previous sub-section
11 The Buildup, 1585 to May 1588
next chapter

Exaltation of Guises: Denigration of King

The Counter-Reformation cause and the political claims of the house of Guise-Lorraine had, of course, been deliberately intertwined since the days of Charles, cardinal de Lorraine, and the first League. A continuing problem for royalist moderate Catholics was to find a way to separate the one true church from the grasp of the League and heal the breach between it and the crown. Unfortunately for the politique cause in the late 1580s, in addition to virtually every act of the unlucky Henri III, other events—which might in different circumstances have seemed unrelated—kept aggravating the problem. Some of these took place beyond the borders of the kingdom, such as the conflict between Queen Elizabeth and Mary Stuart, culminating in the execution of the Scottish queen. Mary's mother, Marie de Guise, was the sister of François, duc de Guise, and the cardinal de Lorraine, so it was not mere anti-League paranoia for the politiques , in whose footsteps we are following, to see the death of Mary Stuart as one more blow to their cause, because it depicted her as a martyr to that of the League, their nemesis.

On Sunday, the first day of March of the present year, 1587, news came to Paris of the execution of the queen of Scots, whose head was cut off by the executioner on the 18th day of February, following the death sentence against the said queen by the Parliament of England several months before, for the crime of lèse-majesté, and for conspiracy against the state and queen of England. . . .

Her death was infinitely regretted and mourned by the Catholics, principally by the League, who cried aloud that she was a martyr to the Roman, Catholic, and Apostolic religion, and that the queen had put her to death on this account . . . no matter what the pretext was. In this opinion they were carefully and cleverly supported by the preachers, who canonized her every day in their sermons.[40]


Thus L'Estoile. De Thou's twenty-page account is factually complete and analytically astute.[41] The accounts of these two politiques are exactly what one would expect, both in the similarity of the substance and in the individual differences of style.

Pasquier did not make Mary Stuart the subject of one of his special letters. His habit was to concentrate on reporting events that had taken place in Paris, of which he had firsthand experience, which enabled him also to give the entire range of local opinion. Parisian information about this dramatic event across the channel was funneled exclusively through the propaganda of the League, though royalist Catholic robins rejected it.

The case of Du Vair's oration is altogether different. It is of considerable interest, not about Mary Stuart—in this respect his is just one more item of pro-Guise rhetoric—but about the attitude of Du Vair himself in 1587. He disavowed the authorship and attributed it to Renaud de Beaune, archbishop of Bourges.[42] The text is described by Radouant as tiresome: after a lengthy and exaggerated listing of the Scottish queen's virtues and tribulations, there are some high-flown rhetorical passages, embodying Stoic ideas in Ciceronian phrasing (allegedly pronounced by the heroine at dramatic intervals but, Radouant says, "pure Du Vair"), climaxed by an offensively graphic account of her last moments, with emphasis on the physical details. It is tailor-made for the Guise cause. The question is, why?

There are several versions of this oration, and one hypothesis is that one or more, but especially that of 1641, was "edited" by somebody in the employ of the Guise family. But as Radouant says, from internal evidence it is indubitably from the pen of Du Vair and it is a "party manifesto . . . breathing the spirit of vengeance. His words recall the tableau [of Montpensier] that Jean Prévost, curé of St-Séverin, exhibited in the cemetery next to the church, to provoke passersby to rage against the English and the Huguenots."[43]

Du Vair's biographer asks again, but more insistently than in the case of Harlay's speech, whether this was a sign of adherence to the League, or only "a step in the direction of the Lorraine princes"? Did Du Vair perhaps


harbor the ambition and the hope of being able to serve as mediator between the factions? Whatever the truth in this matter—and certainty is impossible—"even the most lenient view does not clear him of calculation, and perhaps dissimulation." It is indisputable that in 1593 Du Vair took an unequivocal stand (and considerable personal risk) for the politique cause, which canceled out for contemporaries any doubts that these earlier liguisant works might have raised. Radouant remarks philosophically, "He is one of those men whose character can only be judged at the end [of his life]." We are familiar with this point of view as that of the Greeks, seen in the exchange between the Athenian Solon and Croesus, according to Herodotus and constantly echoed by Pierre de L'Estoile.[44]

The counterpart of exalting the Guises was denigration of the last Valois king. Moving beyond the denunciation of his policies and his personal habits, which we have seen escalate steadily for a dozen years, in the months following the death of Joyeuse and Guise's triumph at Auneau, League spokesmen intensified their attacks on the duc d'Épernon, now the only strong person at the king's side. Typically, Henri III made it easier for his enemies. Even much earlier (April 1587), L'Estoile reported that the duke had "returned to Paris from Provence . . . in great magnificence, accompanied by 300 mounted men. The League took a dim view of his warm welcome from the king, saying that he was the only one who put courage in the monarch's heart." In truth, adds the diarist, "he was the only servant His Majesty could really trust." In August 1587 the king had given a very luxurious wedding feast for the duke and "seemed to enjoy himself hugely, although his death's head was hanging all the while from his belt. He gave the bride a necklace of too pearls, said to be worth 100,000 écus. " Significantly, within a few months the king gave in to League pressures and sent Épernon out of the city. He left on Tuesday, April 26, 1588, to take up the gouvernement of Normandy, which Henri III had recently bestowed upon him. "He was accompanied by four companies of armed men . . . to prevent the violence that seemed likely, because he was so hated by the lesser folk and envied by the greater, to whom nothing is given (they think), but all to him."[45]

Pasquier remarks that Épernon's departure and escort robbed the king of force, both personal and military. De Thou emphasizes the tactic of the


League curés, who skillfully exploited the duke's departure in conjunction with repetition of the claim that except for the duc de Guise, the city—and the state—would have fallen to the heretics and their partisans, "profiting from the hatred of the people against Nogaret de la Valette, duc d'Épernon, whom Henri made all the more odious by heaping new honors on him each day."[46]

On Friday, April 29, 1588, Henri III retired to the château of Vincennes, announcing that he wished to spend seven entire days in penance and that no one was to disturb him for any reason.[47]


previous sub-section
11 The Buildup, 1585 to May 1588
next chapter