The Queen Behind the Throne
THE extraordinary career of Françoise d’ Aubigné, Marquise de Maintenon, has kindled the ambition of more than one clever Frenchwoman. Before her day women had gained ascendency over the anointed head of the state, but had used such power, in ways more or less direct, for purely selfish ends. To aggrandize their friends, if not themselves, had been the undisguised aim of previous brevet-queens, and we know into what unworthy laps had been poured the broad demesnes, abbeys, churches, châteaux, in the gift of captive kings. And such victories had been won on the conventional field, under well-worn colors, and through the might of woman’s ancient arms, beauty, wit, and grace. Madame de Mainten,on was the first woman who exercised a powerful influence in the state for other than personal ends, and was also the first royal favorite who received into clean hands the perquisites of guilt. Holding up dainty skirts, this victorious favorite walked dry-shod over miry ways, to obtain the rewards of what was currently considered successful vice.
Other women, witnessing her success in the face of every obstacle, longed to tread the same royal road; but it was not France that became the kingdom of a second Madame de Maintenon, but Spain, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, the humblest among the nations of Europe.
To understand the relations of France to Spain at this period, we must remember that when Anne of Austria married Louis XIII., she solemnly resigned for herself and for her descendants all claim upon the crown of Spain. This act of renunciation was afterwards repeated by the daughter of Philip IV., Maria Theresa, when she became the bride of Louis XIV. It seemed then less important than giving up one’s attendants, clothes, and language. Louis authorized the act because the occasion demanded it. There was a secret prophecy which he fondly cherished for forty long years, — “ There shall be no more Pyrenees ; ” and it brought consolation when his bride’s dowry remained unpaid, and he entered the first charge in the indictment preparing for Spain. Besides, he was a man who could wait.
There were many princesses of the French blood to marry off, and Louis embraced the opportunity, as it was presented, of planting his fair cousins in the royal families of Europe. The lovely Maria Louisa, daughter of his brother Philip, Monsieur, and Henrietta of England, was selected, most unwillingly on her part, as bride for the moribund Charles II. of Spain, — a creature, as Madame Cornuel might say, born dead, “ with head bent forward, body feeble and thin, legs rickety, and mind sluggish.” To this man, if man he could be called, whose animating principle was hatred of France and fear of evil spirits, whose amusements were dwarfs, buffoons, and puppet-shows, varied by an occasional auto da fé, — to him that royal maid, of “ fair and regular features, pensive cast of countenance, sensitive, and subject to fits of melancholy reverie,” was consigned. The letter-writers of the period relate the frantic grief with which she embraced the king’s knees, and begged not to be sent to that monarch of dwarfs and puppet-shows. She fainted when the betrothal took place, but it did not move Louis le Grand. Poor child! she was not aware that “ there should be no more Pyrenees,” being only thirteen years of age.
Charles got his French bride, lovely as was her mother, but he loathed that bride’s country, its speech, its dress, its representatives. In obedience to an unwritten decree, the stern camereramayor, the Duchess de Terranova, into whose custody the little queen was given, proceeded to denationalize her and the parrots she had brought with her. Whose necks the duchess in fond fancy wrung, while twisting off the heads of those unlucky French birds, we shall never know, but it is refreshing to hear, down through the ages, the echo of that resounding slap bestowed by the queen upon her mistress of the robes. In true Spanish style, the duchess collected four hundred friends to revenge the insult, and only some adroit but baseless excuse for the queen’s whim for slapping duchesses induced the mistress of the robes to make peace.
The years rolled on. The king was dying ever, and the queen was childless and virtuous, — unexpected check to Austrian diplomacy. King Louis knew her entourage all too well not to feel some anxiety for his niece, and poor King Charles shared his fears. Historians are still groping, as did the physicians of that day, for the truth regarding the queen’s sad taking-off. She was but a year older than was her mother when fate overtook her, wearing the same guise, and offering the fatal draught from the hand of a friend. They did not know, the learned of that day, and we shall never know, whether the infamous Countess de Soissons, the one Frenchwoman whom Austrian influence admitted to her friendship, poisoned the glass of milk which upon that sultry day she offered to the queen. Charles, knowing his monde, had begged Maria Louisa to take nothing from the countess’s hands; but such advice, she thought, was made for Spanish amity, not for the loyal French. The work was well done, and the flight of the countess, after an interview with Mansfeldt, the Austrian ambassador, even before the first ill-feelings had attacked the queen, lends color to that story of guilt which the subsequent career of Olympia Mancini only too well sustains. Whether it was a true case of poisoning, or whether the queen died of a congestive chill, — for iced milk has its own murderous properties, on a sultry day in Spain, — Henrietta’s daughter was dead, the king was childless, and Louis of France was still sure there should be no more Pyrenees. Another wife was therefore shortly obtained, a Bavarian princess, Marie Anne of Neuburg, a sister of the empress, — for the emperor too had nieces and cousins to establish profitably. Still there was no son, while the king failed visibly, and the heirs presumptive, of varying nationality, were eagerly counting those feeble heart-beats. First among them, and most detested, was the French king’s grandson, the Duke d’Anjou, for whom the heritage was claimed in virtue of his grandmother, the sister of Charles II. The Spanish priests considered this claim not invalidated by Maria Theresa’s renunciation of birthright, since the act was not confirmed by the Cortés, nor was her dowry ever paid.
A little Bavarian prince, of tender years, was another claimant, because he, too, was grandson of a sister of the Spanish king, — a younger one. The emperor claimed, because he was son of a daughter of Philip III., the aunt of Charles II., but his claim was less strong than that of the others, although he pleaded in his favor the numerous renunciations of Spanish rights made by France and Bavaria. There was also the king of Portugal in the field, with no claim to speak of, but still eager for the spoils. The prevailing influence at court was Austrian, but in 1698 Louis sent as ambassador to Madrid the Marquis d’Harcourt, with well-filled pockets and a lovely and diplomatic wife. Count d’Harrach, the Austrian ambassador, was all-powerful with that awful personage in a Spanish court, the camereramayor, the Countess Berlips, a German of humble birth, devoted to gold of any coinage. Her price was high, but when payment is not intended promises are abundant, and D’Harcourt tempted her with money, even with the proffer of a petty sovereignty. So quickly did she yield that Count d’Harrach speedily procured her recall, and back she went to Germany, with her train of a dwarf, a eunuch, a physician, a Capuchin, and a diplomatic agent.
The. queen of Charles, too, was approached with a whole handful of bribes, — jewels, the regency, and other objects of the lady’s secret desire. She was unpopular in Spain, and had quarreled with Porto-Carrero himself. The people were easily won : much splendor in parades and shows, fountains of wine and chocolate in the square in front of the French Embassy, made them thoroughly Bourbon, provided the Bourbon was shut out from the French succession. “ Rather the devil than France united with Spain,” they said. It cost ten millions to seat Philip d’Anjou on his throne. Charles II., antipathetic to France, and believing in the validity of its renunciation of Spanish rights, made a will in favor of the little Bavarian prince. But the boy died at the age of seven years, under the usual suspicions of poison. The Church then decided the question of succession, Innocent XII. giving his voice in favor of the French Bourbons. Charles, who was “ as incapable of thinking as of wishing for himself,” now became resigned to the Church’s guidance. Three priests and monks were henceforth in his room, and conducted a true mediæval torture of diseased conscience. The credulity, superstition, and fears of the king were played upon ; and to enable him to last till the desired end, he was given a diet of capons which had been fed on vipers, and wine instead of his usual drink of water in which cinnamon had been boiled. He was pronounced gangrened, and the monks, preferring to call him bewitched, proceeded to exorcise the evil spirits. It was the spirit of sanity and the spirit of life which came out of him at priestly bidding. He yielded, of course, and signed the will, prepared by Porto-Carrero, wherein the crown of Spain was bequeathed to Philip, Duke d’Anjou. Charles burst into tears, saying, “ God is the disposer of kingdoms ; they belong to him. I am already nothing.”
As may be divined, the king half repented of his act, and would have turned back, but was prevented ; that is to say, he died, and his heart was found to be incredibly atrophied, which showed the skill of the three monks and confessors. It was said that “ his funeral obsequies were the occasion of so many others that it would have been well “ if he had never been born, or had never died.”
The will was brought forth from its secret hiding-place, and the hush preceding that seven years’ storm, the War of the Spanish Succession, rested for a few brief months upon the nations.
The good tidings, brought by special envoy to France, found King Louis innocently surprised, but he piously remarked, “ It is the will of Heaven, and I yield to it with pleasure.” Then he presented the young king to the court, and shared the honors of the homage paid by the Spanish ambassador. After making merry at Versailles, he sent Philip to Spain, with much pomp and a heavy freight of counsel, some of which was very good. He begged him first to be a good Spaniard, and then to remember that he was born a Frenchman, since nothing would so benefit both as a union of the two states. He also advised Philip never to have a favorite nor a prime minister, not to marry an Austrian princess, to wage no war unless compelled to do so, and to employ only Spaniards in important government posts ; and thus Louis sent him gayly to his kingdom.
Philip d’Anjou, the second son of the Grand Dauphin of France, had a pleasing appearance, a fair face, grave and dignified manners. He was a youth of moderate capacity, ardent temperament, and limited education. Like other younger sons in royal families, he had early been subjected to a system of repression, and, having shown some inconvenient strength of will, was in consequence so especially starved in mind and soul that, although a prince of the blood, he was yet behind any Paris bourgeois in point of general information. On the other hand, his religious tendencies had been carefully cultivated, and he himself trained in habits of strictest obedience to the mandates of the Church. His young soul had virtually been cased in the Church’s iron harness, while in process of unfolding, and thus undesirable developments had been restrained and abnormal growths encouraged. The transfer of a nature so trained to the relative freedom of sovereignty was like entering for a foot-race a child who had hitherto walked in leading-strings.
The grandfather of the young king recognized the urgent need, in the case of a prince so immature, of some firm hand to direct his untried powers. It was of the first importance that this discreet adviser should hold correct views on the subject of the Pyrenees. In fact, a wife was wanted, young and directed in turn by a camerera-mayor, also to be carefully chosen.
The wife was soon selected by the French privy council of two. Victor Amadeus, Duke of Savoy, was the father of fair daughters, who, endowed by nature with grace of form and manner, no less than beauty of face, were early trained in all accomplishments and in the secrets of court diplomacy. None better knew the fine art of pleasing and being pleased; of seeing, yet seeing nothing ; of hearing, but not hearing. The elder of the princesses, Marie Adelaide, the young Duchess of Burgundy, to the end of her short life was the idol of the court and the joy of the king’s declining years. It was her younger sister, Maria Louisa, who was selected by Louis of France and Madame de Maintenon as bride for the king of Spain. Very much diplomacy was, however, required to bring the advantages of the proposed alliance to the favorable notice of the Spanish ministers. Now appears upon the scene the Princess des Ursins, the future “queen behind the throne.”
Anne Marie de la Trémouille, daughter of the Duke de Noirmoutier, famous in the wars of the Fronde, was born in Paris in 1642. She was a brilliant girl, and married at the age of twenty-two years the Prince de Chalais, with whom she was most happy, though forced to fly with him from Paris in 1663, to avoid the consequences of his participation in the Duke de Beaufort’s four-cornered duel. They fled to Spain, where the princess acquired her knowledge of Spanish people, manners, and language. From Spain they journeyed to Italy, with that restlessness which characterizes people without a country. The prince died at Venice, deeply mourned by his widow, who took up her residence in Rome, where for some years she secluded herself from all society. Five years later, she married the Duke de Bracciano, the head of the Orsini family. This second marriage, however, was not happy, and the duke once actually made a will by which his wife was cut off from inheritance in his estates, but he luckily revoked this instrument before it was too late. He died in 1698.
During her residence in Rome, the Duchess de Bracciano was the centre of a brilliant circle, attracted to her salon by her grace of manner and her charming esprit. She was fond of the society of artists, and through her own personal influence did much to promote at least the social advancement of the painters, sculptors, and musicians whom she assembled about her. Saint-Simon says that at this time she learned the art of intrigue from those accomplished masters of the science, the Roman cardinals. But Saint-Simon is always a harsh judge of suspicious circumstances, and not much weight should be attached to this statement, implicating the Cardinals D’Estrées and De Bouillon. The great and awful Porto-Carrero himself, the Archbishop of Toledo, at this time in Rome, became the duchess’s humble slave, and through him she was enabled to reach the ear of the sovereign Pontiff, Innocent XI.
Our only portrait of the Duchess de Bracciano, painted for us by SaintSimon, is a delicately drawn résumé of her personal traits, but his estimate of her qualities of mind and heart is far too low. He tells us that, without being positively beautiful, she was charming, and that her noble air and grace of manner surpassed all he had ever known. “When she wished to please, she was flattering, caressing, animating. She was above medium height, with blue eyes, most expressive, a perfect figure and bust; with all this, a most agreeable voice, and a faculty in conversation inexhaustible and highly entertaining. And she was, moreover, a great judge of character.” “ Très dégagée dans sa taille,” another voice adds. So much for the outward princess. The judgment of her contemporaries is extremely varied. Saint-Simon rarely fails to belittle the subjects of his pen-portraits, and therefore, although his respect was compelled by the duchess’s successful career, his commendation is bestowed upon her tact, adroitness, and worldly wisdom, solely.
On the other hand, De Louville says she was “ sordide et voleuse que c’est merveille,” and had " des mœurs à l’escarpolette” He calls her “ proud, haughty, and benevolent, one who cherished ambition far above her sex or that ordinary in man.” But these were the opinions that “yoked creatures” entertain. Louville was French adviser to King Philip before the Princess des Ursins was appointed to the position.
About this time Madame de Bracciano disposed of her husband’s estates to the nephew who bore the title, and, taking the French form of the Orsini name, was henceforth known as the Princess des Ursins. While in Paris she paid her court to the king at Versailles, and in her apartments in the city gave little balls to marriageable heiresses, a form of dissipation which came to an end at ten o’clock at night. The question of the Spanish marriage was absorbing the attention of the court, and through her friendship with Madame de Maintenon she became acquainted with the wishes of the king regarding the Savoyard princess. So generally acknowledged was the influence of Madame des Ursins in Rome that her friend privately solicited it in favor of the proposed alliance. From this period, probably, date the first stirrings of lofty ambition in the princess’s mind; and her general plan of operations must have been roughly sketched while yet in France, her objective point from that time becoming the post of camerera-mayor to the future queen of Spain. Madame des Ursins had learnt the vast capabilities of the office, the highest post in the royal household, during her residence in Spain. The mistress of the robes was a great and awful personage, a sort of " female Grand Inquisitor, who, being in closest association with both king and queen, was treated by the courtiers with the utmost respect, as one wielding vast influence over the sovereigns.” The Duchess de Terranova, a terrifying person, stained with crime, had held the first Maria Louisa in penal servitude ; the Countess Berlips had made of the office a royal exchange, where favor was bought and sold.
Concealing her personal ambitions, Madame des Ursins proceeded to assist in bringing about the marriage between the young king of Spain and the little princess at Turin, and, as a preliminary step, it was necessary to gain the confidence of Louis XIV., never directly approached by suppliant. Through Madame de Maintenon were secretly conveyed to him expressions of Madame des Ursins’s profound appreciation and sympathy, timid offers of such coöperation as weak woman could afford, and all — intelligence, sympathy, ardor — approaching the royal ear by those devious paths so dear to the great Louis. Returning to Rome, Madame des Ursins played well her part in the interests of France, weaving a web of delicate diplomacy, with far-spreading threads of subtle fineness, whose intricacies it would be difficult to trace. With marvelous skill, persons widely separated in space were involved in the scheme, and varying interests made to converge to one desired point. Through the great PortoCarrero, the Pope was reached, and induced to favor the marriage, and the rest quickly followed. The courts of France and Savoy openly acknowledged the value of the princess’s services.
To obtain the prize for herself was a still more delicate undertaking. A French subject occupying the post of honor would not be tolerated in the prejudiced court of Madrid; even a gallicized Spaniard would excite distrust. Just here the princess’s friend at court reminded the French king of her qualifications for the post: a native of France, yet a cosmopolitan ; of the discreet age of sixty-five years, and possessed of great knowledge of the world and its ways. And then — a whisper: this lady, if appointed mistress of the robes to the queen of Spain, would be pliable and extremely useful, submissive, grateful, and committed to French interests. There can be no doubt that the jest of the Duke d’Orleans very nicely described Madame de Maintenon’s prophetic vision: “ A she-captain in France, and a she-lieutenant in Spain.”
The clever princess followed up the hint thus given; writing “ a wonderful letter ” to her friend in Paris, the Maréchale de Noailles, popularly known as the “ Mother of the ten tribes of Israel,” on account of her twenty-two daughters. This letter, designed to reach the king through Madame de Maintenon, contained the offer of her services to escort the bride, the queen of Spain, to Madrid, “ where I really have business.” Whether consciously or not, all her friends were working in her interest, stimulated by those subtle bribes which were so gently displayed before the mind’s eye. To Madame de Maintenon was portrayed the delights of ruling two kingdoms, while the Maréchale de Noailles was encouraged to hope that she might settle a dozen or two daughters in Spain. In fact, it was most satisfactorily proved to each and every friend how greatly it would conduce to the general well-being that the Princess des Ursins should go to Spain.
At last King Louis proposed, according to the prearranged programme, that Madame des Ursins should be appointed camerera-mayor to his grandson’s queen, but he neatly transferred the responsibility to the Duke of Savoy. He, consenting that this useful lady should be rewarded for her services in his daughter’s interests, yet loath to commit himself, tossed back the ball to France, from whence it rolled to Spain, where PortoCarrero gave new impetus to its course. It ricocheted to France, where Madame de Maintenon bestowed upon it the needful, delicate last touch. The princess was “actually in due form appointed camerera-mayor, or chief lady-in-waiting, to the queen of Spain before the princess at Turin had been made queen by the performance of the marriage ceremony.”
The new mistress of the robes at once began preparations for her position; adding three or four gentlemen to the four customarily retained in her suite, and increasing the number of her pages to six. A chaplain and twelve lackeys made up the household. A gilded coach for state occasions was essential, and one less fine, “ no gold and silver, but still very handsome,” was bought, for ordinary use. She firmly declared her determination never to have recourse to the treasury of France to cover her personal expenses. “ Je suis gueuse, mais je suis aussi fibre,” she would say to Torcy, the French minister at Rome.
At last, all preparations being made, she proceeded to Villafranca to meet the bride. She was immediately delighted with her, enthusiastically praising her person and bearing, and prophesying that she would fill the rôle of queen to perfection. Maria Louisa of Savoy was less beautiful than her sister, the Duchess of Burgundy, but was tall, well made, with a pale yet brilliant complexion. She was more imperious than the elder princess, but had a loving heart and generous nature. Poor child ! she was only fourteen years of age, and parted with her Piedmontese attendants with frantic grief. It is not strange that she turned with passionate attachment to the friend she found in her chief lady-in-waiting, soothed and charmed by the exquisite tact and savoir fa ire which the varied experience of sixty-five years of life had taught the Princess des Ursins, and attracted by that genuine friendliness and sympathy which not even the life of courts had stifled. The friendship then formed lasted throughout the short life of the queen.
Philip V. of Spain, who met and wedded the Princess of Savoy at Figuières, was instantly charmed by her face, figure, and bearing. He was almost a child himself, very immature in certain directions, and painfully conscious of such deficiencies. He knew nothing of women, nothing of love, but all about the devil and other bêtes noires which the Church employs for the purpose of frightening her conscientious children.
The marriage banquet was signalized by a coup d’état on the part of the Spanish suite of the queen, who had accompanied the king to receive and attend upon their new mistress. A foreign princess, wedding a king of France or Spain, was expected to leave on the frontier every article of personal clothing? — escaping en chemise, to assume the royal robes provided by the bridegroom ; and she also resigned all the friends, companions, and attendants of her personal train. In compliment to the returning Piedmontese suite, this farewell banquet consisted of Spanish and French dishes in equal proportions. It was said that the malicious Spaniards found means to obtain access to the banqueting-hall, and threw all the French dishes out of the windows. The queen, with difficulty, dissembled her anger, but when, her attendants having retired, she was left alone with the king and her camerera-mayor, her rage burst forth at what she considered an unpardonable insult. Torrents of tears were accompanied by the lightning of passionate speech, like the brief fury of a summer tempest. She vowed she would return to Turin in the morning, and the poor young king, disconcerted and dismayed at this unexpected form of feminine displeasure, left the room in despair, foreseeing no termination to the outburst. It was, in fact, only the relief which expression affords to overcharged nature, and was sure to be followed by calm. But of this, as of so many other things, the king knew nothing.
Before the close of the second day, the young queen would gladly have returned to the only friend whose sympathy and love were hers of light. But the king had been advised by a gentleman of his suite that it would be wise to punish the bride for her contumacy, and he therefore remained aloof from her, only approaching when she had given unmistakable evidence of better mind.
But henceforth the course of royal true love ran smooth. The somewhat austere nature of the king melted only in the warmth of the solitary passion of his life, — his love for his young wife, Maria Louisa.
Having proceeded with the royal cortége to Madrid, the Princess des Ursins found the duties of office somewhat oppressive. Spanish etiquette — always proverbial for its excess of form — is amusingly depicted in her private correspondence. " Dans quel emploi vous m’avez mise ! ” she wrote. “ Je n’ai pas le moindre repos.” To be chief lady-in-waiting meant to eat, sleep, and rest only when brief opportunity allowed, without regularity or comfort. “ Often a meal was only to be snatched when performing other duties.” “ Tell Madame de Maintenon,” she wrote, later, “ that it is I who have the honor of taking the king of Spain’s dressing-gown when he goes to bed, and of giving him that garment and his slippers when he rises. That, however, I could make light of; but really it seems too absurd that every evening, when the king comes to the queen’s apartments, the Count de Benevento should hand me the king’s sword, a bottle, and a lamp, which I ordinarily upset on my dress.” Again, “ The king never rises until I draw the curtain, and it would be sacrilege were another than I to enter the chamber of the queen before they rise. A. little while ago the lamp went out, because I had spilt all the oil. I did not know where the windows were, because we had arrived at that place only the night before. I feared I should break my nose against the wall ; and there we were, the king of Spain and I, nearly a quarter of an hour, hitting ourselves while looking for the windows. The queen is so well satisfied with me that she often calls me two hours earlier than I wish to rise. The queen enjoys all the jesting, but I have not yet gained the confidence which she gave to her Piedmontese attendants. I am amazed, for I serve her much better than they; and I am sure that they did not wash her feet and take off her shoes and stockings as neatly as I do.”
From this correspondence of the Princess des Ursins may be gathered some ludicrous instances of the high officials’ jealousy of each other: as when “ the ancient Patriarch of the Indies, who looked like an ape, slyly taking a napkin to church with him, rushed before the king and queen at the most solemn moment of the sacrament, and produced his cloth for their use, because he found the camerera-mayor had been appointed to take his place at the ceremony.” Another ludicrous incident was when “ the Count de Priego and the Duke d’Ossuna fought at the foot of the altar for the honor of moving the king’s prie-dieu. Both men were small, — the Duke d’Ossuna not much bigger than a rat, — and it was feared they would tumble over upon the king, who, in turn, must have knocked over the queen.”
Philip V. “ found a true oligarchy in Spain, composed of persons united by ambition and paralyzed by sloth.” The country itself was well-nigh ruined. Hunger, want, despair, yet lordly pride, we may be sure, were universal. Charles II. had been completely bankrupt; his suite were sometimes forced to ask in charity the food which the royal household did not afford them. There was no army, no ships nor means of building them, no commerce, no agriculture, nor anything worthy of mention save the hidalgos and the Church, the latter body represented by monks and priests innumerable. With all this terrible need of reform, reform was yet the last thing whose necessity was suspected, and, if suggested by France or Frenchmen, would certainly be rejected with scorn. It was of the first importance to strengthen the influence so quickly gained by the camerera-mayor over her royal mistress. A queen of Spain under a stern mistress of the robes was like an Eastern sultana condemned to almost perpetual imprisonment in the palace.
The new lady-in-waiting exerted herself to render the life of the king and queen agreeable, introducing private theatricals for the amusement of the court, and introducing Italian opera, then becoming popular in France. But her first step of real importance was the nationalizing of these new sovereigns of foreign birth, — a measure universally commended, and which serves to exhibit the profound insight possessed by the Princess des Ursins into the true principles of the higher politics. She encouraged the use of Spanish as the court language, and the adoption of the national costume, especially for the king. She advised his attendance at bull-fights and other national amusements, — always excepting the auto da fé. The Spaniards were about to burn three unfortunate Jews at the time of the marriage fêtes, but the king firmly refused to be present, and thus distinguished himself from all his predecessors. The queen became like clay in the hands of the potter, which implied the submission of the king.
Wondering ambassadors reported in dispatches, “ The king of Spain has given his wife the key with the three wards. It opens all apartments, and even the galleries whence may be heard the deliberations of the council-chamber. It is the greatest mark of confidence kings in Spain can give, and rarely granted to queens.” Again, “ The king is dévot, and believes that he would be damned if he thought of any other woman. Without this devotion he would be a libertine.”
It was necessary to impress upon the queen “ de ne rien choquer autour d’elle. ‘ The camerera-mayor attended her to the Junta, and thus herself learned the secrets of affairs into which she was apparently initiating the sovereign. From the early days of her official life, she in fact directed the policy of the inexperienced king. Her first exercise of arbitrary power — still from behind the throne — was the bestowal of a vigorous blow aimed at the Inquisition, then in the full enjoyment in Spain of all its terrible powers. The fight seemed almost desperate ; for although the Inquisitorial power was, doubtless, greatly curtailed during the reign of Philip V., still it was true that during that period 1574 persons were burnt at the stake, and 11,750 were subjected to penitential punishment. It was a struggle with forces whose power and extent were as vast as they were unknown. But given sufficient time, the ministers of the Inquisition were sure to be revenged on the audacious reformer. The first signal triumph achieved by the Princess des Ursins was the release from the Church’s prisons of Aquilar Diaz, the confessor of the late King Charles II., who had been held there for four years. So daring an act created wrath and dismay, not only in Spanish theological circles, but throughout the body of Jesuits in France.
Only second in importance to her attacks upon the power of the Inquisition was her determined resistance to the encroachments of the grandees. Although they had approved the accession of the Bourbon king, it was doubtless chiefly to avoid the partition of Spain among European powers, and to furnish a market in France for Spanish wool. Under a weak sovereign, the nobles hoped to revive many feudal privileges, which, while limiting the power of the monarchy, should increase that of the lords of the soil. Their disgust was intense when the youthful Philip V. was found sustained in the defense of his rights by what they called “ an audacious old French lady,” who met their approaches at every point with firmness and wisdom. She says of the grandees, “ With such people firmness is the surest way. The closer I view them, the less I see that they merit the esteem I believed one could not refuse them.” And again, “ Ce sont des superbs, sans force et sans courage.” When convinced that the Admiral of Castile was guilty of high treason, Madame des Ursins had him arrested, and condemned to death. “ People like ourselves ought not to be treated so,” said the Duke di Medina Celi ; but having been found guilty of conspiracy and breach of trust, he was himself arrested, and died in prison.
Complaints began to pour in upon the French king. Aware that he could openly accomplish nothing, he had depended upon nationalizing Philip of Spain, while secretly employing French influence about his person. But the very success of the plan had awakened envy and distrust among the representatives of France in Madrid, whose religious sensibilities took fire at the flame of their pride and malice. Every action of the camerera-mayor was misrepresented to Louis, and his dread of divided authority was adroitly awakened. He wrote to the king of Spain, saying pettishly that the princess ought to be recalled. " At a time when you should be occupied only with great projects, you incline towards the Princess des Ursins, with whom every one bores me.”
Bold, daring, resolute, absolutely faithful to what she considered the true interests of Spain, and perfectly fearless, it is not strange that the princess excited against her the whole body of conservatism, ignorance, and bigotry. A reformer and a woman, — could there be more wanted to array against her the forces of virtuous reactionists, secular and theological? It is marvelous that she sustained so long, undaunted, the attack of Lilliputian hordes, the onslaught of those myriad undermining organisms which require only time to bring down things built for eternity. Meanwhile, the murmurs of the approaching storm, the War of the Spanish Succession, had long been audible. Before the surprising good fortune which placed the crown of Spain upon the head of the Duke of Anjou, Louis of France had agreed to certain
treaties with England, Holland, and Austria, whereby, upon the death of Charles II., Spain should be divided among these nations. Upon Louis’s promptly repudiating these agreements, the emperor began secretly to prepare for war, while William of England, not being ready, assented temporarily, with the other nations of Europe, to the execution of the will. It was Louis XIV. himself who was destined to work his own ruin, by violating other treaties, by insisting upon Philip’s reversionary rights to the French succession, and by acknowledging the old Pretender as legal sovereign of England. When the emperor was ready for war, with Prince Eugene to lead his armies, he opened the campaign in Italy. William lingered a little, possibly to make better terms in the grand alliance soon formed between England, Holland, and the Empire. There was not even a pretense of justice or national honor on any side; only a common bond of hatred to France, and resolve that she should not become greater. The Archduke Charles was to be made king of Spain, its outlying possessions going to the allied nations. But while the armies of the emperor were successful in Italy, a more urgent usurper than the Pretender was assailing the English throne. William of Orange died, “ absorbed in death itself by thoughts of the political system into which he had thrown his whole soul.” But Queen Anne confirmed his adherence to the alliance, finally sealed November 22, 1702. The war was carried on in Italy, in Flanders, and in Germany, with Marlborough and Prince Eugene opposed to Villars, Vendôme, and Villeroi. Philip joined the French forces in Italy, and one of the gravest cares of the " army of the two crowns ” was the charge of the person of the nineteen-year-old king. He was soon recalled to Spain by the descent of the English fleet upon its coasts, who took the treasure-ships from the Indies, and at a later date that jewel of the straits, Gibraltar. In 1703, success temporarily attended the French arms, with the counterbalancing evils of the defection of the Duke of Savoy and the adherence of Portugal also to the allies.
The enmity of the Church and the jealousy of the grandees towards Madame des Ursins caused a serious reaction in Spain, among the upper classes, in favor of the allies, although their success would have been fatal to the integrity of the kingdom. About 1703, the Cardinal d’Estrées, ambassador of France and the princess’s former friend, began to secretly undermine her favor with the king, his master, and her immediate recall was threatened, but withheld at the passionate entreaty of the king and queen of Spain, who stipulated that if Madame des Ursins went the cardinal should go also. In the end, it was he who went back to France, the Abbé d’Estrées, his nephew, remaining in his office.
In 1704 the total defeat of the French at Blenheim took place, the allied forces being commanded by Marlborough and Prince Eugene ; and in October, 1705, the Archduke Charles, landing in Portugal, took Barcelona. Vendôme’s victories in Italy in 1706 might have turned the tide of defeat, but again Louis, blundering, sent this, his best general, to Flanders, where he arrived too late to save the day at Ramillies, May 23, 1706. Brabant and French Flanders were then irretrievably lost. Louis took the blow calmly, saying to the unlucky Villeroi, “ Monsieur le Maréchal, at our age one is no longer fortunate.” In Italy, the French forces, under the Duke of Orleans, were again defeated.
In Spain discord reigned. The Abbé d’Estrées, who inherited his uncle’s hatred of the all-powerful camerera-mayor, sent venomous letters to the French king, full of bitter insinuation. But to ingratiate himself with the princess, he offered to show her his official dispatches. These were of course expurgated editions; but on one occasion an original document fell into her hands, containing a scandalous story concerning the mistress of the robes and her equerry, D’Aubigné. De Louville calls him “ un beau drôle, bien découpé de corps et d’esprit” His intimacy with the princess had caused much unfavorable comment, which she further increased by having his apartments included in her own suite, thus making him the only man lodged within the palace. Yet it was of a charmer of seventy-one years that her critics wrote, when describing “ la galanterie et l’entêtement de sa personnel.” D’Estrées enlightened King Louis as to the suspected relations between the pair, and added that it was said they were married; whereupon the princess wrote with indignant pen upon the margin of the dispatch, “ O, pour mariée, non ” (At any rate, not married). Now the great Louis fully approved of opening his faithful subjects’ letters himself, but he was scandalized at any one’s tampering with his own correspondence ; and this circumstance, with the skillful use made of it in Paris by the cardinal, probably brought about Madame des Ursins’s actual recall. She obeyed the mandate, pausing at Toulouse to await further orders. But alarming reports at once reached the French court of the anarchy which at once reigned in Spain. Philip V., deprived of his secret counselor, strove vainly to struggle alone ; but Sainte-Beuve says, “ Le ressort qui détermine les hommes n’était pas en lui. II avait reçu du ciel un esprit subaltern et même subjugé.” The grandees went over in a body to the archduke, including Porto-Carrero, who had grievances both as Churchman and noble. He gave the blessing of the Church to allies, Protestants and aliens, sang Te Deums, opened his palace to them at Toledo, and publicly blessed the Austrian standards.
Marshal Berwick, who commanded the army of naked, half-starved Spanish soldiers, was so hard pressed that he begged the royal family to fly to some town near the French frontier. They remained in Burgos in the utmost discomfort, the young queen sustaining her weaker husband with every loving art and unfailing courage. The archduke, entering Madrid, was proclaimed Charles III., but the people, always loyal to their king, rendered his stay disagreeable by every means ingenuity could suggest.
Louis le Grand, bitterly hating coercion, felt, however, that too much was at stake to allow of personal redress. The return of Madame des Ursins was a political necessity, and he yielded it with his own peculiar grace, which never meant renunciation. Madame des Ursins was ordered from Toulouse to Paris, and then followed the court to Marly. She knew human nature, especially royal human nature, and, comprehending all that was implied in the summons of the king, dropped the humility of exile. Saint-Simon says nothing could equal her triumph nor the attention paid her by the king. We can see her advancing up the ball-room at Marly, her bearing recalling the manners of the queen mother’s court ; every one bowing, because the king bowed, and also Madame de Maintenon, and the Duchess of Burgundy. She surveyed every one through her glass, calmly proceeding, and carrying on her arm a little white spaniel, a liberty which even the beloved Marie Adelaide would not have dared to take. In horrified italics, Saint-Simon records that the king “ caressed the spaniel,” and after that everything might be inferred. It was said that the princess thought of rivaling the French queen behind the throne, but it is only certain that Madame de Maintenon briskly helped her off to Spain.
Thus the princess went back to her kingdom, comforted by new favors, and sustained by pledges which confirmed her in powers still more vast than before. She had an ambassador of her own choosing appointed, Amelot, with Orry as financial adviser. The king and queen of Spain received her with the joy of loving children. It was a desolate country to which she returned : the allied forces in occupation of two thirds of Spain, the army famished and unpaid, the royal family in exile. But Madame des Ursins brought new hope and courage. In defiance of her public enemies, of her personal foes, age and rheumatism, her buoyant spirit inspired the most despondent. The people were true in spite of their spiritual advisers, the monks and priests who overran Spain, and were, in her opinion, the cause of all the internal discord. By means of proclamations, letters, addresses, scattered broadcast over the country, Madame des Ursins stimulated the people’s courage, enlightened their intelligence, and encouraged them to hope for ultimate success. By these unceasing exertions, she obtained for the king contributions from the cities, by means of which the troops were paid and clothed. The king publicly acknowledged the princess’s services.
One great advantage resulting from the flight of king and queen to Burgos was the dismissal of three hundred ladies-in-waiting, who had promptly scattered to their homes. The camereramayor “ ‘ reformed ’ the three hundred, there being more need of soldiers than of people of doubtful fidelity.”
Madame des Ursins, become prudent, renewed her intimacy with the French court, reporting in detail on Spanish affairs, and maintaining that close correspondence with Madame de Maintenon which reveals so much of the character of the two women, Sainte-Beuve says Madame des Ursins displayed such delicate fancy, dramatic power, and insight into character as must cause deep regret that so many of her letters were by her own request destroyed. The correspondence contains vivid pictures of the manners of the times in both courts. Underlying Madame des Ursins’s words is, at first, a gentle deference to French authority, which all too soon vanishes away. Madame de Maintenon, it was said, delighted in indirect approaches, half measures, was content with real power without apparent show, and comfortably resigned all responsibility to the divine will; while Madame des Ursins was always sure that if some one would only do something earnestly enough, almost any misfortune might be avoided or retrieved. “ One accomplished nothing if one undertook nothing.” When Spanish affairs were brighter. Madame de Maintenon writes, “ Mon Dieu, how gayly you jest! There is no sadness in what you say, but a certain joy, which imparts to me all I am capable of receiving.”
At last, when hope seemed dead, and it was even proposed to give Philip a sovereignty in America, Berwick gained the important victory of Almanza, and the king reëntered Madrid. Madame des Ursins, aware that the withdrawal of France was the ruin of Spain, urged by every effort the French king not to desert the grandson he had placed upon the throne. Her letters to Versailles are models of diplomacy. She begs for large battalions, and adds that she has advised the king to order public prayers, and again relates the queen’s edification at reading the rules of Saint-Cyr. She wonders that the French, involved in such a bloody war, can engage in cabals and intrigues, or be occupied with such petty interests as the struggle between Jesuits and Jansenists, “ which should be deferred until peace is proclaimed.” She proposed to the French government financial schemes, which were not accepted, but which justified the wisdom of the Spanish authors. In the midst of these cares of state, it seems odd to find her attending the queen through her second confinement, performing all the petty duties required by her official position.
In 1709, the fortunes of Spain and France were at their lowest ebb. Nature herself fought against the forces of “the two crowns,” the most severe winter ever known in France causing untold misery. With beaten armies, a suffering and turbulent people, and an empty treasury, Louis at last resolved to sacrifice his grandson, although he had openly rejected the peace offered by the allies, which obliged him to compel Philip V.’s abdication by force of arms. In her despair at a resolution so fatal to Spain, Madame des Ursins besieged Louis XIV. with passionate entreaty not to desert the nation. She encourages the poor weak king, yet at some hint of abdication exclaims, “ What, sire, are you a prince, are you a man, you who treat your royal title so lightly, and have feelings weaker than a woman’s ? ” From this terrible moment the correspondence with Madame de Maintenon grew cool, as was inevitable. Although not unfriendly, it was satirical. The princess ordered the letters burnt.
Madame des Ursins now performed the greatest act of her life. She induced the king to banish all the French from his kingdom, thus identifying the Bourbon with his people, and throwing himself upon their protection. This coup d’état at once closed the breaches between the nobles and the king. Indignant at the treachery of Louis XIV., the grandees at once embraced the cause of Philip V., and Spain was now united in sustaining its young monarch on his throne. This act of the grandees was made known to Louis XIV. in a communication signed by all the great names of Spain, wherein the support of France was besought. Louis, delighted at this revulsion, sent an army of fifteen thousand men, under Vendôme. On the 10th of December, the French and Spanish armies gained the great victory of Villaviciosa, which virtually terminated the war, although some years elapsed before the actual terms of peace were settled. The Spanish Bourbon slept, on the first night after the battle, on the heaps of conquered standards. Vendôme was made grandee of Spain ; Madame des Ursins was one already, and now received the order of the Golden Fleece.
The death of the emperor, and the election of the archduke to that crown, caused the withdrawal of the claim to the throne of Spain, and the battle of Denain, in 1712, was the closing struggle. Before victory declared for the Bourbons, the archduke again entered Madrid, the court retreating to Valladolid after the battle of Saragossa.
The grandees, now thoroughly loyal, followed the king, amidst the tears of such citizens as could not go with them. The queen, with the young prince in her arms, spoke to the assembled people, and never before was such enthusiasm known in Spain. “ Prelates and the humblest clergy, noblemen and common people, bled themselves of the last drop of their substance to supply provisions for the court. The queen sold all she possessed, and received sometimes as little as ten pistoles, and thanked the donors with as much affection as they themselves displayed. She gained all hearts.”
The want of accord between the allied generals doubtless contributed to Vendôme’s success. The archduke found Madrid an apparently deserted city, and the inhabitants, who had remained, in hiding. Afraid of his faithful lieges, he passed the first night as far as possible from the royal palace. No one would give him or his troops food ; a conquered city knows instinctively its métier. It is not strange that when the emperor laid aside his crown, Charles III. should prefer to exchange it for that heavy one of Spain. After twelve miserable days he left Madrid, and to light his going burnt the beautiful Alcazar of the Emperor Charles V.
The difficulties of finding a common basis of peace were great, and complicated by the sudden deaths of the two dauphins of France and the little Duke of Brittany, leaving only the life of a delicate infant between the crown of France and Philip V. The English refused to sign a treaty until satisfactory pledges were given by Louis XIV. and his heirs that the two crowns should never be united. It was perhaps the deepest humiliation of Louis’s life that, in the light of his treaty-breaking past, his simple word would not be accepted. Sorrow, defeat, mortification, had been heaped upon him, but nothing so cruelly wounding to his vanity as that solemn ceremonial, when the king and his heirs renounced for themselves the crown of Spain, as Philip had given up that of France.
But a serious obstacle in the way of peace lay in a condition attached to the concurrence of Spain, — the bestowal upon Madame des Ursins of a sovereignty in the Netherlands. Philip V. strenuously urged this point, and stood firm, until warned by his grandfather that his action would lead to most disastrous results. Although this wild ambition of the Princess des Ursins was possibly no more arrogant than the cloistered retreat of her rival, and while it should be remembered that a similar prize had been tendered to the Countess Berlips, we must still condemn the obstinacy with which this condition was urged. Sainte-Beuve says, “ It can only be hoped that when the official correspondence between Spain and her ambassadors is made public, it may relieve the memory of this great woman of the odium of deferring, on purely personal grounds, the peace so ardently desired, after seven years of bloody warfare.”
But at last all preliminaries were settled, all pledges given, all concessions made, and on April 10, 1713, the Peace of Utrecht was signed. Te Deums were sung in Paris, and fireworks and banquets abounded. Madame des Ursins’s great work was done, but she saw before her unceasing duties, if society was to resume its functions upon a reformed basis. She had apparently the gratitude of all classes for her part in the redemption of the nation. The reforms, civil and financial, which she inaugurated have since developed into permanent institutions. Before her fall, she saw the last city of Spain nationalized ; and although her ambition for personal sovereignty had failed, she had almost all else to hope for and expect. Reform, it is true, was almost everywhere needed, in secular as in religious matters, and the encroachments of the Inquisition were so constant that her struggle with it knew no pause. This dark power threatened even the royal prerogative, yet so awful had been its history and its resources that Philip V. had not courage to suppress it, as Madame des Ursins urged. At least, through her efforts it was stripped of some of its powers, and an important advantage was gained in securing the right of asylum to the palace of the English ambassador, and to every English ship in the harbor.
In the years in which Madame des Ursins may be said to have governed Spain, her admiration of French statesmanship led her to form Spanish policy upon that model. She went so far as to endeavor to secure for the Church in Spain the independence of the Gallican establishment, but Louis XIV. himself wrote her, “ Croyez-moi, vous n’êtes pas assez fort pour avoir nos libertés Gallican es.”
And, meanwhile, the Inquisition waited, and the wounded vanity of Louis, king of France, waited, and a host of other smaller, aggrieved organisms waited, and the princess " enjoyed superabundant health, and was overwhelmed with favor.”
In 1714, the young queen, Maria Louisa, died, at the age of twenty-five years, of a distressing form of the disease called the king’s evil, which appeared about the face and neck. The Spanish physicians had failed to relieve her, and Helvetius, sent by the king of France at the queen’s special request, at once pronounced the malady a mortal one. She died with resignation and courage. In all the relations of life she had shown herself the same loving, generous being, and had borne the hardships of her troubled reign with devoted loyalty to her weak husband, and unexampled fortitude. The nation mourned her, and Philip grieved; yet it was said that the king, meeting the funeral train which conveyed her body to the Escurial, paused respectfully to let the cortége pass, then resumed the hunt, thus momentarily interrupted. Yet he had loved her with all the strength of his feeble nature, living with her in an exclusive intimacy unknown to other royal households, and he clung to her memory with the retaining grasp of a barnacle, or other sessile mollusk. But it must be remembered that it is difficult for weak constitutions to breathe the rarefied air of higher natures.
In the ten months intervening between the queen’s death and the remarriage of the king, Madame des Ursins’s conduct, it must be admitted, was not marked by prudence. She still treated the grandees with hauteur, and she undoubtedly, at times, forgot the rôle of queen behind the throne, and made her function of keeper of royalty too apparent. She prevailed upon the king to retire to his small palace of Medina Cell, and causing herself to be appointed governor of the young princes, she thus supplied excuse for a familiar intercourse with Philip V. denied to almost every other individual. But, unluckily, not even the exigencies of service, the warrant of long acquaintance, or even the respectability of seventy-nine years were sufficient to protect the ever-youthful princess from the breath of slander. Her relations with the king of thirty-two years were suspected. Could ever greater compliment be paid to a mature charmer ? The surveillance established over the king was generally misconstrued, as was that fatal corridor built to connect her apartments with those of her young charges and with those of the king.
However, all might have gone well, since scandal is the breath of court life, allowed for in doubtful circumstances, as are certain uncomprehended natural forces in philosophical experiment, but, alas, Philip was bored. This in itself was fatal to the existing state of things ; but the court of France becoming alarmed, a hint of possible danger through the fascinations of Madame des Ursins reached the king of Spain’s ears. “ Moi, l’épouser ! ” he cried. “ O, pour cela, non.” Shortly after this, he said suddenly to the camerera-mayor, “ Cherchez-moi une épouse. Nos têtes-à-têtes scandalisent le peuple.” This so decidedly that the princess was obliged at once to look about her for a second Maria Louisa.
And here stepped in the Church’s slow vengeance. There was a subtle Italian priest, Alberoni by name, of humble origin, who burned to fill the princess’s shoes. He was sure, secret, undermining, and he bound himself in a private league with the priestly disaffected, yet paid humble court to the lady. Like the dowager queen of fairy story, Madame des Ursins tested the marriageable princesses by many a delicate assay, and by a secret standard which may be divined, although not openly avowed.
There was in the royal house of Parma a young virago. Alberoni knew her well, but assured Madame des Ursins that a more mild, docile creature than Elizabeth Farnese did not exist. “ Une bonne Parmesanne, nourrie de beurre et de fromage.” Alberoni said of her to the princess, " Nothing will be easier than for you to fashion her to Spanish gravity by keeping her retired. In your capacity of camerera-mayor, you will be able to gain complete ascendency over her mind.” This of Elizabeth Farnese, of whom, in after-years, Frederick the Great said, " The pride of a Spaniard, the prejudice of an Englishman, Italian finesse, and French vivacity compose the character of this singular woman. She advanced audaciously towards the accomplishment of her designs. Nothing surprised her. Nothing could stop her ! ”
Madame des Ursins, charmed with what was told her of the gentle Parmesanne, concluded with fatal haste the arrangements for the marriage, without reference to Louis of France, whose assent she could not hope to secure. Philip was approached by the cabal, his easily stirred nature kindled at the recital of the charms of the princess. A word was dropped into the princess’s ear in Parma, and it was suggested to Elizabeth Farnese that she was herself a person of too great importance to permit a divided authority. It needed little to set in motion forces whose power for evil was well-nigh limitless. She wrote King Philip, “I ask only one thing, — the fall of Madame des Ursins.” And this apology for a king, whose only public virtue was his political tenacity, proved its absence in matters ethical by replying, “ At least, don’t miss fire, for if she talks but two hours with you she will enchant you.”
A court secret, like an air-cushion, when thrust back in one dimension will protrude in others. A rumor reached Madame des Ursins of the Parmese princess’s true character. She at once dispatched a messenger to break off negotiations with the court of Parma ; but it was warned by Alberoni, and when the courier arrived, a day or two before the performance of the marriage ceremony, he was seized, imprisoned until too late to do mischief, and threatened with death should his errand be divulged. Saint-Simon, in another account, sends the messenger to Cardinal Acquaviva, at Rome, but brings him there after the prelate’s departure to act as King Philip’s proxy at Parma. At all events, the marriage was over, and Madame des Ursins forced to make the best of a situation whose gravity she was far from suspecting.
The bridal cortége proceeded with royal, leisurely speed, by way of Bayonne, Spainward, and was there met by the dowager queen of Spain, who had been dispatched thither to fire a carefully prepared train. This princess, exiled from court, was dévote, as the natural sequence of a life of dissipation, and had carefully nursed a grievance against Madame des Ursins, through years of deepening intensity, and was mistress of the art of skillful innuendo.
The direct causes of the Princess des Ursins’s overthrow are explained by Saint-Simon. In all the past the best laid schemes against her had failed, but her hour had struck, and a net was spread for her feet, woven of a thousand obscure threads of private interests neglected, and of petty claims too rashly put aside. The plot did not originate with King Philip, yet he was a consenting party to it. It has been said that Louis XIV. never forgave a sin against his personal dignity, although he could repress his anger long, and even make use of the offender; but wrath waited in its prisonhouse only until opportunity should open the door. Madame de Maintenon made use of this characteristic to work her own private revenge. Disabused of her delusion of reigning in Spain by proxy, the thought of her rival possessed of personal sovereignty, while her own retreat was only an obscure chamber in SaintCyr, was unendurable. No better spur to Louis’s wrath could be offered than the unsanctioned marriage of his grandson, and the whole details of the offense were skillfully laid before him by the envoy dispatched by the disaffected in Madrid, the Marquis de Brancas, French ambassador to Spain. He bore the burden of complaint of the Inquisition and the grandees, who, although now supporters of the king, chafed under the strong rule of the camerera-mayor and of other envious and disappointed folk. He was said to have his personal grievance, being for sale at a bargain, and finding no market with the mistress of the robes, which of course changed the whole moral bearing.
Madame des Ursins, warned of Brancas’s mission, but not of its special import, dispatched Cardinal del Guidice after him, with general orders to neutralize whatever harm might have been wrought. But the marquis hastened, while the cardinal purposely lingered. Brancas arrived when the last attempt had failed to have Madame de Maintenon ’s marriage proclaimed. She seized the opportunity to pull down her rival behind the Spanish throne. So well was the ambassador’s mission fulfilled — for what so inspiriting as to gratify a private grudge with a public warrant ? — that before the slow-footed cardinal arrived to commend the Princess des Ursins in general terms, her final ruin was determined, and the details of the task were confided to the chief conspirator in Spain, Alberoni.
Meanwhile, the camerera-mayor prepared to go forth to meet the bride, trusting still in the star of her wonderful destiny, in the gratitude and affection of the king, and somewhat in her own gracious personality, which had won the heart of Maria Lousia, and could hardly fail in the case of a queen she had herself raised from comparative obscurity. There is proof sufficient of the nature of the rope used by Louis of France and Madame de Maintenon to draw away Philip V. from honor. It was woven of many strands, — vanity, self-love, amorousness, — qualities individually without tenacity, but when combined, of compelling strength. He took good care, however, to put far from himself any personal responsibility for the act of treachery towards his friend and benefactress. Alberoni and the ex-queen of Spain, against whom Philip had been so often warned, assumed the execution of the plot, and proceeded secretly in advance of Madame des Ursins to meet Elizabeth Farnese. We can imagine what chords they touched in that cruel and arrogant nature, and we know that diamonds were offered and accepted, and the fine caléche in which the ex-queen traveled to Bayonne.
Madame des Ursins left the Madrid she was never again to see, in December, 1714, in the apparent possession of every earthly honor. Her words, long before written, have a prophetic strain: “ It is with the favors of fortune as with too high health; that is to say, one is never so near being ill as when one feels too well, nor so near to being unhappy as when one is overwhelmed with happiness.”
The princess journeyed from Madrid to Guadalaxara with the king, who still remained carefully secluded from all society save her own. On the following day she advanced alone to Quadraqué, seven leagues distant, to meet and welcome the bride. The princess was in full court dress, and hastened to pay her respects to the queen. There were no witnesses to that first interview, but it is known that Elizabeth received Madame des Ursins with disconcerting coldness, then immediately burst forth into angry reproaches for the impropriety of her dress. Growing ever more full of wrath, she charged her with having ill treated the grandees of Spain, and insulted religion, — meaning the Inquisition. The dress of the princess was proper, and entirely suitable to the occasion, although possibly a trifle youthful in color and fashion. She endeavored gently to excuse herself, when the queen, giving utterance to wild screams of hysterical rage, summoned the officer of the guard, and ordered him to “remove that mad woman.” No Spaniard could execute, without hesitation, such command upon a person so long revered ; but when the queen demanded if he had not received orders from the king to obey her implicitly, he was obliged to comply. The gentle Elizabeth then caused the aged princess, in full court dress and without protection from the cold, to be placed in a carriage between two bodyguards, and driven, upon that bitter night of Christmastide, across desolate Spain. She was without food as well as covering, in weather that disabled the driver’s hand by frost.
Madame des Ursins spoke not a word throughout the night, nor during the whole dreadful journey of three weeks, until Saint-Jean-de-Luz was reached, did she utter a complaint, when so much of bodily suffering was added to her mental anguish. She was never forgotten by the guard which escorted her from the Spain which owed its very existence among the nations to her wise and beneficent rule. At the little border town where she paused in painful uncertainty, she wrote to Madame de Maintenon, “ I shall easily agree with you that stability is to be found in God alone. Certainly not in the human heart, for whose heart seemed mine more surely than that of the king of Spain ? ” But not even the keen pang of the knowledge of Philip V.’s treachery, nor other outrage to her womanly nature, could long disturb the serenity of a superior mind, so deeply acquainted with the world. When surprise and wounded feeling had had their hour, she resumed her sway over that kingdom of herself which neither king nor priest could destroy. Sainte-Beuve says she had taken the measure of humanity, and believed that this world was a comedy, where there were often very poor players, and that she had possibly played her own part better than some others.
In her first perplexity she appealed to the king of France, going to Versailles, but was met by coldness and indifference, and forbidden, at the request of the Duke of Orleans, entrance to any place where she might meet himself or family. The favor she obtained was the exchange of her French pensions for convertible funds. The king’s failing health and the prospect of the regency of the Duke of Orleans, her bitter enemy, made France as a f uture residence out of the question; no other nation wanted her, in her depressed fortunes, fearing French or Spanish displeasure. She fixed upon Genoa, but remained there only a short time ; then repaired to Rome, her former home. Here Madame des Ursins lived many years, — lived to know her French rival forgotten, until a greater than Peter the Great drew aside those carefully closed bed-curtains at Saint-Cyr.
In reply to her letter to Philip V., the king briefly stated that he had acted in accordance with the wishes of the queen, and assured the princess of the continuance of her pension, which promise was strictly kept. In the little English court of the Pretender, Madame des Ursins was warmly welcomed, and held high place, during the remainder of her life, under that shadow of royalty and semblance of authority. To Rome, in due time, came also the Cardinal del Guidice and Alberoni, — fugitives both, and disgraced.
A great and noble woman died in Rome, December, 1722. — a woman whose force of intellect, calm judgment, and statesmanlike ability surpassed that of any uncrowned ruler of her sex in history. So unprecedented is her place in story that historians have sometimes preferred to doubt the part she played in the War of the Spanish Succession. No memorial of the Princess des Ursins exists in Madrid, the city which was saved and restored under her rule. Her last act before leaving Spain was to establish an institution like the French Academy.
Madame des Ursins lifted Spain from the dust; she placed a weak and vacillating monarch upon his throne among a foreign race; and assailed by all the powers of Europe, she supported the sovereignty of Philip V. by measures of constitutional right almost unknown to the governed of that day. Madame de Maintenon’s tactics were as inferior to those of the power behind the Spanish throne as her aims were baser and her self-seeking more undisguised. But Madame de Main tenon was the obedient servant of the Church, in its most narrow sense ; it became the object of that Church’s ministers to uphold her power in France. Madame des Ursins, with broader, more enlightened views, opposed the Inquisition and the greed, vice, and hypocrisy of the priests and monks, and she sealed her doom. She had weaknesses, else she had never had those winning traits which made the thralldom of the governed a willing bondage. But no act of injustice, cruelty, or tyranny can be ascribed to her during her ten years of rule.
She drank the bitter cup of royal ingratitude to the dregs, — that winter’s drive was like the retrospection of the judgment day ; but if her heart affirmed the accusation of Wolsey, her lips refused to publicly proclaim it.
It is justly said that had she ever borne a child to fill her heart, and transmute into something purer the dross of personal ambition, she had not spent herself upon Philip V. of Spain, a Bourbon of the Bourbons.
Ellen Terry Johnson.