courtesy his first steps towards pre-eminence. He contented himself with an inferior station in the Council: his urbanity and his talents proved equally agreeable and useful; and no one beheld in the calm and polished Bishop of Luçon, any promise of the aspiring and remorseless Cardinal de Richelieu.
A circumstance, however, occurred almost in the outset of his career, which had nearly thrown him for ever from the destined scene of his aggrandizement. This was the fall of the Marechal d’Ancre, and the arrest of the Queen-mother.
On the marriage of Louis XIII., the jealous eye of Mary de Medicis soon perceived her son’s first affection towards his young wife, and, fearful of an influence which might spring up to counteract her own, she found means to destroy, without remorse, the domestic happiness of her child, in order to secure her own dominion over him. But while she fomented every disagreement between Louis and his wife, and watched the least symptom of reviving affection with the suspicious anxiety of uncertain power, she blindly suffered near his person a favourite who combined with the genius to form great designs, the most consummate art to conceal them. Monsieur de Luynes, it appears, from the first moment of his intimacy with the King, projected his master’s deliverance from the tyranny of Mary de Medicis; but lest he should be suspected of such designs, he hid them beneath the mask of levity and thoughtlessness. It would be little appropriate here to enter more largely into the details of these proceedings. Suffice it that in the end the Queen’s favourite was shot as he entered the palace of the Louvre, and she herself was instantly arrested and exiled to Blois. Amongst others of her council who shared in the fall of the Queen, was Richelieu, and for some time he remained in exile at Avignon.
The Queen’s party, however, was still strong in France; and in her misfortunes, the factious and discontented, who had formerly opposed her measures merely because she held the reins of government, now supported her against the hand to which those reins had been transferred. A civil war seemed inevitable, and in order to avert such an event, the King’s advisers found themselves obliged to negociate with the Princess, whom they had dispossessed; but Mary rejected all intercession, and it was not till the return of Richelieu that any compromise could be effected. That minister, however, with the deep diplomatic skill for which he was conspicuous, instantly availed himself of the weak point in the character of his mistress, and through the medium of her confessor, won her to his purpose. A reconciliation was now speedily effected between Mary and her son, and Richelieu having become the friend of the one and the confident of the other, saw himself placed more surely than ever in the road to political eminence. Many circumstances combined to accelerate his progress. The death of the Duke de Luynes, the religious wars still raging in the heart of the kingdom, and the renewed differences between the King and his mother,—all gave the rising minister the means of increasing his power, and the opportunity of displaying the vast energies of his extraordinary mind. All was subdued before him; the Queen-mother was exiled; the Protestants were crushed; and the King himself became the slave of Richelieu.
But power so acquired was only to be maintained at the expense of much blood. Conspiracy after conspiracy was formed to cast off his dominion, and more than one insurrection burst forth in opposition to his tyranny; but each in turn was overthrown, and the blood of the conspirators only served to cement the fabric of his greatness. Usurped power must still have some object for suspicion, and after having quelled all his more powerful adversaries, the jealousy of Richelieu turned towards the young Queen, persecuting her with such uncalled for virulence as to induce many to believe that his hatred proceeded from some more private and personal cause than was apparent.
In the mean time, Louis himself, seldom called upon, except as a state puppet, to sign some ordonnance, or hold some council under the direction of Richelieu, lingered on in inactivity, yielding one privilege after another to the grasping ambition of his minister, without the dignity of royalty or the peace of private life. It is true that, on more than one occasion, he was roused by circumstances to put forth the native energies of his mind, but this was most frequently on some trifling occurrence. And though the momentary flashes of a vigorous intellect would show that nature had been originally bountiful to him, yet he never evinced any steady determination of purpose. Richelieu spared no pains to secure the power he had acquired; and that he might leave the King no means of extricating himself, plunged the kingdom in wars and negociations which he well knew that none but himself could conduct with success. But here indeed his genius showed itself resplendent. The government of a world seemed in his hands, and yet he managed the complicated machine steadily and firmly, with a clear, discerning eye, and a calm, unshrinking heart. Nevertheless, whether it was that the multitude of his other avocations diverted his attention from the minor regulations of the kingdom, or whether, as some believe, he encouraged a disorganized state of the interior for political purposes, it must be acknowledged that all contemporary accounts represent the internal police of France during his administration, as in a strangely deranged condition—a condition little to have been expected from the vigour of his government, and the severe exactitude of his disposition.
But so it was. The partizans of the various factions which had long been embodied as armies, were fain, after his measures had dispersed them as considerable bodies, to take refuge in the less cultivated parts of the country—the mountains, the forests, or the wastes; and as they had before lived by anarchy, they now contrived to subsist by plunder. The nobles being called from their strong holds to expensive cities, and compelled by Richelieu’s jealousy to show themselves continually at his luxurious Court, could no longer maintain the host of retainers which had formerly revelled at their expense, and these also were obliged to join themselves to the various bands of freebooters that infested the country. Occasionally a merciless execution of some of these banditti awed the rest for a time, but upon examining history, even to the end of Richelieu’s life, we find that while he governed the nobles with a rod of iron, saw every attempt at conspiracy with a prophet’s foresight, and repressed it with a giant’s strength, he overlooked or forgave those crimes which did not affect his political situation.
Such was the state of France at the opening of the following history: and now having attempted to prepare my reader’s mind for what is to follow, I have only farther to refer him to the notes at the end of the third volume, in confirmation of my assertion, that this tale is entirely true. The manuscript from which it is rendered in its present form, possessed that air of fact which from the first left very little doubt on my mind that the narrative was authentic; but not content with this, I examined the best authorities, and had the pleasure of finding that every material circumstance was perfectly unquestionable, and from the acquaintance of the original writer with all the most minute points, I cannot now divest myself of the idea that he must have been, in some degree, an actor in what he narrates.
Be that as it may, I feel sure that whoever peruses it to the end will be perfectly convinced of its truth; and in the hope that many will do so, I leave them to commence their journey, wishing them all a safe and happy arrival at its conclusion.
|Page 49, line 5, for ‘illuminated,’ read ‘illumined.’
— 115, — 16, for ‘shas hent,’ read ‘has sent.’
— 182, — 15, for ‘the side,’ read ‘your side.’
|Page 65, line 5, for ‘end,’ read ‘beginning.’
— 185, — 15, for ‘whom,’ read ‘as.’
|Page 216, line 18, for ‘wave,’ read ‘waive.’
— 342, — 17, for ‘laid,’ read ‘lain.’
Which shows what a French forest was in the year of our Lord 1642, and by whom it was inhabited.
THE vast Sylva Lida, which in the days of Charlemagne stretched far along the banks of the Seine, and formed a woody screen round the infant city of Paris, has now dwindled to a few thousand acres in the neighbourhood of St. Germain en Laye. Not so in the time of Louis the Thirteenth. It was then one of the most magnificent forests of France, and extending as far as the town of Mantes, took indifferently the name of the Wood of Mantes, or the Forest of Laye. That portion to the North of St. Germain has been long cut down: yet there were persons living, not many years since, who remembered some of the old trees still standing, bare, desolate, and alone, like parents who had seen the children of their hopes die around them in their prime.
Although much improvement in all the arts of life, and much increase of population had taken place during the latter years of Henry the Fourth, and under the regency of Mary de Medicis; yet at the time of their son Louis the Thirteenth, the country was still but thinly peopled, and far different from the gay, thronged land, that it appears to-day. For besides that it was in earlier days, there had been many a bitter and a heavy war, not only of France against her enemies, but of France against her children. Religious and political differences had caused disunion between man and man, had banished mutual confidence and social intercourse, and raised up those feuds and hatreds, which destroy domestic peace, and retard public improvement. Amidst general distrust and civil wars, industry had received no encouragement; and where stand at present many a full hamlet and busy village, where the vineyard yields its abundance, and the peasant gathers in peace the bounty of Nature, were then the green copses of the forest, the haunt of the wild boar and the deer. The savage tenants of the wood, however, did not enjoy its shelter undisturbed; for, in those days of suspicion, hunting was a safer sport than conversation, and the boughs of the oak a more secure covering than the gilded ceilings of the saloon.
To our pampered countrymen, long nurtured in that peculiar species of luxury called comfort, the roads of France even now must seem but rude and barbarous constructions, when compared with the smooth, joltless causeways over which they are borne in their own land; but in the time of Louis the Thirteenth, when all works of the kind were carried on by the Seigneur through whose estates they passed, few but the principal roads between one great town and another were even passable for a carriage. Those, however, which traversing the wood of Mantes, served as means of access to the royal residence of St. Germain, were of a superior kind, and would have been absolutely good, had the nature of the soil afforded a steady foundation: but this was not always to be found in the forest, and the engineer had shown no small ingenuity in taking advantage of all the most solid parts of the land, and in avoiding those places where the marshy or sandy quality of the ground offered no secure basis. By these circumstances, however, he was obliged to deviate sadly from those principles of direct progression, so dear to all Frenchmen; and the road from St. Germain to Mantes, as well as that which branched off from it to join the high-road to Chartres, instead of being one interminable, monotonous, straight line, with a long row of trees, like a file of grenadiers, on each side, went winding in and out with a thousand turnings amongst the old oaks of the forest, that seemed to stand forward, and stretch their broad branches across it, as if willing to shelter it from the obtrusive rays of the sun. Sometimes, climbing the side of a hill, it would suddenly display a wide view over the leafy ocean below, till the eye caught the towers and spires of distant cities breaking the far grey line of the horizon. Sometimes, descending into the depths of the forest, it would almost seem to lose itself amongst the wild groves and savannas, being itself the only trace of man’s laborious hand amidst the wilderness around.
In the heart of the wood, at that point where the two roads (which I have mentioned) divaricated from each other, stood the hut of a Woodman, and the abreuvoir where many a gay lord of the Court would stop when his hunting was over, and give his horse time to drink. There, too, many a traveller would pause to ask his way through the forest; so that Philip, the woodman, and his young family, were known to almost all whom business or pleasure brought through the wood of Mantes; and although during the course of this true history, princes and heroes may become the subjects of discourse, it is with Philip that we must commence our tale.
It was at that season of the year, when the first leaves of summer begin to leave the branches from which they sprang, like the bright and tender hopes of early years, that fade and fall before the autumn of life has fully commenced. The sun had abated but little of his force, and the days scarcely seemed to have contracted their span.
The time of day, too, was like the period of the year, “falling gently into the sear,” so that it was only a scarce perceptible shadow, stealing over the landscape, which told that the great power of light was quitting that quarter of the globe, to bestow the equal blessing of his smile on other nations and on distant climes. That shadow had been the signal for Philip the woodman to return towards his home, and he issued forth from one of the forest paths, near his dwelling, singing as he came the old hunting-song of Le bon roi Dagobert.[A]
“King Dagobert in days of yore
Put on his hose wrong side before.
Says St. Eloi,