Abbildungen der Seite


created duke, was now the surviving minion; and he monopo* lized the extravagant favor of Henry. His insolence and prodigality accorded with his situation, and tended to increase and keep alive the contempt entertained by the people for their sovereign. Henry now created him admiral of France, and gave him the government of Normandy.

Such absurd prodigality of honors, towards a mere minion, at the very time when the successes of Guise claimed reward, excited the indignation of the duke, and of the Parisians, who adored him. The Catholics had in part caught up the religious fervor, the scriptural allusions, and the turns of expression, peculiar to the Huguenots. Guise was their Gideon, their Maccabeus, the rod of the heretics, the savior and support of the orthodox. The citizens of Paris, at the instigation of the league, had organized their means of resistance. The town was divided into sixteen quarters, each of which appointed a deputy; and thus was formed a council of sixteen, or seize. The body was known by the name of the Seize. They drew up a muster-roll of the armed citizens, and found their numerical amount to be 20,000. This was ao army on which the league might depend.

In the commencement of 1588, the Guises summoned a meeting of their partisans at Nancy. The Parisians were earnest in entreating the duke to declare himself openly, and dethrone the imbecile Henry. But Guise still hesitated. Catholic historians vaunt, amongst other virtues, the resolution of the duke; yet never was conspirator more deficient in that necessary quality. In reply, the duke urged the Parisians of themselves to seize the king, while they joined in one of his devout processions; and he sent some of his followers to organize and direct the attempt. The sixteen did not want either zeal or courage to follow this advice, by which Guise sought to reap the advantage, without incurring the peril. But the citizens had one amongst them, named Poulain, who betrayed all their measures to the court. Henry, in consequence, kept himself close in the Louvre, and the plans of capture became impracticable. Epernon was dispatched to Normandy, to make sure of the principal towns, and to muster such a force as might awe the capital.

The sixteen, finding their intrigues discovered, w7ere moved by fear of punishment, in addition to their zeal and their hatred towards the king; they therefore sent a fresh summons to Guise, entreating him to proceed to Paris, and brave the monarch openly. The duke could no longer recede, without fear of disgusting* his party. He summoned resolution, though without any very fixed plan, and advanced towards Paris. On bis way he received a mandate from Henry not to approach. He, however, continued his march, for the purpose, he said, of pleading his own cause. His entry into Paris took place on the 9th of May. No troops accompanied him; but the citizens soon formed around him the most formidable escort, even kissing his garments, and displaying other signs of extravagant affection.

Instead of proceeding to his own hotel, the duke alighted at that of the queen-mother, who was startled, and even terrified at the visit. Guise, however, appeased her fears by such good-humor and gaiety, and such professions of loyalty, that Catherine proposed that they should both set out to the Louvre to visit the king. Catherine loved above all things to effect reconciliation, to be herself the arbiter, and to negotiate the terms. Guise consented. His consent strikes me as an act of irresolution, not of courage. Catherine sent word privately to the Louvre, that she was coming thither with the duke of Guise. Henry was thunderstruck at his enemy's boldness. What. did he seek 1 For what purpose did he thus come,—to brave him 1 The king asked advice of those near him. A colonel of his guards declared that he was ready to run Guise through the body. Henry applauded his zeal, but bade him wait the signal. The abbe d'Elbene gave the same advice. "Strike the shepherd," said he, "and the sheep will disperse." But Henry was irresolute; and his other counsellors, who feared the consequences of exasperating the populace, advised that no attempt should be made upon the duke's life. In the midst of this consultation the queen and Guise arrived. The Louvre was full of guards, whom the duke took care to salute with his wonted affability But Crillon, their commander, gave way to a gesture of impatience and contempt, which startled Guise, and showed him all the danger of his position. Consultations were still going on in the king's chamber, when Catherine and the duke entered. There was no time for dissimulation. Henry showed all his anger. "Did I not forbid you to approach Paris?" were the words with which he addressed the duke. The latter partly denied having received the express order, and partly excused himself for disobeying it. Henry listened to something that Bellievre whispered to him, still looking stedfastly on the duke. Catherine approached the king at the moment, and Guise could hear her using the language of dissuasion. He saw that it was a question whether to slay or spare him; and saw also that fear of the multitude, whose clamors wTere heard from without, alone saved him from the meditated blow. Henry seemed convinced by the arguments of Catherine. Guise, pretending fatigue, hastily retired.

Whatever were the previous views or resolves of Guise. 1588. FLIGHT OF THE KING. 26?

the danger that had menaced him in the interview, determined him in future to keep no terms with the king. On reaching his hotel, in the rue St. Antoine, he summoned the sixteen, and made arrangements for an immediate revolt. He had, nevertheless, two days after, another interview with Henry, when he took care to be well guarded: it was Catherine who arranged it, in the hope of an accommodation; but it proved fruitless.

On the morning of the 12th of May, a large body of trocps arrived to reinforce the Swiss and French guards. Henry ordered them to occupy the principal positions of the capital, The sight of the soldiers was a signal plain enough for the Parisians, who, instructed by Guise, instantaneously set about forming barricades in every street. Chains extended from house to house; carts and barrels formed their hasty intrenchments, which were heaped and filled with earth. Crillon^ who had orders to keep the communication open betwixt the Louvre and the Bastille, was obliged to retreat from the rue St. Antoine. Notwithstanding his reinforcements, the king was a prisoner in his palace. Almost whilst I write, Paris has seen a renewal of these identical barricades, which tradition might have counselled. Some coincidences are singular. The barricade of the rue St. Antoine was in both cases first attacked. The Louvre has been in the nineteenth, as it was in the sixteenth century, the head-quarters of French and Swiss guards mingled. The Swiss were doomed then, as since, to slaughter. A post of them was surrounded in the Cemetery of the Innocents, now the market of the same name, and slain by the partisans of the league, notwithstanding their supplicating cries of Bon Catholique, bon Catholique! The king was at length obliged to fly from his palace, and take refuge, first at Chartres, and then at Rouen.

Many of the historians of the time cast blame alike on Henry for not having assassinated Guise, and on Guise for allowing Henry to escape. The crime out of the question, Guise was not sorry for the king's flight. The traitor wanted audacity, and always crouched in his sovereign's presence, but, now he was master of the capital, and of a potent force, he was no longer overshadowed or controlled. His efforts were directed to legalize his usurpation, and his first attempt was to bend the president, Achille de Harlai, to his views. De Harlai looked at Guise, and then replied,—"'Tis pitiable when the valet expels his master; as for me, my soul belongs to my Maker, and my fidelity to the king; my body alone is in the hands of the wicked. You talk of assembling the parliament: when the majesty of the prince is violated, the magistrate is without authority.'*

Thi >pposition, as well as the inclination of the Parisians themselves, after the excitation of their revolt was over, to treat with the king and make use of his name at least, led Guise into more moderate measures. He proposed an arrangement, on condition that he should be appointed lieutenant-general of the kingdom, and that the states-general should be summoned at Blois to decide existing* differences. Henry was weak enough to accede to these terms, and to sanction them by an edict of union, to the great discontent of Epernon, who at this juncture showed an indignant spirit that did him honor. As for Guise, his whole attentions were wisely directed towards the composition of the states, and the appointment of deputies in his interest. For this he postponed the war against the king of Navarre, and overlooked the feeble acts of the king, who showed his authority at this time by totally changing the members of his council.

The opening of the states took place at Blois on the 16$ of October. The duke of Guise, as grand master of the household, presided over the arrangements. The king, than whom no one knew better how to support dignity upon occasion, spoke with mildness and address, venturing a slight reflection upon the turbulence of the late events; as if to try the temper of the assembly. Their silence showed them fully in the interests of the league; and Henry was obliged to retrench the offensive words in the copy of his speech that was printed. Guise henceforth began to advance in his demands. He wished to be constable as well as lieutenant-general, and to have a guard; but Henry showed adroitness in parrying all these attacks against his authority on the part of the states, as well as on that of the duke. The king, indeed, was superior in sagacity at this time to his rival, who proceeded irresolutely and vaguely, but gradually, towards the goal of his ambition. Henry saw clearly that it was now a struggle for life and death between him and the usurper. One must fall; and he, in falling, would probably not be spared. He therefore made his resolve,—one from which it might be said that an accomplice of Charles IX. on St. Bartholomew's eve need not shrink. It was a crime; yet if the past weakness of Henry had not constituted the force of Guise, never would crime have been more amply excused by a sense of se^f-preservation and necessity.

Henry determined, in a word, to assassinate the duke. He consulted the brave Crillon. That soldier proposed to challenge Giiise, and by sacrificing his own life in the combat, make sure of slaying his adversary. He spurned the proposal to act the assassin, but promised to keep the king's secret. {588. GUISE ASSASSINATED. 26\)

Henry found others less scrupulous than Crillon. Guise, in the mean time, was repeatedly warned of these hostile intentions: he affected to despise them, but he took every precaution. The king summoned a council to be held on the morning of the 23d of December: he wished, he said, to nave the rest of the day for a party of pleasure. So early, Guise was not attended by his intimate band. As he mounted the stairs to council, the officers of the guard surrounded him, and used the most supplicating entreaties that he would procure for them their month's pay. This crowd of petitioners kept off the duke's friends, and he entered the councilchamber alone. Here, however, were numbers: the council was, in fact, assembled. Yet Guise, it is said, felt a misgiving: he was even unwell, and was obliged to call for a restoring draught. Perhaps he recollected the entreaties of his mistress, who that morning in vain endeavored to dissuade him from attending the council. At this moment the king sent to summon Guise to his cabinet: the duke obeyed, and was engaged in lifting* the tapestry of the door, when he was beset, his sword seized, and his body pierced by a number of wounds. His brother, the cardinal de Guise, was sent to prison, where he was soon after dispatched by the halberds of his guards. Thus perished the original planners of the massacre of St. Bartholomew. Those who see the vengeance of Heaven declared in the violent deaths of the perpetrators, in the misfortunes and extinction of their race, are not contradicted by these events.

Twelve days after the assassination of the Guises, expired the queen-mother, Catherine of Medicis, almost forgotten in the turmoil of the moment. Indeed, for a long time she had been usee, according to the French expression, which may mean "morally worn out." No individual had ever produced a more pernicious effect upon a country than she had produced upon France. She introduced those habits of dissimulation and Machiavelian policy for which her country was famed. She taught them to her children, and communicated them to her court. When united, as they were in her, to extreme licentiousness of private morals, we can scarcely imagine a more perfect combination of wickedness. Such she became in the acts of her later life, which, from their enormity and blackness, have cast a shade over her earlier career; so that whilst struggling for tolerance, or listening to the counsels of de l'Hopital, Catherine is depicted as, even at that time, perfidious and ill-intentioned. Truth is here sacrificed to the unity of the picture, to the imaginary consistency of a character. Human nature contradicts this, and

« ZurückWeiter »