The Princess De Montpensier Part 1

The Princess of Montpensier.

by Madame de La Fayette.

Introduction

By

Oliver C. Colt

This story was written by Madame de Lafayette and published anonymously in 1662. It is set in a period almost 100 years previously during the sanguinary wars of the counter-reformation, when the Catholic rulers of Europe, with the encouragement of the Papacy, were bent on extirpating the followers of the creeds of Luther and Calvin. I am not qualified to embark on a historical a.n.a.lysis, and shall do no more than say that many of the persons who are involved in the tale actually existed, and the events referred to actually took place. The weak and vicious King and his malign and unscrupulous mother are real enough, as is a Duc de Montpensier, a Prince of the Blood, who achieved some notoriety for the cruelty with which he treated any Huguenots who fell into his hands, and for the leadership he gave to the a.s.sa.s.sins during the atrocious ma.s.sacre of St. Bartholomew's day.

He was married and had progeny, but the woman to whom he was married was not the heroine of this romance, who is a fictional character, as is the Comte de Chabannes.

The Duc de Guise of the period whose father had been killed fighting against the Protestants, did marry the Princess de Portein, but this was for political reasons and not to satisfy the wishes of a Princess de Montpensier.

It will be noticed, I think, that women were traded in marriage with little or no regard to their personal emotions, and no doubt, as has been remarked by others, marriages without love encouraged love outside marriage. Whatever the reality, the literary conventions of the time seem to have dictated that we should be treated only to ardent glances, fervent declarations, swoonings and courtly gestures; we are not led even to the bedroom door, let alone the amorous couch. I wonder, however, if the reader might not think that this little tale written more than three hundred years ago contains the elements of many of the romantic novels and soap operas which have followed it.

At one level it is a cautionary tale about the consequences of marital infidelity; at another it is a story of a woman betrayed, treated as a pretty bauble for the gratification of men, and cast aside when she has served her purpose, or a b.u.t.terfly trapped in a net woven by uncaring fate. Her end is rather too contrived for modern taste, but, even today, characters who are about to be written out of the plot in soap operas are sometimes smitten by mysterious and fatal disorders of the brain.

The unfortunate Comte de Chabannes is the archetypical "decent chap,"

the faithful but rejected swain who sacrifices himself for the welfare of his beloved without expectation of reward. In the hands of another writer, with some modification, he could have provided a happy ending in the "Mills and Boon" tradition.

This translation is not a schoolroom exercise, for although I have not altered the story, I have altered the exact way in which it is told in the original, with the aim of making it more acceptable to the modern reader. All translation must involve paraphrase, for what sounds well in one language may sound ridiculous if translated literally into another, and it is for the translator to decide how far this process may be carried. Whether I have succeeded in my task, only the reader can say.

The Princess de Montpensier

By

Madame de Lafayette

Translated by Oliver C. Colt

Mezieres

It was while the civil war of religion was tearing France apart that the only daughter of the Marquis of Mezieres, a very considerable heiress, both because of her wealth and the ill.u.s.trious house of Anjou from which she was descended, was promised in marriage to the Duc de Maine, the younger brother of the Duc de Guise.

The marriage was delayed because of the youth of this heiress, but the elder of the brothers, the Duc de Guise, who saw much of her, and who saw also the burgeoning of what was to become a great beauty, fell in love with her and was loved in return. They concealed their feelings with great care; the Duc de Guise, who had not yet become as ambitious as he was to become later, wanted desperately to marry her, but fear of angering his uncle, the Cardinal de Lorraine, who had taken the place of his dead father, prevented him from making any declaration.

This was how the matter stood when the ruling house of Bourbon, who could not bear to see any benefit accruing to that of de Guise, decided to step in and reap the profit themselves by marrying this heiress to the Prince de Montpensier.

This project was pursued with such vigour that the parents of Mlle. de Mezieres, despite the promises given to the Cardinal de Lorraine, resolved to give her in marriage to the young Prince. The house of de Guise was much displeased at this, but the Duc himself was overcome by grief, and regarded this as an insupportable affront. In spite of warnings from his uncles, the Cardinal and the Duc de Aumale--who did not wish to stand in the way of something which they could not prevent--he expressed himself with so much violence, even in the presence of the Prince de Montpensier, that a mutual enmity arose between them which lasted all their lives.

Mlle. de Mezieres, urged by her parents to marry the Prince, realised that it was impossible for her to marry the Duc de Guise, and that if she married his brother, the Duc de Maine, she would be in the dangerous position of having as a brother-in-law a man whom she wished was her husband; so she agreed finally to marry the Prince and begged the Duc de Guise not to continue to place any obstacle in the way.

The marriage having taken place, the Prince de Montpensier took her off to his estate of Champigny, which was where Princes of his family usually lived, in order to remove her from Paris, where it seemed that an outbreak of fighting was imminent: this great city being under threat of siege by a Huguenot army led by the Prince de Conde, who had once more declared war on the King.

The Prince de Montpensier had, when a very young man, formed a close friendship with the Comte de Chabannes, a man considerably older than himself and of exemplary character. The Comte in turn had been so much influenced by the esteem and friendship of the Prince that he had broken off influential connections which he had with the Prince de Conde, and had declared for the Catholics; a change of sides which, having no other foundation, was regarded with suspicion: so much so that the Queen Mother, Catherine de Medici, on the declaration of war by the Huguenots, proposed to have him imprisoned. The Prince de Montpensier prevented this and carried him away to Champigny when he went there with his wife. The Comte being a very pleasant, amiable man soon gained the approbation of the Princess and before long she regarded him with as much friendship and confidence as did her husband.

Chabannes, for his part, observed with admiration the beauty, sense and modesty of the young Princess, and used what influence he had to instill in her thoughts and behaviour suited to her elevated position; so that under his guidance she became one of the most accomplished women of her time.

The Prince having gone back to the Court, where he was needed owing to the continuation of the war, the Comte lived alone with the Princess and continued to treat her with the respect due to her rank and position. The Princess took him so far into her confidence as to tell him of the feelings she had once had for the Duc de Guise, but she intimated that there remained only enough of this emotion to prevent her heart from straying elsewhere and that this remnant, together with her wifely virtue made it impossible for her to respond, except with a rebuff, to any possible suitor.

The Comte who recognised her sincerity and who saw in her a character wholly opposed to flirtation and gallantry, did not doubt the truth of her words; but nevertheless he was unable to resist all the charms which he saw daily so close to him. He fell deeply in love with the Princess, in spite of the shame he felt at allowing himself to be overcome by this illicit pa.s.sion. However although not master of his heart, he was master of his actions; the change in his emotions did not show at all in his behaviour, and no one suspected him. He took, for a whole year, scrupulous care to hide his feelings from the Princess and believed that he would always be able to do so.

Love, however, had the same effect on him as it does on everyone, he longed to speak of it, and after all the struggles which are usually made on such occasions, he dared to tell her of his devotion. He had been prepared to weather the storm of reproach which this might arouse, but he was greeted with a calm and a coolness which was a thousand times worse than the outburst which he had expected. She did not take the trouble to be angry. She pointed out in a few words the difference in their rank and ages, she reminded him of what she had previously said about her att.i.tude to suitors and above all to the duty he owed to the confidence and friendship of the Prince her husband. The Comte was overwhelmed by shame and distress. She tried to console him by a.s.suring him that she would forget entirely what he had just said to her and would always look on him as her best friend; a.s.surances which were small consolation to the Comte as one might imagine. He felt the disdain which was implicit in all that the Princess had said, and seeing her the next day with her customary untroubled looks redoubled his misery.

The Princess continued to show him the same goodwill as before and even discussed her former attachment to the Duc de Guise, saying that she was pleased that his increasing fame showed that he was worthy of the affection she had once had for him. These demonstrations of confidence, which were once so dear to the Comte, he now found insupportable, but he did not dare say as much to the Princess, though he did sometimes remind her of what he had so rashly confessed to her.

After an absence of two years, peace having been declared, the Prince de Montpensier returned to his wife, his renown enhanced by his behaviour at the siege of Paris and the battle of St. Denis. He was surprised to find the beauty of the Princess blooming in such perfection, and being of a naturally jealous disposition he was a little put out of humour by the realisation that this beauty would be evident to others beside himself. He was delighted to see once more the Comte, for whom his affection was in no way diminished. He asked him for confidential details about his wife's character and temperament, for she was almost a stranger to him because of the little time during which they had lived together. The Comte, with the utmost sincerity, as if he himself were not enamoured, told the Prince everything he knew about the Princess which would encourage her husband's love of her, and he also suggested to Madame de Montpensier all the measures she might take to win the heart and respect of her spouse. The Comte's devotion led him to think of nothing but what would increase the happiness and well-being of the Princess and to forget without difficulty the interest which lovers usually have in stirring up trouble between the objects of their affection and their marital partners.

The peace was only short-lived. War soon broke out again by reason of a plot by the King to arrest the Prince de Conde and Admiral Chatillon at Noyers. As a result of the military preparations the Prince de Montpensier was forced to leave his wife and report for duty.

Chabannes, who had been restored to the Queen's favour, went with him.

It was not without much sorrow that he left the Princess, while she, for her part, was distressed to think of the perils to which the war might expose her husband.

The leaders of the Huguenots retired to La Roch.e.l.le. They held Poitou and Saintongne; the war flared up again and the King a.s.sembled all his troops. His brother, the Duc d'Anjou, who later became Henri III, distinguished himself by his deeds in various actions, amongst others the battle of Jarnac, in which the Prince de Conde was killed.

It was during this fighting that the Duc de Guise began to play a more important part and to display some of the great qualities which had been expected of him. The Prince de Montpensier, who hated him, not only as a personal enemy but as an enemy of his family, the Bourbons, took no pleasure in his successes nor in the friendliness shown toward him by the Duc d'Anjou.

After the two armies had tired themselves out in a series of minor actions, by common consent they were stood down for a time. The Duc d'Anjou stayed at Loches to restore to order all the places which had been attacked. The Duc de Guise stayed with him and the Prince de Montpensier, accompanied by the Comte de Chabannes, went back to Champigny, which was not far away.

The Duc d'Anjou frequently went to inspect places where fortifications were being constructed. One day when he was returning to Loches by a route which his staff did not know well, the Duc de Guise, who claimed to know the way, went to the head of the party to act as guide, but after a time he became lost and arrived at the bank of a small river which he did not recognise. The Duc d'Anjou had a few words to say to him for leading them astray, but while they were held up there they saw a little boat floating on the river, in which--the river not being very wide--they could see the figures of three or four women, one of whom, very pretty and sumptuously dressed, was watching with interest the activities of two men who were fishing nearby.

This spectacle created something of a sensation amongst the Princes and their suite. It seemed to them like an episode from a romance. Some declared that it was fate that had led the Duc de Guise to bring them there to see this lovely lady, and that they should now pay court to her. The Duc d'Anjou maintained that it was he who should be her suitor.

To push the matter a bit further, they made one of the hors.e.m.e.n go into the river as far as he could and shout to the lady that it was the Duc d'Anjou who wished to cross to the other bank and who begged the lady to take him in her boat. The lady, who was of course the Princess de Montpensier, hearing that it was the Duc d'Anjou, and having no doubt when she saw the size of his suite that it was indeed him, took her boat over to the bank where he was. His fine figure made him easily distinguishable from the others; she, however, distinguished even more easily the figure of the Duc de Guise. This sight disturbed her and caused her to blush a little which made her seem to the Princes to have an almost supernatural beauty.

The Duc de Guise recognised her immediately in spite of the changes which had taken place in her appearance in the three years since he had last seen her. He told the Duc d'Anjou who she was and the Duc was at first embarra.s.sed at the liberty he had taken, but then, struck by the Princess's beauty, he decided to venture a little further, and after a thousand excuses and a thousand compliments he invented a serious matter which required his presence on the opposite bank, and accepted the offer which she made of a pa.s.sage in her boat. He got in, accompanied only by the Duc de Guise, giving orders to his suite to cross the river elsewhere and to join him at Champigny, which Madame de Montpensier told him was not more than two leagues from there.

As soon as they were in the boat the Duc d'Anjou asked to what they owed this so pleasant encounter. Madame de Montpensier replied that having left Champigny with the Prince her husband with the intention of following the hunt, she had become tired and having reached the river bank she had gone out in the boat to watch the landing of a salmon which had been caught in a net. The Duc de Guise did not take part in this conversation, but he was conscious of the re-awakening of all the emotions which the Princess had once aroused in him, and thought to himself that he would have difficulty in escaping from this meeting without falling once more under her spell.

They arrived shortly at the bank where they found the Princess's horses and her attendants who had been waiting for her. The two n.o.blemen helped her onto her horse where she sat with the greatest elegance.

During their journey back to Champigny they talked agreeably about a number of subjects and her companions were no less charmed by her conversation than they had been by her beauty. They offered her a number of compliments to which she replied with becoming modesty, but a little more coolly to those from M. de Guise, for she wished to maintain a distance which would prevent him from founding any expectations on the feelings she had once had towards him.

When they arrived at the outer courtyard of Champigny they encountered the Prince de Montpensier, who had just returned from the hunt. He was greatly astonished to see two men in the company of his wife, and he was even more astonished when, on coming closer, he saw that these were the Duc d'Anjou and the Duc de Guise. The hatred which he bore for the latter, combined with his naturally jealous disposition made him find the sight of these two Princes with his wife, without knowing how they came to be there or why they had come to his house, so disagreeable that he was unable to conceal his annoyance. He, however, adroitly put this down to a fear that he could not receive so mighty a Prince as the King's brother in a style befitting his rank. The Comte de Chabannes was even more upset at seeing the Duc de Guise and Madame de Montpensier together than was her husband, it seemed to him a most evil chance which had brought the two of them together again, an augury which foretold disturbing sequels to follow this new beginning.

In the evening Madame de Montpensier acted as hostess with the same grace with which she did everything. In fact she pleased her guests a little too much. The Duc d'Anjou who was very handsome and very much a ladies man, could not see a prize so much worth winning without wishing ardently to make it his own. He had a touch of the same sickness as the Duc de Guise, and continuing to invent important reasons, he stayed for two days at Champigny, without being obliged to do so by anything but the charms of Madame de Montpensier, for her husband did not make any noticeable effort to detain him. The Duc de Guise did not leave without making it clear to Madame de Momtpensier that he felt towards her as he had done in the past. As n.o.body knew of this former relationship he said to her several times, in front of everybody, that his affections were in no way changed. A remark which only she understood.

Both he and the Duc d'Anjou left Champigny with regret. For a long time they went along in silence; but at last it occurred to the Duc d'Anjou that the reflections which occupied his thoughts might be echoed in the mind of the Duc de Guise, and he asked him brusquely if he was thinking about the beauties of Madame de Montpensier. This blunt question combined with what he had already observed of the Prince's behaviour made the Duc realise that he had a rival from whom it was essential that his own love for the Princess should be concealed. In order to allay all suspicion he answered with a laugh that the Prince himself had seemed so preoccupied with the thoughts which he was accused of having that he had deemed it inadvisable to interrupt him; the beauty of Madame de Montpensier was, he said, nothing new to him, he had been used to discounting its effect since the days when she was destined to be his sister-in-law, but he saw that not everyone was so little dazzled. The Duc d'Anjou admitted that he had never seen anyone to compare with this young Princess and that he was well aware that the vision might be dangerous if he was exposed to it too often. He tried to get the Duc de Guise to confess that he felt the same, but the Duc would admit to nothing.

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