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The Princess de Montpensier


Mme. de Lafayette



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 analysis, 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 assassins during the atrocious
massacre 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 butterfly 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

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


Madame de Lafayette

Translated by Oliver C. Colt


It was while the civil war of religion was tearing France apart that
the only daughter of the Marquis of Mézières, a very considerable
heiress, both because of her wealth and the illustrious 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
Mézières, 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 Mézières, 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 Condé, 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
Condé, 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 passion. 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 attitude 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 assuring
him that she would forget entirely what he had just said to her and
would always look on him as her best friend; assurances 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 Condé 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 Rochelle. They held
Poitou and Saintongne; the war flared up again and the King assembled
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 Condé 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 horsemen 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 embarrassed 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 passage 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 noblemen
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 nobody 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.

On their return to Loches they often recalled with pleasure the events
which had led to their meeting with the Princess de Montpensier, a
subject which did not give rise to the same pleasure at Champigny. The
Prince de Montpensier was dissatisfied with all that had happened
without being able to say precisely why. He found fault with his wife
for being in the boat. He considered that she had welcomed the Princes
too readily; and what displeased him most was that he had noticed the
attention paid to her by the Duc de Guise. This had provoked in him a
furious bout of jealousy in which he recalled the anger displayed by
the Duc at the prospect of his marriage, which caused him to suspect
that even at that time the Duc was in love with his wife. The Comte de
Chabannes as usual made every effort to act as peacemaker, hoping in
this way to show the Princess that his devotion to her was sincere and
disinterested. He could not resist asking her what effect the sight of
the Duc de Guise had produced. She replied that she had been somewhat
upset and embarrassed at the memory of the feelings she had once
displayed to him; she found him more handsome than he had been then and
it had seemed to her that he wished to persuade her that he still loved
her, but she assured the Comte that nothing would shake her
determination not to become involved in any intrigue. The Comte was
happy to hear of this resolve, but he was far from being sure about the
Duc de Guise. He earnestly warned the Princess of the danger of a
return to the previous situation should she have any change of heart,
though when he spoke of his devotion she adopted her invariable
attitude of looking on him as her closest friend but in no way a
possible suitor.

The armies were once more called up; all the Princes returned to their
posts and the Prince de Montpensier decided that his wife should come
with him to Paris so as to be further from the area where it was
expected that fighting would take place. The Huguenots besieged
Poitiers. The Duc de Guise went there to organise the defence and,
while there, enhanced his reputation by his conduct. The Duc d'Anjou
suffered from some illness, and left the army either on account of the
severity of this or because he wanted to return to the comfort and
security of Paris, where the presence of the Princess de Montpensier
was not the least of the attractions. The command of the army was taken
over by the Prince de Montpensier, and shortly after this, a peace
having been arranged, the Court assembled in Paris. Here the beauty of
the Princess eclipsed that of all her rivals. She charmed everyone by
her looks and personality. The Duc d'Anjou did not abandon the
sentiments she had inspired in him at Champigny, he took great care to
make her aware of this by all sorts of delicate considerations, being
careful at the same time not to make his attentions too obvious for
fear of arousing the jealousy of her husband. The Duc de Guise was now
fervently in love with her, but wishing, for a variety of reasons, to
keep this secret, he resolved to tell her so privately and avoid any
preliminaries which, as always, would give rise to talk and exposure.
One day when he was in the Queen's apartments where there were very few
people, the Queen having left to discuss affairs of state with Cardinal
de Lorraine, the Princess de Montpensier arrived. He decided to take
this opportunity to speak to her, and going up to her he said,
"Although it may surprise and displease you, I want you to know that I
have always felt for you that emotion which you once knew so well, and
that its power has been so greatly increased by seeing you again that
neither your disapproval, the hatred of your husband, nor the rivalry
of the first Prince in the kingdom can in the least diminish it. It
would perhaps have been more tactful to have let you become aware of
this by my behaviour rather than by my words, but my behaviour would
have been evident to others as well as to yourself and I wanted you
alone to know of my love for you."

The Princess was so surprised and thrown into confusion by this speech
that she could not think of an answer, then, just when she had
collected her wits and begun to reply, the Prince de Montpensier
entered the room. The Princess's face displayed her agitation, and her
embarrassment was compounded by the sight of her husband, to such an
extent that he was left in no doubt about what the Duc de Guise had
been saying to her. Fortunately at that moment the Queen re-entered the

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