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Françoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart Montespan.

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possible, indemnified her for all losses sustained during the war,
besides granting favours to all her relatives and friends.

The Sainte-Aldegonde family appeared at Court, being linked thereto by
good services. It is already a training-ground for excellent officers
and persons of merit.

But for that somewhat neat remark of the Countess's, all those gentlemen
would have remained in poverty and obscurity within the walls or in the
suburbs of Tournai.

Some days after this, the King was informed of the arrest of a most
dangerous individual, who had been caught digging below certain ancient
aqueducts "with a view to preparing a mine of some sort." This person
was brought in, tied and bound like a criminal; they hustled him and
maltreated him. I noticed how he trembled and shed tears.

He was a learned man - an antiquary. A few days before our invasion he
had commenced certain excavations, which he had been forced to
discontinue, and now so great was his impatience that he had been obliged
to go on in spite of the surrounding troops. By means of an old
manuscript, long kept by the Druids, as also by monks, this man had been
able to discover traces of an old Roman highroad, and as in the days of
the Romans the tombs of the rich and the great were always placed
alongside these broad roads, our good antiquary had been making certain
researches there, which for him had proved to be a veritable gold-mine.

Having made confession of all this to the King, his Majesty set him free,
granting him, moreover, complete liberty as regarded the execution of his
enterprise.

A few days afterwards he begged to have the honour of presenting to his
Majesty some of the objects which he had collected during his researches.
I was present, and the following are the funereal curiosities which he
showed us:

Having broken open a tomb, he had extracted therefrom a large alabaster
vase, which still contained the ashes of the deceased. Next this urn,
carefully sealed up, there was another vase, containing three gold rings
adorned with precious stones, two gold spurs, the bit of a battle-horse,
very slightly rusted, and chased with silver and gold, a sort of seal
with rough coat-of-arms, a necklace of large and very choice pearls, a
stylet or pencil for calligraphy, and a hundred gold and silver coins
bearing the effigy of Domitian, a very wicked emperor, who reigned over
Rome and over Gaul in those days.

When the King had amused himself with examining these trinkets, he turned
to the antiquary and said, "Is that all, sir? Why, where is Charon's
flask of wine?"

"Here, your Majesty," replied the old man, producing a small flask. "See,
the wine has become quite clear."

With great difficulty the flask was opened; the wine it contained was
pale and odourless, but by those bold enough to taste it, was pronounced
delicious.

When overturning the urn in order to empty out the ashes and bury them,
they noticed an inscription, which the King instantly translated. It ran
thus:

"May the gods who guard tombs punish him who breaks open this mausoleum.
The troubles and misfortunes of Aurelius Silvius have been cruel enough
during his lifetime; in this tomb at least let him have peace."

The worthy antiquary offered me his pearl necklace and one of the antique
rings, but I refused these with a look of horror. He sold the coins to
the King, and informed us that his various excavations and researches had
brought him in about one hundred thousand livres up to the present time.

The King said to him playfully, "Mind what you are about, monsieur; that
sentence which I translated for you is not of a very, reassuring nature."

"Yet it will not serve to hinder me in my scientific researches," replied
the savant. "Charon, who by now must be quite a rich man, evidently
disdains all such petty hidden treasures as these. To me they are most
useful."

Next time we passed through Tournai, I made inquiries as to this miser,
and afterwards informed the King. It appears that he was surprised by
robbers when despoiling one of these tombs. After robbing him of all
that he possessed, they buried him alive in the very, grave where he was
digging, so as to save expense. What a dismal sort of science! What a
life, and what a death!




CHAPTER LIII.

The Monks of Sainte Amandine. - The Prince of Orange Entrapped. - The
Drugged Wine. - The Admirable Judith.


After the furious siege of Conde, which lasted only four days, the King,
who had been present, left for Sebourg, whence he sent orders for the
destruction of the principal forts of Liege, and for the ravaging of the
Juliers district. He treated the Neubourg estates in the same ruthless
fashion, as the Duke had abandoned his attitude of neutrality, and had
joined the Empire, Holland and Spain. All the Cleves district, and those
between the Meuse and the Vahal, were subjected to heavy taxation.
Everywhere one saw families in flight, castles sacked, homesteads and
convents in flames.

The Duc de Villa-Hermosa, Governor-General in Flanders for the King of
Spain, and William of Orange, the Dutch leader, went hither and thither
all over the country, endeavouring to rouse the people, and spur them on
to offer all possible resistance to the King of France.

These two noble generalissimi even found their way into monasteries and
nunneries, and carried off their silver plate, actually, seizing the
consecrated vessels used for the sacrament, saying that all such things
would help the good cause.

One day they entered a wealthy Bernardine monastery, where the miraculous
tomb of Sainte Amandine was on view. The great veneration shown for this
saint in all the country thereabouts had served greatly to enrich the
community and bring them in numerous costly offerings. The chapel
wherein the saint's heart was said to repose was lighted by a huge gold
lamp, and on the walls and in niches right up to the ceiling were
thousands of votive offerings in enamel, silver, and gold. The Duc de
Villa-Hermosa (a good Catholic) dared not give orders for the pillage of
this holy chapel, but left that to the Prince of Orange (a good
Huguenot).

One evening they came to ask the prior for shelter, who, seeing that he
was at the mercy of both armies, had to show himself pleasant to each.

During supper, when the two generals informed him of the object of their
secret visit, he clearly perceived that the monastery was about to be
sacked, and like a man of resource, at once made up his mind. When
dessert came, he gave his guests wine that had been drugged. The
generals, growing drowsy, soon fell asleep, and the prior at once caused
them to be carried off to a cell and placed upon a comfortable bed.

This done, he celebrated midnight mass as usual, and at its close he
summoned the whole community, telling them of their peril and inviting
counsel and advice.

"My brethren," asked he, "ought we not to look upon our prisoners as
profaners of holy places, and serve them in secret and before God as once
the admirable Judith served Holofernes?"

At this proposal there was a general murmur. The assembly grew agitated,
but seeing how perilous was the situation, order was soon restored.

The old monks were of opinion that the two generals ought not yet to be
sacrificed, but should be shut up in a subterranean dungeon, a messenger
being sent forthwith to the French King announcing their capture.

The young monks protested loudly against such an act, declaring it to be
treacherous, disgraceful, felonious. The prior endeavoured to make them
listen to reason and be silent, but the young monks, though in a
minority, got the upper hand. They deposed the prior, abused and
assaulted him, and finally flung him into prison. One of them was
appointed prior without ballot, and this new leader, followed by his
adherents, roused the generals and officiously sent them away.

The prior's nephew, a young Bernardine, accompanied by a lay brother and
two or three servants, set out across country that night, and brought
information to the King of all this disorder, begging his Majesty to save
his worthy uncle's life.

At the head of six hundred dragoons, the King hastened to the convent and
at once rescued the prior, sending the good old monks of Sainte Amandine
to Citeaux, and dispersing the rebellious young ones among the Carthusian
and Trappist monasteries. All the treasures contained in the chapel he
had transferred to his camp, until a calmer, more propitious season.

That priceless capture, the Prince of Orange, escaped him, however, and
he was inconsolable thereat, adding, as he narrated the incident, "Were
it not that I feared to bring dishonour upon my name, and sully the
history of my reign and my life, I would have massacred those young
Saint-Bernard monks."

"What a vile breed they all are!" I cried, losing all patience.

"No, no, madame," he quickly rejoined, "you are apt to jump from one
extreme to the other. It does not do to generalise thus. The young
monks at Sainte Amandine showed themselves to be my enemies, I admit, and
for this I shall punish them as they deserve, but the poor old monks
merely desired my success and advantage. When peace is declared, I shall
take care of them and of their monastery; the prior shall be made an
abbot. I like the poor fellow; so will you, when you see him."

I really cannot see why the King should have taken such a fancy to this
old monk, who was minded to murder a couple of generals in his convent
because, forsooth, Judith once slew Holofernes! Judith might have been
tempted to do that sort of thing; she was a Jewess. But a Christian
monk! I cannot get over it!




CHAPTER LIV.

The Chevalier de Rohan. - He is Born Too Late. - His Debts. - Messina Ceded
to the French. - The King of Spain Meditates Revenge. - The Comte de
Monterey. - Madame de Villars as Conspirator. - The Picpus
Schoolmaster. - The Plot Fails. - Discovery and Retribution. - Madame de
Soubise's Indifference to the Chevalier's Fate.


Had he been born fifty or sixty years earlier, the Chevalier de Rohan
might have played a great part. He was one of those men, devoid of
restraint and of principle, who love pleasure above all things, and who
would sacrifice their honour, their peace of mind, aye, even the State
itself, if such a sacrifice were really needed, in order to attain their
own personal enjoyment and satisfaction.

The year before, he once invited himself to dinner at my private
residence at Saint Germain, and he then gave me the impression of being a
madman, or a would-be conspirator. My sister De Thianges noticed the
same thing, too.

The Chevalier had squandered his fortune five or six years previously;
his bills were innumerable.

Each day he sank deeper into debt, and the King remarked, "The Chevalier
de Rohan will come to a bad end; it will never do to go on as he does."

Instead of keeping an eye upon him, and affectionately asking him to
respect his family's honour, the Prince and Princesse de Soubise made as
if it were their duty to ignore him and blush for him.

Profligacy, debts, and despair drove this unfortunate nobleman to make a
resolve such as might never be expected of any high-born gentleman.

Discontented with their governor, Don Diego de Soria, the inhabitants of
Messina had just shaken off the Spanish yoke, and had surrendered to the
King of France, who proffered protection and help.

Such conduct on the part of the French Government seemed to the King of
Spain most disloyal, and he desired nothing better than to revenge
himself. This is how he set about it.

On occasions of this kind it is always the crafty who are sought out for
such work. Comte de Monterey was instructed to sound the Chevalier de
Rohan upon the subject, offering him safety and a fortune as his reward.
Pressed into their service there was also the Marquise de Villars, - a
frantic gambler, a creature bereft of all principle and all modesty, - to
whom a sum of twenty thousand crowns in cash was paid over beforehand,
with the promise of a million directly success was ensured. She
undertook to manage Rohan and tell him what to do. Certain ciphers had
to be used, and to these the Marquise had the key. They needed a
messenger both intelligent and trustworthy, and for this mission she gave
the Chevalier an ally in the person of an ex-teacher in the Flemish
school at Picpus, on the Faubourg Saint Antoine. This man and the
Chevalier went secretly to the Comte de Monterey in Flanders, and by this
trio it was settled that on a certain day, at high tide, Admiral van
Tromp with his fleet should anchor off Honfleur or Quillebceuf in
Normandy, and that, at a given signal, La Truaumont, the Chevalier de
Preaux, and the Chevalier de Rohan were to surrender to him the town and
port without ever striking a single blow, all this being for the benefit
of his Majesty the King of Spain.

But all was discovered. The five culprits were examined, when the
Marquise de Villars stated that the inhabitants of Messina had given them
an example which the King of France had not condemned!

The Marquise and the two Chevaliers were beheaded, while the
ex-schoolmaster was hanged. As for young La Truaumont, son of a
councillor of the Exchequer, he escaped the block by letting himself be
throttled by his guards or gaolers, to whom he offered no resistance.

Despite her influence upon the King's feelings, the Princess de Soubise
did not deign to take the least notice of the trial, and they say that
she drove across the Pont-Neuf in her coach just as the Chevalier de
Rohan, pinioned and barefooted, was marching to his doom.




CHAPTER LV.

The Prince of Orange Captures Bonn. - The King Captures Orange. - The
Calvinists of Orange Offer Resistance.


Since Catiline's famous hatred for Consul Cicero, there has never been
hatred so deep and envenomed as that of William of Orange for the King.
For this loathing, cherished by a petty prince for a great potentate,
various reasons have been given. As for myself, I view things closely
and in their true light, and I am convinced that Prince William was
actuated by sheer jealousy and envy.

It was affirmed that the King, when intending to give him as bride
Mademoiselle de Blois, his eldest daughter and great favourite, had
offered to place him on the Dutch throne as independent King, and that to
such generous proposals the petty Stadtholder replied, "I am not pious
enough to marry the daughter of a Carmelite nun." So absurd a proposal
as this, however, was never made, for the simple reason that Mademoiselle
de Blois has never yet been offered in marriage to any prince or noble
man in this wide world. Rather than to be parted from her, the King
would prefer her to remain single. He has often said as much to me, and
there is no reason to doubt his word.

The little Principality of Orange, which once formed the estate of this
now outlandish family, is situate close to the Rhone, amid French
territory. Though decorated with the title of Sovereignty, like its
neighbour the Principality of Dombes, it is no less a fief-land of the
Crown. In this capacity it has to contribute to the Crown revenues, and
owes homage and fealty to the sovereign.

Such petty, formal restrictions are very galling to the arrogant young
Prince of Orange, for he is one of those men who desire, at all cost, to
make a noise in the world, and who would set fire to Solomon's Temple or
to the Delphian Temple, it mattered not which, so long as they made
people talk about them.

After Turenne's death, there was a good deal of rivalry among our
generals. This proved harmful to the service. The Goddess of Victory
discovered this, and at times forsook us. Many possessions that were
conquered had to be given up, and we had to bow before those whom erst we
had humiliated. But Orange was never restored. - [This was written in
1677.]

When, in November, 1673, the Prince of Orange had the audacity to besiege
Bonn, the residence of our ally, the Prince Elector of Cologne, and to
reduce that prelate to the last extremity, the King promptly seized upon
the Principality of Orange; and having planted the French flag upon every
building, he published a general decree, strictly forbidding the
inhabitants to hold any communication whatever with "their former petty
sovereign," and ordering prayers to be said for him, Louis, in all their
churches. This is a positive fact.

The Roman Catholics readily complied with this royal decree, which was in
conformity with their sympathies and their interests; but the Protestants
waxed furious thereat. Some of them even carried their devotion to such
a pitch that they paid taxes to two masters; that is to say, to
Stadtholder William, as well as to his Majesty the King.

The Huguenot "ministers," or priests, issued pastoral letters in praise
of the Calvinist Prince and in abuse of the Most Christian King. They
also preached against the new oath of fealty, and committed several most
imprudent acts, which the Jesuits were not slow to remark and report in
Court circles.

Such audacity, and the need for its repression, rankled deep in the
King's heart; and I believe he is quite disposed to pass measures of such
extreme severity as will soon deprive the Protestants and Lutherans of
any privileges derived from the Edict of Nantes.

From various sources I receive the assurance that he is preparing to deal
a heavy blow anent this; but the King's character is impenetrable. Time
alone will show.




CHAPTER LVI

The Castle of Bleink-Elmeink. - Romantic and Extraordinary Discovery. - An
Innocent and Persecuted Wife. - Madame de Bleink-Elmeink at Chaillot.


After the siege and surrender of Maestricht, when the King had no other
end in view than the entire conquest of Dutch Brabant, he took us to this
country, which had suffered greatly by the war. Some districts were
wholly devastated, and it became increasingly difficult to find lodging
and shelter for the Court.

The grooms of the chambers one day found for us a large chateau, situated
in a woody ravine, old-fashioned in structure, and surrounded by a moat.
There was only one drawbridge, flanked by two tall towers, surmounted by
turrets and culverins. Its owner was in residence at the time. He came
to the King and the Queen, and greeting them in French, placed his entire
property at their disposal.

It had rained in torrents for two days without ceasing. Despite the
season, everybody was wet through and benumbed with cold. Large fires
were made in all the huge fireplaces; and when the castle's vast rooms
were lighted up by candles, we agreed that the architect had not lacked
grandeur of conception nor good taste when building such large corridors,
massive staircases, lofty vestibules, and spacious, resounding rooms.
That given to the Queen was like an alcove, decorated by six large marble
caryatides, joined by a handsome balustrade high enough to lean upon. The
four-post bed was of azure blue velvet, with flowered work and rich gold
and silver tasselling. Over the chimneypiece was the huge Bleink-Elmeink
coat-of-arms, supported by two tall Templars.

The King's apartment was an exact reproduction of a room existing at
Jerusalem in the time of Saint Louis; this was explained by inscriptions
and devices in Gothic or Celtic.

My room was supposed to be an exact copy of the famous Pilate's chamber,
and it was named so; and for three days my eyes were rejoiced by the
detailed spectacle of our Lord's Passion, from His flagellation to His
agony on Calvary.

The Queen came to see me in this room, and did me the honour of being
envious of so charming an apartment.

The fourth day, when the weather became fine, we prepared to change our
quarters and take to our carriages again, when an extraordinary event
obliged us to send a messenger for the King, who had already left us, and
had gone forward to join the army.

An old peasant, still robust and in good health, performed in this gloomy
castle the duties of a housekeeper. In this capacity she frequently
visited our rooms to receive our orders and satisfy our needs.

Seeing that the Queen's boxes were being closed, and that our departure
was at hand, she came to me and said:

"Madame, the sovereign Lord of Heaven has willed it thus; that the
officers of the French King should have discovered as the residence of
his Court this castle amid gloomy forests and precipices. The great
prince has come hither and has stayed here for a brief while, and we have
sought to welcome him as well as we could. He gave the Comte de
Bleink-Elmeink, lord of this place and my master, his portrait set in
diamonds; he had far better have cut his throat."

"Good heavens, woman! What is this you tell me?" I exclaimed. "Of what
crime is your master guilty? He seems to me to be somewhat moody and
unsociable; but his family is of good renown, and all sorts of good
things have been, told concerning it to the King and Queen."

"Madame," replied the old woman, drawing me aside into a window-recess,
and lowering her voice, "do you see at the far end of yonder court an old
dungeon of much narrower dimensions than the others? In that dungeon
lies the good Comtesse de Bleink-Elmeink; she has languished there for
five years."

Then this woman informed me that her master, formerly page of honour to
the Empress Eleanor, had wedded, on account of her great wealth, a young
Hungarian noblewoman, by whom he had two children, both of whom were
living. Such was his dislike of their mother, on account of a slight
deformity, that for four or five years he shamefully maltreated her, and
at last shut her up in this dungeon-keep, allowing her daily the most
meagre diet possible.

"When, some few days since, the royal stewards appeared in front of the
moat, and claimed admittance, the Count was much alarmed," added the
peasant woman. "He thought that all was discovered, and that he was
going to suffer for it. It was not until the King and Queen came that he
was reassured, and he has not been able to hide his embarrassment from
any of us."

"Where are the two children of his marriage?" I asked the old woman,
before deciding to act.

"The young Baron," she answered, "is at Vienna or Ohnutz, at an academy
there. His sister, a graceful, pretty girl, has been in a convent from
her childhood; the nuns have promised to keep her there, and as soon as
she is fourteen, she will take the veil."

My first impulse was to acquaint the Queen with these astounding
revelations, but it soon struck me that, to tackle a man of such
importance as the Count, we could not do without the King. I at once
sent my secretary with a note, imploring his Majesty to return, but
giving no reason for my request. He came back immediately, post-haste,
when the housekeeper repeated to him, word for word, all that I have set
down here. The King could hardly believe his ears.

When coming to a decision, his Majesty never does so precipitately. He
paced up and down the room twice or thrice, and then said to me, "The
matter is of a rather singular nature; I am unacquainted with law, and
what I propose to do may one day serve as an example. It is my duty to
rescue our unfortunate hostess, and requite her nobly for her
hospitality."

So saying, he sent for the Count, and assuming a careless, almost jocular
air, thus addressed him:

"You were formerly page to the Empress Eleanor, I believe, M. le
Bleink-Elmeink?"

"Yes, Sire."

"She is dead, but the Emperor would easily recognise you, would he not?"

"I imagine so, Sire."

"I have thought of you as a likely person to be the bearer of a message,
some one of your age and height being needed, and of grave, secretive
temperament, such as I notice you to possess. Get everything in
readiness, as I intend to send you as courier to his Imperial Majesty. I
am going to write to him from here, and you shall bring me back his reply
to my proposals."

To be sent off like this was most galling to the Count, but his youth and
perfect health allowed him not the shadow of a pretext. He was obliged
to pack his valise and start. He pretended to look pleased and
acquiescent, but in his eyes I could detect fury and despair.

Half an hour after his departure, the King had the drawbridge raised, and
then went to inform the Queen of everything.

"Madame," said he, "you have been sleeping in this unfortunate lady's
nuptial bed. She is now about to be presented to you. I ask that you
will receive her kindly, and afterwards act as her protector, should



Online LibraryFrançoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart MontespanMemoirs of Madame la Marquise de Montespan — Complete → online text (page 13 of 30)