A Noble Lady

IN the year 1660 Cardinal Mazarin, everywhere victorious, had just added the treaty of the Pyrenees to the treaty of Westphalia. A Spanish gentleman, Don Luis de Haro, felicitating the cardinal on the repose which he was about to enjoy, now that the season of storms was over, received the reply that in France one could never promise one’s self repose. “ You Spaniards,” said Mazarin “ may talk of it, for your women busy themselves with love only ; but in France it is not so. There are three here now capable of governing or of overturning three great kingdoms, — the Duchess of Lougueville, the Princess Palatine, and the Duchess of Chevreuse.”

The cardinal’s words were but a large statement of the truth that in France, in the seventeenth century, whoever engaged in the great game of politics found it necessary to take women into the account either as friends or foes. Among these women, famous in love, in politics, and even in war, are some whose names are better known than that of Marie de Hautefort. The careers of Madame de Lougueville and of Madame de Chevreuse read like highly colored romances, full of stirring incident and perilous adventure. The story of Madame de Hautefort, if it contains less of the exciting element, on the other hand possesses a charm the others lack. She interests as much by the dissimilarity as by the resemblance of her character to the characters of her celebrated contemporaries. In tracing her history we are brought into the same period and into the midst of the same events wherein Madame de Chevreuse figures so brilliantly, but Marie de Hautefort does not belong in an equal degree to the political history of the time. She was Richelieu’s enemy, but never his rival ; she did not dispute with the two great cardinals their power or the government of France ; she simply refused to yield to them her liberty of mind, or to betray to them her friends, and the cause which to her was that of religion and virtue. It is this elevation of soul which distinguishes her from other more dazzling figures of the courts of Louis XIII. and Louis XIV. Beloved as she was by all for her amiability, her gentle and compassionate kindness to her inferiors, to the poor and miserable, yet her most marked trait was her dignity and noble pride of character.

She was born in 1616, in an old feudal castle of Perigord, the youngest child of the Marquis Charles do Hautefort, marshal of the king’s army, and gentleman-in-ordinary of his chamber. Her father and her mother both dying soon after Marie’s birth, she was left, with very little for her maintenance, to the care of her grandmother, Madame de La Flotte Hauterive. Her earliest years were passed in the obscurity and monotony of provincial life, of which the beautiful and intelligent girl did not fail to become wearied. Certain affairs calling Madame de La Flotte Hauterive to Paris, she took with her the child, whose budding graces made everywhere the happiest impression, and her grandmother found no difficulty in procuring a place for Marie among the maids of honor of the queen-mother, Marie de Médicis. She was fourteen years of age when in 1630 she accompanied her mistress to Lyons, at which place the king had been taken seriously ill, while Richelieu was at the head of the army in Italy. It was here that for the first time Louis saw Marie, or Aurora, as she was commonly called in recognition of the brilliancy of her youthful beauty.

Louis XIII., of all men in the world, least resembled his father, Henri IV., and the facile beauties of the court of his mother and his wife hardly attracted his notice. The modesty as well as beauty of Marie de Hautefort touched the heart of the melancholy Louis. He became unable to dispense with the pleasure of seeing and conversing with her, and on his return from Lyons, when his fidelity to Richelieu drove him to banish his mother from the court, he took from her her maid of honor, whom he placed with Queen Anne, begging that for his sake Mademoiselle de Hautefort might be treated with affection. Anne of Austria received with sufficiently bad grace the present thus made her. Belonging to the party of the queenmother and of Spain, she looked on her new attendant not only as a rival in the king’s regard, but also as an enemy and a spy. But she was not long in recognizing her mistake. The foundation of Marie’s character was a generous pride, half chivalric, half Christian, which always urged her to take the side of the feeble and the oppressed ; and the sight of her mistress, persecuted and unhappy, was enough to engage her honor to the faithful service of the queen. Her loyalty and candor, as well as the graces of her mind, gradually won upon Anne, until the king’s favorite was equally the favorite of his queen. La Grande Mademoiselle in her Memoirs alludes to this platonic love of Louis : “ The court was very agreeable at this time. The king’s affection for Mademoiselle de Hautefort, whom he sought to entertain in every way, contributed much to_ this. The chase was one of his greatest pleasures, and we often accompanied him. We all dressed in velvet, and rode beautiful horses, richly caparisoned. To protect us from the sun each wore a hat adorned with a multitude of plumes. The chase was always directed to the neighborhood of some fine country house, where a grand collation was prepared, and on the return the king took a seat in the carriage with Mademoiselle de Hautefort and me. When he was in a pleasant humor, he conversed agreeably on a variety of subjects.” Even had Mademoiselle do Hautefort been less discreet, the king’s regard would have brought with it no alarms. In the evenings he talked with her in the queen’s salon, but his topics were chiefly his dogs, his birds, and the chase. Nevertheless, their intercourse was agitated by frequent jealousies, for Louis would have liked to possess himself of the exclusive attention of Marie. This assiduity of devotion wearied the young girl, and with her characteristic independence she allowed the king to perceive it, — whence misunderstandings and reconciliations that did not endure long. Madame de Motteville declares that while Mademoiselle de Hautefort was sensible of the honor of the king’s friendship, she had no personal liking for him, and treated him as badly as it is possible to treat a king. The whole court was aware of it when one of their fallings-out occurred ; the diversions ceased, and if the king came in the evening to the queen’s salon he sat in a corner, without speaking a word. The subject of their quarrels was most commonly the queen. Louis’ grounds of complaint against Anne were two: one political, in that she had allied herself with the party opposed to Richelieu and himself; and the other personal, in that he suspected her of an understanding with the Duke of Orléans, and a wish to share the throne with him after his own decease. But the more the king endeavored to detach the maid of honor from her mistress the less did he succeed. To the cardinal the king’s sombre and fantastic humor was a constant source of disquietude, and he looked favorably upon the friendship of Louis for this young girl, who belonged to no particular party, hoping that her influence might prove a wholesome and soothing one. He was prodigal, therefore, of compliments and attentions to her, even putting himself to the pains of trying to accommodate their disputes, fancying, in return, to gain Marie to his cause. However, with the young and ardent girl it was not a question of state interests, but of personal loyalty; and regarding him as the persecutor of her mistress, Marie rejected the cardinal’s advances and disdained his friendship, at a time when there was hardly a woman at the court who would not have offered up thanks for a glance from him. Not being able to win her over, Richelieu set himself to displace Mademoiselle de Hautefort from the king’s regard. He now mixed in their disputes to aggravate them, and when Louis was at odds with Marie he threatened her with the cardinal. She mocked at the menace, with the levity of youth and the independence of her character. Richelieu found means to detach Louis by bringing him exaggerated reports of jesting remarks upon the king made by Mademoiselle de Hautefort in the queen’s apartments, and also by magnifying the doubts of the king’s scrupulous conscience as to the possibly immoderate measure of his affection for Marie. The rupture having been brought about, Richelieu managed to maintain it for two entire years. In place of Marie he substituted Mademoiselle de La Fayette, who was a Mademoiselle de la Vallière without the frailty. As the new favorite, however, failed likewise to fall in with the cardinal’s designs, he had recourse to his former tactics, and ended by driving her into a convent.

Meanwhile the king had not continued insensible to the persuasions of these two noble young girls, and his feelings toward Anne had become softened. The year 1637 was the most perilous and distressing that Anne had yet passed through. With but a small number of friends and domestics she kept her secluded court, into which, however, the cardinal’s vigilant eye did not fail to penetrate. Anne was meditating some desperate enterprise. She intrigued with Madame de Chevreuse, then in Touraine, and kept up a correspondence, which was at least of an equivocal kind, with her brothers Philip IV. and the Cardinal Infanta while France was at war with Spain. A certain La Porte, one of the domestics employed in this correspondence, and who was possessed of all her secrets, was arrested, thrown into the Bastille, and subjected to the severest question. The queen, after denying with assurance all that was charged against her, was driven to a partial confession ; but it was necessary that her declarations should tally with those of La Porte, and, in despair of communicating with him, she felt that her safety hung on a thread. In this grave conjunction Marie de Hautefort undertook to aid her mistress. The proud girl, who had never allowed herself so much as to receive the slightest billet from a gentleman of the court, set out to do what might cost her her reputation. She persuaded a relative, M. de Montalais, to go to Tours and warn Madame de Chevreuse of the situation of affairs. Then disguising herself as a grisette, she issued from the Louvre before any one was awake, entered a fiacre, and was driven to the Bastille. She requested permission to see the Chevalier de Jars, a devoted servant of the queen, who had already risked his neck in her cause, and having just escaped the scaffold was enjoying a respite from danger and the liberty of occasional intercourse with a few friends. Marie gave herself out as a sister of the chevalier’s valet, come to inform his master of the mortal illness of the former. The chevalier, knowing his servant to be in good health, hesitated to disturb himself for this visitor, so that Marie was compelled to wait for a time in the guard-room, exposed to the jokes and the free regards of the men present. Being at last admitted, she made known her errand, which was to induce the chevalier to attempt communication with La Porte, in order to convey to him the proper statements to be made to the interrogatories of his judges. Naturally enough there was a disposition on the chevalier’s part to decline this entanglement in new perils, hut he yielded to the representations of Marie de Hautefort and the force of her brave example. She was so fortunate as to make her reëntrance into the Louvre unrecognized. The chevalier accomplished his mission, contriving to pierce the floor of his chamber and to let down a letter attached to a cord, with an entreaty to the prisoner in the room below to drop the inclosed billet in like manner to the third floor, and thence to the fourth, wherein La Porte was confined.

In 1638, after the advent of an heir to the throne was announced, greater peace and harmony in the court succeeded to the discord of the previous years. Marie de Hautefort had now attained her twenty-second year. Brought once more into closer contact with her in her increased beauty and charm, the king’s flame was rekindled, and their former intimate but irreproachable relations were in a measure renewed. At this time Marie was appointed mistress of the robes, with the title of Madame in place of Mademoiselle. In spite of appearances, Richelieu, however, was aware that the queen had not ceased to encourage the malcontents. He gained to his interests one of her maids, the young Mademoiselle de Chemerault, who became the clever spy of her mistress’ secrets. Not having another Mademoiselle de La Fayette under his hand at this time to balance Mademoiselle de Hautefort, but aware of the necessity to Louis of some sort of sentimental distraction, Richelieu looked about him and selected Cinq-Mar, son of his own devoted friend, the Marshal d’Effiat. The youth pleased the weakminded monarch, who found it the easier to love him since to do so did not involve the cardinal’s displeasure. Having provided a substitute, the cardinal now openly accused Madame de Hautefort of treasonable intrigues, demanded her exile from the court, and gave Louis to choose between her and his minister. Louis yielded so far as to consent to a temporary banishment. On receiving the king’s command, Madame de Hautefort went to the royal apartment, and begged to know the cause of her disgrace. Louis protested that the exile was to be but brief and for reasons of state alone. She replied that the fortnight assigned as the term of her banishment she knew well would last forever, and that she would therefore take her final farewell of his majesty. She retired to an estate at Mans belonging to her grandmother, taking with her her young sister and brother, and also the spy, Mademoiselle de Chemerault, whom Richelieu thus disgraced to cover his manœuvres and to keep watch upon the exiled favorite. So far was Marie from suspecting her companion that she wrote from Mans to the queen in behalf of Mademoiselle de Chemerault, toward whom the queen’s bounty, she thought, had been but scanty. The queen’s resignation to Richelieu’s triumph and to the outrage upon her mistress of the robes had not failed to wound Marie’s affection, but more than for these she grieved to see the queen fallen below the idea of generosity and nobility she had formed for her royal mistress. Her letter to Anne is an admirable revelation of her character. For three years she lived thus in seclusion, seeing only a few friends, among others La Porte, who in vain endeavored to warn her against Mademoiselle de Chemerault, of whose feigned friendship he was no dupe. The pure-hearted Marie refused to listen to him. During this time she heard of Scarron, of his infirmities and the courage with which he endured them, and she became, in untold ways, his good angel: and hence the numerous verses addressed by Scarron to Madame de Hautefort and her sister. From her retreat she looked forth upon the spectacle of the disturbed world outside. Once she received the present of the portrait of the dauphin, sent by Anne as a presage of better days to come. She saw the fall of the rash-brained youth who had replaced her in the affection of the king. She saw the terrible cardinal, conqueror of all his enemies, while still meditating his bold designs, succumb under the weight of his infirmities and thousand cares, and Louis XIII. ready to follow his minister to the tomb. On the king’s death in 1643, Anne the regent recalled her friend and former attendant, sending her private carriage to Mans for her, in which Madame de Hautefort and La Porte reëntered Paris in triumph.

In Marie de Hautefort, now twentyseven years of age, the young woman had replaced the young girl. In this prime of her beauty and intelligence she became one of the ornaments of the Hôtel Rambouillet, the most perfect of précieuses. She went among them by the name of Hermione. It was to be expected that this charming woman should not fail of many and noble adorers. Of La Rochefoucauld it is told that he did not dare to breathe openly the respectful passion she inspired, but of which he made confession to her brother on the field of battle ; praying the marquis to convey the avowal of his love in a letter to his sister should La Rochefoucauld perish in the ensuing combat. Another lover, the Duc de Lorraine, declared himself in the romantic fashion of the Middle Ages by sending from the battle-field of Nordlingen a captive of his hand, that he might kiss the robe of Madame de Hautefort on the part of her worshiper, who received this act as ransom for the prisoner. A formidable rival of these gentlemen was the young, handsome, and gallant Marquis de Gêvres, whose appearance as a suitor for the honor of Madame de Hautefort’s hand during Louis’s life-time threw the king into a passion of jealousy so great that he sent a message to the father of the marquis such as compelled the withdrawal of the son’s suit. In the list of adorers also appears the old Duc d’Angoulême, governor of Provence, who put his name and fortune at her feet. Another admirer was the Duc de Liancourt, who at a time when his wife’s death was hourly expected allowed himself to express a hope of future consolation. Madame de Hautefort received the words in silence, and with a manner of silence which recalled the duke to himself, and her exquisite tact afterward enabled her to convert his passion into a firm and tender friendship.

We would fain form to ourselves some idea of the beauty which acted as one of the many fascinations of this noble dame. No trustworthy and satisfactory portrait of her exists. The best, which remains in the possession of one of the collateral branches of her family at the present day, has small merit as a work of art, but its traits correspond sufficiently well with contemporary pen portraits. It represents her as a superb blonde, with large and brilliant blue eyes, a nose slightly aquiline, richly colored lips and cheeks, and a little chin dimple. She wears pearl ornaments in her ears, a collar of pearls, and an agrafe of the same upon her breast. The total impression of the portrait is more one of nobility and force than of lightness and grace. Her beauty, like her character, was altogether in the grand style.

Every detail of the story of Madame de Hautefort is full of interest, but to relate it in full would require a volume. Only a few months had passed since her recall to the court when Marie de Hautefort realized that the charm of her ancient friendship with the queen was forever broken, and indeed but a single year elapsed before she received a second dismissal. The reason for this lay in the fact that Anne of Austria, now become regent, had changed her politics, while Madame de Hautefort continued constant to her former opinions and to her friends of old. It is said that the supple Mazarin, in bringing about Anne’s political conversion, made his appeal to the woman’s heart as well as the woman’s reason. Without attempting to enter into historical questions of this sort, it is enough to say that the relations of the queen and her minister were such as the reinstated mistress of the robes strongly disapproved. To Anne’s change of political view she might have resigned herself, but not to the abandonment of the friendships they had hitherto cherished in common. However Madame de Hautefort may be thought to have failed in political insight, we can but think the better of her heart when we find her opposing herself anew to a powerful minister of state, and risking the favor of the sovereign, from motives which seemed to her those of duty and honor. The beautiful and brilliant woman loved the life of the magnificent court, yet not for a moment did she hesitate to range herself on the side of those ancient friends, some of whom Anne allowed to retreat into obscurity, while others were proscribed and forced to follow the path leading to prison and to exile. An ordinary mistress of the robes would have accommodated herself to the new order of things at the court, but both honor and piety forbade Marie de Hautefort from so doing. She was unable to rest easy in sight of the conduct of her mistress and friend: she blushed at the idea of a breath of suspicion attaching to it, and with her characteristic frankness and courage she braved the danger of warning the queen, and set herself to dispute the influence of the handsome and fortunate cardinal. The latter at first endeavored to gain her over, as Richelieu had done, but like him in vain ; then, since he could bring no accusation against her on the ground of political ambition or self-interest, he attacked her only vulnerable part, and complained of her haughtiness, the license of her language toward the queen, and brought exaggerated reports of casual remarks and comments. Her former adorer and present friend, the Duc de Liancourt, now high in court favor, defended Madame de Hautefort with zeal, endeavoring at the same time to modify her opposition to the cardinal. She was not without other partisans and defenders, for there was not a person at the court by whom she was not beloved, no matter of what political party. At this time the Duc de Schomberg, marshal of France, was a declared suitor for Madame de Hautefort’s hand. At fortytwo years of age he was still handsome, and remarkable for his noble and distinguished mien. By birth, fortune, position, and character he had claims upon the consideration of the fastidious mistress of the robes. He belonged to no party and mingled in no intrigues ; he had served the queen and Mazarin as he had served Richelieu and Louis XIII., maintaining always an attitude of respectful independence. The only obstacle between these two, apparently so suited to each other, was the Duc de Schomberg’s loyalty to Mazarin and his small liking for the Importants, as they were called, that is, the remaining members of the party of the opposition. Madame de Hautefort, while not insensible to his homage, hesitated, and allowed her noble suitor to sigh for a while longer. Mazarin’s triumph over his opponent was but a question of time. Her pleadings in behalf of the imprisoned Duc de Beaufort were treated as a capital offense, and in April, 1664, she received her order of dismissal from the court. It was impossible not to recall the words of Louis, who had warned her : “ You are making a mistake : you serve an ingrate.” She retired to the convent of Les Filles de Sainte Marie, in the Rue St. Antoine, with an idea of taking the veil. Mazarin, to do him justice, satisfied with his success, had no thought of persecuting his enemy. More than one of Madame de Hautefort’s adorers generously sought to draw her from her retirement, among them the Duc de Ventadour and the Maréchal de Gassion, but in vain. At length the Duc de Schomberg appeared at her convent grating to renew his pleadings, and this time he was not repulsed. Madame de Hautefort issued from the convent into the world again, though without appearing at court. A strange episode occurred, however, before the marriage took place. Previous to leaving the convent she received a visit from the sister of the Duc de Schomberg and wife of the Duc de Liancourt. This lady, having suspected something of her husband’s former passion for Madame de Hautefort, was alarmed lest, in the closer intimacy which the intended marriage would bring about, her husband’s flame might rekindle. She therefore made representations to Madame de Hautefort of the injury it would be to her brother, whose fortune, she said, was considerably diminished from various causes, should he marry one who was not able to reestablish his affairs upon a better footing. It was asking of Madame de Hautefort the sacrifice of her last hope to require the breaking off of this intended marriage. There was a battle in her heart, but finally generosity carried the day ; she promised the sister that she would not be the ruin of the brother. But happily Madame de Liancourt was unable to support the falsehood she had succeeded in imposing. She made speedy confession of her fault, begging her injured friend to become her sister. Madame de Hautefort became Duchesse de Schomberg at thirty years of age, and with this event terminated the more romantic portion of her career. Thenceforth her life was as peaceful as its earlier years had been agitated. She loved her husband with all the fervor of her disposition, and when in 1656, ten years after their marriage, the marshal died, his widow consecrated herself to his faithful memory. It is said that she preserved for many years her wonderful beauty. In the portraits of Mademoiselle she appears under the name of Olympe. Without becoming a Jansenist, she had leanings towards Port Royal. At Metz, during M. de Schomberg’s governorship of that city, she encountered Bossuet, and became one of his earliest friends and patrons. Anne of Austria she seldom saw, but when, in 1666, site learned that her royal friend was about to die, Madame de Schomberg sought permission to attend once more at the queen’s bedside; and it is said that the dying Anne recommended the faithful friend to the protection of her son. Louis XIV. in vain endeavored to draw Madame de Schomberg to his court: with respectful firmness she declined his favors, and remained in her quiet seclusion. Works of charity became the occupation, we may say the passion, of her life. Without children of her own, she earned the beautiful name of Mother of the Poor. Her house in the Faubourg St. Antoine became an asylum for the unfortunate and oppressed. From this gentle and pious existence she passed away in her seventy-fifth year, August, 1691, and was buried beside her beloved husband in the chapel of the Chateau de Nanteuil. Bossuet, who always cherished her memory tenderly, never was at Meaux without passing by Nanteuil, that be might pray beside her tomb.

I seem to have been describing here a paragon. Assuredly Marie de Ilautefort must have had her defects, but the record of them has not come down to us, and whatever they may have been we are permitted to believe that her virtues cast her faults into the shade.

Maria Louise Henry.