Authors: Ida Ashworth Taylor
Tags: #Louis XIII, King of France, 1601-1643
to pay in order to secure his services. Since he had been made a great King, Guise could not have been aught but his servant.
It was a tribute Henri .liked, and he embraced the speaker. His answer showed that the thought of death had not ceased to haunt his imagination.
" You do not know me now/' he said, probably between jest and earnest, " but one of these days I shall die, and when you have lost me you will know what I am worth, and how greatly I differ from other men/'
Bassompierre, young and light-hearted, took upon himself to chide his master. When, he asked, would the King cease to disquiet his friends by talk of his approaching death ? with God's help, he had still many good years of life before him—of a life there was so much to render desirable. The King sighed as he listened to the enumeration of his earthly possessions.
" My friend," he said, "all that must be left behind." The cheerfulness of the morning was gone ; his forebodings had presumably gained once more the upper hand.
Returned to the palace, he had his two youngest children, Gaston and Henriette, brought to his apartments and spent some time playing with them, striving, it may be, to dispel his melancholy. It must have seemed causeless enough. All was as usual at the Louvre, and it was noted that the Dauphin was " fort gai " that morning, excited no doubt by the events of the previous day. In the afternoon the Queen retired to rest in her chamber, Louis was taken in his carriage
to inspect the preparations made for his mother's entr&e, and quiet settled over the palace.
That morning Sully had received a summons from the King to meet him at the Tuileries, where he wished to speak with him alone. But the sickness serving as an excuse for his absence from the coronation had been no mere pretext ; he was undergoing a course of treatment by means of baths, and when the King learnt the condition in which his messenger had found him he cancelled his orders, forbidding the minister, on the contrary, to leave the house. The next morning, Saturday, he would himself visit the Arsenal at five o'clock, when final arrangements should be made for his departure from Paris on the Monday. A kindly injunction was added to the effect that the Duke was not to be dressed to receive him on his early visit.
Henri, upon second thoughts, must have changed his plans, and, as his friend could not come to the palace, must have determined to seek him at home. Dinner over, he at first attempted to repair the wake-fulness of the night ; then, unable to sleep, and having again said some prayers, he acted upon the advice of the officer on guard, who counselled him to seek the open air.
Possibly he had forgotten, possibly had decided to disregard, the premonition he had felt of impending calamity, associated with a coach ; since he ordered his own to be brought, with the intention of visiting the Arsenal, declining the attendance of Vitry, the captain of the guard, or of his men.
" I want neither you nor your guards," he told him. " I want no one round me."
Even now he wavered, and Ravaillac's opportunity might have been lost.
" Ma mie" he said repeatedly to the Queen, c< shall I go ? shall I not go ? " leaving the room two or three times only to return and raise the question again. Then, having at last made up his mind, he kissed Marie more than once, with the longing for the demonstrations of affection so characteristic of him, as he bade her adieu.
" I shall do no more than go and come," he said, " and shall be back immediately."
And so the two parted, for the last time.
Accompanied by Epernon, Montbazon, and some five other courtiers, he quitted the palace. As he entered the coach a recollection of the current prophecies would seem to have recurred to his memory. Turning to one of his companions, he demanded the day of the month.
" To-day is the i fth, Sire," was the reply.
" No," said some one else in correction, " it is the I 4 th."
"True," answered the King, "you are best acquainted with your almanack" ; then, with a laugh, " Between the I3th and the I 4 th . . . ," he added as he drove away. To what he alluded remains uncertain.
The coach reached the Rue de la Ferronnerie ; a cart, blocking the way, obliged the driver to slacken his speed ; a man who had been standing before a shop—it was named the " Coeur Couronne perc6 d'une Fl&che "—threw himself upon the King and stabbed him twice.
Accounts as to what followed differed. Some said
he spoke ; but only to say " it was nothing." Then his voice died away into silence, and all was over.
The Queen, meanwhile, had been resting from the fatigue of the previous day, the Duchesse de Mont-pensier her companion. A sound of many trampling feet, reaching her ears, was her first intimation that something unusual had occurred, and her thoughts flying, with swift terror, to the Dauphin, she sent the Duchess to inquire into the cause of the disturbance, awaiting her report with growing anxiety.
" Your son is not dead—it is nothing," said Madame de Montpensier, returning; but the assurance was given with a countenance so pallid and terror-stricken that, her mistress's fears unallayed, she opened the door of her room and issued forth to make personal investigation.
A scene of horror and confusion confronted her. Two hundred men, with drawn swords, were gathered outside. In the midst of them lay the dead King.
" Oh, Madame," cried Praslin, one of the captains of the guard, as he perceived her, " we are lost."
" Fearing the truth," she afterwards wrote, " I felt my forces fail and should have fallen fainting to the ground had Madame de Montpensier and others of my women not supported me. They brought me back to the couch in my chamber. M. d'Epernon and others sought to comfort me by the assurance that the King, though severely wounded, was not dead, and might recover."
The terrible tidings had quickly reached the Arsenal. Sully had obeyed his master's orders and had remained at home—as those about him remarked,
in a melancholy mood—when a cry, raised in the house, startled him in his chamber. The King was not indeed slain, so it was said, but was desperately wounded. All was lost and France ruined—such was the lament of those around. Better than any other, the Duke recognised its truth.
" If he is dead/* he said—there was still the doubt —" sen est fait —all is over."
In any case, his place was at his master's side, dead or living, and he prepared to ride to the palace. Bassompierre, appointed by Henri to meet him at the Arsenal, and who had been awaiting him there when the news was brought, was beforehand with the minister. " I ran like a madman," he wrote, " taking the first horse I found, and galloped to the Louvre." Passing the barriers, already closely guarded, he reached the King's chamber, finding the dead man lying upon his bed. M. de Vic, one of the State Council, had placed a cross upon his lips and was speaking to him of God—" lui faisoit souvenir de Dieu." Though doctors surrounded him and surgeons were dressing the wound it was too plain that there was nothing to be done. Life was extinct.
M. le Grand, Grand Equerry, who had entered with Bassompierre, knelt by the bed, holding and kissing one of his master's hands ; Bassompierre, flinging himself at his feet, was in tears.
Meantime, as Sully rode towards the palace his train was increasing in numbers, till he was followed by some three hundred horsemen. As he traversed the streets they were filled with a mourning crowd who made no sound, nor uttered, for the most part, any cry,
weeping silently, as if stunned by the suddenness of the calamity, the magnitude of which was uncertain. Warning after warning was given Sully significant of the interpretation put, in some quarters at least, upon the deed, viewed not in the light of an isolated crime, but as part of a preconcerted plot. Wariness was enjoined upon the minister with regard to those in whose hands the supreme power would now be placed.
" It is over," thus ran a note thrown to the Duke as he rode by, " I have seen him dead. If you enter the Louvre neither will you escape."
His fears for his master confirmed, great tears fell from Sully's eyes. He was not to be turned back. Dead or alive, he would see the King. Again a warning voice was raised.
" Our ill is beyond remedy," said a gentleman, meeting him ; " I know it, for I have looked upon it. Think of yourself, for this blow will have terrible results."
And still Sully pursued his way. At the entrance to the Rue Saint-Honore a note similar to the first was flung to him ; regardless of it, he was continuing to advance when Vitry, captain of the guard, stopping him, threw himself, in broken-hearted fashion, into his arms. The King, their good master, he cried, was dead. France was ruined—there was nothing to do but to die. What was Sully about ? Not more than some two or three of his attendants would be permitted to enter the Louvre, and unaccompanied he counselled him not to go thither. There was method in what had been done, or Vitry was mistaken ;
" for I have seen those "—he was careful to mention no names—" who have apparently suffered great loss, but who cannot conceal that they are not so sad at heart as they should be. I have been bursting with indignation, and, had you seen what I have seen, you would be enraged." Let Sully go back ; there was enough to do without entering the Louvre. And Sully at length consented to turn his horse's head towards the Arsenal, sending a message to the Queen to offer his services and to demand her orders.
At the palace panic had at first prevailed; there, too, it had not been known how far-reaching was the plot of which the assassination might be only a single feature. Repairing to the Queen's presence, the Chancellor and Villeroy took counsel with her as to the immediate steps to be taken.
" The King is dead," cried Marie.
" Pardon me, Madame," replied the Chancellor, " the Kings of France never die. Restrain your tears till you have ensured your own safety and that of your children."
Bassompierre and le Grand had been summoned from their mournful watch by their dead master ; the Duke de Guise had been also called into counsel. To Bassompierre orders were given to collect the Light Horse he commanded, and to ride through Paris at their head, thus to quiet tumult and suppress sedition. Le Grand was to remain in charge of the King's body and to guard, should protection prove necessary, the person of the Dauphin.
As Bassompierre executed the commands he had received he encountered Sully ; who, having by this
time abandoned his intention of seeking the palace, administered an admonition to the younger man with regard to his duty, exhorting him and his comrades to take an oath of fidelity to the new King, and to swear to spend blood and life in avenging his father.
The minister's address, somewhat sententious in tone, did not find favour with Bassompierre, by whom Sully had probably never been liked.
" Monsieur," he answered hotly, u it is we who are administering that oath to others, nor is there any need that we should be exhorted to a thing so binding upon us."
Whereupon Sully, turning away, repaired to the Bastille, where he shut himself up, having provisioned the place with as much bread as could be obtained ; dispatching a messenger to his son-in-law, Rohan, to instruct him to march, with the six thousand Swiss he commanded, to Paris. An order which reached him from the Queen to the effect that he should proceed to the Louvre and confer with her upon matters of importance was ignored.
Whether or not Sully was well-advised in testifying his distrust of those in power after a fashion that scarcely admitted of misconception, the fact that Epernon was taking the chief part in the direction of affairs at the Louvre was not calculated to inspire him with confidence, fipernon, the Queen afterwards said, had behaved admirably. He had certainly been prompt and efficient. Henri-Quatre had been murdered at about four o'clock. Before five Marie had been declared Regent, and the new Government had been established. " M. d'Epernon," says Bassompierre, " who, after
having given the necessary orders to the French guards before the Louvre"—he was colonel-general of the infantry—"had come to kiss the hands of the King and the Queen his mother, was sent by her to the Parlement, to represent to it that the Queen had letters of Regency from the late King . . . and that the urgency of the affair demanded that it should be settled without delay."