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3: Chapter III (1610)

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It was in the latter part of the Carnival, the Saturday night preceding Shrove Tuesday, 1610. The winter had been a rigorous one in Brussels, and the snow lay in drifts three feet deep in the streets. Within and about the splendid palace of Nassau there was much commotion. Lights and flambeaux were glancing, loud voices, martial music, discharge of pistols and even of artillery were heard together with the trampling of many feet, but there was nothing much resembling the wild revelry or cheerful mummery of that holiday season. A throng of the great nobles of Belgium with drawn swords and menacing aspect were assembled in the chief apartments, a detachment of the Archduke's mounted body-guard was stationed in the courtyard, and five hundred halberdiers of the burgher guilds kept watch and ward about the palace.

The Prince of Conde, a square-built, athletic young man of middle stature, with regular features, but a sulky expression, deepened at this moment into ferocity, was seen chasing the secretary of the French resident minister out of the courtyard, thwacking him lustily about the shoulders with his drawn sword, and threatening to kill him or any other Frenchman on the spot, should he show himself in that palace. He was heard shouting rather than speaking, in furious language against the King, against Coeuvres, against Berny, and bitterly bewailing his misfortunes, as if his wife were already in Paris instead of Brussels.

Upstairs in her own apartment which she had kept for some days on pretext of illness sat the Princess Margaret, in company' of Madame de Berny, wife of the French minister, and of the Marquis de Coeuvres, Henry's special envoy, and a few other Frenchmen. She was passionately fond of dancing. The adoring cardinal described her as marvellously graceful and perfect in that accomplishment. She had begged her other adorer, the Marquis Spinola, "with sweetest words," that she might remain a few days longer in the Nassau Palace before removing to the Archduke's residence, and that the great general, according to the custom in France and Flanders, would be the one to present her with the violins. But Spinola, knowing the artifice concealed beneath these "sweetest words," had summoned up valour enough to resist her blandishments, and had refused a second entertainment.

It was not, therefore, the disappointment at losing her ball that now made the Princess sad. She and her companions saw that there had been a catastrophe; a plot discovered. There was bitter disappointment and deep dismay upon their faces. The plot had been an excellent one. De Coeuvres had arranged it all, especially instigated thereto by the father of the Princess acting in concurrence with the King. That night when all was expected to be in accustomed quiet, the Princess, wrapped in her mantilla, was to have stolen down into the garden, accompanied only by her maid the adventurous and faithful Philipotte, to have gone through a breach which led through a garden wall to the city ramparts, thence across the foss to the counterscarp, where a number of horsemen under trustworthy commanders were waiting. Mounting on the crupper behind one of the officers of the escort, she was then to fly to the frontier, relays of horses having been provided at every stage until she should reach Rocroy, the first pausing place within French territory; a perilous adventure for the young and delicate Princess in a winter of almost unexampled severity.

On the very morning of the day assigned for the adventure, despatches brought by special couriers from the Nuncius and the Spanish ambassador at Paris gave notice of the plot to the Archdukes and to Conde, although up to that moment none knew of it in Brussels. Albert, having been apprised that many Frenchmen had been arriving during the past few days, and swarming about the hostelries of the city and suburbs, was at once disposed to believe in the story. When Conde came to him, therefore, with confirmation from his own letters, and demanding a detachment of the body-guard in addition to the burgher militiamen already granted by the magistrates, he made no difficulty granting the request. It was as if there had been a threatened assault of the city, rather than the attempted elopement of a young lady escorted by a handful of cavaliers.

The courtyard of the Nassau Palace was filled with cavalry sent by the Archduke, while five hundred burgher guards sent by the magistrates were drawn up around the gate. The noise and uproar, gaining at every moment more mysterious meaning by the darkness of night, soon spread through the city. The whole population was awake, and swarming through the streets. Such a tumult had not for years been witnessed in Brussels, and the rumour flew about and was generally believed that the King of France at the head of an army was at the gates of the city determined to carry off the Princess by force. But although the superfluous and very scandalous explosion might have been prevented, there could be no doubt that the stratagem had been defeated.

Nevertheless, the effrontery and ingenuity of de Coeuvres became now sublime. Accompanied by his colleague, the resident minister, de Berny, who was sure not to betray the secret because he had never known it--his wife alone having been in the confidence of the Princess--he proceeded straightway to the Archduke's palace, and, late in the night as it was, insisted on an audience.

Here putting on his boldest face when admitted to the presence, he complained loudly of the plot, of which he had just become aware, contrived by the Prince of Conde to carry off his wife to Spain against her will, by main force, and by assistance of Flemish nobles, archiducal body-guard, and burgher militia.

It was all a plot of Conde, he said, to palliate still more his flight from France. Every one knew that the Princess could not fly back to Paris through the air. To take her out of a house filled with people, to pierce or scale the walls of the city, to arrange her journey by ordinary means, and to protect the whole route by stations of cavalry, reaching from Brussels to the frontier, and to do all this in profound secrecy, was equally impossible. Such a scheme had never been arranged nor even imagined, he said. The true plotter was Conde, aided by ministers in Flanders hostile to France, and as the honour of the King and the reputation of the Princess had been injured by this scandal, the Ambassador loudly demanded a thorough investigation of the affair in order that vengeance might fall where it was due.

The prudent Albert was equal to the occasion. Not wishing to state the full knowledge which he possessed of de Coeuvres' agency and the King's complicity in the scheme of abduction to France, he reasoned calmly with the excited marquis, while his colleague looked and listened in dumb amazement, having previously been more vociferous and infinitely more sincere than his colleague in expressions of indignation.

The Archduke said that he had not thought the plot imputed to the King and his ambassador very probable. Nevertheless, the assertions of the Prince had been so positive as to make it impossible to refuse the guards requested by him. He trusted, however, that the truth would soon be known, and that it would leave no stain on the Princess, nor give any offence to the King.

Surprised and indignant at the turn given to the adventure by the French envoys, he nevertheless took care to conceal these sentiments, to abstain from accusation, and calmly to inform them that the Princess next morning would be established under his own roof; and enjoy the protection of the Archduchess.

For it had been arranged several days before that Margaret should leave the palace of Nassau for that of Albert and Isabella on the 14th, and the abduction had been fixed for the night of the 13th precisely because the conspirators wished to profit by the confusion incident on a change of domicile.

The irrepressible de Coeuvres, even then hardly willing to give up the whole stratagem as lost, was at least determined to discover how and by whom the plot had been revealed. In a cemetery piled three feet deep with snow on the evening following that mid-winter's night which had been fixed for the Princess's flight, the unfortunate ambassador waited until a certain Vallobre, a gentleman of Spinola's, who was the go-between of the enamoured Genoese and the Princess, but whom de Coeuvres had gained over, came at last to meet him by appointment. When he arrived, it was only to inform him of the manner in which he had been baffled, to convince him that the game was up, and that nothing was left him but to retreat utterly foiled in his attempt, and to be stigmatized as a blockhead by his enraged sovereign.

Next day the Princess removed her residence to the palace of the Archdukes, where she was treated with distinguished honour by Isabella, and installed ceremoniously in the most stately, the most virtuous, and the most dismal of courts. Her father and aunt professed themselves as highly pleased with the result, and Pecquius wrote that "they were glad to know her safe from the importunities of the old fop who seemed as mad as if he had been stung by a tarantula."

And how had the plot been revealed? Simply through the incorrigible garrulity of the King himself. Apprised of the arrangement in all its details by the Constable, who had first received the special couriers of de Coeuvres, he could not keep the secret to himself for a moment, and the person of all others in the world to whom he thought good to confide it was the Queen herself. She received the information with a smile, but straightway sent for the Nuncius Ubaldini, who at her desire instantly despatched a special courier to Spinola with full particulars of the time and mode of the proposed abduction.

Nevertheless the ingenuous Henry, confiding in the capacity of his deeply offended queen to keep the secret which he had himself divulged, could scarcely contain himself for joy.

Off he went to Saint-Germain with a train of coaches, impatient to get the first news from de Coeuvres after the scheme should have been carried into effect, and intending to travel post towards Flanders to meet and welcome the Princess.

"Pleasant farce for Shrove Tuesday," wrote the secretary of Pecquius, "is that which the Frenchmen have been arranging down there! He in whose favour the abduction is to be made was seen going out the same day spangled and smart, contrary to his usual fashion, making a gambado towards Saint-Germain-en-Laye with four carriages and four to meet the nymph."

Great was the King's wrath and mortification at this ridiculous exposure of his detestable scheme. Vociferous were Villeroy's expressions of Henry's indignation at being supposed to have had any knowledge of or complicity in the affair. "His Majesty cannot approve of the means one has taken to guard against a pretended plot for carrying off the Princess," said the Secretary of State; "a fear which was simulated by the Prince in order to defame the King." He added that there was no reason to suspect the King, as he had never attempted anything of the sort in his life, and that the Archduke might have removed the Princess to his palace without sending an army to the hotel of the Prince of Orange, and causing such an alarm in the city, firing artillery on the rampart as if the town had been full of Frenchmen in arms, whereas one was ashamed next morning to find that there had been but fifteen in all. "But it was all Marquis Spinola's fault," he said, "who wished to show himself off as a warrior."

The King, having thus through the mouth of his secretary of state warmly protested against his supposed implication in the attempted abduction, began as furiously to rail at de Coeuvres for its failure; telling the Duc de Vendome that his uncle was an idiot, and writing that unlucky envoy most abusive letters for blundering in the scheme which had been so well concerted between them. Then he sent for Malherbe, who straightway perpetrated more poems to express the King's despair, in which Henry was made to liken himself to a skeleton with a dried skin, and likewise to a violet turned up by the ploughshare and left to wither.

He kept up through Madame de Berny a correspondence with "his beautiful angel," as he called the Princess, whom he chose to consider a prisoner and a victim; while she, wearied to death with the frigid monotony and sepulchral gaieties of the archiducal court, which she openly called her "dungeon" diverted herself with the freaks and fantasies of her royal adorer, called him in very ill-spelled letters "her chevalier, her heart, her all the world," and frequently wrote to beg him, at the suggestion of the intriguing Chateau Vert, to devise some means of rescuing her from prison.

The Constable and Duchess meanwhile affected to be sufficiently satisfied with the state of things. Conde, however, received a letter from the King, formally summoning him to return to France, and, in case of refusal, declaring him guilty of high-treason for leaving the kingdom without the leave and against the express commands of the King. To this letter, brought to him by de Coeuvres, the Prince replied by a paper, drawn up and served by a notary of Brussels, to the effect that he had left France to save his life and honour; that he was ready to return when guarantees were given him for the security of both. He would live and die, he said, faithful to the King. But when the King, departing from the paths of justice, proceeded through those of violence against him, he maintained that every such act against his person was null and invalid. Henry had even the incredible meanness and folly to request the Queen to write to the Archdukes, begging that the Princess might be restored to assist at her coronation. Mary de' Medici vigorously replied once more that, although obliged to wink at the King's amours, she declined to be his procuress. Conde then went off to Milan very soon after the scene at the Nassau Palace and the removal of the Princess to the care of the Archdukes. He was very angry with his wife, from whom he expressed a determination to be divorced, and furious with the King, the validity of whose second marriage and the legitimacy of whose children he proposed with Spanish help to dispute.

The Constable was in favour of the divorce, or pretended to be so, and caused importunate letters to be written, which he signed, to both Albert and Isabella, begging that his daughter might be restored to him to be the staff of his old age, and likewise to be present at the Queen's coronation. The Archdukes, however, resolutely refused to permit her to leave their protection without Conde's consent, or until after a divorce had been effected, notwithstanding that the father and aunt demanded it. The Constable and Duchess however, acquiesced in the decision, and expressed immense gratitude to Isabella.

"The father and aunt have been talking to Pecquius," said Henry very dismally; "but they give me much pain. They are even colder than the season, but my fire thaws them as soon as I approach."

"P. S.--I am so pining away in my anguish that I am nothing but skin and bones. Nothing gives me pleasure. I fly from company, and if in order to comply with the law of nations I go into some assembly or other, instead of enlivening, it nearly kills me."--[Lettres missives de Henri vii. 834].

And the King took to his bed. Whether from gout, fever, or the pangs of disappointed love, he became seriously ill. Furious with every one, with Conde, the Constable, de Coeuvres, the Queen, Spinola, with the Prince of Orange, whose councillor Keeremans had been encouraging Conde in his rebellion and in going to Spain with Spinola, he was now resolved that tho war should go on. Aerssens, cautious of saying too much on paper of this very delicate affair, always intimated to Barneveld that, if the Princess could be restored, peace was still possible, and that by moving an inch ahead of the King in the Cleve matter the States at the last moment might be left in the lurch. He distinctly told the Advocate, on his expressing a hope that Henry might consent to the Prince's residence in some neutral place until a reconciliation could be effected, that the pinch of the matter was not there, and that van der Myle, who knew all about it, could easily explain it.

Alluding to the project of reviving the process against the Dowager, and of divorcing the Prince and Princess, he said these steps would do much harm, as they would too much justify the true cause of the retreat of the Prince, who was not believed when he merely talked of his right of primogeniture: "The matter weighs upon us very heavily," he said, "but the trouble is that we don't search for the true remedies. The matter is so delicate that I don't dare to discuss it to the very bottom."

The Ambassador had a long interview with the King as he lay in his bed feverish and excited. He was more impatient than ever for the arrival of the States' special embassy, reluctantly acquiesced in the reasons assigned for the delay, but trusted that it would arrive soon with Barneveld at the head, and with Count Lewis William as a member for "the sword part of it."

He railed at the Prince of Orange, not believing that Keeremans would have dared to do what he had done but with the orders of his master. He said that the King of Spain would supply Conde with money and with everything he wanted, knowing that he could make use of him to trouble his kingdom. It was strange, he thought, that Philip should venture to these extremities with his affairs in such condition, and when he had so much need of repose. He recalled all his ancient grievances against Spain, his rights to the Kingdom of Navarre and the County of St. Pol violated; the conspiracy of Biron, the intrigues of Bouillon, the plots of the Count of Auvergne and the Marchioness of Verneuil, the treason of Meragne, the corruption of L'Hoste, and an infinity of other plots of the King and his ministers; of deep injuries to him and to the public repose, not to be tolerated by a mighty king like himself, with a grey beard. He would be revenged, he said, for this last blow, and so for all the rest. He would not leave a troublesome war on the hands of his young son. The occasion was favourable. It was just to defend the oppressed princes with the promptly accorded assistance of the States-General. The King of Great Britain was favourable. The Duke of Savoy was pledged. It was better to begin the war in his green old age than to wait the pleasure and opportunity of the King of Spain.

All this he said while racked with fever, and dismissed the Envoy at last, after a long interview, with these words: "Mr. Ambassador--I have always spoken roundly and frankly to you, and you will one day be my witness that I have done all that I could to draw the Prince out of the plight into which he has put himself. But he is struggling for the succession to this crown under instructions from the Spaniards, to whom he has entirely pledged himself. He has already received 6000 crowns for his equipment. I know that you and my other friends will work for the conservation of this monarchy, and will never abandon me in my designs to weaken the power of Spain. Pray God for my health."

The King kept his bed a few days afterwards, but soon recovered. Villeroy sent word to Barneveld in answer to his suggestions of reconciliation that it was too late, that Conde was entirely desperate and Spanish. The crown of France was at stake, he said, and the Prince was promising himself miracles and mountains with the aid of Spain, loudly declaring the marriage of Mary de' Medici illegal, and himself heir to the throne. The Secretary of State professed himself as impatient as his master for the arrival of the embassy; the States being the best friends France ever had and the only allies to make the war succeed.

Jeannin, who was now never called to the council, said that the war was not for Germany but for Conde, and that Henry could carry it on for eight years. He too was most anxious for Barneveld's arrival, and was of his opinion that it would have been better for Conde to be persuaded to remain at Breda and be supported by his brother-in-law, the Prince of Orange. The impetuosity of the King had however swept everything before it, and Conde had been driven to declare himself Spanish and a pretender to the crown. There was no issue now but war.

Boderie, the King's envoy in Great Britain, wrote that James would be willing to make a defensive league for the affairs of Cleve and Julich only, which was the slenderest amount of assistance; but Henry always suspected Master Jacques of intentions to baulk him if possible and traverse his designs. But the die was cast. Spinola had carried off Conde in triumph; the Princess was pining in her gilt cage in Brussels, and demanding a divorce for desertion and cruel treatment; the King considered himself as having done as much as honour allowed him to effect a reconciliation, and it was obvious that, as the States' ambassador said, he could no longer retire from the war without shame, which would be the greatest danger of all.

"The tragedy is ready to begin," said Aerssens. "They are only waiting now for the arrival of our ambassadors."

On the 9th March the King before going to Fontainebleau for a few days summoned that envoy to the Louvre. Impatient at a slight delay in his arrival, Henry came down into the courtyard as he was arriving and asked eagerly if Barneveld was coming to Paris. Aerssens replied, that the Advocate had been hastening as much as possible the departure of the special embassy, but that the condition of affairs at home was such as not to permit him to leave the country at that moment. Van der Myle, who would be one of the ambassadors, would more fully explain this by word of mouth.

The King manifested infinite annoyance and disappointment that Barneveld was not to make part of the embassy. "He says that he reposes such singular confidence in your authority in the state, experience in affairs, and affection for himself," wrote Aerssens, "that he might treat with you in detail and with open heart of all his designs. He fears now that the ambassadors will be limited in their powers and instructions, and unable to reply at once on the articles which at different times have been proposed to me for our enterprise. Thus much valuable time will be wasted in sending backwards and forwards."

The King also expressed great anxiety to consult with Count Lewis William in regard to military details, but his chief sorrow was in regard to the Advocate. "He acquiesced only with deep displeasure and regret in your reasons," said the Ambassador, "and says that he can hope for nothing firm now that you refuse to come."

Villeroy intimated that Barneveld did not come for fear of exciting the jealousy of the English.

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