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SOME SCENES IN THE LIFE OF CATHERINE

DE MEDICI.

IT

T has been habitual to historians in recent years to delineate

the character of Catherine de Médici as the personification of evil, as a being utterly devoid of human sympathies, and as one whose memory must be transmitted to eternal infamy. That she is fully deserving of the severest censure we do not deny. Nor is it intended to disavow that she was guilty of certain transgressions, which drew down upon her the enmity of the people, and plunged France into a state of anarchy, from which the country had barely emerged at the period of the promulgation of the Edict of Nantes, at which season some forty years had elapsed, since the death of Henry the Second had destroyed the equilibrium of parties, and elevated the Queen-mother to the loftiest pinnacle of authority. We merely desire to point out that there are extenuating circumstances which entitle her to consideration. The various positions in which she was placed were hopelessly difficult and intricate. She was a foreigner, and as such was regarded with disdain by the highest personages of a court notorious for its pride and arrogance. Her husband neglected her for Diana of Poitiers, and the Constable, Montmorency treated her with distant civility as “a merchant's daughter.” Nevertheless, in the midst of the most exasperating situations, she exhibited a prudence and a fortitude which cannot be recalled without approbation. She boasted a princely heart and an acute understanding, possessing in no small degree the literary and aesthetic tastes of her illustrious ancestor, Lorenzo the Magnificent, the patron of literature and the benefactor of scholars, whose indigence was alleviated by his liberality.

The future Queen of France was born on the 13th April, in the year 1519. Having lost both her parents at an early age, Catherine, when nearly nine years old, commenced on the 7th December, 1527, her residence with the "Murate,"—the walled up ones, the name signifies; a community of nuns at Florence, which had been founded nearly a century and a half

before. 1 Many ladies of lofty birth selected the convent of the Murate as a haven of refuge, and became members of the community. The archives of the convent are still preserved, and among the most valuable selections from the correspondence of the successive abbesses, we pússess a few letters from Catherine, preserved in an envelope by themselves and superscribed :"Letters of Queen Catherine of France, who was educated from girlhood in our monastery, and was a great benefactor to our Society–written to the Abbess, 1542-1598.”2

To one of these letters, dated July, 6th, 1583, and written by her secretary, Catherine herself has added :-

REVEREND MOTHER—Let these few lines from my hand serve the more to assure you of my good will toward your monastery, and of my wishes that

you should continue to pray to God for the King my husband, for the Kings, my sons, for the one who is still living, and for me. Pray also that I. may see before I die this kingdom restored to the honour of God, and all other things as I found them when I came here. At the same time I thus procure myself an opportunity of doing you a pleasure by means of the benefaction I purpose bestowing on you.

CATHERINE.

The “benefaction ” was a gift of lands some twenty miles from Florence, which the nuns held until the dissolution of the monastery. It is but reasonable that these letters should be impartially alluded to, on behalf of one " who labours under the reproach of having been wholly inaccessible to all the gentler sentiments of humanity.” 3 They are likewise entitled to respect as verifying the fact that the period spent by Catherine in the convent was by no means an interval of affliction. Convent education then, as at present, would range itself under the two categories of religion and polite behaviour. Ample testimony remains that Catherine profited by the latter branch of the monastic curriculum. She was one of the most gracious-mannered women of her day, and ambassadors were fascinated by her conversation and affability.

Shortly after leaving the convent, and before her marriage with Henry II., Catherine is described by the Venetian ambassador Soriano, as being “small and slender, thin, and not pretty in the face, but possessing the large eyes peculiar to the family of the Medici.” 4 This description, though probably accurate, differs considerably from the flattering picture drawn by Brantôme at a later period. The Venetian describes her as he perceived her daily; the sketch of Brantôme was begun after her death. It is, however, more than likely, that the awkward girl of thirteen, may have developed into a graceful woman in after years.

1 T. A. Trollope. Girlhood of Catherine de Medici, chap. IX. 2 These letters were discovered and published in 1854 by Mr. T A. Trollope. 3 Trollope.

When Catherine had arrived at the age of fourteen, numerous proposals were made for her hand.

There can be little doubt that Clement VII., her so-called uncle, from the very first, evinced a decided partiality for effecting a French and Papal alliance, which, if accomplished, would counterbalance the hostility of the Emperor Charles V. After all," writes Soriano, "the negotiations for this marriage with the second son of France are now going on. And it seenis that this is the match which would best please the Pope.” Finally, Clement arranged with Francis I. that a marriage should be solemnised between Catherine and the Duke of Orleans, afterwards Henry II. On the 1st of September, 1533, she gave, according to Cambi, a farewell banquet to an extensive company of illustrious ladies at Florence, and upon the same day withdrew from the ancient city of her birth, never to return. She was conveyed in princely state to Nice, and finally to Marseilles, where the marriage was to be celebrated with pomp and splendour. The contract provided that the Pope at his discretion, was to furnish his kinswoman with costly ornaments and jewels, which were to be valued, and a record preserved, in order that the Pope could recover them, or their value, should Catherine survive her husband.

· Among these precious gems we find a set of exceptionally valuable pearls, “the largest and finest,” says Brantôme, "that were ever seen in such quantity; which at a later period the Queen gave to her daughter-in-law, Mary Queen of Scotland and which I have seen the latter wear.” We likewise see mentioned among the valuables the noble casket of crystal, the work of Valerio Vicentino, which may now be seen in the Museum of the Uffizi at Florence.

• Relat. venet."

4" Li occhi grossi proprii alla casa de Medici.” Soriano, Sccond series, vol. III., p. 282.

B

The ceremony was conducted with all the gorgeousness and lustre of the epoch. Tournaments, banquets, and dramatic representations followed each other in rapid succession. The people of Marseilles testified their loyalty by various kinds of festivities in honour of the event, by fireworks, music and dancing. The fountains flowed with luscious wines, and tables being spread in the public squares, were loaded with luxuries, which were freely dispensed among the multitude. Gaudy wreaths of flowers and flaunting streamers adorned the verandas and balconies, densely thronged with spectators in their holiday attire, and triumphal arches, ornamented with quaint devices, were spread across the public thoroughfares.

One may recognise the contrast between this outburst of popular exultation and the scene which was enacted in Paris on the eve of Saint Bartholomew, the origin of both being attributable to Catherine de Médici.

The nuptials having been concluded, the bride "covered with brocade, with a corsage of ermine filled with pearls and diamonds," was conducted to the regal habitation by Francis himself, “dressed in white satin, with a royal mantle of gold spangled with pearls and precious stones."

Clement had undertaken the expedition to Marseilles for the

purpose of interviewing the King of France, and regulating the terms of the marriage treaty. Francis stipulated that the bride should set out, conveying as equipment "three rings," the Duchies of Urbino, Milan, and Genoa, to which the Pope acceded, faithfully promising to effectuate bis engagement.

This was the last year of Clement's life. He died in 1534, -“ in all his concerns, whether active or passive, the very sport of misfortune; without doubt the most ill-fated pontiff that ever sat on the Papal throne.” 5

Henry II., at this time fifteen years of age, was of lofty stature, well formed, and, like his father, indefatigable in the chase and the knightly games of the period. No tournament was held at the court in which he did not don his helm. A grave deportment was natural to him, and he was seldom seen to smile.

Passionately fond of horses, his stables, especially those of Les Tournelles, were filled with beautiful animals. He appears to have been the possessor of many meritorious attributes, according to several authorities, among whom we recognise Brantôme, who asserts that “this prince is very amicable, and nothing pleases him more than to show kindness to anyone in trouble.”

5 Ranke, Hist. of the Popes, vol. i., p. 97. Bohn's Ed. 6 Ranke, Civil Wars and Monarchy in France, vol. i. 7 C. Coignet, Portraits of the 16th Century, vol. i.

During the reign of Francis I. a continual struggle was maintained between that monarch and the Emperor Charles V. In 1530 peace had been signed at Cambrai, but five years after wards hostilities were renewed, and continued until the exertions of Pope Paul III., some three years later, succeeded in bringing about an accommodation. It was during the campaign of 1536 that the Dauphin suddenly expired, many persons unjustly charging the young Duchess of Orleans, Catherine de Médici, with having procured his removal by poison. It has since been definitely proved that the Dauphin's death was occasioned by drinking immoderately of iced water after heating himself at the game of tennis. The concluding years of the reign of Francis were noted for measures of barbarous severity towards the Protestants of Provence, and also for the quarrel between the French and Henry VIII. of England.

In 1547, the death of the King having exalted Henry to sovereign power, he resolved to celebrate the coronation of Catherine by unparalleled means. To impart diversity to the proceedings, the execution of four inveterate heretics was included in the programme. When the day of execution arrived, the King ordered that a balcony overlooking the pile should be prepared, from whence they might perceive the men slowly consumed in the flames. " They had now taken their places, those burning at the stake, the King and his companions reposing luxuriously at the window. One of the martyrs looked up towards the casement where the King was seated and fixed his eye on Henry. From the midst of the flames that eye looked forth with calm steady gaze upon the King. The eye of the monarch quailed before that of the burning man. He turned away to avoid it, but again his glance wandered back to the stake. The flames were still blazing around the martyr; his limbs were dropping off, his face was growing fearfully livid, but his eye, unchanged, was still looking at the King.

The execution was at an end, * H. J. Swallow, The Catherines of IIistory.

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