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Authors: Eleanor Herman

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Henriette gloated over the compromising letter, which at the time was a legitimate contract and could in a court of law nullify Henri's subsequent marriage to another. Now all she had to do was bear a healthy son and she would become queen of France. Her joy was diminished somewhat as Henri continued to pursue his marriage with Marie de Medici. By late April 1600—when Henriette was seven months pregnant and well on her way to fulfilling her side of the bargain—Henri signed the marriage contract with Tuscany. Henriette's feigned veneer of generous goodwill cracked, and for the first time the calculating monster behind showed itself.

Tossing her an expensive bone, Henri quickly created Henriette the marquise de Verneuil, bestowing on her a large territory and castle. The lady was not appeased. She threatened to make
public his promise of marriage if he continued with the Tuscan union. Henri became aware that his foolish promise could result in international scandal and loss of prestige to his realm. He fired off a letter to her. “Mademoiselle,” he wrote, “Love, Honor, as well as all the favors you have received from me would have sufficed for the most frivolous soul in the world, unless she were gifted with a naturally evil character such as yours…. Iam asking you to return to me the promise in question and not to give me the trouble of recovering it by some other means. Please return also the ring I gave you the other day…. I would like an immediate response.”
47
The king waited for an immediate response in vain.

Henriette, while refusing to yield the letter, resumed her mask of gentle goodness. At her advanced stage of pregnancy, Henri was loath to provoke her and so brought her to the royal palace of Fontainebleau for her lying-in. While Henriette could not control the sex of the child—a fact which must have irked her immensely—she took great precautions for her health, combining rest, exercise, and a nutritious diet. Although she implored Henri to stay with her for the delivery, Henri—no doubt still angry over her failure to return his written promise—shrugged off her supplications and rode to Lyons on business.

Unfortunately for Henriette, her labor started during a violent thunderstorm. Lightning flashed outside the palace; then a bolt entered her room and passed beneath her bed. Henriette became hysterical. For hours she screamed uncontrollably, and by morning she had delivered a son, stillborn. When told that her ticket to the throne lay cold and lifeless, Henriette plunged into a deep despair. For weeks she lay listless in her bed. She had come close, so very close. The duc de Sully, however, painfully aware of Henri's foolish promise, thought the bolt of lightning had been sent by God to prevent them all from falling into the nasty clutches of Queen Henriette.

The king, relieved at the outcome, became a caring and consoling lover. Henriette, finally accepting she would never be queen, hardened into an even more coldly calculating courtesan, demanding at least the perks of a throne. When she recovered,
she visited Henri in Lyons “in an uncovered litter as if she were the Queen,” one witness reported.
48
The English ambassador wrote, “The King hath brought his mistress hither whom he doth embrace with more kindness than kings commonly do their wives, and doth honor with as much respect as if she were his queen.”
49

On November 3, 1600, Marie de Medici was welcomed into the port of Marseilles as queen of France. The bride was rather long in the tooth at the advanced age of twenty-six, and inclined toward heaviness. She boasted a sterling virtue, a queenly bearing, and a calm temperament. The French people approved of her dignified appearance. Her heaviness made her appear queenly in her thick, jewel-encrusted robes. Her lethargy seemed regal. One duchess wrote of the new queen, “Marie de Medici has large eyes, a full round face…. Her skin is dark but clear…. she is inclined to be a little heavy. There is a great kindness in her face but,” she added darkly, recalling the beauty of the king's dead mistress, “there is nothing that even approaches Gabrielle d'Estrées.”
50

“I have been deceived! She is not beautiful!” the groom grumbled to a friend after meeting Marie.
51
Henri IV had been duped by the old portrait trick and was expecting a slender beauty with elegant features, not this heavy woman with a flat farmer's face. He managed to fulfill his dynastic duties, however, and made Marie pregnant on his honeymoon. Soon after, Henri left Marie—to attend to urgent state business, he said—and visited Henriette, whom he also made pregnant. When Marie made her official entrance into Paris alone, she was surprised at the lack of pomp. Worse, when she arrived at the Louvre she found the queen's apartments dark and empty. The king had forgotten to arrange for her furniture.

Conniving Henriette badgered Henri into having her presented to the queen as soon as possible, as such a presentation would raise Henriette's prestige at court. Ladies had to be presented by a noblewoman of good standing, and the unfortunate duchesse de Nemours was given the job, knowing the new queen would never forgive her. Trembling, the duchess introduced
Henriette. Though Marie's French was not yet perfect, she had already heard the name and its unpleasant associations. Henri, with his soldier's frankness, added brusquely, “This is my mistress who now wishes to be your servant.”
52
This statement only poured salt on the wound of the poor bride clutching to the last vestiges of her dignity.

Simmering with resentment at the interloper, Henriette bowed to the queen, but not low enough, so Henri shoved her head down farther. She showed great distaste when kissing the hem of Marie's gown. The Tuscan ambassador, in his report to Marie's uncle, the grand duke, reported every detail of the historic event. He wrote proudly of Marie's royal composure, “The Queen received her in the usual manner and treated her thus throughout the evening without showing any displeasure.”
53

But the mask of learned dignity covered an anguished heart. Marie's Italian blood boiled at the insult. Quick where Marie was slow, lithe where Marie was clumsy, Henriette used every trick possible to punish the woman who had usurped what she considered to be her rightful place. One courtier wrote, “The Marquise, believing herself to have all kinds of power over the King, and availing herself as usual of her vivacity and the sharp barbs of her words, so pricked and offended the Queen time after time that at first coldness, then indignation and anger formed between them, and the King was constrained to separate them in order to maintain peace on both sides.”
54

Henriette loved to mimic the queen's Italian accent and clumsy French, as well as her awkward gait. Henri and his courtiers laughed heartily at these performances, which got back to Marie and irked her greatly. Henriette, referring to Marie's merchant ancestors, called her “the fat Florentine banker.” The queen called Henriette “the King's whore.”
55

As the months passed, Queen Marie, fat and pregnant, watched her husband and his mistress, also fat and pregnant, laugh and flirt with each other. Silent, angry, unable to understand their double entendres, their rapid exchanges of wit, Marie brooded. A little more than nine months after their wedding night, she fulfilled her primary duty and presented Henri, now a tired and
aging forty-eight, with an heir. Marie basked in her husband's praise. For four weeks, her stock was far higher than Henriette's, and she loved it.

But then Henriette, too, gave birth to a boy, dimming some of the luster of the queen's accomplishment. Despite the national outpouring of love and respect for Marie's timely gift of a prince and heir, Marie could clearly see that even the birth of a son could not make her husband love her. His attraction to Henriette was too strong. Marie's thwarted love twisted into black pain, lashed out in red anger.

Marie was delighted to receive a packet of Henriette's love letters to a courtier in which she made fun of her lover the king. The queen, hiding a smile of triumph, delivered the letters to her husband. He grew red and trembled with rage as he read them. He then sent a messenger to arrest Henriette for treason and strip her of all her privileges. But cunning Henriette convinced Henri that the letters were a clever forgery, probably manufactured at the instigation of Queen Marie herself. Henriette deigned to forgive him for the whopping sum of six thousand pounds. Now the king was furious at his wife for presenting him with such outrageous forgeries.

After this episode Marie lost her husband's love entirely. The marriage, which was to produce a total of five children that lived to adulthood, was reduced to violent arguments, and copulation as a political duty. After Henriette's rehabilitation, the English ambassador reported that the queen “kept herself retired in her chamber, either spending the whole day in bed, in tears and lamentations, or if she did rise, yet would not be persuaded to put on other clothes but those of her bed chamber. She refused to open the door to the King when he knocked.”
56

In 1602 Marie gave birth to a princess, and true to form, Henriette gave birth to a daughter shortly thereafter. Upon hearing the news, the queen's fury knew no bounds. The duc de Sully witnessed the queen scratching the king's face in an argument. When she raised her arm to strike her husband, the duke grabbed it to prevent the blow.

Henri confessed, “I receive from my wife neither companionship
nor gaiety nor consolation, she either cannot or will not show me any kindness or pleasant conversation, neither will she accommodate herself to my moods and disposition. Instead, she shows such a cold and disdainful expression when I come in and go to kiss and embrace her and laugh a little with her, that I am forced to leave her in vexation and go look for my relaxation elsewhere.”
57

Henriette finally fell from Henri's favor in 1608 after traitorous dealings with the Spanish, whom she hoped would topple Henri and place her royal bastard on the throne. Rejected by the king, Henriette waited on the sidelines for an eventual recall. But when Henri was assassinated in 1610, the new regent of France, Queen Marie de Medici, could freely indulge her hatred of Henriette, and exiled her from court. Here the former favorite took out her frustrations in food and grew tremendously fat. Henriette lived twenty-three years after Henri's death, until 1633, when she died at the age of about fifty-five, alone and unmourned.

Four
Cuckold to the King—
The Mistress's Husband

You cannot pluck roses without fear of thorns Nor enjoy a fair wife without danger of horns.

—
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN

I
N MANY CASES THE TRADITIONAL LOVE TRIANGLE—KING,
queen, and mistress—was in fact a love quadrangle. Many of the royal mistresses were married, either before their liaisons with the king or during the affair at the behest of the monarch himself. A perfect contradiction in light of our twenty-first-century morality, marriage was thought to pull a veil of respectability over a royal mistress. A husband's tacit approval gave legitimacy to an illicit relationship. Moreover, a pregnant unmarried woman was automatically a focus of social stigma. Even if the pregnant royal mistress had not slept with her husband in years, she was—after all—married.

Some kings, however, notably Louis XIV and his great-grandson Louis XV, fretted about committing a double adultery
and, from the standpoint of mortal sin, would have preferred unmarried mistresses, thereby halving their carnal transgressions. Louis XIV was content with single Louise de La Vallière for seven years—during which time she scandalously provided him with four children. When he fell for the very married Athénaïs de Montespan—who provided him with seven—he grew more worried about the salvation of his soul. So worried, in fact, that after the queen died he secretly married the formidable old virgin Madame de Maintenon to enjoy sex without guilt.

In the footsteps of his great-grandfather, Louis XV, who didn't seem horribly concerned about betraying his own wife, suffered for the sin of bedding another man's wife, Madame de Pompadour. His pangs of conscience were especially keen during Lent, the time to weigh one's trespasses throughout the preceding year.

But Louis had no qualms about marrying off his final mistress, the ravishing prostitute Jeanne Becu, to an impoverished nobleman to raise her status. Louis had the taverns and brothels of France searched for her pimp's brother, the comte du Barry. At the altar, the man was given a bag of gold, a pension for life, and a horse to ride away on. This respectable married woman, now a countess, could be presented at court despite the sneers behind painted fans.

The phony marriage would come back to haunt the lovers, however. Four years later, in 1773, the ailing and now widowed monarch considered marrying his favorite and so dying in a state of sanctified grace as had his great-grandfather Louis XIV with Madame de Maintenon. For her part, Madame du Barry was ecstatic. After suffering constant humiliation at court, she saw herself as queen of France before whom all her enemies would have to scrape and bow. But then it was remembered that she had a husband of sorts, drinking somewhere, who about that time sent word to the king that he would make an embarrassing appearance at Versailles unless sufficiently reimbursed. He was speedily paid off with several thousand livres and made a knight of the Order of St. Louis—a medal given for outstanding merit,
though in this case outstanding blackmail. All thoughts of marriage were dropped.

In the tenth century
B.C.,
King David rid himself of Bathsheba's inconvenient husband Uriah the Hittite by sending him into the front lines of battle. By the seventeenth century, kings had adopted a slightly more humane solution—exiling the husband to foreign parts under the cover of a diplomatic mission. Such was the case of Roger Palmer, the husband of Charles II's Barbara, Lady Castlemaine. Roger trudged grudgingly about the courts of Europe on Charles's orders. He was yanked back whenever Barbara was about to give birth to a royal bastard, and he was expected to hover solicitously until after the birth as if the child were his.

Two centuries later Nicholas von Kiss, the dashing but ineffectual husband of Katharina Schratt, mistress of emperor Franz Josef of Austria, was invited by the emperor to join the diplomatic service—a request he dare not refuse. When Nicholas complained of boredom in one locale, Katharina would ask the emperor to transfer him to another. Nicholas periodically visited his wife in Vienna to stuff his pockets with her money before going abroad once more.

The Rewards of Compliance

In 1855 the compliant husband of Napoleon III's mistress Virginie di Castiglione summed up the traditional role of king's cuckold when he said, “I am a model husband. I never see or hear anything.”
1
And indeed, many a man was willing to lay down his wife for the good of his country.

In the 1670s, the princesse de Soubise enjoyed a brief liaison with Louis XIV with the aid of her husband the prince. One evening the king's valet, Bontemps, knocked on the princess's apartment door to summon her to her rendezvous with the king. All the while, the prince pretended to snore loudly. Although the affair was brief, the prince found himself the object of uproarious ridicule at court. But the betrayed husband laughed at
courtiers' disdain all the way to the bank. “Never was so prodigious a family fortune founded so speedily,” wrote the duc de Saint-Simon.
2
The Hôtel de Soubise became the grandest house in Paris and today serves as the home of the French national archives. It is clear why so many courtiers encouraged their wives to sleep with the king—the wages of sin were high.

In the 1820s King George IV flirted with his mistress Lady Conyngham in the presence of her obliging husband. The king held her hand beneath the table and never drank from his glass unless he touched her glass with it first. He had the appalling habit of taking snuff from her generous bosom. During these displays of affection Lord Conyngham often sat next to the happy couple, quite contentedly drinking. He must have relished the riches his family reaped so quickly. The king nominated this compliant gentleman as lord chamberlain of the household, a nomination that was quickly shot down by his morally outraged cabinet.

The fate of Polish count Anastase Walewski—who pushed his wife Maria into the eager arms of Napoleon Bonaparte—was not as happy. The wealthy count had married Maria when she was sixteen and he sixty-eight. It was an excellent bargain for the bride's family, whose fortunes had recently failed as the result of war and partition. Poland was no longer a sovereign nation, having lost its territory starting in 1786 to Russia, Prussia, and Austria, in a kind of international gang rape.

But Maria's young heart withered in the old man's arms. On the altar of self-immolation, Maria plaintively wrote to a friend, “He is kind. He paid all of my mother's farm debts…. I must be a good wife to him…. Does one ever get
all
one wants in this life?”
3

The count, who had been surprisingly youthful for his years, aged quickly after the wedding. He grew querulous, criticizing his wife's appearance and behavior and throwing jealous scenes when men spoke to her. Yet her socially ambitious husband dragged Maria to balls and dinner parties, where her beauty constantly attracted admirers. In the social whirl of scheming women, Maria's genuine modesty was perhaps her greatest
asset—greater even than her long blonde hair, her large, innocent blue eyes, and her flawless white complexion.

In December 1806, Napoleon and the French army entered Warsaw and were welcomed with open arms by an adoring populace. The Poles were convinced that Napoleon would liberate them from foreign occupation and re-create Poland as a free and sovereign nation. Tens of thousands of young Poles flocked to join the imperial armies, to advance, with their blood, the debt Napoleon would owe Poland and would undoubtedly repay.

In January 1807, Napoleon gave a brilliant ball for Warsaw society. Count Anastase Walewski and his young wife were invited. Maria was extremely nervous about meeting her hero, the man she was convinced would save Poland. She asked her husband's permission to stay home. Not only did he refuse, but he instructed her to wear her most beautiful gown and ordered his family's diamond and sapphire necklace to be brought in from their country estate. The count, though peevishly jealous of the male attention his wife's beauty aroused, wanted to show her off to the emperor.

Wearing a narrow gown of cornflower blue to match her eyes, a silver cord twisted under the high waist, Maria was presented to Napoleon. He looked at her closely and silently passed on. Afterward, he turned to Minister Talleyrand and uttered those ancient, fateful words which have changed so many women's lives: “Who is she?”
4

Maria went home that evening pleased to have met her hero and thought nothing more of it. Everyone but Maria knew that the Conqueror of Europe was dazzled by her beauty, and that his comment “There are many beautiful women in Warsaw” referred to Maria.
5

A few days later at the foreign minister's ball, Napoleon wasted no time in singling Maria out and dancing with her. He was seen to squeeze her hand after the dance and to watch her closely from across the room. Indeed, it seemed as if Napoleon did nothing else but stare at Maria the entire night.

The poor woman suddenly became the chief object of interest at the ball. Hundreds of pairs of aristocratic lips whispered
about her behind fans. Hundreds of pairs of hawklike eyes fastened on her. Maria was humiliated by all the attention, but her husband preened himself like a vain peacock. Finally she had done something to make him proud.

The following day Marshal Duroc, chief of the imperial household, called on Maria with a bouquet of flowers and a letter fastened with the imperial green seals. It said, “I saw no one but you, I admired only you; I want no one but you; I beg you to reply promptly to calm my ardor and my impatience. Napoleon.”
6

Stunned, Maria told the marshal there would be no reply. That evening came another bouquet and another letter. This one read, “Did I displease you, Madame? Your interest in me seems to have waned, while mine is growing every moment…. You have destroyed my peace…. I beg you to give a little joy tomy poor heart, so ready to adore you. Is it so difficult to send a reply? You owe me two. Napole.”
7
Again, Maria declined to send a reply.

Soon after, a third missive arrived in which Napoleon threw his heart at her feet and cleverly added, “Oh come, come…all your desires will be granted.
Your country will be so much dearer to me
if you take pity on my poor heart.”
8

The last was a cunning ruse, for it spoke to patriotic Maria in a language she heard. Poland. She could use her influence with the Great Man to save Poland. What Maria did not know was Napoleon's opinion of women meddling in politics. “States are lost as soon as women interfere in public affairs,” he said. “…If a woman were to advocate some political move, that would seem to me sufficient reason for taking the opposite course.”
9
In a message to his army he wrote, “How unhappy are those princes who, in political matters, allow themselves to be guided by women.”
10

Soon everyone in Warsaw knew of Napoleon's infatuation with Maria. Many guests dropped by her house to offer advice. Society ladies offered unwanted congratulations on Maria's conquest, even congratulated her husband. Her oldest brother, Benedict, who had already served ten years with the French army, regarded it as her patriotic duty to have sex with the emperor.
The count felt honored that Napoleon wanted to make love to his wife and prodded her to visit him as he requested.

Indeed, it seemed everyone wanted Maria to sleep with Napoleon except Maria. They chided her: What would happen if the emperor, spurned by Maria, turned against Poland as well? It would be Maria's fault! And so trembling Maria, pushed into the carriage by her insistent husband, visited Napoleon in his suite at Warsaw Castle. The first night he talked with her for four hours and nothing more. The second night she became “the unwilling victim of his passion,” she wrote a decade later in her memoirs, which sounds alarmingly like rape.
11
But tenderness must have come afterward, for he awakened a sexuality in Maria that she had never known with a sick and aging husband.

The old count had set in motion a love affair that he could not halt. Maria fell in love with Napoleon, and her gratitude to her husband dried up when he forced her into another man's arms. They separated and eventually divorced. Maria fell deeply in love with Napoleon and for the three years of their torrid love affair followed him around Europe on campaign. But when she became pregnant with his child, Napoleon—who had always believed he was sterile—realized he could sire a prince and heir. He divorced the barren Josephine, dumped the heartbroken Maria, and married an eighteen-year-old Austrian princess.

Maria's sacrifice on behalf of her beloved nation was as doomed as her love affair with the emperor had been. Even as Napoleon was promising her he would restore Poland, he had instructed his ambassador to Russia to tell the czar, “His Majesty was prepared to see the words Poland and Polish people disappear from all current political transactions,” and “would agree that the kingdom of Poland would
never
be restored.”
12

Doubly betrayed by Napoleon, Maria did not hesitate to visit him in his disgrace and exile on the island of Elba. Bringing their five-year-old son and all her jewels to help him with his financial difficulties, she arrived prepared to stay as his companion. But Napoleon, fearing that scandal would prevent his wife, Empress Maria Louisa, and their son from joining him, sent
Maria packing after only three days. Maria and all of Europe knew that the empress was having an affair with a handsome equerry in Vienna and would never trade in her lavish lifestyle for exile on a rock. Not wishing to disillusion Napoleon, Maria kept her peace and boarded the ship, never to see him again.

Long-Suffering Acceptance

Not every husband jumped for joy when the king ogled his wife. In 1716, the new mistress of Philippe d'Orléans, regent of France, bore an inconvenient accessory—a loving and jealous husband. While Marie-Madeleine de Parabère reveled in the expensive jewels the regent gave her and ached to wear them, she needed to come up with an explanation for her husband as to how she had obtained them.

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