Marianna Alcoforado.

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Transcriber's Note

Superscript is indicated by caret signs, e.g. An^{ia}. Italics
are indicated by _underscores_.


_All rights reserved_





Edinburgh: T. and A. CONSTABLE
Printers to Her Majesty



_My attempt at an English rendering of the Letters is, I think, the
first since the days of Bowles’ ‘Letters from a Portuguese Nun to
an Officer in the French Army,’ London, 1808.[1] But during the two
centuries which have elapsed since their first publication quite a
small literature has grown up around them, and they have been turned
into several European tongues, the French editions alone amounting to
more than thirty. If the numerous so-called ‘Replies’ and ‘Imitations’
were added to this reckoning the number would be nearly doubled, and
this without taking into account the critiques and studies which have
appeared about them. I do not propose here to enter into a comparison
of the Letters with those of Heloïse, as many writers have done, but
shall content myself with referring the curious to the excellent work
of Senhor Cordeiro, ‘Soror Marianna. A Freira Portugueza,’ Lisbon,
1888; 2nd edition, 1891. It is from him that I have learnt nearly
all that I know about Marianna, and in my Introduction I have made a
liberal use of his book, as well as of M. Asse’s preface to the edition
of the ‘Lettres Portuguises avec les Réponses,’ Paris, 1889, upon which
I have based my rendering._

_If my translation should arouse any interest in things Portuguese,
and lead others to read and make versions of such masterpieces of
the world’s literature as the ‘Frei Luiz de Sousa’ and the ‘Folhas
Cahidas’ of Garrett, or the poems of João de Deus, I should be more
than rewarded for any trouble the present work may have cost me.
But who can hope to succeed where Burton has apparently failed? The
English public - and the critics too - will probably continue to believe
that there is nothing worth reading in Portuguese literature with
the exception of the Lusiads. Here too there is perhaps a lesson
to be learnt from the Germans, especially from such as Storck,
Reinhardstoettner, and Michaëlis de Vasconcellos._

_I should like to thank Mr. York Powell of Christ Church for the
kind help which he has given me in the difficult task of translation.
My aim has been throughout to keep as close to the French text as
possible - seeing that the original Portuguese is lost, - aided by the
masterly re-translation of Senhor Cordeiro. L’Estrange’s version - ‘Five
Love Letters from a Nun to a Cavalier,’ London, 1678, - is somewhat free
at times, but it has aided me in the Third Letter. I have followed
Cordeiro in his re-arrangement of the order of the Letters, the Second
and Fourth changing places._

_The historical facts which concern the hero and heroine of these
Letters I have given briefly in the Introduction, and a Bibliography
and Appendix will be found at the end of the volume. The text of the
first French edition of 1669 has been copied in Paris purposely for
this work, and will, it is hoped, add much to its interest and value._

_And so I deliver poor Marianna’s passionate Epistles to the
consideration of those who can appreciate them and feel for her._

And weeping then she made her moan,
‘The night comes on that knows not morn,
When I shall cease to be all alone,
To live forgotten and love forlorn.’


BOWDON, 1892.




Fuyd los deleytes, pues non da deleite
Perfecto, nin bueno, nin tan poco sano;
A todos engaña su falsso afeyte,
Sin sentir mata el su gozo vano.
A todos arriedran del bien soberano,
Jamas no aplazen que no den tristeza,
Aforjan cadenas del sotil Volcano,
Con que encarcelan a toda nobleza.

_Cancioneiro de Resende._

‘In 1663,’ says Sainte-Beuve, ‘it became the policy of Louis XIV.
to help Portugal against Spain, but the succour which he gave was
indirect; subsidies were secretly furnished, the levying of troops was
favoured, and a crowd of volunteers hastened there. Between this small
army, commanded by Schomberg, and the feeble Spanish troops which
disputed the soil with it, there were each summer many marches and
counter-marches with but few results, many skirmishes and small fights,
and among the latter, perhaps, one victory. Who troubles himself
about it now? The curious reader, however, who only looks to his own
pleasure, cannot help saying that all this was good, since the “Letters
of the Portuguese Nun” grew from it.

As Sainte-Beuve indicates, the subject of the ‘Letters’ forms one of
the episodes of the war between Spain and Portugal which followed as
a consequence of the Restoration of 1640 and the achievement of the
latter’s independence under the House of Braganza. This war, which
lasted for twenty-eight years, until the final peace in 1668, was
intermittent, and carried on only at long intervals owing to the state
of the two contending parties. Spain had now entered on the period of
her decline, and Portugal was in a hardly better condition after her
sixty years’ captivity and the exhaustion of her forces which had taken
place during the reign of Philip IV. Owing, however, to the aid of
France, she had been enabled to hold her own up to 1659; but the news
of the Peace of the Pyrenees seemed at first to take from her all hope
of preserving her hardly won autonomy. Yet in spite of this, Mazarin,
while signing the clause which bound France to abandon the Portuguese
cause, determined, with his usual duplicity, that this should not
prevent him from secretly aiding an ally whom he had found so useful
in the past as a thorn in the side of Spain. Hardly, indeed, had the
treaty been made than he began to occupy himself in recruiting for the
Portuguese service a number of French officers whom the peace had left
without employment. Among these the chief was Schomberg, who went to
Lisbon in 1660 as commander-in-chief and to reorganise the Portuguese
army. It was not, however, until 1663 that the hero of the Letters,
Noel Bouton, afterwards Marquis of Chamilly and St. Leger, arrived in
the country, which he was to leave four years later with the betrayal
of a poor nun as his title to fame. For at the time when Schomberg was
already there, we see Chamilly (as he is generally called) assisting at
the marriage of his brother to Catherine le Comte de Nonant, referred
to in the text (Letter II.).

Three years afterwards, finding himself without military employment in
France, he came to Portugal, attracted probably, like so many others,
by the reputation of the great captain, with whom he had doubtless
established friendly relations during the campaign in Flanders (1656-8).

Our hero, if hero he may be called, was the eleventh son of Nicholas
Bouton, Lord of Chamilly, Charangeroux, and, later on, St. Leger,
properties of modest size in Burgundy. His family was good, but its
attachment to the Princes of Condé during the Fronde had compromised
its position and damaged its fortunes. Noel, the future marquis, was
born in 1636, and as soon as his age allowed he entered on a military
career. He served through the Flanders campaign under Turenne, and in
1658 was made captain, under the name of the Count of Chamilly, in
Mazarin’s regiment of cavalry. Reaching Portugal at the end of 1663,
or the commencement of 1664, he was given the same rank in a regiment
commanded by a French officer of note, Briquemault. Although his name
is not mentioned in any of the contemporary notices of the war, we know
that he was present at the Siege of Valença de Alcantara (June 1664),
at the battle of Castello Rodrigo (in the same month and year), at
that of Montes Claros (June 1665), and at the principal sieges which
occupied the next two years. In 1665, he was promoted to the rank of
colonel, and two years later a diploma of Louis XIV., issued, perhaps,
at the instance of his brother, the Governor of Dijon, gave Chamilly a
similar post in the French army, with the evident intention of enabling
him to leave the Portuguese service when he liked, even though the war
with Spain should not be ended. This, taken together with the fact that
in the document the space for the month is left blank, is extremely
significant, and, as will be seen later on, certainly connects itself
with the episode of the ‘Letters,’ even if it does not enter into their
actual history.[2] The diploma of Louis XIV., it may be added, is dated
1667, and the sudden departure of Chamilly took place at the end of
that year, so that it seems probable that the French captain, fearing
future annoyance or even danger to himself from his _liaison_, had
determined to secure a safe retreat.

But let us look for a moment at the authoress of the famous ‘Portuguese

Marianna Alcoforado was born of a good family in the city of Beja and
province of Alemtejo in the year 1640. Her father appears to us in the
first years of the Restoration as a man in an influential position,
well related, and discharging important commissions both administrative
and political. He possessed a large agricultural property, which he
administered with attention and even zeal, and was a Cavalier of the
Order of Christ, besides being intimate with some of the principal
men of the time. He had six children, of whom Marianna, according to
Cordeiro, was the second. Life in Beja at that time seems to have
been sufficiently insecure, owing to the fact that the province of
which it was one of the chief cities formed the theatre of the war,
and Beja itself was the chief garrison town. Tumults were constantly
arising from quarrels between the various parts of the heterogeneous
mass which then composed the Portuguese army, and hence increased care
would be necessary on the part of Francisco Alcoforado in order that
the education of his daughters might be conducted in such a manner as
their position demanded. Hence, too, probably, the reason why Marianna
and her sister Catherine entered the Convent of the Conception at an
earlier age than was usual. Their father, occupied with administrative
and military work on the frontier, would be unable to give them the
oversight and attention which quieter times would have allowed.

The Convent of the Conception at Beja was founded in 1467 by the
parents of King Emanuel the Fortunate, and, favoured successively by
royal and private devotion, it had become one of the most important
and wealthy institutions of its kind in Portugal. It was situated at
the extreme south of the city, near to the ancient walls, and looked
on to the gates still called ‘of Mertola,’ because they are on the
side of the city towards Mertola, distant fifty-four kilometres to
the south-west on the right bank of the Guadiana. There is still to be
seen the remains of the balcony or verandah from which Marianna first
caught sight of Chamilly, probably during some military evolutions (cf.
Letter II.), and from it a good view may be obtained over the plains
of Alemtejo as they stretch away to the south. Curiously enough, the
tradition of Marianna and her fatal love has been perpetuated in the
convent, in spite of the attempts, natural enough, on the part of
monastic chroniclers and such like to hide all traces of it.

In this as in most other convents there were two kinds of cells - the
dormitories, divided into cubicles, and rooms forming independent
abodes dispersed throughout the edifice. These latter the nuns of the
seventeenth century called their ‘houses,’ - _as suas casas_, - and
it was one of these which Marianna possessed. The former were in
accordance with the Constitutions, while the latter, though strictly
forbidden, nevertheless existed. These separate abodes were, it is
true, often necessitated by the growth of the convent population,
and generally appertained to nuns of a better position, while the
dormitories served for those who were either poorer or of an inferior
rank. Many of these _casas_, too, were built by private individuals who
had some connection or other with the particular convent, and there are
indications that the father of Marianna had caused some to be erected
in that of the Conception.[3]

From the year 1665 to 1667, then, Beja was, as we have said, the centre
of the various military movements in which Chamilly took part under
the leadership of Schomberg, and there is no doubt that he spent much
of his time there. Marianna was twenty-five years old. She had been
intrusted to the Cloister when a child,[4] as she herself tells us, and
her renunciation of the world must have been little more than a form.
She had probably made her ‘profession’ too at the age of sixteen, that
provided for by the Constitutions, if not at an earlier date.

The dull routine of her life was suddenly broken in upon by the sight
of a man surrounded with all the prestige of military glory - one who
was the first to awaken in her a consciousness of her own beauty - the
first to tell her that he loved her, one, moreover, who was ready to
throw all his greatness, his present and his future, at her feet.

‘I was young; I was trustful. I had been shut up in this convent since
my childhood. I had only seen people whom I did not care for. I had
never heard the praises which you constantly gave me. Methought I owed
you the charms and the beauty which you found in me, and which you were
the first to make me perceive. I heard you well talked of; every one
spoke in your favour. You did all that was necessary to awaken love in
me.’[5] Such is her simple confession, and, comments Cordeiro, nothing
more natural.

Their first meeting was probably due to the relations which Chamilly,
an officer of rank, had entered into with the Alcoforados, one of the
chief families in Beja. There are indications, indeed, that Chamilly
and Marianna’s eldest brother had met, doubtless in the field, for
the latter also followed the profession of arms; and this brother,
named Balthazar Vaz Alcoforado, is probably the same as the ‘brother’
referred to in the Letters as the lovers’ go-between. It was for his
benefit that Marianna’s father had striven for years to build up an
estate which was to be entailed on his offspring. But in the year 1669,
just at the very time of the great sensation caused by the publication
of the Letters in Paris, Balthazar abandoned his military career and
all his brilliant prospects in the world to enter the priesthood. It is
impossible not to hazard a guess, although we know nothing for certain
on the point, that his motive for so doing was connected in some way
with the almost tragic ending of the _liaison_ between his sister and
the French captain. But to return: - The customs of the time, curiously
enough, allowed a greater relative liberty to nuns as regards the
visits which might be paid them than to married women,[6] or, as the
Bishop of Gram Para puts it, ‘the liberty of the grating was wide in
those miserable times.’[7]

We cannot of course be expected to give an account of the progress of
this _liaison_, nor do we wish to indulge in romantic hypotheses.

Chamilly was thirty at the time when he first saw Marianna. Brought up
as he had been to war as a trade, a man of small intelligence and few
scruples, the intrigue would be a pleasant diversion, a means _pour
passer le temps_ which he would otherwise have found dull enough in a
Portuguese provincial town after the Paris of ‘Le Grand Monarque.’ The
seduction and desertion of a poor nun must have seemed all so perfectly
natural to one brought up in contact with the loose morality of camp
life and in the France of Louis XIV.

* * * * *

In June 1667 the authorities of Beja received an answer from the
new King, Don Pedro, to the complaint which they had made of ‘the
oppression which the French cavalry continued to exercise on this
people.’[8] Already, on account of similar complaints, Schomberg had
been ordered to move his cavalry from the town and district, but he
had disobeyed these orders for strategic reasons. Now, we have already
seen that it was between 1665 and 1667 that Chamilly carried on his
intrigue with Marianna, and it is just in 1667 that the scandal must
have attained greater proportions, coinciding with and ending, not in
the withdrawal of the French cavalry, but in the sudden retirement
of Chamilly to France. But what, it may be asked, was the reason for
the King’s order, and what could those ‘oppressions’ have been in an
important city where presumably there was a regular and well-appointed
police administration? Has it not a relation, asks Cordeiro, with
the incident in the ‘Letters,’ which would both afflict and irritate
the influential family of the nun and the good burgesses of Beja?
The special situation of the French captain, on the other hand - his
interest in not aggravating the scandal, and the peril for the
religious herself in the adoption of violent means, would all naturally
counsel the withdrawal of Chamilly.[9]

The danger of remaining longer in Beja was not in the nature of those
which the French colonel could confront with his recognised courage. If
he were surprised in the convent, if he were denounced as its violator
and as the seducer of a nun, the daughter of a well-known family, and
one, too, which was on excellent terms with the new sovereign, neither
his own position nor the protection of Schomberg would avail him, since
both the one and the other began to lose their importance with the
approach of peace.[10]

However this may be, certain it is that Chamilly’s own excuses for
departure, referred to in the ‘Letters,’ were merely empty pretexts,
and a reference to the history of the time will show this. If Louis
XIV. needed his presence so much for the invasion of Franche Comté, why
not, it may be asked, for the important campaign in Flanders in 1667?

He seems to have left Portugal, too, a little clandestinely, for no
notice is to be met with, as in the case of other French officers, of
his asking and obtaining leave from the Portuguese Government, and he
probably did not even embark in Lisbon. Already, in the beginning of
February 1668, we find him with Louis XIV. in Dijon, so that he must
have quitted Beja and the seat of war quite at the end of the preceding

It is now that the ‘Letters’ enter into the history of the lives of
Marianna and Noel Bouton de Chamilly. As is well known, they were all
written after the latter’s retirement from Portugal, and probably
between the December of 1667 and the June of 1668, and they express
better than any remarks which we could make the stages of faith,
doubt, and despair through which poor Marianna passed. As a piece
of unconscious, though self-made, psychological analysis they are
unsurpassed; as a product of the Peninsular heart they are unrivalled.
If they are not, as Theophilo Braga calls them, the only beautiful
work produced by his countrymen in the seventeenth century, they are,
at any rate, by far the most beautiful. To compare them, as regards
literary form, with those of Heloïse would be manifestly unfair, the
situation of the two women was so different.[11] Think of the Abbess of
the Paraclete, mistress of all the learning of the time, and surrounded
by things to console her, or at least to divert her attention, and
then regard poor Marianna, persecuted by her family, and liable to the
tender mercies of the Inquisition, with none of the comforts, none of
the consolations of the former. But if the ‘Letters’ of Heloise are
superior to those of Marianna from the point of view of correctness of
expression and style, they are inferior in all else. The nun’s are far
more natural, and therefore more beautiful, and the very confusion
of feelings and ideas which we should expect from one in her position
rather adds to their charm. Finally, the moral character of Heloïse as
displayed in her epistles cannot certainly, be placed beside that of
the Portuguese nun with any advantage.

Henceforth, we only meet with the name of Marianna at intervals - once
in 1668, again in 1676 and 1709, and lastly in an obituary notice in

She, at any rate, is not an example of the well-known saying of
Cervantes - ‘the Portuguese die of love.’ It is true that some words
at the end of the Fifth Letter seem to suggest suicide, but there is,
on the other hand, throughout the whole of these _ultima verba_ an
expression of energy and of her determination to tread under foot, if
she cannot extinguish, the flames of her passion. Marianna came of a
vigorous race, and, in spite of the great infirmities of which her
obituary speaks, she lived, as we shall see, to the age of fourscore
years and three.

She was made Portress, as mentioned in the Letters, at the beginning
of 1668, no doubt to distract her mind by giving her some definite
occupation and a sense of responsibility. It is, however, significant,
as Cordeiro remarks, that we do not find the name of Marianna, a
daughter of one of the principal and most influential families in Beja,
filling any more elevated post, whereas her younger sister Peregrina
Maria appears in the conventual register as both Amanuensis and Abbess.
This sister, before professing in the same convent in 1676, made her
will, ‘being more than twelve years of age,’ and there she spoke of
the many obligations which she owed Marianna for having brought her up
‘from the age of three years.’[12] Her entering the Conception at such
an early age is explained by the fact of the death of her mother, which
took place at the end of 1663 or the beginning of 1664. Again, in
1709, Marianna is mentioned as beaten by only ten votes in an election
for the office of Abbess by a certain nun of the name of Joanna de
Bulhão, of whom nothing is known.

The next time we hear of her is in 1723, the date of her death. The
obituary notice speaks for itself and for her life, since the episode
which the ‘Letters’ contain, and needs no comment. ‘On the 28th day
of the month of July, in the year 1723, died, in this Royal Convent
of Our Lady of the Conception, Mother D. Marianna Alcanforada,[13]
at the age of eighty-seven years,[14] all of which she spent in the
service of God. She was always very regular in the choir and at the
confraternities, and withal fulfilled her (other) obligations. She was
very exemplary, and none had fault to find with her, for she was very
kind to all. For thirty years she did rigid penance and suffered great
infirmities with much conformity, desiring to have more to suffer. When
she knew that her last hour was come, she asked for all the sacraments,
which she received in a state of perfect consciousness, giving many
thanks to God for having received them. Thus she ended her life with
all the signs of predestination, speaking up to the last hour, in proof
of which I, D. An^{ia} Sophia Bap^{ta} de Almeida, Amanuensis of the
Convent, wrote this, which I signed on the same day, month and year as


No such obscurity as that which hangs over the life of Marianna hides
the doings of Chamilly after his return to France. Acts like the
famous defence of Grave in 1674 against the Prince of Orange, and that
of Oudenarde two years later, marked him out for future distinction.
But if he knew how to defend towns he no less could attack and take
them. He distinguished himself greatly at the sieges of Gand, Condé,
Yprés and Heidelberg, and in 1703 received the recompense of his great
services, being made a Marshal of France.

M. Asse tells several anecdotes about him, which _seem_ to show that he
was a generous man as well as a brave soldier.[16] United in 1671 by a

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