The knife of Ravaillac had done its work. Henry the Fourth was dead. Here we see the Paris womens’ influence.
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Poutrincourt owned the barony of St. Just in Champagne, inherited a few years before from his mother. Hence, early in February, 1610, he set out in a boat loaded to the gunwales with provisions, furniture, goods, and munitions for Port Royal, descended the rivers Aube and Seine, and reached Dieppe safely with his charge. Here his ship was awaiting him; and on the twenty-sixth of February he set sail, giving the slip to the indignant Jesuit at Bordeaux.
The tedium of a long passage was unpleasantly broken by a mutiny among the crew. It was suppressed, however, and Poutrincourt entered at length the familiar basin of Port Royal. The buildings were still standing, whole and sound save a partial falling in of the roofs. Even furniture was found untouched in the deserted chambers. The centenarian Membertou was still alive, his leathern, wrinkled visage beaming with welcome.
Pontrincourt set himself without delay to the task of Christianizing New France, in an access of zeal which his desire of proving that Jesuit aid was superfluous may be supposed largely to have reinforced. He had a priest with him, one La Fleche, whom he urged to the pious work. No time was lost. Membertou first was catechised, confessed his sins, and renounced the Devil, whom we are told he had faithfully served during a hundred and ten years. His squaws, his children, his grandchildren, and his entire clan were next won over. It was in June, the day of St. John the Baptist, when the naked proselytes, twenty-one in number, were gathered on the shore at Port Royal. Here was the priest in the vestments of his office; here were gentlemen in gay attire, soldiers, laborers, lackeys, all the infant colony. The converts kneeled; the sacred rite was finished, Te Deum was sung, and the roar of cannon proclaimed this triumph over the powers of darkness. Membertou was named Henri, after the King; his principal squaw, Marie, after the Queen. One of his sons received the name of the Pope, another that of the Dauphin; his daughter was called Marguerite, after the divorced Marguerite de Valois, and, in like manner, the rest of the squalid company exchanged their barbaric appellatives for the names of princes, nobles, and ladies of rank.
The fame of this chef-d’aeuvre of Christian piety, as Lescarbot gravely calls it, spread far and wide through the forest, whose denizens, — partly out of a notion that the rite would bring good luck, partly to please the French, and partly to share in the good cheer with which the apostolic efforts of Father La Fleche had been sagaciously seconded — came flocking to enroll themselves under the banners of the Faith. Their zeal ran high. They would take no refusal. Membertou was for war on all who would not turn Christian. A living skeleton was seen crawling from hut to hut in search of the priest and his saving waters; while another neophyte, at the point of death, asked anxiously whether, in the realms of bliss to which he was bound, pies were to be had comparable to those with which the French regaled him.
A formal register of baptisms was drawn up to be carried to France in the returning ship, of which Pontrincourt’s son, Biencourt, a spirited youth of eighteen, was to take charge. He sailed in July, his father keeping him company as far as Port la Have, whence, bidding the young man farewell, he attempted to return in an open boat to Port Royal. A north wind blew him out to sea; and for six days he was out of sight of land, subsisting on rain-water wrung from the boat’s sail, and on a few wild-fowl which he had shot on an island. Five weeks passed before he could rejoin his colonists, who, despairing of his safety, were about to choose a new chief.
Meanwhile, young Biencourt, speeding on his way, heard dire news from a fisherman on the Grand Bank. The knife of Ravaillac had done its work. Henry the Fourth was dead.
There is an ancient street in Paris, where a great thoroughfare contracts to a narrow pass, the Rue de la Ferronnerie. Tall buildings overshadow it, packed from pavement to tiles with human life, and from the dingy front of one of them the sculptured head of a man looks down on the throng that ceaselessly defiles beneath. On the fourteenth of May, 1610, a ponderous coach, studded with fleurs-de-lis and rich with gilding, rolled along this street. In it was a small man, well advanced in life, whose profile once seen could not be forgotten, — a hooked nose, a protruding chin, a brow full of wrinkles, grizzled hair, a short, grizzled beard, and stiff, gray moustaches, bristling like a cat’s. One would have thought him some whiskered satyr, grim from the rack of tumultuous years; but his alert, upright port bespoke unshaken vigor, and his clear eye was full of buoyant life. Following on the footway strode a tall, strong, and somewhat corpulent man, with sinister, deep-set eyes and a red beard, his arm and shoulder covered with his cloak. In the throat of the thoroughfare, where the sculptured image of Henry the Fourth still guards the spot, a collision of two carts stopped the coach. Ravaillac quickened his pace. In an instant he was at the door. With his cloak dropped from his shoulders, and a long knife in his hand, he set his foot upon a guardstone, thrust his head and shoulders into the coach, and with frantic force stabbed thrice at the King’s heart. A broken exclamation, a gasping convulsion, — and then the grim visage drooped on the bleeding breast. Henry breathed his last, and the hope of Europe died with him.
The omens were sinister for Old France and for New. Marie de Medicis, “cette grosse banquiere,” coarse scion of a bad stock, false wife and faithless queen, paramour of an intriguing foreigner, tool of the Jesuits and of Spain, was Regent in the minority of her imbecile son. The Huguenots drooped, the national party collapsed, the vigorous hand of Sully was felt no more, and the treasure gathered for a vast and beneficent enterprise became the instrument of despotism and the prey of corruption. Under such dark auspices, young Biencourt entered the thronged chambers of the Louvre.
He gained audience of the Queen, and displayed his list of baptisms; while the ever present Jesuits failed not to seize him by the button, assuring him, not only that the late King had deeply at heart the establishment of their Society in Acadia, but that to this end he had made them a grant of two thousand livres a year. The Jesuits had found an ally and the intended mission a friend at court, whose story and whose character are too striking to pass unnoticed.
This was a lady of honor to the Queen, Antoinette de Pons, Marquise de Guercheville, once renowned for grace and beauty, and not less conspicuous for qualities rare in the unbridled court of Henry’s predecessor, where her youth had been passed. When the civil war was at its height, the royal heart, leaping with insatiable restlessness from battle to battle, from mistress to mistress, had found a brief repose in the affections of his Corisande, famed in tradition and romance; but Corisande was suddenly abandoned, and the young widow, Madame de Guercheville, became the load-star of his erratic fancy. It was an evil hour for the Bearnais. Henry sheathed in rusty steel, battling for his crown and his life, and Henry robed in royalty and throned triumphant in the Louvre, alike urged their suit in vain. Unused to defeat, the King’s passion rose higher for the obstacle that barred it. On one occasion he was met with an answer not unworthy of record: —
“Sire, my rank, perhaps, is not high enough to permit me to be your wife, but my heart is too high to permit me to be your mistress.”
She left the court and retired to her chateau of La Roche-Guyon, on the Seine, ten leagues below Paris, where, fond of magnificence, she is said to have lived in much expense and splendor. The indefatigable King, haunted by her memory, made a hunting-party in the neighboring forests; and, as evening drew near, separating himself from his courtiers, he sent a gentleman of his train to ask of Madame de Guercheville the shelter of her roof. The reply conveyed a dutiful acknowledgment of the honor, and an offer of the best entertainment within her power. It was night when Henry with his little band of horsemen, approached the chateau, where lights were burning in every window, after a fashion of the day on occasions of welcome to an honored guest. Pages stood in the gateway, each with a blazing torch; and here, too, were gentlemen of the neighborhood, gathered to greet their sovereign. Madame de Guercheville came forth, followed by the women of her household; and when the King, unprepared for so benign a welcome, giddy with love and hope, saw her radiant in pearls and more radiant yet in a beauty enhanced by the wavy torchlight and the surrounding shadows, he scarcely dared trust his senses: —
“Que vois-je, madame; est-ce bien vous, et suis-je ce roi meprise?”
He gave her his hand, and she led him within the chateau, where, at the door of the apartment destined for him, she left him, with a graceful reverence. The King, nowise disconcerted, did not doubt that she had gone to give orders for his entertainment, when an attendant came to tell him that she had descended to the courtyard and called for her coach. Thither he hastened in alarm:
“What! am I driving you from your house?”
“Sire,” replied Madame de Guercheville, “where a king is, he should be the sole master; but, for my part, I like to preserve some little authority wherever I may be.”
With another deep reverence, she entered her coach and disappeared, seeking shelter under the roof of a friend, some two leagues off, and leaving the baffled King to such consolation as he might find in a magnificent repast, bereft of the presence of the hostess.
Henry could admire the virtue which he could not vanquish; and, long after, on his marriage, he acknowledged his sense of her worth by begging her to accept an honorable post near the person of the Queen.
“Madame,” he said, presenting her to Marie de Medicis, “I give you a lady of honor who is a lady of honor indeed.”
Some twenty years had passed since the adventure of La Roche-Guyon. Madame de Guercheville had outlived the charms which had attracted her royal suitor, but the virtue which repelled him was reinforced by a devotion no less uncompromising. A rosary in her hand and a Jesuit at her side, she realized the utmost wishes of the subtle fathers who had moulded and who guided her. She readily took fire when they told her of the benighted souls of New France, and the wrongs of Father Biard kindled her utmost indignation. She declared herself the protectress of the American missions; and the only difficulty, as a Jesuit writer tells us, was to restrain her zeal within reasonable bounds.
She had two illustrious coadjutors. The first was the jealous Queen, whose unbridled rage and vulgar clamor had made the Louvre a hell. The second was Henriette d’Entragues, Marquise de Vernenil, the crafty and capricious siren who had awakened these conjugal tempests. To this singular coalition were joined many other ladies of the court; for the pious flame, fanned by the Jesuits, spread through hall and boudoir, and fair votaries of the Loves and Graces found it a more grateful task to win heaven for the heathen than to merit it for themselves.
– Pioneers of France in the New World Part II, Chapter 5 by Francis Parkman
This showed the Paris womens’ influence.
The below is from Francis Parkman’s Introduction.
If, at times, it may seem that range has been allowed to fancy, it is so in appearance only; since the minutest details of narrative or description rest on authentic documents or on personal observation.
Faithfulness to the truth of history involves far more than a research, however patient and scrupulous, into special facts. Such facts may be detailed with the most minute exactness, and yet the narrative, taken as a whole, may be unmeaning or untrue. The narrator must seek to imbue himself with the life and spirit of the time. He must study events in their bearings near and remote; in the character, habits, and manners of those who took part in them, he must himself be, as it were, a sharer or a spectator of the action he describes.
With respect to that special research which, if inadequate, is still in the most emphatic sense indispensable, it has been the writer’s aim to exhaust the existing material of every subject treated. While it would be folly to claim success in such an attempt, he has reason to hope that, so far at least as relates to the present volume, nothing of much importance has escaped him. With respect to the general preparation just alluded to, he has long been too fond of his theme to neglect any means within his reach of making his conception of it distinct and true.